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DVD Review: ESPN Films “30 for 30″ Gift Set, Volume 2 (Pt. 1)

J.C. De Leon

by:
May 17th, 2011

On the 30th anniversary of ESPN’s world-changing entry into the world, they commissioned numerous filmmakers and gave them complete creative control to film 30 documentaries covering the 30 most interesting topics during the ESPN era. Volume 1 of this series was released earlier this year and featured some of 2010’s most critically acclaimed sports documentaries and documentaries made by some notable names. Directors like Peter Berg (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS), Barry Levinson(THE NATURAL), and even Ice Cube (THE LONGSHOTS) recounted some of the most memorable moments of the ESPN era of sports with documentaries featuring stories about Wayne Gretzky, the Baltimore Colts, and fan base of the Los Angeles Raiders.

Volume 2 continues this great tradition, with films covering topics like the legacy of George Steinbrenner, Michael Jordan’s days as a minor league baseball player, and the rise and fall of the iconic Olympic superstar Marion Jones. Volume 2 features some great directorial names like Spike Jonze (WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE) and John Singleton (HIGHER LEARNING). In order to give this massive set that encompasses some truly great documentaries a more comprehensive look, I have decided to break up the review of the entire set into multiple parts. The following is Part 1 of our review of The 30 for 30 ESPN Vol. 2 DVD Gift Set.

THE TWO ESCOBARS

Rating: 4/5
Directors: Jeff ZimbalistMichael Zimbalist

Here in America, it’s no secret that sports is big business - big, corporate, and most importantly, legal business. In the South American country of Colombia, sports is big business too, but in the era of "narco soccer," sports was a way for the biggest South American drug lords to launder money and legitimize their illicit business practices.  At the height of narco soccer, Colombian soccer was the passion of the infamous Pablo Escobar, and this particular film examines the parallel fates of the legendary drug lord and a futbol hero, also named Escobar.

THE TWO ESCOBARS, helmed by filmmakers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist (FAVELA RISING) examines the rise and fall of Colombian soccer as it coincided with the rise and fall of the Medellin Cartel. Oftentimes, the film portrays a heartbreaking and graphically intense time in Colombia when Pablo Escobar (who, at times, seemed to be a figurehead in the community and a man of the people) was also an incredibly ruthless man who loved his soccer team and would eliminate those that stood in the way of its success.

The film tells an amazing, often unbelievable, story that is incredibly gripping. Despite the reputation that the team received internationally, the players held a strong bond with their fans and THE TWO ESCOBARS does a good job of highlighting the quality of soccer these exceptional athletes were able to play.

THE BIRTH OF BIG AIR

Rating: 3.5/5
DirectorJeff Tremaine

You wouldn’t think a film produced by Jeff Tremaine, and directed by Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville, would translate into a film that belonged on ESPN Films. Those names are familiar to fans of the Jackass franchise, but those may also be familiar with another name that often appears in those films, BMX legend Mat Hoffman. THE BIRTH OF BIG AIR details how Mat Hoffman resurrected BMX biking, and gave birth to the now popular X Games events on ESPN.

People who aren’t fans of the X Games or BMX Freestyle Stuntbiking should still be able to find something to hold their interest here. It’s a story of a young boy looking at obstacles and overcoming them, just because he can. At the time he was doing something that wasn’t all that popular and he was putting his body through miserable injuries, but the resolve and determination of Hoffman is something to be admired, despite the craziness of what he was doing.

JORDAN RIDES THE BUS

Rating: 3/5
DirectorRon Shelton

When Michael Jordan’s father was killed by a gunshot in an attempted car-jacking following his 1993 NBA Championship, it threw his world upside down. Jordan had an extremely close relationship with his father, and when he died, he lost all of his passion to play basketball and decided he wanted to achieve a dream his father had for him and try his hand at professional baseball. Met with criticism at every turn, he didn’t let it bother him, and he gave baseball the same effort he gave basketball, though he wasn’t as successful.

As compelling as this subject is, the film handles it in a way that focused a little too much on the people’s feelings and thoughts that watched him play baseball. That may have been director Ron Shelton’s (BULL DURHAM) intention, but there did seem to be more interesting angles that were glossed over and ignored. Angles like the conspiracy theory that he was actually suspended from basketball because of his gambling issues or how his departure eroded the popularity of NBA basketball. Like all of the ESPN 30 for 30 films, there is great footage to be seen of Michael playing baseball, and that footage alone though does make this a worthwhile documentary.

LITTLE BIG MEN

Rating: 3/5
DirectorAl Szymanski

In what was known as the biggest international sporting upset since the US team beat the Soviet team in 1980, the Kirkland All-Stars Little League baseball team defeated Taiwan in 1982 in the Little League World Series to become national heroes and to achieve instant fame. The most compelling tale of all the members of that team was the story of Cody Webster. Cody was bigger than most of the other 12 year olds on his team, and when batters stepped in the box to face him, fear and not getting on base were the only things they could count on. After beating Taiwan, though, Cody was subjected to taunts about his size, and he gradually lost interest in the game that so many people had expected him to grow up to be great at.

LITTLE BIG MEN is an excellent film for parents of young athletes to watch. It shows what the effects of placing such high expectations on them can do and how damaging it can be. It’s the ultimate example of why sports are supposed to be fun, especially for young kids. The film starts out a little flawed with a little too much narration, but in the end has a nice statement and is presented well.

ONE NIGHT IN VEGAS

Rating: 3/5
DirectorReggie Rock Bythewood

On what should have been another night in Vegas, September 7, 1986 instead turned into a night where an iconic rap superstar died after a heavyweight-boxing match. Mike Tyson fought Bruce Seldon on the night that Tupac Shakur was shot and killed. While it may not appear to be a documentary that fits the mold of an ESPN Films documentary, he actually shared a very closeknit relationship with Tyson, and together they helped bring stability to their lives after they both served separate prison sentences.

This is another compelling story that appears to drop the ball a little bit. It tells a great story and offers information that isn’t very well-known, but the execution of the documentary is filled with very strange comic book narrations that seem to cheapen the story that is being told.

Stay tuned this week for the rest of the comprehensive review of this great set!

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