Before the Flood


Release: Friday, October 21, 2016 (limited)


Written by: Mark Monroe

Directed by: Fisher Stevens

Oscar-winning documentarian Fisher Stevens won’t change the world with his ambitious but overly familiar and ultimately underwhelming examination of man’s impact on the global environment, but his efforts aren’t completely in vain. Before the Flood uses the immense popularity of bonafide Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio to raise its profile as the actor embarks on a three-year mission around the globe to educate himself on the most pressing environmental concerns of our time.

The central thesis is familiar but nonetheless significant, one that’s fundamentally concerned with man’s over-reliance on unsustainable sources of energy such as fossil fuels, a pattern that has for years now been linked to rising global temperatures, rising sea levels and the destruction of the natural world. In pursuit of causality Before the Flood, executive produced by DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese among others, stresses the interconnectivity of our global ecosystem, the politicking that goes into climate change denial (not everyone wants to believe 8 billion people can have such a profound impact on one planet) and how various parts of the world are often left to clean up the messes created by others.

In the process of touring through many devastating sites DiCaprio narrates his experiences via a somber, if not overly pessimistic voiceover. He explains how Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights‘ served as a creative inspiration for the film’s thematic explorations. This stunningly ornate triptych traces the evolution of humanity as it depicts man’s origin in the idyllic Garden of Eden in the first frame, merging into a colorful display of excess, celebration and blissful ignorance in the second before eventually transitioning into a frightening scene filled with death, destruction and suffering in the shocking third panel. DiCaprio elaborates, explaining how man’s current state places us firmly in the center panel and ruminating on how long it might be before we find ourselves entering the third.

What’s most impressive about the film is watching one of the world’s most established thespians mute himself enough so that he is firmly a part of the picture. In other words, while his celebrity status undoubtedly will draw in viewers who might not necessarily watch this sort of thing, his ego is nowhere to be found. DiCaprio is extremely humbled by what he finds, and more than humbled he is legitimately bothered. His perturbation comes across genuine, if not in his pursed-lip/silent nod reactions to what he witnesses in Canada, Indonesia, Greenland and India (among other locales) then in the amount of questions that pour out of him along the way. Some may find his lack of knowledge a barrier but if anything his acknowledgment of that very ignorance opens the film up considerably.

And yeah, you can probably accuse DiCaprio of hypocrisy if you really wanted to. If you’re looking for some way to make his involvement more about Hollywood than the environment, you might note the irony in DiCaprio likely making another film in the coming year(s), in him traveling around in luxury cars and luxury private jets and being involved in an industry that creates a massive ecological footprint, be it the electricity consumed to light sets or the amount of material required to make scenes believable. It’s also not entirely unreasonable to suggest that if the actor truly wants to make a difference, he might have to consider a hiatus from acting, permanently, in order to fully pursue efforts to fix things. And given everything he says in Before the Flood, it seems like Leo really wants to get his hands dirty (in a good way).

DiCaprio’s position in the entertainment industry enables him to speak with some of the most prominent environmental activists and climate-conscious politicians — Senator John Kerry is interviewed and there’s a brief Al Gore sighting. Aside from these figures, he speaks briefly with President Obama and one of the film’s highlights surfaces in a candid chat with Indian environmentalist Dr. Sunita Narain — where he’s met with compelling resistance as Narain argues that meeting the most basic demands of India’s bulging population is a concern that supersedes the need to find alternate sources of energy. He also interviews scientists and specialists who each share their unique perspectives, almost all of which confirm the notion that humanity is indeed reaching a critical point where it needs to learn how to adapt or the damage done will likely be irreversible. With a rapidly swelling global population these concerns are only going to become more challenging in the years and decades to come, and so the urgency of addressing and finding solutions to them in the here and now naturally becomes a big stressor . . . lest we face the reality of regaling our grandchildren about how Alaska used to be covered in cerulean yet crystal-clear icebergs.

Circling back to the contradiction of seeing a major film star touting environmental awareness: Before the Flood is most compelling when we are taken behind the scenes of Leo’s most recent (and Oscar-winning) film, The Revenant, which, aside from presenting one of the most visceral and singular cinematic experiences in recent memory, focused on the impact early settlers had on their surroundings: poachers destroying everything in their path on their journey to make ends meet; settlers slashing-and-burning forest. That shoot was infamously challenging but for reasons other than the obvious. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and crew were forced to relocate hemispheres — from the Canadian Rockies to the Andes in Argentina — in search of snow when they experienced unseasonably high temperatures in the north. Listening in on these conversations gives an entirely fresh and direct perspective.

If that’s not convincing enough, perhaps the fact that Indian farmers watched their crops washed away, leaving dozens of families — children — starving after they received their entire annual rainfall over the course of a day will sober you up. Or that entire, neighborhood-sized chunks of ice in the Arctic Circle are melting faster than you can measure them. Rising global temperatures and the rapid shrinking of the polar caps continue to strain Inuit fishermen’s livelihood as they hunt bears, a population that has been dwindling in response to changing conditions. There are other examples as well, but these are among the most undeniable, the most disturbing.

DiCaprio is a great mascot but ultimately the production he’s passionately become involved in doesn’t give us much in the way of revelation. Fisher likes to dwell on the gloom-and-doom talk seemingly more than he wants to find solutions and the solemnity eventually becomes off-putting. The numbers and statistics and graphics that accompany the vast sea of information we’re provided don’t really add impact. They add to the science, sure, but Before the Flood lacks the actual urgency that its message all but demands. There is, however, a glimmer of hope and human ingenuity when we step inside the Tesla Gigafactory 1, an enormously cavernous space that will house the production lines of millions of electric vehicles and energy-efficient lithium batteries. The latest venture of Tesla founder Elon Musk opened in July of 2016 and, once operating at full capacity in 2020, it will manifest as the world’s largest building. He judges that 100 such facilities spread throughout the world would make a significant impact on energy reduction and would lead to massive curtailing of raw material usage.

Like a great many of the “it’s so obvious” revelations that we’re bombarded with in the face of all this maddening destruction, DiCaprio’s deduction that “[100 gigafactories] seems manageable” is a tad too naive. The intent behind the film is good, it’s sincere, but Before the Flood settles for inciting immediate reaction. It wants to see us flap our arms in panic and despair rather than inspire us into action and perhaps even legitimate activism.


“Dude, that’s not a prop.”

Recommendation: Activists, behold a famous actor who truly seems to give a damn about the only place we will ever call Home. Only time will tell just how for real he is, but I want to believe in him. I think Before the Flood is a force for good but it should have been more potent than it actually is. Still a decent recommendation from me, and one you should definitely spend time with no matter your political leaning, something that’s well worth tracking down as it is available for free on so many different platforms (at least for now). 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 96 mins.

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A Very Murray Christmas

A Very Murray Christmas movie poster

Release: Friday, December 4, 2015 (Netflix)


Written by: Sophia Coppola; Mitch Glazer; Bill Murray

Directed by: Sophia Coppola

A Very Murray Christmas is kind of an odd package. It’s a fairly self-indulgent vanity project but only in the best way possible. I mean, how do you say ‘no’ to Bill Murray?

It’s a movie but not a movie; a musical but not really a musical; a short story without much of a tale to tell. It’s roughly an hour of Murray lamenting being left alone for Christmas Eve as he’s holed up in the famous Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan as a blizzard rages outside, preventing anyone from traveling anywhere and from taking part in his Christmas Special in which he is to live broadcast a number of classic tunes for the masses to enjoy.

Then the weather intensifies and shuts down the production, leaving him to his own devices in the hotel lobby, where he slowly starts gathering random hotel guests and staff members together for an impromptu session of Christmas caroling. In essence, this is Murray’s way of saying Happy Holidays without resorting to social media. It’s a live recording of him nudging even the grumps into the holiday spirit. He starts off the film in a lousy mood and slowly overcomes his depression as said guests gather round in drunken merriment.

Despite the aimlessness of it all, A Very Murray Christmas is a good bit of fun. It’s cozy and will fill your heart with warmth come the surprisingly entertaining introduction of Miley Cyrus and George Clooney in a bizarre dream sequence that results after Murray collapses in the hotel lobby after drinking one too many shots of tequila.

It’s a who’s who of the Murray entourage. The guest list is rather impressive: Amy Poehler, Paul Shaffer, Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Michael Cera, Demitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Jason Schwartzman, David Johansen, Miley Cyrus, Julie White, Chris Rock, George Clooney (he seems to be owing Murray a favor after Murray did Monument’s Men) and members of the band Phoenix all donate their time to the cause.

Ultimately this is nothing you will regret having missed but for the Murray faithful, this Christmas special makes one feel as though this is the closest they can get to actually interacting with the great Bill Murray. That in itself is a gift.

A Very Murray Christmas

Recommendation: Fans of Bill Murray are going to greatly enjoy this while anyone else who isn’t so much a fan are probably going to find it a chore to sit through. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 56 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t even know how to express my shame in this moment. The Murricane skulking down the back stairs like some $25 an hour, Twin Cities hooker.” 

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Release: Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Written by: Doug Ellin

Directed by: Doug Ellin

There’s no denying how much the Entourage movie will fail to unite that which its namesake HBO series divided back in 2004. The cinematic revival will be regarded either as one of the more obvious examples of excessive fan service, or the heralding of a new era of one of modern television’s most meta entertainment vehicles.

There’s plenty of fuel for both arguments, though you won’t hear me complaining that there is now a two-hour long episode available in the big screen format.

In truth, the movie is likely to further polarize the two factions — those who have embraced the idea of tracing a young movie star’s personal and professional trajectory and those who haven’t — for Entourage is a properly conceived crowd-pleaser. If you’ve been along for the ride the return of Vincent Chase and his loudmouthed, fairly obnoxious New York brethren is a welcomed retreat back into the male fantasy of living dreams that once felt out of reach. Anyone approaching the material for the first time or with limited enthusiasm isn’t going to be moved to check out much beyond its pilot season. Perhaps not even beyond the pilot episode. The world surrounding Vincent Chase serves as its own self-sustaining economy; series creator Doug Ellin, even Mark Wahlberg, whose experience growing up in Hollywood is catalytic, and the fans thereof need not apologize or explain at length why the exclusivity works so beautifully.

Outside of meticulous, brilliant writing what granted the show its longevity was the camaraderie between four then-unknowns. That Entourage constantly brushed shoulders with much more recognizable names did nothing but confirm the show’s unique accessibility, a creation where movie stars are people and not just brand names. You could almost reach out and touch these individuals through the screen. If it’s not easy to identify with those who earn multi-million dollar paychecks (and it’s not), then the juxtaposition of ‘stars’ like the fictional Chase brothers alongside, say, Scarlett Johansson or in the case of the movie version, someone like Billy Bob Thornton makes for interesting career comparisons. That’s of course if you’re into that sort of thing.

Entourage may be four years “in the making,” though it feels as if no time has passed since we left Vince (Adrian Grenier), E (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) to their own pervy devices. That’s primarily because the film manifests as merely an extension of the same narrative that saw Vince grow from a new kid on the Hollywood block into a true celebrity, maturing through all manners of drug-addled self-aggrandizement and sexual encounters designed to separate the movie star from the individual.

Why there is this indignation that this extended episode doesn’t offer more than . . . well, more of the same, is anyone’s guess. The day-in-the-life experience would never work as a production with a singular narrative focus. The slightest deviation from what has worked so well in the past wouldn’t feel natural. Characters of flesh and blood, despite their materialistic obsession and an apparent preference for misogynistic lifestyles, have endeared themselves to those who understand that Entourage represents and values loyalty, friendship and dedication more than the sheen of its surface suggests. Rather than exaggerating these people in a story more befitting of a feature film, Ellin knows that the only way forward is to continue exploring how these individuals interact with a fictionalized and dramatized Hollywood landscape.

In 2015 Vince and his bros are wealthier than ever. It’s also easier than ever to fail in identifying with the stress and tension shared amongst the crew, as they all have risen to such prominence on the scene. That won’t stop us from having a good time with them, though. Ari the super agent (a never better Jeremy Piven) is trying to reconcile his professional and family life the best way he knows how. He’s left the agenting racket behind and currently runs his own studio. His priority is enabling Vince to rise to the ‘next level.’ Presumably this means becoming even more famous than he currently is — some kind of awards recognition would be nice. Vince wants to update the Jekyl and Hyde fable by not only starring in the project but directing it as well. It’s a decision that concerns Ari as much as Vince’s best friend/manager.

Turtle and Drama are similarly surprised by the ambition, especially given the position it would put all of them in should the film fail critically or commercially. Of course, since Turtle sold his tequila company to Mark Cuban it’s really Drama who is most concerned about that whole living by the freeway situation. After all, he’s still the one trying to break through in the industry. Vince’s Hyde represents the first investment Ari would be making as studio head, so what’s at stake is painfully obvious. The stakes are no different than before, and not really much higher, despite insistence from both Entourage‘s writers and performers that they are. Thornton is in as Texan billionaire financier Larsen McCredle, and along with his entitled son Travis (Haley Joel Osment), he represents the big money; the underbelly of the business of entertainment. While the pair are a welcomed addition to the ever-expanding list of extended cameos, Thornton and Osment do little to escape the mold of Entourage‘s conflict creation and resolution.

Turtle finds a new potential love interest in MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, while Drama is once again humiliated thanks to a viral video he unwittingly creates with all of his pent-up anger and aggression. E finds himself in an uncharacteristically awkward position when his bedding of two different women in the space of 24 hours yields some rather unsavory consequences, while Vince carries on getting most of the attention from male and female fans alike.

Yes indeed, very little has changed. Yet at the same time Entourage represents another leap forward in the maturation process of each of its players. The pursuit of women, prestige and boatloads more money may not be the most profound representation of human nature but it is consistent. And it all still rings true to the lifestyle these people have embraced since leaving Queens. It’d be ridiculous to say the wait has been killing anyone since Entourage went off the air in 2011 (though I’m sure a few diehards are claiming this to be so), but it’s certainly fun having another opportunity to dive back into this outrageously excessive culture. I’m sorry that I’m not sorry about my fascination with it.

Recommendation: Entourage is unabashedly a continuation of the series that became one of HBO’s most popular, and as such fans have a lot to look forward to. The film’s greatest weakness, I suppose, is its inability to offer anything to those unfamiliar with it or who couldn’t quite get into even the most popular episodes. This is very much an exclusive film and I understand completely the antipathy that will rise in the wake of its release.

Rated: R

Running Time: 104 mins.

Quoted: “I’m telling you. Because it is your job, along with going over budget and being short, to tell him these things.”

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30 for 30: The Legend of Jimmy the Greek


Release: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 (Vol. I, Ep. 6)

👀 Netflix

Starring: Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder; Rich Podolsky; Brent Musburger; Dan Rather; Fritz Mitchell

Directed by: Fritz Mitchell

Distributor: ESPN Films


I’m wondering who in this room would recognize the name Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos. I’d be willing to bet many more might if I then revealed this was merely the less-glamorous birth name given to the one and only Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder.

And if you’re still finding yourself asking, “Who?” — that’s perfectly okay. The controversial sportscaster was a fixture for those tuning in to CBS’s popular pre-game show, The NFL Today, during the mid-1970s and through the ’80s before he was (some say deservedly) fired for making off-the-cuff remarks about black athletes being superior to whites. Frankly, anyone not of the thinking that off-track betting and professional football go hand-in-hand probably don’t much care for The Greek’s bold approach to sports journalism.

Snyder should be considered as something of a man before his time, though to call him a visionary would be a little sensational. He was, in a sense, a niched journalist before the advent of social media gave rise to the bona fide niched market. If The Greek were alive today he’d easily have his own show, based solely on his curious, roughshod mannerisms and enthusiastic way of presenting information.

Not to mention the fact the man had trouble disenfranchising himself with the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas, where he learned how to build himself as an effective and respected gambler. He took the skills he acquired there and applied them to betting the odds of things happening (or not happening) during football season. As evidenced in seven-time Emmy Award-winning documentarian Fritz Mitchell’s contribution to 30 for 30, it’s a strategy that paid off for The Greek in more areas than just sports.

One of his more impressive gambles — the one used as a catalyst for the film’s dramatic unraveling — was a bet Jimmy made on the odds of incumbent President Harry Truman (very unpopular circa 1948) surviving against incoming presidential hopeful Tom Dewey. He based his hunches on the fact that of the many women he had polled that year, mustaches like the one worn by Dewey weren’t exactly a popular style. In one of the greatest presidential election upsets in history, The Greek seemingly validated his quirky intuition and market research.

The Greek went on to make several impressive bets that are elucidated throughout this hour-long documentary. Mitchell captures the man’s interesting life (and lifestyle) using a combination of interviews ranging in tone and objectivity — featuring the likes of Jimmy’s former colleagues, and some bigger names many are likely to recognize (Dan Rather) — and an overlaid narration created by someone who sounds quite like the deep booming voice Jimmy possessed. The film also includes several amusing clips taken exclusively from CBS and their affiliates.

The most rewarding aspect to this particular installment in the series is witnessing the varied reactions of those who knew him with appropriately varying degrees of intimacy, and hearing what it is they have to say now. Jimmy passed away in 1996, and many have coldly dismissed the event as a matter of inevitability. Death by broken heart. After his racist comments were made public, the great Greek never worked a job in news again. His spirit crushed, he would return to Vegas, tail between his legs and become lost to the machine of ill-advised gambling and scheming.

The heartbreaking documentary harps on the inevitable downfall of a once-proud journalist, in the process making a particular comment about the state of his funeral that left this reviewer cold but moreover sympathetic to a man who may not have made the best decisions in public, but one who knew what he loved and tried to die defending it. We of course all make mistakes, and for Jimmy it seemed the timing could not have been worse. This is the ultimate impact of Mitchell’s film.

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Moral of the Story: Those who grew up watching CBS’s The NFL Today will get more of a kick out of this particular entry than those who did not. Fritz Mitchell makes the discussion lively and open to general interest viewers, as well, of course. This may be a pretty obscure docu but the entertainment/intrigue factor here have long-ranging implications in the world of sports. General sports fans surely will find something to be surprised by here, and if this is the first time meeting Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, what a welcoming it will be for you.

Rated: TV-G

Running Time: 51 mins.

[No trailer available. Sorry everyone.]

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TBT: Brink! (1998)


As the summer season of filmgoing winds down (well, sort of. . .Guardians of the Galaxy looms around the corner this weekend, so maybe that’s a premature statement) my inspired posts have really ramped up! Today’s TBT comes at you not from the brain of. . .well, me. . . but yeah, from someone else. Someone else’s sick mind is responsible for today’s throwback. And I won’t mention any names (Keith), but suffice it to say — this man has a great taste in movies! I had almost forgotten all about these campy Disney originals, until now. So, he suggested this one and, for anyone who has seen this, I’m sure they’ll also wonder how I could possibly go without talking about

Today’s food for thought: Brink! 


Rolling brakeless since: August 29, 1998


Ahh, Brink! Yes, the movie title with the mysterious exclamation point at the end, the one to this day I still don’t understand. I mean, why so excited? Everytime I write that title I sound more enthusiastic than I really should about a Disney channel original movie, but you know, whatever. #YOLO.

There’s a great many things yours truly does not understand, and this movie title, not to mention how inexplicably awesome the film itself actually was, are two more things I might as well add to the list.

I ain’t gonna fake it, brah. Brink! is a pretty damn cheesy movie, but it features some blasts of summer fun that time and again recall a much simpler, innocent time. The days spent careening down streets and heckling passers-by on the boardwalk can be recalled fondly for every Californian at home catching it on T.V. for the umpteenth time at 4 p.m. right after school. For those playing the long-distance game, who don’t live in California and who aren’t steeped in the rollerblading culture, it perhaps served better as a postcard from Venice Beach.

When a group of enthusiastic young in-liners led by Andy “Brink” Brinker (that’s not an awkward name at all) clash with a rivaling group of “professionally sponsored” skaters, Brink (Erik von Detten) is forced to decide who to skate for when given the opportunity to raise money for his family by joining Team X-Bladz, the über-serious and totally rad side of skating. But does he have it in him to sacrifice his friends and the simple joy of having fun while skating in order to make money? Dedicated Brink-sters tend to view this fairly asinine struggle as Anakin slowly joining the Dark Side. You desperately want him to turn back, to use reason and logic. Possibly, The Force, if necessary, to escape a lifetime of. . . well, selling out.

Of course, deep down Brink knows that “The Force” is just him having an identity crisis. He was once a passionate skater but now finds it necessary to use his talents as a way to financially help out his family. He betrays his bro’s (Brink, c’mon man), and he even endangers the life of one of them during a street race between himself and Gabby (Christina Vidal) when trying to prove who is the better downhill skater. If there really is a Dark Side in Disney’s eyes, it’s the whole selling one’s self out to corporate greed and uniformity. Ironically actual skaters view the world the same way. Unfortunately even the corporate-sponsored ones still have to fight for food, as the sport is not — as one might imagine — a highly-paid profession.

But enough of the practical talk, this is a Disney Channel movie throwback, for crying out loud. Enough with statistical probability of making it successfully in the industry (yes, the sport of rollerblading has garnered corporate sponsorship, despite what skateboarding might have you thinking otherwise), and enough with the damn comparisons to Star Wars. I just lost an entire paragraph to that metaphor. And about to lose another one to an explanation of why that was weird. Whatever.

At the end of the day, if you haven’t experienced the fast-paced, corny-as-corn action of Brink!, you’re basically missing out. And, brah, you have been for quite some time. The child in me who sat far too close to a television set still wants to think it was longer ago than 1998. Then again, that was well over a decade ago now.


Man, it’s gotta be a burden to possess a face that looks like that . . .

3-0Recommendation: I feel like if I need to recommend Brink! to my readers, I’ve already lost the race. You’ve either seen this one or you gave it a wide berth. I’m not really sure how some of my readers would go about even tracking it down out of curiosity now, unless they are comfortable with sifting through hours of mindless drivel on the Disney channel. Although, that might be a worthwhile sacrifice if you find yourself just curious enough.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “Whatever brah, let’s blade.”

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30 for 30: The Price of Gold


Release: Thursday, January 16, 2014 (Vol. II, Ep. 16)


Starring: Tonya Harding; Jeff Gillooly; Darin de Paul (narration)

Directed by: Nanette Burstein

Distributor: ESPN Films



Why? Why? Why wasn’t there more security in the building at the time of the incident?

In this relatively high-profile documentary, we are entreated to an inside look into the lives of two gifted female figure skaters — Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan — and how their worlds would ultimately intersect in dramatic fashion prior to the 1994 Olympic Winter Games, which took place in Lillehammer, Norway.

Academy Award-nominated director Nanette Burstein, whose filmography includes feature films such as Going the Distance, The Kid Stays in the Picture and a documentary spoof on The Breakfast Club called American Teen, takes on the responsibility of revealing the truth of what happened behind the curtains — literally — following Nancy Kerrigan’s practice skate session the evening of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Kerrigan, having barely left the ice, was assaulted by an unidentified man and clubbed across her right knee with a police baton, rendering her unable to skate for the competition and quite possibly for the upcoming Olympics.

ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 couldn’t have had better timing, what with the Sochi Games a mere three weeks away. Burstein’s work here is all the more impacting thanks to the (okay. . .yes, intentional) scheduling of its airing. Centering around an exclusive interview with Tonya Harding with a variety of other interviewees both current and past, The Price of Gold buries its head into the controversy and tries to establish who was responsible for the attack. It has other goals as well, such as verifying whether or not this could have been an attempt by Harding’s camp to improve her odds of winning the gold medal, and showing how this singular event came to be the catalyst for a resurgence in the event’s popularity.

The two skaters both came from humble beginnings — Harding much more so, as she was born into a poorer family that could barely afford her to go to the skating sessions she attended as a child. Her mother, an abusive alcoholic, never truly supported her daughter’s passion. Kerrigan, on the other hand, while certainly not from wealth, grew up in a slightly more privileged family and as the documentary expands, we get to appreciate the subtle differences in the two athletes. (Naysayers be damned, this is an athletic sport.) But Harding found it much more difficult to rise to the top in her sport as her reputation for being the skater from the wrong side of the tracks never really helped her image.

As Tony Kornheiser (a personal favorite sports analyst of yours truly) points out, figure skaters are the dainty, precious commodities corporate America is interested in seeing achieve Gold medal status, if only because they represent the red, white and blue. Nevermind the fact that these are extremely young girls pushing their bodies (and minds) to their absolute limits. With the Olympics being the largest stage imaginable for any competitor, the slightest sense of anything out of the ordinary occurring in the weeks and/or months leading up to the event potentially can spell disaster. No one could have seen anything like this coming, though.

There’s no special, winning formula to the proceedings. Its structure is quite linear. Tracing the developmental stages of these girls’ careers and their relative trajectories heading into the Games, the focus is primarily on Harding, seeing as though Kerrigan declined to be interviewed. Frequent cuts back to the chat with the 43-year-old reveal her reactions now to the events being described and depicted in archived footage in the meantime. One cannot help but feel that some part of her perhaps deserved what was coming. One does not get the strongest sense that this was an innocent skater terrorized by a media storm; yet one cannot dismiss the sense of sorrow they feel towards a woman caught in constantly abusive environments.

Her first marriage to Jeff Gillooly continued the pattern of physical abuse and emotional fragility — hardly the picture of a world-class figure skater. This image she carried with her became such a burden that when the incident occurred, her name was instantly linked to it. But, as it turned out, the national opinion wasn’t so prejudicial.

The Price of Gold is jam-packed with fascinating footage. Burstein has done quite a job assembling a story that nitpicks through what can only be considered one of the most controversial and bizarre occurrences in Olympic history. . .in sports history. Quite likely, there will never be a Games quite like the 1994 Winter Olympics again. However, she is lacking one critical piece of the puzzle — an up-to-date conversation with the other side: Nancy Kerrigan. Though it would be harsh to consider it a misstep considering Kerrigan’s understandable resistance to being thrust back into the spotlight and talking about her own blemished history — and the documentary can’t be considered biased because of this — the end product does suffer a little bit as a result.

Imagine the juxtaposition of these would-be conflicting interviews. The depth of perspective. We get a little taste of that from the footage taken back in the early to mid-90’s, but there is so much more to speculate about how these two people have grown and changed since. There are interviews from the Kerrigan camp (her current husband gets some camera time) but it’s just not the same. We have to believe Burstein tried her best to get her involved, but at the end of the day, The Price of Gold falls just short of gold and lands on the second-highest podium position because of one simple trip up.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.


“Why? Why? Why?!”

Moral of the Story: For anyone interested in learning more about the backstory, The Price of Gold is quite valuable. It’s surprisingly digestible and enticing (particularly for sports fans who don’t necessarily buy into figure skating as a “legitimate” sport), with the interviews with Harding and others being at the top of the list of reasons you should see into this.

Rated: TV-G

Running Time: 78 mins.

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30-for-30: Big Shot


Release: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 (Vol. II, Ep. 12)


Starring: Paul Weissman; John Spano (archives); Wayne Gretzky; Kevin Connolly (narration)

Directed by: Kevin Connolly

Distributor: ESPN Films



The minute I realized that ‘E’ from Entourage would be directing one of ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary films, Big Shot, I was set on focusing my eyeballs on the nearest T.V. that would be showing it. Annnnd then I missed it the evening it came on.

Fortunately it was airing a couple of times over the next night and I was able to catch it, and now here I am, giving Connolly even more credit than what he’s already due from me with his role on one of my favorite T.V. shows of all time. To me, Connolly’s been a likable actor who may not have tremendous range but seems more overlooked than he should be. But as a native Long Islander and huge supporter of the Islanders, here he comes with a fascinating look into one of the greatest scams in all of sports history.

The year was 1996. The team? The New York Islanders. Desperate to get back to where they once were — the Islanders in the decade prior were perhaps the most dominant team the NHL had ever seen, winning four consecutive Stanley Cup trophies from 1980 to 1983 — the Islander front office hired a man by the name of John Spano to take over ownership of the team. In thinking this move was the team’s best (heck, their only) answer to getting back on track, it would later become obvious that this was one more chronic mistake made by management, a choice that would demote the team from former dynasty to the laughingstock of the entire league.

The team’s new owner was arrested and incarcerated less than a year later on multiple counts of bank and wire fraud and forgery, acts which were committed not only in New York but also in Texas, where previously, before taking over the Islanders he had made an attempt at owning the Dallas Stars team. His purchase of the Islanders was worth $165 million — half of that going to the television rights and the other half to John Pickett, the former team owner who held a 90% stake in the team. Later on, Spano then would buy up the remaining 10% share. The new owner’s upbeat attitude, hard-work and apparent wealth seemed to be everything this team needed, especially after going several seasons without even so much as making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the wake of their early 80’s dynasty. At the time of his purchase, Spano was maybe worth $5 million, and had no legitimate way of paying his share of the team.

Connolly’s documentary weaves in and out of interviews with Spano and many high-profile figures representing the New York Islanders. There’s an extended section wherein Connolly gets to chat with the former owner and 72-month-long prison term-serving Spano face-to-face. Footage of the Islander’s facility springing leaks and floods throughout the building demonstrated the state to which this community had deteriorated prior to Spano’s arrival. A couple of statements are made by former players as well to further emphasize the dramatic changes surrounding this team pre- and post-Spano. The numbers are staggering, as is the other data that gets presented — all of which prove just how associated Spano’s name is with the term ‘fraud.’

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Big Shot is hearing the story in Spano’s words. Time and again he explains away his reasons for how he was able to keep the Islanders in the dark on just how little money he had at the time, describing the dread he would perpetually awake with, having the knowledge of needing to extend a lie of his own epic construction for just another day. He even claims at one point that ripping off a professional hockey team for millions of dollars was never his intention; that he had indeed at first been honestly committed to doing whatever he could to bringing this team back from the dead. Unfortunately, his legacy would leave the team reeling even more.

It also should be noted that this Spano guy was a bit of a slop, on top of everything else. His involvement in several lawsuits at the time of his purchase of the Islanders went unnoticed for a time, though this would ultimately contribute to his demise. The extent to which he lied about his wealth and his professional background slowly started to become evident as Newsday began conducting investigations into the man’s life. The team’s suspicion of his credentials reached its fevered pitch in the summer of 1997, after Spano had failed to come up with much money at all, on numerous occasions. At one point, he even had mailed in amounts as little as $5,000 and $1,700 in an attempt to fool management into thinking these were misprinted checks (when they were meant to be amounts of $5 million and $17 million, respectively).

Indeed, the life story of John Spano devolves from something of an honest reputation, to becoming a pretty good liar and a cheater, to becoming a full-blown fraud, and, finally, a prisoner. One would think such a fall from grace would be enough to learn from once around. However, when Spano was released after his six-year term, his appetite for ruinous business deals still not satiated, he was subsequently indicted on additional charges of fraud in February 2005 having moved to Cleveland and ripped off several companies there.

What Big Shot is great for, ultimately, is demonstrating the ease with which one man had pursuing what most would likely call ‘the American Dream,’ but doing it with such little money! The story of John Spano and the Islanders is almost cartoonish at times. But sometimes the truth is harder to accept than the lies. Just go ask an Islander fan.

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Don’t puck this up, E

Moral of the Story: Connolly’s work here is quite impressive. Sports fans are obviously the target here, and hockey fans may take more to this kind of story than others. Even if you don’t call yourself an Islanders fan, or even much of a follower of any sport, his documentary is eye-opening simply considering the scope of this fraud and the terrible ways the team was managed in the 80s and 90s, and therefore has a broader appeal that should interest more than a few peeps who don’t like sports.

Rated: TV-G

Running Time: 79 mins.

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