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Wednesday, 01 June 2022 10:13

‘Facing Nolan’ throws some serious heat

Baseball is a game that is utterly enamored of its own history. No American professional sport is as self-referential as baseball, with an obsession of finding ways to compare the stars of the present with the legends of the past.

But what about those legends for whom there simply is no comparison?

Take Nolan Ryan. If you tried to make him up, no one would believe you. The owner of what many would still argue is the fastest fastball of all time; he was the longtime Guinness record holder, with a recorded fastball velocity of 100.6 miles per hour (though extrapolated to the more accurate measurement tech of today, some estimates have him as fast as 108 at his peak).

Ryan holds all-time career records for strikeouts and walks and no-hitters and 48 others, good and bad. His win-loss record in the majors was 324-292. He pitched for 27 seasons and performed at a high level right up until a career-ending arm injury at age 46 cut things short a couple of starts short of the planned end.

This guy wasn’t a pitcher, he was a goddamned folk hero.

And that energy very much carries through “Facing Nolan,” the new documentary about the pitcher by Bradley Jackson. This is that rare sports doc where we don’t get the “fallen hero/redemption” arc … and we don’t need it. Instead, Jackson simply walks us through a baseball career the likes of which we will absolutely never see again.

Published in Sports

Sports documentaries are always a mixed bag, but that bag is particularly mixed if the doc is about a single individual. It’s a fine line; a person isn’t going to sign onto a film that’s going to be a hatchet job, but venturing too far into the realm of hagiography undermines the credibility of the filmmakers and the credulity of the viewer.

“Tony Parker: The Final Shot,” currently streaming on Netflix, manages to find its way into the middle ground, albeit considerably closer to the hagiographic side of the equation. Directed by French filmmaker Florent Bodin, it’s a journey through the career of Tony Parker, the retired NBA point guard who is generally considered to be the greatest player in the history of French basketball.

Published in Sports

Every four years, the world watches as its greatest athletes compete on the global stage. Elite performers from all over converge on a single place in an effort to excel in the name of Olympic gold.

But what happens to these athletes after the cheering stops? Is the price paid to reach the pinnacle too high?

That’s the fundamental question behind “The Weight of Gold,” a new documentary from HBO Sports. In it, filmmaker Brett Rapkin speaks to a number of American Olympians – both Summer and Winter – about the toll their respective quests for excellence took on them. Even the most successful among them had their share of struggles … and for too many, the tale took a tragic turn.

The film – narrated by legendary swimmer Michael Phelps (a featured interviewee and an executive producer on the project as well) – brings together new interviews and archival footage to offer a look into the sacrifices these athletes make to reach the top and the aftermath through which they must navigate after the spotlight fades.

Published in Sports

The world of elite competitive sports is a fascinating one, studded with stars and fantastic feats. We watch and we marvel and we revel in the incredible athleticism that plays out on the fields and in the arenas that make up the grandest stage. We LOVE sports.

But there’s another side to that love affair – a side that can be unpleasant, harmful and, sometimes, utterly horrifying.

“Athlete A” – a documentary by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, currently streaming on Netflix – tells a story that reveals just how dark the dark side of sports can get. It’s the story of the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal, in which team physician Dr. Larry Nassar took advantage of his position to abuse hundreds of girls over the course of decades – and in which the leadership of USA Gymnastics attempted to cover it all up. The film walks the viewer through the investigation, led by reporters at the Indianapolis Star, while also engaging with some of the first women to go public with their allegations of abuse.

Watching this film isn’t always easy – there are some gut-wrenching moments that will land hard no matter how much you already know of the story. But “Athlete A” is important filmmaking, a cinematic document of a story that forces us to take a long hard look in the mirror of our fandom. It’s a reminder that a win-at-all-costs mentality can be dangerous – because some costs are devastatingly, unconscionably high.

Published in Sports

How do you tell the true story of a man who seemingly sprang forth from the mists of myth? How do you ground in reality a man whose life seemed in many ways like fantasy?

How do you do justice to a giant?

That was the daunting task laid before director Jason Hehir when he agreed to make “Andre the Giant,” the very first documentary project springing from the partnership between Bill Simmons’s The Ringer and HBO. And through well-curated archival footage and a host of interviews with people who both knew and cared deeply for the world-famous wrestler, Hehir executed that task to perfection.

Published in Sports

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