Tag Archives: documentary

Review: ‘It Ain’t Over,’ Reclaiming Baseball Heritage

Sean Mullin’s documentary pays loving tribute to baseball great Yogi Berra. 

If you grew up playing or watching baseball, It Ain’t Over holds immediate appeal. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball in any way, shape, or form, though, the name Yogi Berra may spark a nod of recognition. 

Born in 1925, making him a member of my father’s generation, Lawrence Peter Berra became known as “Yogi” Berra, thanks to his propensity for sitting in a yogi-like position on the playing field. He signed with the New York Yankees shortly before volunteering to serve in the military. Upon the conclusion of World War II, he returned to baseball, making his major-league debut in 1946 and quickly becoming a cornerstone of the Yankees’ championship years throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960s before becoming a coach and manager. 

Berra’s life and career is recounted in loving detail by director Sean Mullin, who has made both documentaries and features. It Ain’t Over follows a well-trod path for documentaries, skillfully assembling a slew of new interviews with archival footage, interspersed with the ‘Yogi-isms’ for which Berra became renowned. 

What sets this apart from other, similar documentaries is that Yogi Berra burrowed his way into popular culture in the 1950s without even trying. His friendly, gregarious personality, modest demeanor, and shorter stature than most professional athletes at the time — even though he was taller than me! — invited disparaging or demeaning comments by fellow players and the press, which he took in good humor. 

In striking contrast with many pro athletes today, who freely boast and mock and preen, Berra’s personality comes across as incredibly relaxed and refreshing. As popular as he became as a commercial spokesman in his time, his self-mocking personality threw up a smoke screen around his singular accomplishments as a baseball player, lessening his reputation in the popular imagination. 

With the passage, it becomes easier to reflect upon his place in the history of the game. The documentary goes further by presenting him as a man about whom nobody ever said anything negative. His children and grandchildren all speak lovingly of him, and so do a host of fellow players, from his and succeeding generations.

By not calling attention to itself, It Ain’t Over ensures that all interest accrues to Yogi Berra and his legacy as a husband, father, player, coach, manager and commercial pitchman. It’s a distinguished record that doesn’t need much burnishing, and director Sean Mullin pays tribute in a fleet and fast-moving 98 minutes. 

The film opens Friday, May 26, via Sony Classics, at the following locations: Angelika Dallas, Angelika Plano, AMC Grapevine Mills, AMC Firewheel 18, AMC Stonebriar 24, and Modern Art Museum of Ft Worth. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me’ Reflects Deeply Upon the Perils of Stardom

The musical star and actress talks about her many serious, personal challenges in a documentary directed by Alek Keshishian, now streaming on Apple TV+. 

Born and raised in Grand Prairie until she was seven, Selena Gomez became an instant star on Disney, which meant that she moved to Hollywood as a child and came of age under the magnifying glass of ever-increasing fame.

Some seven years ago, Alek Keshishian, (Madonna: Truth or Dare, 1991) helmed a music video for Gomez. Shortly thereafter, Gomez began experiencing crisis-level personal problems that threatened to derail her career. As documented in Selena Gomez: My Mind & Me, her eventual diagnosis for lupus and its effect upon mental health struggles she was already experiencing distinguish her troubles from those self-inflicted wounds that have plagued many, many other young stars over the years. 

Gomez’ honesty also marks the documentary as different from other confessionals, although the film as a whole makes me wonder if anyone connected to a young, rising star ever stops to watch any of them. If so, I’d think they would question whether they can afford the price of fame and its attendant disastrous consequences, which are too frequently fatal. 

As those of us who live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex know, Grand Prairie is a lovely community, with a large portion of the residents being Hispanic/Latino. Gomez, whose return to the city is showcased in the film, never appears to stay far from her roots; her genuine engagement with friends and former neighbors, and her desire to give back by visiting young school students, is genuinely touching. 

So is her willingness to discuss her mental health struggles, exacerbated, it seems, by her diagnosis with the serious condition of lupus. None of these struggles are over for her; she will have to deal with them for the remainder of her life, so her struggle will never entirely cease. It’s more a matter of coping with these gigantic challenges. 

Of course, she could end her musical and performing career any time she wishes to do so, but says in the film that she feels that her entertainment talents have gifted her with an enlarged opportunity to help others. Keshishian keeps the pace moving at a brisk pace, so that even if you’re not necessarily a fan of Gomez’ music or other work, the documentary works effectively, in large part because of its emotional intimacy. 

The film is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Review: ‘Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story’ Celebrates a City, Its Culture, Its Food, and, Yes, Its Music

If you’ve lived in Dallas for any length of time, you’ve heard about Jazz Fest, whether from Louisiana natives who’ve moved here or from Dallas visitors who have enthused about their attendance.  

Held in New Orleans every year, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival “showcases unforgettable music on multiple stages, delicious Louisiana cuisine in two large food areas, and crafts artisans from the region and around the world demonstrating and selling their work.” If that doesn’t appeal to your personal taste — in which case I question your personal taste — or if it’s been beyond your financial or physical means to attend — a much more likely scenario — directors Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern have put together a documentary that enables a virtual visit to the festival that you can now enjoy in the comfort of your home. 

Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein first expressed interest in creating a New Orleans equivalent in 1962, but at the time, Blacks and whites were not permitted (by local ordinance) to mingle. Times changed by 1970, enabling Wein to establish the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. 

Young Quint Davis, whose youthful enthusiasms are captured in archival footage, came on board for the inaugural festival and eventually became the festival’s producer. Both Wein and Davis are interviewed, and help to provide historical background and personal insights into the music and culture that power the festival to this day.   

Throughout the documentary, the various types of music that are showcased at the festival are introduced, in some cases explained, and in all cases demonstrated vividly with live concert footage, most from the 2019 festival. As might be expected, a large number of participants speak enthusiastically about the festival itself and their experiences, including notable names, such as Ellis Marsalis Jr. (and his musician sons), members of Earth, Wind & Fire, Jimmy Buffet, Katy Perry (!) and Bruce Springsteen. 

Some of the names, like Katy Perry or Pitbull, are a surprise for those of us who are not necessarily tuned into modern music, but directors Marshall and Suffern supply the background information needed to understand why and how they all fit into the rich tapestry offered by the festival every year. And they don’t ignore the cultural aspects, helping to define why New Orleans has suffered as such a marvelous breeding ground for such a wide variety of musicians, and continues to be supportive of a marvelous buffet of musical — and culinary! — delights. (Yeah, I might be tempted to go for the food alone.) 

As a cinematic work of art, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story weaves together a comprehensive story of a city, its music, its food, its cultures, and its many changes over the past 50 years, including the great challenges posed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It’s heartening to know that the festival and its people survived Katrina and the pandemic; the most recent edition was held this spring, and next year’s edition is already in the planning stages. 

The film is now available on various Video On Platform platforms. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Lincoln’s Dilemma,’ Bringing History to Life, For Good Reasons

What do we really know about Abraham Lincoln? 

(Picture above: depiction of Abraham Lincoln as featured in Lincoln’s Dilemma on Apple TV+.)

The 16th President of the United States has been widely hailed, widely vilified, and widely misunderstood. His role in history is assured, though what role, exactly, is yet to be determined, even more than 150 years after his death. 

The four-episode mini-series Lincoln’s Dilemma endeavors to provide a comprehensive overview of Abraham Lincoln’s four years as U.S. President, and largely  succeeds, with brisk and pointed insights drawn from deep considerations by a range of historians, mostly. Directors Jacqueline Olive (episodes 1 and 4) and Barak Goodman (episodes 2 and 3) tell a story that is consistently compelling, even if you think you know it already. 

Scripted by Barak Goodman, based on David S. Reynolds’ book Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, the documentary series initially touches on why it’s still relevant to plunge once more into the subject, ably summarizing events that led up to his presidency, both from his own personal history as well as key events in the history of the nation that point to the long-established roots of slavery. 

Revolving around pointed ‘talking head’ interviews as it is, Lincoln’s Dilemma moves at a steady pace that is never too quick, by which I mean that it allows time to think about what has just been said. Letters, speeches, and book excerpts are read by a talented cast of voice actors, including Bill Camp as Lincoln and Leslie Odom, Jr. as Frederick Douglass, who are more invested in bringing meaning to what they are reading and bringing the writers to life. 

Briefly utilizing animation to dramatize events from time to time, along with a copious supply of well-chose archival photographs, allows the viewer to put a face to the people cited, when appropriate. Every element is woven together with deep care and respect for Lincoln and his legacy, while still allowing plenty of space for a measured view of the man, his accomplishments, and his shortcomings. 

It’s a lot to take in, yet it never felt like I was living in a history textbook. I learned things I had never heard before, and was reminded of things I learned decades ago. 

Lincoln’s Dilemma brings history to life, raising new points for discussion, and suggesting why so many people in this nation are still not united over the basic fundamental rights that all people should enjoy.  

All four parts of the documentary series premiere globally on Friday, February 18 on Apple TV+.  

Review: ‘Time’

Garret Bradley’s Time is fashioned together from over two decades’ worth of footage. Part of it comes from the main subject herself; Sibil Rich initially created home videos as a way to visually document her time apart from her husband, who has been serving time for a 1997 armed robbery. What filmmaker Bradley has done in shrewdly piecing together those intimate moments with Sibil’s current push of activism to free him after 20 years becomes a potent exploration of rage, determination, unrequited love and, yes, lost time.

As the forceful presence in virtually every scene, Sibil is a magnificent person that gives the film a powerful presence as she speaks to groups, raises her children, or simply holds her tongue in extreme long takes as she’s forced to deal with bureaucratic turgidness on a daily basis. She is a determined woman….. determined to free her husband and provide a family for her sons. Time rules out almost everything else in her life. It’s a film singularly focused on her tireless purpose.

And, the other refreshing part of the film is that no one disputes the reasons why her husband, Robert, landed in jail in the first place. In fact, Sibil herself served a short bit of time as an accomplice to the robbery-gone-awry when the couple decided to take drastic measures to improve their financial situation.

The questions poised here have to do with racial inequality and prison reform. It also asks why they were railroaded by their initial counsel, which advised them to forgo a plea deal and take it to court, wherein Robert received the maximum 60 years, or how another lawyer years later took Sibil’s $15,000 and then failed to do anything.

With those (legal) injustices aside, Sibil decided her best course of action was to document everything, raising media awareness wherever she could and never give up. Time observes her day-to day, plus portions dedicated to several of her children, who are excelling in school and careers. It’s a family portrait shaded in black-and-white cinematography that is anything but those static colors.

Running at a short 80 minutes, Time packs plenty into its compact running time. And without spoiling too much, it winds down to such an unexpected moment that the film feels epic. I recently wrote about Miles Hargroves’ Miracle Fishing, which is another film that uses a mountain’s worth of home video footage to document lost time amongst a family. It’s hard to be rolling for every single thing, and both films features a blast of emotion that begins with the “on” button, literally taking our breathe away with the consequences happening on screen. This is life lived and observed.

Time opens in limited theatrical release today (Friday, October 9). It will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video as of Friday, October 16.

Review: ‘Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,’ Stirring Triumph Sings Out

dfn_linda_ronstadt_the_sound_of_my_voice_300Raised in a musical household, it was perhaps inevitable that a talented young woman who loved to sing would sprout wings and fly away to stardom.

In Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice, filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman chart the life and career of Linda Ronstadt, from her humble beginnings in New Mexico to the heights of musical stardom in the 1970s. It wasn’t as easy as she made it look.

For those like myself who came of age in that decade, Ronstadt’s songs were etched into memory via transistor radios. The tightly-produced pop songs, built around insanely catchy musical hooks and madly insistent choruses, were marvels of wonder. What tied it all together, though, was the voice that cut through, a truly beautiful voice that I did not fully appreciate until now.

The film’s title directs well-deserved attention to Ronstadt’s voice, an instrument that she wielded with grace and beauty, making every song she sang into an expression of her inner strength, including those that been sung before, and made famous by, other singers. Even acclaimed singer/songwriters acknowledge that Ronstadt’s interpretations made the songs she sang her own; it’s the phrasing, the way she curls her voice around the notes and the melody and the rhythm.

She did all this while manifesting her individual femininity in a musical environment that was heavily weighted toward chauvinistic male behavior and stereotypical masculine attitudes. The scales were tipped against her, as industry executives and musicians pushed her toward an old-fashioned, out of date role as a singer. Yet she continually pushed back and followed her own musical path, embracing musical theater and her own Mexican musical roots.

She favored casual clothing and hairstyles, doing little to call attention to her outward appearance. As a teen, I thought of her as a ‘girl next door’ type, the sort of person I’d want as a friend, and that was all communicated through her songs and the personality she exuded throughout her major stardom.

Jam-packed with interviews conducted with musical figures I first recognized from my youth, people like individual members of the Eagles (who first met when playing in Ronstadt’s touring band), Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and many more, the doc puts things into musical perspective, especially as it relates to female artists in and around rock music of the era. Ronstadt admits to her own mistakes, and expresses regret that she got caught up in the excesses of the time, especially when on the road and surrounded by behavior that was driven by the unique demands upon touring musicians.

As a documentary, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice is not much different from other, similar, music-themed biographies. Epstein and Friedman are experienced filmmakers, and they keep the pace quick as she spotlight stays on the singer, who narrates her own story.

So it comes back to the film’s subject, and I cannot pretend to any objectivity here. I have not sought out her music for many years, but this film instantly made me want to renew my acquaintance, which I am happily doing even as I write these words.

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice will open in Dallas at the Magnolia Theater on Friday, September 13.