Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

Nolan Ryan, American folk hero.

I used to have a Nolan Ryan t-shirt back in the day, not surrendering it until it finally fell to pieces.

Like the man whose image was emblazoned on it, that shirt lasted a VERY long time, and I miss it greatly.

Does the modern generation even know who Nolan Ryan is?

They should, because the dude is the real deal.

He was born in 1947, made his Major League Baseball debut at 19, played 27(!!) seasons, retired in 1993, and went into the Hall of Fame with 98.8% of the vote in 1999.

That year’s induction class, with George Brett and Robin Yount joining Ryan in Cooperstown, is the high-water mark for my own personal relationship with the diamond game.

Those three, who soared so high in the ’80s, when I was an impressionable teenager, were larger than life figures — old school folk heroes who looked like real dudes, not steroid-inflated cartoons, and their exploits still seem so much bigger than many who have followed them.

Ryan, in particular, was the guy.

He was old man strong, going bald and doing his arm curls in his dad shorts while drawling good-natured wisdom to his own sons in the TV clips we saw.

Then, every fourth or fifth day, he took the ball, went to the mound, and buzzed fools until the game was over.

Pity the manager who dared to think about pulling him early.

Nolan Ryan pitched like the rancher he was — you do the damn job, and you don’t ask, expect, or want, anyone else to come moseying along talking about “hey, do you need some help?”

He threw two of his MLB-record seven no-hitters after age 40(!!) and struck out 5,714 batters — almost 900(!!) more than his closest challengers, Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens.

Today, starting pitchers get pats on the head and orange slices for going five innings, then managers run 300 relievers through the game.

Ryan, death grip on the ball, wasn’t moving off the mound.

Not when Bo Jackson cranked a ball off his face, leaving the hurler (and his uniform) splattered in blood, as shown in the photo above.

Today everyone hyperventilates at the sight of a single crimson drop. Ryan retired 17 more hitters, without changing his uniform.

And not when Robin Ventura, a rock-solid third baseman in the ’90s, charged the mound one August day after being plunked.

Stop. Hammer time.

Ventura was 26, Ryan 46, and the rancher collared the upstart, pulling him in with one arm and raining blows down on the interloper with the other.

There are a ton of fake “fights” in MLB history, and then there is the one where Ryan, who was nearly wrecked after being bum-rushed by man-mountain Dave Winfield 13 years earlier, upheld his vow to protect himself at all costs if the situation ever repeated.

Enter Ventura, exit Ventura — ejected from the game, forever to be remembered more for getting beat down by an old man than for his own strong 16-year MLB career.

And Ryan? He wasn’t even ejected, cause no ump wanted to mess with the old man, either.

So, what’s this all about, other than me getting misty-eyed over a long-gone t-shirt?

It’s about how you all need to go to Netflix and watch the 2022 documentary Facing Nolan.

It’s a reverent look at the kind of baseball player who rarely exists in the modern game, but it’s also a love story.

Between Nolan and Ruth, his wife of 55 years, a champion in her own right, and the true power figure in the family.

Between Nolan and his children and grandchildren, who tease him about his old TV commercials and bring out the softer side in a tough man.

Between Nolan and the state of Texas, and Nolan and ranching.

And between Nolan and the game he played for three decades; a game he dominated in a way few others ever have.

It’s a great film, about a true American folk hero, a man who did his job one 100 MPH fastball at a time, then went home to his family and the ranch, content.

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You should be watching movies like Wrestle, and you can if you take advantage of Kanopy, a free film streaming site offered by your local library.

In an ocean full of movie streaming options, Kanopy is that odd lil’ island tucked off in a far corner of the map.

Most travelers settle for the relatively swanky, easy-to-reach sites like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, or Amazon.

But, for the price of a library card (so … free), Kanopy offers a heady mix of high class and (sometimes very) grimy low class.

The site’s front page marinates in documentaries, foreign films, and art house gems.

Go down the wrong alleyway, however, and you can have a grand old time with scuzzy ’80s slashers like Blood Rage, modern-day gagfests such as The Greasy Strangler, or, and I’m serious here … Cannibal Holocaust.

Yes, your library system offers the official place to stream one of the nastiest horror films to ever be banned in multiple countries, in all its uncut “glory.”

Kanopy … where Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon shares space with I Drink Your Blood, and where you can create your own wildly mismatched double features, like Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and Ralph Bakshi’s Coonskin.

All for free.

Your move, Netflix, and you already lost.

As you wander through Kanopy, a lot of big-name classics will catch your eye, but you also want to look out for small gems such as Wrestle.

A 2019 documentary about four grapplers, and their hard knocks coach, it’s set at a failing Alabama high school, and it offers something for everyone.

You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to sink deep into their stories, which offer some hard-earned hope, along with the frequent cold slap of reality.

As in the best sports doc ever crafted, Hoop Dreams, not everyone in Wrestle emerges a winner.

This is real life playing out in front of the cameras, and the student/athletes at J.O. Johnson High School in Huntsville face a myriad of obstacles.

There’s life on the mat, repping a school which gets little respect from the wrestling powerhouses in the region, and is on the list of failing schools in the state.

Then, there’s life at home, which offers its own challenges.

Directors Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer offer an unflinching look at their subjects, not shying away from drug use, teen pregnancy, racial strife, and mental health troubles.

There are no easy answers to some of these problems, and the filmmakers, to their credit, realize this and allow life to play out in all its messy contradictions.

The relatively new team at J.O. Johnson is primarily made up of Black students, while coach Chris Scribner and Teague, one of four featured wrestlers, are white.

Scribner, a teacher who has been clean and sober for 10 years, carved out his own path of destruction in younger days, and has to face the reality he got second (and third and fourth) chances many of his current athletes won’t be given.

He seems to deeply care about his wrestlers, and wants to be a father/big brother figure to them in his own rough-and-tumble way.

At times, Scribner succeeds.

At other times, even those with the best of intentions can misread things or try to force something that’s not meant to be.

Of the four wrestlers we see the most, Jailen and Jaquan both endure run-ins with the police, made more tense by the difference in power held by white cops and young Black men. Even with cameras present.

Jamario, who is about to become a father, struggles with mental health as his relationship crumbles, while Teague, who endured abuse from a now-absent father, begins to spend more time chasing drugs rather than pins.

As the wrestlers and their coach pursue state tourney dreams, and try to find balance in their real lives, they do so in a world where it’s the moms who try and hold things together.

In a film full of moments which punch you in the heart, one in particular stands out, as Jaquan’s mom, with not an ounce of self pity, lays out, in quiet, concrete terms, how her son’s arrest for marijuana possession will upend all of their lives.

Against this backdrop, the positive moments, and there are some big ones near the end, resonate even more.

Things do not end well for all involved, and the fate of the school itself offers a particularly hard dose of reality.

But there are second chances, on the mat, and, more importantly, off of it.

You exit Wrestle, one of the best sports docs I’ve seen during a looooooong career of watching movies, believing in the power of hope and hard work.

It’s a movie to see, on a streaming site to get familiar with.


To take a gander at a whole new world, pop over to:


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Now, if they're all looking at Coupeville Sports, who am I to complain? (John Fisken photos)

   Now, if they’re all looking at Coupeville Sports, who am I to complain? (John Fisken photos)

Get your head out of your phone, at least long enough to watch a film about what that screen time is doing to you.

The Coupeville Library is screening the acclaimed documentary Screenagers twice next week.

The film, which will show Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 6 PM and Saturday, Oct. 8 at 2 PM, is being provided thanks to funding by the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation and Friends of the Coupeville Library.

Screenagers, directed by Delaney Ruston, focuses on the impact of screen time on children, teenagers, and their families.

Through poignant and humorous stories, the filmmaker lays out a case for how tech time impacts the development of today’s children, while also offering solutions for how parents can work with their children to find a balance.

The film has received rave reviews in the New York Times and Forbes and been featured on Good Morning America.

A trailer for the film:

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