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Dennis Rodman in "Rodman: For Better or Worse" Dennis Rodman in "Rodman: For Better or Worse"

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“Rodman: For Better or Worse” is a Superlative 30 for 30 Documentary

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The question of whether a professional athlete who supposedly causes a lot of trouble off the field or in the locker room is worth the trouble for his team — and the accompanying question of whether such framing is fair to the athlete after all — remains frequent in professional sports discourse. At pretty much all times, that debate is being had about one sports star or another. Throughout the 1990s, the most frequent subject of such discussion was NBA forward Dennis Rodman. He’s in the basketball Hall of Fame, was on five NBA championship teams, and is generally considered one of the best rebounders in the history of the game. 

He was also once referred to, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, as “the NBA’s weirdest player,” and probably made more headlines in his career for his various antics than for what he did on the court. He dated Madonna. He cross-dressed, hinted that he was gay, and once “married himself” while wearing a full wedding dress. He joined pro wrestling’s NWO. He had ugly divorces from multiple NBA teams (and from multiple women), and after retirement, he befriended North Korean dictator — and supposed Bulls fan — Kim Jong Un, claiming credit for his subsequent summits with the president. 

Now, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has released a documentary about Rodman, titled “Rodman: For Better Or Worse.”  Directed by Todd Kapostasy, the husband of figure skater Tara Lipinski, the film goes through the entire history of the man known as “The Worm,” from his troubled youth up through his career, his many controversies, and his post-retirement life. It’s a fair, accurate and balanced depiction of Rodman that understands why he was a significant figure in NBA history, but also doesn’t let him off the hook for some of his antics. For instance, the film has no interest in making excuses for the North Korea stuff, or for the time Rodman kicked a cameraman for no reason during a game. 

To its credit, “Rodman: For Better or Worse” cares about Rodman’s actual on-court game, and why it was important and revolutionary. He was a dominant rebounder who hardly ever shot or scored — the the type of player who might not have a place in today’s game, when rebounding matters a lot less. And yet Rodman was a significant player, part of the Detroit “Bad Boys” teams (subject of their own 30 for 30 a few years ago), as well as the first contending David Robinson teams in San Antonio and the second cycle of championships of the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. His career concluded with ill-fated stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks. 

“Rodman: For Better or Worse” is far from a pure hagiography and apology. For one thing, it includes footage of Rodman’s adult daughter revealing that her father was hardly ever around for her childhood. This evokes shades of the Ric Flair 30 for 30, which had as a primary takeaway that the wrestling legend was a terrible father. The film also goes into the incident where Rodman considered suicide when he played for Detroit, and indicates that the player has battled mental illness and substance abuse throughout his life. 

“Rodman: For Better or Worse” mostly leans on media members as talking heads, although there’s also some presence of his former teammates. John Salley is all over the film, while Isiah Thomas and David Robinson appear briefly, with Thomas even walking off camera while crying. The producers were also able to land the big fish — Michael Jordan — who doesn’t do this sort of thing often. (And in traditional Jordan fashion, he has nothing of note to say.) 

All of that works, but there’s one thing in particular that doesn’t. For some reason, weird metatextual touches that accompany an intrusive narration by Jamie Foxx are tacked on at points. Not only are the touches a bit too cute, but the film doesn’t even commit to them. It’s also not exactly clear why footage of the Broadway production of Oklahoma! needed to be used to demonstrate that Rodman lived in Oklahoma. 

The 30 for 30 series began ten years ago next month as an ambitious series of documentaries meant to commemorate ESPN’s 30th anniversary, while encroaching on HBO’s then-dominant position in sports documentaries. A decade on, 30 for 30 isn’t quite as ambitious. There are only five or six of them each year, they’re no longer being made by famous directors (Peter Berg and Barry Levinson made some of the early films), and seemingly half of them somehow involve the University of Miami football team. At their best, they look back on sports stories you probably barely remember, and do them justice. These includes docs like Big Shot, the 2013 story about how a guy named John Spano lied about having money so he could buy the New York Islanders. There’s also the following year’s The Day The Series Stopped, about the earthquake that disrupted the 1989 World Series. At worst, there’s ridiculous stuff like where Deion Sanders talks about the time he played both baseball and football on the same day — which probably doesn’t crack the top ten of intriguing stories from Sanders’ sports career. 

Occasionally 30 for 30 gets super-ambitious, like with the Oscar-winning OJ: Made in America from 2016, and 2017’s Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies; and they’re doing it again next year, with a long documentary about the 1990s Chicago Bulls teams on which Rodman played.  The show also has branched into podcasts, including a terrific recent series about the fall of racist Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. “Rodman: For Better or Worse” isn’t quite up to those heights, but it’s still a winning entry. 

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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‘Bojack Horseman’s Xmas Special Is the Height of Schmaltzy Satire

If you were lucky enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with awful specials, then Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special is just for you.

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Bojack Horseman

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today we look back at Bojack Horseman‘s “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish”.


When it comes to sitcoms, the grand tradition of the holiday special is a long time staple of the genre. The schmaltzy corniness of the 80s and 90s made these specials all the more egregious, and it is this tradition that Bojack Horseman echoes back to with its brilliant Christmas special.

Ostensibly just a full episode of Horsin’ Around (the show that made Bojack famous), Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special only uses the present day as a framing device before diving into the stupid fun of a very special episode of Horsin’ Around.

The central plot of the episode focuses on Bojack’s youngest adopted child, Sabrina, wishing for her parents to come back to life after Bojack assures her that Santa can give her anything she wants for Christmas. Of course, in typical sitcom fashion, rather than simply explaining to Sabrina that Santa can’t bring people back from the dead, Bojack instead opts to try and trick her into being naughty so Santa will have an excuse not to grant her wish.

Bojack Horseman

The absolute apex of this silliness comes when Bojack tries to get Sabrina to give in and eat some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. “I’ve heard of lookie-lookie don’t eat the cookie but this is ridiculous!” The use of lines like these in sitcoms is a classic cut to simpler and stupider times, where shows could really get away with lines as ham-fistedly ridiculous as these and actually call them jokes.

Ultimately this is the greatest strength of the Bojack Horseman Christmas special: calling back to the tropes of 80s and 90s sitcoms before satirizing and roasting them into oblivion.

All of the classics are here. From the annoying neighbor character, who is legitimately named Goober, to the absurd onslaught of character catchphrases that permeate the episode. The best of the latter comes from Ethan, the nerdy middle child, who espouses the line “Yowza-yowza-bo-bowsa!” to a few sparse claps and a cough from the unamused studio audience. That every character needed a catchphrase in these types of sitcoms is a given but to have one so bad that even the studio audience can’t be bothered to care is a beautiful bit of satire.

Bojack Horseman

Speaking of the studio audience, Bojack Horseman doesn’t stop using them for fodder there. Thanks to one very stupid audience member, some of the best moments of the episode come from reactions to classic sitcom tropes. For instance, when Bojack flirts with his secretary, while most of the audience opts for the classic whoops and cheers of yore, the idiot just yells “Kiss her!”. He also points out catchphrases (“She said the line!”) and lets out a confused “What!?!?” at the message of the episode.

If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to grow up watching bad sitcoms with even worse Christmas specials every single year, then Bojack Horseman‘s Christmas special is just for you. Hearkening back to the nostalgia of the time before ripping it to shreds with endless glee, Bojack Horseman’s Christmas special isn’t just one of the funniest episodes of the show, it’s also one of its best.

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A Doctor Who Christmas: Revisiting “Voyage of the Damned”

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Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at the Doctor Who Christmas special, “Voyage of the Damned”.

What’s it About?

First broadcast in December 2007, “Voyage Of The Damned” runs 72 minutes long and is the third Christmas special since the show’s revival in 2005. The Doctor finds his TARDIS colliding with a luxury space cruiser (based on the RMS Titanic) during a Christmas party. The ship’s captain, Hardaker (Geoffrey Palmer), sabotages the cruise liner by purposely lowering the ship’s shield, resulting in severe damage after colliding with several asteroids. It’s up to the Doctor (David Tennant), with the help of a waitress named Astrid Peth (Kylie Minogue), to fight off robot-like creatures in the form of golden angels and save the day.

voyage-of-the-damned-17

Review

A festival of ideas, bursting with wild imagination, ambitious set pieces, strange characters, curious visual effects, and one charming Doctor who had this critic glued to the screen midway through, when he turned around to deliver this rousing monologue:

I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord. I’m from the planet Gallifrey in the Constellation of Kasterborous. I’m 903 years old and I’m the man who is gonna save your lives and all 6 billion people on the planet below. You got a problem with that?

This time around, the mammoth cruise ship struck fire (not, ice) and the passengers are a sordid bunch including robotic golden angels armed with killer boomerang-like-halos, and a dwarf named Bannakaffalatta – a cyborg Zocci who strangely resembles Darth Maul. We learn that due to an accident, Bannakaffalatta had undergone conversion into a cyborg, for which he felt shame because apparently where he comes from, cyborgs are discriminated against. “Voyage of the Damned” features a batch of religious imagery (including a messianic portrayal of the Doctor himself being carried away into space by two of the angels), and the blank and trite performance by the beautiful pop sensation Kylie Minogue, (whose role was specifically written for her).

Voyage of the Damned

For a Christmas special, we get a number of casualties along the way, including Bannakaffalatta’s self-sacrifice and Astrid’s fall into the fires of hell. One could accurately describe this episode as The Poseidon Adventure in space, a nightmarish schematic rhapsody of virtuous discomfort. “Voyage” doesn’t end on a happy note. Sabotage and corporate greed destroy our ragtag bunch of passengers, and those who are lucky enough to survive do come out with lasting scars. Not much Christmas cheer here, but the script is sprinkled with clever comedic moments from time to time, including a surprising gag involving the royal family.

Astrid’s final appearance comes in the form of “an echo with the ghost of consciousness”; her stardust-hologram-like image fades after a final kiss. Perhaps a tad bit corny, but the sequence is enough to bring a tear to the eyes of die-hard Whovians. “Voyage” is ridiculous, but also oddly fun in the sheer overkill of pulp and fantasy imagery. Technically it impresses, loaded with eye-catching-hi-tech chase scenes and more importantly, characters and a plot (even if incoherent) to support them.

doctorwhovoyageofthedammbed

Is this thrilling no holds barred sci-fi/disaster mash-up brilliant or idiotic? Perhaps a bit of both, but “Voyage of the Damned” satisfies because of its strong emotional core and unnerving dark themes couched in stunning visuals. This visually arresting, occasionally funny ride is neatly wrapped in a comfortable Yuletide package.

– Ricky D

How Christmassy is it?

Despite the high death toll and the titanic setting, “Voyage” strangely delivers a Christmas vibe, if in scenes few and far between. I would say 50/50.

You May Like It If…

Obviously, if you like Doctor Who, disaster films, and science fiction.

Voyage of the Damned
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Revisiting The Sopranos Christmas Special

25 Days of Holiday TV Specials

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To Save Us All from Satan’s Power

The Sopranos Season 3

Episode 10: “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power”

Join us as we spend the next 25 days writing about some of our favourite Holiday TV specials! Today, we look back at The Sopranos Christmas episode.

Note: It’s difficult to really encapsulate the events that take place in this episode without spoiling it since so much of it’s impact relies on the events that take place during the three seasons prior. I won’t be going into any specifics about the episode to avoid spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t watched the entire third season. With that said, if you haven’t seen an episode of The Sopranos, I highly recommend you start since it is one of the greatest TV series of all time. Apart from that, I hope my review will simply serve as a reminder for fans of the show.

What’s it About?

The annual pork-store holiday party is fast approaching, but Tony Soprano isn’t feeling the Christmas spirit. A visit with the ghosts of Christmas past lands Tony back on his psychiatrist’s couch. Meanwhile, the gang needs to find someone to replace Pussy and don the Santa suit. While the memories of Tony’s friend continues to haunt him, he tries to find time to balance his work with his family life.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Review

Every year around Christmas, there are two stories guaranteed to pop up on television: A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. Both have inspired countless adaptations, spoofs, homages and so on – but who would have ever guessed Frank Capra’s classic would have somehow inspired an episode of The Sopranos?

The Christmas episode, nicely titled “To Save Us All From Satan’s Power,” sees Tony Soprano dealing with the death of a good friend. As always, Tony is our focus. Tony may be a mobster but he’s just as human as any of us, and the holidays have him looking back at the important events that unfolded in his life that year. Much of season three sees his friend’s death snake around the edges of the stories. This episode is all about Tony dealing with his guilt, betrayal, paranoia – and his doubt concerning a decision he recently made. The challenge for Tony is to overcome these obstacles so that he can hopefully look ahead and start his new year fresh.

Sopranos Christmas Special

Unlike George Bailey (It’s A Wonderful Life), who overcomes his depression by remembering all the people who love him and all the ways that he’s helped others, Tony instead realizes just how much he has lost. Using very clever flash-forwards and flashbacks, the nonlinear structure of the episode presents his deceased friend as both a literal and figurative ghost. Nearly every scene of “Satan’s Power,” is haunted by this ghost in one way or another, even if he’s not physically (or spiritually) present.

For an episode this late in a Sopranos season, there’s not a lot happening, plot-wise. “Satan’s Power” is a fairly insignificant episode in advancing the season-spanning story arc, but while the mob business is barely present (outside of a few flashbacks), what’s really important is the emotions and the memories Tony’s dead friend brings. Combine the characters, the story, the message, and the acting, and it’s easy to see why this is a holiday favourite to revisit every year during the holidays.

Big-Mouth Billy Bass closes off the episode. Tony’s torn expression dissolves into the rolling waves as gospel music gradually kicks in, drowning out Billy’s voice. Tony’s friend may be gone, but his memory will forever live on. “Satan’s Power” carries a powerful emotional punch and is a necessary pause in a season-long storyline.

Sopranos Christmas Special

How Christmassy is it?

Unless you’re a mobster or a family member of one, you won’t be able to relate to the character’s inner turmoil, but it still has one hell of a Christmas feel. It may not be very cheerful, but it does revolve entirely around the holiday and features a scene from A Wonderful Life. It also features a ton of Christmas classics, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “The First Noel,” “Little Drummer Boy”, The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” and “Santa Baby,” among others.

Who’s it for?

Since it doesn’t really work as a stand-alone episode, I’d recommend it to fans of the series who may have forgotten about the episode.

Other observations:

The best line comes from Paulie Walnuts: “In the end, fuck Santa Claus.”

Ricky D

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