1. Icarus (2017)
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Available on Netflix
This is the documentary equivalent of Alexander Fleming accidentally discovering penicillin. Filmmaker, Brian Fogel, plans is to essentially recreate Super Size Me with HGH and testosterone injections rather than fast food. In need of an anti-doping expert to help him create and follow a regimen, Fogel is introduced to Grigory Rodchenkov, Director of the Anti-Doping Centre in Moscow. As Grigory guides Brian through daily injections and blood doping preparation via Skype, the two unlikely friends develop a strong bond. During Brian’s visit to Moscow, Grigory comes under intense scrutiny from WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and the IOC (International Olympic Committee).
With cameras rolling, Grigory is implicated as a central figure in arguably the biggest scandal in the history of international competition – Russia’s decade long systematic use and cover up blood doing and various banned substances. Having gained Grigory’s trust and being the only person outside of Russia able to help him, Brian has unfettered access to a fully cooperative subject as he makes international headlines.
Lab Director who helped orchestrate Russia’s widespread ongoing fraud – doesn’t sound like a great guy. Crooked, corrupt, controversial to say the least. If that what you were thinking, it couldn’t be further from reality. Watch and listen to him for 30 seconds and try not to keep from planting yourself firmly in his corner. The guy is a caricature of the crazy Russian; accent, mustache, affinity for Vodka, etc. Take him and throw in the KGB, mysterious untimely deaths of associated scientists, Putin being Putin, an FBI investigation following Grigory escape to the US and you’ve got a hell of a product.
Secondary takeaway: If you’ve ever uttered the phrase “Russia’s not that bad”, this should straighten you out.
2. The 24 Hour War (2016)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Available on Amazon Prime
Nate Adams and Adam Carolla tell the story of the feud between Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari, a feud that would transform racing and the American sportscar. It combines incredible archival footage with interviews from drivers, engineers, and racing historians from both sides of the Atlantic to give a 360-degree view of the decade long rivalry. Contributors including Henry Ford III, Piero Ferrari, Mario Andretti, Caroll Shelby, Pete Brock, and numerous others offer inside looks and intricate detail on the development of their iconic cars, the hazards of racing in that era, and the implications of the rivalry.
In the early 60’s, looking to compete in a market dominated by GM and Corvette, Henry Ford II, made a play to buy Ferrari. After months of negotiation, Enzo Ferrari declined in 1963, essentially telling the bungling American to stick to pickup trucks and boxy sedans and leave high performance racing and the artistic design of sportscars to the Italians. It didn’t go over well. Ford dedicated himself and all the the resources at his disposal to developing a racing machine capable of leaving Ferrari and its contemporaries in the dust.
The most grueling and prestigious endurance race on the planet is the Le Mans 24 Hour Race. If Ford was going to beat Ferrari, he had to do it on the biggest stage in racing which was Le Mans. Over the next decade, Ford tirelessly oversaw and pushed the development of a sportscar to beat the Europeans at Le Mans. With Ford’s in-house design team lacking the expertise and experience in high performance racing, he looked outside the company to a retired driver, turned designer named Caroll Shelby.
Investing millions of dollars and manhours, Ford and Shelby developed the GT40. One of the most iconic and valuable classic cars today, the GT40 gave Ford a seat at the head of the table in racing as well as with US consumers. By the late 1960’s, Ford was dominating international racing and between Shelby’s GT’s and Ford’s recently developed Mustang, they were pulling ahead of the pack in domestic sportscar sales too.
Secondary Takeaway: Yea, the guy from the Man Show is making documentaries now. He also has the most downloaded podcast on the planet, 4 NY Times Best Sellers, and released another documentary in 2015 about Paul Newman – it’s only 90% on Rotten Tomatoes though.
3. The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain (2007)
Rotten Tomatoes: N/A
Available on Amazon Prime
In two years as the starting Quarterback at Springdale High School, Mitch Mustain led his team to a 26-1 record and an Arkansas 5A state championship. Mr. Football, All-American, Gatorade Player of the Year, PARADE Player of the Year, USA Today Player of the Year, etc. Mustain was the number one player in the 2006 recruiting class and one of the most highly touted high school football players ever.
Passing up offers from every powerhouse program in the nation, Mustain committed to the University of Arkansas, further escalating his status as a local hero. As a true freshman, he took over the starting job by game two of the season. Following a blowout loss to USC in which Mustain came off the bench, he stepped in and led the Hogs to 8 straight wins and the school’s highest ranking in over a decade. Although he had his share of freshman moments, anyone watching saw his undeniable talent and there was no question that he’d be the centerpiece of a very bright future for the Razorbacks.
So what the hell happened?
The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain tells the story of egos, politics, and misplaced trust sending a young athlete’s career flying off the rails. The documentary features interviews from teammates, friends, media members, fans, and Mitch himself. The array of voices and perspectives give detailed accounts and theories on this situation that still befuddles all who watched it play out.
Although he is adamant about not wanting sympathy and he admits his own faults in the experience, he is clearly the victim in this story. He was an 18 year old kid with the weight of the
world state of Arkansas on his shoulders. Its part of a coaches job to look out for his players, to mold them into men. Not every coach lives up to that but Houston Nutt is so blatantly self-interested and so willing to pull the rug out when he feels like Mustain and Malzahn are stealing his thunder. Malzahn, his OC and high school coach, then leaves the program and doesn’t even tell Mustain that he’s leaving. Mustain is extremely intelligent and even though he seems more capable of handling the situation than most would be, he still struggles with his unfulfilled potential and his reality now vs. what he was supposed to be.
Secondary Takeaway: Houston Nutt and Gus Malzahn are dicks.
4. Sound City (2013)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Available on Amazon Prime
Produced and directed by Dave Grohl, Sound City, tells the unlikely story of the dingy studio that became home to some of the most well-known and influential artists of the last half century.
Sound City Studios opened in 1969, located in a dilapidated production and warehouse district of Van Nuys, Los Angeles. Barely able to keep the doors open, the owners somehow scraped together $75,000 to purchase a custom, completely non-automated console and recording system designed and built by Rupert Neve. Artists, producers, engineers, and former employees reminisce about recording sessions amidst literal holes in the wall, stained and torn carpet, broken furniture, and the incredible sound the studio produced. To say the least, it was an unconventional place. A long way from Hollywood, no frills, all substance.
Instead of detailing a bunch of individual stories, I’m just going to list off a handful of musicians and bands who recorded at Sound City and are featured in documentary. If these names don’t grab your interest, nothing I can say will.
1970’s: Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, John Fogerty (CCR)
1980’s: Rick Springfield, Pat Benatar, REO Speedwagon, Ratt, Dio, Barry Manilow
1990’s: Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, The Black Crowes, Weezer
2000’s: Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, Wolfmother
Secondary takeaway: This was Dave Grohl’s first run at film making (100% on Rotten Tomatoes, not bad). If you like this, check out the HBO series, Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways. In 8 episodes, Grohl and his band go to 8 other historic studios, tell their stories, and record with well-known bands/musicians that are part of those studios’ histories.
5. The King of Kong (2007)
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Available on YouTube
Remember the old arcade version of Donkey Kong? Well this is 80 minutes dedicated to an exploration of the professional gaming culture and a decades-long rivalry over that game. The kind of people who have the spare time and the dedication to score a billion points and travel to compete in national arcade tournaments are fascinating. They’re basically an indigenous culture, like the cast of Jersey Shore in its first season or the Amazon tribe first described a couple years back. The King of Kong is probably IGN, SpikeTV, or possibly even Comedy Central material. I would argue that airing it on Discovery would be just as appropriate.
One of the main characters, the sort of villain is Billy Mitchell. Just take a moment to bask in his glory and tell me you don’t want to spend an hour and a half in this guy’s world. Oh by the way, he’s not in on the joke or playing a character. This guy is dead fucking serious.
Secondary takeaway: This guy is a goddamn national treasure. Who’s had enough? Yea, didn’t think so. Me neither. No man in history has pulled off the “this guy will eventually meet his demise attempting autoerotic asphyxiation” look quite like Billy and once he’s gone, we won’t see it again.