Book Review: ‘The Battle of Alberta – The Historic Rivalry Between the Edmonton Oilers & Calgary Flames’ by Mark Spector

*written in 2015.

Hockey history always makes for good reading. Reading about historic rivalries is even better.

The Battle of Alberta is a fantastic book for the hockey historian or just fans of the sport. It gives a broad view of the storied rivalry between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames during a time when the Oilers were a dynasty lead by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier while the Calgary Flames had a great team that went on to win their own Stanley Cup in the middle of Edmonton’s dynasty run. Considering that they both share the same province in Canada, the stakes were very high.

While the rivalry still exists to this day, neither team has really had the glory that they did during the era covered in this book.

This rivalry engulfed Alberta and it wasn’t just played out for bragging rights in the province, it was played out for international bragging rights.

Mark Spector gives a detailed recap of all the events, the characters and the stories that made this rivalry one of the best in sports history. At times, it seems to jump around a bit too much but there isn’t anything that doesn’t add more color to the tale. Actually, some of the smaller tidbits could have been expanded more but then this book would have swelled well beyond its 270 pages or so.

As an American who didn’t have enough access to this rivalry as a young kid, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. It added a lot of depth to the things I already knew about each team and that era in the NHL.

Old time hockey was still alive and well in Alberta in the 1980s and this book captures it like lightning in a bottle.

And with the Oilers and the Flames coming up again in the NHL, maybe we will see this feud turn into something exceptional once again.

Book Review: ‘Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950’ by Mark A. Vieira

This was a book put out by Turner Classic Movies, which is pretty cool, as they are the one cable channel that really showcases classic film-noir on a regular basis.

I was surprised that the book wasn’t written by Eddie Muller, the Czar of Noir and TCM’s resident film-noir expert, but he did provide the forward for the book. Muller did already write his own book on the subject, however, 1998’s Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir. I’ll read and review that one in the near future.

This book is pretty large like a big coffee table book but it is also thick at 300-plus pages.

Initially, when I first opened it, I was stunned by the amazing photos but I was underwhelmed by the content.

The book doesn’t have write ups of the films and instead features excerpts from other people. Each film featured has credits, a few production notes, reviews, feedback from theater owners all over the world and quotes from the artists involved in the production. I guess I was expecting some good analysis by the author himself.

However, as I read further into the book, I realized how much ground it covered and the tidbits of info sprinkled onto the pages was very insightful and added a lot of context to the pictures this book features.

I also like how the book is organized, as the chapters represent years of release and everything within the chapters is in chronological order by the films’ release dates.

This book is of the highest quality and the photos are massive and pristine looking. The presentation alone is well worth the price and it features a ton of films from 1941 up till 1950, ending with Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, which many consider to be film-noir’s swan song.

As a fan of this genre, this is now one of my favorite books in my large library.

Book Review: ‘Film Noir FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Hollywood’s Golden Age of Dames, Detectives, and Danger’ by David J. Hogan

I’ve been reading a lot of books on film-noir, as of late. It is Noirvember and reading about the films I’ve been watching helps make the cinematic style easier to navigate.

This book is massive though. It took longer than usual for me to get through this 400 page book because it has so much information to absorb. It really leaves no stone unturned and I didn’t want to miss any detail. It covers well more than a hundred different films in the noir style and is the most comprehensive thing I have read on film-noir.

There are a lot of good books on the subject but this is like an encyclopedia. I also liked how it was organized, in themed chapters regarding the overall narrative and then presented in release order within those chapters. The chapters were broken down into two chapters about men vs. women and then solo chapters on The Private DickA Cop’s LifeThe Best-Laid PlansVictims of Circumstance and The Unsprung Mind. There is also an epilogue that covers the neo-noir films that started appearing after film-noir’s classic run.

David J. Hogan really did his homework and it shows. This massive book should have a home in the library of any true noir fan. The book is easy to navigate, with a great index, just in case you need to go back and look at stuff for research reasons.

Buy it. Read it. Cherish it.

Book Review: ‘Citizen Welles: A Biography of Orson Welles’ by Frank Brady

In recent years, I have grown to like Orson Welles more than any other actor and he is now one of my favorite directors that ever lived.

My first experience with Welles was listening to his War of the Worlds radio broadcast in an American history class in middle school. I had a really cool teacher that would throw in some big pop culture moments into her curriculum, as opposed to just teaching about war and politics.

My second experience was in my film studies class in high school, where my teacher showed us Citizen Kane. I remember being completely captivated by the film, even if the other teenagers were just waiting for the class to get to more modern pictures.

Welles also voiced Unicron in the 1986 animated Transformers movie, which was also a big deal to me even if he had no idea what the film was about and just dialed in his lines.

All these experiences made me have an appreciation for Welles as an artist but it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I started watching his other pictures.

What I didn’t know, is that Welles had an incredibly interesting life and this book covers more ground than I could even imagine.

Citizen Welles is a pretty large biography. It is around 600 pages but Welles lived such an interesting, rich and full life that there were no dull moments. Initially, I wanted a book that specifically covered his work but the man’s life really rivals that of his most famous character Charles Foster Kane.

This book was a big surprise and it is a pretty invaluable resource on the life and work of Orson Welles.

Frank Brady did his research and it shows. There are few biographies that are this comprehensive.

Plus, it is well written, well organized and never gets dull. I got through this 600 page brick in a week. But it also provided a solid distraction, as I was dealing with the after effects of Hurricane Irma.

Book Review: ‘The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir’ by Foster Hirsch

I’ve been studying up on film-noir and this is one of the better books I’ve read on the subject. It is a bit dated but it is still relevant to the material and written really well.

This book just flows nicely and covers a lot of ground for something that isn’t too massive. In fact, it is incredibly comprehensive and talks about dozens of movies, actors, directors, as well as film-noir’s influence on motion pictures that came out after the genre faded out.

Foster Hirsch covers so much ground, it is hard to sum it all up and it’s a book that I’m sure I will continue to reference in the future, whenever I watch a film-noir I haven’t yet experienced.

It is also packed full of great stills and production shots of the films and actors discussed.

If you are a fan of noir or you want to start dabbling in this style of picture, this book will give you a lot of direction in how to traverse through the genre’s heyday.

Book Review: ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange is one of the best books I have ever read. Okay, I am a big fan of the Stanley Kubrick film and I had seen it dozens of times before reading the book. However, I went into the book objectively and actually excited to see what was different or what had been left out of the film.

If you have seen the film, it is pretty spot on with the book and follows it, almost verbatim.

There are a few extras in the book that aren’t in the film, most notably the conclusion. The film ends with the final chapter of the book but there is an epilogue in the book that didn’t make it into the film and gives the story a definitive ending and not one as ambiguous as the film’s. There is also a scene involving Alex and his cellmates that adds depth to the story and Alex’s character that you don’t get from the film.

It is hard to read this book and not visualize the film, as you read the dialogue and go from scene-to-scene. The book is well written, not that that should even be a surprise, as it is the work of Anthony Burgess. It also brings an extra level of darkness than the film, which is an insane feat considering where Stanley Kubrick went with the tone of his adaptation.

Most books are better than their movies. However, on a rare occasion, the movie can outshine the source material. In the case of A Clockwork Orange, both the book and the film are pretty perfect. If you love one, you should love the other.

Book Review: ‘Frankenstein: The Shadow of Frankenstein’ by Stefan Petrucha

*written in 2014.

I like reading books that are authors takes on sequels of famous stories, especially when it has to do with monsters like Frankenstein’s big undead creation.

At some point, Dark Horse, who are known as a major comic book publisher, acquired the publishing license for the Universal Monsters franchise. Instead of doing comic books, they made literary sequels to the Universal Monsters films. This one had a pretty awesome premise.

This book takes place after the classic film Bride of Frankenstein and it ignores all the other sequels after that film and branches off in its own direction. So essentially, this is a sequel to just the two James Whale Frankenstein films.

The premise sees Frankenstein’s monster, the Boris Karloff version, arrive in London. While there, he goes toe-to-toe with Jack the Ripper. I was pretty much sold when I read the description on the back of the book. And who wouldn’t be?

The book was ambitious and started with a lot working for it but in the end it fell kind of flat and didn’t really seem to hit the mark that it needed to. I did enjoy it overall and it is a quick and easy read but it just didn’t feel as authentic as I had hoped and just didn’t capture the vibe and magic of the James Whale films.

Regardless, I still like the idea of it and it wasn’t poor execution, it just wasn’t as good as it could have been. It also felt like a lot of the book was filler or the author playing it a bit too safe with the property and not putting enough of himself into it.

The author, Stefan Petrucha is obviously a fan of the James Whale films but I don’t feel like he was able to make the tribute he could have, whether due to his respect for the source material or because the publisher had a tight leash on him. This is a problem that also appears in the other Universal Monsters books from Dark Horse: great and interesting ideas that are snuffed out early in what feels like an attempt to bring something original to these characters but too timid to really explore those ideas.