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.

Documentary Review: Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010)

Release Date: May 13th, 2011
Directed by: Craig McCall
Music by: Mark Sayer-Wade

Modus Operandi Films, UK Film Council, National Lottery, 86 Minutes

Review:

I was glad to find this documentary streaming on FilmStruck, a service which every film lover should already be subscribed to.

I have known of Jack Cardiff and his contributions to movies for years but never have I seen anything that talks about the man and really analyzes the great work he did behind the camera for decades.

He was a master of color, of style and became one of the most sought after cinematographers in motion picture history. He was an auteur in the same vein as the greatest directors who have their own distinct styles.

This documentary is done in a general biography style but it spends a lot of time focusing on all the important and trendsetting films that Cardiff was a part of. It also gave me some films that I had to add to my “must see” list.

The coolest thing about Cameraman is that it interviews Cardiff and lets him speak about his work and his experiences. It also showcases directors, actors and other artists who worked with or were influenced by Jack Cardiff.

For those truly interested in filmmaking, film history and film culture, this is a documentary that is definitely worth your time. It is well produced, finely presented and paints a glorious picture of the man’s contribution to the art that he loved.

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.

Documentary Review: American Cinema: Film Noir (1995)

Release Date: 1995
Directed by: Jeffrey Schon
Music by: Thomas Wagner
Narrated by: Richard Widmark
Hosted by: John Lithgow

PBS, 54 Minutes

Review:

I have been casually watching episodes of PBS’ documentary television series American Cinema. Since I have been watching a ton of film-noir movies for Noirvember, one of my favorite cinematic celebration months, I had to dig up the episode Film Noir. Luckily, it is streaming on YouTube, as many old PBS documentaries are.

What makes this cool when compared to other film-noir documentaries is that it doesn’t explain away the style or the elements that make noir. It focuses more on talking head interviews of actors, directors and scholars who simply just discuss film-noir. While the interviewees are alone, it still plays more like an open forum of ideas and thoughts on the noir style and its importance in American filmmaking.

It was a really nice touch that Richard Widmark, my choice for a 1950s Joker if ever there was a serious Batman movie made back then, got to narrate this short documentary. I also enjoyed seeing John Lithgow host the episode, even though he is way too young to have been in classic film-noir. But Lithgow is certainly a guy that understands film and the important things in the long history of the art.

Film Noir is one of my favorite episodes of the American Cinema series but then again, I have a strong bias in favor of noir. Ultimately, though, this is a really good educational piece on the style and its significance.

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.

Ranking Every Episode of Batman: The Animated Series

*Written in 2014.

I recently reviewed Batman: The Animated Series. So I figured that I would rank every single episode of the series, as I just got done revisiting it and took a shit load of notes.

In this list I am including Batman: The Animated Series, The Adventures of Batman & Robin and The New Batman Adventures, as all three were really the same show with just some slight changes. Additionally, the creative teams on all of these variants of the show were comprised of the same primary people.

I will list these by episode name with the season number, episode number and the villain featured. Two-parters are ranked as one episode.

If you disagree or are puzzled with my picks, feel free to discuss in the comments.

1. “Heart of Ice” (Season 1, Episode 14 – Mr Freeze & Ferris Boyle)
2. “Mad As a Hatter” (Season 1, Episode 27 – The Mad Hatter)
3. “House & Garden” (Season 2, Episode 5 – Poison Ivy)
4. “Mad Love” (Season 3, Episode 21 – The Joker & Harley Quinn)
5. “Growing Pains” (Season 3, Episode 8 – Clayface)
6. “Sideshow” (Season 2, Episode 1 – Killer Croc)
7. “What Is Reality?” (Season 1, Episode 48 – The Riddler)
8. “Sins of the Father” (Season 3, Episode 2 – Two-Face)
9. “Never Fear” (Season 3, Episode 6 – The Scarecrow)
10. “Batgirl Returns” (Season 2, Episode 20 – Catwoman & Roland Daggett)
11. “Deep Freeze” (Season 2, Episode 19 – Mr. Freeze & Grant Walker)
12.  “Feat of Clay: Parts 1 & 2” (Season 1, Episodes 20 & 21 – Clayface & Ronald Daggett)
13. “Heart of Steel: Parts 1 & 2” (Season 1, Episodes 38 & 39 – H.A.R.D.A.C.)
14. “Birds of a Feather” (Season 1, Episode 47 – The Penguin)
15. “The Demon Within” (Season 3, Episode 18 – Klarion the Witch Boy)
16. “Cold Comfort” (Season 3, Episode 3 – Mr. Freeze)
17. “Two-Face: Parts 1 & 2” (Season 1, Episodes 10 & 11 – Two-Face & Rupert Thorne)
18. “Beware the Gray Ghost” (Season 1, Episode 18 – The Mad Bomber)
19. “Old Wounds” (Season 3, Episode 17 – The Joker)
20. “On Leather Wings” (Season 1, Episode 1 – Man-Bat)
21. “Over the Edge” (Season 3, Episode 12 – The Scarecrow & Bane)
22. “Double Talk” (Season 3, Episode 4 – The Ventriloquist)
23. “Judgment Day” (Season 3, Episode 24 – The Judge, Two-Face, Killer Croc, The Riddler & The Penguin)
24. “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” (Season 1, Episode 40 – The Riddler & Daniel Mockridge)
25. “Harlequinade” (Season 2, Episode 7 – The Joker & Harley Quinn)
26. “The Demon’s Quest: Parts 1 & 2” (Season 1, Episodes 60 & 61 – Ra’s al Ghul)
27. “Beware the Creeper” (Season 3, Episode 23 – The Creeper, The Joker & Harley Quinn)
28. “Joker’s Favor” (Season 1, Episode 22 – The Joker & Harley Quinn)
29. “Robin’s Reckoning: Parts 1 & 2” (Season 1, Episodes 32 & 33 – Tony Zucco)
30. “Avatar” (Season 2, Episode 4 – Ra’s al Ghul)
31. “Tyger, Tyger” (Season 1, Episode 42 – Emile Dorian)
32. “Harley and Ivy” (Season 1, Episode 56 – The Joker, Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy)
33. “Legends of the Dark Knight” (Season 3, Episode 19 – The Joker, the Mutants & Firefly)
34. “Torch Song” (Season 3, Episode 10 – Firefly)
35. “Read My Lips” (Season 1, Episode 64 – The Ventriloquist)
36. “Time Out of Joint” (Season 2, Episode 8 – The Clock King)
37. “Mean Seasons” (Season 3, Episode 13 – Calendar Girl)
38. “Harley’s Holiday” (Season 2, Episode 16 – Harley Quinn & Boxy Bennett)
39. “Shadow of the Bat: Parts 1 & 2” (Season 1, Episodes 57 & 58 – Two-Face, Rupert Thorne & Gil Mason)
40. “The Last Laugh” (Season 1, Episode 4 – The Joker)
41. “Catwalk” (Season 2, Episode 9 – Catwoman & The Ventriloquist)
42. “Baby-Doll” (Season 2, Episode 11 – Baby-Doll)
43. “Vendetta” (Season 1, Episode 23 – Killer Croc)
44. “The Laughing Fish” (Season 1, Episode 34 – The Joker & Harley Quinn)
45. “Pretty Poison” (Season 1, Episode 5 – Poison Ivy)
46. “The Man Who Killed Batman” (Season 1, Episode 51 – The Joker, Harley Quinn & Rupert Thorne)
47. “Cult of the Cat” (Season 3, Episode 15 – Catwoman & Thomas Blake)
48. “The Worry Men” (Season 1, Episode 65 – The Mad Hatter)
49. “Joker’s Millions” (Season 3, Episode 7 – The Joker, Harley Quinn, The Penguin & Poison Ivy)
50. “Animal Act” (Season 3, Episode 16 – The Mad Hatter)
51. “Showdown” (Season 2, Episode 13 – Ra’s al Ghul)
52. “Almost Got ‘Im” (Season 1, Episode 46 – The Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc and The Penguin)
53. “Terror In the Sky” (Season 1, Episode 45 – She-Bat)
54. “Trial” (Season 2, Episode 3 – The Joker, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, The Mad Hatter, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, The Scarecrow, Two-Face & The Ventriloquist)
55. “A Bullet for Bullock” (Season 2, Episode 2 – Vinnie the Shark)
56. “Love is a Croc” (Season 3, Episode 9 – Baby-Doll & Killer Croc)
57. “Riddler’s Reform” (Season 2, Episode 14 – The Riddler)
58. “His Silicon Soul” (Season 1, Episode 62 – H.A.R.D.A.C. & Duplicate Batman)
59. “Joker’s Wild” (Season 1, Episode 41 – The Joker & Cameron Kaiser)
60. “Mudslide” (Season 1, Episode 52 – Clayface)
61. “Be A Clown” (Season 1, Episode 9 – The Joker)
62. “Christmas With the Joker” (Season 1, Episode 2 – The Joker)
63. “Perchance to Dream” (Season 1, Episode 30 – The Mad Hatter)
64. “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” (Season 1, Episode 37 – Hugo Strange, The Joker, Two-Face & The Penguin)
65. “The Mechanic” (Season 1, Episode 55 – The Penguin)
66. “Holiday Knights” (Season 3, Episode 1 – The Joker, Harley Quinn, Clayface and Poison Ivy)
67. “Dreams In Darkness” (Season 1, Episode 28 – The Scarecrow)
68. “The Clock King” (Season 1, Episode 25 – The Clock King)
69. “Blind As a Bat” (Season 1, Episode 59 – The Penguin)
70. “Bane” (Season 2, Episode 10 – Bane, Killer Croc & Rupert Thorne)
71. “Girls Night Out” (Season 3, Episode 20 – Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Livewire & The Penguin)
72. “Zatanna” (Season 1, Episode 54 – Montague Kane)
73. “I’ve Got My Batman in My Basement” (Season 1, Episode 13 – The Penguin)
74. “Fear of Victory” (Season 1, Episode 24 – The Scarecrow)
75. “See No Evil” (Season 1, Episode 17 – Lloyd Ventrix)
76. “Nothing to Fear” (Season 1, Episode 3 – The Scarecrow)
77. “Eternal Youth” (Season 1, Episode 29 – Poison Ivy)
78. “You Scratch My Back” (Season 3, Episode 5 – Catwoman)
79. “Off Balance” (Season 1, Episode 50 – Count Vertigo)
80. “Make ‘Em Laugh” (Season 2, Episode 18 – The Joker & The Mad Hatter)
81. The Ultimate Thrill” (Season 3, Episode 11 – The Penguin & Roxy Rocket)
82. “Appointment In Crime Alley” (Season 1, Episode 26 – Roland Daggett)
83. “Cat Scratch Fever” (Season 1, Episode 36 – Catwoman, Roland Daggett & Professor Milo)
84. “The Cape and the Cowl Conspiracy” (Season 1, Episode 31 – Josiah Wormwood)
85. “Lock-Up” (Season 2, Episode 17 – Lock-Up)
86. “Second Chance” (Season 2, Episode 15 – Two-Face, The Penguin & Rupert Thorne)
87. “Chemistry” (Season 3, Episode 22 – Poison Ivy)
88. “The Cat and the Claw: Parts 1 & 2” (Season 1, Episodes 15 & 16 – Catwoman & Red Claw)
89. “Night of the Ninja” (Season 1, Episode 35 – Kyodai Ken)
90. “I Am the Night” (Season 1, Episode 49 – The Jazzman)
91. “Moon of the Wolf” (Season 1, Episode 43 – Professor Milo & The Werewolf)
92. “Paging the Crime Doctor” (Season 1, Episode 53 – Rupert Thorne)
93. “It’s Never Too Late” (Season 1, Episode 12 – Rupert Thorne & Arnold Stromwell)
94. “The Terrible Trio” (Season 2, Episode 6 – The Terrible Trio)
95. “Day of the Samurai” (Season 1, Episode 44 – Kyodai Ken)
96. “The Lion and the Unicorn” (Season 2, Episode 12 – Red Claw)
97. “Prophecy of Doom” (Season 1, Episode 19 – Nostromos)
98. “P.O.V.” (Season 1, Episode 7 – A drug lord)
99. “Fire From Olympus” (Season 1, Episode 63 – Maxie Zeus)
100. “The Underdwellers” (Season 1, Episode 6 – Sewer King)
101. “Critters” (Season 3, Episode 14 – Farmer Brown)
102. “The Forgotten” (Season 1, Episode 8 – Boss Biggis)

Documentary Review: Val Lewton: The Man In the Shadows (2007)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2007
Directed by: Kent Jones
Narrated by: Martin Scorsese, Elias Koteas

Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Entertainment, Sikelia Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

I remember seeing this on television a decade ago and it is where I really discovered who Val Lewton is and why his contribution to the film industry was so important.

When I was a kid, I discovered classic film early, as my mother and grandmother were both avid watchers of AMC, which at the time still stood for American Movie Classics. I also watched a lot of TCM, or Turner Classic Movies, when that cable network debuted. I got pulled in to old school horror, as I loved the Universal Monsters movies, Vincent Price’s Edgar Allan Poe pictures and the movies put out by Hammer with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. I didn’t quite experience Val Lewton’s body of work though, until years later.

My appreciation for all that other stuff, really gave me the foundation to appreciate and understand what Lewton was trying to do for RKO Radio Pictures. His mission was to run the B-movie unit for the studio, where he and the artists he brought in, would create films to rival what Universal was doing with all their successful Monster franchises.

I’m glad that I found this on television a decade ago and it was really fantastic revisiting it now, as it is streaming on FilmStruck.

It is produced and narrated by Martin Scorsese with Elias Koteas jumping in to narrate Val Lewton’s actual words.

It is a nice and quick documentary that covers a lot of ground and gives a good amount of time to each of Lewton’s pictures. It also gets into how his collaborations with Boris Karloff came to be and how Lewton initially didn’t want to work with Karloff but quickly grew to love the man’s work, as he helped contribute to these films, which were much more psychological and intelligent than the majority of Universal’s horror pictures.

Lewton created horror movies that had a noir style about them. In fact, his films sort of built a bridge between German Expressionist horror movies like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the film-noir movement of the 1940s.

If you love classic horror or film-noir and haven’t seen Lewton’s films, you need to. You should also check out this documentary, which is a great primer on the man and his work.