Book Review: ‘J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey’ by Jeremy Roenick with Kevin Allen

*Written in 2014.

Hockey season is about to start, as my Blackhawks have already played their first two preseason games. To get pumped up and shift my attention from the Cubs to the Blackhawks for the next six months, I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite hockey books.

There are a lot of characters in the sport of hockey. None of them though, are quite as outspoken, charismatic and beloved as Jeremy Roenick. So who better to pen the man’s biography than the man himself? And honestly, Roenick does a fine job of telling his story and keeping you enthralled for the journey. In fact, this is one of the best sports autobiographies that I have read.

Roenick finally, in his own words, sheds light on how he felt about being a Blackhawk, leaving the organization, his resentment towards them and how that melted away when he was there to witness them win their first Stanley Cup in almost five decades.

J.R. also goes through his childhood and how dedicated he was to hockey. He covers his time in Phoenix as the sort of poster boy for the then new franchise. He also talks about his time as a Flyer, a King and a Shark. He spends a lot of time discussing his family life, as well as his broadcasting career thus far. The most interesting stuff though, is when he tells tales that most people don’t know. One of his stories involves him and Dennis Rodman and how they partied.

This is an enjoyable read and one of the gems in my hockey library.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Tough Guy: My Life On the Edge by Bob Probert and Kirstie McLellan Day, Made In America by Chris Chelios and Kevin Allen

Book Review: ‘The Hidden Language of Baseball’ by Paul Dickson

*Written in 2014.

The Hidden Language of Baseball is an interesting little book for true fans of the sport. It goes through the history of signs and sign stealing in baseball, giving insight as to where it started and how it evolved over generations.

Paul Dickson has a talent for keeping things pretty concise and straightforward while still being thoroughly entertaining and informative. In fact, this isn’t a long book by any means, as it comes in at around 160 pages or so, not counting the appendices and extra parts at the end. However, just recently reading Baseball Between the Numbers by Baseball Prospectus and The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, any book would seem short by comparison. Regardless, for a book that isn’t very lengthy, this one covers a lot.

For the true aficionado, this book is a gem. Being that it adds insight to the culture of baseball beyond just simply observing the game, makes it an intriguing and entertaining book. Sorry, I’m just a baseball junkie and I love stuff like this, as it opens up the game and gives a glimpse behind the scenes.

The Hidden Language of Baseball isn’t just a book of baseball sign language though. It is also a book full of great stories about the great men who played and managed the game in every era. It is a great little treatise on one of the most important factors in the game.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow and Michael Duca

Documentary Review: Comic Book Independents (2007)

Also known as: Independents
Release Date: July 21st, 2007
Directed by: Chris Brandt
Music by: Tana Rusitanonta

Bain Street Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

This was an interesting little documentary.

Mainly, it just interviewed several comic book creators, about two dozen. It focused on what it takes for them to create, how they work and also discusses some philosophical stuff within the comic book industry.

This isn’t a documentary that gets too political or anything like that, which is good as the comic book industry has no gotten incredibly political the last few years. This really just lets the creators talk about themselves, their work and their process. There are some general questions proposed to all of the interviewed subjects but a good portion of this is dedicated to their own unique styles and viewpoints.

Still, this wasn’t a very engaging documentary. Informative, yes… but not engaging. I think that this is due to how things were edited and cut together in post production. The film jumps around more than it should and I get that it is trying to tie together the ideas of different creators in regards to the same subject but sometimes this felt like a collection of soundbites.

It just didn’t seem like it flowed organically or all that coherently. And while I love the subject matter, I was kind of bored watching this.

It’s not a total waste and is worth checking out if you have an interest in comics, especially from the creative side. I just wish that the finished product was more fluid and orderly.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries on the comic book industry: The Image RevolutionRobert Kirkman’s Secret History of ComicsSuperheroes: A Never-Ending BattleChris Claremont’s X-Men and 24 Hour Comic.

Documentary Review: Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (2013)

Original Run: October 8th, 2013 – October 15th, 2013
Directed by: Michael Kantor
Written by: Michael Kantor, Laurence Maslon, J. David Spurlock
Music by: Christopher Rife
Cast: Liev Schreiber (host), Mark Waid, Stan Lee, Adam West, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrision, Lynda Carter, Jeph Loeb, J. Michael Straczynski, Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder, Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Tim Daly

Ghost Light Films, National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, 3 Episodes, 55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

A few years ago, PBS did this three part documentary series on the history of comic books. It was hosted by Liev Schreiber, which was really cool, and featured a ton of creators, as well as notable celebrities who have played some of the iconic comic book characters in television and film.

The history of comic books is incredibly vast. Narrowing down what to cover in three episodes, each of which ran just under an hour, couldn’t have been easy but the people behind this did a good job of focusing on the important stuff. I wish there was more time given to the challenges of the Comics Code Authority but that’s probably boring subject matter to most modern fans.

Superheroes spends a lot of time talking about the creation of Superman, Batman and the early heroes that would be at the forefront of DC Comics. They then spent some time talking about Stan Lee and his creations, which helped to put Marvel on the map. To my surprise, even though they didn’t spend much time on it, they covered some of the story that lead to the formation of Image Comics in the ’90s, which was the biggest thing in comic books during my most formative years as a comics fan.

I wish that this would have been bigger than it was. Three episodes just weren’t enough. This could have easily been one of those 10-part Ken Burns style documentaries with two hour episodes and they still wouldn’t have run out of material. I’m hoping that someone does do a comic industry documentary like that at some point; it’s long overdue.

But at least we live in a time where this wonderful medium isn’t considered low brow shit. It’s become a respected art form and format for storytelling. A lot of that has to do with the success of comic book movies the last few decades but at least fans don’t have to feel like they need to hide their fandom when out in public anymore.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics and recent comic book documentaries Chris Claremont’s X-Men and The Image Revolution.

 

TV Review: Brew Masters (2010)

Original Run: November 21st, 2010 – December 16th, 2010
Directed by: Bengt Anderson
Music by: Sarah Schachner
Cast: Sam Calagione

Zero Point Zero Production Inc., String and Can, Discovery Channel, 6 Episodes, 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*Written in 2014.

Brew Masters is a Discovery Channel reality show that follows Sam Calagione, the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, as he and his staff search the world high and low for new inspirations to craft new beers.

The show is entertaining and it is interesting for anyone who wants to know more about the beer making process. With each episode focusing on a new project, there is a lot of variety and styles covered over just the few episodes that were made.

And I guess that’s the somewhat crappy part about the show, is that there are only five episodes that aired before it was cancelled. It would’ve been really interesting to see what they could have come up with in future episodes as some of the projects in its only season would be hard to top.

One thing I like about the show, is that it isn’t drama filled reality television bullshit. Everyone seemingly works well together, everyone is positive and people genuinely enjoy their jobs. Dogfish Head seems like an awesome company to work for and truthfully, I hope at some point I find something that exciting, rewarding and fun in my professional career.

Speaking of which, I come from the marketing and product development side of the cigar industry and have always wanted to venture into beer. I guess that is why I found this to be such an enjoyable show because it gave more transparency to the behind the scenes operations of a badass brewery. While the cigar industry is very similar, especially with creating new blends, the beer industry, at this level, is even more complex and there is just so much more they can do with ingredients. You can’t not respect the craft and Dogfish Head is one of the best, which is what made this show a pretty enriching experience.

You can currently watch it streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Brew DogsChug, Dark Horse Nation and Booze Traveler.

Documentary Review: Ken Burns: The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009)

Release Date: September 27th, 2009 – October 2nd, 2009
Directed by: Ken Burns
Music by: various

PBS, 720 Minutes (6 episodes)

Review:

*Written in 2015.

After being enthralled by Ken Burns: Baseball, I will watch anything that this guy creates.

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea is a pretty inspiring piece of work and arguably a masterpiece. If you are familiar with Ken Burns’ directing style, you can expect more of the same. However, with the wonderful presentation, the fantastic narration and just the scope and beauty of the subject matter, this documentary is truly a sight to behold and an enchanting foray into almost endless and unfathomable beauty.

For a guy who likes the outdoors much more than the indoors, this motivated me to give an even bigger shit than I do now about conservation and the importance of our parks, not just National but all parks. It also put into perspective how amazing America is as far as natural wonders. In this country, we are literally sitting on a nature goldmine.

This series is broken into six episodes roughly two hours each, give or take a few minutes. Each part goes through different eras of the National Park System from the beginning up to modern times. Each part is thoroughly engaging and packed with more information than anyone could anticipate. Each part is also sprinkled with guest narrations from several recognizable voices, my favorite of all to pop up is Tom Hanks, who presented his lines majestically.

I love this documentary series. Ken Burns really outdid himself and PBS needs to always give him a platform to display his artistic and informative creations.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other Ken Burns documentary series.

Film Review: Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2017 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Written by: Simon Beaufoy
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen, Andrea Riseborough, Natalie Morales, Wallace Langham, Fred Armisen, John C. McGinley

Decibel Films, Cloud Eight Films, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I’m the ladies number one. I’m the champ. Why would I lose?” – Bobby Riggs, “Because dinosaurs can’t play tennis.” – Billie Jean King

I wanted to see this in the theater last year but there were so many top notch indie movies coming out around the same time that this one got lost in the shuffle. It also didn’t help that it came and went in the cinemas near me pretty quickly. I think it was gone within two weeks.

Luckily, we live in a time where you can stream almost any movie in less than three months after it hits theaters. So when this popped up to rent, that’s what I did.

For the most part, this was entertaining and I cared about what was happening. The film felt like it was lacking some weight though. There wasn’t a lot of depth to it. It focused a lot of its time on Billie Jean King’s personal life in regards to her sexuality and that’s perfectly fine, as it may have really effected her game in the way that it did in this film but the actual “Battle of the Sexes” element seemed to be on the backburner through large portions of the film. It certainly didn’t feel like the real focal point until it happens on screen. Mostly this felt like two pictures pushed into one film without enough care and balance given to the script. Also, and I rarely say this, this is a film that would have benefited greatly with a longer running time.

I like both aspects of the story but things felt sacrificed on both ends, as this was a film that didn’t establish its identity well enough or at least given us both sides with more organic fluidity. It honestly feels like there was a half hour lobbed off of this movie late in post production. Like the studio decided that no one would sit through a 150 minute movie without superheroes blowing up cities.

Regardless of the disjointed narrative, the performances by Emma Stone and Steve Carell were great. Stone was absolutely believable as King, especially in showing her emotional struggle with her sexuality and with fighting for respect for women.

Carell’s take on Bobby Riggs reminded me a lot of his most famous character, Michael Scott from The Office. He didn’t play Riggs exactly like Scott but he had that same sort of presence where he was highly comedic and could still touch your heart dramatically in very subtle ways. He played Riggs with respect and didn’t just make him a sexist oppressor, which is so common in Hollywood movies these days. He was just as much a comedian as he was a tennis giant. And really, you’re sort of left wondering if Riggs was a genius and a hero in his own right because maybe, just maybe, he was trying to help women by being the chauvinist archetype that needed to be conquered. Granted, I don’t think he fixed the match, I just think that his anti-women stance was a show to create the perfect climate for the event to happen.

I also loved seeing Natalie Morales in this, as I’ve been a fan of hers since Parks & Recreation.

Furthermore, I adored Alan Cumming’s role, as he was an almost fatherly figure to King in regards to helping her accept her sexuality and reassuring her that she is going to be okay because times are changing and she’s a big part of that. It almost makes up for Cumming annoying the hell out of me as Boris in GoldenEye.

This film handles the issue of gender equality very well. Stone’s King sums it up best when she tells reporters that she isn’t doing this because she wants to show that women are better than men, she’s doing it for respect. That’s something that seems lost with the sentiment of a lot of modern feminists and social justice warriors. It’s about respect and coexisting for everyone’s benefit, not warring over who is better or trashing those who aren’t your gender.

At its core, this film was respectful to the historical figures it represented and to the culmination of their conflict. It’s also nice to know that everyone did go on to live happy lives and there was a real respect and appreciation between King and Riggs after the dust settled.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Sadly, there just aren’t a lot of good tennis movies. Almost none, actually. At least where tennis isn’t just a minor element. But for 2017 and for being a historical sports biopic, I’d put this with I, Tonya.