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.

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.

Film Review: Hollywoodland (2006)

Release Date: August 31st, 2006 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Allen Coulter
Written by: Paul Bernbaum
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Molly Parker, Jeffrey DeMunn, Brad William Henke

Focus Features, Miramax Films, Back Lot Pictures, Universal Studios, Buena Vista International, 127 Minutes

Review:

“[about the bullet holes in George Reeves’ floor] Since when do suicides miss twice and start over?” – Louis Simo

This film really grabbed me immediately with the opening theme, which set the tone perfectly for this film-noir styled biopic about the death of George Reeves, the actor who was most famous for playing television’s Superman in the 1950s.

Ben Affleck plays the legendary George Reeves but he is not the main character. Adrien Brody gets the big spotlight in this one, as he plays a private investigator hired to uncover the truth surrounding George Reeves apparent suicide.

This is a very layered film, in the same vein as a classic film-noir, and it features a large cast of characters.

Brody commands your attention as Louis Simo. He exudes charisma and weaves his way through this tapestry with ease and a real air of confidence missing by most actors these days. Brody, as well as Affleck, almost feel overpowered though by the performance of veteran Bob Hoskins, who enters each scene with an aura of intimidation like a massive storm cloud ready to strike out with booming thunder.

Diane Lane puts in a solid performance as well, as do most of the ladies here. It was cool seeing Molly Parker banter with Brody. Robin Tunney and Kathleen Robertson both brought their A-game performances, as well. I wish we got to see more of Robertson, as she’s never quite broken out as a leading lady. Here, she shows that she has got more to offer than just being one of Ian Ziering’s girlfriends from the original Beverly Hills, 90210.

While this wasn’t an exceptional film, it did paint an intimate portrait and it handled the George Reeves situation with care and grace. There were a lot of shady things that happened in his life but the film felt honest and respected the man, even while displaying those flaws. Superman isn’t real and the man was just as human as all of us.

The film feels like it is missing something though. Maybe it’s the fact that it built up towards a resolution but we never really got there. Not in a proper narrative sense, anyway. By the time the credits roll, you’ve been taken on a ride but it just feels like a collection of scenes that don’t reach a solid conclusion.

I like Hollywoodland despite its flaws, in the same way I appreciate George Reeves despite his. It doesn’t fully hit the mark but it does connect with you emotionally and then lingers long after the final scene. In that sense, it is an effective movie.