Documentary Review: Of Miracles and Men (2015)

Release Date: February 8th, 2015
Directed by: Jonathan Hock
Music by: Joel Beckerman, Phil Hernandez, Chris Maxwell, Robert Miller

ESPN Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

This was one on the more recent 30 For 30 films put out by ESPN.

This documentary covered the Soviet Union’s national hockey team during their dominant heyday and showed the famous “Miracle” game from their perspective, which provided a pretty unique take on the event.

Of Miracles and Men starts off by showing us how the Soviets developed their hockey game and the unorthodox approach to coaching that its founder had.

Unable to study the renowned Canadians, who made the sport famous, the Soviets taught themselves how to play from the ground up with no point of reference. Their coach analyzed everything he could outside of hockey and thought of ways to incorporate these things into the Soviet training routine. He took methods from dancing, weightlifting and other places. All of this showed how the Soviets developed such a refined style that was all their own at the time.

The documentary goes on to show the growth of hockey in the U.S.S.R. and how the nation developed immense pride for their athletes and the sport. All of which eventually lead to them playing some exhibition games against Canada.

While looked at as underdogs and not taken seriously, the Soviet team crushed Canada. And then they kept crushing Canada. And then they crushed everyone else, including the United States.

Where here, in America, we are told of the legend of the “Miracle” game from a very pro-American stance. This documentary shows the tale in a much more realistic light and provides the back story in a way that is more fleshed out than any version I’ve ever heard.

In the end, the Soviets weren’t so bloodthirsty about us, as we were of them. In fact, when they lost, they were more upset that they lost and weren’t looking at it as a failed attempt to topple America. In fact, they had toppled us quite a bit before this game and have toppled us after. Truthfully, the Soviets owned America historically. And today, the Russians still regularly kick our ass, even though we have amazing teams year after year.

An example one of the Soviet players gave in the film, is that this is like a fan of Sophia Loren who gets to kiss her. Years later he is still talking about the kiss. However, if you ask Loren about it, she probably doesn’t even remember it.

If anything, this film opens the viewers eyes to the propaganda machine.

In its simplest form, the “Miracle” game was a game played between really young athletes who just wanted to play the game because it was what they enjoyed doing. Athletes who were probably too young or focused on the game, to fully understand what was going on between these two countries politically.

In comparison to other 30 For 30 documentaries, this one fits in the upper echelon in terms of quality. The editing, interviews and narrative were fantastic. I just wish ESPN did more 30 For 30 films on hockey. I think this is only like the third one out of 60 plus films.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Red ArmyMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Documentary Review: Red Army (2014)

Release Date: May 16th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: Gabe Polsky
Written by: Gabe Polsky
Music by: Christophe Beck, Leo Birenberg
Cast: Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladislav Tretiak, Scotty Bowman, Vladimir Pozner

Gabriel Polsky Productions, Sony Pictures Classics, 84 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog, now regular collaborators, worked together on this documentary. Polsky directed and conducted the interviews, where Herzog produced it.

This film follows the story of the Soviet Union’s last great hockey team, as told through their point of view. It follows them through their early days as kids in the system, through international competition, the Olympics, political and social turmoil, as well as their journey to North America and the NHL.

The bulk of the story is told through the eyes of legendary player Viacheslav Fetisov. He is dynamic, charismatic and, at times, an abrasive cantankerous jerk. But he does seem to tell an honest story and expresses his feelings and his tale pretty thoroughly. He’s straightforward and comes with a no nonsense approach, other than poking fun at the director here and there.

The most important thing about this film, is how intimately it portrays these young players relationship with the Soviet Union’s sports system and the hardship and challenges they faced. It also displays their loyalty to their country and the pride they had for playing on the national team but it evolves into their inability to trust their coach and that same system, as it holds them prisoner and doesn’t allow for them to have lives.

Through the broken promises and mistreatment over the years, many of these players eventually left the crumbling Soviet Union for the greener pastures of the National Hockey League in the United States and Canada. It then follows their struggles in the NHL and how these Russians adapted and then changed the game at it’s highest professional level.

This is a thought provoking and fast-paced documentary. It has something for everyone, whether you are into sports, politics or both. Truthfully, it is one of the best hockey documentaries that I have seen in quite some time.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Of Miracles and MenMiracle and The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed.

Book Review: ‘The Game’ by Ken Dryden

*Written in 2015.

This book is considered by most hockey purists to be the greatest hockey book ever written.

Now while I am a Chicago Blackhawks fan, I have always had a respect and love for the Montreal Canadiens. In fact, in my lifetime, I’d love to see a Chicago v. Montreal scenario in the Stanley Cup Finals – especially with the two current teams.

Anyway, this book is an autobiographical tale by legendary Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden. It follows him during the 1978-1979 NHL season, which ended up being one of the years that the then dominant Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. In fact, that season was their fourth straight Cup win and their tenth in fifteen years. The Canadiens would win two more (one in the ’80s and one in the ’90s) but they have never had that sort of success since the days of Dryden and that is what makes this an interesting book because it is told from the perspective of greatness, albeit very humble greatness.

The Game is an entertaining read and it is well-written by a man that evolved to be something much more than just a great hockey goalie. Dryden has gone on to be a well-respected lawyer and a prominent Canadian politician. He didn’t just go home with a bunch of championship rings when his playing career was over. These things about Dryden’s character are what make him unique and make his words more than worthwhile to read. You can’t write his words off as just some shoddy life advice through the experiences of some dirty goon.

This book is definitely in the upper echelon of hockey books out there. There are so many that I have read and still many that I should read. The Game is at the top of that heap however.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey by Jeremy Roenick with Kevin Allen, Tough Guy: My Life On the Edge by Bob Probert and Kirstie McLellan Day, Made In America by Chris Chelios and Kevin Allen, Keith Magnuson: The Inspiring Life and Times of a Beloved Blackhawk by Doug Feldman, Leave No Doubt: A Credo For Chasing Your Dreams by Mike Babcock and Rick Larsen.

Book Review: ‘Keith Magnuson: The Inspiring Life and Times of a Beloved Blackhawk’ by Doug Feldmann

Keith Magnuson was one of the greatest Blackhawks of all-time and not just that, he was a pillar of the community and a great man. Unfortunately and sadly, he was killed in a car crash in 2003 – leaving behind his wife and kids.

During his time as a player and a coach in the Blackhawks organization, Magnuson brought class, hard work and dedication. Sure, that could be said for a lot of guys in the history of the organization but very few were as giving as this guy was and even fewer were as good of a leader as Magnuson.

This book is pretty great. Granted, it isn’t as great as if Magnuson would have penned his own story but it was still a thorough look at the man’s life and had a lot of personal details on nearly every page. The author, Doug Feldmann did his homework and weaved a fantastic tale that not only showcased the man on the ice but the human being off the ice.

There are a lot of stories and behind-the-scenes situations in this book that are more than enjoyable to read, not just for a Blackhawks fan but for any fan of hockey or sports in general.

This is a very welcomed treasure to my ever-growing hockey library.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: J.R.: My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless, and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey by Jeremy Roenick with Kevin Allen, Tough Guy: My Life On the Edge by Bob Probert and Kirstie McLellan Day, Made In America by Chris Chelios and Kevin Allen

Ranking All 30 Second Series Episodes of ESPN’s 30 For 30

*Written in 2015.

Luckily for us, ESPN decided to do another set of thirty films to expand this series. Now that this series has also reached 30 films and we got the soccer spin-off series, I’m hoping we get a third generation.

But for now, here are the 30 films of the second series ranked. And to be honest, all of these are really good.

1. Survive and Advance
2. Of Miracles and Men
3. Requiem for the Big East
4. Ghosts of Ole Miss
5. No Más
6. I Hate Christian Laettner
7. Big Shot
8. Bad Boys
9. You Don’t Know Bo
10. Benji
11. Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau
12. Brothers In Exile
13. The U Part 2
14. Bernie and Ernie
15. Free Spirits
16. Angry Sky
17. Rand University
18. This is What They Want
19. When the Garden was Eden
20. Sole Man
21. The Price of Gold
22. Brian and the Boz
23. The Day the Series Stopped
24. Slaying the Badger
25. Broke
26. 9.79*
27. There’s No Place Like Home
28. Playing for the Mob
29. Elway to Marino
30. Youngstown Boys

Documentary Review: Center of Attention – The Unreal Life of Derek Sanderson (2015)

Release Date: June, 2015
Narrated by: John Slattery

NBC Sports Films, 47 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Recently I read Derek Sanderson’s autobiography Crossing the Line: The Outrageous Story of a Hockey Original. While reading it, I was wrapped up in his tale and thought it would be a great story for a documentary. Luckily for all of us, NBCSN agreed and made a one hour film about Sanderson, which premiered this week after a Stanley Cup Finals game.

The documentary interviewed friends, family, coaches and former teammates – most notably the legendary Bobby Orr. It went on to highlight his career and his trouble with drugs and alcohol. Granted, I felt that Sanderson’s story could’ve been more fleshed out and presented over two hours instead of one but NBCSN still did a great job of hitting all the highs and lows of a man that went from the top of his sport to rock bottom in life.

While Sanderson’s story, at face value, isn’t unique, it is the character that Derek Sanderson was that make’s his tale compelling. He was the king of cool, often times referred to as the “Joe Namath of Hockey”. He was, at one time, the highest paid athlete in the world. And where so many of these stories end in tragedy, Sanderson’s had a happy ending, as he overcame his problems, turned his life around and dedicated his remaining days to helping those with substance abuse issues.

Still alive and kicking, when many thought he was on a quick trip to an early grave, Sanderson is a shining example of perseverance and a real man, who overcame adversity, conquered his demons and turned it all around for the better.

I hope NBCSN does more documateries like this, especially in the world of hockey. It was refreshing and engaging, especially when ESPN rarely showcases hockey stories in their great 30 For 30 documentary series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Last GladiatorsKing’s Ransom and Big Shot.

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