Quick Review: I’M YOUR HUCKLEBERRY by Val Kilmer (Simon & Schuster)

KilmerV-ImYourHuckleberryUSAn interesting, albeit brief memoir

Legendary actor Val Kilmer shares the stories behind his most beloved roles, reminisces about his star-studded career and love life, and reveals the truth behind his recent health struggles in a remarkably candid autobiography.

Val Kilmer has played many iconic roles over his nearly four-decade film career. A table-dancing Cold War agent in Top Secret! A troublemaking science prodigy in Real Genius. A brash fighter pilot in Top Gun. A swashbuckling knight in Willow. A lovelorn bank robber in Heat. A charming master of disguise in The Saint. A wise-cracking detective in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Of course, Batman, Jim Morrison and the sharp-shooting Doc Holliday.

But who is the real Val Kilmer? With I’m Your Huckleberry — published ahead of next summer’s highly anticipated sequel Top Gun: Maverick, in which Kilmer returns to the big screen as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky — the enigmatic actor at last steps out of character and reveals his true self.

In this uniquely assembled memoir — featuring vivid prose, snippets of poetry and rarely-seen photos — Kilmer reflects on his acclaimed career, including becoming the youngest actor ever admitted to the Juilliard School’s famed drama department, determinedly campaigning to win the lead part in The Doors, and realizing a years-long dream of performing a one-man show as his hero Mark Twain. He shares candid stories of working with screen legends Marlon Brando, Tom Cruise, Robert Downey Jr. and Robert De Niro, and recounts high-profile romances with Cher, Cindy Crawford, Daryl Hannah, and former wife Joanne Whalley. He chronicles his spiritual journey and lifelong belief in Christian Science, and describes travels to far-flung locales such as a scarcely inhabited island in the Indian Ocean where he suffered from delirium and was cared for by the resident tribe. And he reveals details of his recent throat cancer diagnosis and recovery — about which he has disclosed little until now.

I think the first movie of Kilmer’s that I saw was Batman Forever. While reading I’m Your Huckleberry, I realized that I hadn’t seen as many of Kilmer’s movies as I thought I had. What I have seen, however, I’ve much always enjoyed: HeatTombstoneKiss Kiss Bang Bang… his is a filmography that is varied, interesting and extensive. Sure, there are franchises (or potential franchises), but his career has also included somewhat unconventional choices. In his memoir, he offers an engaging, albeit brief, glimpse into his life and career, and generous portraits and memories of those who have influenced and enriched his life. I quite enjoyed it. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: GREENLIGHTS by Matthew McConaughey (Crown Publishing/Headline)

McConaugheyM-GreenlightsA lively, entertaining memoir

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.
 
Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges — how to get relative with the inevitable — you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”
 
So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.
 
Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.
 
It’s a love letter. To life.
 
It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights — and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.
 
Good luck.

An entertaining, quite uplifting memoir. I listened to the audiobook edition of the book, brilliantly and enthusiastically narrated by the author. I thoroughly enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: RAPTURE by Nick Nurse & Michael Sokolove (Little, Brown)

NurseN-RaptureNick Nurse’s long journey to the NBA and how his experiences led to the Raptors’ Championship

Nick Nurse distills the wisdom, insight, and experiences that helped him lead the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship in his first year as head coach.

NBA fans had modest  expectations for rookie coach Nick Nurse and his Toronto Raptors. But what those naysayers didn’t realize was that Nurse had spent the past thirty years proving himself at every level of the game, from youth programs and college ball to the NBA D League and Britain’s struggling pro circuit. While few coaches have taken such a circuitous path to pro basketball’s promised land, the journey-which began at Kuemper Catholic high school in Carroll, Iowa-forged a coach who proved to be as unshakable as he is personable.

On the road, he is known to bring his guitar and keyboard for late-night jazz and blues sessions. In the locker room, he’s steadfast and even-keeled regardless of the score. On the court, he pulls out old-school tactics with astounding success. A rookie in name but a veteran in attitude, Nurse is seemingly above the chaos of the game and, with only two seasons on his résumé, has already established himself as one of the NBA’s most admired head coaches.

Now, in this revealing new book — equal parts personal memoir, leadership mani­festo, and philosophical meditation — Nurse tells his own story. Given unprecedented access inside the Raptors’ locker room, readers get an intimate study of not only the team culture he has built, but also of a rookie coach’s unique dynamic with the star players — such as Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Low­ry, and Pascal Siakam — who helped trail-blaze the 2019 championship run. As much for readers of Ray Dalio as for fans of John Wooden and Pat Summitt, Rapture promis­es to be a necessary read for anyone looking to forge their own path to success.

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was announced (which was, I think, shortly after the Raptors’ NBA victory last summer). I started reading this a couple of days after it came out, and zipped through it. Written in an inviting and engaging style, Rapture is a quick and interesting read. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: THEY DON’T NEED TO UNDERSTAND by Andy Biersack (Rare Bird Books)

BiersackA-TheyDontNeedToUnderstandUSAn interesting, engaging memoir of a highly-driven young rock star

Before he was the charismatic singer of Black Veil Brides and an accomplished solo artist under the Andy Black moniker, he was Andrew Dennis Biersack, an imaginative and creative kid in Cincinnati, Ohio, struggling with anxiety, fear, loneliness, and the impossible task of fitting in. With his trademark charm, clever wit, and insightful analysis, Biersack tells the story of his childhood and adolescence.

The discovery of the artistic passions that would shape his life, and his decision to move to Hollywood after his 18th birthday to make his dreams come true, even when it meant living in his car to make it all a reality. It’s the origin story of one of modern rock’s most exciting young superheroes, from building miniature concerts with KISS action figures in his bedroom to making the RIAA gold-certified single “In the End” and connecting with passionate fans worldwide.

I’ve been a fan of Black Veil Brides since their second album, Set the World on Fire. This was during a time when I wasn’t reading as much music journalism as used to. As a result, I didn’t know much about the band, and when I learned that Biersack had written a memoir, I was keen to read it and find out more about his and the band’s history. They Don’t Need to Understand is an engaging memoir. I enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE SIXTH MAN by Andre Iguodala & Carvell Wallace (Blue Rider Press)

IguodalaA-SixthManUSPBA superb memoir that is also a passionate, engaging meditation on race in America

Andre Iguodala is one of the most admired players in the NBA. And fresh off the Warriors’ fifth Finals appearance in five years, his game has never been stronger.

Off the court, Iguodala has earned respect, too — for his successful tech investments, his philanthropy, and increasingly for his contributions to the conversation about race in America. It is no surprise, then, that in his first book, Andre, with his cowriter Carvell Wallace, has pushed himself to go further than he ever has before about his life, not only as an athlete but about what makes him who he is at his core.

The Sixth Man traces Andre’s journey from childhood in his Illinois hometown to his Bay Area home court today. Basketball has always been there. But this is the story, too, of his experience of the conflict and racial tension always at hand in a professional league made up largely of African American men; of whether and why the athlete owes the total sacrifice of his body; of the relationship between competition and brotherhood among the players of one of history’s most glorious championship teams. And of what motivates an athlete to keep striving for more once they’ve already achieved the highest level of play they could have dreamed.

On drive, on leadership, on pain, on accomplishment, on the shame of being given a role, and the glory of taking a role on: This is a powerful memoir of life and basketball that reveals new depths to the superstar athlete, and offers tremendous insight into most urgent stories being told in American society today.

I’ve been on a bit of a basketball kick, recently. The NBA’s restart in Orlando has been playing in the background since it began (except for Raptors games, which I give the games my full attention). I decided that it was time to read The Sixth Man, Andre Iguodala’s acclaimed memoir. Co-authored by journalist Carvell Wallace, I had pretty high expectations. The book completely blew these expectations out of the water, and I blitzed through it. A superb book about basketball, life and race in America. Continue reading

Quick Review: GOLDEN by Marcus Thompson (Atria)

ThompsonM-GoldenStephCurryAn interesting biography of an unexpected basketball talent

The inside story of Steph Curry, the greatest shooter basketball has ever seen.

Golden is the first book to provide an all-access look at Steph Curry and the team that has fueled Dub Nation — by longtime Warriors beat reporter and Bay Area News Group sports columnist Marcus Thompson, the go-to expert on all things Golden State.

A lifelong Warriors fan turned insider Thompson is uniquely qualified to tell the definitive story of a singular talent, pulling back the curtain on the crazy work ethic and on-court intensity that make Curry great — and the emphasis on family and faith that keeps him grounded.

Combining the competitive grit and fun-loving spirit of his mother with the mild demeanor, easy charm, and sharp shooting of his father, former NBA player Dell Curry, Steph Curry derives support and strength from his close-knit kin and his commitment to Christianity. This hard-working, wholesome image however is both a blessing and curse in a League of big personalities. Thompson unravels the complicated underpinnings of the Steph Curry hate with a nuanced analysis of how class and complexion come into play when a child with an NBA pedigree becomes the face of a sport traditionally honed on inner-city black top and dominated by the less privileged.

With unprecedented access, Thompson draws from exclusive interviews with Steph Curry, his family, his teammates, Coach Steve Kerr, and the Warriors owners to bring readers inside the locker room and courtside with this remarkable athlete and man.

With the NBA season back and in full swing, I found myself in the mood to read about some of the various basketball books I’ve picked up over the years. Steph Curry and the Warriors were a juggernaut in recent years, which naturally led to the publication of a few books about the team and its stars. Originally published in 2017, I decided it was well-passed time for me to read Golden. It’s an interesting book, let down only by its subject.
Continue reading

Upcoming: MEMOIRS AND MISINFORMATION by Jim Carrey & Dana Vachon (Knopf)

CarreyVachon-Memoirs&MisinformationUSIt was announced today that Knopf was pushing back the release date for Memoirs and Misinformation, a new novel by Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon, until September 2020 (maybe October). This was surprising news, as I’d totally missed the fact that Carrey had co-authored a novel. I decided to look up the synopsis, and I think it sounds pretty interesting:

“None of this is real and all of it is true.” –Jim Carrey

Meet Jim Carrey. Sure, he’s an insanely successful and beloved movie star drowning in wealth and privilege–but he’s also lonely. Maybe past his prime. Maybe even . . . getting fat? He’s tried diets, gurus, and cuddling with his military-grade Israeli guard dogs, but nothing seems to lift the cloud of emptiness and ennui. Even the sage advice of his best friend, actor and dinosaur skull collector Nicolas Cage, isn’t enough to pull Carrey out of his slump.

But then Jim meets Georgie: ruthless ingénue, love of his life. And with the help of auteur screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, he has a role to play in a boundary-pushing new picture that may help him uncover a whole new side to himself–finally, his Oscar vehicle! Things are looking up!

But the universe has other plans.

Memoirs and Misinformation is a fearless semi-autobiographical novel, a deconstruction of persona. In it, Jim Carrey and Dana Vachon have fashioned a story about acting, Hollywood, agents, celebrity, privilege, friendship, romance, addiction to relevance, fear of personal erasure, our “one big soul,” Canada, and a cataclysmic ending of the world–apocalypses within and without.

I’ve been a fan of Carrey’s movies for decades — ever since the double-whammy of Ace Ventura and The Mask — and I’ve enjoyed his slower output of late. The short documentary about his artwork, available on YouTube, is also excellent. I’m really looking forward to reading this novel.

Memoirs and Misinformation is due to be published by Knopf in North America and in the UK, on September 14th, 2020 (but may be later).

Follow the Author (Carrey): Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Follow the Author (Vachon): Goodreads, Twitter

Very Quick Review: DESTINATION SHANGHAI by Paul French (Blacksmith Books)

Destination Shanghai_18mm spineA fascinating collection of short biographies

18 true stories of those who went…

For the privileged a cosmopolitan pleasure ground; for the desperate a port of last resort.

A pot of gold at the end of an Oriental rainbow; a thick slice of hell denounced from the pulpit.

The start of a journey for many; the end of the road for some.

A place to find fame, or to seek anonymity; rogues, chancers, showgirls, criminals…

For so many people from so many lands, there was one phrase that sent a tingle of hope or a shiver of anticipation down every spine: “DESTINATION SHANGHAI”

Ever since I read his contributions to Penguin’s series of short China Specials, I’ve been a big fan of Paul French’s books. He has a gift for bringing history alive, and writes in an engaging style. In Destination Shanghai, the author offers a collection of short biographies of people who found themselves in Shanghai at one point or another. Destination Shanghai is an excellent, illuminating read. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON by Mallory O’Meara (Hanover Square Press)

OMearaM-LadyFromTheBlackLagoonUSUncovering the overlooked, oft-dismissed contribution of Milicent Patrick to the development of horror cinema

The Lady from the Black Lagoon uncovers the life and work of Milicent Patrick — one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman in history to create one of Hollywood’s classic movie monsters

As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre, there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.

A true-life detective story and a celebration of a forgotten feminist trailblazer, Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon establishes Patrick in her rightful place in film history while calling out a Hollywood culture where little has changed since.

In The Lady From the Black Lagoon, debut author Mallory O’Meara gives us an interesting and illuminating look not only at the life of a pioneering female artist, but also a glimpse into the early years of behind-the-scenes Hollywood. A must read for cinephiles, horror fans and also pretty much anyone who likes narrative non-fiction. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT by Jeffrey Rosen (Times Books)

RosenJ-APS27-WilliamHowardTaftAn excellent, short introduction to the life and career of the 27th president

The only man to serve as president and chief justice, who approached every decision in constitutional terms, defending the Founders’ vision against new populist threats to American democracy

William Howard Taft never wanted to be president and yearned instead to serve as chief justice of the United States. But despite his ambivalence about politics, the former federal judge found success in the executive branch as governor of the Philippines and secretary of war, and he won a resounding victory in the presidential election of 1908 as Theodore Roosevelt’s handpicked successor.

In this provocative assessment, Jeffrey Rosen reveals Taft’s crucial role in shaping how America balances populism against the rule of law. Taft approached each decision as president by asking whether it comported with the Constitution, seeking to put Roosevelt’s activist executive orders on firm legal grounds. But unlike Roosevelt, who thought the president could do anything the Constitution didn’t forbid, Taft insisted he could do only what the Constitution explicitly allowed. This led to a dramatic breach with Roosevelt in the historic election of 1912, which Taft viewed as a crusade to defend the Constitution against the demagogic populism of Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Nine years later, Taft achieved his lifelong dream when President Warren Harding appointed him chief justice, and during his years on the Court he promoted consensus among the justices and transformed the judiciary into a modern, fully equal branch. Though he had chafed in the White House as a judicial president, he thrived as a presidential chief justice.

William Howard Taft is one of the lesser-known presidents. For many, if he is known at all, it is due to the fact that he was quite large. It’s unfortunate that his story has been boiled down into a punch-line. A life-long Republican who was enamoured with the Constitution and those who crafted it, he spent his career judiciously adhering to what he saw as the tenets laid down by the Founding Fathers. He was meticulous, he was extremely intelligent and well-read. He placed principle above party at almost all times. In his contribution to the excellent American Presidents Series, Rosen gives readers a very good, short and engaging introduction to Taft’s life and career. Continue reading