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

Quick Review: BUT WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO IS DIRECT by Ken Kwapis (St. Martin’s Griffin)

KwapisK-ButWhatIReallyWantToDoIsDirectUSAn interesting blend of memoir and advice for budding directors

For over three decades, director Ken Kwapis has charted a career full of exceptional movies and television, from seminal shows like The Office to beloved films like He’s Just Not That Into You.

He is among the most respected directors in show business, but getting there wasn’t easy. He struggled just like everyone else. With each triumph came the occasional faceplant. Using his background and inside knowledge, But What I Really Want To Do is Direct tackles Hollywood myths through Ken’s highly entertaining experiences. It’s a rollercoaster ride fueled by brawls with the top brass, clashes over budgets, and the passion that makes it all worthwhile.

This humorous and refreshingly personal memoir is filled with inspiring instruction, behind-the-scenes hilarity, and unabashed joy. It’s a celebration of the director’s craft, and what it takes to succeed in show business on your own terms.

In But What I Really Want to Do is Direct, Ken Kwapis draws on decades of experience as a director of television and movies, sharing what he’s learned behind the camera and also some interesting and often amusing experiences and stories. Continue reading

Quick Review: MODERN FAMILY by Marc Freeman (St. Martin’s Press)

FreemanM-ModernFamilyUSThe Untold Oral History of the Long-Running Family Sitcom

An oral history, with the full participation of cast and crew, of one of the most popular sitcoms in television history.

Since premiering in 2009, the groundbreaking television sitcom Modern Family has garnered tens of millions of devoted fans, earning 75 Emmy nominations and 22 Emmy Awards, including five in a row for Outstanding Comedy Series (one of only two sitcoms to ever achieve that feat). Professors have written about it. Psychologists have lectured on it. Leading publications, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, have explained their love for it. With funny, heartfelt and relatable stories about family, Modern Family has gained a worldwide following of hundreds of millions of viewers in countries as diverse as England, Israel, The Netherlands, Germany, and South Africa.

As much as people love the show, few know the stories behind it. How did a kernel of an idea by Emmy-winning writers Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd morph into a television juggernaut? Where did they find the cast? How did they come up with story ideas and film favorite episodes? What went on behind the scenes? Up until now, there have been individual stories and interviews about the show, but nothing comprehensive that captures the complete story of the series.

Marc Freeman’s Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television’s Groundbreaking Sitcoms is the only major book ever written that explores this show as told by those who created it. More than seventy people, including the entire cast, crew, and creators, detail the full history of this iconic sitcom. The cast recalls their memories of the trials and tribulations of casting. They share their impressions from the first table read through the last light turning out. Writers, directors, and performers walk readers through storylines, production and favorite episodes. Guest stars such as Elizabeth Banks, Josh Gad, Adam Devine, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane recall their appearances on the show while others recount their experiences working with Kevin Hart, Barbara Streisand, Ed Norton and more. Readers get to go behind the scenes and experience the show like never before, including personal photos. They’ll also discover the never-told fallout and divorce of the two showrunners, making the show two separate series blended into one. Even people unfamiliar with the show will gain deep insight into what it takes to put a series on television.

I started watching Modern Family around season three, I think — I caught an episode when I was visiting my father in LA. It was funny, and I started watching it whenever I could. Like all long-running shows, it experiences ups and downs, but it held strong for a surprisingly long time. With the show recently ended, I thought this Oral History would be an interesting read. I was not disappointed: exhaustive, engaging and illuminating, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

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

CarreyVachon-Memoirs&MisinformationUSA fascinating, at times unsettling novel-memoir

“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 grew up watching and loving Jim Carrey’s movies — The MaskAce Ventura, and Dumb and Dumber, in particular, I found hilarious when I was a teenager. Combined with my general interest in Hollywood, I’ve found Carrey’s career to be pretty interesting. When I heard that he was writing a sort-of-novelized-memoir, I was certainly intrigued. I was lucky enough to get a DRC, and I’m happy to say that it is an interesting and rewarding read. It is, however, rather strange — perhaps predictably. 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

Quick Review: MOLLY BIT by Dan Bevacqua (Simon & Schuster)

BevacquaD-MollyBitUSThe story of the stratospheric rise of an enigmatic Hollywood star and her legacy

A tragic death was not part of the script.

Molly Bit doesn’t believe she’s destined for success — she knows it.

This certainly helps her get through the countless auditions featuring actors who look and dress just like she does; helps her swallow the indignity of less talented actors landing roles; even helps her endure the industry’s aggressive over-sexualizing of young women.

When Molly is offered a lead role in a major film, she knows, too, that to seize this opportunity she must sacrifice everything. Even her commitment to an old friend.

It’s her big break, and Molly becomes a star. But she soon learns the hardest part of fame is everything after.

Molly Bit begins as a portrait of the artist as a young woman and transforms into an ode to the strange, personal magic of moviemaking, and our obsession — public and private — with performance. In Molly Bit, Dan Bevacqua announces himself as a force of wit and insight with his profound reflections on celebrity, beauty, violence, and the power of art.

I was initially intrigued by this novel for two reasons: its connection to Hollywood, and also the pitch stated that it was akin to Daisy Jones and the Six, one of my favourite novels from 2019. Having read the novel, I’m not sure that connection is as strong as they might hope, but I understand why they chose it. Molly Bit is an interesting novel with a lot to say about Hollywood, celebrity, and an individual’s legacy. Continue reading

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: BEST. MOVIE. YEAR. EVER. by Brian Raftery (Simon & Schuster)

RafteryB-BestMovieYearEverUSAn excellent examination of “How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen”

In 1999, Hollywood as we know it exploded: Fight Club. The Matrix. Office Space. Election. The Blair Witch Project. The Sixth Sense. Being John Malkovich. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. American Beauty. The Virgin Suicides. Boys Don’t Cry. The Best Man. Three Kings. Magnolia. Those are just some of the landmark titles released in a dizzying movie year, one in which a group of daring filmmakers and performers pushed cinema to new limits—and took audiences along for the ride. Freed from the restraints of budget, technology (or even taste), they produced a slew of classics that took on every topic imaginable, from sex to violence to the end of the world. The result was a highly unruly, deeply influential set of films that would not only change filmmaking, but also give us our first glimpse of the coming twenty-first century. It was a watershed moment that also produced The Sopranos; Apple’s Airport; Wi-Fi; and Netflix’s unlimited DVD rentals.

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is the story of not just how these movies were made, but how they re-made our own vision of the world. It features more than 130 new and exclusive interviews with such directors and actors as Reese Witherspoon, Edward Norton, Steven Soderbergh, Sofia Coppola, David Fincher, Nia Long, Matthew Broderick, Taye Diggs, M. Night Shyamalan, David O. Russell, James Van Der Beek, Kirsten Dunst, the Blair Witch kids, the Office Space dudes, the guy who played Jar-Jar Binks, and dozens more. It’s the definitive account of a culture-conquering movie year none of us saw coming…and that we may never see again.

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is an excellent, illuminating discussion and examination of the movies that defined 1999: a year that produced an incredible number of excellent, ground-breaking movies. They broke the moulds of their respective genres, updated certain outmoded mores and tropes, or created something wholly new. A fascinating book that is a must-read for movie fans. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE PAPER WASP by Lauren Acampora (Riverrun, Grove Press)

AcamporaL-PaperWaspUKAn interesting, unsettling novel of obsession and twisted friendship

Abby Graven is a dreamer. She dreams her way through her small, lonely life – hiding back at her parents, working at the grocery store. At night, she collects tabloid clippings that taunt her with Elise – her best friend, now Hollywood’s hot new starlet.

When a school reunion throws Elise in her path, Abby seizes her chance. With feverish certainty, she boards a one-way flight to LA to become Elise’s assistant and enters her gauzy realm of film sets and glamorous actors.

But behind Elise’s glossy magazine veneer, she is drowning in Hollywood’s vicious social cycle. Ever the devoted friend, Abby conceals her own burning desire for greatness.

For she is smarter than Elise. More talented. A true artist. And as she edges closer to her own ambitions, Abby can see only one way to make her dream come true.

After spotting the cover for this novel online, I did some digging and the synopsis caught my attention. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy, and dove in shortly after it arrived. I’m a sucker for novels set in and around Hollywood, and I enjoyed Acampora’s take on a friendship twisted by ambition and an unsettling obsession. Continue reading