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

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

Upcoming: LAST LOOKS by Howard Michael Gould (Dutton)

GouldHM-LastLooksUSHoward Michael Gould’s new crime/mystery novel is billed as a lampoon of the Hollywood culture. This caught my attention, as my fascination with all things Hollywood continues. I’m looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

There are run-of-the-mill eccentric Californians, and then there’s former detective Charlie Waldo.

Waldo, a onetime LAPD superstar, now lives in solitude deep in the woods, pathologically committed to owning no more than one hundred possessions. He has left behind his career and his girlfriend, Lorena, to pay self-imposed penance for an awful misstep on an old murder case. But the old ghosts are about to come roaring back.

There are plenty of difficult actors in Hollywood, and then there’s Alastair Pinch.

Alastair is a onetime Royal Shakespeare Company thespian who now slums it as the “wise” Southern judge on a tacky network show. He’s absurdly rich, often belligerent, and typically drunk — a damning combination when Alastair’s wife is found dead on their living room floor and he can’t remember what happened.

Waldo’s old flame Lorena, hiding peril of her own, draws him toward the case, and Alastair’s greedy network convinces Waldo to take it on. But after such a long time away from both civilization and sleuthing — and plagued by a confounding array of assailants who want him gone — Waldo must navigate complicated webs of ego and deceit to clear Alastair’s name… or confirm his guilt.

Last Looks is due to be published by Dutton in August 2018. (No news on a British publisher, but it’s available to pre-order as an import.)

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Seth Meyers’s Golden Globes Monologue… (And a couple of other victory speeches)

Meyers’s intro-monologue was very good. I’m not surprised. One of my favourite late-night comics, I thought I’d share the clip, in case you missed it:

It was a great night for wins, actually. Sterling K. Brown won Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama, for his role in This Is Us — a truly deserving win. The show is spectacular, but by far his is the standout performance: Continue reading

Quick Review: MONSTER by John Gregory Dunne (Vintage)

DunneJG-MonsterUSAn entertaining, engaging memoir of screenwriting

In Hollywood, screenwriters are a curse to be borne, and beating up on them is an industry blood sport. But in this ferociously funny and accurate account of life on the Hollywood food chain, it’s a screenwriter who gets the last murderous laugh. That may be because the writer is John Gregory Dunne, who has written screenplays, along with novels and non-fiction, for thirty years. In 1988 Dunne and his wife, Joan Didion, were asked to write a screenplay about the dark and complicated life of the late TV anchorwoman Jessica Savitch. Eight years and twenty-seven drafts later, this script was made into the fairy tale “Up Close and Personal” starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Detailing the meetings, rewrites, fights, firings, and distractions attendant to the making of a single picture, Monster illuminates the process with sagacity and raucous wit.

This is a fascinating, unreserved memoir of John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion’s long, often frustrating experiences writing Up Close & Personal. It’s engaging, entertaining and illuminating. Continue reading

Review: SLEEPLESS IN HOLLYWOOD by Lynda Obst (Simon & Schuster)

ObstL-SleeplessInHollywoodAn excellent follow-up to Hello, He Lied

Over the past decade, producer Lynda Obst gradually realized she was working in a Hollywood that was undergoing a drastic transformation. The industry where everything had once been familiar to her was suddenly disturbingly strange.

Combining her own industry experience and interviews with the brightest minds in the business, Obst explains what has stalled the vast moviemaking machine. The calamitous DVD collapse helped usher in what she calls the New Abnormal (because Hollywood was never normal to begin with), where studios are now heavily dependent on foreign markets for profit, a situation which directly impacts the kind of entertainment we get to see. Can comedy survive if they don’t get our jokes in Seoul or allow them in China? Why are studios making fewer movies than ever — and why are they bigger, more expensive and nearly always sequels or recycled ideas?

Sleepless in Hollywood is an excellent, accessible explanation of the ways in which Hollywood has evolved since the 1980s. This is an account of emergence of the “New Abnormal”, as Obst calls it: the shifting practices and ideologies that dictate how the movie and TV industries operate. Continue reading