Quick Review: SIREN QUEEN by Nghi Vo (Tor.com)

VoN-SirenQueenThe magic and horror of movie-making…

It was magic. In every world, it was a kind of magic.

“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill — but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid.

But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes — even if that means becoming the monster herself.

Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page.

“The magic of movie-making”: we’ve all heard people say and write things about Hollywood that sprinkle stardust and the otherworldly metaphors onto filmmaking. In Siren Queen, Nghi Vo asks readers to consider what if it wasn’t actually metaphorical? A clever novel that follows the career of screen star Luli Wei, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: ACT LIKE YOU GOT SOME SENSE by Jamie Foxx (Grand Central Publishing)

FoxxJ-ActLikeYouGotSomeSenseFoxx shares the story of being raised by his no-nonsense grandmother, the glamour and pitfalls of life in Hollywood, and the lessons he took from both worlds to raise his two daughters.

Jamie Foxx has won an Academy Award and a Grammy Award, laughed with sitting presidents, and partied with the biggest names in hip-hop. But he is most proud of his role as father to two very independent young women, Corinne and Anelise. Jamie might not always know what he’s doing when it comes to raising girls — especially when they talk to him about TikTok (PlikPlok?) and don’t share his enthusiasm for flashy Rolls Royces — but he does his best to show up for them every single day.

Luckily, he has a strong example to follow: his beloved late grandmother, Estelle Marie Talley. Jamie learned everything he knows about parenting from the fierce woman who raised him: As he puts it, she’s “Madea before Tyler Perry put on the pumps and the gray wig.”

In Act Like You Got Some Sense — a title inspired by Estelle — Jamie shares up close and personal stories about the tough love and old-school values he learned growing up in the small town of Terrell, Texas; his early days trying to make it in Hollywood; the joys and challenges of achieving stardom; and how each phase of his life shaped his parenting journey. Hilarious, poignant, and always brutally honest, this is Jamie Foxx like we’ve never seen him before.

I first came across Jamie Foxx’s work in Any Given Sunday. (In my late teens, I went through a football movie/TV phase.) He stole many of the scenes he was in, easily holding his own opposite Al Pacino and others. Since then, I’ve seen quite a few of his movies. I did not, however, really know anything about him. So, when I had the chance to review his new memoir, I jumped at the chance. It’s an interesting, honest, often funny memoir and examination of his experiences and the choices he’s made in life. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

Upcoming: THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE KILLED HIS DOG by Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman (St. Martin’s Press)

GrossAltman-TheyShouldntHaveKilledHisDogUSHCLike many, I am a big fan of Keanu Reeves. Ever since his superb supporting part in Parenthood, I’ve always been on the look-out for new projects in which he appears. The Matrix blew my mind, Bill & Ted are totally awesome, The Replacements is still entertaining after multiple re-watches (even if they did rip off a lot of jokes from Little Giants — a movie I watched for the first time last week). And then there’s John Wick: Reeves’s most recent franchise, an extravaganza of action, violence, and superb world-building. Fans of the series will be happy to learn that, in May, St. Martin’s Press is due to publish They Shouldn’t Have Killed His Dog, an oral history of the franchise by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman.

There have been iconic moments in the action movie genre over the years, but nothing has come close to matching the kinetic, balletic gun-fu of the John Wick films.

In They Shouldn’t Have Killed His Dog: The Complete Uncensored Ass-Kicking Oral History of John Wick, Gun-Fu and The New Age of Action, bestselling authors Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross take you behind the scenes of a franchise that includes three films with more on the way, while exploring the action classics that led to John Wick as well as the films it inspired, like Atomic Blonde. They bring you right into the middle of the action of the John Wick films, detailing how the seemingly impossible was achieved through exclusive interviews with the cast, writers, directors, producers, stuntmen, fight choreographers, cinematographers, studio executives, editors, critics, and more. Together, they break down key action sequences while also providing a look back at the road the action genre has taken that led to John Wick, and a look at the character itself, an anti-hero who carries on the grand tradition of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, but with a twist — and a never-ending supply of ammo — while showcasing the enduring appeal of the action movie as well as John Wick’s unique reinvention of the genre.

Really looking forward to reading this. They Shouldn’t Have Killed His Dog is due to be published by St. Martin’s Press in North America and in the UK, on May 17th.

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Upcoming: BLOOD, SWEAT & CHROME by (William Morrow)

BuchananK-BloodSweath&ChromeUSHCIs it just me, or are we living in a bit of a golden age for movie and TV oral histories? It’s still not a massive sub-field in publishing, true, but I’ve seen quite a few upcoming books announced, and have also read quite a few over the past couple of years. As someone who very much enjoys behind-the-scenes content, I fully support this. To that end, let me draw your attention to Blood, Sweat & Chrome by Kyle BuchananNew York Times pop culture reporter and “The Projectionist” (awards season columnist). It is the “wild and true” oral history of Mad Max: Fury Road!

A full-speed-ahead oral history of the nearly two-decade making of the cultural phenomenon Mad Max: Fury Road — with more than 130 new interviews with key members of the cast and crew, including Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and director George Miller, from the pop culture reporter for The New York Times, Kyle Buchanan.

It won six Oscars and has been hailed as the greatest action film ever, but it is a miracle Mad Max: Fury Road ever made it to the screen… or that anybody survived the production. The story of this modern classic spanned nearly two decades of wild obstacles as visionary director George Miller tried to mount one of the most difficult shoots in Hollywood history.

Production stalled several times, stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron clashed repeatedly in the brutal Namib Desert, and Miller’s crew engineered death-defying action scenes that were among the most dangerous ever committed to film. Even accomplished Hollywood figures are flummoxed by the accomplishment: As the director Steven Soderbergh has said, “I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film, and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.”

Kyle Buchanan takes readers through every step of that moviemaking experience in vivid detail, from Fury Road’s unexpected origins through its outlandish casting process to the big-studio battles that nearly mutilated a masterpiece. But he takes the deepest dive in reporting the astonishing facts behind a shoot so unconventional that the film’s fantasy world began to bleed into the real lives of its cast and crew. As they fought and endured in a wasteland of their own, the only way forward was to have faith in their director’s mad vision. But how could Miller persevere when almost everything seemed to be stacked against him?

With hundreds of exclusive interviews and details about the making of Fury Road, readers will be left with one undeniable conclusion: There has never been a movie so drenched in sweat, so forged by fire, and so epic in scope.

Really looking forward to reading this. Blood, Sweat & Chrome is due to be published by William Morrow in North America and in the UK, on February 22nd, 2022.

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Quick Review: THE VIEW WAS EXHAUSTING by Mikaella Clements & Onjuli Datta (Grand Central Publishing)

ClementsDatta-ViewWasExhaustingUSAn interesting, engaging look at the psychological impacts of living your life in the public eye

Faking a love story is a whole lot easier than being in love…

The world can see that international A-list actress Whitman (“Win”) Tagore and jet-setting playboy Leo Milanowski are made for each other. Their kisses start Twitter trends and their fights break the internet. From red carpet appearances to Met Gala mishaps, their on-again, off-again romance has titillated the public and the press for almost a decade. But it’s all a lie.

As a woman of color, Win knows the Hollywood deck is stacked against her, so she’s perfected the art of controlling her public persona. Whenever she nears scandal, she calls in Leo, with his endearingly reckless attitude, for a staged date. Each public display of affection shifts the headlines back in Win’s favor, and Leo uses the good press to draw attention away from his dysfunctional family.

Pretending to be in a passionate romance is one thing, but Win knows that a real relationship would lead to nothing but trouble. So instead they settle for friendship, with a side of sky-rocketing chemistry. Except this time, on the French Riviera, something is off. A shocking secret in Leo’s past sets Win’s personal and professional lives on a catastrophic collision course. Behind the scenes of their yacht-trips and PDA, the world’s favorite couple is at each other’s throats. Now they must finally confront the many truths and lies of their relationship, and Win is forced to consider what is more important: a rising career, or a risky shot at real love?

An interesting behind-the-curtain look at “crisis” management, the industry and lifestyle of Hollywood, and the ways in which is alters its inhabitants’ perceptions of reality, love, and life. Populated by interesting and varied characters, it’s a well-constructed, slightly predictable, but enjoyable read. Continue reading

Quick Review: WINDHALL by Ava Barry (Pegasus Books)

BarryA-WindhallUSAn intriguing, well-written mystery about the long tail of a Golden Age Hollywood murder

An investigative journalist in modern Los Angeles attempts to solve the Golden Age murder of a Hollywood starlet.

1940s Hollywood was an era of decadence and director Theodore Langley was its king. Paired with Eleanor Hayes as his lead actress, Theo ruled the Golden Age of Hollywood. That ended when Eleanor’s mangled body was discovered in Theo’s rose garden and he was charged with her murder. The case was thrown out before it went to trial and Theo fled L.A., leaving his crawling estate, Windhall, to fall into ruin. He hasn’t been seen since.

Decades later, investigative journalist Max Hailey, raised by his gran on stories of old Hollywood, is sure that if he could meet Theo, he could prove once and for all that the famed director killed his leading lady. When a copycat murder takes place near Windhall, the long reclusive Theo returns to L.A., and it seems Hailey finally has his chance.

When Hailey gets his hands on Theo’s long-missing journals, he reads about Eleanor’s stalkers and her role in Theo’s final film, The Last Train to Avalon, a film so controversial it was never released to the public. In the months leading up to her death, something had left her so terrified she stopped coming to work. The more Hailey learns about Avalon, the more convinced he becomes that the film could tell him who killed Eleanor and why she had to die. But the implications of Avalon reach far beyond Eleanor’s murder, and Hailey must race to piece together the murders of the past and present before it’s too late.

What really happened to Eleanor Hayes, all those years ago at Theodore Langley’s party? Was she murdered? And by whom? Has Langley got away with murder for all these years? When the case is thrust back into the spotlight, journalist Max Hailey dig deeper than anyone else ever has to get to the truth. Windhall is an interesting, engaging, and enjoyable mystery novel set in old and contemporary Los Angeles. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Upcoming: ALWAYS CRASHING IN THE SAME CAR by Matthew Specktor (Tin House)

SpecktorM-AlwaysCrashingInTheSameCarUSBack in 2013, I read and enjoyed Matthew Specktor‘s American Dream Machine — a novel about Hollywood, fathers, and the ways in which the entertainment industry has evolved over the decades. This year, Specktor has a new book coming out: Always Crashing in the Same Car. It’s pitched as a blend of memoir and criticism that “explores family legacy, the lives of artists, and a city that embodies both dreams and disillusionment”. I’m really looking forward to giving this a read. Here’s the synopsis:

In 2006, Matthew Specktor moved into a crumbling Los Angeles apartment opposite the one in which F. Scott Fitzgerald spent the last moments of his life. Fitz had been Specktor’s first literary idol, someone whose own passage through Hollywood had, allegedly, broken him. Freshly divorced, professionally flailing, and reeling from his mother’s cancer diagnosis, Specktor was feeling unmoored. But rather than giving in or “cracking up,” he embarked on an obsessive journey to make sense of the mythologies of “success” and “failure” that haunt the artist’s life and the American imagination.

Part memoir, part cultural history, part portrait of place, Always Crashing in the Same Car explores Hollywood through a certain kind of collapse. It’s a vibrant and intimate inspection of failure told through the lives of iconic, if under-sung, artists — Carole Eastman, Eleanor Perry, Warren Zevon, Tuesday Weld, and Hal Ashby, among others — and the author’s own family history. Through this constellation of Hollywood figures, he unearths a fascinating alternate history of the city that raised him and explores the ways in which curtailed ambition, insufficiency, and loss shape all our lives.

At once deeply personal and broadly erudite, it is a story of an art form (the movies), a city (Los Angeles), and one person’s attempt to create meaning out of both. Above all, Specktor creates a moving search for optimism alongside the inevitability of failure and reveals the still-resonant power of art to help us navigate the beautiful ruins that await us all.

Matthew Specktor’s Always Crashing in the Same Car is due to be published by Tin House in North America and in the UK, on July 27th, 2021.

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Very Quick Review: BECOMING A FILM PRODUCER by Boris Kachka (Simon & Schuster)

KachkaB-MaW-BecomingAFilmProducerAn interesting primer for anyone interested in a career in movie production

A revealing guide to a career as a film producer written by acclaimed author Boris Kachka and based on the real-life experiences of Academy Award–winning producer Fred Berger and Oscar-nominated producer Michael London — required reading for anyone considering a path to this profession.

Becoming a Film Producer takes you behind the scenes to find out what it’s really like, and what it really takes, to become a film producer. Bestselling author and critic Boris Kachka shadows Academy Award–winning producer Fred Berger and Oscar-nominated producer Michael London to show how this dream job becomes a reality. At the center of any successful film is a talented producer. Producers bring films to life by assembling the major players — from screenwriters, directors, and talent, to, perhaps most importantly, the money. Fly between Los Angeles and New York as movies are developed, filmed, and released. Gain insight and wisdom from Berger and London’s years of experience producing films ranging from the indie darlings Sideways and Milk, to Academy Award–winning blockbusters like La La Land. Here is how the job is performed at the highest level.

This book, part of Simon & Schuster’s “Masters at Work” series, is an excellent introduction to what it means to be a film and/or TV producer. With three producers, at different points in their careers, as case studies, Kachka gives readers a look into this world: what it takes, the various roles a producer must play, and also the shifts and changes in the industry over the past few decades. Well-written and accessible, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: BRAT, AN 80s STORY by Andrew McCarthy (Grand Central)

McCarthyA-BratUSLumped in with the Brat Pack of the 1980s, this is McCarthy’s story of the era

Most people know Andrew McCarthy from his movie roles in Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Less than Zero, and as a charter member of Hollywood’s Brat Pack. That iconic group of ingenues and heartthrobs included Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore, and has come to represent both a genre of film and an era of pop culture.

In his memoir Brat: An ’80s Story, McCarthy focuses his gaze on that singular moment in time. The result is a revealing look at coming of age in a maelstrom, reckoning with conflicted ambition, innocence, addiction, and masculinity. New York City of the 1980s is brought to vivid life in these pages, from scoring loose joints in Washington Square Park to skipping school in favor of the dark revival houses of the Village where he fell in love with the movies that would change his life.

Filled with personal revelations of innocence lost to heady days in Hollywood with John Hughes and an iconic cast of characters, Brat is a surprising and intimate story of an outsider caught up in a most unwitting success.

I spotted this book in one of the publisher’s catalogues a little while ago, but I couldn’t place the author. The cover photo didn’t call to mind any movies that I’ve seen — although, after reading Brat, that kind of made sense: I have seen surprisingly few of the movies from the Brat Pack era, despite being quite familiar with the actors’ post-1980s work. After checking IMDb, I learned that I’ve only seen McCarthy in two roles (in The Joy Luck Club and two episodes of White Collar). I have, however, seen a lot of the stuff he’s directed. When the book became available for review, I was in-between books, and decided to dive right in. It’s a short memoir, but one that does offer some interesting tidbits for anyone interested in this particular segment of movie history. Continue reading

Upcoming: SOMETHING NEW UNDER THE SUN by Alexandra Kleeman (Fourth Estate)

KleemanA-SomethingNewUnderTheSunUSI stumbled across this in a catalogue, and the synopsis caught my attention. Alexandra Kleeman‘s second novel — following the debut novel You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine and the short story collection Intimations — looks really interesting. Something New Under the Sun is a near-future story that takes a look at the darker side of Hollywood. Really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the full synopsis:

A novelist discovers the dark side of Hollywood and reckons with ambition, corruption, and connectedness in the age of environmental collapse and ecological awakening…

East Coast novelist Patrick Hamlin has come to Hollywood with simple goals in mind: overseeing the production of a film adaptation of one of his books, preventing starlet Cassidy Carter’s disruptive behavior from derailing said production, and turning this last-ditch effort at career resuscitation into the sort of success that will dazzle his wife and daughter back home. But California is not as he imagined: Drought, wildfire, and corporate corruption are omnipresent, and the company behind a mysterious new brand of synthetic water seems to be at the root of it all. Partnering with Cassidy — after having been her reluctant chauffeur for weeks — the two of them investigate the sun-scorched city’s darker crevices, where they discover that catastrophe resembles order until the last possible second.

In this poised and all-too-timely story, Alexandra Kleeman grapples with the corruption of our environment in the age of alternative facts. She does so with a meticulous and deeply felt accounting of our very human anxieties, liabilities, dependencies, and, ultimately, our responsibility to truth.

Alexandra Kleeman’s Something New Under the Sun is due to be published by Hogarth in North America (August 3rd) and Fourth Estate in the UK (June 10th).

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