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.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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).

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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