movie star drool · stuff I read

The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy

40640521A definitive history of Hollywood’s most iconic, storied, and scandalous hotel.

For nearly ninety years, Hollywood’s brightest stars have favored the Chateau Marmont as a home away from home. An apartment house-turned-hotel, it has hosted generations of gossip and folklore: 1930s bombshell Jean Harlow took lovers during her third honeymoon there; director Nicholas Ray slept with his sixteen-year-old Rebel Without a Cause star Natalie Wood; Anthony Perkins and Tab Hunter met poolside and began a secret affair; Jim Morrison swung from the balconies, once falling nearly to his death; John Belushi suffered a fatal overdose in a private bungalow; Lindsay Lohan got the boot after racking up nearly $50,000 in charges in less than two months.

Perched above the Sunset Strip like a fairytale castle, the Chateau seems to come from another world entirely. Its singular appearance houses an equally singular history. While a city, an industry, and a culture have changed around it, Chateau Marmont has welcomed the most iconic and iconoclastic personalities in film, music, and media. It appeals to the rich and famous not just for its European ambiance but for its seclusion: Much of what’s happened inside the Chateau’s walls has eluded the public eye.

Until now. With wit and prowess, Shawn Levy recounts the wild revelries and scandalous liaisons; the creative breakthroughs and marital breakdowns; the births and deaths that the Chateau has been a party to. Vivid, salacious, and richly informed, his book is a glittering tribute to Hollywood as seen from inside the walls of its most hallowed hotel.

The Castle on Sunset is a dishy yet understated history of the famous (infamous?) Chateau Marmont, a landmark hotel overlooking the Sunset Strip. Levy takes the history from bare ground covered in scrub and onions through the building’s beginning as an apartment building, an out-of-the-way hideaway for Hollywood elite needing out of the spotlight, the run-down cheap-chic of the 1970s and 80s, and its reinvention as the playground of the glitzy entertainment industry A-list. There are lots of endnotes and citations but I would have loved more pictures. I’ll have to check a finished copy.

Due out tomorrow!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · movie star drool · stuff I read

Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery

40538583._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
From a veteran culture writer and modern movie expert, a celebration and analysis of the movies of 1999—arguably the most groundbreaking year in American cinematic history.

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 a readable and very well researched look at some of the most memorable films from 1999 – including The Matrix, Fight Club, American Beauty (and Pie), Election, Office Space, The Phantom Menace, to name only a few – and how the culture and media of the late 90s and the end of the 20th century spoke to these films and filmmakers. Raftery interviewed a lot of people whose careers were made in the late 1990s so there’s more of an intimacy than if it were just a book of researched facts. He also contrasted 1999 with 1969 (the “Raging Bulls, Easy Rider” film year) and 2019. A fun read for film fans. 1999 was my junior-senior year in college and I think I saw most of the movies profiled in this book either during 1999 or in the next year or two.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · movie star drool · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips

30555528Summary from Goodreads:
Julia Phillips became a Hollywood player in the freewheeling 1970s, the first woman to win the Best Picture Oscar as co-producer of The Sting. She went on to work with two of the hottest young directorial talents of the era: Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver) and Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Phillips blazed a trail as one of the very few females to break into the upper echelons of a notoriously chauvinistic industry.

But for all her success, Phillips remained an outsider in the all-male Hollywood club. She had a talent for deal-making, hard-balling and wise-cracking, and a considerable appetite for drink, drugs, and sex. But while these predilections were tolerated and even encouraged among ‘the boys’, Phillips found herself gradually ostracized. By the late 1980s, she was ready to burn bridges and name names, and the result was this coruscating memoir of her career.

Julia Phillips died on January 1, 2002, at the age of 57, but her book will stand as one of the classic exposes of La-La-Land in all its excesses and iniquities.

You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again is an interesting look behind the Hollywood glamour by a woman (the first to win an Oscar for producing) booted from the ranks after producing three major movies of the 1970s for two sins: being addicted to freebase cocaine and being female (sometimes it’s hard to tell which is the greater sin). Not one person comes off looking good in this memoir, including the author who, despite getting clean, etc, is extremely fat-phobic and has some trouble avoiding problematic slurs in talking about gay men or non-whites. The other problem with this book is that it veers between third-person past-tense point-of-view for sections set (presumably) in 1989 and first-person present tense point-of-view for all parts set in the past. Which makes it very hard to follow at times – where was the editor? (The front third of the “set in the past” sections are about her childhood, her difficulties with her mother, and the rocky relationship with her husband which, while they provided context for later problems, also slowed the Hollywood narrative which is the main reason people pick up this book.)

I started reading this book as the #metoo movement was gaining momentum and holy cats do “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn copy of this book.

movie star drool

Movie Star Drool: Victor Frankenstein

*There may be spoilers. You are warned.

Howlers are more fun with friends. I saw this with my friend Kate and we clearly have way too much SCIENCE in our brains (I have a degree in epidemiology, she’s finishing a PhD in linguistics) so we did some snickering and “no, that is not correct”-ing and generally had a good time ‘shipping McAvoy and Radcliffe.

The plot for Victor Frankenstein is mostly cobbled together with a vague idea of what the original Mary Shelley book was about. The movie focuses on Victor Frankenstein’s demons through the lens of Igor/no-name abused circus clown and his super-genius talent for correcting Frankenstein’s experimental blockages. Plot connections are tenuous (did we need Andrew Scott’s Scotland Yard detective, except as deus ex machina in reverse?) and half-baked (Jessica Brown Findlay’s Lorelai is saved from dying in hospital by a wealthy Baron to be in his cabaret – which we don’t see, ever – and also to be his beard in public but is apparently just accepted into society (which speaks to how someone didn’t do his/her research into Victorian Society behavior and class beliefs) and also drags Radcliffe’s Igor upstairs during a ball….the Baron wouldn’t take that well). It all turns out as one expects. Particularly if you go into this expecting nothing but ridiculousness.

There is some great casting. Louise Brealey, of Sherlock and Bleak House fame, has the unfortunate and super offensive/inaccurate screen credit of “Sexy Society Girl” in a fantastic bit part where she gives excellent “shocked and offended because I am a LADY and we are discussing procreation” face during a fancy dinner. Freddie Fox can make a career playing upper-class Old Money Englishmen, because he is that good at it.  Victor’s father is cast so deliciously I won’t spoil it but for 5 minutes of screen time that actor was worth every second.  As Igor, Radcliffe wears two of the worst wigs currently in cinemas (although I am worried the second might have been his own hair with FAR too much mousse – not a good look) but he does some good physical acting as a hunchback and as the owner of a newly-straightened spine after Victor miraculously cures him through a combination of zit popping and chiropractic (it was gross, part of it). James McAvoy, though, drank the Kool-Aid for this movie.  He was SELLING that dialogue like the rent was due tomorrow. He had a lot of commitment and that went a ways toward making this movie less terrible than it could have been. A long way, LOOOOONG way, from being a good movie.

A+ set decoration and costume design. We commented a lot on the waistcoats McAvoy and Radcliffe wore, the textiles were very pretty. Jessica Brown Findlay wore beautifully vibrant clothes (guys, someone needs to cast her as Lena Heady’s younger sister ASAP because man, does Findlay look like Heady did when she did some period films in the late 1990s/early 2000s).

In short: a fun popcorn movie, not a good movie in any way (has a really weird title card at the end of the credits that states how many people worked on the movie).

1. Deadpool – in it, and I really hope the soundtrack is that dope.
2. Krampus – I get a distinct Drag Me To Hell vibe off this trailer and since I spent most of that movie with my hoodie pulled over my face like Kevin from South Park, I pass.
3. In the Heart of the Sea – I might be up for Ben Wishaw as Herman Melville and a sea-soaked Thor, er, Chris Hemsworth.
4. The Revenant – I think this was the movie that had some reviewer saying something like this wasn’t a movie for women (yep).  Technically, Victor Frankenstein isn’t a movie for women, either, since it clearly ranked only one named female character who did not audibly talk to another female character (there’s a Mrs. Winthrop (uncredited) in the IMBd listing that I don’t remember from the credits roll in the actual movie because it was really short) and a plot that is so full of holes it might be cinematic Swiss cheese.  And yet I paid 8$ plus tax for it.  If I don’t see The Revenant in the theatre it’s more likely due to the fact that I have yet to really like an Iñárritu film (haven’t caught Birdman, yet).  I have seen my share of “brutal” movies (raise your hand if you’ve seen Salò).
5. The Hateful Eight – Tarantino.  I usually catch up with him after the DVD release.  And a three-hour movie really tests limits on my bladder.  However, if I luck out and any of the nearby theatres get the 70mm film (which I highly doubt) I might try for a screening.  (There are two named female characters! And Tarantino known for brutality onscreen! Now I’m on a rant….guess I need to take my new Mulholland Dr. Blu-ray out for a spin).

movie star drool · stuff I read

As If!: The Oral History of Clueless as told by Amy Heckerling and the Cast and Crew by Jen Chaney

Summary from Goodreads:
Acclaimed pop culture journalist Jen Chaney shares an oral history of the cult classic film Clueless in the ultimate written resource about one of the most influential, revered, and enduring movies of the 1990s—in celebration of its twentieth anniversary.

Will we ever get tired of watching Cher navigate Beverly Hills high school and discover true love in the movie Clueless? As if! Written by Amy Heckerling and starring Alicia Silverstone, Clueless is an enduring comedy classic that remains one of the most streamed movies on Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes even twenty years after its release. Inspired by Jane Austen’s Emma, Clueless is an everlasting pop culture staple.

In the first book of its kind, Jen Chaney has compiled an oral history of the making of this iconic film using recollections and insights collected from key cast and crew members involved in the making of this endlessly quotable, ahead-of-its-time production. Get a behind-the-scenes look at how Emma influenced Heckerling to write the script, how the stars were cast into each of their roles, what was involved in creating the costumes, sets, and soundtrack, and much more.

This wonderful twentieth anniversary commemoration includes never-before-seen photos, original call sheets, casting notes, and production diary extracts. With supplemental critical insights by the author and other notable movie experts about why Clueless continues to impact pop culture, As If! will leave fans new and old totally buggin’ as they understand why this beloved film is timeless.

The motion picture Clueless opened the summer between my junior and senior years of high school.  By the time we started school in the fall my classmates and I were fluent in Clueless-speak, “Whatever!” (complete with hand gesture) being the most popular by far. The over-the-knee-socks trend with Mary Janes and plaid miniskirts made an appearance (I had the Mary Janes).  We bought the VHS and watched it a lot – my crowd was mostly music and drama kids so quoting along with the dialogue was a frequent activity.

Now that Clueless is officially having its 20th birthday (and totally partied with the Haiti-ans) – ugh, when did I get old – Jen Chaney has pulled together the cast and crew for a delightful, dope oral history of the production and staying power of the movie.  She originally started the project for a magazine article but there is so much information here that I can’t imagine having to pick and choose what parts to highlight in a magazine article, even a long one.  Almost everyone from the producers to the stars to the set decorators agreed to be interviewed and Chaney pulled in quotes from previously published pieces from the last 20 years.

The absolute best parts of this book are the sections dealing with casting, costuming, locations, and the soundtrack.  What would Clueless have been like had the producers pushed to use Lauryn Hill as Dionne rather than Stacey Dash who was so great in the role? Or if Seth Green was Travis?  The costume designer essentially created an entire fashion trend to put the Clueless girls at the cutting edge of fashion and work against the grunge aesthetic.  Turns out the liquor store with the creepy clown is a real place in LA (Chaney even interviewed the actor who played the robber).  And what Oasis song almost ended up on the Clueless soundtrack?  And what did the Bosstones really think about doing a teen movie that wasn’t really in their target audience?  (And find out how “outtie” is really spelled….spoiler, that isn’t the correct spelling or derivation, to my surprise.)

The only drawback to the book is that everyone is so darned nice about everything.  If you’re looking for juicy Hollywood gossip, this book just doesn’t really have it.  With the exception of some side-eye between producers, no one reports anything crazy happening on set or on press tour.  Amy Heckerling (the writer and director) was so great.  Wallace Shawn is very gracious.  Alicia Silverstone worked so hard (which she did, given that Cher was in almost every shot of the movie).  Paramount really got what Heckerling was going for.  Everyone thought the world of Brittany Murphy and her wide-eyed innocence and mourns her loss.  Etc, etc etc. Though we all look for drama in any Hollywood story, it is actually a little bit reassuring (though my cynical side feels like perhaps everyone was on their best interview behavior) to find that Heckerling’s pastel-colored, happy, inclusive world of Clueless was supported by a lot of hard-working, gracious, talented people who worked as a team to put out an iconic, groundbreaking piece of art.

As If! is available July 7, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I received a digital advance of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

movie star drool · stuff I read

The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System

Summary from Goodreads:
This chronicle of 2012 is a slice of what happened during a watershed year for the Hollywood movie industry. It’s not the whole story, but it’s a mosaic of what went on, and why, and of where things are heading.

What changed in one Hollywood year to produce a record-breaking box office after two years of decline? How can the Sundance Festival influence a film’s fate, as it did for Beasts of the Southern Wild and Searching for Sugar Man, which both went all the way to the Oscars? Why did John Carter misfire and The Hunger Games succeed? How did maneuvers at festivals such as South by Southwest (SXSW), Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, and New York and at conventions such as CinemaCon and Comic-Con benefit Amour, Django Unchained, Moonrise Kingdom, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Misérables, The Life of Pi, The Avengers, Lincoln, and Argo? What jeopardized Zero Dark Thirty’s launch? What role does gender bias still play in the industry? What are the ten things that changed the 2012 Oscar race?

When it comes to film, Anne Thompson, a seasoned reporter and critic, addresses these questions and more on her respected daily blog, Thompson on Hollywood. Each year, she observes the Hollywood machine at work: the indies at Sundance, the exhibitors’ jockeying at CinemaCon, the international scene at Cannes, the summer tentpoles, the fall’s “smart” films and festivals, the family-friendly and big films of the holiday season, and the glamour of the Oscars®. Inspired by William Goldman’s classic book The Season, which examined the overall Broadway scene through a production-by-production analysis of one theatrical season, Thompson had long wanted to apply a similar lens to the movie business. When she chose 2012 as “the year” to track, she knew that box-office and DVD sales were declining, production costs were soaring, and the digital revolution was making big waves, but she had no idea that events would converge to bring radical structural movement, record-setting box-office revenues, and what she calls “sublime moviemaking.”

Though impossible to mention all 670-plus films released in 2012, Thompson includes many in this book, while focusing on the nine Best Picture nominees and the personalities and powers behind them. Reflecting on the year, Thompson concludes, “The best movies get made because filmmakers, financiers, champions, and a great many gifted creative people stubbornly ignore the obstacles. The question going forward is how adaptive these people are, and how flexible is the industry itself?”

We’ve all been there – sitting in the full-to-overflowing movie theatre, having forked over our $10-12 (or more, depending on your market), and wondering how the heck the movie we’re watching, and had been anticipating for some time, got made?  Or the reverse – a movie we anticipated never seems to appear in a movie theatre anywhere, except maybe in a second-run theatre months later, then very quietly appears on streaming and DVD and is probably the best movie made that year?  The motion picture industry seems a bit like a crapshoot sometimes and is a mechanism that I don’t quite understand very well.  When It Books offered me a copy of The $11 Billion Year by Anne Thompson I immediately jumped on it.  Thompson is an excellent film critic and reporter – cf. Thompson on Hollywood – and has been doing her job long enough that she can write with authority (and get the good interviews). 

Thompson chronicles the 2012 year in film starting more-or-less with Sundance in January, skipping over the March 2012 Oscars (a reflection of the 2011 year) to head to Cannes, and then the summer blockbusters and conventions before heading into the serious Oscar contender season and holiday family movies.  She ends the book with the outcome of the March 2013 Oscars and how specific events during 2012 helped shape the eventual outcome of the ceremony.  Along the way, the 2012 domestic box office year was stuffed to overflowing with nearly $11 billion (only a few thousand shy, so just round up) – a fact that Thompson could never have predicted when she started the year.  That fact is actually what makes the book so interesting.  Motion picture financing and distribution is changing as so much of the world goes digital and forgoes the purchase of physical media, as evidenced by declining DVD sales and what had been a declining box office.  Blockbusters (aka summer tent-pole movies) take so much more money to make that a failure could ruin a company (i.e. John Carter – Disney was lucky to have both other revenue flows and also distribute The Avengers, because they had another tent-pole turkey in 2013, The Lone Ranger).  Independent filmmakers may choose to release via on-demand services after a festival premiere if a distribution deal isn’t ideal or forthcoming.  Streaming services can either offer original content or do exclusive pre-DVD/blu-ray release rights.  And then there’s the angling and scheduling releases to get the best coverage in awards season.

It’s enough to make your head spin but Thompson does a great job at presenting all the information in a very balanced and readable way.  You do get her opinion on quality of movie on occasion but you can tell she is a film lover and wants good films to find their audiences.  I learned quite a lot – like the fact that a film must gross twice its production budget just to break even.  Who knew?  A glossary is provided in the back of the book but I found it rather selective (though funny in her examples).  A side effect of reading the book was the reminder of why I have trouble finding movies I want to watch in the theatre: I (25-39, female) am not the target demographic (male, 18-24).  A definite recommend for those who want to know more about the motion picture industry.

Dear FTC: I received a finished copy of this book for review from the publisher.

audiobooks · movie star drool · stuff I read

Matilda, read by Kate Winslet

Summary from Goodreads:
“The Trunchbull” is no match for Matilda!

Matilda is a sweet, exceptional young girl, but her parents think she’s just a nuisance. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When Matilda is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back. It’ll take a superhuman genius to give Miss Trunchbull what she deserves and Matilda may be just the one to do it!

Jackie gets full credit for finding this new audiobook edition of one of my favorite, favorite childhood books (apparently, Matilda is only 25 this year…which is weird because I would swear that I read it before age 10). Penguin Audio put out a Matilda audiobook READ BY KATE WINSLET!!

Breathe, breathe.

It is so, so, SO good. Winslet has an excellent reading voice and distinctive accents for each character (who knew that she had all those different voices in her?). I loved all of it. The only complaint I had (if it is a complaint) is that she’s so dynamic in her reading that it was hard to get a middle-range volume set (was listening in the car so road noise was an issue) so perhaps the sound engineer needs to take another look.

BUY BUY BUY!  Run, do not walk to the store and BUY!!

mini-review · movie star drool · stuff I read

Living With Shakespeare: Actors, Directors, and Writers on Shakespeare in Our Time

Summary from Goodreads:
Why Shakespeare? What explains our continued fascination with his poems and plays? In Living with Shakespeare, Susannah Carson invites forty actors, directors, scholars, and writers to reflect on why his work is still such a vital part of our culture.

We hear from James Earl Jones on reclaiming Othello as a tragic hero, Julie Taymor on turning Prospero into Prospera, Camille Paglia on teaching the plays to actors, F. Murray Abraham on gaining an audience’s sympathy for Shylock, Sir Ben Kingsley on communicating Shakespeare’s ideas through performance, Germaine Greer on the playwright’s home life, Dame Harriet Walter on the complexity of his heroines, Brian Cox on social conflict in his time and ours, Jane Smiley on transposing King Lear to Iowa in A Thousand Acres, and Sir Antony Sher on feeling at home in Shakespeare’s language. Together these essays provide a fresh appreciation of Shakespeare’s works as a living legacy to be read, seen, performed, adapted, revised, wrestled with, and embraced by creative professionals and lay enthusiasts alike.

The only drawback to working in a bookstore is that your fellow booksellers very quickly figure out all your book soft spots.  So I silently cursed the merch manager when he very casually said “Oh, hey, there’s a new book of Shakespeare essays and one of the contributors is Ralph Fiennes” and handed over my dollars.  The other bonus on this collection is that it was edited by Susannah Carson who previously worked on the Austen collection A Truth Universally Acknowledged.

Living With Shakespeare has a very good range of essays on Shakespeare as man, playwright, and the plays as entities separate from their author by actors, directors, scholars, and writers (similar to the breadth in her volume of essays on Austen). So many of the contributors have “lived” with Shakespeare in so many ways.  Eleanor Brown, who wrote the wonderful novel The Weird Sisters, pops up.  As does James Franco, which seems on on the face of it but makes sense when you read it.  There is a 40 page essay by James Earl Jones about setting Othello that would probably have great merit for an actor (somewhat less for the lay-reader, I wasn’t as interested in that level of nitty-gritty).  My favorite is by Harriet Walter (known to Janeites as Fanny Dashwood in the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility adaptation) who gets into how Shakespeare may have viewed gender roles – great ideas there.

Very enjoyable and thought-provoking.