3 New Entertainment Titles

Similar in structure to fellow McFarland & Company releases Now a Terrifying Motion Picture! and Classic Horror Films and the Literature That Inspired Them, yet by a different author, Ron Miller’s Mystery Classics on Film: The Adaptation of 65 Novels and Stories provides a thorough breakdown of the changes that short stories and novels have undergone on their path from the page to 24 frames per second. Tackling works nearly as old as cinema itself and as recent as the Tom Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher, Miller (formerly a syndicated columnist on the topic of the telly) mines a wealth of whodunits for this multimedia survey, reviewing both the source material and the resulting movie with equal devotion and effectiveness. While several bona fide classics are covered — e.g., Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon — Miller makes his work more interesting by deviating often from the usual suspects, most obviously in eschewing the Agatha Christie adaptations And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express for … What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw. All this, plus Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Mike Hammer, Auguste Dupin and even that lovable serial killer, Dexter Morgan.

Few reads can be as addictive as the oral history, and having written ones on SNL and ESPN, James Andrew Miller is arguably a master of them. Now he turns his attention to another set of initials, CAA, in Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency. A 2016 release now in paperback from Custom House, the brick of a book (now with additional material, no less) traces the unlikely rise of CAA from the ashes of five disenchanted William Morris agents to a near-monopoly on the entertainment industry as a whole. Along the way, a classic Cain and Abel story builds between its two most powerful founders, Mike Ovitz and Ron Meyer, but their fallout occurs in the second act; Powerhouse loses its luster after that, arguing for an earlier ending. Absolutely packed with gossip and dozens of unreliable narrators, Powerhouse offers both a business lesson in innovation and a cautionary tale of hubris.

Not for nothing does Robert Hofler’s latest biography, Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts, sport chapter titles of pairs, because his jack-of-all-trades subject is a textbook study in duality — and far more than mere separation of the public and private. Although a married (for a time) man with children, Dunne long enjoyed the company of his own gender, via anonymous restroom encounters and even skipping his father’s wake for a backseat coupling. Hofler plays these details not for gossip’s sake, but in crafting a full portrait of a very complex man — one who forever wrestled with guilt and, following the slaying of his daughter, Poltergeist actress Dominique Dunne, turned guilt of another kind into a second-act career as reporter of cause célèbre trials, most notoriously the O.J. Simpson circus. Whether you know Dunne from that journalism work, from the movies he produced (e.g., The Boys in the Band, The Panic in Needle Park) or from the high-society novels he wrote and their tony television adaptations (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles), Hofler — the author behind one of my all-time favorite cultural histories, 2014’s Sexplosion — does one helluva job documenting the life of one helluva interesting guy. —Rod Lott

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Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s

Entire books have been written about the revolutionary wave of American cinema in the 1970s — most notably Peter Biskind’s seminal Easy Riders, Raging Bulls — but New York-based journalist Charles Taylor isn’t interested in rehashing those stories of the walloping impact and lasting legacy of The Godfather, Jaws, et al. Instead, he casts his critical eye to the pictures that fell through the decade’s cracks, curating for delicate dissection 15 choice B movies — some forgotten, others still admired, all sharing “an air of disreputability.”

The slim, comfy volume that results, Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s, is the year’s most rewarding film read thus far.

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4 Film Titles for Summer Reading

I suspect I’m not the only one who, upon the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert in 2013, bought his 2006 collection, Awake in the Dark, thinking it to be the definitive summation of his prolific and distinguished career. The University of Chicago Press has proven me wrong, by issuing Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert — Second Edition. Roughly half of the original volume was taken up by his best-of-year reviews from 1967 (Bonnie and Clyde) to 2005 (uh, Crash); this newer edition picks up where that left off, from 2006 (Pan’s Labyrinth) to 2012 (um, Argo). While his choices could be suspect, he nonetheless demonstrated an affinity for making his case, and making it sing; most notable — and representative of his power — are his now-famous support for the 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams and the ’98 sci-fi mind-bender Dark City. The book also features sections on docs, foreign pics and underseen gems, as well as assorted essays, including a Pauline Kael tribute, a list of the century’s 10 most influential movies and a round-robin series from the early ’90s on the state of film criticism, in which Ebert gets into it with peers Richard Corliss and Andrew Sarris. This book is as essential as the man is missed.

Former Nevada Film Office deputy director Robin Holabird draws upon nearly a quarter-century of government work scouting locations for motion pictures and television shows in the Silver State, for her memoir on those glitzy, glamorous years, Elvis, Marilyn, and the Space Aliens: Icons on Screen in Nevada. With such big movies as Independence Day, Ocean’s 11, Showgirls, Smokin’ Aces, Jane Austen’s Mafia and Casino on the table, one longs for a VIP tour through the making of these flicks, but in that department, the author woefully rolls snake eyes. Readers are lucky to get a quote relayed through her here and there, but most of the content is strictly a rundown of Such-and-Such Project shooting Such-and-Such Scene at Such-and-Such scenic spot. At least Holabird keeps the University of Nevada Press paperback moving at a whirlwind, not to mention spanning the gamut of prestige, from the long-running TV smash CSI: Crime Scene Investigation to the chintzy Stella Stevens project Las Vegas Lady. All in all, though, a missed opportunity.

Attention, cult cinemaniacs who like to sniff out zines catering to their peculiar tastes: Hunt down Woof! Dog Eat Cinema Magazine. The damaged brainchild of Hans Minkes, the Netherlands-based publication combines enthusiastic movie reviews with top-notch illustrations, then shoves the oft-ribald results into the size of your standard comic book. Like a Cinema Sewer from the other half of the world, contents lean into the lascivious, yet are wonderfully varied; among the three issues I’ve read (#2-#4), spotlighted titles include Lady Iron Monkey, Pete Walker’s The Comeback, the infamous atrocity pic Men Behind the Sun, a Django porn parody and Albert Band’s Ghoulies II, the latter as part of each issue’s “Whatever Lola Wants,” in which Minkes’ young daughter randomly selects a VHS tape for Dad to cover. Another recurring feature is Hans Van Den Broeck’s “Fur on Film,” with each installment exploring a werewolf subgenre, whether Asian, X-rated or good ol’ Andy Milligan. From my POV, Woof’s two best articles savaged the films of Draculina publisher Hugh Gallagher (Goregasm, et al.) and the post-apocalyptic roller-skate movie, of which there are more than you think (mostly “thanks” to Donald G. Jackson). Interested pups should email woofmagazine at hotmail dot com for ordering deets!

Presumably tied to this summer’s highly anticipated release of War for the Planet of the Apes, Abrams ComicsArts continues its exquisitely packaged series of Topps trading-card retrospectives with Planet of the Apes: The Original Topps Trading Card Series. The hardback devotes a full page to each card’s front and back, numerically going through the entire stack — not just the one based on the 1968 classic film, but also the short-lived TV show and the Tim Burton remake (and its numerous limited-edition cards), with author Gary Gerani contributing commentary as we go. (His introductory essay is fascinating; for example, Charlton Heston initially balked at being pictured on those damn, dirty bubble-gum cards.) As with Abrams’ other Topps books, a sealed pack of cards is glued onto the inside back cover. For Apes fans — and especially collectors of the franchise’s memorabilia — it’s a madhouse of pop-culture preservation! —Rod Lott

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’80s Action Movies on the Cheap: 284 Low Budget, High Impact Pictures

A word of warning to those interested in the book ’80s Action Movies on the Cheap: 284 Low Budget, High Impact Pictures: “Cheap” is an adjective not used carelessly, so expect neither Stallone nor Schwarzenegger. Know that there is nary a Batman or Bond, and that Van Damme is more or less persona non grata. In fact, Mr. American Ninja himself, Michael Dudikoff, is as mainstream as it gets. This is the kind of book in which Reb Brown claims 14 pages, which is nothing compared to Godfrey Ho’s 36 — and if you don’t know who they are, this McFarland & Company paperback release is not for you. I happen to love it like a child.

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May You Note These 3 New Books on Movies

Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach’s 2016 documentary, De Palma, stands among my 10 favorite films of last year, with my only criticism being that it stops after 93 minutes. Anyone else who was left wanting more (and more and more) may find that itch somewhat scratched by Douglas Keesey’s Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life in Film. New in paperback from University Press of Mississippi, the book more or less takes the same tack of chronologically examining each of the filmmaker’s features — but here in more detail and from a perspective that is not the filmmaker’s own. A critical piece of Keesey’s thesis is examining how much of De Palma’s recurring themes — such as the ever-controversial merging of sexy women and graphic violence (Body Double and Dressed to Kill in particular) — is ingrained in the man’s own DNA. While he may lack in the behind-the-scenes dish, Keesey overflows with insight and ideas. The result is a close cousin of a Criterion commentary track, flooding your mind with a greater understanding and forcing you to see the films in a whole new light. Regardless of what De Palma might think of this book, I think it’s tops.

Take one look at Escape Velocity: American Science Fiction Film, 1950–1982 and you might sigh heavily and think, “Really? Another history of sci-fi movies?” Well, yes, but also no. For this Wesleyan University Press paperback, film professor Bradley Schauer does indeed take the reader on a fantastic voyage through sci-fi’s cinematic life, but more importantly fueled with cultural and economic perspectives, rather than merely the historical. Starting with the genre’s first recognition as such by studio powers and ending with its box-office apex of Best Picture nominee E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the author covers ground swiftly yet smartly. Terrific design aside, what makes Escape Velocity so worthy of your time is the attention Schauer pays to such avenues of interest similar studies ignore: the value of camp, the infusion of politics, the rise and function of fanzines as film criticism, and the Star Wars-ization of blockbusters, more present today than ever.

Those who read Bryan Senn’s 2013 book, The Most Dangerous Cinema: People Hunting People on Film, will not be surprised at the sheer scope of his latest (and arguably greatest), The Werewolf Filmography: 300+ Films. Although far from the only text on the subject, it is hands (paws?) down the most complete and comprehensive to date, placing it well ahead of the pack. For each of the many, many movies covered, Senn reviews it in authoritative detail and with a healthy sense of humor — the latter primarily in lycanthropic descriptions, such as the “cross between a schnauzer and Fozzie Bear” in 1969’s Dracula (the Dirty Old Man). Every werewolf movie you could possibly think of is here, plus ones the average Joe Moviegoer is not likely to have been exposed to, including the rockin’ Werewolf of Woodstock; the clip comedy President Wolfman and the Paul Naschy/Fred Olen Ray sexploitation pairing, The Unliving. (See Senn’s recent Guest List for Flick Attack for seven unsung gems.) While valuable as a reference work, the McFarland & Company hardback is an absolute pleasure to read page by page, all 400-plus of them. The only thing I can hold against it is getting me interested in all those crazy Howling sequels. —Rod Lott

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Spring into 3 New Entertainment Titles

Getting a nightly fix of The Twilight Zone in a syndicated run one summer in the 1980s, I was taught a couple of things: Rod Serling was a frickin’ genius, and not all black-and-white TV is boring. According to TV critic Mark Dawidziak, many more lessons await imparting, which he has detailed in Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life, a “heartfelt tribute … wrapped in a self-help book.” Here, Dawidziak has taken 50 common-sense life lessons — such as “Never cry wolf” and “If something looks too good to be true, it probably is” — and discusses them in relation to key TZ episodes (even the one with Talking Tina). While the book is not an episode guide, each chapter could stand alone as a fine essay on one aspect of the game-changing series. Fully illustrated with stills from the shows in question and including “Guest Lessons” from the likes of Leonard Maltin and Mel Brooks, Dawidziak’s syllabus is infinitely more relatable than the likes of Zig Ziglar, but you’d better already be a hardcore TZ fan to gain any value.

By the power of Zeus, Italian Sword and Sandal Films, 1908-1990 is not the definitive book I wanted it to be, mostly because so little of it required actual writing on the part of co-authors Roy Kinnard and Tony Crnkovich. Published by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback does cover what its title promises, with films of the peplum genre arranged alphabetically from Adventurer of Tortuga to Zorro the Rebel, but said coverage is largely rendered irrelevant by the existence of the IMDb, because we get a full list of the cast and crew. Comments from Kinnard and Crnkovich, unfortunately, are limited to a sentence or two, except in the rare case of a game-changer like 1958’s Hercules. Otherwise, their contribution to each entry is scant; for example, for Charge of the Black Lancers, they write in total, “It’s the Poles vs. the Tartars in this action drama, co-produced by Italy’s Royal Film, France’s France-Cinéma Productions, and Yugoslavia’s C.F.S. Košutnjak.” Gripping, no? Although illustrations are bountiful, Italian Sword and Sandal Films is more of a list than a book. I suppose if the apocalypse wipes out the internet, it may serve more purpose.

I want to get lost in Rat Pack Confidential author Shawn Levy’s latest book. Not in the sense of perusing its pages, which I’ve already done, but actually retreating to the world it depicts. Pending the creation of the time machine, I was born too late. The next best thing is the book, Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome, and while not exclusively about movies and the men and women who made them (hence the Pucci, as in kaleidoscopic fashion maven Emilio), the cinema arguably did more than high fashion to make the Italian capital a cultural touchstone around the postwar globe; Anita Ekberg’s fountain-cavorting sure saw to that. Part history, part travelogue, all intoxicating, Levy’s multinarrative work vividly recalls a jet-set splendor that, while never can be replicated, at least can be revisited through the film classics that have visually bottled that feeling forever. Or we could always throw an orgy. —Rod Lott

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3 New Movie Books from McFarland & Company

Does the world need more than one book on the movies of Mamie Van Doren? Hell, no. But I sure do! With Joseph Fusco’s 2010 book already sitting on my shelf, now there’s Atomic Blonde: The Films of Mamie Van Doren to keep it company. First published in 2008, Barry Lowe’s book now is back in print and available in a more affordable paperback edition from McFarland. Today a prolific author of gay erotica, Lowe spends the first 50-ish pages to deliver a condensed biography of the former Joan Olander, the virginal farm girl who became one of the three iconic sex bombs of the squeaky-clean 1950s and boundary-pushing ’60s, behind Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. And the rest of the text? Why, a flick-by-flick examination of her career, of course, with special attention given to her campier efforts — including High School Confidential!, Sex Kittens Go to College, Las Vegas Hillbillys, The Navy vs. the Night Monsters, Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women — and no punches pulled. Lowe wrote this breezy book with the hopes that readers might see her as skilled beyond testing the thread strength of sweaters, and yet it is populated with photos that play up those God-given talents. In my eyes, that’s not really a complaint. Recommended!

Maybe having been born in 1971 has something to do it, but I think some of the most memorable vampire movies came from that decade. (I mean, seriously, The Vampire Happening? The Vampires Night Orgy? The Dracula Saga? C’mon, folks!) Gary A. Smith agrees; as he writes in the introduction of Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between, “filmmakers everywhere jumped on the bloody bandwagon,” giving us bloodsuckers that also were black, gay, adept at kung fu, peace-preaching and puppies — just not all at once. The fun of this McFarland & Company paperback is in Smith covering their respective flicks not chronologically, but broken up into distinct groups, such as “Carmilla” adaptations, Jean Rollin works, Mexican entries, outright comedies and, yep, “Vampire Porn.” Any book that gives the likes of Al Adamson, Andy Milligan and Jess Franco chapters of their own is one worth sinking your teeth into.

One area of the movies I have yet to take a deep dive into? Ye olde serials. Other than chapters of Bela Lugosi in The Corpse Vanishes doled out across several early episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000, these superheroic, swashbuckling, space-patroling, spy-smashing tales remain a blind spot in my cinematic education. Because they are extinct, I’m guessing the same may be true for many of you. For a crash course, turn to Geoff Mayer’s Encyclopedia of American Film Serials. Designed by McFarland & Company as an oversized paperback, it seems ready-made for decades of referencing to come. It holds tremendous value in that it’s indexed not only by titles, but actors, directors, writers — heck, even composers! Entries are written with voluminous knowledge, with particular attention paid to concepts and cliffhangers, but the introduction gives a broad, baseline knowledge of the art form, its various studios and its eventual death. The reproductions of poster art are entirely welcome; I just wish they were in color, although the shorts they shilled were not. —Rod Lott

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3 New Pop Culture Books

David Thomson is one of our finest living writers, period. He just so happens to work in the field of film criticism, yet his prose sings as marvelously as any acclaimed work of fiction. Each book he releases is an event for cineastes, including his latest … although it is about the movies’ archenemy. In the Thames & Hudson hardback Television: A Biography — heavy in size, heady in subject — Thomson relates the history of TV in the same manner he did cinema in 2012’s The Big Screen: purely on his terms. That means neither chronologically nor logically by anyone’s standards, yet the book feels that way once the whirlwind tour is done. The man can pivot on a dime, going from Gunsmoke to The Rockford Files to James Garner’s Polaroid ads with Mariette Hartley to Merv Griffin — and somehow, his dot-connecting leaps work. The cover image — the iconic one from 1982’s classic Poltergeist — is as good a joke as any, representing Thomson’s sometimes contentious relationship with the boob tube. And let’s be honest: His is ours.

While not quite a runaway smash, The Legend of Tarzan performed better than expected at last summer’s box office, proving there’s lots of life left in the lord of the apes. For the life already lived, David Lemmo recounts the pulp hero’s first century of existence in Tarzan, Jungle King of Popular Culture. Published by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback has the daunting task of distilling 100-plus years of content into roughly a 200-page narrative, and for the most part, the man succeeds. With Edgar Rice Burroughs writing dozens of novels starring his creation, adapted for dozens more motion pictures, there is little space for Lemmo to dive too deeply into individual works. Plus, the preceding sentence doesn’t take into account Tarzan’s adventures into TV, radio, comics, toys and other merchandising vines, all of which get covered here — just at a monkey’s-eye view. For example, the aforementioned Legend film merits one paragraph, but that’s more than is earned by Hollywood’s heretofore most recent live-action Tarzan film, 1998’s flop Tarzan and the Lost City (a vehicle for a loinclothed Casper Van Dien). Lemmo’s writing leans heavily on names and dates, so passages tend to grow arid. For those seeking a reference work on just the movies, reach for Scott Tracy Griffin’s recent Tarzan on Film; for a broad overview on the character’s wide-ranging market penetration and influence, Lemmo’s book serves as that introduction.

As you may have noticed with his previous book on Jamie Lee Curtis in 2010, when David Grove gets interested in a celebrity as a subject, he goes all in. Now, he’s gone all in on the troubled star of Damnation Alley, White Line Fever and TV’s Airwolf in Jan-Michael Vincent: Edge of Greatness. One of the best things about the BearManor Media release is that it exists at all; although once a matinee idol, Vincent is remembered more today (when he’s remembered at all) for substance abuse struggles and other tabloid fodder. I’ll be the first to admit I thought the actor already had died. Perhaps Grove’s book can help — not to rewrite Vincent’s history or legacy, but just to make certain that someone acknowledged his talent and, furthermore, mourned its loss. If you’re not already a fan, Edge of Greatness won’t change your mind; I suspect it won’t even be read by JM-V virgins. Working without input from or access to his subject, Grove guides us through each step of Vincent’s career at a quick clip, from its sharp ascent to an extended train wreck of a fall. Any fear on your part that Grove will indulge in hagiography is unwarranted, as the rather odd and sobering (pun not intended) final chapter makes clear. —Rod Lott

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Movie Comics: Page to Screen/Screen to Page

Blair Davis’ Movie Comics: Page to Screen/Screen to Page was not quite the book to which I had been looking forward for the better part of 2016. Turns out, that’s a good thing — even a great one.

While the rest of the film world debates the merits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC’s catch-up attempts, Chicago-based cinema professor Davis dives deep into the comic-book (and -strip) movies and TV shows few care to acknowledge, from the Dick Tracy flicks of the 1940s and all those Blondie comedies to the early serial adventures of Superman, Batman, Captain America and pulp-borne heroes of whom you haven’t heard.

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Mars in the Movies: A History

With movies, as with potential mates, everyone has a type toward which he or she instinctively gravitates. For me, it’s heists or spiders. For Thomas Kent Miller, it’s that angry red planet — a lifelong fascination that culminates in the publication of the book Mars in the Movies: A History.

Released by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback surveys nearly 100 Mars flicks, roughly from the 1910 Thomas Edison silent short A Trip to Mars to 2015’s blockbuster The Martian. With the latter making a mint and taking seven Oscar nominations, you’d think Miller would find Ridley Scott’s populist smash to be a source of unending joy. Instead, he had “zero emotional response to the film. When I should have felt elated, I felt nothing.” And that call-’em-as-I-see-’em approach is all part of the book’s hours of fun.

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