Film critic Owen Gleiberman, best known for his two-decade stint at Entertainment Weekly, reflects on his passion-turned-career in Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies. His movie obsession began in the late 1960s when his parents loaded him and his younger siblings into the family Buick for a night at the drive-in outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. The experience held a “disturbingly sinister excitement” for the young Gleiberman, who was just seven years-old. Did his father choose wholesome family viewing? Oh, no — these were movies HE wanted to see, with no regard for whether they were appropriate for his young children. Gleiberman recalls many adult-oriented drive-in movies he experienced as a third-grader, most notably Rosemary’s Baby and The Boston Strangler. Although they never discussed these films afterward, the experience made him feel closer to his distant parents.
By junior high he was addicted to monster movies, and then in high school he gravitated to scandalous films like Last Tango in Paris and A Clockwork Orange, which left a big impression. But the movie that shifted his entire worldview was John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, which he admits scared the “bejesus” out of him, and fulfilled his craziest drive-in dreams for the extreme.
His first forays into criticism came during college at The University of Michigan. He was obsessive in his film viewing, referring to it as “the religion that sustained me.” He muses that the true movie buff leads a solitary existence, even when they are with other people. Movies help you leave yourself behind, and the essential experience has almost nothing to do with the quality of what you’re seeing.
Readers who love pop culture will enjoy Movie Freak. Gleiberman has always been a critic who speaks his own mind, proud of the fact that he doesn’t go along with the crowd when it comes to his reviews. He isn’t swayed by the Hollywood machine — he calls it as he sees it, even when that leaves him as odd man out, as it did when he panned the Julia Roberts/Richard Gere romantic comedy Pretty Woman. He is proud of championing indie films like the documentary Crumb, and unapologetic in his general dislike of foreign films.
Digressions into his personal life could have been left out, but when Gleiberman sticks to the business of Hollywood and the changing face of film criticism in the time of relentless blogging and social media, Movie Freak shines.
In the small Kentucky town where the miner’s son grew up to be a miner and the bootlegger’s son grew up to be a bootlegger, no one was surprised when the writer’s son grew up to be a writer in Chris Offutt’s new memoir My Father, the Pornographer.
Imagine that your father dies and you, as the eldest son, are tasked with the responsibility of cleaning out his office. Now imagine discovering that your father, who passed himself off as a science fiction writer, also wrote hundreds of pornographic novels. After clearing out decades’ worth of garbage and searching the vents for hidden treasure that turns out to be nothing more than his father’s last practical joke, Offutt quickly realizes that his father’s writing career wasn’t merely supplemented by pornography — it was the bulk of it. In an attempt to understand his deceased father’s perverse obsessions, he packs and transports nearly two tons of his father’s work from his childhood home to his current residence in Mississippi.
But more than just a story of Andrew Offutt’s career as a pornographer, this is also the tale of Chris Offutt’s childhood and a meditation on his contentious relationship with his father. As Offutt acts as archeologist, reconstructing his father’s career and life, he realizes just how much they have in common. Offutt is struck by his father’s unique writing method: He kept a catalog of descriptions filed under various (frequently vulgar) categories and when writing a novel he plugged the passages in where needed. When the younger Offutt considered joining the military, he prepared for basic training by filling a notebook with amusing anecdotes pilfered from Reader’s Digest’s “Humor in Uniform,” divided into specific categories, that he could pass off as his own experiences in letters he wrote to his family back home. Although he himself is not a purveyor of pornography, Offutt is dismayed at the similarities he finds. He isn’t sure what he hopes to learn from immersing himself in his father’s “private and unfiltered fantasies,” but the deeper he digs, the harder it is to walk away.
For another memoir about the father/son relationship, check out Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.
Video gaming is one of the most rapidly growing and ever evolving hobbies of the 21st century. The gaming industry grosses more money each year than the movie and music industries combined. With figures like this, it’s no surprise that a gaming counterculture has arisen, eager to create and share games that shun traditional styles in favor of a more indie appeal. In The State of Play: Creators and Critics on Video Game Culture, notable game designers, players and critics sound off their opinions on the current trends and directions of both the AAA and indie game movements.
One of the topics most frequently discussed in The State of Play is the concept of player identity. Evan Narcisse’s “The Natural,” Hussein Ibrahim’s “What It Feels Like to Play the Bad Guy,” and Anita Sarkeesian and Katherine Cross’ “Your Humanity Is in Another Castle” all make great arguments for more diversity in every aspect of the characters players control and interact with.
Zoe Quinn, creator of the notable indie game Depression Quest, details her harrowing experiences developing, launching and living through her game and gives readers a glimpse into what it was like to come under fire during the infamous #Gamergate movement of late 2014. Merritt Kopas’ essay “Ludus Interruptus” makes a great argument for much more open-minded views of sexuality and acts of sex in Western gaming. Despite making massive strides in both technical and creative compositions in the past few years, video games have still remained very old-fashioned when it comes to sex and how it’s initiated, portrayed and perceived in media.
Readers who identify as gamers or are interested in the increasingly complex culture of video games should read The State of Play. Games are currently one of the most powerful creative mediums for expression, offering users the chance to become fully immersed in their experiences through interaction. The State of Play is a fantastic, unprecedented collection of reflective literature on different experiences from every angle. Every essay is spliced with Internet links and footnotes leading to resources for further exploration, and there is much to be learned.
But Enough About Me: A Memoir is Burt Reynolds' no-holds-barred account of the people he has known throughout his life, including childhood friends, mentors and, of course, Hollywood celebrities. Sharing both his viewpoint and notable stories, you learn as much about those he has come in contact with as the man himself.
Told mostly in chronological order, Reynolds begins with his childhood in Rivera Beach, Florida, just south of Palm Beach. He then moves on to his time as a football player for the Florida Seminoles, with the remainder of the book focused on his career as a Hollywood stuntman and actor. Stories about the movie Deliverance, Gore Vidal and Johnny Carson are mesmerizing. You will savor his thoughts on Bette Davis, Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood. And you will feel his strong sense of regret as he discusses his relationships with Dinah Shore and Sally Field. Sparing no details, he also shares the embarrassing aftermath of posing nude for Cosmopolitan magazine, and the hesitation he had about working in the movie Boogie Nights, the role for which he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod.
If you are a fan of Reynolds or just like Hollywood stories, you'll enjoy this memoir. You'll smile, laugh and at times shake your head in disbelief! Reynolds delivers an entertaining yet honest portrait of himself and those he has known over the years. Humorous and even embarrassing, this book is definitely worth the read!
Readers who like this book may also want to check out Make ‘Em Laugh: Short-Term Memories of Longtime Friends by Debbie Reynolds or Judy & Liza & Robert & Freddie & David & Sue & Me: A Memoir by Stevie Phillips.
Is David Spade’s memoir Almost Interesting? No way, I say! It's actually extremely interesting. Filled with hilarious childhood stories, Saturday Night Live anecdotes and embarrassing tales of life in Hollywood, it's both entertaining and quick to read. He serves up his life story, warts and all!
Told chronologically, he takes us on wild ride through his childhood in Arizona, to his days as a struggling L.A. comic, followed by his tenure at SNL and ends with his life as a Hollywood celebrity. Uncontrollable laughter will overtake you as you read his account of pledging a fraternity, losing his newly purchased car in Hollywood and being catfished by a model’s parody account. Seriously, that happened, and quite recently, too! Even the story of his crazed assistant Skippy attacking him is hilarious. You'll also enjoy his tales of working on SNL. He candidly offers up both his favorite and least favorite hosts and musical guests. Trust me, he goes there! My favorite is his account of the infamous Sinead O’Connor performance. Finally, you will feel his overwhelming sense of loss when he discusses his best friend, Chris Farley.
If you’re a fan or just like to read about celebrities, I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Almost Interesting. I’m not kidding. Do it! You can read it in quick bursts or in one long sitting, but since Spade is a comedian be prepared to laugh out loud, and even more so if you listen to the audiobook, since he narrates it. Be forewarned though, at times he is raunchy, but nothing wildly inappropriate. To see Spade in action on SNL, check out the DVD Saturday Night Live: The Best of David Spade. Knowing the backstories makes it much funnier.
December 12 marks the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and three new books celebrate his legacy. Ol’ Blue Eyes remains an iconic figure in American culture with his mystique enduring long after his death in 1998.
Sinatra the Chairman by James Kaplan is a detailed examination of the life and career of this legendary performer. By delving into his complex relationships and prolific career, Kaplan exposes the multi-faceted layers that made this man —singer, actor, mogul, friend and lover. This is the follow-up to 2010’s Frank: The Voice and picks up in 1954, after Sinatra won an Academy Award and was firmly re-entrenched as a top selling recording artist.
Award-winning author Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters was first published in 1999 and is being re-issued in time for the anniversary of Sinatra’s birth, along with a new introduction from the author. This book serves as both a unique homage and an insightful portrait of a complex man. Hamill’s beautifully written portrait brings to life a man whose entertaining touched so many generations.
Frank & Ava: In Love and War by John Brady fully explores this volatile relationship which shaped both their lives. Ava had two short-lived marriages behind her and a succession of high profile suitors when she and Frank met. The spark was instantaneous and the two began a tempestuous affair, despite Frank’s marriage which ended soon after in divorce. Frank and Ava’s subsequent marriage was a series of fights, separations and reconciliations which ultimately ended in divorce. Despite the not-so-happy ending, Brady’s exploration of this glamorous couple is compelling. Gossip columnist Liz Smith said of this duo, "If I had to go back in Hollywood history and name two people who were most desperately and passionately in love with each other, I would say Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner were it."
Want more? Check out this list of music, movies and more books featuring the Chairman of the Board.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the lives of fictional characters in novels or celebrities on TV. However, photographer Brandon Stanton’s new book Humans of New York: Stories uses stunning portraits and personal anecdotes to show that the most interesting and compelling stories can come from everyday people around us. Stanton originally began photographing the citizens of New York as part of a project to create a visual census of the city. His pictures wound up becoming the wildly successful blog, Humans of New York. As his project grew, he went from including one-line captions on his photos to entire paragraphs of stories the people he met on the street would tell him.
While his first book, Humans of New York (2013), focuses more on photography and includes just a few captions, this book contains many more of the personal and in-depth stories found on his blog today. The stories range from devastatingly sad to chillingly insightful to warmly endearing, while the people photographed cover a variety of races, ages, social classes and genders.
It’s hard not to get absorbed into Stanton’s book and the beautifully poignant stories within. Individually, an anecdote from a stranger might not be much to consider, but together, they create a broad spectrum of captivating stories that truly reflect both the intricacy and brevity of human life.
Do you often judge based on first impressions?
I do and so does Chip Kidd, the designer who has made many recognizable book covers. In his latest book, Judge This, Kidd validates our snap decision making. As with his earlier, all-ages introduction to graphic design, Go, which was previously reviewed, Kidd empowers those of us who aren’t in the industry to think critically about the way information is visually transmitted and received. He points out how necessary it is, in our modern age, to make the information we are constantly transmitting appealing and easy to understand. He presents a simple question for analyzing the success of virtually any design: Is it mysterious or clear? Kidd proves his point by illustrating examples of design from his daily life, critiquing everything from Diet Coke cans to pop-up ads. He also shows his own portfolio of work and explains the thought processes involved in their creation.
This book is one of a growing trend being published based on TED Talks and commencement speeches delivered by their authors. Constrained to an easily accessible, fun-sized format reminiscent of inspirational books like O’s Little Book of Happiness, and sourced from influential experts in their fields, they are philosophical texts for all of us with busy, complicated lives. NPR listeners will be familiar with many of the names coming from other publishers, including Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman, Very Good Lives by J K Rowling and We Should All Be Feminists by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Journalist Greg Toppo, author of the new book The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, has experienced both sides of the highly polarized and controversial status quo of video gaming. While some abhor games, believing them to be time sinks that are slowly brainwashing our youth, others value them as unique forms of highly engaging media capable of reaching an audience that is notoriously unengaged. In The Game Believes in You, Toppo analyzes current efforts to blend education and recreation into perfect learning tools for plastic minds.
The Game Believes in You is comprised of 12 chapters. The majority focus on the positives and argue that games could — and should — be used in public school classrooms, and a few debunk falsities that have stigmatized games in recent years. Toppo profiles visionaries who are championing Pokémon as the nation’s answer to No Child Left Behind, teaching curriculums entirely from within the realms of World of Warcraft, renting land in Second Life to serve as virtual Open Door space and even developing methods to mentally control games as a form of therapy to treat ADD, ADHD, PTSD and depression.
Games can also become new means to teach the classics. Walden, a game is volunteer-developed and aims to condense Henry David Thoreau’s social experiment into a replayable, decision-driven adventure. Lexica is a tablet-based MMO (massively multiplayer online game) in which players create avatars and help classic literary characters who have been sealed away in a gigantic library to be forever forgotten. Both games draw heavily from source texts for inspiration, and Lexica even includes entire books to be read for quest credits to level up and unlock new content.
Toppo posits that games are becoming more accessible to children at even younger ages as the 21st century progresses, and educators everywhere should be taking advantage of this. Rather than lambasting our youth for staring at their beloved screens all day, we should be using those screens as conduits to their malleable minds and showing them that education can be just as fun as their favorite games.
In 1985, the first Back to the Future movie was released and was an instant blockbuster. Two sequels followed and the trilogy remains popular. Ten years later, Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, was released and became a touchstone for a generation. Two new books go behind the scenes of these seminal movies and offer gossipy tidbits, interviews, photographs and more.
We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the Back to the Future Trilogy by Caseen Gaines explores the time-travelling vehicle which brought us Marty McFly and catapulted Michael J. Fox to superstardom. More than 50 original interviews were conducted with key players, including director Robert Zemeckis, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson and Huey Lewis. Gaines shares insider information about the movie, including details of the recasting of Eric Stoltz and the resulting domino effect, but he also looks at the staying power and devoted fan base of these three inventive films.
As If!: The Oral History of Clueless As Told by Amy Heckerling and the Cast and Crew by Jen Chaney delivers on its title’s promise with an in-depth account of this innovative movie told by the people who were there. Chaney’s interviews garnered information about casting, costume design, soundtrack and setting, all of which were so vital to the film’s message and success. It appears that this Beverly Hills comedy of manners holds up after 20 years as it remains one of today’s most streamed movies. Chaney includes never-before-seen photos, original call sheets and casting notes, along with ideas as to why the movie continues to have such a powerful pop culture presence. Think you’ll find a more fun summer read? As Alicia Silverstone’s Cher would say: As if!