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A page turning "holiday" mystery thriller from a "Dark Shadows" icon
Blog, TV, Books
Posted on Mar 28 2013 by Greg
Kathryn Leigh Scott continues to amaze with Down and Out in Beverly Heels, the latest example of her many creative talents. In addition to being a pop culture icon ("Dark Shadows," "Police Squad"), publisher of a vast array of nonfiction/showbiz books and author of several books on the DS phenomenon, Scott has created her second novel -- this one a crisp, page turning mystery thriller in the grand tradition of TV series like "Columbo" and movies like "The Net."



Told in first person (which creates an uneasy feeling, at least to me, that the character may not survive the story), the lead character is Meg, the star of a classic TV light mystery show called "Holiday." The glamorous dream life she has lead, from the series and her marriage to Mr. Perfect to her beautiful home and seeming financial security, it all comes crashing down all over her. In a short time, she's alone, broke and a suspect of a costly fraud scheme.

As Scott unfolds the story and Meg searches for the truth, we get a glimpse of Hollywood through a prism of location filmings, lavish parties and nostalgia shows, every setting described in meticulous but never oppressive detail. She uses the traditional mystery simile, but with a nod and a smile. As a character, Meg is never at a loss for humor and irony.

Perhaps the most affecting world we explore is that of the downtrodden former Hollywood individual: a former director, a stuntman and sex symbol, to name a few. Each of these folks has carved out a life after the cameras stopped rolling for them, some very comfortable, some not so much.

I was touched when reading about the "street stars," a community who cling to former glory while living through soup kitchens, park benches and public restrooms. Meg is particularly close to one lady whose makeup and clothes are deteriorating as much as she and her mind are -- and of course, Meg is a breath or two away from becoming like her, as we all might be should we hit similar circumstances.

Surely this underground of Hollywood life is sadly a reality. And what an amazing nonfiction book or documentary it would make -- or maybe it has and I am not aware of it.

This is just the sort of book to relax with, to take on a trip, to read by the pool. This is page turning romp, filled with fiction fun, humor and heart.






OFF TO THE WORLD'S FAIR - IN A RIVETING NONFICTION BOOK THAT READS LIKE A THRILLER
Blog, Books
Posted on Feb 17 2011 by Greg
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Even though this historic nonfiction story took place in the 1930's, in many ways it could be now or tomorrow. Part of the fascination, I think, is in making the comparisons. A promising future? Neat attractions with corporate sponsors? Backstabbing bureaucrats who take credit for others' ideas? A public who largely didn't want high-minded stimulation as opposed to mainstream entertainment. A cynical critical mass that scoffed at lofty dreams of a better world? Sound familiar?



It's all in this book, written with great detail from historical sources, but in a narrative/dialogue form with occasional ironic side comments. It's a credit to Joe Mauro that a heavily researched book like this is so surprisingly breezy and readable. But by "breezy," I don't mean all happy peppiness. There are moments of terrible violence and sorrow upon which the story pivots.

The central character, so to speak, is Grover Whalen, a self-created New York media figure who made himself famous for being famous (how 21st century is that?). Whalen is the "Walt Disney" behind this early Disneyland/Walt Disney World/Epcot, from its flashy beginnings to its money-losing end. I can't help but draw parallels to the Disney parks, especially Epcot, because its the high-tech, futuristic leanings -- as well as the multinational presentations -- of World's Fairs that bear so much resemblance to Epcot, which by the way was briefly marketed in the '90s as the "World's Fair of the Future." It's to Epcot's credit, though, that it is still one of the world's most popular destinations where some of the biggest World's Fairs (New York '39 and '64) had gone into the red.

The book does not detail each pavilion because that is not its purpose, which is to tell a story that straddles Whalen's career and the stories of others who orbited the '30 Fair, including Fiorello LaGuardia, Robert Moses, Albert Einstein and two "regular guy" police detectives who are among the many assigned to follow up on the many bomb threats.

All of this in the context of one of the most volatile turning point in history -- the start of World War II, the rise of fascism in Hitler's reign, the creation of atomic weaponry and the great irony of such a fair in the midst of economic depression and social chaos.

The one fair attraction that Mauro does detail, over all others, is the most popular one at the time, GM's Futurama. A symbol of the hope, irony, and subsequent trial and change, Futurama was a ride through diorama that made parkgoers feel as if they were flying over modernizing cities linked by superhighways. And like The Jetson, some of it came true, for the good and the not so good. When the fair ended, the workers rode it one last time, filled their pockets with parts of the gigantic sets, then started to tear it down.

Makes you think. As does the whole book.






"HASENPFEFFER INCORPORATED...DIDDLY-DIDDLY-DAH-DAH! WE'RE GONNA DO IT..."
Blog, Books
Posted on Nov 02 2010 by Greg


The theme songs to Laverne & Shirley, Happy Days, Love American Style, The Bugaloos, ABC Wide World of Sports, The Love Boat and many more, all icons of 70's TV, were composed by Charles Fox, who also composed hits like "I've Got a Name," "Ready to Take a Chance Again" and "Killing Me Softly with His Song."

Killing Me Softly is the name of his new memoir. You can hear him interviewed by author Ed Robertson on TV Confidential, which will be repeated three times at day througout the week on shokusradio.com. Next week, you can download the two-hour program as a podcast on iTunes or on the TV Confidential website.

Some cool things I learned: Fox chose Cyndi Grecco to sing "Making Our Dreams Come True" after hearing her perform during a day at Magic Mountain with his kids. And he has donated the prop 45 rpm record that was in the jukebox at the beginning of early Happy Days episodes to the Smithsonian, which also displays Fonzie's jacket.



My personal favorite Charles Fox score is the magnificently groovy and glorious soundtrack to the movie version of Pufnstuf.







BOOK REVIEW: "THE IMPERFECTIONISTS"
Blog, Books
Posted on Jul 09 2010 by Greg
I don't recall reading such a meticulous, honest and riveting fiction novel in a long time. You can tell by the earnest avoidance of cliché, the sharp turns in narrative and the natural dialogue that the author (and likely the editor as well) doted lovingly over every word and phrase. In a sea of dumbing down, this is a very intelligent, perceptive look into the collective psyche of a group of disparate colleagues thrust together not by choice but by career and geographical circumstance.



Apparently the majority of media reviews have been so glowing that some might have approached The Imperfectionists with unrealistic expectations. Or perhaps judged Tom Rachman by his age rather than his skill. Yes, it's a dark look into some very messed up people, but there's hardly a note that seems false. The Ruby Zaga section is probably the most heartrending, yet like American Graffiti, we catch a parting glimpse of her in the epilogue that...well, I won't spoil it.

The most outrageous section concerns the greenhorn being buffaloed by the veteran grandstanding headline-grabber. It veers the furthest from realism in its absurdly comedic sitautions, yet it probably the most true to life, ironically, and perhaps most directly drawn from Rachman's life observations.

It is no coincidence that both Rachman's parents are psycholigists because he has a razor sharp focus on personalities, conceits and foibles. The section about the lady who reads compulsively is practically an OCD case study, and very real at that. Strong powers of observation, indeed.

According to Entertainment Weekly, this book has been optioned by Brad Pitt's company. I can see him playing the fired editor on the plane, but I really think this would make a better long format TV series than a one-shot movie. And any film adaptation is going to lose the characters' thoughts so generously shared by Rachman.

The setting is Rome in a newsgathering industry, but it's a story about people. Rome is a character, a place each character sees (or uses) differently. And the newspaper is almost a metaphor for unescapable change in a city that is thought to be enternal. An unforgettable read.

(The Imperfectionists contains mature subject matter and language, but far less, surprisingly, than many current novels and films.)







"Presto" wuz robbed! But this book is reward enough, really.
Books
Posted on Feb 23 2009 by Greg

No surprise that WALL-E won Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, but I was really routing for Presto to pick up the Animated Short award. However, the public really gets the best award this week, when the much-anticipated THE ART OF PIXAR SHORT FILMS hits the bookshelves and online retailers.



There have been several fine books about Pixar's relatively brief yet extraordinary history and artistry, as well as "Art of" books on the features. None of these books take such a detailed, thorough and image-rich look at this extremely important aspect of "how Pixar does it."

Amid Amidi, co-creator of the essential website Cartoon Brew, gives roughly half of the moderately coffee-table-sized volume over to an intense chronicle of Pixar's story told through its shorts, which are truly instrumental in the development of Pixar's features, technology and especially their creative team. What is especially impressive is seeing the degree of loving detail that goes into these mini-masterpieces, which can be as short as 3 minutes and 20 seconds (For the Birds).

I can really appreciate the difficulty of writing the establishing section, distilling highly technical systems and challenges in understandable terms while avoiding the obvious out of respect for the readers. As each short appears in the book, historic narrative is woven in order sustain the context of the films and their impact. For that reason, the very early film sections (devoted to Andre and Wally B., Luxo Jr., and Knick Knack) are somewhat lengthier. Once the Pixar organization is "up and running" as far as the text is concerned, than each entry focuses on the films, their directors, artists and particular challenges.

At this point, each film is examined for one or more artistic landmarks or histories: Geri's Game for its remarkable human animation; the evolution of For The Birds from a Cal Arts project; the singularly unique vision so much a part of the director's personality and background in Boundin'; the sometimes contentious partnering of two very different directors at the helm of One Man Band and the transformation of a sound designer to a director for Lifted.

The remaining shorts (Presto was not released in time for inclusion in the book) are all based on features: Mike's New Car, Jack-Jack Attack and Mater and the Ghostlight, but are no less meticulous and easily stand on their own.

The entire book then becomes a sumptuous portfolio of concept art, storyboards, production stills and wire frames. Again, seeing it all at once is staggering. As you peruse the pastels, pencil sketches, pen & marker renderings and finished scenes, the personalities of each artist, including John Lasseter himself, come through loud and clear -- Pixar has a style, but one that is the sum of its parts rather than a stern adherence to established creative restrictions.

You can't help feeling that, if Pixar did nothing more than produce short films, they would still be an industry flagship.

I was especially taken with each director literally having a personal "stamp" for approving the film art (in the case of One Man Band, a shared stamp). The stamps reflect their style just as the films do.



This is a book worth revisiting for reference and inspiration. It's also recommended if you happen to have the Pixar Short Films Collection DVD from last year that collects all of these film on one disc, along with several audio commentaries.












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