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Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

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The subtitle of this book is ‘The Story of the Movies and What They Did to Us’. And that sums up what the book is about. Rather than a history of Hollywood (which is what so many people think of when they think about cinema and film), this book discusses the first time that moving pictures were created, right up to the current day when we are all watching very different types of screens, films can be watched on phones, and people play video games for hours on end.

The basic structure of the book is that each chapter covers one – or a small number – of significant film makers, primarily directors, although Thomson also talks about writers, actors and producers. It’s less a chronological series of events, but more a picture of various people who helped create the movies as we know them today. Thomson covers a lot of French cinema for which he has an obvious passion, as well as American, and also touches on film-makers from other countries, as well as other entertainment mediums that we view on screen (video games, and of course television for example).

Did I enjoy it? Well, sad to say, not particularly. Getting through the book felt like a bit of a slog, although I did enjoy the last quarter considerably more than what came before it. But there’s no denying that it was extremely well researched and written with obvious passion for the subject and I truly feel that the reason I didn’t enjoy it is more down to me than down to the writing. The information given was very dense and there seemed to be so much to take in that I only felt like reading a little bit at a time.

If you are at all interested in the history of movies, I recommend this book, but if you are looking for a bit of light reading, be warned – it’s verbose and throws a lot of information at you!

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This story is told in two storylines, both of which are narrated by Jennifer Doyle aka Lola Nightingale. In 1916, Jennifer accompanies her roguish father from England to America, where she is given a job with the wealthy de Saulles family. It is there that she meets and falls deeply in love with Rudolfo Gullielmi, a dancer employed by the family, who is having a relationship with Mrs de Saulles.

1926, Jennifer goes by the name Lola Nightingale, Rodolfo is now known to the world as film superstar Rudolph Valentino, and at the beginning of the book, they have just been reunited after a decade apart. Jennifer/Lola has been in love with ‘Rudy’ for the whole time, and throughout the rest of the book she proceeds to describe the events that transpired between 1916, when Rudy vanished from her life, and 1926, when he reappeared.

I enjoyed the book, and thought that the writing was engaging and flowed well. However, I veered between sympathy for and annoyance with Jennifer, who was her own worst enemy. She knows that she drinks too much and dabbles in drugs, which are doing her ambitions as a bidding scriptwriter no good, and she also becomes involved with a horrible abusive man, who is a drug dealer to the stars.

Anybody who knows about Rudolph Valentino’s life and death, will have a certain knowledge of what happens in the ending of the book. I personally really enjoy fiction books that are based around real people and events, and I liked the fact that at the end of the book, the fates of all the real people in its pages (such as Mr and Mrs de Saulles) is revealed.

Overall, while I didn’t love the central character, I did really enjoy the story and am looking forward to reading more by Daisy Waugh.

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After reading two of Mark Kermode’s books (and thoroughly enjoying both of them), I was really looking forward to reading this one – where Kermode discusses (or rants) about the state of cinema today, or at least the state of Hollywood blockbusters today. I wasn’t disappointed – when it comes to film criticism or film discussion, Mark Kermode is pretty much my go-to author. He’s funny, honest, self-deprecating, and makes a lot of valid points.

In various chapters, Kermode talks about how blockbusters basically cannot fail to make a profit, no matter how bad they are, and crucially, no matter how bad their reviews are. He uses the much maligned film Pearl Harbor as an example – as much as it was trashed by critics and the public alike, it still turned a profit. Basically if a film has a big name star, and appears in cinemas even if only for a short time, it will make money – if not on the big screen, then certainly on DVD. So, if blockbusters can’t really fail no matter how bad they are, then why not make a really good one?

In other chapters, Kermode discusses 3D, which has been trialled and trashed several times before, but which keeps rearing it’s ugly head (thanks for that James Cameron), and even questions what use film critics actually are to the industry. The most entertaining chapter for me was where he discussed the recent trend for Hollywood to remake foreign language films – often drastically changing characters, setting and indeed storylines – and why the often vastly inferior remakes still do better in cinemas than the original ‘source’ movies.

Anyone who has listened to Mark Kermode will be able to hear his voice in their head while reading this book – he is an intelligent and passionate narrator, and makes his points eloquently, and with a lot of humour. He is clearly in love with his subject, despite all his complaints about the current state of cinema, and this makes for an engaging, entertaining rant, all in the style of a conversation which you could imagine having in a pub while downing a few pints.

In essence – if you like Mark Kermode’s radio show, or have enjoyed his previous books, or indeed just enjoy reading about cinema or Hollywood in general, then I would definitely recommend this book.

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Sherilyn Fenn has the unenviable task of playing Elizabeth Taylor in this made-for-TV biopic, made while Taylor herself was still alive (she apparently tried to stop it). It gives a somewhat rushed run-through of the actress’s life, starting with a brief opening demonstrating her mother’s determination to make Elizabeth into a movie star – Elizabeth, it should be noted, wanted to be an actress, according to this biopic at least; her mother wants her to be a movie star because they are rich.

Moving quickly through her first four marriages to Nicky Hilton (Eric Gustavson), the abusive, jealous husband; Michael Wilding (Nigel Havers), who is charming but cuckolded; Mike Todd (Ray Wise) with whom she seems to share real passion, but who tragically died in a plane crash; and most controversially Eddie Fisher (Corey Parker) was married to Elizabeth’s best friend Debbie Reynolds whom he left for Elizabeth, but he clearly has no idea how to handle her or keep her interest.

Naturally enough, large focus is then given to her relationship with Richard Burton (Angus McFadyen) although their subsequent divorce, re-marriage and second divorce are flipped through in a matter of seconds, via images of newspaper headlines.

There then follows a marriage to Senator John Warner (Charles Frank), who seems to love her at least partly because of the fame marriage to Elizabeth Taylor brings with it – she gets depressed and puts on weight. Their marriage ends and she goes to rehab where she meets her seventh and final husband (to whom she has her eighth marriage) , Larry Fortensky (Michael McGrady). They were still married when this picture was made.

This film does not cover a great deal of Elizabeth Taylor’s professional career, sticking instead with the love, marriages and scandal. There are a couple of scenes which show her work for raising awareness of AIDS, which I would have liked to have seen more of.

Fenn was actually great as Taylor, nailing the accent in particular. Most of the supporting cast did a good job, although I felt that Ray Wise put in a slightly overblown performance. McFadyen looked very much like Richard Burton – uncannily so at times – but I that he also over-acted somewhat and never really captured the character convincingly.

Occasionally the dialogue was a bit clunky, a bit daytime soap opera-ish, but despite that and despite the fact that certain events were skimmed over with only the briefest detail, I have to admit that I did enjoy this film. In the same way that I don’t buy gossip magazines but I’ll have a read of one when I’m at the hairdressers – it’s entertaining even when you know that it’s entertainment first and information second. Sometimes some of the actual vintage footage which was used jarred with the more modern footage, due to the obvious difference in quality, but that did not detract from my enjoyment.

I would recommend this biopic to fans of Elizabeth Taylor, more for curiosity’s sake than for any real factual content.

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Year of release: 1995

Director: Kevin Connor

Writers: C. David Heymann book ‘Liz: An Intimate Biography’), Burr Douglas

Main cast: Sherilyn Fenn, Angus McFadyen, William McNamara, Corey Parker, Nigel Havers, Ray Wise, Michael McGrady

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This is the second book by actor and producer Rob Lowe.  Having read his autobiography ‘Stories I Only Tell My Friends’ and really enjoyed it, I was very much looking forward to reading his follow-up, and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint.

In ‘Love Life’, Lowe shares stories and anecdotes from his life, both personal and professional.  He is a very engaging narrator, thoughtful and contemplative, but also very witty (his story about dressing as Bigfoot on a camping trip with his children was wonderfully told and incredibly funny).

Other stories involve his musings on marriage – from being a playboy with an addiction problem in his 20s, to being a sober, happily married father of two 25 years later; being involved in a tv show which is rapidly heading toward oblivion, and making a monumental script cock-up on stage in the West End.  He talks with pride of his two sons, and the chapter where his older son goes away to college was very moving.

Maybe I’m biased – I really like Lowe as an actor; he is very versatile, and equally able to do both comedy and drama, and understandably, he does discuss his acting career here – but I think I would have enjoyed this book even if I was not especially a fan of his.

As mentioned earlier, this is not an autobiography, and nor does it claim to be, but it does provide more insight into his character and his philosophy.  It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I would definitely recommend it.

 

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As the subtitle (Tales from Tinseltown) suggests, this book by former James Bond and Simon Templar actor Sir Roger Moore, is a collection of stories and anecdotes from his life and career, as well as some stories that he was told himself, and others which he admits are probably apocryphal.

It’s an enjoyable and easy read, but I definitely doubt the veracity of some of his tales (even those which he does not admit are probably untrue).  For example, when talking about Frank Sinatra, he says that when Frank died, Frank’s wife Barbara and daughter Nancy were with him.  However, Frank’s other daughter Tina, states quite clearly in her own book, how none of Frank’s children were with him at the time of his death, and how much that upset them.  More enjoyable are the stories which Sir Roger was personally involved in, as the details of these are obviously much more likely to be correct.

Obviously given the subject, there are loads of famous Hollywood stars, many of whom are no longer with us, mentioned throughout, and this makes for a gossipy – but never malicious – kind of book.  Sir Roger does come across as a genuinely nice man, who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and enjoys high-jinks and practical jokes on set.  This is not the book to read if you are looking for his autobiography (and nor does it claim to be), although he does talk about various stages in his career.

I would recommend this book to fans of Sir Roger, or to anyone interested in Hollywood gossip, but I wouldn’t take all of it as completely accurate.

(For more information about Sir Roger Moore, please click here.)

 

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Robert Vaughn has had a long and successful acting career.  As well as being The Man from U.N.C.L.E., he was also one of The Magnificent Seven, and in more recent times, was a main cast member on the BBC show Hustle.  But in addition to such achievements, he has also starred in countless other films, and appeared on stage many times.  In this book, he describes his life, from his childhood with a mother and step-father who were also actors, to his unconventional adolescence, to his ascension to genuine Hollywood star.

However, this book also covers much more ground than just his acting career.  With a keen interest in politics (he is a staunch Democrat), Vaughn also describes his friendship with Robert F. Kennedy, and his theories on the truth behind RFK’s assassination.  There are fascinating tales of being trapped in Czechoslovakia at the time of the Soviet invasion, and being placed under house arrest while filming in South America.  Amongst all of these stories are of course, anecdotes from Vaughn’s lengthy career, in which he talks about many of his friends, famous and otherwise, including Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen.

Vaughn is clearly a highly intelligent and thoughtful man, and he has written an absorbing autobiography.  I had only seen him in the aforementioned Hustle, and more recently on stage in a (breathtakingly wonderful) production of Twelve Angry Men, and was large unfamiliar with his earlier work, but the stories from that part of his career made for interesting reading.

I would certainly recommend this book to fans of Robert Vaughn, but also to anyone who enjoys reading autobiographies.

 

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