PositiveWall Street JournalAccounts of his long-running holiday special \'Christmas in Washington\' or a turn-of-the-millennium program he wrote and produced for CBS are not especially compelling...The book can wear thin, too, with its countless references to the Carters, the Clintons and the Obamas...And he sometimes has a bit too much good taste for his own good: He displaced the pioneering (if unrefined) director Raoul Walsh from a biopic of JFK, and gives only a single mention to the best film to emerge from the AFI Conservatory for student filmmakers—David Lynch’s innovative but déclassé \'Eraserhead\'...But, as a portrait of Mr. Stevens’s remarkable family, the memoir delivers...At one point, Mr. Stevens, an only child, writes that his father had \'gambled the family destiny on me\'...The elder Stevens had bet correctly: His son proved to be an able keeper of his flame, and that of many others.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... lively ... It turns out that neither Edison nor the French-born Lumière brothers—said to have been responsible, in 1895, for the earliest commercial presentation of a film—deserve their reputations as prime movers of the medium. As Mr. Fischer documents with the rigor of a historian and the flair of a true-crime writer, it was another Frenchman, Louis Le Prince, who in 1886 crossed the finish line first with his dual-camera-projector system ... Mr. Fischer milks the mystery for all it’s worth, but this book is no mere scandal sheet. The author paints a full portrait of Le Prince ... The book bogs down in necessary but dull descriptions of the technical minutiae that went into making early motion-picture cameras, but the pace picks up as Le Prince struggles to perfect his invention, remain financially solvent and contend with an interminable patents process.
Ron Howard and Clint Howard
PositiveWall Street JournalIn The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family, the siblings offer an account of a Tinseltown childhood remarkably free of malice, regret or self-pity ... The Howards are happy to marinate in their memories of their honorable parents, fraternal bonds and a business that has kept both of them employed for nearly their entire lives ... In an age when Hollywood’s highest-profile parent-child relationship is that between Britney Spears and her father, what could be more refreshing than the homespun horse sense of the Howard boys?
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... engrossing ... alternately touching and humorous ... Although the book deftly interweaves seemingly disparate threads, the narrative itself begins straightforwardly enough ... anyone who has ever cared for a living creature will find much to identify with in Gilmour’s affectionate, sometimes exasperated account of the magpie who comes to be called Benzene ... Gilmour becomes fond of Benzene, whose flights fill his protector with mixed emotions ... Such sentiments make the author’s parallel story all the more powerful: Diving deep into his past, Gilmour recounts the painful absence of his father ... At once droll and wise, this is an unforgettable memoir.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorMitenbuler goes wide and deep in surveying the talented, sometimes eccentric, and often irascible artists who developed, nurtured, and transformed the medium ... masterful ... The book follows animation’s evolution from a novelty to a bona fide industry ... Yet Wild Minds never gets bogged down in technical details. Mitenbuler keeps his eye on the ball, detailing the origin stories of a swath of beloved cartoon creations, from Betty Boop to Bugs Bunny. A gifted cultural historian, Mitenbuler devotes an entire chapter to an improbable court case in which a singer named Helen Kane claimed to have been the uncredited source of inspiration for Betty Boop, a trial in which the phrase \'boop-boop-a-doop\' became a major issue ... Whatever an animation fan’s taste, Mitenbuler’s book provides fascinating stories and nuggets. For the uninitiated, it certainly can aid in the formation of viewing lists to keep both children and adults occupied while riding out the pandemic.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalGlenn Kenny does not so much reflect on the film as re-create it with a shot-by-shot breakdown of granular specificity. Proceeding one scene at a time, he alternates between descriptions of on-camera action with copious behind-the-scenes details about the principal players ... The film’s fans will be tickled by Mr. Kenny’s trying out Henry’s ziti-with-meat-sauce recipe for himself ... Diligently documented here are the contributions of executive producer Barbara De Fina...cinematographer Michael Ballhaus...and film editor Thelma Schoonmaker ... Mr. Kenny has something to say about every aspect of the film, including its secondary (and tertiary) cast ... Where he gets bogged down is in the minutiae. Mr. Kenny’s constant evocations of specific shots...cry out for illustrative stills. Similarly, his breathless plot-point summaries have the flavor of a film novelization. This rigorous approach seems intended for those who have never seen the film, yet who but diehard fans would find such details engaging? There is lots of useful information here...but it quickly overwhelms ... Made Men feels curiously soulless—it’s lively and overstuffed ... Then again, Goodfellas at least has unanimity on its side: It’s everybody’s favorite Mafia movie, and doubtless its many partisans will crack open this book the next time they watch the film.
RaveThe Columbus Dispatch...really good: boldly conceived, imaginatively written and wholly original ... Following in the fantastical footsteps of novelists such as John Barth and Thomas Pynchon, Beatty uses his home state as a jumping-off point for a wild, far-fetched tale ... Beatty writes Medium Son’s narration using gloriously antiquated, overripe phrasing ... The book’s fantastical elements — as well as its sentence fragments, nonsense words, ungrammatical sentences and odd spellings — can take some getting used to ... these stylistic eccentricities help establish the world of the novel.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorTo say that Sophy Roberts’ The Lost Pianos of Siberia is among the unexpected works of history in recent memory is an understatement ... Admitting that she perceives Siberia through Western eyes, Roberts taps into the seductive mystery the land holds for outsiders ... Roberts peppers the narrative with a thousand concrete details. She succinctly charts the emergence of the piano as a favored instrument in Russia ... a fact-finding mission as interesting for its digressions as any conclusions ... Writing energetically in the first person, Roberts roams freely from one tangent to another. She communicates her excitement at playing detective as well as her passion for bringing to life an unfamiliar place. And what of her initial mission to locate a worthy instrument for her pianist friend from Mongolia? Let’s just say that Roberts’ journey was worth it on that score, too.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorGopnik’s staggeringly thorough biography Warhol examines the artist in granular detail without losing the sweep of his story. Gopnik relates Warhol’s advancement from the child of a working-class family in Pittsburgh to a successful commercial artist in New York to an avant-garde icon and entrepreneur – but also adds to, and frequently corrects, the record ... Admittedly, some readers will tire of descriptions of seemingly every endeavor Warhol lent his name to, and agree with the statement that \'the primary creation of Andy Warhol is Andy Warhol himself\' ... Admirers of Warhol will rejoice at this book, which does not gloss over the calamities in his personal life – including an attempted murder by Valerie Solanas that brought him close to death in 1968 – and which celebrates the legacy of Warhol’s art. Even those with a casual interest in the artist are likely to find themselves enthralled.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Sonnenfeld, whose past experience as an Esquire columnist gave him a head start in writing a book this sharp, punctures the myth of the Director as God and instead offers the Director as Nervous Wreck ... In evoking his youth in 1950s and ’60s New York, Mr. Sonnenfeld has crafted a biting family portrait ... The author also offers many relatively benign, humorous anecdotes ... Mr. Sonnenfeld seamlessly transitions from his acidic coming-of-age tale to equally frank discussions of his career ... Mr. Sonnenfeld, whose gift for describing the indignities of moviemaking remains constant whether he is discussing, in agonizing detail, early gigs shooting pornographic films or coming to creative loggerheads with directors while working as a cinematographer ... Here we have not only a new entrant in the movie-director memoir genre but an even rarer beast: a book by someone in the entertainment industry who is neither self-aggrandizing nor self-important but uniquely, and painfully, candid.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWhile acknowledging Hitchcock and Harrison’s creative work together, Lane does not gloss over what can only be described as an at-times toxic work environment ... In Lane’s artful telling, Harrison was a kind of cinematic utility player.
Jerome Robbins, Ed. by Amanda Vaill
RaveThe Columbus DispatchWhat Robbins’ writings lack in spit and polish, they make up for in candor ... Other gems include a detailed outline for Fancy Free, as well as a journal entry describing the fits and starts in which the ballet was born ... The centerpiece of the book is a series of letters Robbins wrote to ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq ... Like much of the fascinating material gathered here, these letters are chatty, empathetic and endearing.
Flannery O'Connor, Ed. by Benjamin Alexander
PositiveChristian Science MonitorThe latest posthumous O’Connor publication, Good Things Out of Nazareth, turns out to be no less than the third assembly of the author’s correspondence to appear since her death – and, in fact, the second to see publication in the last 12 months ... Cynics may charge that this book is a sign of diminishing returns in the O’Connor cottage industry, but readers who prize the author for her acerbic intelligence and deep commitment to her Roman Catholic faith will have no reason to complain ... The book is valuable for providing a peek into the birth pangs of some of her work ... A continual delight is O’Connor’s Southern-inflected, occasionally down-home phrasing ... Although the editor’s attempt to sketch the circle in which O’Connor traveled is admirable, some readers may lose interest when encountering letters that do not concern O’Connor. Perhaps this book, then, may represent the final major contribution to the posthumous career of Flannery O’Connor – but it’s a fine note to end on.
PositiveThe Columbus DispatchIt’s no surprise that Malcolm covers a lot of ground in her latest collection, Nobody’s Looking At You. The book includes in-depth looks at fashion designer Eileen Fisher and pianist Yuja Wang, as well as pieces that skim the surface—but entertainingly and insightfully—of subjects as unlikely as the \'No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency\' books of Alexander McCall Smith ... Although each of the 18 essays selected for the book first appeared elsewhere, the essays gain import when read in tandem—the mark of a well-picked selection. Readers can hopscotch between essays according to their interest level ... Malcolm is attuned to small details that add liveliness to an essay ... The writer missteps when her curiosity is replaced by partisanship; her quite effusive profile of MSNBC personality Rachel Maddow, and her largely condescending piece on former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, are likely to appeal only to those in agreement with Malcolm’s opinions.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorCott is persuasive in drawing specific links between Sendak’s life and his work ... Unfortunately, Cott falters when he indulges in his own form of over-interpretation ... This wonderfully illustrated book is to be admired for honoring Sendak’s achievements, but it also inadvertently affirms Sendak’s own view, quoted here, of who best appreciates his work: 'Despite the fact that I don’t write with children in mind, I long ago discovered that they make the best audience.'
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor[Nathaniel] Rich attempts to explicitly link Didion’s sociological observations with the recent presidential contest...Yet Rich’s sensibility is miles apart from Didion’s. In her notes, Didion often seems annoyed and distressed by the South, but she cannot conceal her fascination, either; even when her tone is dry, her accounts have the liveliness of a cultural anthropologist ... In the divisive years to come, readers would do well to follow the route mapped out in South and West: to be inquisitive about those with whom they seem to have nothing in common, including electoral preferences.
Vladimir Nabokov, Olga Voronina, Brian Boyd
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe book’s herky-jerky format is handled well by the co-editors, who furnish detailed introductory comments, a useful timeline, and insightful appendices. The reader is never lost.