Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review: Sleepless in Hollywood

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (June 11, 2013)

 Lynda Obst has been a producer in Hollywood for 30 years now.  Her first credit came as an associate producer for Flashdance.  Her most recent credits are as an executive producer for two TV Land sitcoms, Hot in Cleveland and The Soul Man.

In Sleepless in Hollywood, Obst combines her experiences with the insights from many contacts in the industry that she worked under or with.  She looks at how Hollywood evolved from the Old Abnormal to the New Abnormal...because Hollywood was never truly normal to begin with.

The question that Obst asks is why are studios making fewer movies and, when they do make them, why are they almost always sequels or big budgets.

Until James Cameron made Titanic, and later Avatar, the studios never really focused on the foreign markets.  Now that they do, the foreign markets want the 3D movies and action films.  They want the films that are considered tentpoles...the franchises that are based on comics, etc.  An American comedy, which appeals to American tastes in humor, is less likely to do well overseas than a 3D movie that features a lot of explosions!

Obst writes that China and Russia are the biggest foreign markets so the studio decisions must appeal to them.  Pre-awareness, Obst writes, is what helps to market a film overseas.  If foreign audiences are not familiar, they won't bother seeing it.  Because of the pre-awareness factor, it's harder to get original ideas on the big screen unless it comes from the classics or indie branch of the studio.  The studios focus on the tentpoles, franchises, reboots, and sequels because they are easier to market and for filmgoers like myself, it is a real shame.

Essentially, movies these days must have pre-awareness, be able to sell overseas, and generate a sequel or franchise.

Because of the attention on the big budget films, Obst writes about the battle that the indie movies face.  They have to get financing and attention from somewhere.  This is one venue where Video on Demand is helping make films money but it also means lesser time spent on a theatrical run.

When it comes to getting films made, Obst writes:
James Cameron can make anything he wants, ditto Christopher Nolan, and now Ben Affleck and George Clooney, as producer and director.  The same is true of many others whose mere participation in a movie makes it marketable tent-pole.

Obst also looks at how many of the feature film writers are turning their eyes to writing for television.  Her brother was the agent that packaged Homeland to Showtime.  Shows like Homeland, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Wire are some of the best series that have aired in years.  While movies have dumbed down, television has grown smarter.

This book is one that Obst has written with affection, regret, hope, and humor.  Because of her unique position as a producer at Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount, she has access to explore how Hollywood has changed in the past 30 years.

With Syria, President Obama could learn from FDR

As we see what is going on in Syria, President Barack Obama could learn something from the experiences of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

From a New York Times book review (by David Oshinsky) of Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman's FDR and the Jews:
In their conclusion, the authors rightly note the squeamishness of America’s modern presidents in dealing with genocide. Woodrow Wilson, a true idealist, virtually ignored Turkey’s slaughter of a million or more Armenians, while Jimmy Carter, a human rights crusader, did nothing to prevent Pol Pot from exterminating 20 percent of Cambodia’s population. The Clinton administration took several years to respond militarily to the “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in Bosnia, which required only air power, not soldiers on the ground, and it never confronted the mass killings in Rwanda. More recently, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama employed little more than words to condemn the atrocities in Darfur. Historically speaking, Roosevelt comes off rather well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (July 16, 2013)

Jack Handey recently wrote the hilarious fiction novel, The Stench of Honolulu.  Handey takes everything that tourists love about Hawaiian islands and turns it into a wretched piece of space on the map.

The Hawaii that filmgoers saw in the Oscar-nominated film, The Descendants, or the action drama series, Hawaii 5-0, is not the Hawaii depicted in Handey's novel.  It's the same Hawaii but through the warped mind of Handey.

The novel is a rather quick read due to Handey's signature short-form absurdist style.  He takes us on a far-flung adventure that is full of twists and turns when you least expect them.   The characters are unforgettable, too.

Don goes on a quest to find the Golden Monkey in Hawaii.  What happens there is all the hilarity that ensues.  Page after page will be turned quickly and you'll be finished in no time!

Handey's first novel leaves readers wanting more from the longtime humorist known for his "Deep Thoughts" on Saturday Night Live.

Readers of Lunatics by Alan Zweibel and Dave Barry will find this book just as funny.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Errors and Fouls: Inside Baseball's Ninety-Nine Most Popular Myths

Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Potomac Books Inc. (May 2013)

In Errors and Fouls: Inside Baseball's Ninety-Nine Most Popular Myths, Peter Handrinos has compiled 99 popular baseball myths and using articles, books, and other research, he attempts to dispel such myths as just that:  myths.

Handrinos looks at all aspects of baseball, including whether football has overtaken baseball as America's pastime.  It hasn't.  Handrinos does a good job at debunking that one.  To those that argue ratings, just look at how many networks are offered these days and when football games are on compared to baseball games.  Baseball games have to battle with the closing weeks of the primetime television season in April and May, not to mention when it resumes in September and October.  Baseball has more fans walk through the gates than football does.  Most football games air on Sundays in the afternoon with nothing really trying to take away attention.

The book looks at whether steroids act as performance enhancers.  This is one that is big in the news right now given the Biogenesis scandal.  Handrinos looks to Jose Canseco, Ken Caminiti, and Jason Giambi for this one.  Not to mention several pages alone on Barry Bonds.

Handrinos looks at modern game tactics, playoff formats, and baseball economics.  Except in the case of Jeffrey Loria and his Miami Marlins, he examines whether cities have been ripped off with the building of new stadiums.  Baseball economics includes revenue sharing, competitive balance, and free agency, etc.

In writing about 99 myths, Handrinos uses contrarian analysis and witty writing in order to make his point come across.

I can go on and on talking about such myths and whether they are true or not but then I'd be writing a book longer than his!