All posts by alanwp

Any Major Dude Will Tell You Not to Miss Barney Hoskyns’ anthology of all things Steely Dan

Hear that? Those are the notes that music journalist Barney Hoskyns is hitting in his unprecedented new anthology of all things Steely Dan:  Major Dudes: A Steely Dan Companion (The Overlook Press, $27.95).

Published within a year of founding member Walter Becker’s passing, this is a first of its kind book about Steely Dan—an anthology of the most essential critical dispatches about the band—rants and raves alike, alongside a selection of highly informative profiles and interviews from the ’70s through the ’00s.

In the vein of Hoskyns’s previous book JoniI: The AnthologyMajor Dudes serves simultaneously as an accessible critical introduction to the group, a treasure trove of little-known facts (did you know that a pre-fame Becker and Fagen once recorded a B-movie soundtrack, or ghostwrote for Barbra Streisand?), and an invaluable collection of primary source documents, many of which Hoskyns has rescued from the archives of now-defunct magazines and newspapers.

Any major dude will tell you not to miss it.

“The Con Artist ” proves (again) why Fred Van Lente is funny and scary

There’s no surprise why Fred Van Lente has been called “a popular culture maven”.  He’s the No. 1 New York Times best-selling writer of comics like The Amazing Spider-ManDeadpool vs. the Punisher and Archer & Armstrong. His work has been praised as “some of the funniest material you’ll read in any format” (The Hollywood Reporter) and his debut novel, Ten Dead Comedians (Quirk, 2017), was an Amazon Best of the Month in Mystery, Thriller and Suspense.

He’s now moved on. In The Con Artist (Quirk Books, $14.99), Lente, who has worked in the comic book industry for nearly 20 years, returns with his second novel, a murder mystery set at a comic convention. Comic book artist Mike Mason arrives in San Diego expecting just another comic con, but when his romantic rival turns up dead, Mike becomes the prime suspect.

The Con Artist: A Novel

To clear his name, Mike will have to navigate every corner of the con, from zombie obstacle courses and cosplay flash mobs to intrusive fans and obsessive collectors, in the process unraveling a dark secret behind one of the industry’s most legendary creators.

Featuring illustrations by comics veteran Tom Fowler, and recently described as a “a fun love letter to comic book fans”, The Con Artist perfectly captures the chaotic energy of comic cons and reveals that heroes and villains aren’t just reserved for the pages and panels of our favorite graphic novel.

Kari Byron on how ‘Mythbusters’ made her a better person, a better woman

Kari Byron takes the stereotypes and stigma around being a woman on television and in science and—quite literally—blows them up. She is proof that you don’t need to wear a lab coat—or, be a guy—to geek out on science. In turning her love of art, sculpture, and special effects into a career involving explosives and hard hats, she has catapulted herself into an unexpected role as the queen of scientific stunts.

On  MythBusters, Kari and her cohorts filmed over 7,200 hours, tested over 900 myths, set off 850 explosions and used 43,500 yards of duct tape. To examine each urban legend, they applied the scientific method: question, hypothesize, experiment, analyze, and ultimately, come to conclusions. Along the way, Kari discovered that this logical process is also the perfect tool for solving everyday problems, from unsatisfying relationships to depression and debt.  In Crash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life’s Toughest Questions (HarperOne, $25.99), Kari reveals to readers her scientific method for investigating, growing, and making discoveries that can lead to greater wisdom, happiness and success (while having a lot of fun in the process).

Crash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life's Toughest QuestionsShe shares the insights and knowledge she’s gained, as well as:

  • How salary inequality at Mythbusters turned her into an advocate for equal pay
  • Why having no scientists on Mythbusters made the show better
  • How Mythbusters was a vehicle for critical thinking and how Kari uses the scientific method in her real life
  • How an inherently shy person forced herself to become a performer
  • Why to be successful, you don’t have to be right, but you do have to understand, with a scientist’s emotional detachment, why you were wrong
  • How Kari handled getting fired and what steps she took to get back on track

Crash Test Girl reminds us that science is for everyone, as long as you’re willing to strap in, put on your safety goggles, hit a few walls, and learn from the results. Using a combination of methodical experimentation and unconventional creativity, you’ll come to the most important conclusion of all: In life, sometimes you crash and burn, but you can always crash and learn.

“Saving Faith” is warm and inspirational, and boy! What great gospel music!

Mark your calendar now. It’s important to save the date of September 18, not because it’s a day after my birthday (cards and gifts still accepted), but that’s the day the inspirational and heartwarming gospel drama, Saving Faith, arrives on DVD, Digital, and On Demand.

When the historic Ritz Theater is on the brink of foreclosure, the theater’s owner Faith Scott (played by Jenn Gotzon) and her Uncle Donny (Donny Richmond) decide to host a Christmas themed show, in June, to help save the building.  Even against all odds, Faith and Donny turn to their faith and friends to help pull off the impossible.
And when a local developer decides to sabotage the concert, it’ll take a miracle to make the show go on. Approved by the Dove Foundation for all ages, Saving Faith is a, “film that is balanced for family filmgoers” (The Dove Foundation).

Let us not forget the great music by Donny Richmond and Sunday Drive and appearances by Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Phil Vassar and members of the

A new history lesson to learn is found in ‘Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society’

Death threats. Kidnappings. Explosions. This was the MO of The Black Hand Society, a deadly Sicilian-American organized crime ring that stretched across America’s Rust Belt, predating Al Capone’s reign of terror by two decades.

And we though this was a tough time in history.

Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society:  America’s Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought Them to Justice (Touchstone, ) is the captivating true story of Post Office Inspector Frank Oldfield and his quest in 1908 to take on a sophisticated and deadly organized crime syndicate preying on immigrants in America’s Industrial Heartland, recounted by his great grandson, William Oldfield.
Inspector Oldfield and the Black Hand Society: America's Original Gangsters and the U.S. Postal Detective who Brought Them to Justice

For the first 40 years of his life, the author was sworn to secrecy about his great grandfather’s affairs, fearing retaliation by the descendants of the criminals who remained prominent members of communities near the Oldfield family’s residence. Hidden away by the Oldfield family for one hundred years and covered-up by rival factions in the early 20th century post office department, this incredible true story out of America’s turn-of-the-century heartland will captivate all lovers of history and true crime.

With never-before-seen photos, newspaper articles, and letters from The Black Hand, he’s breaking the silence of his family’s most treasured, tightly-kept secret.

Great stuff and a great read!

“Spiral: Season 6” spirals into more great TV, imported from France. Oui!

We apologize to our fans, especially those fans of Spiral,  the hard-hitting Parisian cop thriller (originally released in France as Engrenages) that has became a critically acclaimed blockbuster success across Europe and Australia and won the International Emmy Award for Best Drama.

We have been spiraling out of control, catching up with all the past MHz episodes we missed.  In Spiral: Season 6, BAFTA nominee Caroline Proust returns as Captain Laure Berthaud, as she and her team begin a complex new investigation after a human torso is discovered in the 20th arrondissement in Paris.

Backed up by her team of detectives including Thierry Godard as Lt. Gilou and Fred Bianconi as Tintin, the investigation is overseen by Judge Roban, played by veteran French actor Philippe Duclos. Audrey Fleurot also returns as lawyer Joséphine Karlsson, who continues to juggle her professional ambitions with her personal demons.

Prepare for a journey like no other: “Earth’s Natural Wonders: Season 2: Life at the Extremes”

Somehow, human beings have found a way to exist alongside Mother Nature’s most breath-taking creations. What makes these Natural Wonders so extreme? What are the challenges to human survival within them? And what helps and what hinders us in that struggle?

Answer (and stunning photography) are found with PBS Distribution’s Earth’s Natural Wonders: Season 2: Life at the Extremes. This program, presented in partnership with the BBC, takes viewers to parts of the natural world that nature has carved out on such a scale that they beggar belief.

Vast mountain ranges, impenetrable rainforests and dazzling tropical islands—places where nature is visible at its most primal, most powerful, and most extraordinarily beautiful. For human beings, survival within these wonders can pose extraordinary challenges. Yet in even the most extreme and remote parts of our planet people do survive.

Note to David Sedaris: We refuse to wait five more years. This country needs more laughs.

We waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, David Sedaris brings us his  first book of stories in five years. How much loner could we wait?

Calypso (Little, Brown and Company, $28) proves, yet again, there is  no better storyteller. He has a knack for making us cringe, laugh-out-loud and cry, all in the span of a few lines. This particular collection seems to take an even deeper and darker, more introspective, turn, and surpasses his best writing yet.

Calypso

With a keen eye toward the loss of his mother, and sister Tiffany, and as he and his father age and find new ways to communicate in an increasingly politicized climate, David delivers the very best of his talents here.

Note to DS: We refuse to wait until five years.

‘Robin’ offers an insider’s look into Williams’ extraordinary life and career

The laughs ended in August 2014 when Robin Williams killed himself at 63.  His death not only raised questions about how and why it had happened, but also prompted reassessments of his extraordinary life and career. F or anyone with the slightest acquaintance with popular culture over the past four decades, he seemed to be everywhere, from stand-up to TV, movies, and late-night talk shows, with an uncanny sense of the zeitgeist matched by few others.

Now, Dave Itzkoff presents a full and revealing portrait of one of the most beloved and original comedians and actors of our time in Robin (Henry Holt and Company, $30)Illuminating both the man and the performer, Itzkoff draws on more than one hundred interviews with Robin’s family, friends, and colleagues, as well his own encounters and interviews with Williams over the years.  Included are insights from fellow comedians, actors, and collaborators such as Billy Crystal, David Letterman, Pam Dawber, Dana Carvey, Barry Levinson, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Jeff Bridges and Bobcat Goldthwait.

Robin

Among the topics covered and the news-making revelations offered are:

  • The largely untold story of Robin’s family background and his privileged but lonely upbringing in the upscale suburbs of Detroit, where he entertained himself with make-believe and toy soldiers. As Itzkoff shows, Robin was indelibly shaped by both his father—a stern, self-made auto industry executive—and his glamorous, eccentric and funny Southern mother.
  • How Robin was first exposed to improvisational comedy and acting through a stray course at prestigious Claremont College, and later honed his talents at the humbler College of Marin. Sharp-eyed mentors there eased his way into the elite acting program at the Juilliard School in New York City, where his fellow students included Christopher Reeve, who became one of his closest friends.
  • How Robin burst into local prominence in San Francisco and Los Angeles during the stand-up comedy boom of the 1970s, and quickly became known as a rising star. Candid interviews with his first wife, Valerie Velardi, who has not spoken on the record in years, reveal how he began to indulge heavily in cocaine and alcohol, and how his hidden vulnerabilities, self-doubt, and deep loneliness helped to fuel his addictions.

  • The improbable circumstances that got Robin cast in a guest-starring role as Mork from Ork on the hit television series Happy Days after Henry Winkler’s Fonzie character literally “jumped the shark.” (Producer Garry Marshall’s young son loved Star Wars and said TV needed more aliens.) That one appearance was such a sensation that it soon resulted in Robin getting his own ABC sitcom, Mork & Mindy.
  • How Robin’s substance abuse led to a personal crisis, and to John Belushi’s hotel bungalow in Los Angeles on the night the Saturday Night Live star died of an overdose. Belushi’s death convinced Robin to swear off drugs and alcohol for the next 20 years, but his sobriety could not repair the damage he had caused to his first marriage.
  • How Robin’s failure to win an Oscar the first three times he was nominated weighed heavily on him, until he finally took home an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting.
  • Robin’s own unflinchingly honest assessment of how he relapsed into alcoholism, which ended his two-decade-long marriage to his second wife and close collaborator, Marsha Garces. He then had to struggle simultaneously with addiction, divorce, and open-heart surgery.
  • The most complete and balanced account of Robin’s decline and death. Drawing on official autopsy results, Itzkoff concludes that Robin’s suicide was not a result of depression or substance abuse, as had been widely assumed, or from Parkinson’s Disease, as his own family had originally believed, but from a little-known and often misdiagnosed condition called Lewy Body Dementia.

  • Previously unpublished tributes from Robin’s private memorial service, including remembrances from his three children; his close friends Billy Crystal, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Eric Idle.

 

  • Details of the bitter legal conflict over Robin’s estate. The courtroom battle exposed long-simmering tensions between Robin’s children and his third wife Susan Schneider, to whom he had been married for less than three years.

 

As Itzkoff notes, there is no actor or comedian today who can be considered Robin’s protégé or his heir, although he inspired many performers.  He had many admirers but no imitators—no one who tried to do what he did the way he did it.  When he died, his reputation for joyfulness and humor stood in stark contrast to the sad and solitary manner in which his life came to an end.  Inevitably, people asked, Who was he? What was behind all the accents and characters, the blurs of motion and flashes of energy?  How much did he truly reveal and how much did he keep hidden?

 

“Some part of him would be present in every set and stand-up role he played,” Itzkoff writes, “but in their totality these things did not add up to him.  The real Robin was a modest, almost inconspicuous man, who never fully believed he was worthy of the monumental fame, adulation, and accomplishments he would achieve.  He shared the authentic person at his core with considerable reluctance, but he also felt obliged to give a sliver of himself to anyone he encountered even fleetingly.  It wounded him deeply to think that he had denied a memorable Robin Williams experience to anyone who wanted it, yet the people who spent years by his side were left to feel that he had kept some fundamental part of himself concealed, even from them.” [p. 3]

 

With ROBIN, Dave Itzkoff gives us a comprehensive and revelatory portrait yet of a performer loved and admired by millions for his generosity of spirit, his quickness of mind, the laughter he sparked, and the hopefulness he inspired.  Nearly four years after the passing of Robin Williams, it will be eagerly read by anyone seeking to understand who he truly was.

“The Ghost Script” is the culmination of Jules Feiffer’s ambitious graphic novel series

We have always thought he was a genius. And a funny man. Jules Feiffer’s The Ghost Script (Liveright Publishing, $26.95) is the culmination of an ambitious graphic novel series, and  it’s a graphic wonder at his most daring, imaginative best.

Despite the many honors Jules Feiffer has accumulated over his 89-year lifetime in the fields of comics, journalism, theater, and film, he has longed to hone his skills as a graphic novelist in the mold of his mentor and one-time boss, Will Eisner. With Kill My Mother in 2014 and Cousin Joseph in 2016, Feiffer showed just what could be done with the form, inspired as much by the noir films of his youth, as the social upheaval he witnessed in America in the ’40s and ’50s.

With The Ghost Script he completes the trilogy in triumphant fashion; moving from Bay City to the madcap world of Hollywood, circa 1953. It is a time of deep-seated paranoia, rampant bigotry, and vicious political division, as show business is mercilessly targeted by witch hunts and McCarthyist threats.

The Ghost Script: A Graphic NovelNo worry if this is the first in the trip you are reading: There are frequent flashbacks, but please do yourself a favor and start at the beginning. Upon this scene stumbles Archie Goldman (previously a teenager in Cousin Joseph), a well-intentioned, if slightly slow, private eye who finds himself increasingly entangled by the tendrils of the Hollywood Blacklist. Plots, counterplots, and general thuggery follow Archie at every turn, and Feiffer casts his story with a wonderful assortment of characters who would not be out of place in a Chandler novel: Lola Burns (a starlet desperate to clear her name and make it in pictures); Lyman Murchison (philanthropist and Red-baiter implicated by a mysterious screenplay called “the Ghost Script”); O.Z. McCay and Faye Bloom (two blacklisted screenwriters seeking revenge); and Miss Know-It-All (a blind gossip columnist with a vicious streak).

Feiffer—who is himself a distant cousin of that ultimate baiter and conflicted soul, the dispicable Roy Cohn—revels in the extremes of the era, as well as the sanctimonious politicians, the two-timing producers, and the heroic actors, writers, and gumshoes swept up by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Together with Kill My Mother and Cousin Joseph, The Ghost Doctor confirms Feiffer as a master worthy of Eisner’s respect, and provides a graphic masterpiece for our times.