Book Review: ‘Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema’ by John Pierson

I came to know John Pierson through his show from the late 1990s Split Screen. While I had heard about it back then, through message boards and chat rooms (when they were still a thing), I never really had access to it until it was available on FilmStruck’s streaming service through their extra Criterion Channel add-on.

Having watched some of the earlier episodes, some of which featured Spike Lee, Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith, I got to know Pierson’s story and understand his influence and importance on 80s and 90s indie film. Because of that, I wanted to know more of the details, so when I discovered that he had written this book, I got a copy.

While the book tells these stories from Pierson’s point of view, they aren’t as exciting as one would hope. That’s not a knock against Pierson but he is sort of a bland guy and it comes through. This could also be my mistake for reading this after I just finished a string of Joe Bob Briggs and Hunter S. Thompson books, which put me on a colorful and charismatic high.

The best parts of this book are the sections where Pierson has conversations with Kevin Smith. Had the book featured more of this or just this, as Pierson tells the stories by conversing with those involved, it would have been a much more entertaining read. In fact, those sections feel more like an episode of Split Screen, which unfortunately could only fit in so much with its half hour running time and magazine style format.

Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes is still worthwhile, if you care about the filmmakers involved and how they got their start. It is just very straightforward and dry.

Book Review: ‘Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film Making’ by Greg Merritt

As of late, I have been reading a ton of books on filmmaking and film history. The main reason is due to this website. I want to go through everything I can find on the subject of film in an effort to review it, so that others know which books are better resources than others.

Celluloid Mavericks isn’t so much about the filmmaking process, as it is about the long history of independent films in the United States. It is a thick book jam packed full of history and insight and it is one of the best works I’ve found on the subject.

Merritt goes through the earliest days of indie film and discusses the monopoly that the big studios had and how that all changed, opening doors for maverick filmmakers who didn’t want to have their art be controlled by a conglomerate of massive studios and government regulation.

The book really gets going when it gets into the late 1950s and the quick pace from that point on never stops. Realistically, this is where real indie films were born, leading into the experimental 1960s and the wide open 1970s. Being that the book was published at the end of the last century, means that it doesn’t get passed the 1990s but it is still a great reflection on indie film, as a whole, in the 20th century.

While the book’s cover may be a bit misleading, as it makes it seem like it covers just the 90s, that is only a small portion and the final chapter of this whole body of work.

Greg Merritt was thorough and his analysis along the way is really helpful and adds context to the films he’s discussing.

Book Review: ‘Duke Sucks’ by Reed Tucker & Andy Bagwell

Duke Sucks: A Completely Evenhanded, Unbiased Investigation Into the Most Evil Team On Planet Earth is a gem among sports books. It is a paramount in the realm of books on the subject of college basketball. If you are a Tar Heels fan, it should be your friggin’ bible!

Reed Tucker and Andy Bagwell have given the world a pretty damning case against Duke University and their basketball team. I mean, other than people who go to Duke, who doesn’t hate Duke?

Okay, maybe I personally don’t “hate” them but there has been a very strong dislike for as long as I can remember and I’m not even a North Carolina fan. I’m a DePaul fan. Maybe my Blue Demons are overshadowed by the Blue Devils level of success but whatever, fuck Dook!

If you are a Duke fan, this book will be a pretty hard read. If you aren’t a part of that 0.001 percent, this investigation into how awful they are is a greatly entertaining read.

Duke Sucks is hilarious in it’s condemnation of Duke and the amount of evidence given is pretty profound. The authors succeed in proving their point and giving the reader an enjoyable ride in the process.

It is also a quick read, coming in south of 200 pages. I flew through it in no time, as I found it pretty hard to put down.

Duke truly does suck, we all know that. Now you can have a lot more ammunition as to why, thanks to this indispensable body of work.

 

Book Review: ‘Godzilla FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the King of the Monsters’ by Brian Solomon

I have read a lot of books about the Godzilla franchise and kaiju in general over the years. Godzilla FAQ is, by far, one of the best books I have ever picked up on the subject.

If you have read extensively on the Godzilla films, as I have, this is a good refresher on a lot of the information that has been available elsewhere for awhile. But this isn’t just a rehash of older books. Godzilla FAQ digs deeper than most books and it is well organized in chapters specific to different elements within the production and history of the franchise.

It gives good bios on some of the producers and actors, unlike any other publication I have come across. It talks a great deal about those involved in the franchise from the American side of the Pacific Ocean too.

The book also extensively covers each of the 30-plus films, the monsters within those films and just about anything you could think of and then it throws in some stuff you wouldn’t have thought of. The book is exhaustive and awesome.

It also benefits from a lot of photos, which is rare in a book about Toho’s films, as they are notorious for going after those who violate their copyrights. I’m assuming the publisher did the right thing and got Toho’s permission, otherwise, this might not last on shelves very long.

The best thing about this book, is that it just came out and is as current as a printed book can be. It covers the 2014 American remake, the 2016 Shin Godzilla film and even mentions this year’s Kong: Skull Island as well as the other upcoming American films in the works.

I’d say that this is a “must own” for avid kaiju and tokusatsu fans or just fans of Godzilla, the true king of monsters.

Book Review: ‘How to Read a Film: Movies, Media, and Beyond’ by James Monaco

James Monaco’s How to Read a Film: Movies, Media, and Beyond is a pretty informative and very exhaustive work. It is quite the book and I really found it captivating, as it delves much deeper in how to see film than anything else I’ve picked up in recent memory.

Film studies, when I took it in high school, was by far my favorite subject and film, in general, is really my favorite thing in the world. Wanting to expand my knowledge on more of an academic level, I’ve been taking different online courses and reading whatever I find that I feel might meet my needs.

How to Read a Film certainly meets my needs and actually goes well beyond what I was looking for. The book is almost too big and too informative. There is a lot to take in and explore and frankly, it is a book I will have to keep handy in the future and revisit often. But those are the best kind of books. Ones that outlive their initial read through and continue to be a part of our lives.

James Monaco has written one of the best books on the subject of how to view a film and how to understand them. The version I read was the Fourth Edition, which is the version in the picture above. I’ll probably keep an eye out for any future editions as they become available.

If you have an interest in the art of filmmaking, which you probably do if you are reading this site, this deserves a place in your library.

Book Review: ‘The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters’ by Jason Barr

Jason Barr’s The Kaiju Film: A Critical Study of Cinema’s Biggest Monsters is really a mixed bag. It is a book I tried to like and get behind but ultimately, couldn’t.

It comes with several great reviews on Amazon but I guess I’m in the minority here.

The book is essentially a theoretical analysis of kaiju films throughout history. The author uses all kinds of examples to support his theories on the deeper meaning of all these films and how they change with the times. He covers politics, weapons of mass destruction, economics, foreign affairs, etc.

The problem is that the author just reads way too far into these films. Most people who are fans of the original Godzilla film understand the meaning behind it and the warnings it presents. However, most kaiju film after that were purely entertainment. Japanese culture certainly sprinkles in their philosophy and their view on life in many of these films but Barr digs so deep it feels like we are left to bear witness to him trying to make his theories stick.

It reminds me a lot of how conspiracy theorists over analyze things for so long that they can make anything into a conspiracy without much evidence and just a lot of theorizing and speculation. I feel like a lot of this book is cherry picking to fit the conclusions that Barr wants to make. It reminds me of Room 237, that conspiratorial documentary on The Shining, where the bulk of the rhetoric just seems like academic babbling.

Also, Barr takes sides on some of the issues and paints a picture that supports his stance. He also presents his theoretical analysis as if he is speaking factually and not simply theorizing.

In the end, most of these movies were made to capitalize on the kaiju craze of the 1960s. Many of the non-Toho films were just poor ripoffs of Gojira (the original Godzilla film). I just can’t buy into the idea that the writers, directors and producers sat down and tried to stuff so much political and social consciousness into these films, as Barr implies.

Book Review: ‘The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 2: 1984-2014’ by John LeMay

The Big Book of Japanese Giant Monster Movies: Vol. 2 is a perfect continuation of what started in the first volume.

The first volume, which I have already reviewed, covered kaiju films through the Shōwa period. That is the era that most people are familiar with when it comes to the Godzilla and Gamera franchises.

This second volume covers the Heisei and Millennium eras. These are the films that were part of the attempts to resurrect the franchises in the 80s and 90s. They are lesser known in the United States but still beloved kaiju pictures.

John LeMay wrote this book in the exact same format as the previous one and I’m a fan of the way he organizes his information. He lists out the essential credits (similar to how I start my film reviews), then he gives a rundown of the plot, goes into the history and production of the film and then caps off each section with some trivia tidbits.

LeMay does a fantastic job of providing real context to each film he talks about. Also, the trivia bits are usually filled with facts that even I, someone who has been immersed in kaiju films for decades, didn’t know.

There are a lot of books you can get about kaiju movies but this and its predecessor are must owns for loyal fans of the genre.