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I bought this book shortly after it was released but was stricken with a mild case of buyer’s remorse. A paperback version recently hit bookstores, but I had the big, fat original hardcover, and while it is not by any means what you'd call a dense read, I think anyone would be somewhat leery of 725 pages of Joe Estzerhas' voice, especially in a memoir--a memoir that is bound to be all about putting himself over and patting himself on the back. Right?

I can't blame anyone for having that apprehension, but I would urge you to overcome it and just read the book. It's an autobiography that gets better as it goes along, even better after it covers the stuff you thought you were buying it for. It’s a fantastic read that proves much richer than I expected.

Full disclosure: I snapped it up for the gossip, the dirt about Stallone, Stone, Eisner, and others; not necessarily to learn about the life story of the notorious screenwriter. Hollywood Animal smartly begins with some of that Inside Hollywood stuff but then goes back to the author’s childhood, and it is soon apparent that the narrative will switch back and forth between those two tracks—Joe growing up, Joe in Hollywood. Again, I was wary at reading all about the Life of Joe.

Even the gossipy stuff is often disjointed—series of short paragraphs, often seemingly random. It doesn’t even feel like a real book at first. But you know what? It is entertaining.

That Eszterhas voice is often jumpy and self-aggrandizing throughout all 700-some pages, but by the end, this autobio becomes a more focused, coherent work, and the personal stuff is even more compelling than the showbiz stuff. There's even a twist that comes more than halfway through that gives what came before it new meaning. It almost makes you want to go through and read some of it again. And it’s all true. The showbiz gossip may be coming from someone with his own agenda and spin on things, but assuming he is candid about his personal background…well, stranger than fiction is a cliché, but it works here. The fiction and nonfiction in this screenwriter’s life collide in an amazing way.

The many pages and detail given to his marital situation (his divorce, Naomi Macdonald's divorce, Joe's marriage to Naomi) seems excessive after a while. There are extensive selections from "Naomi's Journal," which I think are authentic and add some perspective but might be a little much. That stretch of the book takes me away from the Hollywood stories, which are much more interesting.

However, the story of Joe's childhood and his more recent adulthood is a lot more interesting than I believed. The structure of the book is really clever, not just for the reason I said before--that alternating between Hollywood and Immigrant Childhood chapters holds your attention--but because I'll be damned if the SOB doesn't find a way to bring that twist in at just the moment when maybe you're looking for less childhood stuff, more showbiz stuff, and then makes you want more childhood stuff.

He does leave a few loose ends and gaps. I wanted to read more about his days between high school and selling his first screenplay. He wrote a novel and worked for Rolling Stone. That period is mostly absent. I'd imagine he has a lot more music-related material.

But the Hollywood stories are truly hilarious. Even when I wonder if Joe is stretching the truth somewhat to suit his vision, it's mostly credible enough to enforce my belief that the whole business of filmmaking is completely absurd.

By the end of the book, I actually cared about the guy. The story of the changes he makes after getting throat cancer is well told. What could have been a preachy bore becomes a touching finale.

All in all, the book paints a complete picture of the guy. He seems like a real human being, one who has an ego, but who is still willing to admit his mistakes and shortcomings. Despite the reputation he has, it's hard not to sympathize with him after reading this and even want to root for the guy. Hollywood Animal is an autobiography that satisfies in ways both expected and unexpected.

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Weekend Movie Preview

Posted on 2004.05.21 at 23:20
Well, Shrek 2 is the first must-see of the summer, and it's already here, having opened up Wednesday. It's the only major release this week. I'm going to try to catch up with my own reviews this weekend in case you're looking for something else, but let's face it, nobody is going to dislike Shrek 2. The only question is how soon you want to brave the crowds and see it.

Shrek 2 ***.5 There can only be one original, and I don't expect the sequel to be as fresh and funny as its predecessor, but it looks funny and charming in its own right. Puss in Boots should be worth the price of admission all by himself. Antonio Banderas could have this year's Johnny Depp performance. Maybe that's a little much, but every time I've seen the trailer, you could feel a buzz when he makes his appearance. Let's just hope Smashmouth has a lesser role this time out.

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Weekend Movie Preview

Posted on 2004.05.15 at 13:34
This weekend belongs to Bradley Pitt and the sword-and-sandals epic. Should be interesting to see how Van Helsing holds up.

Troy ***
I am expecting good but not great from this one. Wolfgang Petersen has proven himself as an action/adventure director, and this one looks to have a cool epic-type feel going for it.


Breaking All the Rules *.5
This looks barely over the straight-to-video level. If you're willing to accept Jamie Foxx as a leading man, be my guest...and pay 8 bucks for the privilege. I think I'll get my yearly dose of him in the upcoming Collateral.

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Posted on 2004.05.13 at 13:00
Best Series Finale of All Time?

On the eve of the Frasier grand exit, I've been thinking about series finales throughout history. Which was the best? I don't think anyone will place Friends up there, even if it is too early yet to consider its standing.

One of my all-time favorite shows, like the Honeymooners, never had a true series finale. People love to mention the Mary Tyler Moore finale, and it deserves to be mentioned because it had such an impact. However, I never had enough of an attachment to the show to consider it the best conclusion ever. MASH had an extremely high-rated sendoff that drew plenty of hype, but do people really remember anything about it, other than maybe Hawkeye taking that last look down from his chopper?

Does anybody know what happened in the Cosby Show finale? Newhart's last scene was one of the biggest and best-loved surprises in TV history. Yet it pretty much invalidates the entire show's run, and the fact that nobody cared that it did so is proof of the show's relative insignificance.

The makers of Seinfeld have to be given credit for attempting to distill the show's essence into its final episode, while also coming full circle to the beginning and making a statement about the characters. It was a huge event, too. Nevertheless, many found it off-putting and indulgent, and while that may be the point of the show, the point was also to be funny, and the finale just didn't click. All things considered, it has to be considered a disappointment.

The big series finale event of my generation is probably the long good-bye to Cheers. I was young enough to consider it an event of "my generation" but old enough to get worked up over a TV show leaving the air. I remember getting together with friends and hanging on every word of the show. There was just a sense of anticipation and a charged emotion going along with the farewell to a great show that was appointment television. Unlike The Cosby Show, Cheers was still going strong when it left, which gave the occasion even more oomph.

So was the episode a great one? Well, I remember it being funny and even dare I say poignant, but part of my fondness for it may be affected by my memories of the whole event, plus the great time we all had seeing the cast sloshed on Jay Leno's show later that evening. Still, it was a satisfying conclusion that came probably as close to living up to the hype as it could have.

My pick for the best series finale ever, though, comes not from the sitcom world. It's the two-part finale of The Fugitive. I wasn't around to see it originally, but plenty of people were, and enough of them actually tuned in to set records. More importantly, it provided a suspenseful but satisfying wrap-up to the entire series. Girard, who chased Kimble for 5 years, realizes he was wrong and saves his ass from the one-armed man. Perhaps the most meaningful "my bad" of all time.

Could even the less jaded 1960s audience have expected that kind of conclusion? Sure. But it was no less effective. It provided closure on many levels and an exciting story. Its combination of payoff, entertainment, and audience make it, to me, the best TV series finale of all time.

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Weekend Movie Preview

Posted on 2004.05.08 at 12:38
New York Minute: Please.

Van Helsing ** originally I thought Hugh Jackman fighting monsters was a pretty cool idea. I still do, but not so cool is giving the idea to Stephen Sommers, the man who turned the Mummy franchise into a soulless parade of CGI effects. Early word is this is no different and perhaps worse, but it would be nice to be wrong.


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Behind Blue Eyes

Posted on 2003.11.23 at 12:46
I often think that people would stop complaining that music channels don't show videos anymore if they actually had the chance to WATCH the videos that are being made these days. Recent case in point: Fred Durst's cover of Behind Blue Eyes, which is easily the Most Annoying Video on TV right now.

When evaluating a video, unless Britney Spears or a supermodel in lingerie is in it, you need to start with the song. Predictably, Durst's monotone rendition of the Who classic is terrible. He is apparently trying to sound soulful, and furthermore-well, that alone says enough, does it not?

The video does the seemingly impossible. It makes Halle Berry unattractive. It does this not by giving her deglamorizing makeup, nor by giving her no makeup. It does it by having her kiss Fred Durst.

I think it's safe to say the vast majority of Americans who care about the issue want to know what in the hell Halle Berry sees in Fred Durst, since they were reportedly seeing each other. All of us sensible Americans have to suffer, then, when we sit down to watch some music videos and see the two of them kissing in this abominable clip.

It's like Durst is saying, "See? I can get whoever I want," and rubbing our faces in it. A good chunk of this video is Durst droning while looking right into the camera. I don't think any of us need such an intimate connection with Mr. limpbizkit.

Next time you yell about how MTV or VH-1 doesn't play enough videos, stop for a minute and ponder whether in fact they play too many videos that suck.

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Welcome Back

Posted on 2003.11.02 at 21:25
Welcome back. The website has been on sabbatical for a few months. I could try to come up with a creative reason as to why, like running for Governor in California, searching for weapons of mass destruction, etc., but those really aren't creative, and part of the pleasure of sitting out the summer was not having to talk about those things.

This is Cultureshark for the foreseeable future. By moving to a blog format, I'll be able to write more and faster...at least, I hope.

I'll continue the focus on the world of pop culture. You will probably see less of the longer feature pieces you've seen on Cultureshark, less formal "reviews," but more commentary, opinions, and just more in general. Perhaps I'll veer of into subjects I even know less about than pop culture, like world affairs, sports, metaphysics, but ultimately this will be CULTUREshark. If within the next several days, I go the Live Journal route of describing what hot pocket I had for lunch, well, don't panic. It's only one post, and maybe later that day I'll write about something interesting.

Despite the integration with live Journal, you do NOT need to be a member of Live Journal to access the site. You'll be able to read me by going to cultureshark.com as well as accessing my Live Journal page. One potentially interesting thing about this new format is that anyone can comment on a review or whatever, and I can reply back. You do need to be a Live Journal member to post directly, but feedback via email is always welcome.

I have no structure planned for this, but I can tell you that tomorrow I'll be talking about a recent trip to the Renaissance Faire, and this week, to prove how timely I am (ooh, timely!), I'll talk about the current #1 movie, "Scary Movie."

So thanks for coming back, and if you were at all entertained by anything I've written in the past few years, you might want to check back here periodically. I appreciate your support and that of Kayla, Cultureshark's brilliant webmaster, who has set this new system up.