The many indifferent, sophomoric essays here will give Tracy fans information about his early work; the best ones will give...

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SPENCER TRACY, FOX FILM ACTOR

THE PRE-CODE LEGACY OF A HOLLYWOOD LEGEND

The obscure, often deservedly so, early films in which Spencer Tracy forged his screen persona are dusted off in this uneven collection of essays from the New England Vintage Film Society.

Before he developed into a film icon of rough-hewn moral integrity, Tracy was a contract player churning out forgettable entertainments for Fox Films in the early 1930s. The dozen flicks analyzed here provided him a broad palette of characters—jailbirds with hearts of gold, ruthless gangsters, macho lady-killers, sappy romantics, working-class mugs and amoral tycoons—but they also saddled him with contrived plots, clumsy scripts and dimwitted sidekicks trotted out to generate yucks. It’s forgivable that the film scholars and buffs assembled here don’t always take a liking to these films, less so that they don’t always take an interest in them. Short, shallow, badly edited—“The only character to which Tracy maintains any sort of affection is for his fellow sailor” [sic]—and often lacking in reader-friendly amenities such as plot summaries, many of the essays have the perfunctory feel of college term papers. Tracy’s naturalistic acting is praised to the skies, but readers get little feel for it because commentators rarely delve into his technique. Instead, they harp on the most obvious aspects of the films—racial and gender stereotypes, Depression-era cultural references, the mildly risqué gestures and badinage of pre-Production Code Hollywood. There are bright spots in the anthology, such as Eric Shoag’s sprightly appreciation of Tracy and Joan Bennett’s romance in Me and My Gal and Jeremy Bond’s interpretation of The Face in the Sky as “a reverse Wizard of Oz” in which “no place is as bad as home.” Charles Morrow’s fine study of Tracy as a comedic actor is a high point—a sharply written, aesthetically engaged retrospective that blends shrewd criticism with a vivid evocation of the actor’s onscreen presence.

The many indifferent, sophomoric essays here will give Tracy fans information about his early work; the best ones will give them reasons to see it.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2009

ISBN: 978-1436341387

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2011

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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