Book Review: Stephen King Goes to the Movies

On occasion when I read a book that links either tenuously or directly to film I will review it here.

When Stephen King Goes to the Movies was initially set to be published the impression that it gave was of a book that would be as much a memoir/behind-the-scenes as it would be a regurgitation of some of his better known tales. After it was published it became clear that a great majority of its 600-plus pages were just the tales reprinted. It seems as if it was a book churned out to meet with some contractual obligation (i.e. more the publisher’s idea than King’s), which is not to dismiss it entirely, but a writer so prolific releasing an anthology of previously published works is not that common.

Of course, anyone unfamiliar with The Mangler, Hearts in Atlantis: Low Men in Yellow Coats, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, 1408 and Children of the Corn this volume will be well worth checking out. Those of you who have read those tales it is suggested you merely take the book out on loan from the public library and read the brief introductions that accompany each tale in the book.

Not to say that there isn’t some entertainment value in these introductions. King remains, as always, humorous, humble, and at times, self-deprecating. While you do get very good insights in small doses it is nowhere near the amount of detail he could’ve provided say if he had profiled his story Trucks and subsequently his directing of the cinematic adaptation of it, Maximum Overdrive.

Perhaps the epitome of the lack of detail in the book is that in the table of contents you see a page designation for Stephen’s Ten Favorite Adaptations of his work. When you turn to the aforementioned page literally all you get is the 10 titles listed and no commentary as to why these stand out, except for the rare case of coincidence where one story was included in this collection and thus got an introduction.

Again there are things to be gleaned from it. Just reading through it very quickly created four pages worth of notes based on the facts and opinions learned. It’s just not worth dropping eight bucks for the paperback when libraries are still free. Even if it is just a glorified “New Foreword by the Author” edition of many of these stories give it a read and knowing exactly what to expect your opinion may thus be enhanced, there is some gold in dem darn pages just not as much as there could be.

Book Review- The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary

You never know what you’re going to get when you purchase a book that ties into the release of a film that purports to be a diary or some other kind of making of chronicle. Some I flip through are quite flimsy (like alleged shooting scripts with too many photos and goofy formatting), some are quite great (like the Hugo companion). Usually, the book being written by the author of the adapted book is a good indicator.

Thus, what surprised me most about Jeff Kinney’s book about The Diary of a Wimpy Kid wasn’t that I liked it (though I have not read the books, only saw the films) but how detailed it is, yet also accessible. Kinney describes much of the filmmaking process through all three phases of production simply yet precisely. However, aside from tricks of the trade, he also makes the journey personal discussing both his journey with the character and the books and then the films. He goes on to include a bit about the affinity and coincidences in chronology that exist between Gregg Heffley and Zachary Gordon, the actor who plays the role.

Here again you also have another author discuss why changes were made to the narrative when transcribing it to the screen and being fully in support of them. However, Kinney has perhaps the simplest, most bulletproof fanboy block of them all “If everything that happened in the book happened in the movie why would you want to see it?” He also talks about the difficulty in casting Gregg because he recognized that the character had to start as severely flawed but still likable and I believe that balance was struck.

Aside from the specifics of the productions, which prove that movie-making is always hard work (as if that needed proving) I really liked getting a glimpse into the creative process, which is shown not just on Kinney’s part but the first film’s director and the young cast (Gordon and Robert Capron wrote essays as their characters, which are dead on). Aside from the insight that illustrate how the film came into being I think this really is a great book for kids. If they already like the series and are interested in seeing how movies are made you won’t find the elements of production explained more directly, plus discussing concepts in conjunction with a film they’ve seen make it easier to learn.

This is a quick, enjoyable read that is worth seeking out for fans of the series or if you’re just looking to get your feet wet learning the basics of filmmaking. The edition I read had some Rodrick Rules content added but it wasn’t a significant amount so I wouldn’t hold out for a second update and just get it now if you’re interested.

Book Review- The Complete Greed

There isn’t too much I can personally say about The Complete Greed that hasn’t already been said by those cited on the back cover of the book, namely: The New Yorker, Fritz Lang, Take One, Sight & Sound, Maurice Bessy (at the time director of The Cannes Film Festival), Henri Langlois (at the time curator of the Cinémathèque Française), Peter Bogdanovich and Jean Renoir.

However, one unique perspective is that I, unlike all those cited on the back of the book, have yet to see the extant, eviscerated version of Greed. I remember my interest being piqued in film school but also accompanied by a built-in reticence to see something that was less than von Stroheim’s grandiose vision for it. That combined with the fact that it is currently only available via re-seller on VHS in the US has put it low on the priority list for me. However, when I was on Amazon one day and saw that a used, though in great shape, copy of this book was available for the staggeringly low price of $4 I had to jump on it.

After having read it I must say it is quite a feat indeed. Having never seen the film I now feel like I have and what’s more it conveyed both the wonder of the story as it exists and the agony of the seeing the version the world has been robbed of.

The more complete cuts of Greed are among the holiest of holy grails in the film world. I now have a sense as to why that is and add that to a growing list of cuts I wish to see unearthed.

Book Review- Through a Glass Darkly by Jenny Worton

With book reviews I will typically limit myself to books that are about a film, filmmaking or filmmakers. However, there will be the occasional tangential exception and this is one of them. Through a Glass Darkly is one of the most famous films by Ingmar Bergman, but many of his films are very adaptable to the stage, and already have been either while Bergman was living or through the Ingmar Bergman Foundation.

Bergman himself was also every bit as much a man of the theatre as he was of the cinema. As for the adaptation it is written by Jenny Worton and the first thing of note is that it is easier to recommend for fans of Bergman and the piece. I picked up this brisk 72-page play at The Drama Book Shop for $18, which is not cheap so that’s the first grain of salt with which to take the play.

However, for the most part the play does manage to translate the palpable drama of the tale from screen to stage. There are a few head scratching decisions though; the story is neither moved in time or locale but there are I believe three profanities, only one of which really rings true given the situation. There is also the occasional awkward piece of dialogue, but for the most part it reads like Bergman’s tale. It must also be stated that the edition I read has a disclaimer within it that states dialogue may have altered between rehearsal process and debut.

There’s also the double-edged sword of sparse scene description, which gives productions a bit of freedom but also can at times catch the reader unawares as certain scenes perhaps seemed more minimalist at first and then developed.

Another pet peeve of minimal importance is that the biblical quote that inspired the title is nowhere to be found. In the film there is a title card at the start, but here there’s no textual allusion to it at all. No food for thought, only an assumption that we may know it. Now, this may be the playwright not wishing to impose some sort of multimedia aspect on anyone seeking to produce it. However, that is becoming more common in the theatre and might be a nice touch.

Granted it’s not Bergman adapting himself, which would be ideal, but it is a very good take on the tale. If you’re a fan of Bergman or the theatre it is worth looking into indeed in spite of a steep price.

Book Review- The Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein

Eisenstein’s The Film Sense is a book I had never even seen in print anywhere before. I happened to find it when I was in Brazil searching through a rather large bookstore’s film section. You know a bookstore is good when you find many foreign language offerings, and I was able to pick up quite a few film texts in English there.

Sergei Eisenstein is likely the only filmmaker whose work as a theorist is of equal importance. Aside from spear-heading montage as the defining element of film, he wrote extensively about it and it’s all brilliant stuff. His angle in this book is tremendous. In it he seeks to create a “film sense” by drawing on elements of other art forms. Much of the writing actually does have to do with music as he is discussing how incorporating sound and music will co-exist with picture cutting.

There are many brilliant talking points. First, he touches on word and image, which is similar to a touched upon topic in Film Form, here he examines examples of montage in other artforms. Then he talks about synchronization of the senses, which is how film can, will and should play on all our senses, especially given this new development. In a perhaps revolutionary way he also discusses color in literature and in music and relates it to film, even though at this writing color was an abstract concept seen in shades of gray.

The writing flows beautifully and is just brilliant in terms of observation and the sources from which he draws. He illustrates how cinema must be the culmination of all other artforms and draw from them. I will admit it gets a bit dense with the both the in depth musical discussion, as I am more intuitive rather than well-versed there, and a bit with the montage flow diagrams and shots, having seen some of the films helps but the point does usually come across regardless.

Also, this is a rare book where the appendices are not only a must read but brilliant. They include: shot sheets, treatment sections of un-produced works, outlines and a very detailed bibliography for further reading.

All in all this is a fantastic book that is worth seeking out for serious aestheticians, filmmakers and film students. I found it endlessly fascinating such that I made many notes and underlined significantly and considered further analysis of the text but will leave it as this brief recommendation instead.

Book Review- Asterix and Obelix: The Book of the Film

Asterix and the Vikings (M6 Films)

Whenever possible I always like to address what the grain of salt is that my reader should keep in mind when reading a piece. In this scenario the grain of salt is: I like reading but I don’t as much as I should, and it’s likely impossible for me to read as much as I want to. So my experience is a little lacking but there’s another caveat here and that is this: this is essentially a novelization with a twist.

Now, novelizations are a bit passé and if I recall correctly I’ve only ever read a few. What was interesting and irresistible here is: first, I was at Disney World when I spotted it. Second, it’s Asterix and an animated film, which I said is where the franchise should go (little did I know it had been there before).

Now, it’s a hand-drawn (in terms of style if not technique), 2D film and that’s fine with me. I’d still love to see these characters and others get the motion-capture treatment as Tintin truly was a huge step forward for the technology to me, far greater than Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Regardless, the fact that this film is animated means there are stills and illustrations in the book and it gives you a fair glimpse of what the film is like and that’s the idea: to conquer viewers for the film through another medium and this film succeeds in that task.

The images are plentiful, fairly well-selected and importantly are chasing the text, so the pictures don’t forecast the text but reflect it an allow the book to tell the tale.

As with any Asterix title, there are laughs to be had but most of it does come through the prose, which is impressive since the pictographic nature of the usual tale Uderzo and Goscinny tell is somewhat altered here.

The story also runs about as long as a typical Asterix tale 45 pages or so, but the bonus is that there are character, sketches and other making of illustrations and text that give you insight into the making of this film.

It may not be available on region 1 DVD but where there’s a computer there’s a way and this book has certainly made me want to seek this film out. Mission accomplished.

Asterix & Obelix (Clement)