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  • Jeff Somers 7:30 pm on 2017/11/09 Permalink
    Tags: , Movies, , ,   

    10 Absolutely Essential Agatha Christie Novels 

    Tomorrow, Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express chugs into theaters with a full head of steam, and naturally, there’s been an accompanying surge of interest in the source material—perhaps the most famous of mystery master Agatha Christie’s long and stories career.

    But then, when aren’t millions of people obsessing over the fiendish cases concocted by the Grand Dame of mysteries? Every day, someone discovers her for the first time. After all, to read one Christie book is to want to read them all. Christie was a genius. She played fair with the reader even as she constructed diabolical plots loaded with so many plausible red herrings and misdirections, it’s often impossible to predict whodunnit it on your first read.

    Ah, but those first reads are glorious. If you’ve never read a Christie novel before, or if you’re simply looking to read for the cream of the crop, here are our picks for the 10 Agatha Christie books every mystery buff simply must read.

    The Murder of Roger Akroyd
    Still the greatest twist ever in the history of mystery stories, bar none. The controversy over whether Christie plays fair with the reader rages to this day—but anyone arguing that she doesn’t is just dealing with sour grapes after having their mind blown, because a reread will demonstrate that Christie never cheats with this story of a wealthy widower who is murdered in a small English town. Anyone unspoiled reader who claims to guess who the killer is before the final reveal is almost certainly lying.

    The ABC Murders
    Christie was still experimenting with form in this 1936 novel, mixing first- and third-person narration to add new levels of twisty complexity. Her legendary Inspector Hercule Poirot receives three letters detailing the serial murders of people whose initials are A.A., B.B., and C.C., and the race is on to solve the riddle before the fourth victim is killed. Containing one of the most audacious red herrings in mystery history, this novel’s solution establishes a trope Christie more or less invented, and is still used to this day by writers seeking to throw readers off the scent.

    Murder on the Orient Express
    One of Christie’s most famous novels for a reason, it remains a part of modern pop culture for two reasons: one, the devious twist behind the solution to the murder, and two, the sumptuous descriptions of a train ride, and a lifestyle long vanished from the world (while there are still train rides labeled “Orient Express,” they are mere recreations for tourists). It’s was a slower, more elegant world (assuming you had the money), and long before CSI came along to put the brilliant detectives like Poirot out of business—but in the end, it’s that absolutely amazing twist that makes this such an incredible read, even today.

    And Then There Were None
    It’s a simple premise: eight people are invited to a remote island under various pretenses, trapped there, and murdered one-by-one as punishment for past crimes they’d seemingly gotten away with. The result is widely regarded as Christie’s best book, and is today the most popular mystery novel of all time, with more than 100 million copies sold. Christie also named this book the most difficult of her novels to plan and write, which makes perfect sense once you’ve discovered the solution. The level of intricacy involved in pulling this one off makes it an absolute must-read.

    Hercule Poirot, the fussy, fearless Belgian detective who was Christie’s greatest creation, meets his final case. Although Christie’s writing had suffered a serious decline by the time this novel was published (just a year before her death), it’s one of her strongest works, with a twist that catches every Poirot fan off guard. This may be because Christie actually wrote it 30 years before, when she worried that World War II might, well, kill her. She wrote Poirot’s last case—setting it in the same location as his first—and locked it in a vault, bringing it out only when she knew she had no more novels in her.

    Death on the Nile
    One of Christie’s twistiest puzzles is set during a holiday in Egypt, where Hercule Poirot meets a couple being stalked by the husband’s former lover. The couple books a cruise down the Nile to escape the woman, but she follows (as does Poirot). Several murders are committed on board, including the murder of the unfortunate wife. As each crime occurs, the sense of danger and paranoia increases to a level almost impossible to withstand. It seems impossible it will all fit together in any sort of sane way—but once again, Christie proves to be smarter than all of us.

    Endless Night
    Probably the last really good book Christie wrote before her natural decline took away her genius, this is also the novel Christie herself named her favorite. Published in 1967, it’s a dark story that puts the detection in the background, as the crime is revealed to the reader only partway through. Instead, it’s a fascinating study of greed, guilt, and desperation that proves beyond a doubt that Christie was not only a great designer of mysteries, but a flat-out great writer.

    Peril at End House
    Another Poirot adventure, this one finds him investigating a series of crimes at a country estate called End House, and pivots on one of Christie’s smartest misdirections. Let’s just say always you have to be on guard against your own assumptions when reading Christie. This is one of those books where the solution almost makes everything seem too obvious—if not for the fact that, a few pages before the reveal, the atmosphere was tense with mystery, and finding the truth seemed nearly impossible.

    The Mysterious Affair at Styles
    The very first Hercule Poirot case (and Christie’s first published novel overall) is also one of her best, a story that captures a long-gone time and place—in this case, England, immediately following World War I]. A classic mystery setup sees a wealthy woman poisoned, and Poirot, a recent refugee from Belgium, called on by a friend to assist in solving the crime. As Christie’s first novel, it’s a little more concerned with scene setting and description than some of her more efficient later works, but it’s a satisfying mystery all the same, and introduces one of the greatest detective characters of all time.

    The Murder at the Vicarage
    In the first novel to feature Christie’s other famous detective, Miss Marple, someone everyone in town wanted dead turns up murdered, and there is not one but two confessors to the crime. Miss Marple is a fantastic creation—a seemingly mild, unexceptional old woman whose keen intellect catches clues others miss and makes deductive leaps others would never dream of. The determined, gentle pressure of her investigative techniques eventually bring out the truth—which is naturally something Christie made very plain, but which readers almost always misconstrue. It’s a classic.

    The post 10 Absolutely Essential Agatha Christie Novels appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2016/10/21 Permalink
    Tags: bombs away, final cut, Movies, , the godfather notebook, the jaws log   

    Great Books about Box Office Disasters and Movie Triumphs 

    Sometimes discussions about movies turns into an exercise in capitalism—box office receipts, skyrocketing budgets, and Tom Cruise’s salary. While crunching the numbers can be illuminating, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that films are art—art that requires cohesive collaboration between dozens of people in order to succeed, or even make it to the screen. The stories behind some of Hollywood’s most famous hits (and bombs) are just as interesting as what makes the final cut. These five books touch on some of the most famous films ever made, and offer a fascinating glimpse into the way the Hollywood sausage gets made.

    The Godfather Notebook, by Francis Ford Coppola
    Everybody loves Coppola’s classic films The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II. (The third film…exists), and we still read the bestselling Mario Puzo novels that inspired them. This remarkable book doesn’t repeat the well-analyzed process of making those films, but rather goes back even further, reprinting the notes Coppola made while reading Puzo’s novel—long before he began working on a script or assembling a cast and crew. It’s a glimpse into the most fundamental aspect of adapting a novel for the screen, and offers insight into how a genius like Coppola translates the literary into the visual. One thing is certain: anyone who reads it will never watch these classic films in the same way again.

    The Devil’s Candy, by Julie Salamon
    How do you take a bestselling, award-winning novel by one of America’s greatest writers—a book that dominated pop culture for years—and a host of top-tier Hollywood talent, and create a film that is widely considered one of the worst adaptations ever made? Salamon details the incredible story of failure at the highest levels in the 1990 adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. With the book’s incredible success and reputation, stars like Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, and a director like Brian De Palma, a hit movie should have been guaranteed—but instead, it went on to be an epic flop. Salamon details the troubled production, including De Palma’s inability to control his stars, and the incredible amount of money wasted on meaningless shots and unnecessary details. Studio meddling to change dialog and other details of story didn’t help, either. All in all, The Devil’s Candy is an instruction book on just how difficult and complex a Hollywood production can be.

    Final Cut, by Steven Bach
    The film studio United Artists was founded in 1919 by Charlie Chapman and other stars. It collapsed 60 years later, largely due to the cost overruns of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate. This book, written by UA’s senior vice president and head of worldwide production at the time, details the incredible waste of money involved, the chaos on set that resulted in expensive scenes being unusable for various technical reasons, and a director convinced of his own genius. The film debuted to disastrous reviews and ticket sales, and Cimino’s reputation as a rising star in Hollywood was forever destroyed—along with United Artists itself. Today Heaven’s Gate is a code word for failure, and Final Cut explains how that came to be.

    Rebel without a Crew, by Robert Rodriguez
    Rodriguez has never really realized the potential shown in his first films, but the story of how he made his breakout Spanish-language picture, El Mariachi, for just $7,000 is one of those Hollywood legends that gives young filmmakers hope. In this book, Rodriguez details how the film was partially funded by participating in clinical medical trials, and how he didn’t try to record ambient sound while filming, knowing he’d need to dub all sound in during post-production, and how he used water guns in some scenes when he couldn’t afford to have enough real guns on set. Inspirational to any artist lacking a budget, the story also enhances the experience of watching the original film—especially considering how polished the final product turned out to be.

    The Jaws Log, by Carl Gottlieb
    Jaws was a revolutionary film in many ways, aside from serving as the launching pad for Steven Spielberg. While struggling with problems with the mechanical shark, Spielberg reworked most of author Peter Benchley’s script, bringing in his friend Carl Gottlieb to do a dialogue polish (because Spielberg thought the script lacked humor). Gottlieb wound up significantly revising the script, and eventually received full credit for the screenplay. In this book, Gottlieb recounts a chaotic, over-budget Hollywood production that surprisingly didn’t fail, underscoring the peculiar genius of Steven Spielberg, who managed to hold everything together despite all the problems.

    The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sistero and Tom Bissel
    There is genius like Spielberg’s, and then there is…well, whatever Tommy Wiseau has. The mysterious weirdo behind the infamously bad “adult drama” The Room, which became a cult bad movie sensation almost immediately upon its release in 2003m Wiseau has never revealed any concrete details about his past, or where he got the money to make a movie starring himself, with an unintelligible script (which he wrote) that peppers a nonsensical story of romantic betrayal with odd subplots about drug-dealing simpletons, touch football, and an overly effusive florist. We’re selling itshort: the only way to truly appreciate the madness of The Room is to see it…or to read this nigh-unbelievable account of one of its stars, Greg Sistero, who was a struggling young actor when cast in the film, which was quickly revealed to be not a dream job, but an exercise in navigating purgatory. It’s a story so crazy, they’re making it into a movie. Oh hai, cinematic infamy.


    The post Great Books about Box Office Disasters and Movie Triumphs appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Kat Rosenfield 7:30 pm on 2016/08/09 Permalink
    Tags: , Movies, , ,   

    6 Stephen King Adaptations to Watch Now (or Get Stoked For) 

    Stephen King is one of the world’s most prolific authors — but even he can’t write fast enough to satisfy the appetites of his biggest fans. Fortunately, there’s an answer for that: the ever-expanding collection of King books that were, are, or will be adapted for movies or television.

    Although many a Stephen King novel, novella, or short story has found its way to screens big and small over the years, the author is having arguably his biggest moment in Hollywood yet. Two fresh adaptations of his work are available for your viewing pleasure right this minute, and another four are coming down the pike. Below, we’ve rounded up all the titles getting some well-deserved screen buzz.

    The story of a signal, sent via cell phone, that turns everyone who hears it into part of a murderous hive mind, Cell features an all-star cast that includes The Hunger Games‘ Isabelle Fuhrman; it also stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson reteaming up for their second King movie (they starred together in 1408, adapted from a short story in Everything’s Eventual, back in 2007.) Out on demand and in select theaters now, Cell had a rocky road from conception to screen—but as adaptations of King’s novels go, it’s not a bad little movie, particularly in a signature moment involving a gasoline truck and a snoozing flock of phone zombies.

    This terrifying tale of seven tweens who reunite as adults to battle an unspeakable, ancient evil was adapted once already as a TV miniseries—which unfortunately failed to age well, making the upcoming release of a new It a timely entry on the pop culture landscape (not to mention the perfect way to introduce a whole new generation to a well-founded phobia of clowns.) This time, the giant book is being split into two feature films, the first of which hits theaters in September 2017. Fun fact: kid actor Finn Wolfhard, who was so awesome as the wide-eyed hero of the very ’80s, very King-inspired Stranger Things, is part of this production, too.

    The Dark Tower
    After stagnating forever in development, this year brought some big news for fans of King’s magnum opus fantasy series: amovie is finally in the making, and some serious stars are being brought on board. The first of what will hopefully be many movies set in the Dark Tower alternaworld, where Gunslinger Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba) hunts the appallingly evil figure known only as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), is slated for a 2017 release.

    The Stand
    The good news is, King’s epic postapocalyptic novel about a flu epidemic that wipes out 99% of the American population is being developed into a feature film—or two, or maybe even four. The bad news is, the adaptation is in a holding pattern while filmmakers try to figure out how (and whether) to break up the mega-long book into multiple movies, or whether to start it out on TV and segue into a feature-length film, or…well, the options are limitless, and that’s part of the problem. However, there may be one bright side to the delays: By the time the movie gets made, Matthew McConaughey might be available to take on the role of villain Randall Flagg (because as any Stephen King fan worth his salt knows, Flagg and the Man in Black should really be played by the same fellow.)

    While The Stand sits in limbo, its scriptwriter isn’t sitting still. Josh Boone, personally selected by Stephen King to pen the movie adaptation of The Stand, has already gone ahead and begun developing another of the author’s novels: Revival, a terrifying story of religious fanaticism, scientific experimentation, and two men battling different kinds of demons. There’s no studio attached to the script yet, but considering Boone’s clout in Hollywood (he also directed The Fault in Our Stars), you’ll likely be seeing it in theaters sooner rather than later.

    King’s brick of a novel about a 21st-century schoolteacher who goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK is a perfect encapsulation of why it’s so hard to adapt his books as feature films—and this TV serial take on 11/22/63 shows why the author’s sprawling plots and peculiar pacing are basically made for an eight-episode format. The Hulu original stars James Franco in a perfectly frantic performance as hero Jake Epping, and draws out the drama almost as well as its source material. (If you hurry, you can still catch this one for free before Hulu phases into its subscription-only model.)

  • Kat Rosenfield 3:00 pm on 2016/08/01 Permalink
    Tags: , art imitating life, , , Colette, iris murdoch, , mary wollstonecraft, Movies, , ,   

    The Bell Jar Gets a Movie, and 5 More Biopics About Women Writers 

    Sylvia Plath is one of modern literature’s most celebrated, complicated women, which is why it’s astonishing that it has taken this long for her famed novel The Bell Jar to get an outing in Hollywood (unless you count the awful, unsuccessful 1979 attempt by an all-male writing and directing team to adapt the novel for the screen…and really, it would be best for all of us if we just pretend that never happened.)

    But now, per a report from Deadline, The Bell Jar is finally getting the movie adaptation it deserves, with Kirsten Dunst directing and Dakota Fanning in the starring role of Esther Greenwood—a character who’s more or less an avatar for Plath herself in the largely autobiographical story about a young woman struggling with mental illness.

    Production on the movie won’t start until early next year, so it’ll be awhile yet before we see whether Dunst and her crew can do this story justice. But knowing that the lives of fierce literary ladies tend to make for great movies (when they’re done right), we’re feeling optimistic! Consider these five grand dames of literature who have gotten (or are about to get) a big-screen outing.

    Virginia Woolf
    Although The Hours was written by a man, it was Virginia Woolf’s life and legacy that inspired the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel—and when the novel was adapted for film, it was Nicole Kidman’s searing performance as the author that won the Academy Award.

    Mary Wollstonecraft
    While big sister Dakota is gearing up to play Plath’s heroine, Elle Fanning has signed on to star in a biopic of another awesome woman writer: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, founding mother of feminism and author of the seminal sci-fi novel Frankenstein. That movie, A Storm in the Stars, will be out later this year.

    Jane Austen
    It is a truth universally acknowledged that the makers of Becoming Jane probably took a few liberties vis-a-vis the seriousness of Jane Austen’s IRL romance with Thomas Langlois Lefroy, but that’s probably because so frustratingly little is known about the personal life of the woman who introduced the world to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy that even the most knowledgeable Austen biographers have had to fill in the blanks.

    Colette’s novels, Cheri and The Last of Cheri, have already been made into a delicious (and highly underrated) film starring Michelle Pfeiffer as an aging courtesan and Rupert Friend as the bratty, beautiful title character, but the writer herself had a fascinating life—which will be the subject of an upcoming biopic starring Keira Knightley.

    Iris Murdoch
    The Irish writer—who penned more than two dozen novels, four books of philosophy, five plays, and a libretto before succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease in 1999—was portrayed as a young woman by Kate Winslet and an old one by Judi Dench in the 2001 biopic Iris. In addition to being a literary powerhouse, Murdoch was one half of a fascinating, eccentric literary power couple (not unlike Plath was with Ted Hughes); her husband, John Bayley, wrote the memoir that served as source material for the movie about her life.

  • Kat Rosenfield 3:15 pm on 2016/07/15 Permalink
    Tags: , children's classic, , Movies, , ,   

    Ranking Every Roald Dahl Movie 

    This month, a very big kidlit-to-film adaptation came galloping into theaters: Steven Spielberg’s long-awaited take on Roald Dahl’s classic, The BFG. And thanks to a loyal script and Spielberg’s willingness to leave the signature darkness of Dahl’s stories pretty much intact, the big-screen version of The BFG is, by all accounts, a whizz-popping good time.

    But while Spielberg’s take on Dahl’s giant story is being very well-received, fans of the author’s work were understandably nervous going in—because previous adaptations of Dahl’s books have been decidedly hit or miss. Below, we’ve ranked them all, from the ones that left much to be desired to the nearly perfect cinematic triumphs.

    The Witches
    As a book, The Witches was magnificently creepy. As a film? Alas, nope. Despite Angelica Huston’s best efforts, the witches in the screen version came across as bumbling idiots rather than dreadful, formidable foes; the slapstick humor was overdone; and the whole thing capped off with a made-for-Hollywood ending that totally denied the bittersweet flavor of the book. But one thing does make The Witches potentially worth a rewatch: Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey makes a surprise appearance, in a brief role as a hotel chef with a mouse down his trousers.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    Tim Burton’s second outing as a Dahl adapter was, alas, the less successful of his efforts. Although the weird and wonderful visuals were…well, weird and wonderful, and the production hewed pretty closely to the original book, Johnny Depp’s unsettling take on Wonka was a sour note amidst all that delicious chocolate.

    You’ve got to love this movie for its A-plus casting—of the Trunchbull, particularly—and wildly entertaining take on the book’s forced cake-eating scene, both of which nearly made up for a script that didn’t quite capture the unique and oddly intellectual flavor of the original Matilda. Bonus points for Mara Wilson, who was not only a very capable Matilda, but grew up to be a lot like the character in some truly delightful ways.

    James and the Giant Peach
    Tim Burton was a producer on this film, and his signature claymation was the perfect vehicle for a retelling of Dahl’s twisted fantasy about a boy who goes inside the aforementioned giant peach and befriends the giant bugs who live inside it. Add in a score (complete with original songs) by Randy Newman, and you’ve got some solid entertainment, even if it’s only reasonably faithful to the book.

    Fantastic Mr. Fox
    Based on concept alone, Fantastic Mr. Fox is not just the best of the Dahl adaptations, but possibly one of the greatest movies ever made in the entire history of film. Oscar winners George Clooney and Meryl Streep as the heads of the titular Fox family; Bill Murray as a badger lawyer; a script cowritten by Noah Baumbach; and none other than Wes Anderson spearheading the effort? Be still our beating hipster hearts! But despite its charms—and it had a lot of charms—the film fell victim to the same fate of so many others on this list, falling shy of capturing the unique darkness at the heart of Roald Dahl’s original book. It was, however, still quite good.

    Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
    Forty years of doing Dahl onscreen, and you still can’t beat the original: The 1971 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Despite not adhering particularly closely to the source material—and being loathed by the author himself—this movie has everything that matters in a Roald Dahl adaptation, from the wildly imaginative visuals to the unrestrainedly harsh life lessons. But its reasons for placing at the top of this list can be summed up in two words: Gene Wilder. His performance perfectly captured the mercurial-bordering-on-malicious nature of the titular character in a way that remains unparalleled—and the image of him standing like Charon the ferryman, reciting slam poetry at the bow of that boat careening through a psychedelic tunnel, continues to both thrill and terrify us in equal measure.

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