Awards Circuit Book Nook for April 2015

NOW IN THEATERS

Child44Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Stalinist Russia is a time of fear and paranoia. Where the simple act of loving one’s family too much can make a person a subversive, where even murder is considered impossible. Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is a member of the police force whose love for his wife (Noomi Rapace) threatens his job. Outcast and exiled, Leo decides to take a chance by solving a series of violent child murders. This is the first book in a series of Leo Demidov mysteries and, without seeing the movie, it’s already a hard sell to audiences. The trailers play up the child murders as being the entirety of the plot when that’s not the case in the novel. There’s two disparate halves to the novel: the murders and Leo’s issues inside the police force, the MGB, that puts him at odds with a younger member of the force (set to be played by Joel Kinnamen); this latter half of the story is where the relationship dynamics between Leo and his wife, Raisa, are explored. Smith’s prose is clean, intriguing, and historically verbose. There’s a near dystopian feel to the world of Stalinist Russia. It’s hard believing that this type of world truly existed. With such dense history and a layered plot, audiences expecting a straightforward murder mystery will be disappointed. This fear of what to market could explain why the trailers seem a taste off. Hopefully, the movie will keep the relationship dynamics intact – there’s a great female role for Rapace if Raisa’s character remains intact – as well as the slow buildup. Speaking of, the slow build-up is absolutely necessary to prevent the novel’s third act from feeling like it comes out of left field. The response to this will be interesting, to say the least. After reading this first novel, I’m interested to see the film more than I originally was, and I’m tempted to read the remaining books in the series.

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks

Okay, so I expected very little from anything written by the “master” of the romance genre, Mr. Nicholas Sparks. I LongestRideBookread this book purely so that I knew what I was getting into with the upcoming film, and to say that I truly can tell you why the man is awful at writing. Despite writing for women, his books are always about men…he’s just a more coy about it. The Longest Ride tells two contrasting stories: one, involving an old man trapped in his car after an accident, recounting his life to his dead wife; the other a prototypical “young lovers” story involving a city girl (and Sparks loves to remind us how everyone not from the South is a “city” person) and a bull rider. Based on the trailers, I’m assuming about 80% of the book has been changed, which is a good thing. The story of the elderly Ira (set to be played by Alan Alda) has grist, but his wife is written to sound like a robot, and the movie is playing up some type of romance between his younger self (played by Jack Huston) that’s missing entirely in the novel. I’m assuming they just retained the basic outline of the characters but removed the narrative device of him being trapped in a car. Other that, the young lovers story is shallow and sugary with a female character who finds it humorous to make bulimia jokes, meanwhile she developed anorexia over being dumped but that’s acceptable, and a guy who makes John Wayne look progressive. By the end, Sparks wraps up a story with a bow so convenient, death is actually a surprise. I’ve read my fair share of Sparks books, but this shows that he’s an author well-aware that anytime he puts pen to paper, someone will eat it up.

ALSO ON BOOK SHELVES NOW

The Bewitched Continuum by Adam Michael-JamesBewitched

Normally, I limit myself to reviewing classic films only, but I do have a soft spot for certain classic television shows. One show that continues to see books written on it is Bewitched. Author Adam-Michael James expands the universe, if one could be said to exist, with The Bewitched Continuum, an encyclopedic examination of the Bewitched series. Unlike most encyclopedias, James reviews every episode, chronologically, examining plot holes, character interactions, the works, reminding us of the questions regular viewers of weekly television – before Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon ruined everything – always found ourselves asking. The “continuum” element separates this from other encyclopedia books aimed at television. By approaching events linearly, James brings up call-backs to past episodes in future ones, as well as examines the contradictory elements of certain things. Because of the way shows were produced, it was assumed audiences wouldn’t instantly recall whether Samantha wears the same outfit two episodes in a row, or that their living room furniture changes based on the mandates of the plot. As someone who grew up on sitcoms, I also found myself wondering where characters disappeared to – look at the countless friends Darrin had, who showed up in one episode, never to be seen again – or why continuity was never strictly adhered to.The critical reader will see this as a compendium of nitpicks, but it’s fascinating that someone else notices the small changes I noticed.

Worthy of an Adaptation?: Hollywood’s tried to work with revamped versions of Bewitched; the best (best being a relative term) known version being the 2005 version starring Nicole Kidman. With plans for a television reboot coming I’d like to see a straightforward retelling of the show, maybe using the pilot? Shirley MacLaine always made my list as the perfect Endora, while Naomi Watts might be a good Samantha.

CompanyofLegendsIn the Company of Legends by Joan Kramer and David Heeley (Available April 16th)

Documentarians Joan Kramer and David Heeley have had opportunities most of us classic film fans can only dream of. In their time working for companies like PBS and our beloved Turner Broadcasting (home of TCM), they’ve created enduring documentaries on the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, and Errol Flynn. Now, they’re taking the stories seen while filming their work, and putting it down in the riveting tome, In the Company of Legends. With the TCM Classic Film Festival in a few days, it’s kind of a shame these two aren’t there, as the book is a compulsive read, filled with stories about several classic stars, so many that it’s surprising these two had the opportunity to meet them all! In the Company of Legends isn’t necessarily a biography, as it isn’t detailing Kramer and Heeley’s rise to documentary fame. Nor is it an expose on the inner workings of the documentary field, lifting the veil to see how these actors truly were when the cameras stopped rolling. In its way, the book is an oral history as perceived by two very lucky filmmakers. Each tells sections of their story in their own voice, as if you’re listening to an audio commentary or having a conversation. Several of the celebrities discussed sound exactly like how you would imagine: Katharine Hepburn’s assertive style – culminating in a hilarious story about someone spilling jam on her couch cushions; the struggles of getting Olivia de Havilland to open up about Errol Flynn; or, Jimmy Stewart’s continual need to make sure Johnny Carson wasn’t being put out by his narrating a documentary on Stewart. The fact that dialogue can be recreated, blends the line between narrative and documentary-style, opening up the story for the audience to hear the numerous voices involved. I can only imagine sitting down with these stars, many of them filmed in their own homes, and hearing their stories. Kramer and Heeley got to live the dream!

Worthy of an Adaptation?: There’s definitely a My Week with Marilyn feel to the text that might be enough to inspire a movie about two documentarians struggling to  get the ungettable subject (maybe Cary Grant!).