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Category: Film

It started as a book: 'Savages' by Don Winslow

This weekend Oliver Stone's "Savages" hits screens with a stylish amount of uber-violence and a star-filled lineup that includes John Travolta, Blake Lively, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek. It'll certainly be something to watch.

Two years ago, it was something to read. Don Winslow's stylish, fast-paced SoCal noir follows the story of a territorial struggle between powerful Mexican drug interests and two American pot growers, whose mutual girlfriend gets kidnapped. Rescue efforts ensue.

When the book was published, the L.A. Times called it a "marvelous, adrenaline-juiced roller coaster of a novel." Our reviewer wrote, "Winslow buffs the surface to high gloss only to dirty things up pretty fast." One of the pot growers, Chon, "has always known that there are two worlds: The savage/the less savage."

At Grantland, John Lopez asked Winslow how he wrote the characters so well. "A lot of it’s just hanging around Laguna Beach and listening," Winslow says. "It’s funny sometimes — my editors from the East Coast don’t believe this. And I say, 'You know what, get on an airplane, I’ll pick you up at John Wayne Airport, and if I can’t take you to these people in 45 minutes, you win.'"

In the short time since the movie was announced, Winslow went back to the keyboard and returned to the characters in "Savages." That book, "The Kings of Cool," makes its debut on the L.A. Times bestseller list this Sunday. It's a prequel to "Savages."

“I wanted to tell an origins story," Winslow told KPCC's Madeleine Brand. "And I wanted to tell a story about families. When people are faced with a really hard choice between their biological families and their friends, sort of family that they’ve created on their own which is what happens in 'The Kings of Cool,' people have to choose. And that to me was a really attractive story."

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher: See Lee Child's antihero [video]

When Tom Cruise was cast as Jack Reacher, fans of the tough-guy character created by Lee Child cried foul. In books like "Killing Floor" and "The Hard Way," Reacher is a 6-foot-5-inch antihero, capable of bone-crushing violence. Cruise was not the Reacher readers had in mind. One Jacket Copy commenter wrote, "Tom Cruise could play Reacher's "mini-me" --- otherwise I can't think of anyone more poorly suited to do Reacher. Okay, Woody Allen, but Tom Cruise is #2 with a bullet."

Now that the first trailer is available online, readers can see for themselves: Can Tom Cruise be a convincing Jack Reacher? Or not?

The film was based on the Jack Reacher novel "One Shot," but that won't be its title when it is released this year. It'll be called -- wait for it -- "Jack Reacher."

When the deal was announced, Lee Child spoke to Deadline Hollywood. "Reacher's size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way," he said.

Kenneth Turan wrote about the Jack Reacher novel "Gone Tomorrow" in our pages.

One of the great conceits of the Reacher novels, however, is ... the tendency of the folks he deals with to consistently underestimate him. Unlike Sherlock Holmes or Paul Temple, Reacher is not known to the criminal world, and the bad guys are always telling him, "Stay away from this," "You're out of your depth" and the ever-popular "You got lucky." You want to scream at them, "This is Jack Reacher for pity's sake, he'll eat you for breakfast!" He will, you know, and that's why we keep coming back for more.

So far, readers have; Child has published 13 Jack Reacher novels, which have sold more than 40 million copies. Will fans be as enthusiastic about the film?

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'The Great Gatsby' trailer: yea or nay?

Thegreatgatsby_watching
Baz Luhrman is a visionary filmmaker. His "Moulin Rouge" was a work of art, with its own visual language and bold musical interludes. He set "Romeo + Juliet" in the modern day, with guns, in saturated color. It's fair to say that sometimes his risks pay off, and sometimes they don't.

Now the Australian director has his hands on the classic American novel "The Great Gatsby," which he's remaking not just in his own vision, but in 3-D. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio (who was his Romeo in 1996) as Jay Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as the book's narrator, Nick Carraway, and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan. The trailer debuted Tuesday night, and is below. If you haven't seen it yet and are expecting some twinkly 1920s music, you might want to turn your volume down.

So... yeah. That's certainly a holistic vision. But does it work for Gatsby? What do you think?

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Amitabh Bachchan, Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Great Gatsby." Credit: Warner Bros.

At Guernica, Rebecca Solnit on 'The Hunger Games'

Hungergames_katniss_arrow
I thought I didn't need to read another word on "The Hunger Games." It's a bestselling book for young adults, a blockbuster movie starring an Oscar nominee who wields a bow and arrow, and it's generated almost as much Internet chatter as HBO's "Girls." But then comes Rebecca Solnit and, well, I'm curious.

One of our most interesting contemporary thinkers, Solnit has lately been looking into and beyond the surface of the news to try to understand how people exist together in the world, examining the elements of social cohesion and decay. Her recent books include "Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas," "Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics," and "A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster."

In Guernica, she writes, "science fiction is about the present more than the future, and we do have a new science fiction trilogy that’s perfect for this very moment." That trilogy is, as you can see, "The Hunger Games." She begins with the books themselves:

That these 24 youths battle each other to the death with one lone victor allowed to survive makes it like—and yet not exactly like—high school, that concentration camp for angst and competition into which we force our young....

But really, in this moment, the cruelty of teens to teens is far from the most atrocious thing in the land. The Hunger Games reminds us of that. Its Capitol is, of course, the land of the 1 percent, a sort of amalgamation of Fashion Week, Versailles, and the KGB/CIA. Collins’s timely trilogy makes it clear that the 1 percent, having created a system of deeply embedded cruelty, should go, something highlighted by the surly defiance of heroine Katniss Everdeen—Annie Oakley, Tank Girl, and Robin Hood all rolled into one—who refuses to be disposed of....

Then she turns to point out that the travails faced by Katniss have echoes -- much larger echoes -- in the real world. Like in "The Hunger Games," children from poor families are more likely to serve in the U.S. military, and Solnit points out that thousands of lives have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. She looks at real hunger, at how the burden of student debt is blocking education as a means of social advancement, at climate change and at quiet revolutions worldwide.

Along the way, she also mentions a few books: Bill McKibben's "Eaarth"; Jonathan Schell's "The Unconquerable World"; "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict" by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan; and "News from Nowhere" by William Morris.

"Resistance is one of your obligations," Solnit writes, "but it’s also a pleasure and a way of stealing back hope." Read her complete take on "The Hunger Games" at Guernica.

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Photo: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Murray Close / Lionsgate

Don Delillo's 'Cosmopolis,' via David Cronenberg [video]

So here's this: I am a huge fan of Don Delillo. I would say acolyte, but as far as I know, there is not yet a Church of Delillo where I might light candles and hum reverently. The closest I've gotten is sitting down with one of his books -- any of the, all of them -- and reading.

And David Cronenberg -- well, I may not be as devoted, but I am definitely an admirer, one always eager to see his next film.

But Don Delillo and David Cronenberg together? I'm just not sure. The trailer for "Cosmopolis," starring Robert Pattinson, is above.

In some ways, it's a perfect fit. Both author and filmmaker are masters of dramatic, pared down language; heightened imagery in slightly futuristic setting; and, most importantly, an unrelenting sense of unease.

Yet I sense a problem. The plot goes like this: a billionaire asset manager, who wants a haircut, rides around Manhattan in his limo. And it is not a comedy.

Maybe it's only my problem. When it comes to Delillo, "Cosmopolis" falls at the bottom of this fan's reading list. So I have a hard time imagining why this, of all his amazing stories, is getting to screens.

Maybe in Cronenberg's hands, it'll be transformed -- or maybe the twinned vision from these two will be just fine.

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How did John Cusack get to know Edgar Allan Poe? 'Read'

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Starting Friday, when "The Raven" opens, we can all see John Cusack bring the 19th century writer Edgar Allan Poe to life. The premise of the film seems pretty 21st century: a serial killer is murdering victims in the style of Poe's stories, and the writer sets out to discover who it might be. Yet it actually hearkens back to Poe's work -- he is often credited with inventing the detective novel with stories like "The Murders in the Rue Morgue."

In advance of the film, Cusack is talking about his experiences with playing the notoriously dark-visioned writer. At a film screening Sunday night, the L.A. Times' Ministry of Gossip blog asked Cusack how he got into Poe's head. "Read," Cusack answers in the video below. "Read his stuff. I read biographies on him, but I read mostly his stories. Tried to immerse myself in his stuff, in his imagination .... It was like going into a nightmare, in a way."

At the L.A. Times Festival of Books, the Huffington Post caught Cusack's answer to the question: What are you reading now?

"The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack: A Novel" by Mark Leyner (who interviewed Cusack on stage)
"In the Hands of Dante: A Novel" by Nick Tosches
"Walking Since Daybreak" by Modris Eksteins
"A Movable Feast" by Ernest Hemingway (after seeing "Midnight in Paris")

He also said that he likes e-books for the dictionary apps, but when he has a hard copy he writes in the margins of his books so that  he can "make them mine." 

Cusack also promises that Poe aficionados will find the film packed with nods to his real life and work. All of Poe's work can be downloaded for free, in e-book form, from Project Gutenberg.

On Thursday, Cusack will be doing an online chat with fans at the L.A. Times -- sign up here to be a part of that conversation.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: John Cusack and friend at the April 23 screening of "The Raven" in Los Angeles. Credit: Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Are you ready for 'Hemingway & Gellhorn'?

An upcoming HBO film, "Hemingway & Gellhorn" stars Nicole Kidman as Martha Gellhorn and Clive Owen as Ernest Hemingway
When it comes to HBO's upcoming "Hemingway & Gellhorn," I'm an easy sell. First, it's about Ernest Hemingway, one of the biggest literary personalities of the 20th century, so I'm intrigued. Second, it's set partly during the Spanish Civil War, about which I don't know nearly enough, so I'm curious. Third, it stars Clive Owen, and I vowed to see everything he appeared in since way back when he starred in "Croupier." Fourth, the screenplay was co-written by author Jerry Stahl, who is awesome. Fifth, it's directed by Philip Kaufman, who has a pretty fantastic record when it comes to making literary films ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "Henry & June"). So yes, I'm excited.

But am I ready? I am not. Because I am sorely clueless when it comes to Martha Gellhorn.

OK, I know this: Gellhorn was a war correspondent, and she was a match for Hemingway. I know they got married. I know they got divorced. And sure, it's obvious that she's being played by Nicole Kidman, who is no small potatoes.

Gellhorn wrote about more than war -- wars came and went during her 89 years. When she died in 1998, Bill Buford remembered her in our pages: "Bossy, straight-talking, cigarette-smoking. The boozy reporter of wars and of the plight of the down-and-out. Also a writer of short stories, novellas and novels. And a travel writer. She was married to Ernest Hemingway, and she hated the fact that, whenever her work was written about in the press, his name was invariably mentioned as well, just as I'm mentioning it."

Other than that marriage to Hemingway -- which ended in 1945 -- she published about 20 books and other works, which in addition to reportage included short fiction, novels, a play, and novellas.

And I haven't read a single one.

Before I watch a movie about her, I want to read the words she wrote. She was a writer first. I have until May 28, which is when the movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn" premieres on HBO. The trailer is after the jump.

Continue reading »

Festival of Books: Film writers debate Oscar's love of 'The Artist'

Click to view photos from the Festival of Books

The discussion centered on Woody Allen, Elia Kazan and other masters on a quest for cinematic perfection, so it was only a matter of time before a member of the audience stood up and asked: How did you feel about “The Artist” winning the Oscar for best picture?

If anything, the Saturday afternoon L.A. Times Festival of Books panel titled “The Legendary Filmmakers” was proof of just how much -- and how long -– the holy grail of film-making remains an unrelenting topic of L.A. debate.

PHOTOS: Festival of Books

Film critic and historian Richard Schickel was the first of the panelists to chime in: “It’s not really an Academy Award winner,” he said, characterizing “The Artist” as “a nice little picture” that won because of a lack of competition.

Fellow panelist Sam Wasson, author of a recent book on Paul Mazursky and a forthcoming book on Bob Fosse, agreed.

Continue reading »

Porn-ish 'Fifty Shades of Grey' grinds toward movie deal

Hollywood is courting E.L. James for rights to adapt her book "Fifty Shades of Grey," which has been described as "mommy porn" E.L. James' titillating novel "Fifty Shades of Grey," described by the New York Times as "mommy porn," is close to a movie deal, according to industry reports.

The book, which has two sequels, was originally published by a small house in Australia and has found wide success as an e-book. Its new American publisher, Vintage, plans a broad paperback release April 17.

Hollywood isn't waiting that long. Deadline Hollywood reported Friday that nine studios were making offers to James.

"[T]he last time I've seen anything like this was when Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" was shopped," wrote Mike Fleming at Deadline Hollywood/NY.

That's one possible parallel. Or maybe Hollywood is thinking of another novel that was a word-of-mouth hit with female readers, one which had little traction with traditional review outlets but nevertheless went from hand to hand to the top of bestseller lists: Kathryn Stockett's "The Help." 

James, who wrote the book about a naive student and her older, more experienced, BDSM-inclined billionaire boyfriend as a kind of sexed-up post-"Twilight" story, says on her website that she is a British TV executive. She may be more well versed than your average fledgling writer when it comes to fielding Hollywood suitors: The Hollywood Reporter wrote that she and her agent are playing hardball.

E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" novels may be looking for a studio master, but in a shocking twist, the author is demanding to remain in the dominatrix role. ... Sources say the ask is very far-reaching and nearly unprecedented ...

The big difference between "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "The Help" -- or "The Da Vinci Code," for that matter -- is the sex. It's all about the sex, which is explicitly BDSM -- bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism. The sex is what has made "Fifty Shades of Grey" popular. Is erotica as safe a Hollywood bet as Brown's thrilling religious conspiracy, or Stockett's retro collision of the political and personal?

We may know what kind of bet movie executives are willing to make soon: March 23 was the reported deadline for final bids from producers and studios.

Who knows, the destiny of "Fifty Shades of Grey" could be surprising. The screen adaptation of "The Help," Stockett's debut novel that had been rejected by 45 agents, earned four Oscar nominations, with a best supporting actress win for Octavia Spencer.

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The hit machine behind 'The Hunger Games' books

Before Suzanne Collins book "The Hunger Games" became a highly anticipated movie, it was just a manuscript in her publisher's office. How did it get from there to here?
The highly anticipated film "The Hunger Games" opens Friday. The movie, which stars Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, is an adaptation of the first book in a young-adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Although the young-adult dystopia "The Hunger Games," is a gripping thriller, there was no guarantee the book would hit bestseller lists and stay there. It doesn't have vampires; instead, it centers around a televised fight to the death. At Salon, Laura Miller takes a careful look at what made Collins' books a success in the first place.

With the right title, a kid's publisher can deploy something the world of adult publishing can only dream about: a large, well-oiled and highly networked group of professional and semi-professional taste makers who can make that book a hit even before it's published. This is what happened with "The Hunger Games," which landed on the New York Times Bestseller List — there are separate ones for kids' books — the week it was released. ...

[Scholastic Books, Collins' publisher] employees began eagerly passing the manuscript around the office. It was the first stirring of what would become a tidal wave of word of mouth. "When you have the kind of book," said Rachel Coun, executive director of marketing, "where assistants from other departments, even though it’s not their job, come asking for the galleys because they’ve heard it’s really great, you know you have something." "We made a lot of copies," said [Scholastic’s executive editorial director, David Levithan]. "Coming out of the fall sales conference, everyone knew that the best way to generate excitement about 'The Hunger Games' was to get people to read 'The Hunger Games.'" That isn’t as easy as it sounds; over 20,000 new children's books are published annually, and the people Scholastic needed to reach -- people outside the company -- are drowning in the piles of books arriving from hopeful publishers. ...

Scholastic sales reps were given a limited number of manuscripts to distribute to their list of "Big Mouths," children’s publishing lingo for booksellers who have exceptional influence with co-workers and peers. These people run regional associations, organize book fairs and set up school events. Teachers and librarians come to them for hot tips on new kids' titles.

Carol Chittenden, a classic Big Mouth, is a co-owner of Eight Cousins bookstore in Falmouth, Mass. and founded the New England Children's Booksellers Advisory Council, which (among other things) maintains a website where members can swap opinions on forthcoming titles. Her cozy children's bookstore in a small Cape Cod town may seem a long way from Hollywood, but people like Chittenden -- who's been selling kids' books for 22 years and who instantly recognized "The Hunger Games" as "major" -- are the wellsprings of word of mouth, a sort of viral ground zero where phenomena like Hunger Games fandom are born.

There's a lot more in this valuable look inside the workings of the publishing industry.

As you're preparing for Friday's release of "The Hunger Games," Don't miss Susan Carpenter's exploration of the movie's merchandise: nail polish, socks, earbuds and crossbows.

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Photo: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in "The Hunger Games." Credit: Lionsgate

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