Book Review: ‘Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece’ by Jason Bailey

PulpFictionPulp Fiction hit me like a sucker punch when I sat down for my first viewing back in 1994. Up to that point my cinematic tastes were fairly mainstream, with a heavy lean towards big budget Hollywood fare. I still love that kind of stuff, by the way, and won’t apologize for it; but, back then, I wasn’t a very adventurous moviegoer. If it tells you anything, the main reason I wanted to see Pulp Fiction was because Bruce Willis was in it.

By the time Quentin Tarantino’s movie was over, my taste in movies had transformed. I was stunned, excited, and curious. What the hell had I just seen? Were there other movies out there like this one?

In the 20 (!) years since that first viewing, I’ve watched Pulp Fiction too many times to count, and I’ve quoted Pulp Fiction too many times to count. I’ve anticipated – and, so far, enjoyed – each of Tarantino’s subsequent releases. And I’ve read everything I could get my hands on regarding the director’s work (and on Pulp Fiction in particular).  In Jason Bailey’s Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece I think we have – short of a making-of book penned by Tarantino himself – the definitive word on this highly influential film.

Bailey wraps a serious, thoughtful examination of the movie in a brightly colored, beautifully designed package. Don’t let any of those phrases fool you – this is neither a dry, academic paper nor is it a picture-laden puff piece. Bailey covers all the bases: essays that delve deeply into the movie’s characters, themes and influences; chapters on writing the film, casting it, and the nuts-and-bolts of shooting it; and sidebars on the minutiae that fans love, like a chart listing the events of the movie in chronological order, a look at the recurring use of diners and cafes in Tarantino’s movies, and charts of the many homages and cinematic references in the movie. Also – and this is one of my favorite things about the book – Bailey peppers the book with artwork inspired by the film.

Like the movie it covers, Bailey’s book has a ton of layers, and repeat visits will be rewarded. I don’t typically read books like this straight through, but I couldn’t put this one down until I’d read every article and pored over every picture. It’s available right now, and I can’t put a high enough recommendation on it.

Oh, and here – just for fun – is what Pulp Fiction would look like as an old video game. If only it were real….

‘Terminator Vault’ to take us back 30 (!) years to the making of a sci-fi/horror masterpiece…and its sequel

“It absolutely will not stop. Ever.” – Kyle Reese, The Terminator

terminator-vault-bookSo, next year, The Terminator turns 30. Just let that wash over you. It’s been three decades since Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron cemented their geek cred with this mind-bending, time-bending little movie. So naturally, when a big anniversary of a genre touchstone like this approaches, you can expect to see all kinds of goodies appear to capitalize on it. The first piece in what I expect will be a major wave of merchandising next year arrives a little early – October 15, to be exact – in the form of a new behind-the-scenes book, Terminator Vault.

As Kyle Reese predicted way back in the first movie, the Terminator franchise seems unstoppable. Cameron and Ah-nuld reunited in 1991 with Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and although I think most of us would have been fine if things stopped there, others have attempted to take up the reins with a couple of so-so sequels and a television series. To this day, rumors persist that a new film is happening and that Schwarzenegger will be involved in some way. While fans debate whether or not that’s a good thing, most agree that the first two movies are sci-fi/horror masterpieces.

(And yes, they lean heavily toward sci-fi, but try telling my 12-year-old self, who levitated out of his seat when the Terminator’s exoskeleton shoved his way out of the burning wreckage of a truck cab in the first movie, that they’re not horror, too. He refuses to believe you.)

Terminator Vault appears to be focused solely on the making of the first two movies, promising the kind of in-depth look and reproduction of materials (concept sketches, script pages, and the like) and interviews with insiders that have become staples of these kinds of releases. Author Ian Nathan, who also wrote Alien Vault and is an executive editor at Empire film magazine, should have plenty to work with when it comes to these movies, as the majority of the principal players are still around and involved with the industry.

Good things just keep stacking up in October, don’t they?

New book showcases artful side of ‘Prometheus’

In the weeks since its release, Ridley Scott’s Prometheus has established a reputation as perhaps the most divisive film in the ALIEN franchise. Most fans agree that the original film and its immediate sequel, ALIENS, are classics of the horror/scifi/action genres; most fans also agree that ALIEN 3 and ALIEN: Resurrection are deeply flawed as follow-ups. Prometheus, the “indirect prequel” to the aforementioned films, has fans championing its ambitious ideas and epic scale, and detractors troubled by some questionable characterization and gaping plot holes.

One thing it seems that everyone can agree on, however, is that Prometheus is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking. Prometheus: The Art of the Film, a lavishly illustrated new book from author Mark Salisbury and Titan Books, is all the confirmation for this opinion that anyone will ever need.

The book gathers a wealth of visual material – everything from rough sketches to schematics to conceptual art to full paintings and behind-the-scenes photographs – augmented by contributions from Salisbury, Scott and Arthur Max, the film’s production designer. We learn about Scott’s desire to use primarily practical effects (hallelujah!) enhanced by only the most judicious use of CGI. We get to see the gigantic sets and creature suits used to bring Scott’s ideas to stunning life. And we get to see the evolution of those ideas as the design team brings together elements as diverse as ancient architecture, Nazi-era gold smuggling devices and Russian and American spacesuits to form a singular vision for the film.

H.R. Giger’s works is of course one of the most recognizable and revered elements of the ALIEN franchise, and this book demonstrates how careful Scott was to retain Giger’s signature flavor while forging beyond it. We can also see where other elements from the previous films – details like the crew’s sleep chambers and the ship’s octagonal hallways – have been translated in this new entry.

Love it, hate it, or hover somewhere in between, you can’t deny that Prometheus is a labor of love from one of our most exciting visionary filmmakers. The Art of the Film is a fascinating peek behind the curtain, a book filled with frame-worthy pages that are the best kind of eye candy for genre film fans.

Expanded ‘Crystal Lake Memories’ ready to stalk ‘n slash your e-reader

I snagged a copy of Peter Bracke’s massive hardcover retrospective Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th when it came out in 2005, and I still don’t think I’ve read it all. Not that it’s not compelling material; it’s probably one of the best making-of/retrospectives I’ve ever come across, and from a franchise I have a deep affinity for to boot. There’s just SO MUCH STUFF in there. Plus, I like to read the sections on the individual films in conjunction with watching the movie itself, so there are some sections I’ve been through a couple of times (The Final Chapter) and some I haven’t touched yet (Jason Takes Manhattan).

Now, thanks to Dread Central and a host of other sites, I understand that there’s a new version – an EXPANDED electronic version – on the horizon. And it’s coming out next week, appropriately enough, on Friday, April 13.

For this edition, Bracke is adding in stuff that had to be cut from the hardcover release, as well as material from new interviews he’s conducted in the years since the book’s initial release. The press release linked above doesn’t give specifics as to who these new interviews are with, but it does promise (in perfect exploitation move fashion) “key Friday the 13th alumni…many who break their silence for the first time!” (Exclamation point mine.) Also things like “Bigger and bloodier than ever…!” (Exclamation point, again, is mine.)

Cool. I’m sold. I’m going to miss out on some of the new stuff, though, because my Kindle Touch isn’t going to support the Enhanced Edition, which will include more stills, video, and interactive elements, but that’s okay. The new interviews and other material, plus the portability of it (Crystal Lake Memories is a BIG book) are attractive enough. With the plethora of good-to-great making-of books being released these days, it’s exciting to think of the possibilities, and I’m sort of proud that one of our humble little slasher film franchises is leading the way.

You can find more information about the new electronic versions of Crystal Lake Memories on this Facebook page. I’ve yet to see prices, but hopefully with the release date so close that will be available soon.

‘Halloween’ series subject of upcoming behind-the-scenes book

Behind-the-scenes books have become all the rage these days, and I for one am glad. I love digging into books like The Hammer Vault and Crystal Lake Memories that are stacked cover-to-cover with photos, memorabilia reproductions, script pages, and interviews with everybody from major stars to the guy who ran catering on the sixth film in the series. The Alien series got the treatment last year, and the making-of books on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and the Indiana Jones movies are must-owns.

Now another iconic genre series is getting the coffee table treatment: in October of 2013, Trancas International Films is set to release Halloween: The Complete Authorized History by Justin Beahm.

According to the press release circulating throughout the Internet, Beahm’s book will begin with John Carpenter’s historic first film and run all the way through the good and the bad that followed, including Rob Zombie’s two takes on the Michael Myers mythos and the upcoming (if it happens) Halloween 3D. Following the example of the titles listed above, the book will be packed with photos, interviews, magazine articles and other ephemera devoted to the Halloween franchise. With ten movies in the can and another one potentially on the way, there should be plenty of fodder for Beahm to work with.

Beahm is a Fangoria editor and a writer for Famous Monsters of Filmland, so he should possess both the writing chops and the fan cred to make this something special. Considering that Carpenter’s original film is my favorite horror movie, and that I can find something to love in just about all of the others (except maybe for the one with Busta Rhymes – that one’s just inexcusable), I’m very excited for this book. I understand waiting until the 2013 date to tie in with the original’s 35th (!) anniversary, but I wish I could get my hands on this one, like, now.

While we wait, consider this: what other film series would you like to see get a book (or books) like this devoted to it? I’m thinking a giant book on the Nightmare on Elm Street series could be something special. Let us know what you’d like to see in the comments below.

Review: ‘The Art of Hammer’ by Marcus Hearn

Movie posters ain’t what they used to be.

At one time movie posters were art in and of themselves, a major selling point for the films they advertised. For many movies the poster was the only advertisement they got, so it had to be good. And, in many instances, the poster turned out to be better than the movie, promising things that the filmmakers couldn’t possibly match on the strength of their miniscule budgets (or, perhaps, their miniscule talents).

Those days are long gone. Movie posters are often an afterthought, a throwaway piece of paper that falls way below the trailer and the website and the viral videos and the interactive online games that studios employ now to get the word out. From a practical standpoint, I get it; marketing dollars are at a premium, and the studios have to go where they’re going to get maximum impact for the money spent, and a poster just isn’t it. For most, a poster is the thing they pass on the way into the theater – they’re already sold on the movie, so there’s no point in putting too much effort into the poster. Just Photoshop the stars’ heads onto a generic background, make sure everything’s spelled right, and move along.

Books like The Art of Hammer demonstrate why this is such a shame. The posters in this book are a huge part of the Hammer mystique, the particular flavor and identity the studio was able to cultivate over the years.  Horror movies dominate, of course, but Hammer also made comedies and crime thrillers and war pictures and science fiction movies, and the posters for all of these genres are umistakable in their Hammer-ness.

Hearn gives these posters plenty of room to shine on their own, showcasing them in big, beautiful reproductions while chiming in here and there with interesting tidbits on the artists, the back stories of the chosen art and the variations for different markets. The oversized format and glossy paper help sell that this is a true art book, and it’s doubtful (tempting as it may be) that anyone will be ripping these pages out to tape them to the wall. It may, however, send you scrambling to the Internet to try and track some of these down, so buyer beware.

Between this, The Hammer Story (written with Alan Barnes), Hammer Glamour and the upcoming The Hammer Vault, Hearn (who is the official Hammer historian, an awesome job if there ever was one) continues to share and preserve the wonderful history of this amazing studio. We owe him a debt of gratitude, as well as all the talented artists who gave us such striking and iconic images to enjoy.

Dark Score Stories offers more clues on ‘Bag of Bones’ adaptation

I want to be wrong. I really, really do.

Mick Garris has wrapped up his adaptation of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones, which will air in just a little over a month on A&E. I should be excited about this, because Bag of Bones is my favorite King book. Unfortunately, Garris is my least favorite director of King adaptations. I like some things about his version of The Stand, and I liked his approach to The Shining, but there was a good bit more there that I didn’t enjoy. And Sleepwalkers? Riding the Bullet? Desperation? “Ugh” all around.

I know it sounds harsh, and I’ve been rebuked about my opinion on this before because, by all accounts, Garris is a very nice person. I’m sure he is, and I mean nothing personal at all toward him. It’s just that King is my favorite writer, and so I’m a little more critical in my opinions of what’s done with his work. To be fair, I’ll say that Garris did not make the worst Stephen King movie ever – that honor goes to King himself for Maximum Overdrive.

But I digress…when I heard an adaptation of Bones was in the works, I was happy. Then I heard it was Garris, and not so much. However, given that he had two nights on cable TV to work with, I was – and continue to be – willing to be open-minded. And I’ve got to say, the bits and pieces that have leaked out from the show so far have only strengthened my optimism.

I’m not one of those that has to have a letter-perfect recreation of the source material to be happy. I can tell from the photos and such that we’ve seen so far that there are some differences from book to screen, and that’s fine – it has to be done, sometimes, to make an adaptation work. All I want is for the spirit and tone of what King pulled off in the novel to make it to the screen. I don’t have to feel like I’ve read the book again after seeing the movie, I just want to feel like I’ve experienced the book again.

So far, it’s looking good. Photos, trailers, the little behind-the-scenes video that’s been circulated – everything seems to be hitting the right tone. Today, though, brought the best indicator so far of the work and dedication that’s gone into this project – a website called Dark Score Stories.

I haven’t delved into the whole thing yet, but I like what I’ve seen so far. Basically, Dark Score Stories purports to be a photo essay about Dark Score Lake, the locale in which Bag of Bones is set. The “photojournalist” (I’ve yet to locate a name on the site) is exhibiting portraits of several Dark Score residents, most of whom will be familiar to anyone who has read Bones. There’s also a brief written essay on each subject, as well as audio commentary that I haven’t made my way through yet.

But the photos themselves give several clues as to how Garris is approaching the story, and again – my optimism grows. There are characters both familiar (Buddy Jellison, Mattie and Lance and Kyra Devore, Jo Noonan) and unfamiliar (Edgar Owens, who appears to be our gateway into the story of Sara Tidwell). There are locales like The Village Cafe and Dark Score Lake itself that look spot-on. And stuffed into practically every photograph are callbacks and Easter eggs to King’s immense body of work. Look closely and you’ll see references to characters, products, phrases and places harkening all the way back to King’s debut novel Carrie. It’s an amazing amount of detail, and I hope that it’s more than just some throwaway fun for Garris and the production crew – I hope it’s an indicator of how keen they are on the little things that matter in a big way.

As I said, I don’t expect a rote adaptation here, and it’s clear that’s not what we’re going to get. But Bag of Bones, the novel, is a haunting piece of work that has continued to resonate with me long after I finished it the first time, and I hope to have a similar experience when I tune in this December.