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Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: ‘Wonder Woman,’ 1970s Cinema, ‘Alien: Covenant,’ and More

Written by on July 10, 2017 

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We are knee-deep into a summer of dreary sequels, kids’ fare, and a few whip-smart outliers. If you’ve already seen the likes of The Beguiled and Baby Driver, perhaps staying home with a book is a better idea than trekking to the cinema. Let’s dive into some worthy film-centric reads.

Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film by Sharon Gosling (Titan Books)

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Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman is one of the biggest superhero success stories, and it deserves that designation. The classification makes reading a book like Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film feel like a celebratory affair. After a brief account of the character’s comics history, we delve into designs for Themyscira, concept art of Dr. Maru’s laboratory, and somber depictions of battle. What stands out, however, are drawings and photographs showing the film’s winning costume designs. It is illuminating, for example, to read the thought process behind the look of the battle-worn armor of Robin Wright’s General Antiope and Diana’s now-iconic ensemble. One puts the book down with renewed appreciation for the efforts of Jenkins, costume designer Lindy Hemming, and star Gal Gadot.

Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-in Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s by Charles Taylor (Bloomsbury)

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With Opening Wednesday, film critic Charles Taylor has written a glorious appreciation of the B-movies of the 1970s. This makes for a cinephile must-read. Many of the films Taylor includes here are well-known, such as Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop and Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. But several are much less-heralded, most notably Floyd Mutrux’s American Hot Wax and Michael Ritchie’s Prime Cut. All are explored with enthusiasm and insight. The standout chapter is Taylor’s look at Jonathan Demme’s Citizen’s Band. For obvious reasons, it now feels like an epitaph for one of cinema’s greatest chroniclers of the “American outcasts.” As Taylor puts it, “the love of everyday weirdness, the texture of middle-class and working-class lives, made Demme, for a time, the natural heir to Preston Sturges.”

Guardians of the Galaxy: The Complete Comics History by Marc Sumerak (Insight Editions)

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Ready for more Guardians of the Galaxy than you ever imagined was possible? The Complete Comics History is a stunningly detailed, deliriously colorful trip through the creation and evolution of Star-Lord, Drax, Rocket Raccoon, Gamora, and Groot. For those who only know the characters from the film adaptations (yours truly falls into that category), the book is a painstakingly detailed delight. Longtime fans may scoff at the text, but they’ll certainly appreciate the visuals. Pay special attention to Skottie Young’s delightful, Calvin and Hobbes-ish variant cover art.

Darth Vader and Family Coloring Book by Jeffrey Brown (Chronicle Books)

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A coloring book? Indeed, when it’s written and illustrated by Jeffrey Brown, author of the wonderful Darth Vader and Son and Darth Vader’s Little Princess. Darth Vader and Family includes some old favorites and several new images, and all are a real treat for Star Wars fans and kids alike. There are in-jokes here that will fly over the heads of little ones faster than a T-16, and as a parent, that’s much appreciated.

Rogue One spinoffs from Lucasfilm Press:

Rebel Rising by Beth Revis and Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka

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In addition to the aforementioned coloring book, new Star Wars fare includes two Rogue One spinoff novels. Rebel Rising tells the backstory of Jyn Erso and Saw Gerrara, filling in a number of gaps. Meanwhile, Guardians of the Whills offers the chance to spend more time with two of Rogue’s standout creations, Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus. The novels are short and punchy, and serve as a reminder that for all its visual bombast, what made Rogue One a success was the introduction of new characters that audiences actually cared about.

The Art and Making of Alien: Covenant by Simon Ward (Titan Books)

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Just a few months after its release, Alien: Covenant finds itself mostly forgotten. That’s a shame, really. While it’s a disappointing film, there is much to savor. The Art and Making of Alien: Covenant, is, then, an essential new release from Titan Books. Here is the chance to admire the look and feel of Ridley Scott’s Covenant without suffering through its dodgiest elements. The text by Simon Ward nicely argues for the film’s place in Scott’s Alien universe: “Prometheus attempted to open the door to the great destiny of humanity to know itself and its place in the universe. Alien: Covenant slams that door shut.” That nihilistic tone is clear in the gorgeous film stills and character concepts. Despite the ultimate letdown of the film itself, this book intrigues enough to make one consider another viewing.

Recommended mid-summer reads

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Michael Crichton passed away in 2008, but his death has not meant the end of his publishing career. (So to speak.) Following 2009’s Pirate Latitudes and 2011’s Micro (finished by author Richard Preston) is Dragon Teeth (Harper). This is the most interesting of Crichton’s posthumous releases, as its story — about the rivalry between paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope — alludes to the author’s most beloved hit, Jurassic Park. Dragon is a flawed but enjoyably brisk (less than 300 pages) read, and, predictably, the rights have already been sold to the National Geographic Channel. Another novel that’s sure to be adapted soon is Into the Water (Riverhead Books), Paula Hawkins’s gripping follow-up to The Girl on the Train. It’s an ambitious multi-generational thriller, and far stronger than the enormously successful Train. Lastly, the first film featuring Jo Nesbo’s grizzled detective Harry Hole arrives on the big screen in a few months. Before seeing Michael Fassbender in The Snowman, check out Nesbo’s latest, The Thirst (Knopf). The tale of a killer targeting Tinder users is Nesbo’s strongest Harry Hole novel in years.

BONUS: The commentary track with 1492: Conquest of Paradise is a must-listen

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While this column generally focuses exclusively on books, it seems appropriate to drop in something for your listening pleasure. Kino Lorber’s recent release of Ridley Scott’s 1492: Conquest of Paradise was noteworthy for fans of the director. A long, sometimes punishing film, 1492 falls into the category of Ridley Scott flops — see also Someone to Watch Over Me, White Squall, A Good Year, Body of Lies, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and, yes, Alien: Covenant. Like these films, 1492 is a fascinating beast. Starring a sometimes incomprehensible but always impassioned Gerard Depardieu and beautifully soundtracked by Vangelis, it’s the definition of a difficult epic. Its visual elegance and scope is easy to admire on Blu-ray, but what makes the film belong in this column is the insightful commentary from film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Berger opens the commentary by calling 1492 “one of [Scott’s] most maligned and misaligned productions,” and finds that the film’s troubled production (and reception) in many ways matches the failures of Columbus’s own journey. The duo enhance the experience of watching the film, and a sign of a standout commentary track.

See more recommended books on filmmaking.

What are you reading? Have you enjoyed any of the above picks?


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