Reel Page-Turners – August 2014

Reel Page-Turners – August 2014

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If there’s one subgenre that’s exploded over the last decade it’s that of the zombie movie. It seems as though the undead are everywhere any more, what with a hit TV series repeatedly topping the ratings (The Walking Dead), being the subject of big-budget Hollywood tent poles (World War Z) and even being seen in a comic vein (Fido).  The Zombie Film by Alain Silver (Applause Theatre and Cinema Publishing, $29.99) is a comprehensive look at the genre dating back to 1932’s White Zombie and 1933’s The Ghoul that also features a look at how these creatures fit into the history of various primitive voodoo cultures.  Lavishly illustrated, this tome is exhaustive in its examination of these films, providing an invaluable index of international zombie flicks as well as a decent examination of the history and development of the genre. While including Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its various remakes in the book seems like a bit of a stretch, the chapter devoted to the father of the modern zombie film, George Romero, and his work is not only reverent but properly critical as well.  Equally well-written in the chapter entitled “The Post-Feminist Zombie Film” which charts the development of female characters in these movies from damsels-in-distress to butt-kickers of the first order.  With over 500 films mentioned, this is a must-have for any horror film aficionado.

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Even more impressive is The Sci-Fi Movie Guide: The Universe of Film from Alien to Zardoz by Chis Barsanti (Visible Ink Press, $19.95), a massive 500 page book that charts the development of the genre from being misunderstood B-Movie fodder to the engine that drives many of today’s major studio franchises.  The author does a fine job tying together how scientific developments and discoveries in the 20th-Century affected and helped transform the genre while reviewing nearly 1,000 films, not all of them seminal works like The Thing or 2001: A Space Odyssey.  More than anything, you can tell that Barsanti has a reverence for Sci-Fi flicks and his enthusiasm is nothing if not infectious.

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, formed DreamWorks Animation, and while the production arms of their other filmmaking divisions have fallen to the wayside, this studio is still going strong.  Ramin Zahed’s The Art of DreamWorks Animation: Celebrating 20 Years of Art (Harry N. Abrams, $50.00) is a fitting tribute to the company’s groundbreaking work as it covers the 30 films the studio has produced in an exhaustive manner, providing rough, pre-production sketches along side gorgeously rendered frames from the final films to give the reader a sense of the massive amount of work that goes into producing such films as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and Rise of the Guardians, among many others.  While the book provides a lavish, behind-the-scenes look at these movies, more importantly it proves to be a trip down memory lane, as it provides us the opportunity to revisit DreamWorks’ memorable works, prompting us to think of the other films that inspired them.

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Since 1991 Kenneth Turan has been the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and has become one of the most respected names in the field. His new book Not to be Missed: Fifty-four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film (PublicAffairs, $25.99) is aimed directly at those of us who love certain movies that speak to us on a personal level as well as appeal to us because of their classic structure.  Why does Turan include John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance on his list yet omits the director’s other seminal westerns like Stagecoach and The Searchers? Why is it that more films are from the ‘50’s than any other decade?  And just why are there only 54 movies on the list, when the standard for most projects of this sort is 100?  The logic Turan employs towards these questions is personal in nature and follow’s the author’s internal logic so it cannot be argued. (As to that last question, he writes, “…this selection of films couldn’t be helpful to others if I wasn’t true myself.  So I resisted the impulse to artificially present myself as the most ecumenical of critics, someone whose favorites casually extended to the farthest corners of the globe.”)  His entries on Casablanca (1942), Vertigo and The Godfather will have you reevaluating these classics from a distinctly different point of view while you may just find yourself seeking out Bombshell, Strawberry Blonde and Seven Men From Now among others because of Turan’s passionate defense of them.    

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