The latest in books-turned-movies
Merian C. Cooper, expanded by Joe DeVito and Brad Strickland (St. Martin’s, $12.95) Beauty (i.e., Naomi Watts’ actress Ann Darrow) still fells the beast in Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Fran Walsh’s take on Cooper’s 1932 story. Jackson’s film gives Ann more backbone, embellishes old characters (Adrien Brody’s sailor Jack is now a screenwriter), and adds new players (Kyle Chandler’s pompous actor, Colin Hanks’ PA). Last Word Jackson’s epic is easily the 800-pound gorilla.
See No Evil
Robert Baer (Three Rivers, $14) Writer-director Stephen Gaghan liberally lifts anecdotes and personality tics from ex-CIA agent Baer’s memoir to create Syriana‘s disgruntled spook Bob Barnes (George Clooney). But Barnes is only one man in Gaghan’s huge cast: Most are purely fictional. Last Word Baer’s secret-filled, insidery book — complete with black-barred names and locales — lacks the film’s emotional (yet equally cryptic) pull.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis (HarperTrophy, $6.99) Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Ann Peacock’s adaptation of Lewis’ surprisingly succinct 1950 novel beefs up the London-blitz backstory and the Pevensie children’s roles as warriors in the battle for Narnia (women even wield swords). Last Word Though ambitious in scope, the film lacks the magical sensibility of Lewis’ simply told (and imagination-stirring) parable.
Memoirs of a Geisha
Arthur Golden (Vintage, $14.95) For the most part, screenwriters Robin Swicord and Doug Wright faithfully condense Golden’s 1997 novel of geisha-in-training Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang). Sayuri’s rival, Hatsumomo (Gong Li), is softened, given a more complex backstory and a more graceful exit. Last Word While the film is pretty as a cherry blossom, Golden’s original is more engrossing and informative.