Thursday September 10th, 2009

An Essential Guide, Updated

Every Thursday on the blog brings a post about a paperback book.

time-out-film-newmanThe annually updated Time Out Film Guide has always separated itself from the pack with sleek aesthetics, but the just-published 2010 edition reaches new heights by enhancing Paul Newman’s baby blues on the front cover and using the same striking color as a keynote throughout the interior.

There are dozens of movie guides to choose from every year, but the London-based Time Out’s is the most elegantly designed, user-friendly and comprehensive. It’s true that it doesn’t have a lot of what the DVD generation knows as “extras.” There are long lists of actors and directors in the back, a guide to 100 notable movie web sites up front, and not much else. But at more than 1,350 (small-type) pages already, it’s hard to complain about a lack of anything.

Most importantly, the book is full of sharp writing. When it says of Night of the Hunter that “(Charles) Laughton’s only stab at directing…turned out to be a genuine weirdie,” those last two words may sound vague, but if you’ve seen the movie you know they’re right on. As is this, at the end of the review for Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven: “Eventually…the narrative collapses, leaving its audience breathlessly suspended between a 90-minute proof that all the bustling activity in the world means nothing, and the perfection of Malick’s own perverse desire to catalogue it nonetheless. Compulsive.” Even when it errs and insults something as great as The Muppet Movie, it does it in a style all its own: “…the attitude towards Miss Piggy and Camilla the Chicken is, well, less than progressive.”

A small sampling of other potent opinions:

The Da Vinci Code: “The stars sprint through two and a half hours of chemistry-free exposition and condescending explanations of the past 2,000 years of ecclesiastical history.”

Bull Durham: “Sarandon is sexier reading Emily Dickinson’s poems fully clothed than most actresses would be writhing naked on a bed.”

Garden State: “That American ‘indie’ cinema isn’t what it once was is all too evident in this utterly innocuous concoction: two parts quirky-but-cute, one part pure mush.”

Like all such guides, the best way to experience this one is simply to rifle through it and allow sudden connections to keep you rifling. Doing just that this afternoon, I discovered there was such a thing as The Gong Show Movie, a “cringingly diabolical spin-off.”