That ever-so-polite-and-gracious Roger Balfour neglected to tell you faithful readers who gave him the idea for his little book report a few weeks back. It generated a ton of discussions (that’s what Script Shadow lives for) and a few other fringe benefits for good old Rog.
After his alter ego got all that brainy, literary, cyber tail, here I am in the internet bookstore I run out of my house, lonely, unappreciated, looking through my dusty tomes for a few suggestions for part deux.
Here are my ten:
1. High Rise by J.G. Ballard
“As he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”
Think The Lord of the Flies set in The Towering Inferno.
Now, this is by the guy who wrote Crash. Not the Academy Award winning, Paul Haggis, real life in LA, multi-culti/multi-cast/multi-storied Crash, but the Crash about Symphorophiliac sickos who can only get off by getting themselves into sensational, limb-losing car accidents.
Yup, that Crash. Ballard is kinda the English Gentleman version of Chuck Palahniuk.
High Rise is pretty sick too. Probably would need David Cronenberg directing to pull it off. I think the nightmares I got after reading it is what got me off the concrete island of Manhattan and into a nice, little house in rural Georgia.
Written in 1975, the social relevance is timeless. Cram too many people in a fabulous high-rise apartment complex with all the amenities and modern conveniences (gym, shops, pool, high-speed elevators, an Urban Outfitters, etc) that you pretty much never have to leave …
And, then, let the building go to total shit …
And, then, watch what happens to the inhabitants.
It’s like the Tipping point. Once the building starts breaking down, society starts breaking down too. Class systems emerge and begin warring against each other. Floors vs. Floor.
Eventually, none of the condo owners are going to work or even stepping foot outside the building. They remain inside to fight and protect their turf. When food sources start to dwindle, the annoying barking dog across the hall suddenly becomes fair game. And, perhaps, a few weeks later, the gal who snubbed you in the laundromat.
It’s George Romero directing an episode of Big Brother.
Okay, I’m not the only freaky fan who wants to see this on film. Producer, Jeremy Thomson, has owned the rights for nearly thirty years! Someone, please, help the guy out!!!
2. THE TOMB by F. Paul Wilson
“The Tomb is one of the best all-out adventure stories I’ve read in years.” - Stephen King (President of the Repairman Jack fan club)
Nuff said. Who can argue with Uncle Stevie?
Repairman Jack isn’t the fix it guy you call when your old Norge is on the fritz or the john is overflowing, but he’ll definitely crawl through some pretty serious shit for a client. It’s like hiring Burn Notice’s Michael Westen and getting all the Ghost Busters along for the ride.
The Tomb was the first of a planned 15-book cycle (not including some short stories and young adult novels) featuring Jack, the Manhattan Mercenary for the Little Guy that can’t help but take cases that are gonna veer mid-way through off into the supernatural.
Jack, not unlike Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, lives pretty much off the grid. He doesn’t have a last name, vote, pay taxes or talk to census-takers. Unlike most action/adventure heroes, he’s pretty much an average guy without super powers or military training. He’s just naturally good at bashing bad guys whenever the Joe Franklin Show isn’t on.
In The Tomb, Repairman Jack is asked to retrieve a stolen necklace. Of course, his client neglects to tell him about the ancient curse it carries and the Bengali demons it’ll ultimately unleash. And, that said demons – the Rakoshi -- would be going after the adorable daughter of Jack’s extremely hot ex-girlfriend.
Chicago may have hosted the Night Stalker and Harry Dresden, but NYC and the Boroughs are the perfect stomping grounds for Jack and “The Otherness” monsters he keeps finding himself pitted against.
Jack has been able to get himself out of a lot of tough scrapes, but hasn’t been able to budge from development hell. According to Wilson, six screenwriters have had at this potential franchise over the past 12 years.
Possible solution: Episodic TV ala the Dresden Files? I’m just saying…
3. Let it Blurt by Jim DeRogatis
"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." -- Lester Bangs
A lot of people got introduced to the wisdom of Lester Bangs when Philip Seymour Hoffman played the world-weary bear of a rock critic in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous.
I grew up reading Lester’s rants in Creem magazine, back in the early 80s, when music really, really, really sucked. And, this wonderful, wonderful man introduced me to an exciting, new type of soundz that was only a 45-minute train ride away from my nice, safe Long Island home. He changed my life. Changed millions of others too.
He wasn’t just a rock critic. He was the Hunter S. Thompson of the music world. I mean, Lord, the guy could write a 30,000 word screed of a record review that talked to your soul. So, why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame? Bangs pretty much championed heavy metal and punk when Rock n Roll seemed to be on its last legs.
I know they’ve been trying to develop Please Kill Me, the Oral History of Punk into a movie for the longest time. I’ll help you guys out. If you suits wanna make a flick about the time period when punk rock broke, ya do it by focusing on the man who coined the fucking term. You shoot it through his eyes and ears.
Bio pics ain’t easy. And, movies about writers seem to be the ultimate taboo in Hollywood. But, the life of Bangs is the exception. He partied faster and louder than any of the rock stars he wrote about. Growing up with a fervent Jehovah’s Witness of a mother, Lester would grow up to evangelize just as hard and passionately about the Devil’s music she despised.
The book starts out with Bangs jamming onstage with the J. Geils band in a packed out arena, the critic, playing what else? -- An electric typewriter! TAT TAT TAT along with the noize. Now, if that ain’t a great opening sequence, I don’t know what is.
Ya got his ongoing battle against the corporate suits making shitty albums, his longstanding feud with Lou Reed and a cast of supporting characters that include Alice Cooper, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, The Ramones and the Clash. Who the hell wouldn’t want to be in this movie, playing their favorite rock icon?!! Who wouldn’t want to play Lou Reed? Who wouldn’t wanna be Bangs?
4. The Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald.
“ John D. MacDonald … the great entertainer of our age, and a mesmerizing storyteller." -- Stephen King
Again, you gonna argue with Uncle Stevie?
Some of you kids will know John D. Macdonald for penning the book that would become Cape Fear. But, Man, the prolific sonofagun penned 78 freaking books! Most of them extremely worthy of your time.
Travis appeared in 21 of them. Ask any mystery fan. This is the guy they most want turned into a celluloid hero.
And, yeah, they tried before. And, failed. First in 1970 with Rod Taylor. Then, again, in 1983 with Sam Elliot, for a failed TV pilot. The first clue that they fucked it all to hell was when they moved the famed local from Fort Lauderdale to Southern California. Sheesh!
Unlike other detectives, McGee is neither a cop nor a gum shoe. He’s a "salvage consultant" who recovers your lost or stolen property for half their value. He is a tough guy, knight-errant, beach bum, sex therapist and philosopher. Like Carl Hiaasen many years later, MacDonald uses his character to make comment on the corruption and trashing of his home state.
McGee lives on a houseboat, “The Busted Flush”, that he won in a poker game and drives a custom Rolls Royce, Miss Agnes, that has been transformed into a pick-up truck. His best friend is Meyer, a hairy economist who often provides the Holmesian deduction skills to solve their cases. Ha! His boat is called The John Maynard Keynes.
Fiercely independent, McGee would retire after every case. Then take on a new client only after the money had run out -– or if the client was an old friend (the man had honor) or was exceptionally hot (the man was also pretty horny). Each case had enough corrupt businessmen and sadistic killers to keep things interesting.
McGee is also a product of his times. Half paternal figure and half Hugh Hefner. I guess he’s the fictional character most of us bookworms wish we could be. I’d live on a houseboat too if it weren’t for my blasted allergies!
A rumor has it that Leo is damned close to playing him. YEA!!!! Wish fulfillment. Just keep it in Florida, dudes. Or a lot of librarians are gonna be after you.
5. Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold.
Remember how much Script Shadow raved about the unproduced script, Smoke and Mirrors? Well, who the hell doesn’t love period pieces with magicians?
If Captain Carson would’ve let me, I probably could have populated this entire list with tomes and bios about showmen, tricksters and prestidigitators.
That’s my thing. I love magic. My first paying job as a tween was doing kiddie magic shows.
So, Carter edged out Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business for the conjuring book I most want to see on the big screen. Good job, Mr. Gold. Beating out the Canadian Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a pretty freaking impressive feat.
And, it’s his first freaking novel too.
I’m enamored … and fucking jealous.
Early 20th Century San Francisco. Famed illusionist Charles Carter, has to flee the country after the President, Warren G. Harding, mysteriously dies after volunteering for one of his tricks.
In his act, in front of a sold out crowd, he had chopped the president into little pieces, cut off his head and fed him to a lion, before restoring him to prefect health.
Now, that’s a tough act to follow. Try that David Blaine!
This book has got every trick in the book. Sideshows, handsome FBI agents, beautiful blind chicks, impossible escapes, The Marx brothers, caged beasts, fast motorcycles, the invention of television and plenty of schemes and scoundrels with devastating secrets.
How does it end? Pretty much in the show to beat all shows. Carter must indeed beat the devil to save the ones he loves.
Shit. The whole book is just that magical.
From what I’ve read, Magic-loving Tom Cruise (He had Mandrake, Houdini and Blackstone pics in development too) still has the rights to the book.
Thus, unless Robert Towne starts waving a magic wand soon, escape from development hell looks hopeless.
6. Secret Dead Men by Duane Swierczynski.
A few weeks ago, Roger put Swierczynski’s Severance Package on his list of adaptations he’d most like to see.
Yup, I’d love to see that one get made too, but Secret Dead Men is my fave. It’s the one they’re gonna have to reunite Spike Jonez and Charlie Kaufman to pull off. It’s one of the most surreal, metaphysical novels I’ve ever read.
And, it’s framed as a detective thriller.
Del Farmer ain’t your ordinary hardboiled, private dick. Instead of collecting fingerprints, he collects the souls of the recently departed to help his investigation of the Association, a mob outfit right out of Richard Stark’s Point Blank.
Farmer keeps all these souls in his” brain hotel” and if a particular skill set is required, he’d let the right dead man for the job control his bod to get it done.
Quel perverse! Sartre meets Sam Spade.
See, some years back, journalist Del was murdered by the Association. So, he has some motivation to see this case through. He had been picked up by a soul collector who, when he decided to walk towards the light, handed the keys to the brain hotel over to him.
The idea may be a tad too unique for mainstream audiences. But, the budget doesn’t have to be too big. An Indie perhaps? A Dexter styled series? Who knows, maybe the French will pick it up.
They are a country of philosophy majors.
7. Vixen by Ken Bruen
“Ask any modern crime writer who they’re paying attention to in the world of crime fiction, and they’ll all point their fingers across the Atlantic at Ken Bruen.” – Roger Balfour, Script Shadow Review
I’m a big time Bruen fan. Hell, I love noir. But, this guy serves it up nice and lean for a change. And, I sure as hell don’t wanna see the knife he used to do it with.
Here’s a Whitman Sampler from Vixen:
A loud bang went off in Doyle's ear and he instinctively pushed the phone away. When the noise had subsided he asked:
'Was that it?'
He heard a low chuckle, then:
'Whoops, the timing was a little off but we'll be working on that. What you have to work on is getting three hundred grand together to make sure we don't bomb again. I mean, that's not a huge amount, is it? So you get started on that and we'll try not to blow up anything else in the meantime. We'll give you a bell tomorrow and see how you're progressing. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the movie playing at the Paradise was a Tom Cruise piece of shit so we kind of did the public a service. You be good now.'
Then read the fooking book. This ain’t a fooking library.
Vixen is U.K. Noir with the sexiest, ruthless, female serial killer/ bombmaking/blackmailer that ever plagued England!
Trying to capture her is London’s gritty answer to Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct, the bent (in all the various definitions of the word) coppers led by the amicably amoral Inspector Brant.
Unfortunately, one of his bent coppers, Elizabeth Falls, gets into a bit of a far too unhealthy relationship with the witchy woman they’re pursuing.
Thus, we have two great, demented female roles up for grabs.
Thankfully, Hollywood has already sat up and noticed Bruen. His London Boulevard has started filming with The Departed scribe, William Monahan, directing Colin Farrell and Keira Knightley.
The script for Blitz, currently in pre-production, has been reviewed here on Script Shadow. Worth the search, Mate.
8. Positively 4th Street by David Hajdu
"We should start a whole new genre. Poetry set to music. Poetry you can dance to. Boogie poetry! “ – Richard Farina to Bob Dylan
Imagine Next Stop, Greenwich Village mixed with Bound For Glory.
Uh, not really, but writing ten book reports in a row is starting to get awfully hard! It’s showing right?!! Damned slave driver, Carson. I told him six books. Six fucking books. But, No…….!!!!
Okay, where was I?
Yup, I’m pitching another music bio. But, this time, it’s a four way street.
For you youngsters who have no clue about the title, 4th street chronicles the 60s folk music scene with Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Richard and Mimi Farina going from playing tiny coffee houses to inspiring an entire generation of young lefties like me.
You’d think it would be Dylan, but the most fascinating and filmable character in this bio pic is Richard Farina, the bohemian poet who often got lost in own web of roguish tall tales. He married Joan’s sister, Mimi, the haunting beauty when she was just seventeen. He, like Dylan, had of course, courted both sisters.
With my mental moviola, I can shut my eyes and imagine the scene where he has to talk his jealous, teenaged bride out of shooting him with his own pistol.
Or the scene of Baez, barefoot in the rain, debuting at the Newport Folk Festival and becoming an overnight sensation.
Or the ones of Dylan playing his headgames on the fragile Joan would just make great cinema.
Four fucking great roles. There’s more then enough talent, egos and love triangles to work with. To get a small taste how charismatic and magnetic Farina was, please click here.
9. The Catcher Was A Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff
Think The Pride of The Yankees meets The Tailor of Panama.
Sports and Spies. Now, that’s a doubleheader.
Moe Berg was neither an exceptional ball player nor an exceptional operative, but this story would have made a nice project for the Coen Brothers. Hell, it’s pretty much Burn After Reading with the Yiddishisms of A Serious Man.
Berg was definitely the smartest guy ever on the ball field. He graduated from Princeton and Columbia Law School. He claimed to read ten newspapers a day and was fluent in a dozen languages. Guess he had the time, as he spent most of his major league career for the Dodgers and the Sox on the bench.
But, baseball brought Berg to Japan and after Pearl Harbor, his home movies of that trip landed him some intelligence gigs for the OSS. A nice, Jewish ballplayer working for Wild Bill Donovan, trying to capture Nazis seems pretty irresistible. No?
So, the catcher parachutes into Yugolsavia and would hop around Europe on assignment to kidnap any scientists he could find.
He apparently didn’t catch any.
And, when the Cold War heated up, he sold the same Schtick to the CIA, to bring over Russian scientists.
He apparently came up short there too. Both times, however, he stuck the taxpayers with some rather hefty expenses.
After baseball and the spy game, Berg spent the rest of his life, pretty much freeloading off friends and family. Trading these great stories for meals and a night on the couch.
Berg turned out to be a charming guy who talked a dammed good game, but was pretty much a flake and a fraud.
Or was he?
His big fish boastings (real, imagined or just a wee bit embellished) would be a hoot to watch. Unfortunately, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind might have killed any hope of this bio ever getting to the silver screen.
Cause, how many movies about entertainers with a secret spy life can they make?
10. A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." – Jonathan Swift
They’re probably gonna screw it up. They’re probably gonna screw it up. They’re probably gonna screw it up. They’re probably gonna screw it up.
But, what the Hell? Ya might as well try, try try.
No pressure, Suits. You’ll just piss off a loyal legion of fans and the whole city of New Orleans if you do screw it up.
Many have tried and failed. From Harold Ramis to direct John Belushi in the 80s. And Brit wit, Stephen Fry, taking a whack at the screenplay in the 90s. Both John Candy and Chris Farley have also been cast at various times, making the project seem positively cursed.
Last I heard, things were all set to shoot with a Soderbergh script, David Gordon Green directing and Will Ferrell to wear the famous green, flapped hunting cap.
He’s gonna have to pack on a few pounds to properly play the role. Cause, it’s a huge role in sooooo many aspects.
Dunces is not only a cult classic comedy but considered a true cannon of Southern Lit. It also comes with a rather tragic backstory. The manuscript was literally fished out of the garbage by Toole’s mom after the author had committed suicide. It took 11 years to get it published, championed by writer Walker Percy (One must read the moving forward he wrote for the book) and would then go on to posthumously win the Pulitzer Prize.
All without the help of Oprah.
Thus, sans Oprah, the movie can now simply be titled: Dunces – Not, Dunces: Based on The Novel, A Confederacy of Dunces By John Kennedy Toole.
Damned mouthful, Oprah.
Okay, I digressed. Like Catcher in the Rye, this is a lot of folk’s all time favorite read. Something you can return to year after year and still end up smiling and laughing out loud.
It’s set during the swinging sixties in New Orleans, a place that has known a lot about swinging since its foundation. All hell breaks loose when Ignatius Jacques Reilly goes with his mom to the department store to buy a string for his lute.
His hysterical run in with the store’s policeman starts this picaresque adventure as Reilly travels further down New Orleans’ underbelly in search of a job, meeting some of the most colorful characters this side of the Catalogue of Cool.
Percy describes Ignatius as a "slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy. a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one." He is the most stubborn, misanthropic, intestinally challenged, pop-culture loathing anti-hero literature has ever seen.
So, who the hell is good enough to be able to play that? Cast your votes here.
Zach Galifianakis? He is a southerner after all.
Guys, if you do manage to pull off this adaptation, we’re gonna sell a ton of green, flapped, hunting caps this Halloween.