INTERVIEW: Billy Dee Williams discusses his life, career and Lando

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I was truly honored to have the chance recently to interview one of my childhood favorites, actor Billy Dee Williams, for the Buffalo News.

We’re only five months into 2017, but it’s already been a memorable year for Billy Dee Williams. He recently turned 80, provided a voice in the hit “Lego Batman Movie,” and joined the likes of Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford at the “Star Wars” Celebration fan festival in Orlando.

The actor best known for his role as ultra-suave “Star Wars” hero Lando Calrissian in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” is set to appear at Nickel City Con  from May 19 to 21 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. The actor, who recently took time for a telephone interview, said he’s not in the next film, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and has no knowledge of plans for Lando in “Episode IX” (“Nobody has talked to me about it,” he said). But he still often often voices the beloved character in TV series like “Star Wars Rebels” and video games like “Star Wars: Battlefront.”

Beyond being a part of iconic franchises like “Star Wars” and “Batman,” he has starred in such well-remembered favorites as “Brian’s Song,” the 1971 movie-of-of-the-week with Williams as Gayle Sayers and James Caan as the late Brian Piccolo, and cult classics like “Nighthawks” with Sylvester Stallone. When asked what he’s most proud of, he points to a few favorites. “I’ve done a lot of films over a lot of years, but certainly ‘Brian’s Song’ – I was nominated for an Emmy for that. ‘Lady Sings the Blues’ [the 1972 Billie Holliday biopic starring Diana Ross] started a whole new kind of career for me. There’s ‘Mahogany.’ One of my favorite experiences was the Negro League baseball movie, ‘The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.’ I’ve had a pretty good career.”

Here’s more from our interview. 

Question: You’ve had a very busy 2017. What’s been the high point of the year so far?

Answer: Turning 80 years old is certainly a highlight (laughs). That’s a big one. And it’s ironic that I ended up doing Two-Face in “The Lego Batman Movie” after having played Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989). I thought that was interesting. I was a little surprised, but I got a big chuckle out of it. They called me up and I was very happy to do it.

Q: “Star Wars” Celebration was just a few weeks ago. What was it like to see everyone? And did it feel strange to be there without Carrie Fisher?

A: We certainly all missed Carrie. It’s a tragedy — such an early point in her life — but we celebrated her. It was very nice to see everyone. I hadn’t seen any of them in quite some time. Every now and then I run into them, but it was nice to see everyone together.

Q: Does the ongoing growth of “Star Wars” surprise you?

A: It’s amazing. The “Star Wars” experience is a phenomenal experience, and it just picks up more fans with every generation. I think it’ll probably go on for another 40 years.

Q: You were the first African-American actor with a major role in the “Star Wars” saga, and you blazed a trail for actors like John Boyega in “The Force Awakens,” not to mention the diverse roster of stars in “Rogue One.” Is it accurate to consider you a pioneer?

A: I don’t really look at it that way. I just think of myself as an actor who is always looking for interesting things to do. That’s pretty much how I’ve conducted my life and my career.

Q: You’re also known for your painting. How did that passion develop?

A: It’s something I’ve been doing all my life. I spent three years at the National Academy of Design on a scholarship painting, and was nominated for a Guggenheim when I was 18 years old. I won a Hallgarten Prize, which is comparable to a Guggenheim. The Smithsonian National Gallery in Washington, D.C., owns one of my paintings, as does the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York and the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City. I’ve exhibited for a number of years, so it’s very much a part of my life.

Q: I hear you met recently with Donald Glover, who is playing young Lando Calrissian in the Han Solo spin-off film. What are your thoughts on him?

A: I hope he does well with it. For me, Lando is me. I can’t see anybody else as Lando. But he’s a very good actor, a very talented musician and writer, and a very nice young man. So I wish him the best.

Analysis: Should you take your children to see ‘Rogue One?’

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While I did not “review” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” exactly, I did write an analysis of the film for The Buffalo News. I focused on whether the film is suitable for children, a tricky topic, and a very personal one for me.

For parents, “Rogue One” is the great “Should I take my kids?” conundrum of 2016. The first “Star Wars Story” outside of the “episodes” is the most action-heavy, battle-focused “Star Wars” installment yet. It’s also the boldest in terms of outcome. But we’ll get back to that.

“Rogue One” is rated PG-13 for “extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.” As usual, the MPAA rating is not particularly helpful. So many parents are turning to reviews and the opinions of friends and family.

In reviews and pre-release buzz, the film has been described as “darker” than the other “Star Wars” films, but that’s not quite accurate. Remember that “Empire Strikes Back” ended with Han Solo frozen in carbonite, and Luke Skywalker learning that Darth Vader was his father and losing his hand. In “The Phantom Menace,” we see the corpse of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in flames — and let’s not forget Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru burned to a crisp in “A New Hope.”

Even the fairly innocuous “Attack of the Clones” included a beheading. And “Revenge of the Sith” — referred to in my house as “the dark one” — features the most gruesome moments of the series, by far.

The implications of “Rogue One” are certainly dark. But it’s not a graphic film. What it is, above all else, is a grittier “Star Wars” entry. Director Gareth Edwards’ “embedded” shooting style emphasizes on-ground combat, and the result is a more realistic feel. But there is little explicit violence. There is little explicit bloodshed, but there is war-like violence and some disturbing imagery throughout the film.

Without spoiling “Rogue One,” parents need to know that the film is very dark. But for many kids, especially those under 10 or so, the implications of what actually occurs will zip over their heads like an errant X-wing.

The outcome is also hopeful, and even inspiring. In addition, the female heroine of “Rogue One” is a fine role model, and there is a spirit of friendship and collaboration that’s downright wonderful. While there are talky moments in this two-hour-plus film, the visceral surge of the final third is thrilling.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” (Jonathan Olley, Lucasfilm-Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

In addition, another critic friend made a crucial point that I had not considered: “I think the idea of Han Solo’s own son murdering him in ‘The Force Awakens’ is psychologically much worse than anything shown in ‘Rogue One.’ ” Still, something happens that will require discussion and explanation. It may even shock you.

So what’s the appropriate age for “Rogue One”? It sounds like a cop-out, but that answer depends on the child. For better or worse, my 6-year-old son has seen all of the “Star Wars” films (we fast-forwarded through the darkest moments in “Revenge of the Sith”) and the eight “Harry Potter” adaptations (liberal fast-forwarding was involved here, as well).

My wife and I have known for months that he would be aching to see the film at the theater, but it was important for us that I see it first.

As a parent, then, my advice is simple: Do not take your kids until after you’ve seen the film. You know what your children can handle better than anyone, so avoid placing blind trust in critics or even friends. Know what you’re in for. Then, make your decision and feel confident.

In addition, if your child’s only “Star Wars” experience is “The Force Awakens,” it’s best to hold off. Work through some of the others first, then go “Rogue.”

Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: A Holiday Gift Guide for the Discerning Cinephile

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My latest books piece for The Film Stage has arrived, JUST in time for the holidays.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for film fans, with some of the best films of the year in theaters and lots of elaborate and thoroughly-researched books to read. This rundown has real variety, with new and recent texts covering cinema history, TV greats, and, of course, Star Wars. Note that one of this year’s finest books, The Oliver Stone Experience (Abrams Books), was covered by The Film Stage in September via an interview with author Matt Zoller Seitz. Make sure to check out Experience, and see below for another fine selection from the prolific Seitz.

 

Star Wars Year by Year: A Visual History, Updated Edition by Daniel Wallace (DK Publishing)

It’s a fantastic idea: a book that offers a timeline not of the Star Wars story, but of the Star Wars phenomenon. This newly updated edition of the 2010 release now includes recent works like The Force Awakens and Star Wars Rebels, ending with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the soon-to-arrive Star Wars-themed lands at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Quite simply, everything is here: the BBC radio adaptations, that odd magazine cover of George Lucas without his beard, Star Tours, Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars, Disney Infinity. It’s an exhaustive, enormously entertaining coffee table book that succeeds in not only charting the progression of the series, but also configuring its place in popular culture.

 

Dolce Vita Confidential: Fellini, Loren, Pucci, Paparazzi, and the Swinging High Life of 1950s Rome by Shawn Levy (W.W. Norton & Company)

Levy’s account of 1950s Rome is a stunning parade of legendary names and insightful details. The writing is wonderful (he first describes Fellini as a “cartoonist, journalist, gag writer, script doctor, and shambling man-about-town”) and the imagery unforgettable. Here, for example, is Levy on Marcello Mastroianni’s decision to stay based in Italy rather than the U.S.: “In Rome, he explained, he knew where to go for a coffee, where to get his haircut, where to test-drive the sports cars in which he’d begun to indulge himself once he started commanding substantial salaries. And he had a friendly relationship with a press corps that granted him a remarkable degree of discretion as he indulged in what had become a habit of wandering from the steadfast marriage he bragged about in interviews.” Imagine that! Dolce Vita Confidential is a delight for film fans and anyone who adores yesterday’s pop landscape.

 

TV (The Book) by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz (Grand Central Publishing)

Who better to ponder the greatest television shows of all time than Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall? Both critics are responsible for some of the finest writing about the medium in recent history, via New York Magazine/RogerEbert.com and HitFix.com, respectively. TV (The Book) is like a long, nicely conversational conversation, one that hits the obvious (The Wire, The Simpsons, Mad Men) and the less-so (Terriers, Futurama). Most effective is the analysis of series that proved to have a lasting impact beyond their initial success, like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. (Seitz calls it “the most Brechtian sitcom of the ’80s.”) It’s also interesting to hear the authors’ take on some of the current greats of TV, like the FX drama Fargo. (“It had no business working,” Sepinwall writes. “None.”)

 

The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: Volume Two: The Next 25 Years by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman  (Thomas Dunne Books)

The second volume in the Star Trek oral history series from Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman is just as compelling as the first. Covering the Next Generation series and films, the later small-screen Trek installments (Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise), and the J.J. Abrams’ films, The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years includes virtually every figure of note. What’s most involving, however, is the painstaking analysis of some of the Trek failures. Perhaps the biggest of those failures was the final Next Generation film, Nemesis, and the cast holds director Stuart Baird most responsible. Costar Marina Sirtis sums up the cast’s feelings best: “The director was an idiot.” Of course, there are triumphs as well, and ending with Star Trek rejuvenated and reinvigorated on the big screen makes for a fitting conclusion. If you are even the least bit interested in Gene Roddenberry’s creation, these two books are a must.

 

Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe by Robert Matzen (GoodKnight Books)

It’s difficult to find new ground to cover when discussing the personal life of a legendary figure like Jimmy Stewart, but author Robert Matzen more than pulls it off in Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe. This seriously researched and hugely illuminating text explores the actor’s wartime exploits, and the effect these experiences had on his later life and career. The level of detail is astounding, from stories of his ladies-man days with pal Henry Fonda to the ways in which It’s a Wonderful Life benefited from his military service. (Wonderful Life, Matzen writes, was his Stewart’s first post-war film, and “called on him to express a range of emotions he had never tapped into before.”) The star was never quite the same: “Stewart rarely spoke about his military service and never about combat … Jim being Jim, the memories remained locked inside.”

 

The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia by Stephen Whitty (Rowman & LIttlefield Publishers)

If ever there is a cinematic kingpin deserving of an encyclopedia, it is Alfred Hitchcock. Journalist and critic Stephen Whitty brings humor and insight to The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, and that makes the text a real delight. The reader can open the 500-page book in random spots and invariably find a worthy entry. Whitty’s takes on John Gavin (a “tall, dull, and handsome leading man”), Kim Novak (her “shyness [was] so often mistaken for hauteur”), and so many others are a treat. And his takedown of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho (Whitty calls it “an inexplicable remake”) is hard to disagree with. His Encyclopedia undoubtedly belongs on every cinephile’s shelf.

 

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: Inside the Creation of a Modern Fairy Tale by Mark Cotta Vaz with Nick Nunziata (Harper Design)

It is the tenth anniversary of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, and the more time that passes, the stronger the film seems. This new making-of text is painstakingly piece together, with interviews, the filmmaker’s own drawings and designs, and on-set photography. Most enjoyable is the time spent hearing from del Toro himself, a unique and inimitable figure in modern film. “I know I’m a bit of an alien,” he states in Modern Fairy Tale. “I don’t quite belong in a genre and I don’t quite belong in an industry.” Those comments provide a clue how a story as visually unforgettable and dramatically compelling as Pan’s Labyrinth came to be.

 

Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook by Janice Poon (Titan Books)

There has to be something that screams “fun” on this list, doesn’t there? The fiendishly clever Feeding Hannibal: A Connoisseur’s Cookbook offers a stunning array of recipes written for the beloved, dearly departed NBC series Hannibal. The titles alone are wondrous — “Using Your Brains in the Kitchen,” “Rack of Sacrificial Lamb,” “Hannibal’s Disarming Way with Ham.” These creations from Toronto-based food stylist Janice Poon sound seriously tasty, and the accompanying text and photos are a droll delight. (Poon on “Hong Kong Ribs”: “To shoot the scene, I used baby back ribs because they can be twisted to resemble a human ribcage.”)

 

Film Noir Compendium: Key Selections from the Film Noir Reader Series by James Ursini and Alain Silver (Applause Books)

Like The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, the Film Noir Compendium edited  by James Ursini and Alain Silver should be a required read for new film fans. But that’s a rather limiting classification, since it fails to highlight the inherent joy in these articles. The newly updated compilation features legendary critics like Robin Wood as well as critics-turned-filmmakers like Paul Schrader and Claude Chabrol. Standouts include an analysis of Kiss Me Deadly with perfectly chosen stills and a stunning, deep dive into Out of the Past.

 

BONUS: NOVELS ROUND-UP

Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno (Del Rey)

It’s almost time (at last) for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and we still know very little about the intricacies of the story. That’s a good thing. However, some background never hurts, and that’s why Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno is an essential December read. The focus here is on the relationship between Orson Krennic and scientist Galen Erso, and of course, the reader can easily imagine Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen in their respective roles. There are surprise cameos (I hope you’re seated, Poggle the Lesser fans), but it’s the Krennic-Erso face-off that resonates strongest.

 

Star Wars: Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston (Disney-Lucasfilm Press)

We have The Clone Wars TV series (and the less-successful film) to thank for many unique additions to the Star Wars canon, and at the top of the list is certainly Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s Padawan apprentice. She finally gets to be the central character in E.K. Johnston’s novel Star Wars: Ahsoka. Smartly, the book focuses on Tano’s time after she left the Jedi order — in other words, the time between The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels — and it’s a fine, well-written story involving her experiences on a farming moon. And like Catalyst, there are some crucial cameos that tie the novel in with RebelsA New Hope, and beyond.

 

Reykjavik Nights: An Inspector Erlendur Novel by Arnaldur Indridason (Picador)

I was unaware of author Arnaldur Indridason and his Inspector Erlendur series before the recent release of the brisk, relentlessly entertaining Reykjavik Nights. Now I can’t wait to read the rest of the Icelandic detective’s adventures. Like Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole, Erlendur is flawed and fascinating, and this prequel about two seemingly unconnected killings is a perfect introduction.

From The Film Stage — Books on Filmmaking: ‘The Force Awakens,’ Spike Lee, Pixar, and More

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My latest books piece for The Film Stage is heavy on The Force Awakens, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Take a look. (Amazon links to all books can be found at the link.)

Force Awakens fever is still gripping the film industry two months after the release of the seventh Star Wars entry, and the world of cinema-centric books is just as Snoke-obsessed. But there’s plenty more worth snagging, including in-depth analyses of Pixar and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, a lavish study of musicals, and a graphic stunner called Filmish.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary by Pablo Hidalgo (DK Publishing)

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DK’s Star Wars visual  dictionaries are, quite simply, must-owns. (Even the three prequel editions are fascinating.) And the Force Awakens Visual Dictionary might be the best yet. Author Pablo Hidalgo goes deep, providing everything you wanted to know about Jakku (but were afraid to ask), offering insight on briefly seen characters like Max Von Sydow’s Lor San Tekka, and breaking down exactly why the “crossguard blades” of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber are a necessity. Plus, the film stills and close-up images are a Star Wars geek’s dream come true. Been coveting a good look at Han Solo’s insulated boots and Rey’s pilot doll? You got it.

Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film by Edward Ross (Abrams Books)

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While technically a 2015 release, I feel confident in saying the winner of Cinephile’s Most Beloved Book of 2016 has arrived. Edward Ross’s Filmishis, as its subtitle puts it, “a graphic journey through film,” one that touches on more than 300 films, Centered on concepts like “the eye,” “the body,” “voice and language,” and “power and ideology,” Filmish is a joy to page through. Part of the fun is identifying the films referenced, and happily, Ross does include a filmography. How eclectic is the mix? Everything from They Live to Hiroshima, Mon Amour makes an appearance. Filmish would be an especially perfect read for a budding young film fanatic; I wish I’d had it as a teen obsessively taping old films on Turner Classic Movies.

Richard Pryor: American Id by Jason Bailey (The Critical Press)

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Writer Jason Bailey’s books on Pulp Fiction and Woody Allen are two of the most enjoyable filmmaking reads in recent years. He shifts gears with the essay collection Richard Pryor: American Id, but the results are no less impressive. Bailey opens with an analysis of “the most riveting footage ever captured of Richard Pryor,” a trainwreck of a morning-show interview shot on the Arizona set of Stir Crazy. “You cannot take your eyes off it,” Bailey writes, sending the reader racing to YouTube for a viewing of the coke-crazed, deliriously profane comic. The interview provides a unique intro to a text exploring Pryor’s work, his life, and racial identity. You’re unlikely to find a more fascinating 80-page read.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Official Novelization by Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey/LucasBooks)

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It is certainly fitting that Alan Dean Foster, author of the novelization of A New Hope and famous spin-off novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, was chosen to write the novelization of The Force Awakens. The differences between the film and the text have been well-documented — Unkar Plutt follows Rey to Maz Kanata’s place and loses a limb in the process, Finn and Rey steal a snowspeeder — and certainly add to one’s enjoyment of the film itself. While some of the added dialogue is rather silly (“We’ll have a party later,” Han tells the reunited Finn and Rey. “I’ll bring the cake.”), Foster’s Force Awakens is a brisk, entertaining read that stands nicely on its own.

Woody: The Biography by David Evanier (St. Martin’s Press)

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Yes, David Evanier’s Woody: The Biography is yet another tome about the films and personal controversies surrounding Woody Allen. What makes this one stand out is its analysis of Allen’s recent cinematic output a well as the details surrounding the recently resurfaced accusations of Dylan Farrow. In addition, Evanier’s book concludes with a chat — although not an interview — with the man himself. “[Our] conversation encompassed the moral realities of the world we live in: discussion of the Holocaust, discussion of art and the idea of a masterpiece versus frivolity,” the author writes. While we’re left wishing for even more highlights of the one-on-one chat, what’s here is enough to bring the biography to a grand close.

Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story (DK Publishing)

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Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story is a coffee-table stunner for any lover of Broadway, or the film adaptations that often follow stage success. The sheer scope of this visual extravaganza makes it a major achievement. Starting in 17th century France and stretching all the way to Hamilton (a very appropriate ending), the text is as entertaining as it is educational. And while a Sondheim timeline and breakdown of Julie Taymor’s approach toThe Lion King might not be groundbreaking, in the context of Musicals such elements seem remarkably fresh.

The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Phil Szostak (Abrams Books)

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Of all the new Force Awakens-themed literary releases, the one that offers the finest sense of how the film came together is surely The Art of The Force Awakens. In this remarkable text, we witness how young heroes “Kira and Sam” developed into Rey and Finn, how the concept of a “Jedi killer” morphed into Kylo Ren, and what a film featuring more direct involvement from Luke Skywalker may have looked like. The Art also makes clear that the much-debated parallels with A New Hope from a visual and storytelling perspective were always intentional. Did the Starkiller Base design remind you of the Death Star? Of course it did. As art director Kevin Jenkins puts it, “It’s a massive homage.”

Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled by Ashley Clark (The Critical Press)

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Fifteen years after its release, Spike Lee’s Bamboozled remains one of the most complex films of its director’s career. All too often it has been disregarded, so it is high time for a contemplative book like Ashley Clark’sFacing Blackness. Yes, Bamboozled is “hardly fan favorite material,” Clark writes, but also a radical effort that harnesses “blackface imagery in complex and provocative ways.” While she finds the satire “occasionally muddy,” Clark also rightly finds Bamboozled to be a “horror film” that “streaks the screen with unhealed psychic scars.” This is brilliant, essential writing about an unforgettable film.

 

 

Yesterday Is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios by Josh Spiegel (The Critical Press)

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Movie Mezzanine’s Josh Spiegel shines new light on the Pixar oeuvre inYesterday Is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios. Spiegel adroitly makes the case for nostalgia, “the renewable fuel of modern popular culture,” as central to the successes of John Lasseter and company. Perhaps most insightful is his comparison of Disney’s Frozen with Pixar’s underrated Brave. The latter, he writes, is “fully committed to depicting a mother-daughter relationship without any make intrusion,” whereas Frozen is “more concerned with the nebulous concept of romantic, not sisterly, love.”

 

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Incredible Cross-Sections written by Jason Fry, illustrated by Kemp Remillard (DK Publishing)

Star Wars The Force Awakens Crosssections

DK’s Force Awakens Incredible Cross-Sections is the least-essential TFAbook of the bunch, but that doesn’t mean it’s not wildly intriguing. The level of detail here — the auxiliary generator in Poe Dameron’s X-wing, the fuel tank in Rey’s speeder, the “relief pilot bunk” in the Millennium Falcon — is staggering. Plus, the artistry of illustrator Kemp Remillard makes every page frame-worthy.

Alien Next Door by Joey Spiotto (Titan Books)

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And now for something completely different. The premise of artist Joey Spiotto’s Alien Next Door is simple, smart, and very, very funny: What would our favorite Ripley-battling sci-fi monster look like when going to the beach, bowling, or taking a selfie? Filled with numerous in-jokes any fan of theAlien films will appreciate, Alien Next Door is a face-hugging treat.

Bonus: Novel Round-Up

The Girl in the Spiders Web

Those looking for two gripping novels with links to the world of cinema should check out David Lagercrantz’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Alfred A. Knopf) and Jo Nesbo’s Midnight Sun (Alfred A. Knopf). The former is the continuation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series and the story of its heroine, Lisbeth Salander. While fans of Larsson’s original trilogy may have been concerned with the idea of another author carrying on the series, it quickly becomes clear that Lagercrantz’s book is respectful and appropriately thrilling. Let’s hope we someday have the chance to see Rooney Mara in a big-screen adaptation of this story involving hacking the N.S.A. And Jo Nesbo, author of The Snowman (finally filming with Michael Fassbender as iconic detective Harry Hole), returns with another chilly crime drama called Midnight Sun. This tale of the former fixer for a Norwegian crime lord is a short (less than 300 pages), fast-moving blast of a novel.

Recommended new books on filmmaking: My latest Film Stage feature

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My latest Film Stage books piece features some new (and newish) reading options looking at Mad Max: Fury Road, Robert Altman, Grand Budapest Hotel, and more.

If your idea of beach reading is Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steel, click away. (And reconsider your life choices.) However, if you plan to work on your tan while paging through weighty hardcover tomes about Robert Altman, Boyhood, and Grand Budapest Hotel, read on. We start—as one should—with George Miller’s fast-and-Furiosa masterpiece, Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road by Abbie Bernstein (Titan Books)

Many thoughts run through one’s head while watching Fury Road—Could George Miller’s film make the rest of this summer’s blockbusters look any weaker in the knees? Can fans stop worrying about the chronology? Why wasn’t late Howard Stern Show fan favorite Eric the Actor cast as the little person who looks through the telescope?—but the most pressing is likely, “How did they do that?!” The Art of Mad Max: Fury Road has some answers. From storyboards and sketches to insightful production photos, the book is an extravaganza of ugly-beautiful details. Some of it is haunting, including a still of a young “War Boy” in the making gazing in the distance and an extreme close-up of a disturbingly skeevy Nicholas Hoult. Some is surprising, including the concept that the “Wives’ quarters” are “filled with the world’s last remaining books.” All of it, without question, makes a rich film seem even richer. Abbie Bernstein’s book is a brisk, fascinating read, and a must-have for the Rockatansky completist.

The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel by Matt Zoller Seitz (Abrams)

Matt Zoller Seitz’s dazzling, marvelously designed 2013 book The Wes Anderson Collection was one of the finest film-related texts of recent years, but had one failing: Timing meant that it could not include 2014’s Grand Budapest Hotel. That problem is now solved. The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel is a glorious companion, featuring more than 250 pages of interviews (with Anderson, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Yeoman, and others), essays (from the likes of David Bordwell and Ali Arikan), and photos, artwork, and much more. There are even excerpts from the works of Stefan Zweig. Above all else, there are illuminating thoughts like this one, from Zoller Seitz’s preface: “[W]ith each successive viewing of The Grand Budapest Hotel, a funny, really not­-so-funny thing happens: We realize that all these acts of self-reinvention and self-determination will nonetheless be trampled by the greedy and powerful, then ground up in the tank treads of history.”

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt (Scribner)

Comedian-actor-Twitter superstar Patton Oswalt is a cinephile extraordinaire, and Silver Screen Fiend—subtitled Learning About Life From an Addiction to Film—is one of the finest chronicles of movie love and its life-altering impact in some time. As the memoir progresses, Oswalt’s stand-up career slowly flourishes, but it’s the film talk that makes Fiend so memorable. His Day the Clown Cried anecdote alone makes this an essential read, as done his heartbreak after seeing The Phantom Menace. Oswalt’s thoughts on a second viewing of the Star Wars prequel are wonderfully well-reasoned: “I guess I’m hoping for some sort of redemptive miracle, or that maybe I was wrong in my initial assessment. Also, there are parts of it I like. It’s sheer uncut nostalgia. … But it still sucks.”

Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi by Jack and Holman Wang (Chronicle Books)

The Star Wars Epic Yarns trio is summarized nicely on the back of each book: “Twelve handcrafted felt scenes + twelve words = one epic microsaga!” That about sums it up. While the twelve words are a bit banal for readers over, say, 6 (“trouble,” “hurt,” “boom!”), the scenes are stunningly detailed. Yoda, in particular, is adorable, and the key moments from A New HopeThe Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are all here. My Star Wars-obsessed 4-year-old finds the three books delightful, and so do I.

Altman by Kathryn Reed Altman and Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan (Abrams)

The career of Robert Altman demanded a colorful, photo-heavy coffee-table book like Altman. This visual biography is co-authored by the late director’s widow, Kathryn Reed Altman, and film critic Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan. They have created a wildly entertaining summary of the man’s career and life, including scores of interviews (collaborators represented include Lily Tomlin, Jules Feiffer, and Julian Fellowes) and unique insight into the peaks and valleys of his life. The lows of the 1980s are especially interesting, but readers will be most moved by the photos and memories of his final days. The last photo of husband and wife, taken at home shortly before his passing in 2006, is gloriously loving. “I think it’s a very special picture,” Reed Altman writes. That’s an undeniable sentiment.

Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film by Matt Lankes (University of Texas Press)

Last year around this time, most film fans were anxiously awaiting the chance to see Richard Linklater’s Sundance smash, Boyhood. In a matter of weeks after opening, the 12-year-in-the-making backstory had become part of pop culture lore. While the film failed to pick up the Oscars many thought it should (besides Patricia Arquette’s much-deserved Best Supporting Actress statue), the passage of time has not diminished the boldness of Linklater’s approach. The gorgeous photographs by Matt Lankes in Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film make it even easier to appreciate the uniqueness of production. Here are the faces of Boyhood—all of them, from Mason and his mom and dad to the guy behind the counter at the liquor store. The behind-the-scenes pics, especially, demonstrate what an experience the film must have been to make, and remind us how thrillingly alive it felt to viewers.

 

Vacation Reads (Recent Film-centric Novels)

Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme (Overlook Press)

Self-Styled Siren blogger Farran Smith Nehme’s debut novel is an utter delight. Movie-loving lead character Ceinwen Reilly is a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi now living in 1980s New York. She finds herself on a quest to track down a long-lost silent film, and I find myself hoping that Emma Stone is cast in a big-screen adaptation of Reels.

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (Viking)

It is hard not to be fascinated by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s years in Hollywood. In West if Sunset, the great Stewart O’Nan (Snow Angels) imagines the final years of the author’s life. The novel is wonderfully detailed and hugely moving. It’s a fine companion to Fitzgerald’s own The Love of Last Tycoon.

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo (Knopf)

Jo Nesbo is no stranger to Hollywood—see Headhunters, and, hopefully, eventual adaptations of his Harry Hole novel The Snowman and the stand-alone novel The Son. (Channing Tatum is attached to the latter.) Blood on Snow, the compulsively readable story of a crime scene “fixer,” has Leonardo DiCaprio on board as producer and possibly star. Note to Leo: Blood is bloody good. Take the lead role, please.

The Revenant by Michael Punke (Picador)

Speaking of DiCaprio, the actor’s next film is The RevenantBirdman Oscar-winner Alejandro González Iñárritu’s adaptation of Michael Punke‘s 2003 novel. If the recently re-released book is any indication, DiCaprio has perhaps one of his most formidable performances yet in store. This tale of a 19th century a fur trapper on a quest for revenge is a captivating read. Buy it now, and ponder what Iñárritu and his stellar cast (which also includes Tom Hardyand Domhnall Gleeson) will bring to the table.

 

Breaking, too: Eclectic boogalo!

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For the first several months of my site, I posted a weekly round-up of film-etc. stories that were on my radar. I have not had time to do that lately, but that does not mean I have not been reading like a mad man. I retweet many of these on my Twitter page, and also post some on Facebook. But the last week or so has been especially interesting. Here are six of the biggies that you need to be aware of:

Each one of these is fascinating, and they have all helped make this, in my opinion, the most fascinating filmdom fall in some time …

Matt Damon and George Clooney in “The Monuments Men” (Claudette Barius / Sony)