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IN THE WORKS: Movies of Ebert’s ‘Life Itself’ and Ellroy’s ‘Big Nowhere,’ Plus Berg & Holofcener’s ‘Secret Thing’

IN THE WORKS: Movies of Ebert's 'Life Itself' and Ellroy's 'Big Nowhere,' Plus Berg & Holofcener's 'Secret Thing'

A handful of exciting projects based on books are in the works, from some heavy hitters, from Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese to Elmore Leonard and Nicole Holofcener.

– Roger Ebert is going to be the subject of his own film, and has some top-notch talent behind him. Steven Zaillian and Martin Scorsese are pairing up to exec produce a documentary on the veteran critic/journalist, based on his own newly released memoir, “Life Itself.” Fittingly, Chicago-based documentarian Steve James (“Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters”) will direct. Here’s a snippet from the New Yorker’s review of Ebert’s memoir:

As Ebert notes in his new autobiography, “Life Itself,” his silence has made his inner voice more vivid, and-as he himself says in his introduction-the book is proof of it. In particular, he summons his youth (he was born in 1942) and those who were close to him then-family, friends, neighbors, teachers-with a wealth of detail that is at once a tribute to the vigorous fullness with which he has lived and to his power of perception, recollection, and description. …The treasure of the book is Ebert’s portraiture-whether of family, friends, colleagues, or celebrities. He speaks lovingly of actors (“I am beneath everything else a fan. I was fixed in this mode as a young boy and am awed by people who take the risks of performance”); in particular, his sketches of Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, and John Wayne pulsate with life (they’re juicily quotable, but I won’t bother quoting; just do read them), and he conjures a remarkable character, Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter, a former wheeler-dealer at the Cannes Film Festival who, Ebert writes, now “lives not far from Broadway, which is to Billy as the stream is to the trout….” The dialogue Ebert reproduces is a comic masterwork; I feel as if I’m seeing a version of the American tycoon from Jacques Tati’s “Playtime,” only smarter, raunchier, and more inventive: Irving! Take care of Francis Ford Chrysler over there! And set ’em up for Prince Albert in a can! Whatever he’s having. Doo-blays!

– If you loved I Am Love and Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential,” you’ll be happy to hear that the former’s director, Luca Guadagnino, is on board to adapt and bring to the big screen another of novelist James Ellroy’s works, 1998’s “The Big Nowhere.” Along with “L.A. Confidential,” “The Black Dahlia” (which Brian De Palma adapted in 2006) and “White Jazz,” this novel completes Ellroy’s “LA Quartet.” Ellroy also lent his mastery in crime writing to a first draft of Woody Harrelson’s 2011 cop-drama “Rampart,” from director Oren Moverman. But “The Big Nowhere” will have to wait for Guadagnino to complete his next project, “A Bigger Splash” (ThePlaylist has details). 

Here’s Publisher’s Weekly description of “The Big Nowhere”:

Returning to Los Angeles a few years after World War II (the setting of his last novel, The Black Dahlia ), Ellroy has come up with an ambitious, enthralling melodrama painted on a broad, dark canvas. The novel’s first half interweaves two stories of lonely, driven lawmen investigating the crimes of social outcasts. In the county sheriff’s office, Deputy Danny Upshaw finds that his probe of a series of homosexual murders is unleashing some frightening personal demons. Meanwhile, DA’s investigator Mal Considine is assigned to infiltrate a cadre of Hollywood leftists, knowing that in the red-scare atmosphere, any hint of Communist conspiracy he uncovers will advance his career. Impressed by Upshaw’s intensity, Considine decides to use him as a decoy to seduce a powerful woman nicknamed the “Red Queen,” and the two cases and their implications of corruption, deceit and past violence converge explosively. At once taut and densely detailed, this is a mystery with the grim, inexorable pull of a film noir, shot through with a strictly modern dose of extreme (though not gratuitous) brutality and a very sure sense of history and characterization.

– Director Amy Berg, who’s West Memphis Three doc (there’s also a star-packed feature in production) West of Memphis just played Toronto after its Sundance premiere (we interview Berg and producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh here), is primed to enter the narrative realm with “Every Secret Thing,” penned by Nicole Holofcener (“Please Give,” “Friends with Money”). Adding to that already impressive talent is Frances McDormand as producer and Diane Lane and Elizabeth Banks. Holofcener’s script is based on Laura Lippmann’s book, which — like “West of Memphis” — deals with murder and blame. Financing has been secured through various sources and shooting is now set for February 2013.

Read the book’s synopsis from Booklist below.

Lippman has won just about every mystery writing award there is–the Edgar, the Agatha, the Anthony, the Shamus, and the Nero Wolfe–for her Tess Monaghan series. This is her first stand-alone mystery, one in which the detectives are consigned to bit parts. The fact that the police here do little save go through the motions underscores the fatalistic feeling at the core of this dark domestic tragedy. Lippman writes the kind of opening that should make readers feel they’re following helplessly as a nightmare slowly unfolds. Two 10-year-old girls, bounced from a birthday party for bad behavior, discover a baby in a carriage on the sidewalk and deem it necessary to “save” her. Lippman leaves the reader knowing something terrible happened but unsure what it was until the narrative progresses to seven years later, when the two girls are released from prison and return to their homes, six blocks away from the house to which they brought untold grief. The girls have to adjust to a new prison of neighborhood suspicion. Then, as the girls make somewhat of a new life, children start disappearing, and then reappearing, until one toddler is well and truly missing. Lippman doesn’t write a standard whodunit here but plays with reader expectations of what should happen next. A startling page-turner.

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