Let’s cover the gamut here for the best three books for a movie. We have 1960’s pre-Kennedy Assassination Dallas, a West Virginia anti-coal-Forrest-Gump like polemic, and a Western Canonical classic. All three, in my opinion, have the makings of a Best Movie of the Year chance, but the award will come from the delivery. So without further ado, I give you the three best books which should be made into a movie.
Strange Peaches – Edwin “Bud” Shrake
Strange Peaches is one of the best books written about, in, and surrounding Texas. The story is built around the hard-partying Texans of the 1960s oil boom in Texas and the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Texas critics from Don Graham to C.L. Sonnichson to A.C. Greene, who named Strange Peaches one of his Fifty Greatest Books on Texas, hail the book as the perfect portrayal of Dallas pre-Kennedy assassination, and Shrake captures the change of the state after the event. Strange Peaches is immensely readable and reads like a screenplay.
Strange Peaches follows the stories of John Lee, a long-haired TV actor, and Buster, a struggling police reporter, through the early parts of the 1960s, up to the assassination. However, as with most Roman a clefs, John Lee is based on Shrake and Buster is famed sportswriter Gary Cartwright. Jack Ruby makes an appearance as a character and Jada, Ruby’s Carousel Club’s star stripper, whom Shrake was dating at the time appears, too.
For the main characters, John Lee’s film equivalent will best be represented by Toby MacGuire or Paul Rudd in his first serious role. The John Lee character must have a boyish face, but a gristled demeanor. Rudd will be best, but could he shake the Kunu role from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and parlay his talent with a heart-rending role?
Gary Cartwright is chubby and affable with a scraggily beard. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s voice and calm, aggressive demeanor is perfect for the role of Buster. As far as the red-headed stripper Jada, hands down the only eligible actress to fit the bill with unrequited sex appeal and earthiness is Scarlett Johansson.
To direct this masterpiece, well, that can only go to the inimitable conspiracist Olive Stone. He’s all ready done the background research for JFK, and this will round out the JFK story for him.
The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart – M. Glenn Taylor
If Forrest Gump were to have a prequel equal to or greater than its original scope, Taylor’s Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart is the book. Where Forrest was a crippled boy gone good by the loving and doting nature of a mother and the redeeming faith that ignorance is bliss, Taggart (AKA: Stinky T, Chicky Gold, A.C. Gilbert, and Ace) highlights the strength, love, and power of the human race. Where Gump accentuates the latter half of the twentieth-century, and arguably the decline of America’s moral and economic climb, Trenchmouth’s Ballad covers the rise of West Virginia through the early twentieth-century and the moral growth of a boy against the backdrop of a culture defined by the coal industry.
The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart is a subtle polemic against the travesties of strip-mining and the abandonment of environmental groups to push hard against big business. M. Glenn Taylor delivers the message in a genteel way through a character you can only grow to love. However, where the story is rich in characters, they are not long-lived in the story. Most of the characters simply come in and out of Taggart’s wandering lifestyle. The supporting cast will have to be strong character-role players, like William H. Macy and Chris Cooper, built around a strong star to carry the story. The two actors which immediately come to mind to play Trenchmouth Taggart are Leonardo di Caprio or Jake Gyllenhaal.
Not to belabor the Forrest Gump connection, the only director who could pull this movie off with the verve, sensitivity, and compassion it deserves is Tom Hanks.
Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
I know it’s been attempted before, but it needs a new revisioning. The only director I see fitting to bring this classic tale of love and disillusionment to the screen is Joe Wright of “Atonement” fame. He delivered the ennui and heartache of Atonement in a delicate way that saves the punch of the movie’s plot twist for the unsuspecting. I won’t fill you in on the details; I don’t want to play spoiler.
The three main characters, Emma, Dr. Bovary, and Rudolphe must be portrayed by convincing characters who do not routinely ‘overplay’ a role. For the dalliances of Emma Bovary, the first actress to come to mind is Kiera Knightly, whose worked with Wright on “Atonement.” She has the fresh-faced melancholy that fits Emma to perfection. But we must also consider Reese Witherspoon for her sexy wholesomeness, if those two qualities go together.
For the male roles, Dr. Bovary will have to be an older gentleman that we empathize with and can play a likeable, but also hateable character. Perfect example here is William H. Macy. For the sexy, girl-stealing Rudoloph, Hugh Grant all ready has the English accent, but he also possesses that loveable, but despicable comportment which defines Rudolphe.