cover image Now Playing at the Valencia: Pulitzer Prize–Winning Essays on Movies

Now Playing at the Valencia: Pulitzer Prize–Winning Essays on Movies

Stephen Hunter, . . Simon & Schuster, $15 (345pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-6125-8

Transferring his boyhood passion for 1950s B-movies to today's digitized blockbusters, Washington Post critic Hunter celebrates Hollywood's great populist entertainments. He gathers his reviews of the last decade's worth of pictures, grouped by such genres as westerns, sci-fi and war movies. (A military buff, Hunter can identify the make and model of every filmic badass's automatic weapon and reliably tears up at the sight of a band of brothers holding out against hopeless odds.) A fiction writer, too, Hunter offers superb descriptions of imagery and atmosphere, the rush of action and the aura of actors, but his rapt openness to movies' dazzling phenomena sometimes overwhelms his discernment. To pick a schlockfest at random, his review of Mission: Impossible 2 mixes evocative observations (dewy Thandie Newton is "an embryo floating in her little sac of nourishing fluid") with overstimulated blurb-mongering ("M:I-2 rocks so hard it rocks its way off the planet"). Some of the deadline-driven pieces are no deeper than a strip of celluloid, but others—on Hollywood gunfights, say, or the worldview of conspiracy movies—thoughtfully probe the ideology of cinema. Written in a vigorous, demotic style, these essays are more fun than the films they discuss. Agent, Esther Newberg. (Nov.)