Watch for Kirkus’ Book to Screen columns on two miniseries adaptations coming up in March: Philip Roth’s 2004 alternate-history novel The Plot Against America (HBO, March 16) and Celeste Ng’s 2017 book Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu, March 18). Until then, readers can take in two crime dramas, a contemplative historical tale, and a film based on a YA bestseller:
March 6: Spenser Confidential (Film Premiere – Netflix)
Robert B. Parker, who died in 2010, completed 40 books featuring his tough-but-thoughtful Boston private detective, Spenser. Four became TV movies in the mid 1990s starring Robert Urich, who also appeared in a 1980s TV series, Spenser: For Hire. Three more TV movie adaptations followed, starring Joe Mantegna.
Author Ace Atkins took over the Spenser book series after Parker’s death, and one of his entries, 2013’s Wonderland, forms the basis for this new Netflix production, which stars Mark Wahlberg as Spenser. It appears to be a rather loose interpretation of the novel and Parker’s characters, but fans of its director, Peter Berg, may be interested to see what he does with the material. After all, Berg developed the much loved TV series Friday Night Lights, which is very different from the 1990 nonfiction Buzz Bissinger book that inspired it.
March 6: First Cow (Film Premiere)
Jonathan Raymond’s 2004 novel The Half-Life tells two different stories—one set in the early 19th century, the other in the 1980s. This new film adaptation, co-written by Raymond and director Kelly Reichardt, appears to discard the later tale, instead focusing on the characters of Cookie Figowitz, a cook for a fur trapping party in Oregon, and his friend, King Lu. Reichardt is one of the finest directors working today, and she’s adapted others’ work before; her previous film, 2016’s Certain Women, was based on three short stories by Maile Meloy. Her low-key, deliberate style seems ideally suited to this material, and it’s sure to be worth a look.
March 6: The Burnt Orange Heresy (Film Premiere)
Charles Willeford (1919-1988) is likely best known for his 1984 detective novel Miami Blues, made into a 1990 film starring Alec Baldwin and Fred Ward. This new movie, based on Willeford’s 1971 noir novel, is set in the art world, and has a stellar cast, including Dracula’s Claes Bang, Vita and Virginia’s Elizabeth Debicki, Golden Globe winner Donald Sutherland, and, oddly enough, Mick Jagger. As in the novel, an art collector ropes an amoral art critic into a plot to steal a painting. Scott Smith, who wrote the twisty 1993 crime novel A Simple Plan, penned its screenplay.
March 13: Stargirl (Film Premiere – Disney+)
Kirkus’ review of Jerry Spinelli’s hugely popular 2000 YA novel noted that the author “takes his readers on a journey where choices between the self and the group must be made, and he is wise enough to show how hard they are, even when sweet.” Two decades on, that’s still an important message, and this trailer for Stargirl’s Disney+ adaptation puts it front and center. There’s a definite Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope at work here, but the cast makes it a bit easier to take; musician Grace VanderWaal, who makes her acting debut, is undeniably talented, and the great Giancarlo Esposito is always a pleasure to watch.
David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.