Cormac McCarthy pens an original script, James Franco stays busy, and Emma Watson becomes beautiful for Guillermo del Toro.
21 Feb 2012 - 9:52 AM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 9:30 PM

For many years it appeared as if a leading generation of American novelists would never find a place, let alone be prominently translated, into the movies. There were bits and pieces that could be traced back to the writings of Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy, but their literary standing appeared to mean little. Of the four McCarthy appeared simultaneously the most likely and unlikely: he wrote what could be classed as westerns, but they placed monstrous horrors amidst beautifully rendered landscapes with solemnly burnished prose; no-one knew how to reduce the likes of 1985's Blood Meridian to the point where they'd have a chance of at least being rated R.

After Billy Bob Thornton's tepid and expensive adaptation of All the Pretty Horses, with Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz, appeared in 2000, McCarthy appeared divorced from the screen. But then a pair of truncated, compelling novels – 2005's No Country For Old Men and 2006's The Road – were released, and both made for fine films in the hands of the Coen Brothers and John Hillcoat respectively. What's more, the former was highly profitable, and suddenly Cormac McCarthy was the Nicholas Sparks of murder and cannibalism.

McCarthy hasn't published a novel since The Road, but he's obviously paid attention to his profile among filmmakers. Six months ago, without warning, the 78-year-old presented his representative with an original screenplay he'd written, sparking instant attention. The Counselor bears some comparison to No Country, for it's about a lawyer who decides to get involved in the narcotics trade and soon finds himself dangerously in over his head. Ridley Scott leapt to secure the material, and will direct it as soon as he's finished with his Alien prequel, Prometheus. For the lead role he's looking at one of the Prometheus cast, and the screen's man of the moment: Michael Fassbender.

The only person busier than Fassbender, who will have Steve McQueen's Shame followed into cinemas by Prometheus and David Cronenberg's Viennese psychiatry period piece A Dangerous Method, is James Franco. The 127 Hours and Rise of the Planet of the Apes star (not to mention lousy Academy Awards host), is starring and directing in an adaptation of one of McCarthy's earliest works, 1973's Child of God. Franco will play a violent loner, Lester Ballard, who retreats into the mountains of Tennessee and begins to act out murderous sexual fantasies such as necrophilia. Did we mention that McCarthy adaptations can have ratings problems? Franco also stars in Sam Raimi's Wizard of Oz prequel Oz: The Great and Powerful, with Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz as witches, and portrays Hugh Hefner in the 1970s porn biopic Lovelace.

After all that, a new take on Beauty and the Beast is light relief. The director will be Mexican fantasist Guillermo del Toro, who is currently following up Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth with Pacific Rim, his version of a Japanese kaiju (giant monster) genre movie. As the young female lead who wins the heart of the titular creature he has Harry Potter star Emma Watson. For the beast? Knowing del Toro it's hardly going to be conventional.