Archive for November, 2013

Real Hell

Posted: November 29, 2013 in movie reviews

12 Years a Slave **** (out of five)

12yearscover-webSteve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, based on the astonishing memoir by Solomon Northop, is controlled, precise, visually stylish, atmospherically rich and appropriately moving. It is neither sentimental nor lurid, despite the story demanding the depiction of violence and redemption. It is a major work from a director who has carved out, in three features, a distinct and mature style.

McQueen, I am sure, does not shoot “coverage” (footage of a scene gathered in close, medium and wide shots, from multiple angles, so that the film may be constructed with great freedom and choice in the editing room). Coming from the visual arts, McQueen’s shots are composed with great care. Putting his films together, I suspect, would be somewhat self evident. The scene is the scene as shot (John Ford shot this way).12 yrs a slave4

Likewise, he favours constraint in his music (Hans Zimmer, who can be overbearing if allowed to be) and in his performances. The closest this film gets to an overwhelming performance is that of Michael Fassbender, as Epps, a troubled and cruel slaver and plantation owner, but Fassbender, working with McQueen for the third time, keeps things the right side of real. He’s truly scary because he’s just human.

MCDTWYE FS008Chiwetel Ejiofor, as Solomon, the incredibly unfortunate freeman from Saratoga, New York, who is kidnapped and sold into the slaved-up South, has a difficult role that he pulls off with panache. The challenge is that Solomon is a passive lead: he reacts to events rather than creates action; his major achievement comes after the final frame of the film, when we read about the book he wrote and its publication in 1853. Indeed, Solomon went on to lead a passionate, political (albeit short) life after his ordeal, enough for another film, which could lead to the absurd, practically parodic title 12 Years a Slave 2.

But Solomon does do something throughout the film, in every scene: he survives, and he occasionally has to make very difficult choices to do so. Ejiofor, in a quiet performance, gives Northup fair dignity, without letting himself nor McQueen make him a martyr.

The Oscar for Best Film of 2013 will very likely come down to this film and Gravity. What a spectacularly tough choice. Essential viewing.

Now Only Ten Feet

Posted: November 25, 2013 in movie reviews

20 Feet From Stardom ***1/2 (out of five)

20-Feet-From-StardomThe early money’s on Morgan Neville’s 91 minute 20 Feet From Stardom to win Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars (well, those hosted in January 2014 for movies released this year). To do so, it would mean handing the gold statue to the second music documentary in a row – last year’s recipient was Searching for Sugar Man. 20 Feet From Stardom does not carry the revelatory emotional catharsis of that movie – it doesn’t come close – but it’s fun, interesting, at times revealing, and features snatches of fantastic music and clips.

Lisa Fischer

Lisa Fischer

Purporting to be a sweeping look at background singers, the film actually closely examines a very few, and all American: Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Claudia Lennear, Tata Vega, Judith Hill and the Waters Family. While we get to know these subjects well (and they’re all charming, talented and entertaining) it would have been terrific – and worth a longer running time – to get a bigger picture of this artistic subset.

So much time is devoted to Lisa Fischer, in particular, that, charming as she is, I actually started feeling antagonistic toward her: she was chewing up so much screen time (through no fault of her own!) that, I felt, she was denying it to others. We have brief snippets of interviews with non-Americans (and the camera dotes often, lingeringly and lovingly, on one, Australian Jo Lawry) but Neville keeps the focus tight on his main subjects, attempting to create a greater conversation about race in America.

Darlene Love

Darlene Love

The film is too light-hearted for Big Issues, and the race talk never leads to much. But we get some very funny – and sometimes touching – stories along the way, and hear some astounding voices. It’s not the definitive look at background singers – a good mini-series for television might be the place for that – but it’s certainly entertaining.

So Far, So Good

Posted: November 24, 2013 in movie reviews

Catching Fire ***1/2 (out of five)

hunger-games-catching-fire-poster-banner-1Put aside the Oscar, and the ten million dollars a role, for a moment, and pity poor Jennifer Lawrence. Pity her for putting her all into bringing fine performance work to a teen romantic action franchise while being surrounded by male co-stars who, if they’re giving their all, simply don’t have enough to give.

Lawrence makes the Hunger Games films. She is perfect and then some as heroine Katniss. The first film was bold, exciting, different, thrilling and even a little bit controversial (depicting a sort of gladiatorial contest of the future where kids kill kids to win). This one may not be as good but it’s certainly good enough, and will definitely propel me to the next one (which it’s very much designed to do – their hasn’t been a feature film with a cliffhanger ending like this since The Empire Strikes Back). The world of the film remains well realised and suitably dystopian, the second round of Games is different enough to that of the first film to make it freshly exciting, and, I can’t state this too much, the camera just loves Lawrence, she loves it, and we all love her for it all.hunger-games-catching-fire-beetee-enobaria-victor-banner

But oh, the men (really the boys – all three of them seem to have the emotional inner lives of twelve year-olds but are obviously older than that). The (young) men are really bad – badly performed but also badly written as characters, empty, vacuous, obvious and way more than a little whiny. I won’t name the actors here; they really are very possibly capable of better things – their material here is simply too shallow to play well. (I’m not talking about the older dudes: Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci and Jeffrey Wright are all old hands at selling simplistic dialogue with an appropriate expression and somehow rising above it all, and Lenny Kravitz actually continues to make something delicate and moving out of Cinna, Katniss’ designer). There’s no doubt that Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Sam Claflin will all be wanting something meatier to do in the next two films (okay, I named them).

Amanda Plummer... Loonytunes.

Amanda Plummer… Loonytunes.

It doesn’t matter. It’s Lawrence’s show and she’s great. She may not quite get to do all that Sigourney Weaver did in the Aliens movies, but this is her blockbuster four-film series and she owns it. There have been better science fiction films – a thousand of them – but The Hunger Games is forming solidly, and in many ways offers what movies were designed for: good old-fashioned escapism, anchored by a movie star.

By the way, Amanda Plummer plays… what else? A total loon.

Blood Money

Posted: November 21, 2013 in movie reviews

Carrie **1/2 (out of five)

carrie-2013-4653-hd-wallpapersIn the wake of the spate of revenge attacks upon school bullies that have come to be known, tragically matter-of-factly, as “school shootings”, a revamped, updated Carrie had all the potential in the world to be unbelievably current, edgy, creepy, meaningful, tragic and horrifying. Instead, and completely surprisingly given the pedigrees of the director and leading cast, this adaptation of perhaps Stephen King’s best book is strictly by the numbers, ticking off the book’s scenes one by one, almost absurdly faithfully, without any directorial flair, texture or point of view. And, in a world of cyber-bullying gone wild (the film is set in the present), only a tiny nod of the head is given to this aspect of modern school society. It is all a huge missed opportunity.

Spacek in the first adaptation.

Spacek in the first adaptation.

Technically, the film is proficient, and the A-List cast alone lift it above the remakes of Halloween, Friday the Thirteenth, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre et al that have flooded screens for the last few years. But Carrie was never a straight “horror” story. Rather, it is perhaps the best high-school bully book ever, the grandmama of the genre, and the original film, with the ultimate perfect casting of Sissy Spacek as Carrie and Piper Laurie as her bonkers mum, and directed with great personal style by Brian De Palma, was a classy affair, a psychological thriller that went full-scale bloodiest in its acclaimed final act, giving birth to perhaps the most iconic horror film image of all time: Carrie, in her prom dress, soaked in (pig’s) blood. That film remains a minor masterpiece – to some, a major one.

It also went to the Oscars. Spacek was nominated for Best Actress and Laurie for Best Supporting Actress. Horror films rarely receive acting Oscar nominations – they rarely receive any Oscar nominations, The Silence of the Lambs and a few others being notable and rare exceptions. But, as stated before, the original adaptation of Carrie was classy, and it wasn’t really a horror film. But you know what? It was scary. Laurie was full-on scary. Spacek was scary. De Palma shot it in a creepy, unnerving way, and, as usual for him, used sound in a particularly nerve-rattling way. And the climax – really, the very, very extended climax – was deeply upsetting, one death in particular, the image of which is as fresh in my mind as the day I first saw it (which was probably a day on which I was too young to see a film like Carrie, but such was my youth).

The new Carrie is not scary and it’s not headed to the Oscars, trust me. Director Kimberley Peirce’s debut feature, Boys Don’t Cry, went to the Oscars, scoring the Best Actress statue for Hilary Swank and a nomination for Chloë Sevigny in support, but Carrie doesn’t carry any sort of directorial voice; it essentially feels like it could have been directed by any journeyman director, and Peirce is considered something other than that, more of an “artiste”; there’s no artfulness on display here. The story skips from scene to scene like a stone on a lake, never going beneath the surface, never displaying deep thought. I actually wonder if there was a lot more texture and detail shot, and subsequently chopped out by a studio eager to bus in the kids and bus ‘em out again as quickly as possible to make way for the next session. I rarely if ever say this, but it was too short. There were the bones, but none of the fat and muscle to give the story taste and grit. 

Moretz and Peirce.

Moretz and Peirce.

The story itself, of course, is absolutely fantastic, and, by adhering faithfully to it, the film immediately is watchable and enjoyable – how could it not be? A terrific concept, great characters, a contained setting, a completely relatable dynamic (bullying), and an immensely satisfying payoff. It was King’s first novel to be published but the fourth he wrote. He’d already mastered unity of character, time and place. He may not be the most literary of writers but boy he’s gotta be the world’s number one living storyteller.

The other plus is Chloë Grace Moretz, who continues to be a very promising actress, but who isn’t hitting the ball out of the park and blowing our minds as Saoirse Ronan continues to do. Moretz has been acting since she was a little girl, and made everyone’s jaws drop as Hit Girl in Kick Ass in 2010, but she is definitely showing mannerisms from role to role now, and they are on the verge – I guess past the verge, since I’m noticing them – of being distracting. I hate to say this, but, now that she’s old enough, a couple of years out of Hollywood and at a great drama school would do her a world of good. You can see Saoirse Ronan becoming a future Meryl Streep. No-one’s saying that about Moretz, and certainly won’t about her performance here. But she’s a really good screen presence, there’s no doubt, and she’s good in the role.

carrie86Julianne Moore is very Julianne Moore-ish as the demented mother, but must pale in comparison to Laurie’s definitive performance, which was absolutely, terrifyingly believable – this was a religious nut on screen, and one who needed to be locked up pronto. Frankly, Moretz also suffers in comparison to Spacek. Spacek was otherworldly, a true oddball, and, as such, again totally believable as a very, very damaged teenager and absolutely ripe to be ignored, bullied or both at high school. Moretz is not nearly as naturally weird as Spacek seemed, and, frankly, is a lot more attractive, which she has to fight against to be believable as the kind of girl the “pretty girls” would scorn – she’s actually prettier than most of them (if not all of them). So she slumps shuffles and peeks out from under a bowed head, and it all looks a little “acted”. Spacek, like Laurie, just seemed to be from another planet.

The new Carrie is fine, but it’s terribly disappointing that it’s just fine. I was really hoping for a provocative, or at least original, take on the material. Instead, the film feels like it was made by committee, a cash-grab just like any other horror remake. I noticed that Stephen King’s name isn’t present onscreen at all (maybe a quick “based on the novel by” flashed by when I blinked). Perhaps he’s happy that this adaptation is relentlessly faithful to the story beats of his book, but he must be disappointed at just how lacking in style, character and spark it is. Just another remake, not as good as the original adaptation, and, therefore, and unfortunately, ultimately… pointless.

The Filth and The Fury

Posted: November 19, 2013 in movie reviews

Filth *1/2 (out of five)

filth-posterAt a slender 97 minutes, Filth, adapted faithfully from Irvine Welsh’s terrific 1998 novel, is 95 minutes too long. From the opening monologue by James McAvoy’s Bruce Robertson, decrying Scotland as the place that gave the world “deep fried Mars Bars”, you know you’re in terrible hands all around. Not only has that gag dated, so has the entire world these characters populate, yet the film is set in the here and now, and its’ characters attitudes have moved from humorously cutting-edge to deeply offensive.

Robertson is a cop hoping for a promotion. He’s also a huge drug taker and a terrible person. We watch him systematically destroy the reputations of his fellow officers up for the gig as he attempts to solve a murder, and deal with his own demons.

The subject matter is ripe for a bold, original, dark and funny treatment, but director Jon S. Baird has so obviously tried to ape the style of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting that it’s embarrassing. Everything is off: the “fantasy sequences” with Jim Broadbent are so unfunny as to be deeply cringe-worthy; actually, so is the whole film. This is a misfire from beginning to end.

Blackfish **** (out of five)

blackfish-poster-artwork-kim-ashdown-ken-balcomb-samantha-berg-smallWhatever your feelings on the imprisonment and exploitation of sea mammals for profit – ambivalence, acceptance, unease or indignation – the sober, level-headed and extremely well constructed documentary Blackfish is sure to open your eyes a little wider, introduce you to some aspects of the industry that you didn’t know, and perhaps, of you’re of the ambivalent or accepting camps, change your point of view. I’m in the indignant camp and it still taught me an awful lot about this dispicable industry.

Focusing on the richest, world-leading practitioner of the entertainment form, Florida-based Seaworld, and featuring extensive interviews with a swathe of former trainers whose own eyes have been opened by the tragedies they’ve witnessed on the job, Blackfish (the name comes from a translation of a Native American term for what we know as the killer whale) shines a light on that company’s active, consistent and conspiratorial efforts to misrepresent, distort, hide and outright lie about the vast number of attacks on trainers by killer whales at their resorts over the decades. Along the way we learn why these attacks occur (evolving from what should be the self-evident fact that these animals should never be imprisoned in the first place), but the telling is calm and composed, avoiding any form of sensationalism or heightened anger. Basically, the filmmakers, Gabriella Cowperthwaite and Eli B. Despres, let the facts – which are all publicly obtainable, but buried deep within the annals of news history, given that most of the reporting of trainer attacks, mutilations and deaths has remained localized – speak for themselves. It probably won’t win the Oscar for Best Documentary, as The Cove did on the subject of dolphin slaughter, but Blackfish is solid, revealing, quietly moving, and highly recommended.

Black and White

Posted: November 13, 2013 in movie reviews

Two new reviews – a movie about the black life and one about the white life, both in California.

Fruitvale Station ***1/2 (out of five)

FRUITVALE_900x600_01Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station is an intriguing film; it might be said that it’s a minor examination of a major subject, or at least an intimate one. It could even be described as somewhat experimental, in that it certainly eschews the kind of dramatic structure screenwriting manuals would preach. It has something to say and a story to tell, certainly, but it does both quietly and originally.

I will never forget seeing the shooting of Oscar Grant on YouTube, captured by a San Francisco BART (metro train) passenger on their phone. If you’re unfamiliar with the footage and the story (and it was obviously reported much more fully in the US than in the rest of the world), Grant was shot by a policeman in plain view of hundreds of onlookers in the early hours of New Year’s Day while handcuffed and lying face down on the subway platform at San Francisco’s Fruitvale Station. The footage is so crazy, so blatant – a cop shooting a man who has already been completely subdued – that I wondered if it was some sort of weird hoax, that someone had mocked it up, or at least added the handgun’s freaky pop into the sound mix. Well, the footage was real enough, and it opens Fruitvale Station.FRUITVALE-STATION

What follows is a dramatic reconstruction of the preceding twenty-six hours, focussing entirely on Grant. We see him go through his long, at times complicated, at times routine New Year’s Eve day, and along the way we learn the story of his life as it is right now: his relationships with his girlfriend, his daughter, his mother, his brothers and his friends; his recent firing from his menial job, his pot-dealing, and, in a flashback-within-a-flashback (because essentially the whole film is a flashback from that opening, real footage), his one-time incarceration. It is the portrait of a particular type of Oakland, California life, one where family and friendship are of optimum importance (it happens to be his mother’s birthday, but it is obvious Grant’s relationship with his mother is a strong one), where families start young, and where casual law-breaking is the norm, from dealing the extremely “soft” drug of weed to leaping the turnstile on the BART rather than paying the paltry fare.fruit-sf92

If the film wasn’t framed by Grant’s tragedy (it cycles back to Fruitvale Station, but to a recreation of the events rather than the real footage) and was simply a day in the life of a young black man, it would be too slight to warrant existence. Here, context is everything. Grant was’t exceptional, abnormal, dangerous or in anyway extreme, and it is his very normality that heightens the brutal sadness of his completely senseless – and bizarre –  slaying.

Michael B. Jordan plays Grant with pure and unstudied naturalism, Melonie Diaz is likewise utterly believable as his girlfriend Sophina, and Octavia Spencer, the only recognisable face in the cast, is excellent as his mother Wanda. The cops involved in “the incident” are seen briefly but perfectly played by Kevin Durand and Chad Michael Murray. Grant’s friends, mainly seen in the last third of the film, fill their roles with laid-back, easy-going charm and subtlety. It all feels very real.

There are a couple of scenes along the way that seem a little too dramatically pat for real life, and I questioned their veracity and their dramatic effectiveness. And, given we know the ending from the beginning, and given that the film doesn’t so much tell a story as paint a portrait, it is definitely deserving, indeed demanding, of its sleek running time of 85 minutes – anything longer and it would have run the risk of losing our interest along the way. But the film’s final scenes, the ones we all know are coming, are as dramatic as anything you can put on film, and devastating. The film doesn’t offer answers, it doesn’t preach and it doesn’t particularly burn with anger; it is certainly not sensationalistic – in fact it’s extremely tasteful, respectful and restrained. It’s really quite unique, and definitely worth seeing for many reasons, not just as the story behind a tragedy, but as an intimate look at a lifestyle that for a certain percentage of the American public is daily reality, but for many others – myself included – is just far enough removed to be fascinating.

Enough Said **1/2 (out of five)

20131107_movie-poster_EnoughSaidNicole Holofcener’s films have a distinct voice, and if you respond to it, you may well find Enough Said extremely satisfying. I did not, and instead found it suffered from the same irritations her other films, including Friends With Money, Please Give and Lovely and Amazing, have arisen in me. Simply put, I don’t respond well to her characters, milieus and situations; a lot of people do, so, it has to be said more so than usual, my response to her films – and Enough Said – really does come down to a matter of taste.

Julia Louis Dreyfus and James Gandolfini – both excellent – play a couple of divorcees, both of whom are about to lose their daughters to college, who meet at a party and start a relationship. The kicker – and it’s really quite a “high-concept” one for such a low-key film – is that, at the same party, Drefuss’ Eva also meets Gandolfini’s Albert’s ex-wife, and becomes her masseuse, without putting two-and-two together – until she does. By that time, the ex-wife, Marianne (played by Holofcener stalwart Catherine Keener, at her most Catherine Keener-esque) has made enough dispiriting comments about Albert that Eva is thrown into doubt: could the man she finds so attractive actually be the monster Marianne is constantly portraying?

I simply don’t buy Holofcener’s characters or their environments; the ex-wife is a poet who lives in a gorgeous Californian home, and Albert is a film archivist who drives an Audi. But it’s not just the material worlds of these people that don’t ring true for me; more than most characters, they feel like characters, “written” characters, behaving to an author’s whims rather than being allowed to breathe. Although Holofcener writes her screenplays as original texts, they feel literary, as though adapted from books that were better off not filmed.enough-said-4

The music is very cloying – and annoying; the pace is slow and, for what is definitely meant as a comedy, I personally didn’t find it that funny (although I did laugh out loud at least four times, at least in the first half, and that’s a better hit rate than most studio rom-comes, without a doubt). It deserves points for portraying middle-aged romance, and the two leads are so good (Gandolfini is particularly terrific) that they manage to make the contrivances somewhat bearable. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Keener; once such a startling and unique actress (mind-blowing in Being John Malkovich, for example) she seems now to play the same role over and over, or at least employ the same mannerisms, vocal lilts, expressions and general performance qualities that all her roles feel the same; she is one step away from self-parody, and has, I hate to say, already achieved a boring stasis._EST3045.NEF

In many ways, Catherine Keener’s general traits as a performer these days match Holofcener’s films perfectly (and not just because they’ve been such consistent collaborators): once again, Enough Said concerns itself with a type of intellectualised bourgeois hippie class; the characters are nieces and nephews of Woody Allen’s, only marginally less wealthy, certainly as talkative, but with less (or no) makeup, bare feet and lots of bangles, long straight hair and flowing, colourful blouses. All the interiors are impeccable, all the exteriors are dazzlingly dappled with gorgeous Californian sun, and the characters, for me at least, are completely unbelievable, even as they strive to sound like real life. Perhaps the effort that’s gone into this fumbling, so obviously overwritten “naturalism” is what reminds you more than ever that you’re actually just watching a movie.

Master of Darkness

Posted: November 1, 2013 in movie reviews

The Friedkin Connection: A Reader’s Guide (and Review).

9780061775123_custom-2131bff9c8722d511cb6240cbae60cec149d49b2-s6-c30Want to read William Friedkin’s tome but daunted by its heft? Here’s my blow-by-blow, saving you time and effort!

Friedkin, by any stretch, has to be considered one of the major filmmakers in history. Many would claim that he made the best film in not one but two genres: the best (and scariest) horror film with The Exorcist, and the greatest cop film with The French Connection. His memoir is almost entirely devoted to his work, moving through his life film by film; his wives and children (with one late exception) are not only not discussed, they’re not even named. This is a filmmaker’s working memoir for film lovers.

For such an accomplished storyteller, Friedkin is a strangely flat chronicler here. He never cracks wise and avoids funny anecdotes, steers well away from the personal, and has a straightforward, simple prose style that is conversational but not chatty. He absolutely tells it straight when it comes to the many famous colleagues he’s worked with, unafraid to accuse them of laziness, difficulty or anything else, but his tone, even in these passages, is straightforward and somewhat formal rather than bitchy or gossipy. Indeed, his criticisms – and he has quite a few of those – are all restricted to people’s work habits; he never dishes any dirt whatsoever on anyone’s private lives. In the pages of this book, life is lived entirely on set.

In the end, the book lacks personal flair, Friedkin’s voice being restricted to one particular register. But the information, even given as flatly as it is, is fascinating and, basically, essential to anyone who’s at all interested in the cinema (particularly the American cinema, and most excitingly the American cinema of the 1970s). Friedkin, for all his misfires, is one of The Greats, and The Exorcist and The French Connection will keep him in that company forever. He’s taken the time to write this book, so you may as well take the time to read it – but if you’re simply too strapped for time at the moment, here’s a chapter blow-by-blow so you can just consume the ones that most interest you (saving the rest, I hope, for later).


Chapter One:

Standard kid stuff and very typical Hollywood kid stuff at that. Parents from the pogram, gefilte fish, first movie (None But The Lonely Heart). Chat about uninteresting teachers. First girlfriend at age nine. Introduction to jazz. Learning to tell stories to other kids; learning to go to movies. Hebrew school. Bar Mitzvah. Overcomes a bully. First jobs and a touch of shoplifting. High school career. Memories of growing up in Chicago. First job in television. Observations of early live television. Death of father. Early mentor. Coming of age intellectually. Advancement in television. Early reading. First car. Watches Citizen Kane five times in one day and decides to become a filmmaker. Begins his own private film education. Discovers Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring. Meets a prison chaplain and gets first documentary film idea…  a film about a prisoner on Death Row… and makes it. It wins him his first award, gets him his first agent, and he moves to LA and gets a job with David Wolper (for additional reading, try Wolper’s very entertaining book Producer).

Chapter Two:

Ongoing documentary making for David Wolper. Meets Francis Ford Coppola. Appreciation of Hitchcock. First fictional filmmaking job on the Hitchcock Hour television show (episode called Off Season). Makes a movie with Sonny and Cher – that bombs. Tells Blake Edwards what he thinks of the script for a Peter Gunn movie and loses that gig. Meets William Peter Blatty in passing… Movie offers start coming in.

Chapter Three:

The Night They Raided Minski’s.

Chapter Four:

The Birthday Party. The Boys in the Band. 

Chapter Five:

commentary-frenchconnectionThe French Connection. Fantastic focus on the actual case and the actual cops, the casting process, and a lengthy section on the famous – or, as Friendkin calls it with characteristic modesty, “legendary” car / train chase. Interesting portrait – albeit brief – of Gene Hackman. Good and intriguing stuff on the editing of the film and Friedkin’s views on editing in general. The Awards. The Oscars. Obviously, a “must-read” chapter.

Chapter Six:

The Exorcist. First reaction to the book. William Blatty, how he came to write it, and how he went in to bat for Friedkin. How the church dealt with the subject matter – and sanctioned the production. Casting, including Linda Blair. Pre-production and first half of shooting.

Chapter Seven:

The Exorcist continued. The “curse”. Conclusion of shooting in the United States.

Chapter Eight:

The_Exorcist_1973_720p_BrRip_x264_bitloks_YIFY_01_largeStill The Exorcist! The Iraq (prologue) shoot. Editing (including some repeated wisdom almost directly copied from the same section in Chapter Five). Extended discussion of music and sound design. Release, reaction, awards, and Friedkin’s ascendancy to Hollywood Royalty. Disputes and an insight in to Friedkin’s sense of self-worth / arrogance. Obviously, Chapters Six, Seven and Eight are the dearest to Friedkin’s heart – and, it goes without saying, a must-read section.

Chapter Nine:

Called “Hubis” by Friedkin, this very short chapter details the creation, brief life and rapid death of “The Director’s Company”, which comprised Friedkin, Coppola and Peter Bogdanovich.

Chapter Ten:

Sorcerer. Great, intriguing chapter and very self-aware as well. The perils of location shooting, and hubris.Sorcerer_POSTER-BIG

Chapter Eleven:

The Brinks Job. Minor movie, minor chapter.

Cruising. A film worth seeing in the “how did this get made?” category – not because it’s bad but because it’s so out there. This chapter tells how it got made and it’s a doozy. Probably the most interesting chapter — or at least the Cruising stuff is. Heart attack!

Directing a Twilight Zone (the modern series) episode.

Chapter Twelve:

To Live and Die in LA.

Chapter Thirteen:

The disaster of Rampage.

Sherry Lansing. Pretty much the only time – outside of the brief whiz through his early years in Chapter One – that Friedkin discusses anything outside of his own work.

Blue Chips, a basketball movie with Nick Nolte. Jade, written by Joe Eszterhas. Twelve Angry Men for television – and, finally, a critical success (packed with a great cast).

Chapter Fourteen:

A new career: Opera! Woyzek. Not of any real interest if you’re only interested in Friedkin as a film director, it also has a faint whiff of “Finally I discovered true art. Who needs Hollywood (since they don’t seem to want me anymore)?”

Chapter Fifteen:

The 2000 re-release of The Exorcist (including restored footage). Fascinating stuff.

Chapter Sixteen:

Rules of Engagement. The Hunted.

Chapter Seventeen:

Health issues.

Chapter Eighteen:

More opera.

Chapter Nineteen:

imagesThe Tracey Letts films: Bug and Killer Joe. The section on Killer Joe is comprehensive and vibrant, passionate even, perhaps because it’s the last film he made (as of this writing) and perhaps because we haven’t heard about some of these things before, as we have, for example, the protests against Cruising or the casting of The Exorcist.


Chapter Twenty:

Friedkin muses on directing and the current cinema.


In the end, there’s no doubting that Friedkin has been a difficult man to work with, and he seems, not only to know this about himself, but that this is his reputation. He acknowledges a volcanic, sudden temper and that on at least four occasions throughout his career to have bitch-slapped an actor hard across the face to get them to cry, weep, show anger, break down or what have you. Most tellingly, he seems to come into serious, ongoing conflict with at least one close, major colleague on every film, and often with more than one; on Killer Joe he is at war with an entire department. Perhaps you’d not want to be on his crew. But you’d almost certainly want him to dinner. He probably won’t come, so read his book. Like his films, it’s cool and deliberate, deeply unsentimental, matter-of-fact, and not without dark shadings. It seems like Friendkin’s life, like his films, has been incredibly richly textured, often wild and dangerous, and with plenty of dark shadings as well.chi-william-friedkin-20130415-001