An appreciative but wildly uneven look at a brilliant filmmaker.



A film critic assesses the career and times of one of the geniuses of cinema.

“Keep your eye on the kid,” Joe Keaton wrote in an ad tagline in 1901, and was he ever right. That kid, his 6-year-old son Buster, was the star of the family stage act The Three Keatons, “the child star as prop, as projectile, as the personal belonging of a father who casually employs him as a household cleaning tool.” He was also a natural performer who revolutionized cinema with his silent films of the 1920s before bad business decisions, alcoholism, and changing times brought him down. In this erratic book, Slate film critic Stevens describes the high and lows of Keaton’s life—his early success in Roscoe Arbuckle’s two-reel comedies, triumph with his own studio, disastrous association with MGM, three marriages—while addressing societal events of the day such as child abuse in textile mills, women’s rights, and Black culture. Yet the author doesn’t flesh out these larger events, and attempts to connect Keaton to them are often misguided. Stevens rightly bemoans the poor treatment of women in the cinema of that era, so it’s odd she doesn’t note that many lead actresses in Keaton’s great films—Sybil Seely in One Week, Kathryn McGuire in The Navigator, Marion Mack in The General—more than hold their own and are every bit the Keaton character’s equal. The author devotes eight pages to Spite Marriage, a 1929 MGM mediocrity Keaton didn’t control, but she provides far less detail about Our Hospitality, Go West, and other superior films where Keaton was in charge. Stevens devotes more space to Charlie Chaplin’s 1952 Limelight, a plodding film in which Keaton has only a small role, than some of Keaton’s directorial gems. Readers hungry for details of how Keaton made his pictures should look elsewhere.

An appreciative but wildly uneven look at a brilliant filmmaker.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3419-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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