A well-meaning but flawed book about legendary filmmakers.



A prolific film critic offers analyses of noteworthy directors.

Despite the subtitle, Thomson presents a series of personal assessments of a handful of filmmakers. “I have omitted so many people,” he admits. Indeed, there are chapters on Fritz Lang, Luis Buñuel, Howard Hawks, and Orson Welles but not Sergei Eisenstein, Francois Truffaut, Akira Kurosawa, and many others. Much of this material appears in greater detail in other, better books, including some of Thomson’s own works. A typically florid sentence is the author’s appraisal of Hitchcock: “A time may come when he stands for Movies in the way Attila the Hun bestrides the Dark Ages or Cleopatra signifies Ancient Egypt.” Thomson’s opinions are often based on debatable logic. He notes with sadness that Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game has fallen behind Vertigo in greatest-films surveys, but even readers who agree that Vertigo is the lesser film might be baffled by the author’s claim that its triumph over Renoir’s indictment of maladjusted sophisticates represents “opting for neurosis over reason.” Curiously for such an acclaimed film critic, Thomson gets facts wrong. For example, he claims The Piano wasn’t nominated for Best Picture the year Driving Miss Daisy won. The Piano came out four years after Daisy, and it was nominated but lost to Schindler’s List. While the author makes some progressive statements—e.g., that the film industry needs more respect for women—he undercuts them with tin-eared comments, such as when noting the camera’s infatuation with Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour: “I have a similar wish to dwell on the smoothness of Deneuve’s skin.” Only one chapter focuses on women directors. But at least the book has some memorable lines: “There are instants in Pierrot le Fou where its grasp of love and love’s death are like hummingbirds on your veranda, while Doctor Zhivago is a pantechnicon struggling up a distant hill with a grand piano to be carried up the stairs.”

A well-meaning but flawed book about legendary filmmakers.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31815-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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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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