WOODY ALLEN

A BIOGRAPHY

The biographer of Steven Spielberg (1997) and Stanley Kubrick sets his sights on one of the cinema’s great comic minds. Born Allen Stewart Konigsberg, the filmmaker grew up in wartime Brooklyn, a period and neighborhood to which he returned in such films as Radio Days. Baxter contends that his father’s unstable job situation and the family’s constant shuffling between relatives early in his life left Allen with a long-standing resentment of his parents and his religion. He mines the films for examples, noting for instance that the parents of the characters Allen plays are masked when they appear onscreen. Baxter is not the first person to find Allen’s personal life in his films, a hobby that has grown since scandal enveloped Allen’s personal life when he left longtime partner Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, his current wife. But he suffers more than most biographers from an inability to distinguish the man from the artist. Peering into every one of Allen’s films, he analyzes the repeated use of prostitutes, the references to Judaism, the jokes about therapy. For Baxter, a joke is never just a joke, but a desperate cry for help. When he does move away from a minatory pseudoanalysis, as when he describes Allen’s early career as a comedy writer, his tale is at its most entertaining. Baxter tells of Danny Simon, Neil Simon’s brother, who gave Allen one of his first jobs; of Allen’s partnership with Larry Gelbart, who years later would create M*A*S*H; and of Allen’s break writing for Buddy Hackett’s series, “Stanley.” Such episodes, set during the heady initial days of TV, offer Allen anecdotes new even to diehard fans. Unfortunately, these are among the only chapters that offer anything fresh or unbiased. Most of Baxter’s digging has a desperate, leftover look. Allen’s fans, who are presumably Baxter’s target audience, will prefer to let his films do the talking.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-7867-0666-X

Page Count: 512

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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

GREENLIGHTS

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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An essential account of a chaotic administration that, Woodward makes painfully clear, is incapable of governing.

RAGE

That thing in the air that is deadlier than even your “strenuous flus”? Trump knew—and did nothing about it.

The big news from veteran reporter Woodward’s follow-up to Fear has been widely reported: Trump was fully aware at the beginning of 2020 that a pandemic loomed and chose to downplay it, causing an untold number of deaths and crippling the economy. His excuse that he didn’t want to cause a panic doesn’t fly given that he trades in fear and division. The underlying news, however, is that Trump participated in this book, unlike in the first, convinced by Lindsey Graham that Woodward would give him a fair shake. Seventeen interviews with the sitting president inform this book, as well as extensive digging that yields not so much news as confirmation: Trump has survived his ineptitude because the majority of Congressional Republicans go along with the madness because they “had made a political survival decision” to do so—and surrendered their party to him. The narrative often requires reading between the lines. Graham, though a byword for toadyism, often reins Trump in; Jared Kushner emerges as the real power in the West Wing, “highly competent but often shockingly misguided in his assessments”; Trump admires tyrants, longs for their unbridled power, resents the law and those who enforce it, and is quick to betray even his closest advisers; and, of course, Trump is beholden to Putin. Trump occasionally emerges as modestly self-aware, but throughout the narrative, he is in a rage. Though he participated, he said that he suspected this to be “a lousy book.” It’s not—though readers may wish Woodward had aired some of this information earlier, when more could have been done to stem the pandemic. When promoting Fear, the author was asked for his assessment of Trump. His reply: “Let’s hope to God we don’t have a crisis.” Multiple crises later, Woodward concludes, as many observers have, “Trump is the wrong man for the job.”

An essential account of a chaotic administration that, Woodward makes painfully clear, is incapable of governing.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982131-73-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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