Archive | Essays

Director’s Cut: Helming ‘True Detective’

When it comes to True Detective season 2, any news is fascinating news. Ever since Season 1 wrapped, the rumors surrounding HBO’s literary-minded goth detective series have been almost as mysterious as the show itself. Who will star in the next season? Where will it take place? And, most recently, who will direct it?

Earlier this week, director William Friedkin told Indiewire that he was considering joining the True Detective team, saying “I like this writer [creator Nic Pizzolatto] very much. I’ve met him, and he’s the real deal.” Though nothing is set in stone just yet, the prospect of this collaboration is a good one. Not only does Friedkin have a flair for psychologically compelling horror – he directed the original The Exorcist as well as that underseen study in paranoia, Bug, (all Michael Shannon fans should see it post-haste) – but he’s made some of the more distinctive cop movies in the history of American film: The French Connection and Cruising (which admittedly is a fail in the identity politics department). Indeed, his films – even 2011’s Killer Joe, which is mostly heralded for launching a McConaussance – build to a thrill by cultivating an appealingly broody familiarity he withdraws the minute we feel comfortable. Bottom line: There’s no director better suited to realize the rarified, yellow kingdoms of “True Detective.”

But assuming the seventy-eight-year-old won’t sign on to film every episode, it’s still worth considering who else might helm Pizzolatto’s moody masterpiece. Continue Reading →

A Birthday for the Birds

To get to downtown Boston from suburban Newton without a car was a real pain in the mid-70s–to get anywhere from Newton without a car was a pain, really–but my father Bernie told my mother Sari that a second car was wasteful and on this point, as on so many others, he would not budge. His disdain for waste was also the reason he initially fought having the second child she was now carrying. Overpopulation was a real problem, he’d told her, and he’d stuck to that policy until he read a bunch of articles arguing for the superior adjustment of children with siblings. Then, he set about impregnating my mother with a zeal that was more clinical than impassioned. Or so she suggested to her best girlfriend Miriam later while I listened, “all big eyes and big ears,” as my mother always said when she realized she’d said something taboo in front of the kid.

Now every morning he zipped off to his assistant professor job in his used Toyota (so fuel-efficient he’d crowed when she’d protested its drabness), and left her high and dry with the kid and her swelling stomach.

Even on her birthday, as it turned out. This morning she’d awoke to his daily note and, of course, no car. He’d left early for work and had “fixed his own breakfast to give her a break,” as he’d written in his spidery block letters. “Happy birthday, sweetie!!” Well. The two exclamation points mollified her until she scanned the day’s list. Every day he gave her a list—go to bank, get groceries, take Lisa to park—and every day she completed it with a plodding resignation. Today she saw he’d scheduled a biannual physical for the kid. Continue Reading →

‘Life Itself,’ Roger, and Me

In 2005 Roger Ebert e-mailed me out of the blue to say he liked my tiny cinema blog. I had met him the month before at his yearly celebration of film, then called The Overlooked Film Festival. (Later it became Ebertfest.) We’d discussed our shared love of science fiction at his favorite fast food joint, Steak ‘n Shake, which is where all the attendees – from Jason Patric to Dusty Cohl, the cowboy hat-clad co-founder of the Toronto International Film Festival – hung every night after screenings. Our conversation was lively and warm but I was still floored that Roger followed up by checking out my writings. It was an act of unsolicited generosity that I came to recognize as one of his trademarks. Soon after, I was offered the position of the festival’s blogger, which I held until 2010. Even afterward, he remained supportive of my work in ways that meant the world to me.

By the time I met Roger he’d already struggled with a bout of cancer. It was an awkward moment in his life – some of the star that had been attached to him when he was part of the legendary “Siskel and Ebert” team had faded, and he hadn’t yet secured the relationship with a younger generation of critics and fans that he later built through blogging and Twitter. During those years I found him curious, resourceful, benevolent. He was much more than a mere film critic; he was a beacon. Occasionally I also found him egotistical – a king who resented the dwindling of his kingdom – and retrogressive when it came to women despite the fact that he was married to a strong woman himself. Roger preferred deference from others, and that could be wearying. Above all, though, I greatly admired his uncanny work ethic, as well as his willingness to curate and celebrate talent. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy