Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Movie review - "Milius" (2013) ****

A highly entertaining look at the life and times of one of Hollywood's most colourful characters, and top writers - at least during the first part of his career. Milius became something of a cartoon caricature of himself, as this film points out, but early on few writers could match him for lively, original work: Apocalypse Now, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Jeremiah Johnson. I've read these scripts and they're fantastic.

The quality of his output started to decline as he went into directing (not uncommon, unless the person in question worked with a co-writer) - but Milius enjoyed a decent amount of success as a director: Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn. His career started to go south in the late 80s - Milius blames this in part on prejudice against conservatives, which interviewees Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzeneggar poo poo... A more likely reason (as pointed out here) was the commercial failure of several Milius films, notably Farewell to the King and Flight of the Intruder - and also Milius' persona I think began to grate. He kept busy as a writer and director although never matched his old pals like George Lucas, Coppola and Steven Spielberg. Milius was never as good a director as he was a writer - the perfect director for him was Francis Ford Coppola; I also think it's a shame he never got to work with other operatic directors like Brian de Palma.

What gives this film unexpected gravitas is the dimension of unexpected tragedy - his friends talking about how Milius became a caricature, his friend who embezzled from him, a stroke that meant he couldn't speak. By the end of the film he has recovered a little bit, but not a lot - he can shoot and move around but the filmmakers don't show him talking that much.

There are some excellent talking heads - Coppola, Spielberg, Schrader, Eastwood - plus some who don't really have a connection, but I assume agreed to talk for box office value (Stallone, Bryan Singer). Michael Mann is in there - Milius made an episode of Miami Vice for fun, although we only hear about it during the closing credits, just like we only hear about his contribution to UFC there.

There are other areas I would have liked to hear more about - his marriages (none mentioned), his female characters (only two women talk, Lea Thompson and his daughter), his production company the A team.

But these are outweighed by the positives: the depiction of the collegiate atmosphere of 70s film making, home movies of the young Milius, extracts from old USC student films, the talk of the stroke and ensuing battles, meeting his kids. A must for film buffs.

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