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Coppola Chokes Up Over Son; Hirsch’s Head Bashed by Pumpkin Can

Val Kilmer and Elle Fanning in "Twixt," directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Source: Toronto International Film Festival via Bloomberg

Francis Ford Coppola was sleeping when he got the idea for his new gothic horror film “Twixt.”

“I had this dream in Istanbul, and it was particularly vivid,” he told reporters at the Toronto International Film Festival. “It was like the story in the movie. Then the call to prayer woke me up and I was very frustrated because I wanted to see what the dream had in store for me.”

“Twixt” is about a hack novelist (Val Kilmer) who stumbles onto a small-town murder mystery during a book tour. He encounters the ghosts of a local girl (Elle Fanning) and Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin), who once lived there.

The writer is haunted by the death of his daughter, who was killed in a boating accident that is shown in a flashback. Coppola, whose oldest son Gian-Carlo died in a speedboat mishap in 1986, became teary-eyed when talking about the scene at a press conference.

“Every parent feels they’re responsible for whatever happens to their kids,” he said. “I should have been there for my son.”

Coppola made four films in the 1970s that were nominated for best-picture Oscars: “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II,” which both won, plus “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now.”

No More ‘Godfather’

He’s had a rocky career since then, with many of his movies dismissed as artistic and financial failures. “Twixt” has gotten a harsh reception from critics in Toronto, including a Hollywood Reporter review that called it “third-rate” and “his silliest work.”

“One of the things I most frequently hear is, ‘The films you’re making now are not as good as the films you were making 30 years ago,’” Coppola said. “My answer is, ‘Those films you think were so good were not received well.’”

Coppola, 72, said “The Godfather’ got a “terrible review” in Variety and that cultural critic Frank Rich said ‘Apocalypse’ was a monumental disaster. So Coppola won’t be surprised if opinions of “Twixt” change decades from now.

“I’m not going to be around in 30 years, so I’m never going to know,” he said.

Asked if he would consider making a fourth “Godfather” film, Coppola pointed to a drinking glass on the table in front of him and said: “I have as much interest in a gangster movie or another ‘Godfather’ film as I have in this glass of water -- and I’m not thirsty.”

Friedkin’s ‘Killer’

William Friedkin, another director whose career peaked in the 1970s, was at the festival promoting his new film “Killer Joe.” It was written by Pulitzer-winning playwright Tracy Letts, adapting his own play about a drug dealer (Emile Hirsch) who hires a hit man (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mother for insurance money to pay off his debts.

“Killer Joe” is a scintillating black comedy with some shocking violence, including a scene where McConaughey bashes Hirsch’s head to a bloody pulp with a pumpkin can.

“There is violence throughout society,” Friedkin, 76, said. “I grew up with it as a child in Chicago, where I lived in a one-room apartment with my mother and father. There were family arguments and fights and stabbings all the time in that apartment building.”

Friedkin, whose classics include “The Exorcist” and “The French Connection,” said those films wouldn’t get made today by a major studio.

“The audiences have changed,” he said. “They’re conditioned by television, and television is aimed at the lowest common denominator.”

Letts agreed.

“Bill is an adult who makes adult films for adult people,” he said. “I think that the guys who run the show have figured out that they can make more money by basically selling comic books to people. When I was a kid, comic books were for kids. Now I guess it’s what everyone wants.”

‘Last Gladiators’

Alex Gibney’s “The Last Gladiators” is a powerful documentary about hockey enforcers, the tough guys whose main job is to beat up opposing players. It focuses on Chris Nilan, a former Montreal Canadiens brawler who became a drug addict after his playing days ended.

Though three current or former National Hockey League enforcers died young in recent months, Nilan said the tragedies aren’t related.

“They can study this until they’re blue in the face, but I don’t think they’ll ever find a connection with hockey,” Nilan told the audience following the film’s premiere in Toronto.

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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