FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Frank Capra |||
Frank Capra

It goes without saying that Capra is one of the greatest and most beloved directors of all time, especially renowned for his madcap romantic comedies. He is one of the few directors who ever managed to balance whimsy with meaningfulness without loosing the ability to entertain.

Only Frank Capra, with his light hand and good sense of allowing the actors to be their roles, could carry off this tale of a naive average American used by an unscrupulous politician through a nationwide goodwill drive. No one was ever better at having strong yet vulnerable women not only aid, but often come to the rescue, of the leading man.

Frank Capra's final film is a hilarious translation of a Damon Runyon tale set in 1930s New York, as gangster Glenn Ford repays street peddler Bette Davis for her "good luck" apples by passing her off as a well-to-do society lady for her visiting daughter (Ann-Margret in her film debut). This excellent and thoroughly enjoyable remake of his own 1933 "Lady for a Day" is a beautiful swan song to a master storyteller. Widescreen!

In this black comedy about two sweet old ladies whose basement holds a murderously funny secret, Capra utilizes star Cary Grant to his zany, patented “double take” best. Capra’s brilliance in comic casting is demonstrated with such reliable character actors as Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre and Jack Carson who manage to play their parts to the hilt without chewing up the scenery.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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The Final Season

By BrianOrndorf

October 11th, 2007

Based on a true story, "The Final Season" is much better with baseball than it is with humans.

The Final Season

In the small farming community of Norway, Iowa, the local high school baseball team has been on an unprecedented run of championships, led by monolithic coach Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe). When the school board (including a Rachael Leigh Cook) seeks to merge Norway’s school with a larger district, the locals revolt, leaving the final season of baseball a potential mess. To help sink morale and ease the school transition, an unproven coach, Kent Stock (Sean Astin), is brought in to lead the team and, along with a troubled teen outsider named Mitch (Michael Angarano). They end up turning the fortunes of Norway around with their winning ways, bringing renewed hope to the town for a 20th consecutive championship title.

Director David M. Evans has already demonstrated some aptitude for baseball cinema, having helmed the 1993 cult family hit “The Sandlot” and its 2005 DTV sequel. The game seems second nature to Evans, so it’s no surprise to find “Final Season” works much more fluidly as a scrappy underdog baseball story than it does as a motion picture of clumsy emotional manipulation.

Let’s be frank here: Evans is a lousy filmmaker who’s never met a cliché he didn’t cling to like a hungry infant to a bottle of warm milk. Over the length of his career, Evans has established his fear of distinct artistic growth, preferring the safe passage of formula to comfort himself and his audience. “Final Season” is the perfect vehicle for him, since it’s nothing but a slow unfurling of familiarity.

The mushy sameness only hurts “Final Season” when the film strolls away from the baseball diamond. Watching the screenplay pass around Midwestern small town caricatures (The “I Ain’t Did No Book Learnin’” Farmer, The Priest, The Wise “Take No BS” Grandfather) is demoralizing, not only because we’ve seen these people a million times before, but it’s also disheartening to watch the film view even the slightest morsel of sophistication as poison that will block the picture from reaching the softest minds. Formula can work when brewed correctly, but “Final Season” merely kicks the bucket over and assumes it’s drilling straight to the core of the audiences’ heart.

How obvious can the movie get? Evans introduces the character of Mitch, the redemptive bad boy of the story, in a black leather jacket smoking cigarettes. Might as well write “No Good” on his forehead and have him kick a puppy to make sure everyone gets it.

Thankfully, Evans is stronger with his baseball sequences, which ring true to the community spirit of small town ball and the thrill of the game. Bolstered by a winningly confident authoritarian turn by Sean Astin, “Final Season” delivers large on the game sequences. Evans shows a real love for the details, with the rich green of the grass, the constant passage of trains in the outfield, and the comfort of the home field dirt, which the boys end up carrying with them to the final championship game in a divine tribute sequence.

It’s easy to see “Final Season” has a huge heart, and the story of Norway is ripe for dramatic adaptation. Yet, by making the film so obvious, in an attempt to violently extract the elementary points of joy out of the story, “Final Season” stumbles aimlessly instead of storming the emotional receptors like its great baseball cinema brethren.

My rating: C+