FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Joseph L. Mankiewicz |||
Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Mankiewicz directed 20 films in a 26-year period, and was very successful at every kind of film, from Shakespeare to western, drama to musical, epics to two-character pictures, and regardless of the genre, he was known as a witty dialogist, a master in the use of flashback and a talented actors' director.

The 1950 Oscar for Best Picture and Screenplay brought Mankiewicz wide recognition as a writer and a director, with his sardonic look at show business glamour and the empty lives behind it. This well orchestrated cast of brilliant and catty character actors is built around veteran actress Bette Davis and Anne Baxter as her understudy desperate for stardom.

One of Mankiewicz’ more intimate films, this highly regarded and major artistic achievement is a spirited romantic comedy set in England of the 1880’s about a widow who moves into a haunted seashore house and resists the attempts of a sea captain specter to scare her away. This is a pleasing and poignant romance that is equally satisfying as a good old ghost story.

Mankiewicz wrote and directed this witty dissection of matrimony that has three women review the ups and downs of their marriages (with all its romance, fears and foibles) after receiving a letter telling them that one of their husbands has been unfaithful. Once again Mankiewicz deftly utilizes the skills of a well-chosen ensemble, which includes a young Kirk Douglas at his dreamiest.

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Quid Pro Quo

By BrianOrndorf

June 12th, 2008

Though it plays like a diluted version of David Cronenberg's "Crash," "Quid Pro Quo" impressively maintains a bewildering mood, probing into an underbelly of cracked minds and disturbing matters of desire. It frustratingly refuses to go bonkers, but the film is a compelling sit, brought to life by two very crafty, pointed performances.

Quid Pro Quo

Partially paralyzed since he was eight years old, Isaac (Nick Stahl) has made a name for himself reporting for a New York public radio station. When an anonymous e-mailer sends in a tip for a story, Isaac follows the clue to an underground support group where members share and demonstrate their desire to live life as disabled people. Baffled, yet utterly intrigued, Isaac’s attention is soon consumed with able-bodied Fiona (Vera Farmiga), a member of the group who probes Isaac for information about life in a wheelchair. The two embark on a sexual relationship, but the glow is quickly rubbed off when Fiona shares her twisted plan to join Isaac in paralysis.

“Quid Pro Quo” is a strange movie that should’ve been stranger. Writer/director Carlos Brooks arranges a familiar noir tone for his debut feature film, treating Isaac as a Sam Spade type who chases temptation with little regard for his own well being. It’s a fixated character, hoping to fashion a breathtaking piece of journalism that will rocket him to public radio stardom, only to find that his subject, Fiona, sternly challenges his own perceptions to a life-altering degree.

Encountering disabled fetishes, “Quid Pro Quo” really has the clearance to head in any direction it chooses, presenting the opportunity for Brooks to launch off into seriously depraved regions of thrillerdom as Fiona starts to shed layers of stability. “Quid” nails the early scenes of uncomfortable discovery marvelously, promising a lurid decent into unspeakable desires and stomach-churning results.

It comes as some surprise that Books doesn’t want to make a film of questionable taste, but a mild psychological study buttoned with a faint, effective plot twist. Part of me wanted to throw my hands up in disgust, while the rest of me felt OK with the unexpected trajectory. Books has some interesting visual cues in “Quid,” but his strength is with the actors, guiding Stahl and Farmiga through tricky scenes of sensuality and mental instability. The performances are brave and eyes-wide-open, finding the glue that holds the movie together when the script stumbles to take it all in.

Isaac makes some life-altering discoveries and Fiona is buried alive in her guilt for the final act of “Quid,” and while nothing ever jumps off the screen, the resolution for this odd character piece is comforting, perhaps even ultimately perfect. “Quid Pro Quo” seems better suited to the stage, where static theatricality might emphasize the horror within, but the film remains an engrossing offering of oddness, even when it treats insanity as the ultimate cootie.

My rating: B