FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Sergio Leone |||
Sergio Leone

Leone’s career is remarkable in its unrelenting attention to both American culture and the American genre film, exploring the mythic America he created with each successive film examining the established characters in greater depth.

Only his second feature (a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Leone's landmark "spaghetti western" caused a revolution and features Clint Eastwood in his breakthrough role as "The Man With No Name". This classic brutal drama of feuding families wasn’t the first spaghetti Western, but it was far and away the most successful up to that time.

Plot is of minimal interest, but character is everything to Leone, who places immense meaning in the slightest flick of an eyelid, extensively using the extreme close-up on the eyes to reveal any feeling, as demonstrated by Clint, who squints his way through this slam-bang sequel to A Fistful of Dollars as a wandering gunslinger that must combine forces with his nemesis to track down a wanted killer.

The final chapter in the groundbreaking trilogy follows Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as they form an uneasy alliance to find a stash of hidden gold. Leone focuses on his central theme as they find themselves facing greed, treachery, and murder, showing that the desire for wealth and power turns men into ruthless creatures who violate land and family and believe that a man’s death is less important than how he faces it.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

Advertisement

Gothika

By BrianOrndorf

November 20th, 2003

Dark Castle Entertainment returns, though this time they think they have something a little more refined than their usual blood-and-ghosts-and-more-blood offering. A weak performance from Halle Berry and Mathieu Kassovitz’s slumming direction, along with some healthy logic hurdling, make sure this production doesn’t ever reach the A-List heights it desires.


An expert psychiatrist working in a hospital for the mentally disturbed, Miranda Grey (Halle Berry, painfully miscast) is a master at deducing the logical mind and separating fact from fiction. Driving home one rainy night, Miranda finds a bloodied little girl standing in the road. As she tries to help the child, Miranda blacks out, and when she wakes up three days later she finds herself a prisoner in her own hospital. Learning from a co-worker (Robert Downey Jr.) that she has murdered her husband (Charles Dutton) with an axe, Miranda has no recollections of the event, and with only the violent memories and reappearances of the ghostly girl as clues to what really happened that night.

Usually a Halloween staple, Dark Castle Entertainment decided to change things up this year due to heavy competition - a certain chainsaw massacre that happened in Texas - and move their new chiller, “Gothika,” to a Thanksgiving release. Dark Castle specializes in low-budget horror films that all share common traits: they are cast with a bevy of B and C-level talent (“House On Haunted Hill“), feature ample ghosts and blood (“Thirteen Ghosts“), and are usually set in one area to save money on locations (“Ghost Ship“). “Gothika” is a slight change of direction for the company, as they’ve snagged A-lister Halle Berry to star, fresh off her Oscar winning turn in “Monster’s Ball,” along with convincing French director Matthieu Kassovitz (“The Crimson Rivers,” but best known as the object of desire in “Amelie”) to helm what was once a B-list horror film, but now has loftier ambitions with its sudden surge in filmmaking pedigree. It should’ve stayed B-list.

Kassovitz is a talent, no disputing that, but his Hollywood debut reeks of desperation to maintain his vision even as he’s copping out to the easy lay horror fans that show up for anything with a psycho in the mix. Kassovitz is a sleek stylist, and the opening scenes of the film display the filmmaker trying to build dread and creepiness efficiently: playing with sudden stops in the soundtrack, milking the supernatural elements of the tale, and making the asylum as big a character as Miranda. I enjoyed these moments and was excited for Kassovitz to turn this deeply and resoundingly routine thriller on its ear. But halfway through the film, something as unseen as the paranormal girl haunting Miranda stops Kassovitz in his tracks, and the film tumbles mightily from the hill of invention. Suddenly, “Gothika” is all about cheap, nonstop “boo!” scares and worthless shock cuts. Kassovitz is a better director than this, which makes the distinct smell of laziness in chasing honest-to-God scares even more disappointing.

To make matters even worse, “Gothika” is a film about common sense and awareness, yet Kassovitz and screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez drop some pretty large logic-bending bombs to keep their story running. The biggest whopper features a security guard who assists Miranda during one of her escape attempts. It’s not like this guy has been working around the criminally disturbed for decades or anything, right? In a less motivated thriller, I wouldn’t think twice on such a gap in logic. But the first half of the film is built on the fascinating war between the unknown vs. clinical mind, with the second half giving way to gigantic holes in the plot and clownshoes screenwriting just to simply wheeze its way to the safety of a suspense or action sequence. Kassovitz takes away any real sense of danger or logical boundaries, rendering his own film a tedious bore as it slowly peters out of interesting ideas.

When the ending finally does arrive, you’ll want to cover your eyes right away, and that’s not out of fear. The climax to “Gothika” is such a functionally retarded cop-out, meant only for those who live off the singular ideal that anything to end a movie on a happy note is a good thing. Reason goes by the wayside, along with several supporting characters and a general appreciation for the filmmaking process. Whatever potential the film had to start with is a distant memory as the picture ends up promising, or should I say threatening, a future franchise for the ghost busting Miranda.

My rating: D