FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Alfred Hitchcock |||
Alfred Hitchcock

This is perhaps an obvious choice, however, most people tend to overlook the Master of Suspense’s early work as well as the relevancy of his last film as a key element in the continuing transition and development of the genre he defined.

One of Hitchcock's early triumphs, this predecessor to the mistaken identity man on the run scenario Hitchcock turned to time and again, stars Robert Donat as the innocent wrongly accused of murder and pursued by both the police and enemy spies. This is the first example of Hitchcock’s mastery over the suspense tale, giving us a glimpse of the greatness to come.

Considered to be one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest works, this story of two men who meet by chance on a train and frivolously discuss swapping murders is a prime example of a common Hitchcock theme of the man who suddenly finds himself within a nightmare world over which he has no control. You can easily see how this film lays the ground work for the more popular “North by Northwest”.

Alfred Hitchcock's final film is a light-hearted thriller involving phony psychics, kidnappers and organized religion, all of which cross paths in the search for a missing heir and a fortune in jewels. Here, Hitchcock has brilliantly developed his signature form to include the now common, and often overused, device of plot twist, after plot twist, after plot twist. Widescreen!

Recommended by CarrieSpecht


The Punisher

By BrianOrndorf

April 9th, 2004

Combining brutal violence, lengthy action sequences, great Floridian locales, and even some comedy, "The Punisher" is the most unlikely success story found in the new wave of comic book adaptations. Writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh pieces together a nasty little revenge film, punctuated with operatic action sequences that keeps the film outside of the literal realm. Fun, hilarious, and beautifully to the point, "The Punisher" is a true spring surprise.

Frank Castle (Thomas Jane, “Deep Blue Sea”) is an undercover federal officer working the Tampa, Florida beat. On his final night on active duty before taking a desk job in London, Castle is involved with an arms deal that quickly goes south. The main suspect is killed, and when his rich, criminal kingpin parents (John Travolta and Laura Harring) find out that Castle was behind their child’s death, they order hitmen to wipe out Castle’s entire family (including Roy Scheider and Samantha Mathis) in one spectacular movement of vengeance. Miraculously surviving the assault, Castle goes into hiding at a dilapidated local apartment building, which is home to fellow rejects of society (including Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Ben Foster, and John Pinette). Building an arsenal and trying to drown his sorrows in alcohol, Castle begins to dole out “punishment” to those who have wronged him, one by one, leading him back to the two people who ruined his life forever.

What divides “The Punisher” from other comic book properties is that Frank Castle has no superpowers. He can’t fly, bend steel, or fall back on any kind of mutant powers. He exists solely to exact revenge on those who deserve punishment. This tale has been produced before, in a dollar-store version from 1990 starring Dolph Lundgren as Castle. Thankfully, writer and first time director Hensleigh has opted to resurrect the character and story, and bring it to the big screen in style. An aggressive, devilishly fun, and often downright wacky motion picture, Hensleigh brings all the right moves to the table to develop the sorrowful tale of Frank Castle for multiplex consumption.

Of course, Hensleigh’s pedigree as a writer has prepared him for a film of this magnitude. Having written “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” “The Saint,” and “Armageddon,” Hensleigh has gone through a veritable boot camp of action film styles and speeds. “The Punisher” is a strange story to begin with, incorporating heavy quantities of anger, mourning, and sometimes even comedy. The film doesn’t disappoint in those arenas, putting some truly effective tragedy onscreen, giving birth to Castle’s rage, and ending up with some sizable comedy bits that provide more warmth than is imaginable from a film of this title. The mix is exceedingly well done, keeping “The Punisher” away from leaning too hard on any single element, or dissolving into a generic action rampage. This is quite a peculiar little duck of a film, with Hensleigh going off here and there on weird tangents that hopefully a future DVD commentary will explain.

One scene has a bounty hunter after Frank in a diner, with the killer pulling out a guitar and serenading Frank with the song he’ll play at his funeral before he attempts to kill him. Another sequence, arguably the film’s best, pits Frank against an unstoppable Russian hitman, neither of them fully understanding when to give up the fight. Battling through doors, furniture, and walls (!), the two beat each other senseless before it culminates into a kitchen brawl. Odd stuff, really odd stuff, but it gives the film a distinct personality and air of individuality behind the camera.

The funny thing about actor Thomas Jane is that he is very capable of being terrible, so it’s easy not to notice when he’s actually good anymore. In the title role, Jane has the requisite snarl and growl that has identified the character to millions of readers over the years, along with the classic white skull t-shirt. Jane recognizes what the role demands, and his commitment goes a long way to keeping the outlandish situations of the plot out of the sweaty fingertips of reality. Hensleigh and Jane are making a great effort to keep the comic book feel in the film, and their combined work maintains a high energy and enjoyment quotient for the film.

Hensleigh also keeps his violence proudly R-rated, and includes some of the more brutal bad guy demises seen in the last few years. But as gritty as things get (like hunting-arrow-through-the-neck gritty), Hensleigh creates an operatic vibe for the retribution, scored with gusto by Carlo Silliotto, and levitating the grimness of Castle’s actions into an aria of suffering. “The Punisher” is the latest in rock ’em, sock’em Marvel comic adaptations, and while it isn‘t high art, it does achieve each one of the goals it sets for itself. Unlike the recent “Walking Tall,” this is a revenge story told straightforwardly and economically, but with a lot of memorable character all its own.

My rating: A-