FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| John Huston |||
John Huston

Over the span of his impressive career director John Huston created one of the most distinctive signatures in the history of the movies without limiting the incredible range of his subject or choice of genre.

At first it's hard to believe that macho director John Huston could be responsible or such a sweet and touching story of a Novitiate nun (Deborah Kerr) and a Marine (Robert Mitchum) dependant on one another as they hide from the Japanese on a Pacific island, but for those familiar with "The African Queen" it isn't hard to see his influence on the strong yet subtle impressive performance he draws from Mitchum and the ever present excitement he creates in this WWII drama. In Widescreen!

Only a director as abundantly macho as John Huston could so adeptly handle such testosterone laden stars Sean Connery and Michael Caine in this rousing Rudyard Kipling adventure set in 1800s India. Huston masterfully balances the fun of male camaraderie with constant imminent danger as the two soldiers attempt to dupe a remote village of their gold by passing off Connery as a god, and in the process produces a Kipling adventure to rival "Gunga Din". Widescreen

Huston co-wrote this gritty and trend-setting drama about a gang of small-time crooks who plan and execute the "perfect crime". This is the grand daddy of caper films executed with a firm expert hand that unflinchingly guides the raw performances (including Marilyn Monroe in her first role) of these dark and ill-fated characters.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

Advertisement

Envy

By BrianOrndorf

April 28th, 2004

Ben Stiller and Jack Black co-starring in a feature film. Sounds great, doesn’t it? And that’s why their new picture, “Envy,” is such a heartbreaking mess. With a reasonable idea for a movie, and a strong supporting cast, “Envy” seemed like such a comedy slam dunk. Enter Barry Levinson, who hasn’t made a decent film in over a decade. His rusty instincts for comedy ruin the film, and make “Envy” the most disappointing release of the year so far.


Tim (Stiller) and Nick (Black) are working stiffs trying to eke out a life for their families (including Amy Poehler and Rachel Weisz) in a lower class Californian suburb. Nick is a visionary who can’t focus on his work, and when he dreams up an animal feces removal spray called “Vapoorize,” he asks his best friend to go in with him on the invention. Tim passes, and 18 months later, Nick and his family are multi-millionaires, living obscenely right outside the window of Tim’s house. Frustrated and envious, Tim meets a stranger named the J-Man (Christopher Walken) in a bar, and the two conspire to upset Nick’s perfect existence.

This film is a heartbreaker.

Just looking at the talent involved with “Envy” is enough to put a smile on your face. Given the gifted cast and the relatively simple premise, I’m sure it would take a throng of Harvard scientists years of study and millions of dollars in support to fully comprehend how this film manages to grind to completion without producing any appreciable laughs. It just doesn’t make sense.

Stiller and Black are two comedy kingpins I have cheered heavily for in recent years, and I still stand behind them as the top of their class when it comes to screen comedians. Putting them together seems like such a no-brainer; a guaranteed laugh factory. But “Envy” is anything but funny. The two stars work intensely to make each scene find its maximum laugh zone, with Stiller building up a flop sweat every time the ball is passed to him to make a joke work. But nothing plays correctly. The material is paper thin, but there’s something there to explore, so that‘s not the weak link in the chain. And the film has a helluva supporting cast, with Poehler, Walken, and Weisz all having shown their worth in previous productions. Hell, even Black, who is clearly instructed throughout the film to just wing it on his own, cannot create anything resembling more than a titter. I didn’t know that was even possible.

Much of the blame for the failure of “Envy” goes directly to director Levinson, who really hasn’t made a good film in 14 years (“Avalon“), or 13 if you want to argue about it (“Bugsy“). “Envy” is Levinson’s attempt to play in the young person’s sport of comedy, and he just doesn’t have the faculties for the genre anymore. Levinson is directing a Smothers Brothers comedy in an Adam Sandler world, and the audience is made to suffer because Levinson forgot what a punch line was years ago. Scenes drag on forever (Tim’s admission to Nick about his feelings seems to last 1,000 years), jokes are underlined far too relentlessly, and Levinson resorts to speeding up the images in two sequences to create a false sense of wackiness. Terrible.

Unlike most DOA comedies, “Envy” isn’t a mean spirited train wreck. Instead, it just leaves you with a shell-shocked feeling as you exit the theater. You just can’t believe that something like this, which appears to be such a slam dunk, could be that bad. I’m sorry to say, it is.

My rating: D