FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Norman Jewison |||
Norman Jewison

Yes, he directed “Moonstruck” and two unforgettable musicals, but Jewison is also responsible for a trilogy of films focusing on racial-injustice, a whacky Cold War comedy and a signature film of Steve McQueen’s showing that he is one of the most versatile directors since Robert Wise.

This blueprint for good investigation dramas tells the story of a black Philadelphia detective investigating a murder in Mississippi who matches wits with a redneck sheriff. Groundbreaking for it’s time, this Oscar winning film is still relevant today and offers a gripping mystery with terrific dramatic performances by a complete cast of fully realized characters.

This is an amazingly funny and entertaining irreverent "Cold War" comedy about a Russian submarine stranded outside an isolated New England town, which throws the locals into a panic. Jewison does a delightful job of utilizing his all-star cast to their fullest, deftly mixing Capra-esq characters with Mel Brooks’s type situations (and vise-versa).

A bored millionaire (Steve McQueen in his prime) masterminds a flawless bank job as Faye Dunaway (an insurance investigator out to get him) identifies him as the mastermind and falls in love along the way. This is the original and the best, with all the arch stylized movie techniques of the ‘60s (including split-screen and fuzzy shallow focus) and the most erotic chess game ever captured on screen.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

By BrianOrndorf

July 30th, 2004

There have been better stoner comedies in the last ten years, but when "Harold and Kumar" decides to get weird and funky, the laughs do follow. But that's a rare occasion for this unevenly performed comedy, which features quite possibly the worst, most unfunny scene of the 2004 film year.


Harold (John Cho, or as the trailer calls him, “that Asian guy from ‘American Pie’”) is an uptight investment banker who is continually dumped on by his superiors. Kumar (Kal Penn, “that Indian guy from ‘Van Wilder’”) is an underachieving medical genius who doesn’t feel the need to join the adult world. To celebrate their Friday night together, the two friends decide to get high and score some White Castle hamburgers. But on the way to the Palace of the Slyders the duo are constantly sidetracked by an abundance of distractions, including racist bullies, Neil Patrick Harris, and a roaming cheetah.

The stoner comedy died a dignified death back in 1998, with the dual release of cult classics “Half-Baked” and the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski.” “Harold and Kumar” is the first film in a long time to attempt to string together an entire movie out of two guys who have the munchies, which, and this should come as no surprise, comes from the director of “Dude, Where’s My Car?” Can you smell the quality ahead?

In fact, “Harold and Kumar” isn’t the eyesore all the signs point to, but as a marijuana comedy, there’s little to toke on. This is mainly the fault of the two leads, John Cho and Kal Penn, who have managed to work their way up to comedy leading man status, but both remain deeply unfunny performers. Thankfully, Cho plays the straight man, so he doesn’t get a lot of the punchlines, but Penn fancies himself a stoner Ferris Bueller, and his smart-alecky acting is excruciating. Supposed to be the laid back component of the duo, Penn just doesn’t look the part, and his acting is labored and tedious. Director Danny Leiner gets a lot of mileage out of Cho and Penn’s ethnic backgrounds for laughs, so maybe there’s a clue why these two actors were specifically picked to guide the jokes. Too bad.

Leiner isn’t a mastermind either when it comes to delivering quality laughs, which, in “Harold and Kumar,” hits an all-time low for 2004 when the duo secretly spy on two gorgeous women in the bathroom, who promptly decide to have a bowel movement contest. Yes, you read that right. And yes, that horrified feeling is natural.

If you can believe it, the film does recover, but only when Leiner becomes brave enough to let the gags get weird. “Harold and Kumar” follows the exact same plot as “Dude;” idiots get into trouble while searching for title treasure. Some of the highlights include Kumar’s literal relationship with a bag of weed, Harold’s problematical run-in with a bored cop, and the final destination of White Castle, which receives its largest cinema endorsement the screen has seen to date, and it’s about time. Leiner also peppers the picture with low-wattage cameos, including the film’s funniest, yet most self-conscious: an appearance by Neil Patrick Harris (“Doogie Howser, M.D.”), who plays himself strung out on ecstasy and in a stripper-feeling-up kind of mood.

My rating: C