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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.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht


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