FilmJerk Favorites

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.

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Suspect Zero

By BrianOrndorf

August 27th, 2004

“Suspect Zero” is a first class ticket to dullsville. A bone-dry thriller without any thrills, the plot, which pits a serial killer against other serial killers, is almost too ludicrous for words, and features a director who could care less about it.


After botching a routine murder case in Texas, federal agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart, “The Core”) is sent to New Mexico as punishment. Upon arrival, he starts to receive faxes from a mysterious stranger named O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley) who is slowly roaming around America, murdering the serial killers that law enforcement has failed to catch. With a clairvoyant ability to see his victims, O’Ryan believes that Mackelway is a crucial participant in his destiny, and travels to New Mexico to confront him. Teaming up with a fellow agent, Fran (Carrie-Anne Moss, “The Matrix”), Thomas attempts to piece the clues together to figure out O’Ryan’s ultimate goal.

A serial killer who hunts serial killers. Either the genre has sunk to an all-time low, or this is a decent twist on bone-dry material. “Suspect Zero” is a little of both. A shockingly tedious “thriller” with almost no excitement, regardless of the plot, “Zero” was given the potential for victory with a sharp script by Zak Penn, who appears interested in challenging the formula. However, realized by director E. Elias Merhige, “Zero” is nothing but an absolute drag.

Merhige is a filmmaker from the “pretty pictures first, story second” club, as seen in his big screen debut, the 2000 horror comedy “Shadow of the Vampire.” “Vampire” was a gorgeous looking film, painstakingly detailed. The same can be said of “Zero,” which is careful in depicting the angles of the serial killer existence and the desolate New Mexico locales. Compelling only on an aesthetic level, “Zero” is never visually dry, overreaching often to arrange sequences that won’t meet audience expectations in a clichéd way. It’s a respectable effort from Merhige, and undoubtedly the man understands how to arrange a shot. However, it becomes clear right away, in a carefully framed sequence where O’Ryan confronts his first victim at a truck stop, that visuals are all Merhige is bringing to the table.

Dramatically, “Zero” is a fiasco, recklessly bouncing around logic and coherence like a pinball. Starting with the cold shoulder that greets an important relationship subplot between Thomas and Fran, Merhige is ceaseless in the apathy that he shows the rest of the film. For a picture about impending murder, there is little urgency to “Zero,” leaving the capable cast out in the blazing New Mexico sun to throw hissy fits just to liven up the proceedings (I’m looking your way Kingsley). Merhige doesn’t have the notion that the characters need to be the ones driving the plot, not the cinematographer. I would gladly trade in all the trick shots for genuine pace and some actual thrills.

The serial killer genre has been kind to Paramount Pictures in the past, but this year has clearly identified that the moment is gone (seen also in their stale spring production, “Twisted”). “Suspect Zero” is an obvious indication that the studio is now simply beating a dead horse.

My rating: D