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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.

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Taxi

By BrianOrndorf

October 7th, 2004

“Taxi” struggles to be hilarious and exciting, but this poorly directed action comedy only succeeds at boring the audience. Besides, when the best cast member of the film is a Brazilian Victoria’s Secret supermodel, you know the film is worthless.


Belle (Queen Latifah) is a NASCAR-loving speed freak who has just received her taxi license. Aggressively driving her tricked-out cab around New York City, Belle rules the road. Washburn (Jimmy Fallon) is a brainless cop (and a poor driver) who has a habit of screwing up everything he touches. When a team of Brazilian supermodels (led by Gisele Bundchen) begins a series of bank robberies, Belle and Washburn are the only witnesses to the team’s true identities and pair up to break the case, hoping to restore Washburn’s good name in the force and to his captain (Jennifer Esposito) in the process.

“Taxi,” a remake of the 1998 Luc Besson French comedy, is a film hopelessly searching for laughs. The new film doesn’t have the strongest pedigree in terms of talent, what with the director of mild and forgettable “Barbershop” guiding it, but films as lightweight as this usually can be counted on for some smiles, thrills, and good times. “Taxi” lacks all three.

I can only imagine some of the more ridiculous aspects to “Taxi” were lost in translation, but that doesn’t stop director Tim Story from trying to match the French tone with his collage of Brazilian supermodel bank robbers and dweeby, non-threatening Jimmy Fallon as a New York cop. Story wasn’t the best choice to helm this film, as all it seems he can bring to the production are repetitive swooping camera moves to capture the car chases, and infinite belief that Fallon and Queen Latifah are the two funniest actors on Earth. Heavens, was Story wrong there.

I liked Jimmy Fallon during his years on “Saturday Night Live” for his ability to enjoy himself under the most depressing of comedic situations. He’s a goofball, but a funny, good-natured one, even surprising with his small dramatic turn in Cameron Crowe’s immaculate “Almost Famous.” However, Fallon in “Taxi” (his lead acting debut) is nothing more than a skittish freshman trying to win his high school over during the spring talent show. Nothing the comedian says or does works, with Fallon punctuating every situation with needless mugging and prancing, as if he’s acutely aware that what he’s been asked to do has no chance for laughs. Story lets Fallon do whatever he pleases, which results in scene after scene of obnoxious, unmercifully unfunny material.

Queen Latifah is even worse. After scoring an Oscar nomination with her musical/dramatic work in “Chicago,” the former rapper has made a curious decision and now seems to only act in urban-flavored comedies where she gives reprehensible performances. Straight off her nightmarish September production, “The Cookout,” Latifah gives another performance where she overestimates her street appeal. Making obscure jokes about Daewoo cars and clad only in tracksuits, Latifah is hopeless. She has zero chemistry with Fallon (can you imagine a more awkward comedy team?), and her charming demeanor (which has saved her performances before) is trapped under Story’s more action oriented persuasions. Latifah’s best gag is actually one that is unintentional: her character is introduced as one of the fastest, most crafty bike messengers in New York City. If only the rest of the film had such lofty comedic aspirations.

The only member of the cast that really belongs in such an oddball film like “Taxi” is Gisele Bundchen, a Victoria’s Secret model making her acting debut. As the lead bank robber, Bundchen isn’t asked to do much outside of toss her silky locks around, feel up costar Jennifer Espositio (don’t ask), and shoot some guns. It isn’t brain surgery, but Bundchen has unexpected film presence, and the only member of the cast who doesn’t speak very much, for which I am bottomlessly grateful. Bundchen would make a kickass Bond girl, that’s for sure.

The unadvertised heart and soul to “Taxi” are the car chases, which made the original film a minor classic in Europe. Story is certainly game to throw around some expendable automobiles, but the energy and pizzazz is missing from the near misses and pileups. Look one way, and you have two lead actors who couldn’t be more unfunny. Look the other way, and you can view poorly captured car chases. Or look ahead and watch four Brazilian bank robbing supermodels (that’s a personal choice). Anyway you look, the final result is the same; “Taxi” just doesn’t work.

My rating: D