FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Sergio Leone |||
Sergio Leone

Leone’s career is remarkable in its unrelenting attention to both American culture and the American genre film, exploring the mythic America he created with each successive film examining the established characters in greater depth.

Only his second feature (a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Leone's landmark "spaghetti western" caused a revolution and features Clint Eastwood in his breakthrough role as "The Man With No Name". This classic brutal drama of feuding families wasn’t the first spaghetti Western, but it was far and away the most successful up to that time.

Plot is of minimal interest, but character is everything to Leone, who places immense meaning in the slightest flick of an eyelid, extensively using the extreme close-up on the eyes to reveal any feeling, as demonstrated by Clint, who squints his way through this slam-bang sequel to A Fistful of Dollars as a wandering gunslinger that must combine forces with his nemesis to track down a wanted killer.

The final chapter in the groundbreaking trilogy follows Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as they form an uneasy alliance to find a stash of hidden gold. Leone focuses on his central theme as they find themselves facing greed, treachery, and murder, showing that the desire for wealth and power turns men into ruthless creatures who violate land and family and believe that a man’s death is less important than how he faces it.

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Christmas with the Kranks

By BrianOrndorf

November 23rd, 2004

While the credits list “Christmas with the Kranks” as an adaptation of John Grisham’s best selling book, “Skipping Christmas,” I can almost assure you Grisham didn’t have anything to do with the depressing piece of junk this film turned out to be. An endless series of Tim Allen adlibs (the worst around), uninspired pratfalls, and a disastrous last minute tug on the heartstrings, “Kranks” is easily the lump of coal in the holiday cinema stocking. Avoid at all costs.


After sending off their daughter (Julie Gonzalo) on a long stint with the Peace Corps, Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora (Jamie Lee Curtis) Krank are forced to cope with their empty nest syndrome. When Luther adds up the receipts from last year’s holiday celebration, he decides that the Kranks will completely skip Christmas (including gifts, parties, and charity), and take a Caribbean cruise instead. This doesn’t sit well with the Kranks’ holiday obsessed neighborhood (led by a wasted Dan Aykroyd), which tries to terrorize the Kranks into celebrating the holiday.

With every holiday season, there must be a lump of coal. “Christmas with the Kranks” is that lump of coal. No, scratch that. Describing the film as coal is doing injustice to our overworked energy-giving friend. “Kranks” is more like eggnog spiked with Drano, presented in a way in which all the joy is sucked out of the season, leaving depression in its wake, in place of holiday spice. You don’t have to be a grinch to appreciate what a colossal disaster “Kranks” genuinely is.

“Kranks” is based on a novel by John Grisham that I've never read. But I wonder if it honestly was the genesis for this repellant film. Could Grisham write so broadly? Would he willingly create a story that leaves so much room for a tidal wave of sitcommy pratfalls and noxiously cartoonish supporting characters? The screenplay was written by Chris Columbus, who struck foot-to-groin gold with his 1990 blockbuster, “Home Alone,” and “Kranks” has Columbus’s slaphappy stamp all over it. I’ve enjoyed the writer’s work before (“The Goonies,” “Gremlins”), but “Kranks” is Columbus on autopilot, drafting an unfocused script that curiously does not contain a single titter or an interesting character. It’s just a series of brainless gags, horrific and grotesquely broad ones at that, tied together loosely with a counterfeit holiday spirit that is suffocating and undeserved.

Behind the camera is Joe Roth, the chairman of Revolution Studios, and occasional director of awful movies (“Revenge of the Nerds 2,” “America’s Sweethearts”). Sneakily using his own studio to fund this disaster, Roth demonstrates yet again that he should just stick to signing paychecks instead of helming multi-million dollar film productions. Roth has little aptitude for the medium, roping in qualified actors because of his influence in the industry, and then forcing them to swim upstream when he fails to offer them substantial material to work with. Botox jokes? Unrelenting carolers? Allen in a speedo? Make it stop! I love Jamie Lee Curtis. She was perfection in the 2003 “Freaky Friday” remake. However, “Kranks” forces Curtis to run around making bathroom faces, watching Tim Allen lamely yuck it up as if this were amateur night at the Apollo. Curtis deserves so much better. So do paying audiences, which is why Joe Roth needs to stop making feature films. His skills are much more suited to television, where his pedestrian directing range wouldn’t be so obvious.

After 80 minutes of brutal slapstick and toxic comedy, “Kranks” has the audacity to get serious in its final moments. Forgetting that he’s been unwilling to plant any seed of sympathy or believability in his film up to this point, Roth plunges ahead with a small final act turn, which has the Kranks embracing the holiday spirit, bestowing a rather large gift on their “kinda” enemy neighbors. Just to shove that sympathetic feeling along, Columbus and Roth hand cancer to one of these “I guess” unlovable characters, just to erase any doubt in the audiences’ minds as to what emotion they should feel. It’s disgusting.

“Christmas with the Kranks” would make a terrific double bill with last year’s “Bad Santa.” While the latter film purposefully tried to destroy the holiday spirit with caustic material and performances, “Kranks” manages to cover the same terrain, all the while believing itself to be the quintessential holiday film. Hate Christmas and laughing? This is the film for you.

My rating: F