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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The Woodsman

By BrianOrndorf

January 13th, 2005

Self-consciously low-tech, the independent production “The Woodsman” features a fine ensemble cast, and an interesting way to depict the untouchable topic of pedophilia. However, the film never grabs the audience the way it desires, with most of the conflict oddly falling flat.


Walter (a restrained, insular Kevin Bacon) has just been released from a 12-year prison stint for pedophilia. Cautiously adjusting to his new life on the outside, Walter struggles to handle his unfortunate apartment location (overlooking an elementary school), a new love (Kyra Sedgwick), a job where the employees (David Allen Grier, Eve) question his past, a cop (Mos Def, “The Italian Job”) who is relentless his in observance of Walter’s daily life, and his own dangerous sexual feelings, which rise to the forefront when he befriends a young girl (Hannah Pilkes) in a park.

“The Woodsman” has “Class of Sundance 2004” written all over. With a heady subject matter, low-tech, grainy production values, and a cast pocked with A and B list stars, this is a production that reeks of prototypical independent cinema, an equally admirable and woeful quality to have. “The Woodsman” is an original creation, but a faintly unremarkable motion picture.

Credit must be paid to writer/director Nicole Kassell (adapting the play by Steven Fechter) for taking on the subject of pedophilia in a manner that doesn’t have the fringes of a Lifetime movie or an Oprah special. “Woodsman” is an empathetic look at an offender’s place in society and difficult rehabilitation of his mind, not cutting many corners when it depicts the aggressive distaste some people find themselves feeling around Walter. If not a particularly engaging film, “Woodsman” is a fascinating one, delving into dark regions of human reaction to an utterly despicable figure. With the central idea, Kassell is confident in her portrayal of Walter’s torment, as he attempts to rebuild his life, cope with his first taste of adult sexuality in some time, and his desperation in trying to suppress old feelings toward the children he meets in everyday life (smartly realized by Bacon). There’s a great deal of turmoil to be mined here, and Kassell’s finds the right mood to keep Walter’s internal struggle gripping, yet not completely ick out the audience.

The narrative for “The Woodsman” is not nearly as strong as its emotions. The story starts out well enough, with Kassell introducing Walter as an unwilling observer of a local elementary school, building conflict quietly when Walter spies a potential pedophile working the area. While more conventional in design, this idea is ripe for exploration, which frustratingly never comes. “Woodsman” is a character film, allowing great leeway for the actors to find their roles and set the pace. This leaves the picture with an odd unfinished feel, made more perceptible by the film’s brief 80 minute running time and the plethora of name actors who are given very little to do. “Woodsman” is an interesting look into a fractured, tormented mind, yet it falls below the truly enveloping, harrowing experience the film unfortunately only hints at.

My rating: C+