FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Norman Jewison |||
Norman Jewison

Yes, he directed “Moonstruck” and two unforgettable musicals, but Jewison is also responsible for a trilogy of films focusing on racial-injustice, a whacky Cold War comedy and a signature film of Steve McQueen’s showing that he is one of the most versatile directors since Robert Wise.

This blueprint for good investigation dramas tells the story of a black Philadelphia detective investigating a murder in Mississippi who matches wits with a redneck sheriff. Groundbreaking for it’s time, this Oscar winning film is still relevant today and offers a gripping mystery with terrific dramatic performances by a complete cast of fully realized characters.

This is an amazingly funny and entertaining irreverent "Cold War" comedy about a Russian submarine stranded outside an isolated New England town, which throws the locals into a panic. Jewison does a delightful job of utilizing his all-star cast to their fullest, deftly mixing Capra-esq characters with Mel Brooks’s type situations (and vise-versa).

A bored millionaire (Steve McQueen in his prime) masterminds a flawless bank job as Faye Dunaway (an insurance investigator out to get him) identifies him as the mastermind and falls in love along the way. This is the original and the best, with all the arch stylized movie techniques of the ‘60s (including split-screen and fuzzy shallow focus) and the most erotic chess game ever captured on screen.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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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+