FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Frank Capra |||
Frank Capra

It goes without saying that Capra is one of the greatest and most beloved directors of all time, especially renowned for his madcap romantic comedies. He is one of the few directors who ever managed to balance whimsy with meaningfulness without loosing the ability to entertain.

Only Frank Capra, with his light hand and good sense of allowing the actors to be their roles, could carry off this tale of a naive average American used by an unscrupulous politician through a nationwide goodwill drive. No one was ever better at having strong yet vulnerable women not only aid, but often come to the rescue, of the leading man.

Frank Capra's final film is a hilarious translation of a Damon Runyon tale set in 1930s New York, as gangster Glenn Ford repays street peddler Bette Davis for her "good luck" apples by passing her off as a well-to-do society lady for her visiting daughter (Ann-Margret in her film debut). This excellent and thoroughly enjoyable remake of his own 1933 "Lady for a Day" is a beautiful swan song to a master storyteller. Widescreen!

In this black comedy about two sweet old ladies whose basement holds a murderously funny secret, Capra utilizes star Cary Grant to his zany, patented “double take” best. Capra’s brilliance in comic casting is demonstrated with such reliable character actors as Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre and Jack Carson who manage to play their parts to the hilt without chewing up the scenery.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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Hostage

By BrianOrndorf

March 10th, 2005

Bruce Willis returns to reluctant hero “Die Hard” mode with “Hostage,” a kooky, passable thriller from former French video game designer Florent Siri. Unfortunately, not everyone involved with the picture seems to be making the same product, which lends the film an interest air of unpredictability. All this is thrown out in the film’s unforgivable finale, which looks like an outtake from a “Friday the 13th” sequel.


Jeff Talley (Bruce Willis) has taken a job as captain of a suburban California police squad to escape the hellish world he experienced as an L.A. hostage negotiator. When a trio of juvenile delinquents (Ben Foster, Jonathan Tucker, and Marshall Allman) invade the home of a wealthy crook's (Kevin Pollak) intricate estate, things go awry immediately, bringing Jeff in to talk the kids down from potential violence against the family (Jimmy Bennett, Michelle Horn). Yet, before Jeff can successfully walk away from the situation, an organized crime syndicate, using Jeff's family as collateral, forces the cop back into the fold to retrieve some important items found in the house.

"Hostage" starts off with a bang after some stylish but familiar opening credits (I'm looking your way "Panic Room"). Opening on a bushy-bearded Bruce Willis smack dab in the middle of a tense L.A. hostage situation, the film sets off on the right foot of suspense, catastrophe, and thriller theatrics. The picture appears to understand its straightforward charms, utilizing highly charged anxiety for a rock 'em, sock 'em launch that promises so much. Eventually, "Hostage" splits into three movies.

The first incarnation of "Hostage" is the film that French director Florent Siri is making. Siri, who made a splash with his action extravaganza, "The Nest," three years ago, appears to be under the impression that he is making a horror film with "Hostage." Electing to use dark angles, shock jumps, and finale right out of a "Friday the 13th" movie, Siri isn't on the same page as the material. This mixture of genres actually works in the film's favor for the first two acts, and elevates the material away from its sticky, hackneyed roots. However, this all falls apart in the finale, which spins completely out of Siri's tight control, and ends up a burning, broken glass, nine endings, slo-mo mess, damaging the unique thriller ambiance Siri stumbled upon before. The scripting is interesting (including a clever reference to Hollywood's remake-frenzy attitude), and outside of some bad film-making choices (a body-mounted camera early on reveals Siri really is French), Siri's strange, unaware direction keeps the film cooking at a high heat.

For Bruce Willis, "Hostage" returns the actor to the genre of his best work. Jeff Talley is a character not unlike "Die Hard" hero John McClane; a role that digs deep into psychological readings as well as guns o' plenty. Willis is great here as the tortured cop, but his performance is more in the reluctant hero vein, while Siri, as mentioned before, is making a completely different movie. Willis's performance simmers down to standard run-n-shoot style theatrics, but his insistence that "Hostage" isn't a Wes Craven movie keeps the emotional suspense engaging. The same cannot be said of the criminal performances in the picture, with Brando wannabes Ben Foster and Jonathan Tucker performing like it was their first day at acting school. Spittle-drenched and gorged with brood, Foster and Tucker add an unexpected comedic element to the film with their wildly over-the-top performances, which immediately strips them of threat, and punishes an unsuspecting audience that is forced to sit in their seats for 110 minutes watching these boys try to out-act each other with silly tics and drool.

The final "Hostage" is seen through composer Alexandre Desplat's welcomingly thunderous score; except Desplat might be under the impression that he's scoring a James Bond action film. The frantic music in "Hostage" goes above and beyond the call of duty, assisting Siri in his quest to create a mixture of different manners and moods to the picture. It's solid work, but at times I expected Sean Connery to drive up in an Aston Martin.

The last 30 minutes of "Hostage" is a terribly busy bore, and does an excellent job of creating a bad taste to a film that isn't a complete washout and a decent genre exercise. If one could mentally match up the three movies being made here, that would certainly help "Hostage's" chances for entertainment.

My rating: C+