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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Guess Who

By BrianOrndorf

March 24th, 2005

“Guess Who” bravely attempts to update the era-specific mood of the 1967 classic, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?,” but filmmaking has changed many times over since those days. The new “Who” is a slapstick comedy, wonderfully performed by Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, with its biggest crime being a desire to retain the same level of cultural significance. No dice.


Successful, protective African-American parents Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott) are awaiting the arrival of their daughter, Theresa (Zoe Saldana, overacting wildly), and her new boyfriend. What they want is a rich, honest black man they can call their son, but what they get is Simon (Aston Kutcher), a recently unemployed white guy who upsets Percy greatly. The two men immediately butt heads, and through a series of comical mishaps, their nice relaxing weekend quickly becomes undone.

“Guess Who” has taken on the dangerous assignment of updating the 1967 interracial surprise classic, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan (“Barbershop 2”), the picture doesn’t take that challenge too seriously, and the new “Who” is a much more slapsticky affair, without any major Hollywood royalty among its actors. But it does have Bernie Mac, and he’s enough to get the film halfway to quality.

“Guess Who” opens as a big, broad comedy about racial confusion and parental protection, and Sullivan keeps the film cheerful and moving in an inoffensive way. Written by David Ronn, Jay Scherick, and Peter Tolan, “Who” has the traditional checklist of sitcomish sequences involving Percy and Simon, most of which “Meet the Parents” did better recently, but the humorous material works due to the persistence of the cast. Sullivan knows very well that whenever he gets into trouble, he can just cut to Mac and his hilarious icy stare towards Kutcher, and the film gets right back on comedic track. “Who” is entertaining when it tries to have some fun with its leaden material, permitting the actors to roll around in the unease of the situation.

The fun stops when “Who” grows a heart; without the regal presence of Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn, or Spencer Tracy, not to mention the hot button issue of race relations in the late 1960s, this new “Who” comes to a crashing halt every time it breaks to mention its racial differences and struggles with a straight face. I do believe the topic has plenty of wealth in it, but not in this movie. Can a film feature both Ashton Kutcher parading around in women’s lingerie and a teary-eyed Zoe Saldana recalling her interracial dating struggles and still be taken seriously? The autopilot script runs through the melodramatic motions over and over, unaware that “Guess Who” is shining its brightest as a silly, carefree romp about miscommunication, and not as a dull, screenwriting template featuring unwelcome dramatics and characters we hardly care about. Laughs are paramount here, yet Sullivan isn’t sharp enough to recognize that.

“Guess Who” features fine chemistry between Kutcher and Mac, and I hope they share plans to team up again for another film that could meet their best comedic abilities more interestingly than this. “Guess Who” might mean well, but the time when this story carried the most weight has passed, and it’ll take a little more than sleepy screenwriting and direction to reawaken its effectiveness.

My rating: C