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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House of D

By BrianOrndorf

April 27th, 2005

As an actor, I’ve enjoyed David Duchovny’s work for years. However, his directorial debut, “House of D,” brings tears to my eyes, and not of joy. This lackluster, amateurish stab at a coming-of-age drama means well, but doesn’t have much in terms of quality in its favor.


On the eve of his son’s 13th birthday, Tommy (David Duchovny) decides to reassess his own childhood as a gift to his boy, taking him back to the year 1973, when he was turning the same age. A young man, Tommy (Anton Yelchin, “Hearts in Atlantis”) and his mentally challenged friend Pappas (Robin Williams) ruled the New York streets where they lived. However, their time of enthusiasm and mischief draws to a close when Tommy’s widowed mother (Tea Leoni) becomes suicidal and his first love (Zelda Williams) threatens his tight relationship with Pappas. Hope comes to Tommy in the form of a female convict (Erykah Badu) at the local detention center, who offers Tommy advice on his unmanageable life.

David Duchovny as an actor? A unique and dryly comic performer whose sharp wit livens up most movies he appears in. Duchovny as a writer/director? An embarrassment. “House of D” marks the directorial debut for the veteran actor, and it shows undeniably that Duchovny should stick in front of the camera rather than behind it.

While it is an utter mess of a motion picture, “House of D” is not a mean-spirited creation. Supposedly semi-autobiographical, the film strolls down the same coming-of-age boyhood pathway taken by many movies. Yet, Duchovny’s creation is a very odd one indeed. While it includes the expected sweetness and tragedy, Duchovny’s screenplay veers wildly into weird sexual situations (Pappas gets an erection after watching a horror film), threadbare narrative devices (found in the women’s detention center subplot), and a bookending device with the adult Tommy that relies on breathlessly long voiceover stretches that only exacerbate the fragile grasp on quality that “House” holds.

The glaring problem with “House” is that Duchovny isn’t able to translate his own words to the screen with grace. For example, upon learning of his mother’s hospitalization, Tommy scoops up the cigarette butts from the toilet that his mother recently left behind, and wraps them gently in paper, somberly treasuring the last remnants of his only living parent. On paper, this would probably kick the reader in the gut with its tender power and sadness. In the film, however, the scene doesn’t lure that type of emotion, even going so far as to come off a little gross. Duchovny fills “House” with many moments like this, of such immediate poignancy, which cannot penetrate his stilted direction and are left to die in front of a rudely snickering audience.

Duchovny’s camerawork also hurts his actors. Even by low-budget standards, “House” in inexplicably murky to look at and Duchovny’s poor shot choices hang his talent out to dry. Young actor Yelchin receives the worst treatment, for his affected but charming performance is ruined in its final moments by the director’s inability to understand how to edit or cover a scene properly. What should be a sequence of an emotional wellspring shooting out of Tommy as he arrives at the end of his options becomes this awkward, grimace-inducing scene when Duchovny can’t find a respectful and effective angle to work with, but he keeps on with the moment, even though it’s fallen to pieces.

“House of D” is a heartfelt production, and a tough one to kick around, but to recommend it on intentions alone would be making many innocent people suffer.

My rating: D+