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.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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A History of Violence (BrianOrndorf)

By BrianOrndorf

September 29th, 2005

Director David Cronenberg returns to the screen with this powerful, disturbing tale about the evil that men do. Calculated, terrifically acted, and sharply realized, "Violence" packs quite a punch.


Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen, quietly effective) is a mild diner owner, living in a peaceful midwestern town, and blessed with a loving family (including Maria Bello). When two crooks decide to harass Tom one late night, the meek storeowner turns the tables quickly, killing both men, and is soon hailed as a hero by the local news. Tom, wary of attention, blows off the incident, but when mysterious men (led by a bullying Ed Harris) visit the area and start harassing him, Tom has to upset his gentle world again to confront his past and protect his future.

Adapted from the graphic novel by John Wagner and Vince Locke, “History of Violence” is a strange little film that doesn’t come at the audience in any conventional way. This is an weird, grotesque, funny, and disturbing picture that drips of David Cronenberg’s touch all the way through.

Opening with an idyllic Indiana small town, where every stranger is a neighbor and life is silent and peaceful, Cronenberg sets a tone for “Violence” that is immediately unsettling. Taking his cue from the cheery Americana tone of the obscure source material, “Violence” is pitched at a slightly askew, very theatrical level; earnestly heightened when it deals with Tom’s home life, and bone chilling when brutality comes knocking. The cold juxtaposition of the two moods creates a magnificent aura of suspense, and an uncomfortable feeling of menace that Cronenberg has perfected over the course of his long and memorable career. Tom’s world is going to crash down, but to what extent and how much is Tom going to be complicit with all of this is the question of the movie.

Take “Violence” at face value, and it could appear to be a flat-out mess. Cronenberg brazenly opens the film with a climax-worthy moment, forcing the rest of the film to preserve the unique aura of revelation for the rest Tom’s journey, and it can’t always maintain the level of interest. Cronenberg also deals out his sex and violence with an honesty that is stimulating, but also can be extremely mannered and frustrating. The sex scenes punch hard (and maybe a bit too graphic for some), and eventually come to symbolize the constipation of Tom’s martial communication, while the violence is delivered bluntly, bloodily, and without apology. Cronenberg wants his audience to have several reactions to the three main acts of violence presented in the film, and his steady direction successfully achieves exactly that feat.

As “Violence” moves along, secrets are revealed, characters are forced to confront truths about themselves, and Cronenberg keeps the surprises (I wouldn’t call them twists) coming. By the climax, the film has grown into a deeper and richer filmgoing experience than immediately perceived. Cronenberg has always worked best by getting in under the skin and manipulating from within, and while “Violence” isn’t his most accomplished piece of work, it does return the filmmaker to a traditional style he hasn’t explored since 1986’s “The Fly,” and it’s a welcome, satisfying homecoming.

My rating: B+