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.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

Advertisement

MirrorMask (BrianOrndorf)

By BrianOrndorf

October 6th, 2005

The Jim Henson Company returns to fantasy, the genre that showcased their best imaginative efforts, with “MirrorMask.” While the absence of puppetry and widescreen depth is missed greatly, the picture is a nice return of adult fantasy to the big screen, featuring complicated CG visuals that will surely make eyes pop.


Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a young juggler frustrated with her life working in her family's circus. After a particularly vicious fight with her mother Joanne (Gina McKee, "Notting Hill"), Helena wishes her dead, and is soon paralyzed with guilt when Joanne is rushed to the hospital that very night. Falling asleep with reminders of her intricate drawings surrounding her, Helena wakes up in a fantasyland of masked creatures, towering sights, and an evil queen (also played by McKee) who wants to rule this otherworld. With the help of a local, Valentine (Jason Barry), Helena battles her way through danger and mystery, looking for a special mask that will restore peace to the land and save her mother.

Looking to get back their fertile fantasy roots, The Jim Henson Company brings to the screen "MirrorMask." A fireworks display for the eyes, and an overdue dose of sincerity for the genre, "MirrorMask" mostly delivers on its complex promises.

The press notes stress that the Henson crew was looking to resurrect the fantasy entertainment that made them legends in the 1980s, with the wonderful "Labyrinth," and Jim Henson's masterpiece, "The Dark Crystal." For fans looking for that puppet-and-magic high, "MirrorMask" doesn't deliver on that level of optical thrills. Rendered almost entirely with shimmery golden CGI backgrounds and wildly imagined fantasy characters, there's a disconcerting polish to the film that doesn't envelope the viewer the way practical locations and people in rubber suits can. That doesn't suggest the tech credits aren't proficient (love those human/feline hybrids), and, at times, the landscapes are quite sumptuous, but the glossy, 1994-CD-Rom-adventure-game visuals seem to take away the immediacy and texture of Helena's danger in her new surroundings, and, at times, pop that crucial balloon of wonderment.

With beloved fantasy writer Neil Gaiman assuming script duties, "MirrorMask" features incredible depth in its settings and spots of originality in its story. While essentially a reimagining of "Alice in Wonderland," with a bit of "Labyrinth" thrown in for good measure, Gaiman instills in the film a strong sense of the abstract. He also crams in entertaining messages on the magic of books (sometime literally), and the importance of imagination. Gaiman's vision for the film is cluttered, but commendably ambitious, and he succeeds more than he fails in crafting an adventure/fantasy for thinking audiences.

Director David McKean does a capable job sorting out the many unique dreamlike sequences, and he accomplishes quite an intricate motion picture for a film with a shockingly low budget (reportedly 4 million). While some faulty ideas seep in (the Massive Attack meets Kenny G musical score kills the opening moments), McKean maintains "MirrorMask" through the many flavors of fantasy that it enjoys. It isn't a perfect landing on this return flight for the Henson Company, but I really enjoyed the journey, even if technical progress has made the true magic of the genre obsolete.

My rating: B