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

Advertisement

Prime

By BrianOrndorf

October 28th, 2005

Ben Younger’s “Prime” is a perfect example of a movie made for audiences who take in maybe one or two films a year. A grotesque romantic comedy that seems smugly proud of its older woman/younger man clichés and hackneyed New York City locations, “Prime” wastes a wonderful cast in its desperate quest to keep itself away from anything remotely challenging, intelligent, or respectful.


Rafi (Uma Thurman) is a 37 year-old woman who just completed a nasty divorce, and is looking for comfort in the company of her psychoanalyst, Lisa (Meryl Streep). David (Bryan Greenberg) is a 23 year-old dreamer who meets Rafi one night, and can't get her out of his head. After nervously asking her out, the two soon embark on a love affair that reveals passion neither of them expected. Overjoyed, Rafi reports back to Lisa about the happy turn of events, only to find Lisa isn't quite as thrilled about it, since David is her son.

The last time writer/director Ben Younger made a film (2000's "Boiler Room"), it opened with a quote by Notorious B.I.G., and I'm sorry to report his touch has not improved much since then.

"Prime" is a male fantasy come to life, much like "Boiler Room" was; however, Younger is smarter this time around, and has coated the tomfoolery of "Prime" in a sticky, suffocating layer of romantic comedy to best deflect closer inspection. Unfortunately, the film isn't very funny, maybe a chuckle here and there at best. And romantic? Not in the least, which makes the picture a troubled sit, since all the ingredients that Younger is using to craft something mainstream and huggable are up there on the screen in plain view, but the film is a constant chore to watch.

The reason "Prime" never comes together is simple: chemistry, or a lack thereof. Uma Thurman is a wonderful actress, coming off a career-revitalizing trip to Tarantinoland with the "Kill Bill" saga, but she can't pull chemistry out of thin air with co-star Bryan Greenberg. The woman is just not that type of magician. Instead, Thurman is asked to simply make googly eyes at an inexpressive Greenberg, but it's too hard to believe that these two people would ever be attracted to each other outside of purely sexual reasons. Younger's shamelessly formulaic script turns these two into cartoon characters: she's the hurt, wise older woman, he's the mouthbreathing youth who sweats passion out of his pores. Younger even makes David a sensitive painter, which is enough to gag right there, but there's more to come.

As the relationship blossoms, Younger doesn't miss a chance to gallop over the exact same trail that every May-December romance takes on screen, including scenes where Rafi and her older friends discuss politics while a stifled, pouty David looks on, and "the argument," where Rafi lashes out at David over his messy, reckless, shiftless ways. While Younger seems proud of his cast and his flavorless sophisticate New York City locations (where everyone goes to art galleries, is a wine connoisseur, and attends Antonioni retrospectives), there's not a single interesting human moment or emotional beat in his script. Would you believe there's even a scene where Rafi buys David a Nintendo system, only to see him passing up sex with her so he can play longer? Show me any 23 year-old man facing those options, and he'll pick sex with Uma Thurman every time.

Every. Time.

Because Younger is playing so unreasonably obvious with the younger man/older woman stereotypes, I'm not sure why he didn't just kick away the middleman and make David an infant. Sadly, "Prime" could've used that level of inspiration.

With Thurman and Greenberg failing each other repeatedly, "Prime" leaves itself up in the air for anyone to steal, and who better an actor to do it than Meryl Streep? Streep isn't in "Prime" for much of the film, but she makes her moments count as David's mother. Appalled at the situation at hand, yet hopelessly in love with the participants, Streep gets the only laughs in the film, and her ability to register an entire character history with a single eyebrow lift is beautiful. She also manages to ground her character's broadly realized Jewish concern about David's choice of a shiksa girlfriend, which Younger never realizes to its full potential, instead kneecapping it with silliness whenever he can.

The last act of "Prime" doesn't challenge known romantic comedy quantities in the least, even indulging in a tired break-up-to-make-up scenario that doesn't make any sense, and destroys the potential to end this thing with some integrity intact. If Younger truly wanted to work out some fantasies on the big screen, "Prime" is the dullest, most unimaginative way he could've achieved that goal.

My rating: D