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.

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Aeon Flux

By BrianOrndorf

December 2nd, 2005

“Aeon Flux” is the type of lazy sci-fi blockbuster filmmaking that normally only rears its head on basic cable. While fun to watch Charlize Theron prance around in spandex, the film is a chore to sit through. And if you’re not already a fan of the series, the film will be a complete snooze.


When a virus wipes out 99% of the population in 2011, those that remain are placed under the care of Dr. Goodchild (Marton Csokas), a scientist who found a cure. Now 400 years later, Goodchild’s utopia, Bregna (the last city on Earth), is a breeding ground of corruption and treachery. There is an underground rebellion brewing, led by the Monicans and their greatest warrior, Aeon Flux (Charlize Theron). Given the order to assassinate Goodchild, Aeon plunges deep in Bregna, only to discover that the evil she’s anticipating is nowhere to be found, and that the truth behind Bregna could topple the city for good.

Why is it that every sci-fi bonanza recently released needs a good, long weekend of DVD rentals to fully appreciate the experience? Coming so soon after “Serenity” is “Aeon Flux,” adapted from the animated show that aired on MTV in the mid-1990s. For fans of the series, the plot and general design of the film will be familiar and even passable if you squint hard. However, if you couldn’t tell the difference between a Flux from an Aeon before you walk into the theater, be prepared to make this response to the picture: “whaaa?”

Stepping up to the Hollywood sell-out big leagues is Karyn Kusama, who made the critically adored indie flick “Girlfight” back in 2000. Kusama is well intentioned with “Flux,” yearning to create a future world populated with female superheroes, but she’s in way over her head. For starters, the production design is broad and aggressive, indulging in all those obvious sci-fi touches that typically accompany a basic cable production. The costumes are also a source of comedy, with Theron in a series of outfits that call attention to themselves instead of being integral to the character. All the actors are forced to wear very silly costumes and wacky haircuts, making me wonder why Kusama didn’t just paint “this is the future!” on the bottom of her frame and give poor Pete Postlethwaite a break from wearing the future equivalent of a Hostess fruit pie wrapper. Poor guy. After a short while “Flux” gets pretty visually outlandish, and not in entertaining, resourceful ways. The film eventually settles on a look similar to the wet dream of a 12 year-old boy, as produced by Matthew Barney. Not really the stuff of visionary sci-fi.

Kusama backs herself into a corner further by being so careless with the story, relying strongly on audience familiarity with the world and the characters. There’s not much for the average viewer to embrace with “Flux,” and the director struggles keeping the convoluted story straight even for the fans. Kusama keeps such a tight eye on the visual portion of the film, it’s as if she doesn’t realize that all her actors are speaking in a droning monotone the entire film, or that her plot could cure insomnia. Under Kusama’s watch, “Flux” is dreary, uninspired genre droppings that are all too common these days.

Paid the big bucks to step into Aeon’s spandex bodysuit, it is nice to see Charlize Theron exercise her looks again, which she’s spent the last few years trying to ignore. Theron is paralyzed by the static world Kusama has surrounded her with, but she cuts an impressive figure, slinking around the frame in all sorts of skintight costumes, which will likely make this the most paused DVD of 2006. Theron is unsteady as an action hero (with combat sequences cut to shreds by the editors), but she has the glare down, and, surrounded by achingly boring actors like Csokas, is consistently the only interesting person in the film.

“Aeon Flux” goes through the blockbuster storytelling motions for the climax, but what exactly is it paying off? This is such a goofball production that the only way it could’ve ended appropriately is for Kusama to jump in front of the camera at the end and apologize for taking on a massive production that she obviously couldn’t juggle.

My rating: D