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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Brick

By BrianOrndorf

March 30th, 2006

The quest to try something different propels the ambition behind “Brick,” but not the film itself. A flaccid ode to film noir, the picture just doesn’t fire on enough engines to keep itself breathing, soon crumbling under the weight of its pretentious screenwriting and monotonous performances.


Brendan Frye (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has discovered the dead body of his ex-girlfriend. Looking to uncover what happened to her, he hides the body and starts a hunt for clues. Combing the underbelly of his high school, Brendan finds himself in deep with femme fatales, teachers, vamps, stoners, and crime figures who all want to thwart his investigation. Brendan, with nothing to lose, will stop at nothing to find his answers.

The gimmick found in Rian Johnson’s “Brick” is transplanting the hard-boiled film noir genre of the 1940s to the modern day high school. Admittedly, it’s a neat idea, but the ingenuity found in “Brick” in constipated by a lack of directorial confidence, and frankly, a decent budget to match its lofty ambitions.

“Brick” is a moody little film, punctuated with bursts of goofy violence. Mostly though, it’s a deliberately paced picture looking to pay homage to the great detective fiction (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler) and cinema of yesteryear with its own variety of slang and settings. One of the more controversial elements of the film has to be Johnson’s screenplay, which invents its own sticky wordplay to spice up the drama. Think of Fenster from “Usual Suspects” if he had a 3rd period chemistry class, and that’s getting close to Johnson’s design. Meant to put a distinctive stamp on the film, the dialog grows increasingly tedious and manufactured, especially when the locations don’t match the same sense of fantasy. The cast can spit the words out with minimal hiccups, but the lines feel meaningless dropping off their heavy tongues, and everything sounds clouded under the heavy blanket of the picture’s uneven sound recording.

Johnson is never able to transcend the high school gimmick either. The director fails to make the school a character in the film, instead keeping it as a dull gray background to Brendan’s “Veronica Mars” brand of journey, and only includes one faculty member (Richard Roundtree), a character he does nothing interesting with.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is certainly an intense actor (“Mysterious Skin”), but here as Brendan, the actor is too insular, giving Johnson little to work with. Gordon-Levitt is intended to be the Jake Gittes of the film, stumbling around, falling into beatings and trouble with every passing hour. Johnson can’t find the core to Brendan, discouraging the audience from curiosity about his thought process. Perhaps the whole film is miscast, teeming with young actors (Meagan Good, Nora Zehetner) who clearly didn’t do their Bogart/Bacall homework beforehand, and a crime boss called “The Pin” played by Lukas Haas. I can’t think of a single actor with less screen menace than Lukas Haas, who drifts through the film looking ridiculous trying to channel his inner pimp.

“Brick” certainly wins points for trying to create something interesting with old recipes, and when Johnson lets the fists fly there’s a kooky spark to his scenes of brawling. Johnson’s vision is simply lacking a pulse, and when “Brick” finally heats up to a finale, it’s already deflated and finished.

My rating: C-