FilmJerk Favorites

A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| Frank Capra |||
Frank Capra

It goes without saying that Capra is one of the greatest and most beloved directors of all time, especially renowned for his madcap romantic comedies. He is one of the few directors who ever managed to balance whimsy with meaningfulness without loosing the ability to entertain.

Only Frank Capra, with his light hand and good sense of allowing the actors to be their roles, could carry off this tale of a naive average American used by an unscrupulous politician through a nationwide goodwill drive. No one was ever better at having strong yet vulnerable women not only aid, but often come to the rescue, of the leading man.

Frank Capra's final film is a hilarious translation of a Damon Runyon tale set in 1930s New York, as gangster Glenn Ford repays street peddler Bette Davis for her "good luck" apples by passing her off as a well-to-do society lady for her visiting daughter (Ann-Margret in her film debut). This excellent and thoroughly enjoyable remake of his own 1933 "Lady for a Day" is a beautiful swan song to a master storyteller. Widescreen!

In this black comedy about two sweet old ladies whose basement holds a murderously funny secret, Capra utilizes star Cary Grant to his zany, patented “double take” best. Capra’s brilliance in comic casting is demonstrated with such reliable character actors as Raymond Massey, Peter Lorre and Jack Carson who manage to play their parts to the hilt without chewing up the scenery.

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

Advertisement

Hard Candy

By BrianOrndorf

April 13th, 2006

A tale of a pedophile that faces his greatest enemy in a 14 year-old girl, “Hard Candy” is provocative entertainment. It also is a crass, overdirected picture with the sheen of independent film cleverness, but all the screenwriting depth of the average 80s horror sequel.


After flirting on the Internet for weeks, Jeff (Patrick Wilson, “The Alamo”) and Hayley (Ellen Page, Kitty Pryde in the upcoming “X-Men: The Last Stand”) have decided to finally meet. Trouble is, he’s 32 years old and she’s 14. After bringing Hayley back to his place for drinks and seduction, the situation takes a turn for the worse when the young girl reveals that she’s more clever than she originally seemed, beginning a day of agony and torment for Jeff.

“Hard Candy” has one of those calculated attention-grabbing premises that delighted pushover Sundance Film Festival audiences, where it played over a year ago. This is provocative material, pointing a spotlight on sexual predators and their prey, possibly leading many parents to go home and hug their teenage children extra tightly, and shut off all their access to the Internet. So there’s one positive to be found.

“Candy” is the directorial debut for music video filmmaker (aren’t they all?) David Slade, and what ultimately trips up the film is Slade’s habitual visual overindulgence. The picture is aiming for a runaway mine car ride into hell, where Hayley exacts revenge on Jeff for her own safety and for every girl pursued by a pedophile; “Death Wish” for the Jane magazine crowd. However, the film isn’t reliably ingenious like the average thriller. Perhaps originally structured to be performed in a theatrical setting, Brian Nelson’s script keeps the characters talking feverishly and the locations at a minimum, leaving Slade to come up with his own cinematic treatment to tell this unconvincing story.

Slade makes use of a dazzling primary color design for Jeff’s house to keep the location interesting, and employs almost nothing but tight close-ups for the acting. The framing does create the claustrophobic nightmare quality Nelson is writing, but inspiration is soon drained completely out of the film by an old enemy: the shaky-cam. Whenever a moment of violence or action occurs between Haylie and Jeff, Slade goes crazy with open-shutter photography and handheld camerawork, unnecessarily attempting to conjure up intensity with cookie-cutter artifice instead of piercing originality. It robs the film of any potential terror.

The visual ideas kneecap the performances as well. While Patrick Wilson oozes reptilian menace and carefully measured lust as Jeff, Ellen Page’s performance as Hayley is the film’s single biggest miscalculation. Page’s acting is puckered with indication; the actress bounces off the walls trying to convey the character’s power of mind and willingness to use blunt force to keep Jeff in his place. By shooting Page so tightly at almost all times, Slade amplifies the actress’s limitations, and soon pushes her into pure shrillness. Toward the end of the film, the hope that maybe Jeff should come out as the victor in this struggle passes through the mind, which directly contradicts Nelson’s script design for Hayley’s heroism. Wilson might be playing a rapist of teenagers, but after 10 minutes of watching Page contort and stammer in such a loud, self-aware fashion, he doesn’t look like such a bad guy after all.

Near the end, “Candy” heads into a lengthy genital torture sequence (male viewers will be crossing their legs in the film’s second half), which should be this monumentally satisfying act of revenge, but it comes off as a hopeless horror gimmick in a picture with all the dramatic and logical impulse of a latter “Friday the 13th” installment. In the end, Slade dramatically hammers home the Red Riding Hood imagery, while Nelson’s script makes her into a sort of Batman figure for underage instant message vixens. And while at this point the film gets completely absurd, at least Page has finally stopped acting.

My rating: D+