FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Alfred Hitchcock |||
Alfred Hitchcock

This is perhaps an obvious choice, however, most people tend to overlook the Master of Suspense’s early work as well as the relevancy of his last film as a key element in the continuing transition and development of the genre he defined.

One of Hitchcock's early triumphs, this predecessor to the mistaken identity man on the run scenario Hitchcock turned to time and again, stars Robert Donat as the innocent wrongly accused of murder and pursued by both the police and enemy spies. This is the first example of Hitchcock’s mastery over the suspense tale, giving us a glimpse of the greatness to come.

Considered to be one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest works, this story of two men who meet by chance on a train and frivolously discuss swapping murders is a prime example of a common Hitchcock theme of the man who suddenly finds himself within a nightmare world over which he has no control. You can easily see how this film lays the ground work for the more popular “North by Northwest”.

Alfred Hitchcock's final film is a light-hearted thriller involving phony psychics, kidnappers and organized religion, all of which cross paths in the search for a missing heir and a fortune in jewels. Here, Hitchcock has brilliantly developed his signature form to include the now common, and often overused, device of plot twist, after plot twist, after plot twist. Widescreen!

Recommended by CarrieSpecht

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Hoot

By BrianOrndorf

May 5th, 2006

An environmental preservation message movie poorly disguised as a routine family film, “Hoot” has big ideas, but a lousy way to sell them. It’s an amiable enough motion picture with great performances from the three teenage leads, but the adults insist they’re in a cartoon, destroying any chance the movie had to make a bigger point about the decimation of Florida’s landscape.


When his family moves from Montana to a small Florida community, Roy (Logan Lerman) has trouble adjusting to his new surroundings. Fascinated by a barefoot runner he spies from his school bus, Roy heads into the woods and meets Mullet Fingers (Cody Linley), a runaway who spends his days trying to thwart a pancake restaurant corporation (fronted by the always shrill Clark Gregg) from building their 100th restaurant on a plot inhabited by burrowing owls. With help from the rebellious Beatrice (Brie Larson) and the dimwitted cop Delinko (Luke Wilson), Roy finds his purpose in these owls, hoping to stop the demolition before it’s too late.

“Hoot” is a flavorless family film with lot on its mind, but no real insightful ideas on how to convey it. Based on the novel by noted Floridian conservationist Carl Hiaasen, “Hoot” is a clear-cut tale of animal welfare, coated lightly with themes of friendship and combating injustice. Compared to the average family film experience, it’s wonderful to see a story that at least has something positive to give kids weaned on fart jokes and crotch-based comedy.

In the hands of writer/director Wil Shriner, “Hoot” stays frustratingly earthbound. A longtime vet of television, both in front of and behind the camera, Shriner keeps the ambition of his script very small, and paces it with the same lethargic movement that accompanies a blazingly humid Florida afternoon. “Hoot” has all the technique and emphasis of the average Disney Channel cable film, and Shriner can’t seem to get the picture out of first gear. His efforts to spice up the action with slapstick backfire because he’s hired Luke Wilson to be the comedian here, and the actor is no Jerry Lewis. He’s not even Juliette Lewis, who I would’ve taken rather than watch Wilson try to sell zany absurdity with his increasingly irritating puppy dog face and three-margarita vocal speed.

Shriner is more assured with his young cast, who carry the film with more skill than any of the adults. The performances by Lerman, Larson, and Linley (they would make a great law firm) are unexpectedly sharp, partially because they’re drawn as real kids, not cookie cutter iPod-n-skateboard punks, and also because the plot asks them to care about something real. Lerman especially impresses with his acting, believably emoting a real sense of passion with his owl protection mission and confidence in his entanglements with the local bully.

Also frustrating is Shriner’s directorial scope, which does almost nothing with the endless beauty of Florida. The filmmaker sticks to his indoor and woodsy locations tightly, rarely opening up the film to let the sunshine in. Shriner leaves the soundtrack by Jimmy Buffet (who also co-stars) to do most of the heavy lifting in setting the Florida feeling, eventually coming down to a personal taste issue over Buffet’s music. Personally, I think the singer’s cover of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” should be classified as a biohazard, but that’s me.

In the final act, “Hoot” starts to act more as it was intended: as a stern lesson on the overdevelopment of Florida. Like a kissing cousin to the John Sayles film, “Sunshine State,” “Hoot” has something to say about big business stomping in, looking to steal grandeur away in the pursuit of a buck. Still, it’s hard to take “Hoot” that seriously, even when its heart is in the right place. Shriner just doesn’t have the skills yet to turn lightweight scuffle into heavyweight preaching without bringing down the whole production.

My rating: C+