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.

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Shadowboxer

By BrianOrndorf

August 4th, 2006

“Shadowboxer” is aspiring to be a sensual, violent look at life lived behind the gun. What it resembles more is a pay cable porn leftover, complete with a full frontal from Stephen Dorff, and Cuba Gooding Jr. diddling Helen Mirren in what looks like outtakes from “Legend.” “Shadowboxer” is a lot of things, but “good” just isn’t one of them.

Shadowboxer

When contract killer Rose (Helen Mirren) is diagnosed with cancer, she elects to continue with her work, aided by her stepson/lover Mikey (Cuba Gooding Jr.). When on a routine assignment, Rose balks at killing the pregnant wife (Vanessa Ferlito) of a gangster (Stephen Dorff), instead hiding her away as the three raise the child in seclusion. As the years pass, the frosty and distant Mikey becomes a father figure to the child, which endangers his life and profession when his past comes looking for revenge.

The way “Shadowboxer” moves, you can understand that it’s a film that wants to set itself apart from the routine hit man cinema agenda. Director Lee Daniels is hunting for anything that will stand out to the audience, so he goes to a very unexpected place: sex.

“Shadowboxer” is a mash-up of Luc Besson’s “The Professional” with one of those late night Cinemax films you watch when the kids are finally put to bed, with titles such as “Cancun Desire” or “Masseuse Nights.” The producer of “Monster’s Ball” and “The Woodsman,” Daniels know his way around making the viewer uncomfortable, but there’s a fine line between genuine, pants-tickling eroticism and “I can’t believe I’m watching this surrounded by strangers” soft-core porn.

Now, it’s not like I roll up the welcome mat at nudity, but the sexual material in this picture is gracelessly staged, frightfully filmed, and directed with all the zeal of a Shannon Tweed/Andrew Stevens epic. It’s gets embarrassing in a hurry. A majority of the cast strolls around naked (the notable exception being Mirren), and there’s a strong subplot covering incest in the threadbare script by William Lipz, but Daniels can’t find a secure way to develop that lust beyond mere raincoat voyeurism. Already cursed with bare-bones production values, the sex only manages to confuse “Shadowboxer,” and lure it away from anything close to a coherent and unique plot.

The other speed in Daniels’s repertoire is violence, which “Shadowboxer” features plenty of. The characters are cold-blooded assassins, and they act accordingly. There are blunt moments in the film which demonstrate Daniels has some ability as a filmmaker, but those are undercut with liberal usage of ugly step-frame processing pushing the look of the picture further into pay cable land.

“Shadowboxer” is something of a mess, but Daniels seems committed to seeing it all the way to the end and there’s something commendable in that defiance. Trouble is, he’s surely the only one who wants to stay until the end.

My rating: D