FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Sergio Leone |||
Sergio Leone

Leone’s career is remarkable in its unrelenting attention to both American culture and the American genre film, exploring the mythic America he created with each successive film examining the established characters in greater depth.

Only his second feature (a remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo), Leone's landmark "spaghetti western" caused a revolution and features Clint Eastwood in his breakthrough role as "The Man With No Name". This classic brutal drama of feuding families wasn’t the first spaghetti Western, but it was far and away the most successful up to that time.

Plot is of minimal interest, but character is everything to Leone, who places immense meaning in the slightest flick of an eyelid, extensively using the extreme close-up on the eyes to reveal any feeling, as demonstrated by Clint, who squints his way through this slam-bang sequel to A Fistful of Dollars as a wandering gunslinger that must combine forces with his nemesis to track down a wanted killer.

The final chapter in the groundbreaking trilogy follows Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as they form an uneasy alliance to find a stash of hidden gold. Leone focuses on his central theme as they find themselves facing greed, treachery, and murder, showing that the desire for wealth and power turns men into ruthless creatures who violate land and family and believe that a man’s death is less important than how he faces it.

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Lassie

By BrianOrndorf

September 1st, 2006

With no CG talking animals to fall back on, “Lassie” somehow finds its way to becoming one of the best family films of the year. This is a slow-churn adventure, but audiences willing to put in the time will be rewarded with a lovely tale of a dog far from home, struggling to find her way back.

Lassie

Struggling in an economically depressed pre-WWII English neighborhood, young Joe (Jonathan Mason) has one distraction: his beloved collie, Lassie. When the local coal mine is shut down, Joe’s parents (John Lynch and Samantha Morton) are forced to sell the dog to the stern Duke (Peter O’Toole), who wants Lassie as a pet for his granddaughter (Hester Odgers). Problem is, Lassie won’t go quietly, and repeatedly escapes back into the arms of Joe. When relocation to Scotland threatens to take Lassie away forever, the dog breaks free and begins a grueling journey back to her rightful home.

Lassie has been a mainstay of media for nearly 70 years; starting on the pages, moving to film, and lasting forever on television. She’s an evergreen institution that’s found a splendid fresh incarnation to please a whole new generation of children unaware of this canine’s appeal.

What pleases me the most about “Lassie” is that it relies on, watch yourself now…patience to tell its story of devotion. Director Charles Sturridge doesn’t drench the film in artifice or lowball comedy to please the crowds; he’s the atypical filmmaker that has faith that the purity of the characters and the natural magnetism of the dog’s adventures will steer the picture. “Lassie” is low-tech, humane storytelling, and it does justice to the legacy of the character, while reinventing something delightful for future installments.

Sturridge’s script allows heavy time for the humans to get involved in the journey, and that has a penchant to take the focus away from Lassie. Don’t get me wrong, the film is cast beautifully: appearances by Peter O’Toole (stridently playing a British snob) and Scottish gem Kelly Macdonald are terrific, and the lead work from kids Jonathan Mason (blessed with a mug that could single-handedly kick off a new “Our Gang” franchise) and Hester Odgers lends the narrative that all-important sensation of emotional investment.

However, as Lassie works her way through Scotland and England, she meets several people along the way that want to either help or hinder her progress. Most are passable diversions, leading to exciting canine stunt set-pieces. Others, such as a segment where Lassie meets a kindly traveling puppeteer played by Peter Dinklage, slow the film down, and put Lassie in the back seat. Perhaps this was the director’s way to help beef up the film’s content, but it’s made clear throughout the film that once Lassie is off-screen, the magic of the film goes with it.

It’s a credit to Sturridge’s direction that he’s able to get such an expressive performance out of Lassie. The dog is a wonder, and really sells the emotion of the script, even if, in reality, all she wanted was the dog treat awaiting her off-camera. A highlight of the film is watching Lassie struggle her way across the expansive and mountainous English countryside, bordering on an outtake from one of those “Lord of the Rings” walking montages; except no Aragorn this time around, just a beautiful collie.

“Lassie” is old-fashioned family entertainment, and I hope audiences aren’t afraid to take a chance on a movie that might not be paced like a race car, but offers gentle adventure and alternative heroism instead.

My rating: B+