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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Aurora Borealis

By BrianOrndorf

September 7th, 2006

“Aurora Borealis” is a quiet, nicely observed human drama that can’t quite figure out how to drum up sufficient drama. Great performances all around, including a blood-chilling depiction of aging from Donald Sutherland, and director James Burke knows how to set a Minnesota mood. Just don’t expect dramatic fireworks, and this little film will satisfy.

Aurora Borealis

Duncan (Joshua Jackson) is a young man struggling to maintain employment as he coasts through life in his wintry Minneapolis neighborhood. Surrounded by his long time friends and easy routine, Duncan’s life is challenged when Kate (Juliette Lewis) catches his eye. As the two begin a relationship, Duncan takes a job close to his dying grandfather (Donald Sutherland), furthering the claustrophobia in his life. When Kate plans to move away to greener pastures, Duncan is left to ponder his insular world, and he doesn’t like what he finds.

Tales of young guys fighting to shed their adolescence are a dime a dozen lately. “Aurora Borealis” stands out from the pack in the way it takes the idea of growing seriously; that it’s an agonizing and complicated process with a very simple end result.

Writer Brent Boyd does a skillful job creating these Midwestern characters, and placing them cautiously on the chessboard of drama. This is not a film propelled by wild notions of operatic plot. In fact, the biggest detriment to “Borealis” is that it doesn’t reach the needed levels of conflict to see itself to a compelling end, struggling with feeble reasons to get these personalities to their finishing positions.

Even if the story isn’t running with a full tank, the feel of Duncan’s world is carefully written. “Borealis” constantly dodges formula by taking little asides with the characters that are unpredicted, and exercising the Minneapolis setting to investigate the literal and symbolic thawing of a wounded soul. I’m a little miffed that the production felt the need to sub Canadian locations in for Minnesota, but Boyd nails the finer points of slow-burn, face-freezing Twin Cities winter life, especially his hilarious observations on the statewide football obsession.

Director James Burke lends “Borealis” a comfort that helps sell Duncan’s complacency. This isn’t a domineering directing job, wisely keeping the actors out in front to find a rhythm with the audience for maximum emotional payoff. Again, Burke can’t fight the grabby final act, but he doesn’t drown the picture with sentiment or cutesy stabs at comedy. Following Boyd’s screenplay, there’s an effort here to make the film feel authentic while paying strict attention to tightly scripted dramatic threading.

For Joshua Jackson, this is a terrific shot at an adult role, and the first acting piece from him that makes me excited for his future performances. Jackson could’ve easily gone for an angle on Duncan that bleeds tragic emotional stunting, but he provides Duncan a complex mind behind his tortured moment of decision making. Meeting him halfway is Juliette Lewis, who has never been more appealing, sexy, and human than in this picture. She makes the normally one dimensional girlfriend role spark with life, and you believe her frustrations to find a reason why Duncan should stay in his poisonous life.

Most striking is Donald Sutherland’s performance as Ronald, Duncan’s aching grandfather. Sutherland has never feared method acting, but I haven’t witnessed him this immersed in a character in over a decade. This is frightening work, skillfully realizing the tragedy of aging that might have some audience members fingering cyanide pills in response to watching Sutherland commit entirely to the shaking, bitterness, and despondency of growing old.

“Aurora Borealis” is an unassuming indie film with a lot of heart and acting power. Sure, you might know where it’s going from the first frames, but the goal here is to get the audience involved in Duncan’s journey to self-actualization. This an excellent little film.

My rating: B+