FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Francis Ford Coppola |||
Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola is an amazing talent whose inspiration and influence spans many generations. Virtually the link between the studio system of yesteryear and the independent minded filmmaker of the modern age, Coppola became the first major film director to emerge from a university degree program in filmmaking, thus legitimizing a now common route for many future filmmakers.

This Academy Award winner continues to enjoy an enormous critical and popular success due in large part to Coppola’s ability to break down an epic saga of crime and the struggle for power into the basic story of a father and his sons, punctuating the prevalent theme throughout Coppola’s oeuvre: the importance of family in today’s world. His personal portrait mixed tender moments with harsh brutality and redefined the genre of gangster films.

This intense, yet unassuming thriller has an impact that touches the viewer on a personal level and raises the question of privacy and security in a world of technology – thirty years ago! Coppola’s then virtually unknown cast is a roster of inevitable superstars, including Gene Hackman, Harrison Ford, and Robert Duvall. This Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound lost out to Coppola’s other great effort of the year, The Godfather: Part II.

Coppola's masterful Vietnam War-updating of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" was the first major motion picture about the infamous “conflict”. This colossal epic was shot on location in the Philippines over the course of more than a year and contains some of the most extraordinary combat footage ever filmed. Unforgettable battle sequences and sterling performances from every cast member (including Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Scott Glenn, and Martin Sheen) mark this Academy Award-winning drama as a must-see for any true film fanatic.

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+