FilmJerk Favorites

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

||| Joseph L. Mankiewicz |||
Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Mankiewicz directed 20 films in a 26-year period, and was very successful at every kind of film, from Shakespeare to western, drama to musical, epics to two-character pictures, and regardless of the genre, he was known as a witty dialogist, a master in the use of flashback and a talented actors' director.

The 1950 Oscar for Best Picture and Screenplay brought Mankiewicz wide recognition as a writer and a director, with his sardonic look at show business glamour and the empty lives behind it. This well orchestrated cast of brilliant and catty character actors is built around veteran actress Bette Davis and Anne Baxter as her understudy desperate for stardom.

One of Mankiewicz’ more intimate films, this highly regarded and major artistic achievement is a spirited romantic comedy set in England of the 1880’s about a widow who moves into a haunted seashore house and resists the attempts of a sea captain specter to scare her away. This is a pleasing and poignant romance that is equally satisfying as a good old ghost story.

Mankiewicz wrote and directed this witty dissection of matrimony that has three women review the ups and downs of their marriages (with all its romance, fears and foibles) after receiving a letter telling them that one of their husbands has been unfaithful. Once again Mankiewicz deftly utilizes the skills of a well-chosen ensemble, which includes a young Kirk Douglas at his dreamiest.

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Everyone's Hero

By BrianOrndorf

September 15th, 2006

Who really knows just how much Christopher Reeve contributed to his “directorial” effort, “Everyone’s Hero,” but his stamp of optimism is all over this CG family flick. It looks cheap, is somewhat annoying, and grows increasingly moronic as it goes, but it isn’t as appalling as it looks, due to good voice work and an upbeat tempo that is pleasant.

Everyone's Hero

Yankee Irving (voiced by Jake T. Austin) is a pipsqueak kid trying to find his place in the neighborhood baseball games. Defeated by lack of size and strength, Yankee finds a confidant in Screwie, a hot tempered talking baseball (Rob Reiner) who just wants to be left in the sandlot where he was found. When Yankee learns that Babe Ruth’s cherished bat Darlin' (Whoopi Goldberg) has been stolen on the eve of the World Series by a shady pitcher named Lefty (William H. Macy), the boy begins a cross-country adventure to retrieve it and save the day.

Christopher Reeve’s credit as director of “Everyone’s Hero” is placed prominently at the end of the film. It’s difficult to find out just how much work Reeve did on the picture before his death two years ago, but the credit is a curious button on a very strange CG animated film.

Regardless of his involvement in the actual day-to-day work of the movie, Reeve’s spirit is all over this creation. “Hero” tells an inspiring tale of triumph over personal doubt, but it does so in excruciatingly rudimentary ways, still maintaining a cheery mood throughout. Clearly this is a not a glossy production, lacking a budget to polish the crude visuals, and follows a story that would have a bigger impact on the direct-to-video circuit, where kids can sit in the path of the message cannon without their parents growing irritated that they spent $40 to spend their Saturday afternoon with mediocrity.

Because the production doesn’t have the coin to spend, they make up for it with a host of celebrity voices that go a long way to hiding the overall lethargy in the scripting. While Reeve’s great friend Robin Williams is lost in a character without comedic payoff (the Chicago Cubs owner who wants the bat stolen), and Rob Reiner is swallowed by his growing volume, it’s Whoopi Goldberg who scores softly as Babe Ruth’s cherished bat. Yes, I just wrote that: Whoopi Goldberg is one of the best elements of the movie. Backing away from her dated, tired, and lazy sassmouth routine, Goldberg puts on her best southern charms and has fun with the role.

“Hero” has some respectable adventuresome moments. A train chase where Yankee is dashing to escape the clutches of Lefty provides a modest spark to the animation. I also enjoyed how the directors (Colin Brady and Dan St. Pierre are also credited) had fun with the idea of talking bats and baseballs, along with their limitations of movement. Because “Hero” gets sludgy with inspiration, it’s the little moments, which break free of formula, that count.

Set in a pre-Depression era world, “Hero” plays pretty fast and loose with the period details. I’m not sure why the production even bothered to undertake this era when the script is peppered with characters doing the “Cabbage Patch” dance, or making a Starbucks reference. Even by the liquid standards of a family film, this kind of screenwriting and improv looks desperate, and while it doesn’t exactly ruin the film, it ultimately allows the cringes to outpace the smiles.

My rating: C