Directors Who Should Call It A Day

I recently ran the Debuts Blogathon with Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop which examined the first features of directors from the length and breadth of world cinema.

One of the areas I was keen for each entry to examine was whether a director’s early output matched their later work. It’s rare to find a director with an unblemished record, but there’s nothing sadder than seeing one whose work you once fervently followed becoming a shadow of their former selves.

In the same way that too many highly respected icons of the big screen gradually transform themselves into jobbing actors (I’m talking to you De Niro), there are unfortunately numerous examples of directors whose later films are a stark contrast to their early career.

You may disagree with some or all of these, but the following are five directors who really should call it a day for the sake of their professional credibility.

Who are the directors you wish would call it quits?

John Carpenter

John Carpenter

From his under-appreciated stoner sci-fi debut Dark Star, Carpenter went on a near-spotless run that included such undisputed genre classics as Assault On Precinct 13, Escape From New York, Halloween, Big Trouble In Little China, They Live and, of course, The Thing. It was always going to be a challenge to keep that sort of hit rate up, but the poorly received Escape From LA ushered in a slow, steady decline. Carpenter’s since limped on to direct a number of critical and commercial failures, including the ill-conceived Chevy Chase-starring Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, Ghosts Of Mars and, most recently, the little seen horror The Ward. Although Carpenter’s involvement in the numerous shoddy remakes/reimaginings of his best films seems to take up more of his time these days, one can only hope he decides not to tarnish his once great reputation by sitting himself down again in the director’s chair.

Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola

It can be argued that it’s a little unfair to include Francis Ford Coppola on this list as his last three projects – Youth Without Youth (2007), Tetro (2009) and Twixt (2011) – are smaller, more personal films, but the decline in the quality of his output is sad indeed when you consider what a titan he was. There was no greater filmmaker during the 1970s – The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) is as incredible a run as you’re ever likely to find – and Coppola recaptured some of this magic in his 80s movies Rumble Fish, The Cotton Club and Peggy Sue Got Married. But the wheels started to fall off with 1990’s The Godfather Part III (not a terrible film by any means, but a pale shadow of its earlier chapters) and by the time of the Robin Williams ‘comedy’ Jack Coppola had turned into what we hoped he’d never become – a hack-for-hire.

M. Night Shyamalan

M Night Shyamalan

What the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan? Or was he nothing more than a one-trick pony? The Sixth Sense announced Shyamalan’s arrival in some style, while its superior follow-up Unbreakable (his best film) and alien invasion movie Signs seemed to suggest he was the real deal (let’s forget the final five minutes of Signs just for now). Even 2004’s The Village had its moments, but the cracks started to show in 2006’s Lady In The Water, which features a film critic being horribly killed (in case you wondered whether Shyamalan has a sense of humour, that was your answer). From there his movies have continued to soil a once-promising career, most notably 2008’s The Happening, a film so baffling in its concept and so inept in its execution you have to admire the fact it got made in the first place.

Brian De Palma

Brian De Palma

Five years before Robert De Niro exploded onto the big screen in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets he got his big break in De Palma’s 1968 satire Greetings. De Palma actually gave De Niro his first screen appearance in The Wedding Party, released in 1969, but made six years earlier. For this alone De Palma deserves credit, although he didn’t need Bobby’s help to direct some genuine classics of late 70s and 80s American cinema, including Carrie (1976), Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), The Untouchables (1986) and the troubling Casualties Of War (1989). His last great work – Carlito’s Way – was made 20 years ago and in the intervening period his career has gradually nose-dived, from clunky sci-fi Mission To Mars, to the heavy-handed War on Terror polemic Redacted and deeply disappointing The Black Dahlia, which merely underlined his status as the poor man’s Alfred Hitchcock. To make matters worse, his most recent film, 2012’s Passion pales in comparison to his earlier erotic thrillers. Time to bow out Brian.

Tim Burton

Tim Burton

There was a time when I awaited a new Tim Burton film with genuine anticipation. In the late 80s and 90s Burton was responsible for a whole new aesthetic in Hollywood moviemaking. Burton-esque even became a term to describe a certain brand of weird and wonderful cinema, while his surprising appointment as the director of 1989’s hugely successful Batman became the template used by Marvel two decades later (Kenneth Branagh being chosen to direct Thor, for example). Burton has generally been at his best when sticking to more personal material; the problem is that he doesn’t stick to this, choosing instead to clutter his filmography with ever-more disappointing big budget studio pictures, from the misguided Planet Of The Apes remake, to the lacklustre Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, woeful Alice In Wonderland and boring Dark Shadows. There was hope in 2012’s Frankenweenie, but when taken alongside his recent output this feels like a blip in an otherwise stalled career.

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Review – The Sessions

The human spirit is a quite remarkable thing; our innate ability to overcome great obstacles and keep smiling in the face of tragedy sets us apart.

Our greatest inspiration is often found from those with disabilities who overcome significant obstacles to achieve things they and we never thought possible.

The Sessions – “uplifting cinema without the schmaltz”

Acclaimed poet and journalist Mark O’Brien was paralyzed from the neck down as a child after contracting polio and as a result was forced to spend the vast majority of each day confined to an iron lung to help with his breathing. Whilst interviewing other disabled people about how they found having and enjoying sex, Mark came to fervently envy them and became determined to lose his virginity.

This is the set-up for Ben Lewin’s warmly touching true-life drama based on Mark’s physical and spiritual adventure and the impact it and he had on those around him. A committed Catholic, Mark (played by John Hawkes) first consults Father Brendan (William H. Macy) about the theological quandary this poses. Taking into account Mark’s circumstances, he concludes the Almighty would in all likelihood give him “a free pass on this one”.

The stage is set for Mark to hire professional sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt). At first his fear and awkwardness is palpable, but as their sessions continue a tender bond develops between the two.

It’s a stone-cold fact that disability sells when it comes to awards season and it’s likely The Sessions will be recognised in the same way as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, A Beautiful Mind and Forrest Gump before it.

Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) employs the services of sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt) in Ben Lewin’s The Sessions

That being said, not a cynical bone exists in the picture’s body. The largely excellent cast see to that, pulling back when histrionics could be reached for or emotional heartstrings pulled.

Given her strongest role in years, Hunt excels. It’s a brave, utterly believable performance of a person who comes to re-evaluate herself the closer she gets to Mark, whose article On Seeing a Sex Surrogate the film is based on.

After scaring the bejesus out of us with quietly menacing portraits of a drug-addicted killer and cult leader in Winter’s Bone and Martha Marcy May Marlene respectively, Hawkes pulls a complete about-turn here as a man who gradually realises there’s nothing to be gained from punishing yourself for reasons beyond your control. His bright optimism hides a what-would-Jesus-say guilt and fear that erodes over time as he becomes more comfortable in his own skin.

Father (William H Macy) conducts an unusual confessional with Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) in The Sessions

Father Brendan (William H. Macy) conducts an unusual confessional with Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) in The Sessions

In addition, Macy is on fine form as the sincere priest who forms a genuine friendship with Mark, while Moon Bloodgood’s poker face portrayal of Mark’s carer Vera nicely contrasts his heart-on-sleeve demeanour.

The warm hues used by Lewin (a polio survivor himself) reflect the cosy nature of the film, while Marco Beltrami’s soundtrack stays the right side of manipulative.

In many ways Mark’s preoccupations with sex, fear and religion are no different to many sections of American society, and while Lewin ultimately sides with the sexually liberated Cheryl’s mantra that we should “stop thinking about it so much” he never once pokes fun at Mark’s hang-ups.

The kind of film where a smile and a tear are never too far away from each other, The Sessions is uplifting cinema without the schmaltz and for that it should be congratulated.