Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, “”Don Jon,” sparked an intense bidding war at Sundance, with Relativity Media forking out $4 million with a commitment to spent $25 million for P&A. With “Don” opening this weekend with $9M at the box office, Variety opened the archives to see what our critics and reporters said about other established actors who first made the jump to become successful directors. Were our instincts correct about these auteurs?
Gone Baby Gone (2007)What Variety said: Helmer Affleck establishes and maintains an omnipresent sense of place, advantageously enhanced by little-known local thesps, thoughtfully lensed locations and vivid cutaways to local denizens. The feeling that even the deepest shared-roots camaraderie comes with veiled threats permeates the proceedings.
Heaven Can Wait (1978)
What Variety said: Warren Beatty plays an aging football star, prematurely summoned to judgment after a traffic accident because celestial messenger (played by co-director Buck Henry) jumped the gun. Script and direction are very strong, providing a rich mix of visual and verbal humor that is controlled and avoids the extremes of cheap vulgarity and overly esoteric whimsy.
Tu Mi Turbi (You Disturb Me) (1983)
What Variety said: A festival film that will have trouble being understood outside its native land, an alternately brilliant and boring monolog of sarcastic wit disguised as the babbling of a fool, “You Disturb Me” is indeed a disturbing film, one of the most original and difficult to be made by the “new comics.” Roberto Benigni, a young actor from Tuscany who became big a few years ago on television and brightened up several humdrum films, makes his helming debut in a four-part episode picture centered around himself. The humor is trenchant, repetitive and abstract, based on the verbal and nonverbal nuances of Italian. Although Benigni has a loyal following, pic looks like a hard sell onshore as well as off.
Henry V (1989)
What Variety said: Henry V is a stirring, gritty and enjoyable pic which offers a plethora of fine performances from some of the U.K.'s brightest talents. Laurence Olivier's Henry V (1944) was designed to rally the English with its glorious battle scenes and patriotic verse. Branagh's version is more realistic and tighter in scale, and is a contempo version of Shakespeare.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)
What Variety said: First-timer George Clooney has absorbed his time with the Coen brothers, David O. Russell and partner Steven Soderbergh to create an enveloping cinematic world that only rarely teeters into excess or self-seriousness. A triumph of casting in all but one role, Clooney's work with his actors has a strong theatrical tone. In his first major starring role, Sam Rockwell displays a virtuoso's range of emotions and states of mind with a keen instinct for going against expectation. Clooney's Byrd is the actor's ultimate less-is-more perf, with a delivery as flat and scary as the Soviet steppes at night.
Dances With Wolves (1990)
What Variety said: Costner's directing style is fresh and assured. A sense of surprise and humor accompany Dunbar's adventures at every turn, twisting the narrative gently this way and that and making the journey a real pleasure. Perhaps he is a bit precious with himself as star. One wonders how many times he's going to tip over backward in mock defeat to show us he's a playful guy, or how much masochism he'll indulge in when Dunbar is imperiled.
Play Misty for Me (1970)
What Variety said: When it’s not serving as an overdone travelog for the Monterey Peninsula-Carmel home environment of star, producer and debuting director Clint Eastwood, Play Misty for Me is an often fascinating suspenser about psychotic Jessica Walter, whose deranged infatuation for Eastwood leads her to commit murder. For that 80% of the film which constitutes the story, the structure and dialog create a mood of nervous terror which the other 20% nearly blows away.
Little Man Tate (1991)
What Variety said: Jodie Foster makes an appealing, if modest, directorial debut with “Little Man Tate.” Her sensitive, emotionally straightforward approach the die heart-tugging story of rearing a child prodigy could well translate into solid public support. Although the story is not autobiographical, Foster’s background makes her uniquely qualified to direct this film: She was raised by her mother, began her spectacular career at age 3 and has been in the limelight all her life.
The Man Without a Face (1993)
What Army Archerd said: GOOD MORNING: Mel Gibson admits WB wondered why he wanted to make “The Man Without a Face,” in which half of his face is disfigured from a fire. “And the disfigurement is pretty bad. I wanted to do something really different,” Gibson told me. However, WB was quick to call me yesterday to happily report that the San Diego sneak’s results topped those of “Lethal Weapon III”! Gibson’s “look” will be shown in trailers for the pic’s bow, Aug. 25. (Print ads will only show his face shaded.) “It (the face) didn’t put off the audience,” Gibson reports. “They were really into the performances.” He shares the successful reaction with 12-year-old co-star Nick Stahl, “the best kid actor I’ve ever seen.” Gibson also directed, you recall. And he is anxious to return to helming again soon.
What Variety said: Mel Gibson’s directing debut reinforces his status as a genuinely fine actor, a fact often lost amid the explosions and car crashes in the “Lethal Weapon” and “Mad Max” trilogies. This simple, sappy film lacks those flashy trappings but compensates with ample heart, promising a solid mid-range box office earner on the order of Gibson’s last foray into such sentimental territory, “Forever Young.”
Grand Theft Auto (1977)
What Variety said: “Grand Theft Auto” is the last word In the car crash genre, a nonstop orgy of comic destructiveness. Everything on four wheels, from an ice cream truck to a Rolls Royce, is wiped out in this tongue-in-cheek New World Pictures release. Ron Howard’s directorial debut film, which he also stars in and cowrote with his father Ranse, is pleasant summer escapism for the youth market. At age 23 one of the youngest directors in Hollywood history, Howard has directed with a broad but amiable and well-disciplined touch in this screwball comedy about his elopement with heiress Nancy Morgan from LA. to Las Vegas, with her father, Barry Cahill, and dozens of others in pursuit. With the refreshing modesty he displays on his “Happy Days ” vidseries, Howard never tries to hog the screen and lets his costars have plenty of funny moments.
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)
What Variety said: Director Penny Marshall fails to generate the least bit of suspense, partially because the screenplay credited to no fewer than four writers is trying to do too many things at once. It is also questionable whether Whoopi Goldberg can carry a film on her own. Occasionally, there are amusing bits and pieces, as when she attends a dress ball at the consulate disguised as Diana Ross, or is dancing around her apartment to the Stones’ title song. But more often the humor is too self-conscious and seems to be missing only a laugh track. Other scenes are equally overstated for effect, as when a slow-moving cab is totally upended when it taps another car, or a phone booth with Goldberg in it is picked up by a tow truck.
The Indian Runner (1991)
What Variety said: A tortured examination of the disintegration of a Mid-western family, The Indian Runner is very much actors’ cinema. Rambling, indulgent and joltingly raw at times, Sean Penn’s first outing as a director takes a fair amount of patience to get through but has an integrity that intermittently serves it well.
Ordinary People (1980)
What Variety said: A powerfully intimate domestic drama, “Ordinary People” represents the height of craftsmanship across the board. Robert Redford, well-suited for Donald Sutherland’s role, stayed behind the camera to make a remarkably intelligent and assured directorial debut that is fully responsive to the mood and nuances of Alvin Sargent’s astute adaptation of Judith Guest’s best seller. It's an actors' picture, but in addition to his sensitive touch with the players Redford keenly evokes the darkly serene atmosphere of Chicago's affluent North Shore and effectively portrays this WASP society's prediliction for pretending everything is okay even when it's not.
Reality Bites (1994)
What Variety said: The verite of this saga of Generation X is that it is no more fierce than a peck. "Reality Bites" begins as a promising and eccentric tale of contemporary youth but evolves into a banal love story as predictable as any lush Hollywood affair. A wall-to-wall pop-song score and some fancy camera angles do little to disguise the old-fashioned nature of the drama. While one can commend tyro director Ben Stiller for some adroit work with actors, he's yet to display much grasp of narrative. The target audience should quickly smell a rat and signal a fast theatrical fade for the effort.
What Variety said: Barbra Streisand becomes the latest to join the growing ranks of performer auteurs with “Yentl,” a large scaled but intimate musical she has been nurturing ever since she became a film star 15 years ago. Carefully and lovingly done in every respect, pic starts out well but ultimately bogs down due to repetitious musical numbers and overly methodical telling of a rather predictable story. Streisand’s legion of fans, undoubtedly hungry after not having seen her in a fullblown leading role for more than four years, will surely flock to see this, and the sizable middle aged public that occasionally emerges for the right film also reps a possible target audience. Given her longtime superstar status and meticulous, demanding reputation, it is not surprising either that Streisand has made the move into the director’s chair, or that the result is so thoroughly professional.