Patron Pick – Playtime

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will get to pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Playtime (1967)
Written by Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange, and Art Buchwald
Directed by Jacques Tati

I had just watched this for the first time recently, but it was a close contender for my 40 Favorite Movies list. I don’t like to put recent first-time viewings on a list like that; I prefer for time to pass, to revisit the movies, and then decide if it has earned that spot. However, Playtime is one of the greatest films ever made, without a doubt. It delivers incredible cinematography, physical performances, sight gags, and production design. It’s hard to say there is much of a story here, but it doesn’t matter. The film’s title informs us that this is an exercise in cinematic play. Jacques Tati is influenced by the great physical comedians in all the best ways and distills what he learned from them into what is the closest I think we’ll ever get to Where’s Waldo on film.

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Movie Review – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the Apes (1968)
Written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling
Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner

Based on the 1963 novel by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes, the movie goes in a very different direction while holding to some of the same basic themes & ideas. In the book, the story is told through the framing device of a couple vacationing in their space yacht coming across a transmission from a human soul who claims to have landed on a planet of apes. The film’s screenplay was penned by Rod Serling, the mind behind The Twilight Zone; however, he portrayed the apes as advanced in technology beyond modern-day humans. That was going to be cost-prohibitive. The script was rewritten by Michael Wilson, with the apes being framed in a smaller, more rustic society. 

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Movie Review – The Thomas Crown Affair

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Written by Alan Trustman
Directed by Norman Jewison

In the late 1960s, filmmaking was undergoing a transformation. It was happening both in the counter-culture, becoming prominent in the content but also in technological changes. At Expo 67, the World’s Fair held in Montreal, a pair of films showed off the revolutionary split-screen technique pioneered by Christopher Chapman. Chapman was a Canadian-born cinematographer that created the multi-dynamic image technique or “the Brady Bunch effect.” This allowed him to composite multiple film images into grids of varying sizes. This allowed a single scene to be shown from various angles and character perspectives. After Norman Jewison saw the films in exhibition at Expo 67, he wanted to use it in his new movie The Thomas Crown Affair, seeing it as useful when showing the heist scenes.

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Movie Review – In the Heat of the Night

In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Written by Stirling Silliphant
Directed by Norman Jewison

In the Heat of the Night was a huge film in terms of its pop-culture resonance for a few decades, yet it is almost forgotten in our current age. I was aware of the seven-season television sequel that premiered in 1988. I recently discovered Sidney Poitier continued to play the character of Virgil Tibbs in two sequels. There are also seven novels in the Tibbs series. Now I’m sure not all of this media is as great as this movie, but it’s so strange for a character to have been that prominent only to have entirely vanished from the cultural discourse. As presented in this film, the character is so compelling that I have to believe the following productions just didn’t live up to the bar set by In the Heat of the Night.

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Movie Review – The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966)
Written by William Rose
Directed by Norman Jewison

In the 1960s, the Cold War was at a wild peak. Just three years before this film, the United States & Cuba went through a terrifying week of possible nuclear war. In the 1940s & 50s, dozens of Hollywood screenwriters, actors, and other people in the industry were labeled as communists or sympathizers to the Soviet Union. Jewison never really hid his left-leaning political views but knew to reveal them slowly as he became a more prominent director in Hollywood. For The Cincinnati Kid, he worked with blacklist screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. on the script. Going even further was this film, a comedy that reveals Americans’ twisted ideology during this manic period. Jewison still finds empathy for these people and seeks to find a place of mutual understanding. 

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Movie Review – The Cincinnati Kid

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)
Written by Ring Lardner Jr. and Terry Southern
Directed by Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison was not the first director to work on this production. Edward G. Robinson wasn’t the first choice for the main antagonist either. But through a series of circumstances & disagreements during filming, the film changed and became something else. Sam Peckinpah was the first director in charge of The Cincinnati Kid. Apparently, the producers believe Peckinpah “vulgarized” the film and fired him after a few days of shooting. Spencer Tracey had pulled out due to poor health, and Robinson stepped in. Peckinpah had planned to shoot the picture in black & white due to its Depression setting. That was changed to color when Jewison was brought on board. Would the Peckinpah version have been better? We’ll never really know but what we did end up with was a very enjoyable movie about poker.

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Movie Review – Send Me No Flowers

Send Me No Flowers (1964)
Written Julius J. Epstein
Directed by Norman Jewison

Norman Jewison isn’t a name you hear listed among the great film auteurs, and for the most part, he was fairly a journeyman filmmaker. A studio paid him, and he made the movie. But in doing that, he still managed to make each picture feel special. You could never tie him into a single genre or style. Jewison just made good movies. He was born in Toronto, Ontario, in 1926, and despite his last name, his family is not of Jewish descent. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. After being discharged, he wandered through the American South, where he witnessed acts of segregation that would impact film projects he chose later in his career. Back in Toronto, Jewison got his bachelor’s degree and worked on a variety of theatrical productions. He eventually became part of the crew that launched CBC Television, working as an assistant director. 

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Movie Review – The Misfits

The Misfits (1961)
Written by Arthur Hiller
Directed by John Huston

The Misfits is a heartbreaking film, both from what you see on screen and what was happening behind the scenes. This would be both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monore’s final performances. Montgomery Clift, who would only make three more appearances before his death in 1966, had a troubled background and struggled with his health and sexual identity. It was very fitting that these actors be the ones playing these broken characters, lost in the Reno wastes, trying to figure out where they were going and how to connect with others. While not a violent movie, The Misfits is the bleakest picture I’ve seen from John Huston. Despite its slightly hopefully ending, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what happens next.

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Movie Review – Marnie

Marnie (1964)
Written by Jay Presson Allen
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

All good things must come to an end. Marnie would mark the downturn of Alfred Hitchcock’s directorial career. He’d just come off a fantastic streak of films: Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds. That many consecutive movies that immediately became iconic is quite an achievement, so it is a little unfair that critics turned their noses up so hard at what Hitch released for the rest of his career. On the other hand, he set the standard so high that we expect something brilliant. Marnie has all those things you expect in a Hitchcock movie but done so much more clunkily, with a deep strain of misogyny boring through the entire production. In some ways, Marnie is Hitch letting the mask slipping and showing too much of his true self to us.

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Movie Review – The Birds

The Birds (1963)
Written by Daphne du Maurier & Evan Hunter
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

The Birds is unlike any Hitchcock film I have ever seen. Three years after shocking audiences with Psycho, a film that is also slightly off from most of the director’s work but still sharing some psychological traits, we get this straight up man versus nature horror film. The first half is very slow, almost a comedy-drama, and every once in a while, we get a hint that something is off. Then the second half hits, and the film slides into total chaos. What we get is what I see as a reasonably angry film that expresses some of Hitchcock’s misanthropy in horrifying and comedically absurd ways.

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