Movie Review – Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Written by Joseph Stein
Directed by Norman Jewison

By this time in his career, Norman Jewison had become dismayed over the political climate in the United States. It was clear that the government was meeting the multiple cultural uprisings and movements with hostility and brutality. He decided to move his family to England, which is where his subsequent few productions were based. Having gained considerable clout for his work on In the Heat of the Night and The Thomas Crown Affair, Jewison was offered to direct a film adaptation of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. The themes of Fiddler seem right in Jewison’s wheelhouse, but it was his first musical, so that aspect of the film remained to be seen until its release. The result is one of Jewison’s best pictures.

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Movie Review – The Man Who Would Be King

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
Written by John Huston & Gladys Hill
Directed by John Huston

In a 180 from the bleakness of Fat City comes this large-scale adventure film with a message. Based on Rudyard Kipling’s novella, The Man Who Would Be King was a story that Huston had wanted to make for twenty years. I assume Humphrey Bogart was initially in mind for one of these characters as the themes and plot feel very similar to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. This is a picture about treasure hunters going off into a land foreign to them only to learn that their quest for a fortune is doomed from the start. I don’t think there is another director who could have made this picture as perfectly as Huston.

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Movie Review – Fat City

Fat City (1972)
Written by Leonard Gardner
Directed by John Huston

After directing The Misfits, John Huston continued his work with Montgomery Clift in Freud: the Secret Passion. Huston was an avid supporter of psychotherapy, and the film is narrated by the director. It’s a somewhat Messianic portrayal of Freud as enlightening humanity. Huston would adapt the Tennessee Williams’ play Night of the Iguana in 1964, followed by The Bible: In the Beginning in 1966. That latter film produced by the legendary Dino de Laurentis was one of the last big overblown Biblical epics of the era. Huston appeared in the picture as Noah. These movies were not well received by critics & audiences, which was disappointing. Fat City would turn the tide as the director surveyed the changes happening in American cinema and adapted his style.

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Movie Review – New York, New York

New York, New York (1977)
Written by Mardik Martin & Earl Mac Rauch
Music by John Kander & Fred Ebb
Directed by Martin Scorsese

If you were like me, growing up, you just assumed the song “New York, New York” was just some old song from back in the 1930s/1940s. However, I discovered that it was initially written for Martin Scorsese’s musical film of the same title in 1977. It makes sense that I might be tricked into thinking it was an older piece of music as it was written by Broadway legends Kander & Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago). They have a pitch-perfect ear for the sound of Broadway and a specific period, so the song feels like it’s just been around forever. The problems came from having the wrong mix of elements, Scorsese trying to blend ingredients of harsh realism with something that clearly made out of love for the golden age of Hollywood musicals. 

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Movie Review – Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver (1976)
Written by Paul Schrader
Directed by Martin Scorsese

There are a lot of movies that permeated the cultural zeitgeist, referenced endlessly even in children’s programming. These were the first memes that served as shorthand to indicate a connection between the creator and the audience’s knowledge of pop culture. “You talkin’ to me?” is one of those pieces of culture that almost every person has likely encountered in some form; most of them have probably never seen Taxi Driver. There is a reason why these films breakthrough so powerfully and lodge themselves in our collective reference banks. Taxi Driver is a movie masterpiece, a confluence of perfect writing, directing, acting, musical score, editing, and every other film production element. This is not an overhyped film but a piece of cinema that people assume they understand without watching it. In an age where the incel and toxic masculinity had reached a sort of chaotic peak, Taxi Driver delivers an examination on this type of warped individual with almost clinical neutrality. 

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Movie Review – Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
Written by Robert Getchell
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Interestingly, the popular perception of Martin Scorsese is as a director of macho gangster pictures. Yes, he has made a considerable number of them, but after Mean Streets, it wouldn’t return that world until 1990’s Goodfellas. Instead, he showcased a genuine love of the cinema. In the documentary A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, it becomes inarguable that the director is most interested in continuing conversation begun in films he watched throughout his life. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore opens with a young girl walking along a country set in a soundstage, which immediately evokes images of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz. Yet, Scorsese immediately subverts our expectations by having young Alice give an expletive-laden outburst.

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Movie Review – Mean Streets

Mean Streets (1973)
Written by Martin Scorsese & Mardik Martin
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Mean Streets was not the first film made by Martin Scorsese, but it certainly is the first Scorsese film. By that, I mean it is the first movie he wrote & directed that begins to explore the themes and types of characters that would turn up in his work for the next nearly five decades to the present. You can see the seeds of future projects like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas beginning to emerge. Scorsese’s signature use of music explodes from the opening scenes, and his ambition far exceeds the modest budget of this film. Mean Streets was a significant sign that new talent was emerging from the 1970s shoestring moviemaking culture, an auteur whose work would resonate for generations.

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Movie Review – Space Station 76

Space Station 76 (2014)
Written by Jack Plotnick, Jennifer Elise Cox, Sam Pancake, Kali Rocha, and Mike Stoyanov
Directed by Jack Plotnick

Space Station 76 is as much about its aesthetic as it is any plot or character arcs. Now, that can be an incredibly frustrating thing if you aren’t into the aesthetic. I completely understand if someone was turned off by this film because they just don’t care for the look and tone. I thought many parts of the movie were a little too self-indulgent and leaned into some weak improv. Overall, I think it is an interesting little oddity, clearly made by people who have a vision of what they wanted to do, and they did it. 

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Movie Review – Red, White, and Blue (2020)

Red, White, and Blue (2020)
Written by Steven McQueen & Courttia Newland
Directed by Steven McQueen

In this film, director Steve McQueen explores the intersection of blacks & immigrants with the police. To say this is a politically and emotionally charged issue to take on would be an understatement. Much like the United States, England’s law enforcement has had a very tense relationship with Black and Asian communities. The majority of the London Metropolitan Police in the 1970s were white men from conservative backgrounds who saw any guff from a non-white civilian as an attempt to humiliate them. There was an ongoing sentiment that these populations need to be “put in their place” to hold up the law.

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Movie Review – Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock (2020)
Written Steve McQueen & Courttia Newland
Directed by Steve McQueen

I fell in love with director Steve McQueen’s work when I saw his first feature film, Hunger, a decade ago. The way he told the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who took part in a prisoner hunger strike and died standing up for his beliefs, was told beautifully. As someone who knew nothing about Bobby Sands beforehand, I was in tears during the beautiful final scene. McQueen hasn’t disappointed me since, and I consider every film he’s directed to be one of the best of that year’s releases. So, in 2020, a year that has been unconventional in every possible aspect, McQueen has done something unconventional with his filmmaking as well, releasing the Small Axe Anthology.

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