The Sopranos Season 5 (HBO)
Written by Terence Winter, David Chase, Matthew Weiner, Michael Caleo, Toni Kale, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Michael Imperioli
Directed by Tim Van Patten, Alan Taylor, John Patterson, Rodrigo Garcia, Allen Coulter, Peter Bogdonavich, Steve Buscemi, Mike Figgis
Season five of The Sopranos begins with what might be seen as some retconning or lore building. A group of convicted New Jersey & New York family members are all released around the same time after serving their sentences and prove to be an injection into the current system that threatens to spin things out of control. Tension has been building between Tony and New York’s liaison Johnny Sac since the last season, and now it appears as though their friendship will be shattered by these new arrivals and some shake-ups in New York’s leadership. In some ways, the new arrivals are taking threads of new versus old ways of operating seen between Tony & Ritchie in season two and allowing them to be explored and developed even further.
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The Sopranos Season 3 (HBO Max)
Written by David Chase, Todd A. Kessler, Henry J. Bronchtein, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Terence Winter, Salvatore J. Stabile, Lawrence Konner, Michael Imperioli, Frank Renzulli
Directed by Allen Coulter, Tim Van Patten, John Patterson, Jack Bender, Dan Attias, Steve Buscemi
The first thing I immediately noticed watching this season’s premiere was that the look & tone had changed. In my review of season one, I noted that I had a sort of confusion when seeing promos for the series about whether it was a dramedy or a mob show. I think in season three, David Chase has become very comfortable with the creativity afforded to him by being on HBO and starts leaning into the darker moments even more. That doesn’t mean the show’s sense of humor goes out the drain; it’s just that the show really starts to show us how bad Tony’s world can get. The shadows and darker lighting also serve as a metaphor for how Tony is sinking further into his habits, chained to his position of the boss and actually less free now.
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The Sopranos Season Two (HBO)
Written by Jason Cahill, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Frank Renzulli, David Chase, Terence Winter, Todd A. Kessler, Michael Imperioli
Directed by Allen Coulter, Martin Bruestle, Lee Tamahori, Tim Van Patten, John Patterson, Henry J. Bronchtein
In the wake of season one’s success, it becomes clear that David Chase is pumping the brakes. While he adds new characters and explores the backstories of his characters, thematically, he stays put, preferring to mine deeper into these ideas. The result is one of the best seasons of television I have ever watched, my investment in the characters at some of the highest levels I’ve ever experienced. Chase has expressed a strong disdain for television grown out of his experiences working with networks in the 1980s & 90s. The constant focus on surface-level content like sex & violence worked prohibitively against exploring human existence. Free from those restraints, he was able to produce something as remarkable as The Sopranos, a show which has been copied again & again by showrunners across the spectrum.
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Written & Directed by Michael Mann
Michael Mann has made a name for himself for producing some of the best American crime films of the last 40 years. Beyond Thief, he has directed Manhunter, Heat, and Collateral. Outside of the crime genre, Mann directed The Last of the Mohicans and the political drama The Insider. Along the way, he co-created Miami Vice and adapted it to the big screen in 2006. It started with Thief, his feature film debut, exploring the life of a talented safecracker in Chicago. From the start, we can see the atmospheric lighting and the attention to detail that would become a hallmark of Mann’s best work.
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Body Heat (1981)
Written & Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
I don’t think I’ll ever consider Lawrence Kasdan as one of my favorite writers or directors. However, I do believe he has made some excellent movies. He wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which makes him miles above much of his competition. I am not a fan of Return of the Jedi, which I see as one of the worst Star Wars films, but I don’t necessarily blame Kasdan for that. I have been able to tell that he has a deep love of film, including all genres. I’ve found it interesting that he didn’t achieve the level of public acclaim as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg when Kasdan is arguably as responsible for their successes in the 1980s as they are. Having penned such iconic films makes him deserving of a much closer look and appreciation of his work.
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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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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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Prizzi’s Honor (1985)
Written by Richard Condon and Janet Roach
Directed by John Huston
John Huston only had two years left in his life. I suspect he realized this. By 1982, he had to use an oxygen tank almost all hours of the day for his emphysema. He didn’t slow down in his filmmaking though making seven movies in the 1980s, even one the year he died in 1987. Prizzi’s Honor was his second to last film, the picture that won his daughter, Anjelica, her first Academy Award. Once again, he’d gather a cast of strong actors to deliver a deceptively dark comedy about love & business in the world of organized crime. I don’t think any of the films I’ve watched previously were overtly a comedy as much as this one. And it is a strange creature.
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The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Written by Ben Maddow & John Huston
Directed by John Huston
John Huston was fascinated with the state of the urban in post-War America. We saw in Key Largo that there was a looming fear that the old Prohibition-era mobs would return to power. In The Asphalt Jungle, Huston takes a much more nuanced look at the criminal element, refusing to present them as one-dimensional and no good. The Asphalt Jungle was a challenge to get made as MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer did not like it. He was overridden by the head of production, Isadore “Dore” Schary. Schary was a Jew born in New Jersey who eventually worked his way up to run MGM after Mayer left when his direction was losing the studio money. Mayer favored dazzling wholesome spectacles, while Schary wanted darker movies that had a message.
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Key Largo (1948)
Written by Richard Brooks and John Huston
Directed by John Huston
Back during the 1930s & 40s, it was common for a director to have two films out per year. These days that would be a surprising accomplishment, but you were expected to churn out a larger workload at the height of the studio system. John Huston was working under this type of contract at Warner Brothers, so 1948 saw the release of The Treasure of Sierra Madre in January, followed by Key Largo in July. Huston had such an eye for detail & quality he wasn’t going to let one film suffer to make the other better. He’d ensure both movies were fantastic. And that he certainly did.
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