Written by Earl W. Wallace, Pamela Wallace, and William Kelley
Directed by Peter Weir
Peter Weir was in the middle of pre-production work on The Mosquito Coast when backing fell through. He’d return to the project, but Paramount offered him the director’s chair for a picture they had trouble courting someone for. Witness, based on an episode of Gunsmoke, had been circulating in Hollywood for years. It was 182 pages (about 3 hours in movie time) and was critiqued by some executives for focusing too much on the Amish lifestyle rather than the thriller elements. Harrison Ford had already shown interest, so Weir’s first American film was a bit of a gamble but certainly helped by his star’s prominence in the industry.
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The Sopranos Season Six (HBO)
Written by Terence Winter, David Chase, Matthew Weiner, Diane Frolov & Andrew Schneider, Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess
Directed by Tim Van Patten, David Nutter, Jack Bender, Alan Taylor, Steve Buscemi, Danny Leiner, Steve Shill, Phil Abraham
From day one, The Sopranos was compared to the work of Martin Scorsese. At a surface level view, that was inevitable as they both dealt in the world of Italian-American life and organized crime. However, Scorsese is concerned more with the intermingling of the sacred & the profane. Harvey Keitel kneels before a statue of Christ and prays for forgiveness throughout Mean Streets. Catholicism is highly prevalent throughout Scorsese’s work, and there are common elements of this religion in the Sopranos. However, I never once believed that Tony’s arc was a spiritual one. He does not believe in God, and it’s clear the world of the Sopranos is not governed by a deity. Instead, Tony’s journey is one of the inner mind; his dreams navigate him through the landscape of his existence. He does not speak to God; he listens to himself, for all the good & ill that leads to.
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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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