Movie Review – Moonstruck

Moonstruck (1987)
Written by John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Norman Jewison

Moonstruck was a continuation of what a strong journeyman director Norman Jewison was. This time he tackles a screwball romantic comedy that at once hearkens back to his days making movies with Doris Day yet a more modern feminist take on the genre. He works from a screenplay written by John Patrick Shanley, who would write and direct Joe Versus the Volcano and Doubt. This was Shanley’s first screenwriting gig, but he’d been writing for the theater since the early 1980s. Moonstruck is an enchanted picture, much like Joe Versus the Volcano; it’s a subtly heightened world where the moon can appear exaggeratedly large in the sky and have a magical effect on the people of New York City.

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Movie Review – …And Justice For All

…And Justice For All (1979)
Written by Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson
Directed by Norman Jewison

By the late 1970s, Norman Jewison had returned to his home country of Canada. He was getting reliable work and was known for being a director who would get the job done. Jewison would never become someone lumped into the auteur camp; he would be known more as journeyman director. This term refers to filmmakers who lack a distinct style and can take jobs in a multitude of genres delivering movies that range from adequate to fantastic. While directors like Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg are known for trademarks images or tones, Jewison was comfortable maneuvering into a much more varied territory. Just before …And Justice For All, he has directed FIST, a union drama loosely based on Jimmy Hoffa. The film was well-received by critics as a decent movie but nothing spectacular. This courtroom drama would be seen as an improvement, delivering an emotionally powerful story.

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Movie Review – Rollerball (1975)

Rollerball (1975)
Written by William Harrison
Directed by Norman Jewison

By this time in his career, Norman Jewison was making an eclectic variety of films, never tying himself to a single genre. With Rollerball, he tackles science fiction, and while having a solid concept, the execution is incredibly poorly done. The story is so muddled & meandering with characters & conflicts so poorly defined that the film just collapses about thirty minutes in and never recovers. That’s a shame because there is certainly something here that could have been made into an interesting nightmare utopia type of film. Jewison and his collaborators just never seem to find those threads to tie it all together.

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Movie Review – Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)
Written by Melvyn Bragg & Norman Jewison
Directed by Norman Jewison

I hate Jesus Christ Superstar. This is mainly because of Dame Sir Lord Andrew Lloyd Weber (shout out to my Comedy Bang Bang Fans out there). I cannot stand this man’s musical theater work. I don’t like Cats or Phantom or Joseph or any of the stuff he’s ever made. It feels grossly over-produced and gaudy in a way that is a complete turn-off to me. Jesus Christ Superstar (or JCS) has not aged well and feels like a relic of the 1960s/70s hippie movement. Even then, it doesn’t feel genuine, but a co-opted facsimile of the hippies. I don’t think the film does much to redeem the musical. It looks fine, but it is certainly not one of Jewison’s best.

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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 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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