Category Archives: Classic

“Jaws” Movie Review

So it occurs to me that I can make a blog post about whatever I want, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. But I recently rewatched Jaws for the first time in many years on a format unlike any other out there. So let’s talk about it. This iconic action-horror-thriller was initially released on June 20th, 1975, where it grossed over $470 million worldwide against a small budget of $9 million. This made it the highest grossing movie of all time in the U.S. until George Lucas showed up 2 years later with Star Wars. Based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, which was said to be loosely inspired by real events, the story stars Roy Scheider as Martin Brody, the newly appointed police chief of an island town. During the town’s most lucrative time frame, the 4th of July weekend, they find themselves being terrorized and harassed by a great white shark intent on munching down on all of them. Brody, with the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper and local shark hunter Captain Quint, sets out on a quest to stop the sea creature once and for all. What is it about Jaws that it so well-respected and acclaimed from scholars and fans? Well, for one, it began the term “blockbuster” because, at the time of its release, there were so many people lined up around the street corners under the hot summer sun just so they could see it. It also became infamous for starting the trend of “high-concept” films, which allowed for big-budget Hollywood affairs with a simple premise that was easy to market and didn’t retain much below the surface. However, what sets this film apart from so many others is that there is so much to appreciate beneath simply what you see; because it’s often what you don’t see. One of the most celebrated aspects of Jaws is the fact that the young director Steven Spielberg chose not to show the shark Bruce, which was nicknamed after his lawyer. Adopting the “less is more” mindset from Alfred Hitchcock, he works with his cinematographer Bill Butler to create off-kilter camera angles from both underwater and above the surface. The Master of Suspense even praised the film for paying homage to his style. Even though the shark is known to be the threat of the movie and makes an impact on the characters, it doesn’t even make an appearance until nearly two-thirds into the 124 minute-long running time. In their defense, the shark itself did look pretty fake, but it did produce one of my favorite reaction scenes ever, when Brody quietly tells the Captain the iconic catchphrase, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” But the reason why the big bad beast is sparsely seen is that the production was hard for all parties involved. In fact, all accounts say that Jaws was a NIGHTMARE to make. The cast had a really contentious relationship with one another, probably due to the lack of a finished script. Meanwhile, the shark was initially supposed to appear more often but before filming began, the wiring and mechanisms broke. The lesson from all of this? It is extremely hard to shoot a movie out on the water. But it also teaches us that sometimes, similar to the original Star Wars, a movie will come out best when the odds are seemingly stacked against you. Of course, one cannot simply talk about Jaws without talking about the Oscar-winning score. Before Star Wars, Indiana Jones, E.T., or Schindler’s List, John Williams composed the music for this monster movie and became endlessly iconic. During the more suspenseful moments, he’ll resort to low toned horns and strings repeating two notes. As the tension grows, the notes will be faster and faster and gain more volume as the climax reaches. Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw portray the three men on the boat in the final act of the movie. They do a terrific job with excellent chemistry and surprisingly engaging dialogue that keeps their characters relatively grounded. They needed to work well together, otherwise, this implausible story would sink like a rock. Luckily, they spearhead the rest of the cast and provide a certain humanity missing from most movies in the genre. But let’s face it; there’s no shark that would ever rationally behave like Bruce. This movie could probably never happen in real life, and the events that the book was based were likely exaggerated in order to create more drama. But still, I have not one single problem with this movie. Jaws is a magnificent and compelling thriller that catapulted the Hollywood blockbuster to fame. I saw this again at the “Jaws on the Water” special event hosted by the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and it was a total blast. If it’s available, I encourage you to see the movie this way, no matter how scary it may seem. But no matter what, just see it at twice in your life.

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“The Dark Knight” Movie Review

Why so serious? Christopher Nolan likes his movies to be that way, so whey the hell not? This superhero crime thriller saw a worldwide release on July 18th, 2008, going on to gross just over $1 billion in box office receipts. Having found great success in the previous installment, Nolan followed up with this film, supported by an interesting viral marketing campaign. Some months after the events of Batman Begins, The Caped Crusader and Lt. James Gordon continue their war on crime. And with the help of recently-elected district attorney Harvey Dent, this triad seem destined to clean up the streets of Gotham from its damnation. But a new criminal, The Joker, strolls into town and becomes hell-bent on plunging the city into chaos. One of the smartest moves that Nolan made in the previous film was that he saved The Joker for the second movie. It could have been so easy to open up his trilogy with the most iconic Batman villain in the mythos, but no. He instead gave a tiny teaser at the end of Batman Begins and marketed the shit out of it. And he created The Dark Knight, one of the very few sequels that not only improves upon but also completely overshadows the original. Most of the cast from the first entry return here for a second time, and still feel right in their roles. Aaron Eckart is one of the newest additions as Harvey Dent and feels right at home with his performance. One of the most tragic characters in both comic book and film history, you really empathize with his struggle to remain moral in such a decrepit environment. And while I normally am cautious of recastings, Maggie Gyllenhaal was great as Rachel Dawes. Her character was given much more to say and do this time around, adding a great foil to both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Every line of dialogue she delivered felt genuine and made me glad that Katie Holmes didn’t sign up to return. But folks, let’s get right to the point: Heath Ledger as The Joker. Even though his performance is the focal point of almost every other critical review for this movie, it’s absolutely deserved. He created a screen presence that was so wholesome and thoroughly original; there is not a single actor or actress before or after this film’s release who gave a performance quite like this one. His voice drips in menace and his backstory is mysterious and contradictory, making him scarier than any villain with superpowers. Then you start hearing stories of how he kept a diary with creepy doodles- almost like the demented offspring of Alex from A Clockwork Orange -and it becomes clear why Ledger posthumously won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the only time a superhero movie won a nontechnical Oscar. It’s just a shame that this role also killed him. In all honesty, I could spend this entire review raving about his performance alone. But The Dark Knight is also a great technical achievement. A stickler for film, much of the movie was captured on camera using practical effects. One of the most famous moments in the film was an intense chase scene involving a SWAT car, a semi-truck, and the Bat-Pod. Through the use of real sets and tricky wiring, the semi flip over onto it’s back, without the use of CGI. Similarly, The Joker later tries to burn up a hospital using explosives. And while a misfire made for some great improvisation from Ledger, the resulting explosion leaves you with the impression of “How did they do that?” It matches Lee Smith’s brilliant editing job, making the action easy enough to follow without including too many cutaways. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard team up once again for the musical score. Much of the same themes and sounds return for a second outing. One of the new leitmotifs and certainly the most memorable one is that of The Joker. It consists simply of a single note drawn out on an electric guitar and strings. Not only does it keep the audience aware of his presence, but it really makes them hate The Clown Prince of Crime. But to call The Dark Knight just a comic book superhero film is severely undercutting it. This is a crime drama in every sense, as well as a political allegory for the inherent flaws of the Patriot Act and government corruption. The Joker is an anarchist who will do anything and kill anyone, including himself, to get his message across. Similarly, both the titular hero and Harvey Dent are struggling to keep their moral codes in check as things keep accelerating and going from bad to worse. Half of the time, you’re wanting them to break their rule, the other half, you want to see them stay unbent. Their morality is tested, with the oft-repeated mantra, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” Each time I watch it, I can’t help but grip my seat and wait to see when these two men are going to snap. A tense, unpredictable thriller with some haunting and unforgettable moments, The Dark Knight is a ferociously exciting character study that’s also the best superhero film ever made. If you etched away from the D.C. Comics brand and Batman logo, you still have a brilliant drama to sink your teeth into. Excellent storytelling and one of the most chilling acting performances ever put to film cement this adventure’s status not just as Christopher Nolan’s best film to date, but one of the greatest films of all time. A personal favorite.

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“Blue Velvet” Movie Review

Hmm… I’m not quite sure if I should love this movie for challenging me to think or hate it for leaving me unsatisfied. I guess I should write a review and see what comes up from it. This off-kilter erotic mystery thriller came out in September of 1986, where it barely turned a profit on its $6 million budget and garnered initially mixed reviews. Eventually, writer-director David Lynch’s 4th theatrical feature film gained great critical acclaim and analysis in the years that followed- though it was still famously hated by critic Roger Ebert even after revisiting it. The plot is a mystery where Kyle MacLachlan plays a perve who, through a series of circumstances, gets wrapped up in a plot of sadomasochism and murder involving a night club singer and a really demented gangster. I call him a perve because what other kinds of person would hide in a woman’s closet and then return the following nights to have sex with them? This actually happened in the movie. Twice. Look, I get it. David Lynch is an absurdly creative talent with an eye for the visually and narratively strange. In fact, he often embraces that weirdness with open arms to wrap around the audience. But sometimes, he just gets so caught up in his amount of weirdness that it becomes rather hard to enjoy his movies. Take Blue Velvet, for example. To be clear, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad film. In fact, there are moments of Blue Velvet that are genuinely entertaining and watchable, particularly when it gets into the noir elements. Lynch has always been a master at that level of storytelling with the cult classic show Twin Peaks and his later film Mulholland Drive, both of which I adored. And the performances are alright from the main actors, but let’s be real. The only truly great actor here is the late, great Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth. This is basically the movie that relaunched his dormant career with his surprising turn as an unpredictable if outrageous villain. It’s always fascinating when a movie has a hidden meaning or message underneath the surface, as it can often time warrant watching the film a few more times to soak in everything that needs to be. David Lynch himself has professed that his art is meant to be interpreted freely by the viewers. And the ideas that Blue Velvet brings to life are pretty interesting. But more like his first feature Eraserhead, this film became so obsessed with what it was trying to say that it virtually eliminates the need for a rewatch. My politics being my own private business, I tried to watch this movie without any feeling of demoralization or anger. But truth be told, this movie really got under my skin early on. The level of sadomasochism and sexual pleasure these characters take in is not very believable and borderline unrealistic. To be fair, Lynch has always gotten close to the surreal and blending fantasy with reality. But here, Blue Velvet seems so determined to make Isabella Rossellini as abused as possible and make her ask for even more from a totally innocent man. Considering the amount of press that feminism has gained recently, it’s arguable that this may be Lynch’s most dated movie out of his whole catalog. When sitting down to watch a film by David Lynch, there are usually a set of expectations I set for it: a completely self-absorbed, overly-indulgent showcase of thematic fingerpaintings featuring good actors playing unrealistic characters. Not everything in a movie has to be realistic. I mean, shit, some of my favorite movies are in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. And with Blue Velvet, it’s not quite as much of a fantasy as Mulholland Drive, but it was a bit better than I had expected it to be. If you like serious films with interesting messages, then definitely check it out. Others may be off-put by its excessive weirdness. But this is not conventional filmmaking in the slightest. I’ve already established that about David Lynch. He thrives off of the refusal of formula or convention. I like Blue Velvet and I don’t like it at the same time. It’s as simple as that. It’s a fascinating if a somewhat pretentious portrait of suburban lust that’s just not worth watching too many times. Maybe twice, but that’s about it.

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“Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” Movie Review

As of this entry, all entries from the original Star Wars trilogy (the ones that matter) have been reviewed. In hoping that Disney will continue to recapture such memories, I get into spoiler territory with a movie that apparently a lot of fans hate. The third and then-final installment in the epic space opera trilogy received its widely anticipated release on May 25th, 1983, accumulating over $570 million worldwide in box office receipts. Like the previous movie, series creator George Lucas chose not to take the director’s chair in favor of Eye of the Needle‘s Richard Marquand- though he stayed credited in screenwriting and making the story. As the film opens, our favorite robotic duo from a galaxy far, far away C-3PO and R2-D2 arrive on the desert planet of Tatooine. After trying to convince Jabba the Hutt, a nasty criminal lord in the Outer Rim and a cool showcase for ILM’s makeup department, to give up a frozen Han Solo, both of them are forced into Jabba’s servitude. A similar thing happens when a disguised Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher, attempts to save the man she loves and ends up in chains. Any boy who grew up in the 80’s was bound to have some sort of fantasies about her now-iconic metal bikini. (I may have been one of them) After all of this, Luke Skywalker finally pays a personal visit to the Palace. And at this point, Luke is a completely different person than he was in the previous movies. He’s calm, calculating, but still willing to shoot first. Once he overcomes a tense battle with the mechanical Rancor, he and all his friends are sentenced to be throw into the Sarlacc Pit. Thankfully, former traitor Lando Calrissian shows to rescue them, making for arguably the most exciting part of the whole movie. But this also gave Boba Fett, one of the coolest characters in the Star Wars franchise, a lame death. A blind Han Solo bumping into him and setting off his jetpack is such a cartoony way to kill him off. However, because they filmed the scene from the graphic novels, it’s been confirmed that he is still alive in canon. Before meeting up with the Rebel Alliance, Luke keeps a promise and visits Yoda one more time on Dagobah. In one of the saddest scenes of the original trilogy, he dies at the age of 900, telling him, “There is another Skywalker.” Thanks to a ghost Ben Kenobi, Luke learns that the other Skywalker is his twin sister Leia, and they were separated at birth to hide from their biological father, Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. This revelation makes perfect sense, but also makes the kiss the two had in Empire Strikes Back gross. Later, the Rebellion learns that the Empire is building a second Death Star, and is guarded by an energy shield projected on the nearby moon of Endor. While Lando leads the space cavalry, Chewbacca, Leia, Han, Luke, and the droids take a small squad of soldiers to the surface of the moon to destroy the generator. And this is when we come to the most controversial part of the original trilogy: the Ewoks. Some like them, some loathe them, some can’t enjoy the movie altogether because of them. Were they a tool for George Lucas to sell more toys? Yes, they were. But I rather enjoyed them as a kid, and watching them take down the technologically superior Empire is reminiscent of how the Viet Cong defeated the U.S. Army. While these little fuzzballs are giving our heroes a welcoming feast, Luke decides the only way to truly confront his father is if he leaves and surrenders to Darth Vader’s forces. And when he turns himself in, he just doesn’t understand that Anakin Skywalker is not there anymore. The two of them finally meet the Emperor, played like a Shakespearean villain by Ian McDiarmid. The man is a word smith, knowing exactly how to manipulate his subjects into his will, and reveals that not only is the second Death Star fully operational, but that they are fully aware of the impending invasion. At that moment, as the forces on Endor are fighting for control of the battlefield, the Rebel fleet arrives, completely caught off guard by the entire Imperial fleet. Starting one of the greatest memes in internet history, Admiral Ackbar responds by declaring, “It’s a trap!” And then, after getting constantly taunted by the Emperor, Luke Skywalker grabs his lightsaber and is stopped by Vader, turning into a battle of father-versus-son. Not only is this three-way battle extremely entertaining, but it shows that Luke is a relatable Jedi who’d do anything we’d do in his shoes. After a threat to Leia, Luke wails away on Vader and cuts off his hand. I think he would’ve actually killed him. But when he refuses, the Emperor does something never seen before, and attacks Luke with lightning. Vader is absolutely conflicted, looking back and forth between his master and his son. In the end, he lifts the Emperor up and throws him over a precipice. And late in his dying moment, he takes off his helmet and James Earl Jones doesn’t voice him anymore. Redeemed in the eyes of Luke, Anakin Skywalker dies a hero, fulfilling the prophecy in the prequels. Later, after the Death Star is destroyed, John Williams’ score is sounding off in celebration, a funeral pyre is held for Vader. And Luke is the only one attending. During the final celebration, when all the characters have gathered in joy, the Force ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and a young Anakin are shown one last time before the film cuts to black. Many MANY changes were done in the Special Edition, particularly using crappy CGI early on. And later, Vader yells NO!” when he throws the Emperor to his death. But these changes aren’t enough to hurt the overall quality of the film. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is a satisfying end to a magnificent saga. It may be super late, but May the Fourth be With You Always!

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“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Movie Review

And this is how to make a movie that is truly deserving of Best Picture. This provocative drama from director Milos Forman and producer Michael Douglas was released by United Artists on November 9th, 1975, earning back over $100 million on a small budget of $4.4 million total. Today, it is rated as the 16th greatest movie of all time on IMDb and listed as one of the late Roger Ebert’s favorite films. Based on the controversial novel by Ken Kesey- who apparently hated the finished product –One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest recounts the story of Randle McMurphy, an ex-con who transfers to a mental hospital in order to avoid more jail time. Once there, he falls into a trance when he’s introduced to a system where patients are heavily medicated, physically abused, and treated with almost no empathy. He begins to encourage the suppressed patients to fight back against Nurse Ratched’s tyrannical, bullying rule. Recently, I read the book this film was based on as part of a course examining the most challenged novels in American literature. And yes, there are many moments where artistic license is taken with the source material by screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, particularly of the point-of-view with the story. But I’m not here to nitpick the differences in the adaptation, I’m here to dissect this simply as a movie on its own. And on its own, this has to be one of the best pictures released in the 1970’s. In the performance that launched his storied career, Jack Nicholson is absolutely electrifying as Randle McMurphy. This basically set the groundwork for all of his crazy roles to follow, from the Joker to Frank Costello. But none were as memorable or arguably as likable as his work in this film. Slightly older than him, Louise Fletcher is completely heartless and uncaring as Nurse Ratched. Male or female, she has to be one of the most despicable characters in film history. Her rule emulates that of any infamous world dictator, manipulating every patient and staff member with careful words. The film also features early roles from Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and an Oscar-nominated performance from Brad Dourif as a stuttering man-child. Will Sampson as Chief Bromden, the narrator of the original book, is also worth noting. His captivating portrayal of a deaf-mute is a unique depiction of modern Native Americans and remains one of the most memorable fictional ones on the celluloid. Although sparsely present, what there is of Jack Nitzche’s score is beautiful. The film opens and ends on the same track with steady percussion and a high voice, punctuated by goosebump-inducing strings. It’s the kind of soundtrack that gives one hope for their lives and makes you want to live life to the fullest; the primary theme of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The camera work by Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler is rather dry. Often the action will be shown in short cuts of editing. Other times it will keep on one shot to emulate the feeling that we truly are inside this mental hospital. Such a moment occurs late in the picture when after a large celebration, the camera focuses in on Randle. He’s not partying, not monologuing about his past. Just a static shot of him drinking a beer while sitting down, silently smiling at his accomplishments. It is this silent simplicity that helps give this film its advantage and likability. But that doesn’t mean that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is always fun and lighthearted. There are some moments that are so powerful that you can hardly finish. The actors and extras did a supreme job at making the environment as realistic as possible. But the portrayal of mental illness, and of the authority that tries to exploit it, is so raw and unpretentious that it sometimes borders on hard-to-watch. From challenged patients who refuse to take their medication to electroshock therapy for those who resist, the movie pulls almost no punches. Which is probably why it went on to win the Big Five Oscars. These were Academy Awards for Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. One of the rarest feats in the Academy’s history, to win all of these categories in one night is a truly astonishing achievement. And this is a film that really did earn all of it. It also has an ending that can make you feel teary-eyed from both sadness and joy. All I can say is that you will have the feel the feeling of you were graduating. With unforgettable characters, realistic dialogue, fantastic performances and a great sense of dark optimism, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an uncompromising and captivating look at standing up to your oppressors. It may not quite be perfect as a whole, but the smaller moments are the ones that truly make it what it is. It is hard to watch sometimes and to rewatch but it’s absolutely worth it to get a better understanding of mental illness and the will to survive in the face of adversity.

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“Sophie’s Choice” Movie Review

And we all thought that there was no way Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins could be matched in performance. Released in the fall of 1982, this drama received both critical and commercial success just in time for awards season. After leaving his small-town home in the South, aspiring novelist Stingo moves into a shared boarding house in Brooklyn in 1947. Soon after settling in, he meets his upstairs neighbors, Polish immigrant Sophie Zawistowski and pharmaceutical worker Nathan Landau. While they immediately become the best of friends, Sophie and Stingo must brave Nathan’s emotionally tempestuous behavior and violent mood swings. It’s only a matter of time before Sophie trusts Stingo enough to share her harrowing experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. As the synopsis suggests, Stingo acts as our primary point of view for much of the runtime. A young man in his 20’s, his inexperience in the large city of New York, and his desire to understand human love allows the audience to relate to him in his struggles. When he discovers new locations across the city, it’s as if we’re walking in his shoes, seeing what he sees, learning what he learns. The city is a massively scary place for someone of small town background like Stingo, almost as if it wants to suck you in and never let you leave. The desired effect worked well for the most part. That being said, it felt as though the scope was very restricted. Most of the turbulent scenes are told inside of the characters’ boarding house, only one floor apart from each other. In that, it sometimes felt more like a stage play on Broadway, with nondescript locations and a plot that mostly develops from various characters exchanging bits of dialogue. One notable exception to this occurs early on in the picture when the trio goes to Coney Island for a day. While they move through a variety of different rides and attractions, the whole sequence plays like a silent film with color without any verbal or background noise. We only see these three people have the best day of their life, backed by Marvin Hamlisch’s beautiful and subtle score. This is undeniably creative, but it sometimes felt unappealing. However, Alan Pakula makes up for this in the latter half of Sophie’s Choice, when we start getting glimpses and flashbacks of Sophie’s life in Auschwitz. Many colors are desaturated or muted, similar in style to Steven Spielberg’s later Holocaust film Schindler’s List. It is clear that as the situation becomes bleaker, the colors fade even more. To add further authenticity, a rather large portion of the film is spoken in either Polish or German, a choice that throws me into the admittedly conventional drama. This is contrasted by scenes of Sophie explaining her every action in the present day to Stingo. These cutaways to the modern setting are filmed in a first-person perspective, giving the impression that we are listening to her talk to us in person. This allows the audience to better relate to her and her story; especially in the final act when everything comes to a gut-wrenching head. All three leads are terrific in their respective roles. Peter MacNicol, in his second movie ever, does convincing work as Stingo. Right at home with his Texan accent, his naive demeanor and great ambitions make him a man of great compassion. While he may be better known for comedies such as A Fish Called Wanda, Kevin Kline is fantastic as Nathan Landau. An unpredictable paranoid schizophrenic, some scenes were just uncomfortable to watch. But he’s still an indelible figure to look up to and find some warmth in, like when he first met Sophie and they bonded over reading Emily Dickinson poems. Or later, when he declares in a touching monolog that Stingo is destined to become one of the great American writers, alongside Whitman and Wolfe. But the true standout, as you may already know, is Meryl Streep, who completely deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress. It really can’t be overstated how incredible she is. Aside from her near-perfect Polish accent, she manages to hit almost every single emotion imaginable. She bounces between joy, anger, confusion, and unspeakable sadness with ease. If anyone else was cast as the titular character, this performance (as well as the movie) would probably be forgettable. Aside from being an experiment in acting and emotions, there is a point and meaningful purpose in the story of Sophie’s Choice. Through the eyes of Stingo, we are subject to the capacity one man (or woman) has for both love and suffering. When Sophie first arrives at the concentration camp, she is forced by an SS Officer to choose: will her son or her daughter go to the gas chambers? This is nothing easy for anyone. While she has endured so much pain, she still finds the ability to love other people. No matter how many times Nathan hits her, they keep reconciling and rekindling their relationship. There are brief moments of humor, like Sophie incorrectly mistaking Stingo’s seersuckers for “cocksuckers.” But aside from small moments like that, this film is not uplifting, or even very enjoyable to watch. By the time the credits start to roll, you will be left either speechless in your seat or in ugly tears of sadness. Maybe even both. If you aren’t brought to either one of those states, then it’s questionable if you’re truly human. Although it may be too upsetting for some and a little too conventional for its own good, Sophie’s Choice is a fantastically written and beautifully poignant drama about the distinction between love and suffering. It features one of the greatest performances ever put to film and an ending that will haunt viewers for many weeks after.

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“Blazing Saddles” Movie Review

In continuing my crusade of critiquing Westerns, I decided to see one that is much funnier than anything else I’ll talk about in this genre. This satirical Western comedy from legendary laughing man Mel Brooks premiered on February 6th, 1974, earning back over 50 times its small budget of $2.6 million. Co-written by Brooks and controversial comedian Richard Pryor, the story is a parody of any classic Western you can think of. Literally opening the film with the sound of a cracking whip, Cleavon Little stars as Bart, the newly appointed black sheriff in an all-white town. As part of a scheme to take over the surrounding land, a Governor and business mogul plot to use Bart as a means to pave the path. Here is a film that came at the tail-end of not one, but two pivotal periods of American history. In this case, it would be the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and the dominant era of Westerns before they faded away. It parodies the ideologies and concepts behind both of them, which, in a way, shows many similarities between the two periods. Cleavon Little is an excellent choice for the role of Bart. Charismatic and witty to a fault, he’s also apparently the smartest man in the town. The day he arrives, after a long silence from a stunned crowd, he holds his own gun to his head and pretends to take himself hostage. By his side, Gene Wilder plays the drunken, washed up gunslinger the Waco Kid. Despite keeping his dignity in check and providing memorable bits of dialogue, he doesn’t feel right in a supporting role. His immense energy and near-unpredictability gives the idea that he’s more fit for the role of a protagonist, a role which he later received yet again with Mel Brooks in 1974’s Young Frankenstein. The rest of the cast includes regular collaborators like Harvey Korman, Dom DeLuise, and Madeline Kahn, along with comedic/Western legends like Slim Pickens, John Hillerman, and even Brooks himself in a dual role as a Yiddish-speaking Indian chief and a dim-witted governor. Everyone turns in performances of exaggerated or goofy caricatures commonly seen in the genre. Perhaps the biggest drawback of the film is that it is simply too silly in most parts. It completely deconstructs the blatant racism of the time period, something that Hollywood has often obscured in its accounts of the mythic Old West. In fact, the N-word is said aloud so many times by so many characters, that Mel Brooks has publicly expressed doubt that the film could ever get remade in the modern era. I actually met someone who couldn’t finish Blazing Saddles because they said it was the most racist movie he’d ever seen. Not just that, the film also incorporates nearly a dozen or so deliberate anachronisms into a story that is supposed to be set almost 200 years ago. In one particular scene, when the bad guys are getting ready to enact their final move, they’re holding an open call for different types of evil doers from history. Biker gangs, Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, Confederate soldiers, you name it. And near the end, as the climax comes to a head, the cast of the movie literally breaks the fourth wall before crashing onto a separate housing on the Warner Bros. studio lot before finishing at the iconic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Joseph Biroc’s camera work also deserves some commentary. Mimicking the works of iconic Westerns, there are numerous wide anamorphic shots of the landscape that paint a vast and beautiful picture of the desert- at least the illusion of a desert. John Morris’ musical score is a nice, rousing bit of music that keeps the viewer in the mood. But it isn’t very memorable beyond the moment of viewing. Accompanying it are a series of original songs, most of which were penned by Mel Brooks himself. And thankfully, they are much more memorable than the score, and even scored one this film’s 3 Oscar nominations. Speaking of songs, another anachronism worth noting is earlier on when jazz icon Count Basie is playing a cover of the song, “April in Paris.” It should be noted that there not many action scenes present here. But for the few that are, they are enticing and fun. Rather, the focus of Blazing Saddles– and for that matter, the comedic content -is set on the character interactions and dialogue. So many comedies attempt to have their jokes rely on toilets and sexual activity, but Mel Brooks knows better. Granted, it does have a lowbrow joke now and again, and was actually the first comedy to be submitted to the American Film Institute for a fart joke. Go figure. It’s a miracle this film actually saw the light of day given the production problems. Casting almost went to Richard Pryor for the roll of Bart, and the filmmakers faced numerous complaints from white audiences for the racism parodied. In fact, studio executives almost decided to cancel its theatrical release entirely. But Brooks, with the help of Wilder and Little, managed to make the movie he wanted. Regarded as the grandfather of the modern-day comedy, Blazing Saddles is a highly influential and enjoyable Western for older audiences. It may be too silly and audacious for some of the more reserved audiences, but it keeps me coming back to watch and quote it.

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