Category Archives: Directed by Norman Jewison

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973, Norman Jewison)

There’s a lot bad about Jesus Christ Superstar. Some of it is casting, a lot of it is Jewison’s direction choices. He’s clearly thrilled to be shooting in the Middle East, but it doesn’t connect to his actual narrative. It connects to the subject matter, just not the film Jewison ends up making. The one where there’s little or no connective tissue between scenes and where Jewison can’t figure out where to have his actors look while they’re singing. It’s kind of important in a musical and sometimes they look to the sky–occasionally even when it’s appropriate–other times they look directly into the camera.

Or, a lot of the time, Jewison never shows them singing at all. Instead, the music of Jesus Christ Superstar is a soundtrack to their otherwise silent lives. Very silent. There’s maybe a baaa from one of the symbolic sheep. It gets to be a real problem in the second half, when a crowd is chasing Jesus (a very blond, Robin Hood-goateed Ted Neeley) and it’s clear there ought to be ambient noise. Of course, the movie’s jumped into the deep end by that time so it doesn’t really matter.

The film’s first act is the strongest, even if Jewison can’t figure out how to direct Carl Anderson’s scenes. Anderson plays Judas, who gets the opening number. Jewison’s solution is to make Anderson tiny, letting the scenery overpower. It takes Jewison until the second act to get comfortable showing his actors actually singing. With Anderson it works. Anderson acts while singing. Yvonne Elliman is phenomenal at it, even when Jewison edits her songs horribly. Neeley’s not so good. He’s a stone-faced Jesus. Though still somewhat likable.

During the second act, anyway. In the third act, when he’s just a prisoner, there’s so much other bad stuff going on, there’s no point in keeping track of Neeley.

The bad stuff in the third act are Barry Dennen and Josh Mostel. Dennen’s bad. Some of it is Jewison’s direction of the scene. Some of it isn’t. Mostel is just plain horrible. The scene’s terribly directed and probably should be offensive if Jewison weren’t just so lame at it and Mostel is horrible. If the film has any good will left at that point, Mostel burns it up. Dennen might be tolerable without him. Though the looping is atrocious on Dennen’s song.

Decent singing and performance from Bob Bingham. Not from Kurt Yaghjian.

Neeley’s got a fine voice. He can’t act but he’s got a fine voice. And it’s not like if he could act, the movie would be much better. Jewison’s got a lot of bad ideas, for symbolism, for narrative, for composition.

Good photography from Douglas Slocombe. Able if terribly conceptualized editing from Antony Gibbs–except when he’s cutting between Anderson’s final number and Neeley’s walk to Golgotha, that sequence is awesomely cut. Kind of lame as far as the cruxifiction scene plays out–Jewison lets his pretense run loose and it fails the promise of Anderson’s finale–but that editing is excellent.

Jewison just does a bad job with it.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Melvyn Bragg and Jewison, based on the opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Antony Gibbs; music by Lloyd Webber; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Jewison and Robert Stigwood; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ted Neeley (Jesus Christ), Carl Anderson (Judas Iscariot), Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene), Barry Dennen (Pontius Pilate), Bob Bingham (Caiaphas), Larry Marshall (Simon Zealotes), Kurt Yaghjian (Annas), Paul Thomas (Peter), and Josh Mostel (King Herod).


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Other People’s Money (1991, Norman Jewison)

Despite all Danny DeVito’s vulgar innuendos–though there are a couple missed opportunities–Other People’s Money is a rather chaste film. Director Jewison’s model for it is a Hollywood classic, with exquisite gowns for DeVito’s love interest slash rival, Penelope Ann Miller, and hats for the men.

With photography from Haskell Wexler and Alvin Sargent’s thoughtful, deliberate screenplay (though that thoughtfulness might be from Jerry Sterner’s source play), Money is extremely elegant. DeVito playing a variation on his bombastic, obnoxious persona for the first thirty minutes only makes the elegance more striking.

The film opens with DeVito positioned against not Miller, but Gregory Peck, Piper Laurie and Dean Jones (Jones is fantastic in the film). He’s an amusing villain… nothing more. Then Miller enters and Money changes. Jewison has the problem of making a romance believable between the refined Miller and the trollish DeVito. And he solves it. The very slow humanizing of DeVito is one of Money‘s best elements, as DeVito, Jewison and Sargent have structured the character so it’s not a development, just a delayed revelation.

While DeVito’s excellent, Miller’s more impressive because she has to contend with him. Jewison’s composition puts a lot of importance on sight line and Miller sells every scene. It helps Miller’s character has a layered personality too.

R.D. Call and Mo Gaffney are good in smaller roles.

The film’s third act, unfortunately, wobbles quite a bit. Luckily, DeVito, Miller and Jewison’s previous successes are able to override it.

Money‘s an excellent picture.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on the play by Jerry Sterner; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Hubert C. de la Bouillerie, Lou Lombardo and Michael Pacek; music by David Newman; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Jewison and Ric Kidney; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Danny DeVito (Lawrence Garfield), Penelope Ann Miller (Kate Sullivan), Piper Laurie (Bea Sullivan), Dean Jones (Bill Coles), R.D. Call (Arthur), Mo Gaffney (Harriet), Bette Henritze (Emma), Tom Aldredge (Ozzie), Leila Kenzle (Marcia) and Gregory Peck (Andrew Jorgenson).


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In the Heat of the Night (1967, Norman Jewison)

Warren Oates can be affable. I had no idea.

In the Heat of the Night is a bit of a disappointment–not the acting, not the directing, just the script. The film plods as the script tries to come up with excuses to keep going. Stirling Silliphant’s dialogue is good, there’s no problem with it on that level–it’s just the plotting. The film’s a thriller masquerading as a social film. Every single thing in it turns out to be a red herring (I can’t even figure how the murderer had time to commit the crime, but it didn’t bother Sidney Poitier or Rod Steiger so I guess I shouldn’t worry).

Poitier and Steiger are both great–though Steiger’s got a better written role, which seems unfair since Poitier’s the lead and his story is potentially a lot more interesting–but the supporting cast is amazing too. Scott Wilson, Oates, Lee Grant, William Schallert… there are some fantastic performances here.

And then there’s Jewison.

Jewison was forty-one when Night came out, so he wasn’t a young Turk, but it feels like it. His composition is just amazing (especially with Haskell Wexler shooting it). Maybe Jewison’s career just went on too long. When I hear his name, I think of awful, trite eighties movies, but he once was an outstanding filmmaker. In the Heat of the Night really showcases it.

It’s a very good film; but it would have been amazing one if it were about two men working together.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant, based on the novel by John Ball; director of photography, Haskell Wexler; edited by Hal Ashby; music by Quincy Jones; produced by Walter Mirisch; released by United Artists.

Starring Sidney Poitier (Virgil Tibbs), Rod Steiger (Gillespie), Warren Oates (Sam Wood), Lee Grant (Mrs. Colbert), Larry Gates (Endicott), James Patterson (Mr. Purdy), William Schallert (Mayor Schubert), Beah Richards (Mama Caleba), Peter Whitney (Courtney), Kermit Murdock (Henderson), Larry D. Mann (Watkins), Matt Clark (Packy), Arthur Malet (Ulam), Fred Stewart (Dr. Stuart), Quentin Dean (Delores) and Scott Wilson (Harvey Oberst).


Moonstruck (1987, Norman Jewison)

I’ve seen Moonstruck once before–though I’d forgotten the terrible opening titles–and I think (I repressed the experience) that time I had the same response I just had this time. Moonstruck makes me worried I have brain damage. The first three quarters of the film, roughly until the very good scene between John Mahoney and Olympia Dukakis–one of the film’s two scenes of any merit–is something of a blur to me. It’s either entirely incoherent, some kind of audio visual LSD or my brain is simply shutting down and restarting every few seconds in the vain hope I’ve stopped watching the film.

The film owes quite a bit to Airplane!, which I wasn’t aware of when I started watching it this time–seriously, I didn’t remember it being quite so terrible–it’s probably the worst film I’ve sat through since Crash. There are all these lame, Airplane!-like jokes, except they aren’t funny. They’re actually rather desperate. I’d list them, but my brain’s already started repairing, so I cannot. Except the last one, with Danny Aiello forgetting his luggage all the time. Ha ha. Just like Crash, Moonstruck is Academy material.

There are a couple things to talk about it, before I run out of time (I’ve been eating tortillas with omega-3 added, so the neurological repairs are probably speedy). I’ll start with the actors, because I can sum up the other bit–about writer John Patrick Shanley–by simply saying he stinks.

Cher has a terrible accent and lousy dialogue. Her character is a witch with a b at the beginning–except the film doesn’t seem to recognize it. Everyone in Moonstruck is entirely self-absorbed. It’s like watching an unfunny “Seinfeld.” But at the beginning, the example I’m thinking of, involves Aiello’s dying mother and Cher being absolutely insensitive to it. She’s even hostile about it. It made me hate her. I don’t often hate fictional characters, but I hated Cher’s character. I didn’t start liking her until after she dyed her hair and stopped talking so much. The strange thing about her performance is it probably would appear good on mute. Her expressions, her physical performance, are good. Speaking of her dying her hair, Moonstruck very strangely objectifies her.

Anyway, there’s also the whole thing about Vincent Gardenia being a lovable adulterer. It’s too much to get into, but it’s astounding.

Nicolas Cage is actually pretty good in the first half. In the second half he has some of the worst dialogue in the film, so he’s terrible. But in the beginning, he’s fine.

Aiello’s lousy.

Louis Guss and Julie Bovasso are both good.

There are lots of nonsensical details, ones I can’t remember–I’m not even going to discuss Shanley in detail, I don’t want to kill any already mangled brain cells. My new favorite is Cher’s engagement ring–she’s wearing it on the wrong finger.

I’m trying to think of anything good to say about Moonstruck, but it’s pretty much impossible. Editor Lou Lombardo has one of the worst jump cuts I’ve ever seen in a major studio release. Actually, that point brings up an interesting comparison–Moonstruck‘s so incompetently written, Troma wouldn’t have greenlighted the script. Umm… the photography frequently doesn’t match because the effects shots of the moon are so terrible. Director Norman Jewison doesn’t have a single good shot in the whole picture, not even during the two good scenes.

I’m just glad I’ll have this response preserved in perpetuity… so I never make the mistake of watching this film again. Unless I’m trying to compare it to a hallucinogenic depressant.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Jewison; written by John Patrick Shanley; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Dick Hyman; production designer, Philip Rosenberg; produced by Patrick J. Palmer and Jewison; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cher (Loretta Castorini), Nicolas Cage (Ronny Cammareri), Vincent Gardenia (Cosmo Castorini), Olympia Dukakis (Rose Castorini), Danny Aiello (Mr. Johnny Cammareri), Julie Bovasso (Rita Cappomaggi), John Mahoney (Perry) and Louis Guss (Raymond Cappomaggi).


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