Film Review: In the Heat of the Night (1967)

There were several legendary films to come out of 1967, but the two best known by audiences today, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, did not take home the Academy’s Best Picture statuette.  To those who have not seen this social thriller, awarding the coveted prize to In the Heat of the Night might seem questionable.  But after watching the film’s powerful study of racism in the ’60s, it becomes clear that it best represents that year.

It tells a story of a black police officer visiting a small town in the south from his home in Pennsylvania.  His name is Virgil Tibbs and he happened to be around when a murder victim was discovered late at night in Sparta, Mississippi.  Being one of Philadelphia’s leading homicide investigators, he decides to stay just a little longer.  As he assists the town’s hot-tempered sheriff in the pursuit of the killer, Tibbs is met with constant prejudice from both the police and the townspeople.

Overtime, Virgil Tibbs has become one of the most memorable heroes in the history of the movies.  His persecution was something that every African American could relate to at that time, and his actions set an example for them as well.  This is one of the reasons that Tibbs has been ranked 19th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movie Heroes of All Time.

Thanks to Poitier’s firm performance, In the Heat of the Night is difficult to forget.  Not only is this a good film, but it is also an important one.  It documents a shameful time in our country’s history that should not be ignored or forgotten.  When taking this into consideration, there is no better reason for a movie to win Best Picture.

Rating: 4/5

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Film Review: The Illusionist (2010)

The screenplay for Sylvain Chomet’s wistful second feature was written by the legendary French film comedian, Jacques Tati, in 1956.  Tati composed amusing comedies such as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, filled them with gags, and avoided inserting dialogue.  His comedic methods resembled those of the silent film greats, Chaplin and Keaton, and he was more pleasant than funny.

Tati intended for The Illusionist to be live action, but the tall Frenchman died in 1983 without making any more steps toward starting the project.  Nearly 30 years later, director Chomet has developed an animated film from Tati’s script.  I doubt very much that the result is what the comedian himself had in mind while writing it, yet The Illusionist still has all the richness and charm of a Tati film made in the ’50s.  There is minimal dialogue, there is a clumsy, lovable main character, and best of all, he greatly resembles Tati.

Sadly though, this film could fail to satisfy most audiences looking for something as story-driven as a Pixar film.  It comes off shy and unimportant, but one of its strengths lies in the masterful animation.  The story is not one of intrigue, nonetheless, the movie is totally atmospheric.  It does not use the bright, flashy colors of Pixar’s features, resorting to a darker variety that creates a more mature feel.  Both characters and settings are detailed and attractive, and the best moments are those when we see city lights from high above.  Because of the great artwork and score, I regret that I missed out on seeing The Illusionist in theaters.

There is so much visual and emotional mastery just in the short time of one hour and twenty minutes that I feel that I didn’t soak it all up.  Nevertheless, it left me with too somber of a mood to make me want to watch it a second time.  Perhaps if the end would feature the Illusionist finding his rightful place in society while the wonderfully jazzy theme plays in the background.  Maybe then would it feel completely satisfying.  Instead, Tati insists on reminding viewers that he is dead.  He will bring no more laughs.  He tells us that we must enjoy what life we have before it is taken away.  With that final entry, Tati’s life’s work at last seems fully complete.

Rating: 3.5/5

Film Review: The King’s Speech (2010)

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

Though these are the famous words of a much different film, they are very representative of this one.  The King’s Speech tells a fascinating true story of a newly crowned king who is still living out the results of his childhood.  With a quick temper and a constant stammer, King George VI is taken to the unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

George, at first reluctant, is eventually shown that Logue can help cure his problem.  The king’s stammer is the tragic result of a repressed childhood, one of fear and hesitance.  We find that he has been mocked because of the now-inescapable habit, and in turn, that he masquerades a cold, quiet, stubborn personality because this is the only way that he has been treated.

Logue’s persistence and loyalty soon transforms their relationship into an extremely touching friendship.  The Oscar-worthy performances of Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter help ensure that we are moved.  The cinematography is also well-captured, putting characters to one side or slightly off-center of the screen.

There are a few lines that are very quotable, but nevertheless, the entire script is excellent.  The film’s mixture of comedy and bittersweet emotion make it a truly triumphant crowd-pleaser.  Its appearance as a period piece does not confine it to certain elements that some shy away from.  This is 2010’s Best Picture winner and few seem to disagree with the academy’s choice (for once).  The King’s Speech is a film anyone can love, for its acting, camerawork, dialogue, story, humor, and emotion are all pitch-perfect.

Rating: 4.5/5

Film Review: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Divorce seems to be becoming more and more common in our society, so naturally, any controversy surrounding Kramer vs. Kramer upon its time of release has completely cleared up.  But that hardly dampens the effectiveness.  Since 1979, many films have portrayed these same family troubles while using a different strategy.  One might find that Kramer vs. Kramer works best for quite a few reasons.  A crucial part in the film’s success are the actors.  With such a simple story, the audience has to be convinced that they are watching something worthwhile.  Luckily, this is a film blessed with an abundance of convincing actors and actresses that are each in total control of their roles.  This even includes seven-year-old Justin Henry starring in his first movie.

Henry plays the young son of a dedicated worker and an unhappy wife.  When he wakes one morning to discover that his mother is gone, he is attended to by his father.  For the next fifteen months, the two grow very close.  Then, the mother returns wanting custody of her child.  What ensues is a fight in court between two parents who both love their son deeply.  Both of the fine performances of Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep were rewarded with well-deserved Oscars.  It’s one thing to display the emotions of a parent who might lose his/her only child and it’s another to do it well enough that the audience cannot tell whose side to take.  Without being able to pick sides, the audience is better involved and the entire film appears more realistic.

I’m sure that I am not alone when I say that I hate when a good movie is ruined by a filmmaker’s desperate attempt to make the audience cry.  I did not come close to crying at the end of Kramer vs. Kramer, but I never picked up any signs of this desperation.  So while I cannot honestly name the picture “a tear-jearker”, I can try to clear any doubts as to the ending being disappointing.  As far as Best Picture winners go, this one appears to be very ordinary.  Indeed, the story is not hard to predict, but what this film does, it does well.  It is well-written, well-acted, and well-directed, satisfying those looking for entertainment or something touching.

Rating: 4/5