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Archive for the ‘J.D.’s film reviews’ Category

By J.D. Lafrance

Based on George V. Higgins’ 1974 crime novel Cogan’s Trade, Killing Them Softly (2012) is a protest film masquerading as a crime movie. It’s an angry howl of discontent presented under the auspices of a Quentin Tarantino-esque tale of tough guys with guns only with much more depth and even more talking (if that’s possible). Despite receiving a warm reception at the Cannes Film Festival, Andrew Dominik’s film failed to make back its $15 million budget in North America and had to rely on international grosses to turn a profit. Clearly mainstream movie-going audiences were not interested in seeing an overtly talky crime film starring Brad Pitt. This is a shame as Killing Them Softly, while a bit heavy-handed in some spots, is quite brilliant.

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Wonder Boys

By J.D. Lafrance

Wonder Boys (2000) is a redemptive tale of a college professor in the midst of a mid-life crisis. It is a film about faded glory and people past their prime. Curtis Hanson’s film is the kind of small, oddball little tale with a decidedly off-kilter, dark sense of humor and a cast of eccentric characters. It was a bit hit with critics but never quite connected with a mainstream audience due in part to a bungled initial promotional campaign that clearly did not know how to convey the quirky tone of the film into an easily digestible soundbite. 

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By J.D. Lafrance

The mark of a truly gifted filmmaker is when their work is able to transcend the times in which they were made and continue to be highly regarded, beloved and is still relevant to subsequent generations. Such is the case with Frank Capra who made not one but two timeless classics with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), one of the most highly regarded films about American politics ever made, and It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), the quintessential Christmas movie. Meet John Doe (1941) is not as popular as these two films but it is just as important. Like the aforementioned motion pictures, it features an everyman character exploited by both corporate interests and the media, which makes it just as timely today as it was back when it was first released.

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Jacknife

By J.D. Lafrance

By the mid-1980s, the American public was finally coming to terms with the effects of their involvement in the Vietnam War. Oliver Stone’s film Platoon (1986) opened the popular culture floodgates and soon a cottage industry of war-related material was everywhere, from Time-Life books to television shows to comic books. Hollywood also capitalized on the renewed fascination with the war and the people that fought in it by releasing films that were either set in Vietnam during the war or stateside in present time with returning soldiers still coping with the trauma of being over there. One of the best examples of the latter was a small, independent film entitled Jacknife (1989) starring Robert De Niro, Ed Harris and Kathy Baker. Adapted from the play Strange Snow by its playwright, Stephen Metcalfe, the film is a smartly-written, well-acted character study about people trying to put their lives back together while living with unresolved issues.

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By J.D. Lafrance

“What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me? Into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly because I can’t any longer see into myself.” – Bob Arctor

Over the years, many films have been made based on the science fiction novels by Philip K. Dick – some good (Blade Runner and Minority Report), but mostly bad (Paycheck and Next). However, they all share a common trait: they only remotely resemble their source material. David Cronenberg recounted a story about how he began adapting the short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” for a Hollywood studio and when he handed in his screenplay, an executive complained that it was too faithful to the source material. They wanted something like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cronenberg wasn’t interested in doing that and left the project, which became Total Recall (1990). This explains why none of Dick’s material has been accurately translated into film until A Scanner Darkly (2006).

It was adapted by filmmaker Richard Linklater, not the first person you’d think of when it comes to science fiction but he had two things going for him: he was a fan of the book and he was willing to make it independently, keeping the budget low enough that he could have creative control over the material. He was also able to assemble a very impressive cast that consisted of Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder. However, his choice to utilize rotoscoping animation (where animators basically draw over live action footage) was not embraced by everyone and ended up causing Linklater all kinds of headaches in post-production. That being said, the style of animation he employed was well suited for the film’s various drug hallucinations and in realizing the scramble suit technology.

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Deep Cover

By J.D. Lafrance

While movie star-studded prestige films like Traffic (2000) tackle the war on drugs on an ambitious scale, sometimes it takes a slick B-movie like Deep Cover (1992) to get right to the heart of the issue. Directed by veteran character actor and filmmaker Bill Duke, the film attempted to capitalize on the success of edgy urban films like New Jack City (1991) and shed light on how drug addiction and drug dealing is destroying African American neighborhoods in major cities throughout the United States. Deep Cover dares to be different by showing how flawed and corrupt law enforcement is in dealing with the drug problem, following the paper trail all the way up the ladder to the upper echelons of our government, all the while delivering the requisite thrills of the police thriller. The end result is a B-movie with a brain.

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“A fellow said, ‘We must never forget that we are human. And as humans we must dream. And when we dream we dream of money.”

This line of dialogue is spoken early on in The Spanish Prisoner (1998) and establishes one of the most important themes of David Mamet’s film: greed. The allure of money is what motivates all of the characters in the film save one – its protagonist, Joe Ross (Campbell Scott). He is not only at the mercy of other people’s greed but also their deception, which is another significant theme of this film.

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