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

by J.D. Lafrance

Growing up in Canada I never fully appreciated Canadian cinema. Oh sure, I liked the films of David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Strange Brew (1983). They were able to break out of the ghetto that is Canadian cinema and actually make an impact in the United States and the rest of the world. It took being in another country to finally appreciate what I took for granted so many years ago. Whenever I got homesick I put on a film like Roadkill (1989), which is fiercely proud of its Canadian culture, and it reminded me of home. Roadkill is the first part of a loosely connected rock ‘n’ roll/road movie trilogy by Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald. The film was something of a breath of fresh air when it debuted as Canadian cinema had, up until then, been traditionally known as notoriously boring or, worse, derivative of its American counterpart. McDonald managed to fuse the low budget aesthetics of the emerging U.S. indie film movement with a distinctively Canadian take on the road movie genre.

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by J.D. Lafrance

In 1993, Clint Eastwood was enjoying a resurgence in popularity. His revisionist western Unforgiven (1992) won three Academy Awards and he received critical and commercial acclaim for his performance in the action-thriller, In the Line of Fire (1993). When he was approached with the screenplay for A Perfect World (1993), he was still making Line of Fire and doing promotion for the Academy Award nominations for Unforgiven. As a result, Eastwood anticipated only directing A Perfect World. When Kevin Costner came on board, however, he felt that Eastwood would be perfect for a smaller role in the film. Eastwood agreed as it wouldn’t require him to spend a lot of time in front of the camera.

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By J.D. Lafrance

The 1970’s saw the rise of the Movie Brats, a collection of filmmakers that had grown up watching and studying films. They made challenging films that reflected the times in which they were made and were revered by cineastes as much as some of the actors appearing in them. Directors like William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Hal Ashby and Martin Scorsese made intensely personal films that blended a European sensibility with American genre films. The one-two punch of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) and the failure of expensive passion projects like New York, New York (1977) and Heaven’s Gate (1980) ended these directors’ influence and saw the rise of producers like Joel Silver, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer; and movie star-driven blockbusters in the 1980’s and beyond. It got harder and harder for the Movie Brats to get their personal projects made. Most of them went the independent route, making films for smaller companies like Orion and doing the occasional paycheck gig with a Hollywood studio.

For years, Scorsese had been trying to fund a personal project of his own – an adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ. It was a tough sell and he ended up making After Hours (1985) and The Color of Money (1986) as a way of keeping busy while he tried to get Last Temptation made. At the time of The Color of Money much was made of it being Scorsese’s first movie star-driven film and some critics and fans of the director felt that he was selling out. It would not only be promoted as a film starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise (and not as a Martin Scorsese film), but was a sequel (something that the director was never fond of doing) of sorts. Newman had been interested in reprising his famous role of “Fast” Eddie Felson from The Hustler (1961) for some time but he had never met the right person for the job – that is, until Scorsese.

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Miller’s Crossing

By J.D. Lafrance

Despite opening the New York Film Festival in 1990, Miller’s Crossing was buried by a tidal wave of other gangster films that year, including GoodFellas, King of New York, Dick Tracy and The Godfather Part III. They all drew some kind of buzz or hype, whether it was through controversy, awards or a massive marketing blitzkrieg. The Coen brothers’ film was a modestly budgeted film that did not contain a recognizable movie star like Robert De Niro or Al Pacino for audiences to latch onto and, coupled with a detached, distanced approach to the characters and a densely textured plot with several implicit and explicit events occurring concurrently, Miller’s Crossing became something of a cinematic oddity, a critical darling that was ignored by mainstream audiences.

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Them!

By J.D. Lafrance

The creation of and subsequent use of atomic bombs in World War II had a profound effect on the world – one that is still being felt to this day. It had an immediate impact in the United States with the public being afraid of potential war with Russia in the 1950s as they sought to build their own nuclear arsenal in competition with America. There was also the fear of the effects that nuclear power would have on everyday life and this manifested itself in many ways.

In the world of film, Hollywood sought to capitalize on this anxiety by producing monster movies involving irradiated animals and insects that grew to massive proportions, threatening the lives of average citizens. These movies successfully connected with audiences and soon, Hollywood was churning them out on a regular basis. Of the many that were made, one of the best was Them! (1954) featuring giant ants mutated by radiation in New Mexico.

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by J.D. Lafrance

Widely regarded as unfilmable because it defied normal narrative logic and for containing some of the most perverse, often disturbing passages of sex and violence ever committed to the page, William S. Burroughs’ seminal novel Naked Lunch was the ideal project for filmmaker David Cronenberg. In many respects, the themes and subject matter the book explores parallel many of the preoccupations of his films: the merging of flesh with machines, human transformation, and secret societies. One only has to look at an early film like Videodrome (1983) to see Burroughs’ influence — the mix of pulpy exploitation with high concept ideas. The characters in Cronenberg’s films, like the characters in Burroughs’ fiction, are morally ambiguous. It is not as easy to identify with them as it is with characters in more mainstream entertainment.

As Cronenberg was the first to admit, a conventional adaptation of Naked Lunch is impossible as it would be banned in every country. So, he wisely merged key elements from the book along with bits and pieces from the author’s early novels, chief among them Junky and Exterminator!, with aspects of Burroughs’ life, tempered with black humor as we are taken to surreal places. The end result is a fascinating collaboration between two like-minded artists and a film that is ultimately about the writing process as it defines the film’s protagonists much as it did Burroughs – writing acts as a catharsis, a way of dealing with guilt.

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By J.D. Lafrance

The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995) is a strange film. One that features Brendan Fraser covered in red paint and barbed wire, Viggo Mortensen as a mute carpenter, and the unforgettable image of large silver boot floating down a river. It is quite unlike any other film and is the brainchild of Philip Ridley, a British performance artist, filmmaker, novelist, painter, and playwright whose three feature films to date deal with the loss of innocence. Best described as a dark, fantasy tale, Darkly Noon was only his second feature film but it is a masterful one. Sadly, few people got to see the film; it was barely reviewed, and quietly disappeared to home video where it remains to be rediscovered.

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