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

By J.D. Lafrance

I’ve always been drawn to the horror noir sub-genre – a hybrid of horror and film noir that features downtrodden protagonists immersed in a nightmarish, shadowy underworld fraught with danger at every turn. Instead of the antagonists being simple criminal underworld figures they are quite often beings infused with supernatural powers. Some memorable examples include Angel Heart (1987), The Ninth Gate (1999) and Constantine (2005). One of my favorites is Lord of Illusions (1995), an adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story, “The Last Illusion” by the author himself. The protagonist in both is Harry D’Amour, a private investigator and occult detective that has appeared in several of Barker’s fiction, most notably, albeit briefly, in The Great and Secret Show, a short story entitled “The Lost Souls, and also the novel Everville.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Tim Burton’s films are populated by outsiders and non-conformists with their own unique vision of life that sets them apart from mainstream society. It is this affinity for the disaffected that is perhaps the most personal aspect of his work. The success of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) paved the way for Burton’s next feature, Beetlejuice (1988), his calling card – a breakout film that led to his getting the job to direct Batman (1989). It is also one of the purest examples of his distinctive sensibilities – a skewed sense of the world as seen through the eyes of someone who is an outsider.

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David Fincher’s Seven

By J.D. Lafrance

Living in any major metropolitan city in North America can be a dangerous experience. Ask anyone who lives in places like New York City, Philadelphia or Los Angeles. There is a certain amount of fear and paranoia that exists in these densely populated, often congested areas. When you have that many different types of people living in one place problems are bound to arise. In the past, these problems have always seemed containable, maybe even solvable, but now there is a certain sense of pessimism or apathy that pervades the public consciousness. Where once there was hope, now there is only despair, or worse yet, disinterest. Seven (1995) is a film that taps into these feelings with startling accuracy and clarity. It is a disturbing descent into a dark, urban hell that is at once powerful and unpleasant. Call it an urban horror film.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Christopher Nolan is an ambitious filmmaker that with every movie he makes sets out to challenge himself, whether its an unconventional narrative with Memento (2000) or making a non-franchise movie like Inception (2010) at a time when studios rarely greenlight projects not already based on an established property. He is a rare Hollywood studio filmmaker capable of making original big-budgeted movies that make hundreds of millions of dollars. This has given him the clout to make his boldest movie yet – Tenet (2020), a sprawling spy thriller that explores the manipulation of time.

This movie is a testament to the kind of juice Nolan has within the industry. He is able to command a budget over $200 million starring John David Washington, whose casting as the movie’s lead must have raised eyebrows with studio executives as he has no experience with a project of this magnitude or the kind of drawing power of someone like Leonardo DiCaprio or Matthew McConnaughy – actors who helped sell Nolan’s previous ambitious fare. Even the casting of Robert Pattinson as Washington’s co-star was something of a risk as he is no longer the bankable Twilight heartthrob he once was having rejected Hollywood for the most part to appear in foreign and independent films.

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Chinatown

By J.D. Lafrance

Chinatown (1974) is a rare example of a collection of artists at the height of their powers coming together to produce a masterpiece born out of conflict and strife. Fresh from his success on The Last Detail (1973), screenwriter Robert Towne wrote a mystery inspired by the California Water Wars that took place in Southern California at the beginning of the 20th century and involved a series of disputes over water with Los Angeles interests securing water rights in the Owens Valley. Studio chief and producer Robert Evans bankrolled the project and Towne wrote the screenplay with his good friend Jack Nicholson in mind. The actor, coming off the critically-acclaimed The Last Detail, asked Roman Polanski to direct. The two men had been looking for a project to work together on and chose this one. The end result is a wonderfully complex and nuanced tale of greed and corruption whose deeper meanings and rich attention to detail reveal themselves upon subsequent viewings.

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by J.D. Lafrance

Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels (1995) isn’t as beloved as some of his other films, most notably Chungking Express (1994), as the characters that populate it aren’t as inherently likable. They are more standoff-ish or too cool or just plain odd to invite audience identification like the ones in Chungking. As a result, Fallen Angels is a film that is admired rather than loved, which is a shame as there is a lot to love in it. Made a year after the much-celebrated Chungking, it also consists of two separate stories one of which was originally intended to be in the 1994 film but when Wong found it was getting too long removed it and saved it for Fallen Angels.

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By J.D. Lafrance

By 1984, director David Lynch was on top of the world. He had received critical acclaim and eight Academy Award nominations for The Elephant Man in 1980 and was on the verge of releasing his next film, Dune (1984), an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel. Many speculated on how this young auteur would be able to translate such a complex text to film. Dino De Laurentiis, who poured over $50 million into the project, was hoping that it would become the next Star Wars (1977). If anyone could pull it off, it was the man who brought us that cult classic, Eraserhead in 1977. Dune promptly flopped. Critics despised it and crowds stayed away in droves. To his credit, it was not all Lynch’s fault. Studio executives moved in, took away final cut privileges from Lynch, and tried to condense over four hours of footage into a barely watchable two-hour film. The result was an unorganized, if not visually stunning motion picture that seemed like the highlights of Herbert’s book.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Why would someone sell top-secret government documents to their country’s enemy? Fame? Money? Disillusionment? With muckraking websites like WikiLeaks, a non-profit organization which publishes secret and classified information, and high-profile American whistleblowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, John Schlesinger’s 1985 docudrama The Falcon and the Snowman has become relevant yet again. Based on Robert Lindsey’s best-selling non-fiction book of the same name, the film dramatizes the story of Christopher Boyce (Timothy Hutton) and Andrew Daulton Lee (Sean Penn), two young men who sold classified government information to the Soviet Union during the mid-1970s. Schlesinger’s film explores the motivation behind their actions in this absorbing drama – one that features riveting performances from its two young lead actors, Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn.

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by J.D. Lafrance

Scott McGehee and David Siegel are part of a generation of American independent filmmakers that capitalized on the surprise success of Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies & Videotape (1989) at the Sundance Film Festival. That film helped kickstart a very prolific period of indie cinema during the 1990s where the rise in prominence of Sundance and boutique movie studios like Miramax pushed through unusual material, like McGehee and Siegel’s Suture (1993), that wouldn’t normally have been made or distributed. These two filmmakers even managed to get Soderbergh to executive produce their film and he championed it in interviews. Sadly, the studio distributing Suture had no idea how to market this cerebral neo-noir and it quickly faded into obscurity where it still resides to this day. Even back then it was a hard sell with an unconventional premise and no movie stars but should now be regarded as a bold genre experiment.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by space travel. The seeds were planted in science fiction movies like Star Wars (1977) but my interest intensified in the early 1980s with the United States Space Shuttle program. If kids in the 1960s and 1970s had the space race between the Americans and the Russians, my generation had the Shuttles – incredible spacecraft that would hurtle into outer space to launch telescopes or rendezvous with space stations. The tragic Space Shuttle Challenger mission in 1986 where it exploded 73 seconds into its flight was a sobering reminder of the danger of these endeavors.

My interest in the Space Shuttles dovetailed with the release of The Right Stuff (1983), a historical biopic about the Mercury Seven astronauts that playfully exposed their flaws and celebrated these brave men. Over the years, my interest in the subject continued with films like Apollo 13 (1995) and so when it was announced that a biopic chronicling Neil Armstrong’s historic landing on the Moon was being made I was all in.

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