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

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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By J.D. Lafrance

With the exception of Eli Roth, no other filmmaker has divided horror movie fans more in recent years than hard rocker turned writer-director Rob Zombie. People either love or hate his brand of grungy, white trash nihilism cinema where he makes what would traditionally be the antagonists in other movies (serial killers), the protagonists in his, be it the Firefly clan in House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil’s Rejects (2005) or Michael Myers in Halloween I & II. Along with Roth and Alexandre Aja, among others, Zombie was part of a wave of filmmakers that made what were dubbed “torture porn” horror movies that pushed the boundaries on-screen violence. Unlike his contemporaries, he refused to wallow in the gore and instead focused on the characters with distinctive personalities in his films and their relation towards each other in extreme situations. He hasn’t always been successful in achieving this but the one time he got the mix just right was The Devil’s Rejects, a gritty, balls-to-the-wall horror movie cum road picture. Imagine The Hills Have Eyes (1977) directed by Sam Peckinpah.

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I’ve always considered In the Mouth of Madness (1994) to be John Carpenter’s truly last great film. It came out at a time when horror films were becoming more self-flexive in nature with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), a fictionalized account of actual key cast and crew members from the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise making the latest entry; and the Scream trilogy filled with genre savvy characters who delight in quoting from other slasher films while also identifying the rules that many of these films follow. Carpenter’s film has elements from both of these examples. Like New Nightmare, it blurs the lines between reality and fantasy and, like the Scream films, it is conscious of itself within the horror genre.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Grace of My Heart (1996) is Allison Anders’ unabashed love letter to three decades of popular music, from the doo-wop era of the late 1950’s, to the rise of girl groups in the 1960’s to the psychedelic era of the 1970’s, all seen through the eyes of a female songwriter cast in the mould of Carole King, among others. Anders’ passion project finally gave a substantial role to actress Illeana Douglas who, finally freed from the shackles of numerous supporting character roles over the years, delivers a career-defining performance. Despite the pedigree of having Martin Scorsese as executive producer and the likes of John Turturro and Matt Dillon in supporting roles, Grace of My Heart was not a commercial hit, and was quickly eclipsed by another nostalgic look at popular music from the ‘60s that came out the same year – Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do! (1996), which, incidentally, wasn’t a huge hit either but had much more advertising muscle behind it. For all of its flaws, which include a weak third act, Grace of My Heart is a fascinating look at a time when the craft of writing a good song mattered. It is a film that deserves to be rediscovered.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Jules Verne’s classic science fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has captivated and intrigued filmmakers for decades, from George Melies’ silent short film in 1907 to the 1997 made-for-television movie starring Ben Cross. The most well-known cinematic adaptation is the 1954 Walt Disney action/adventure classic starring James Mason and Kirk Douglas. I distinctly remember watching this version as a child at a friend’s house and being absolutely terrified by the giant squid battle that occurs at the film’s exciting climax. The film has fascinated me ever since.

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By J.D. Lafrance

The first feature-length adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “The Killers” was directed by Robert Siodmak in 1946 and featured a young Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner as the two leads. It was a simple tale of a man who had hit rock bottom so badly that he allowed two hitmen to kill him. The doomed man was the focus of Siodmark’s film while, on the surface, it may seem that Don Siegel’s 1964 film version is all about doomed race car driver Johnny North (John Cassavetes). He is given quite a bit of The Killers’ screen time through flashbacks by the people that knew and loved him. However, Siegel drops in subtle visual clues throughout to suggest that the film is actually about the two professional killers with an emphasis on the elder more experienced one played by Lee Marvin. It is interesting to note that the first and last image of the film is of Charlie – the first tip off that this is his story and not North’s.

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by J.D. Lafrance

After the technically accomplished but ultimately hollow thriller Panic Room (2002), director David Fincher returned to familiar subject matter with Zodiac (2007), a dramatization of the murders perpetuated by the infamous serial killer known as the Zodiac Killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With Se7en (1995), Fincher seemed like an obvious choice to direct this film but those expecting a rehash of the former would be disappointed. With Zodiac, he faced the daunting challenge of making an exciting thriller that ran two hours and forty minutes long and where the killer was never caught. He does this by focusing on the people who investigated the case and how it affected them.

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