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

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By J.D. Lafrance

In the 1980s and 1990s, late night talk shows ruled the airwaves with the likes of Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno making America laugh before bedtime. These shows would come on after the 11 o’clock news and start with the host delivering a monologue poking fun at the popular news topics of the day followed by a couple of celebrities pushing their movie or television show and ending with a musical act or a stand-up comedian. It’s a format that continues to this day as a new generation of talk show hosts vie for eyeballs in our increasingly fragmented popular culture.

The Larry Sanders Show took a look behind-the-scenes at a fictional late night talk show featuring its vain, neurotic eponymous host (Garry Shandling), his weasely sidekick Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), the gruff, ass-kissing producer Arthur (Rip Torn), and the other long-suffering staff members that cater to his selfish needs as they try to get a show on the air. Larry lives in constant fear, either worrying about if he’s funny every night or if the show’s getting good enough ratings to justify its existence, and do almost anything to achieve both.
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all for one - friendship rituals in Husbands

By J.D. Lafrance

Many films have been made about men experiencing a midlife crisis, from the good (About a Boy) to the painfully awful (Wild Hogs). With Husbands (1970), John Cassavetes made what is arguably the greatest film, not just about men going through a midlife crisis, but what it means to be a man – something that seems to be missing from a lot of contemporary male-centric movies. Husbands was a labor of love for Cassavetes and his two co-stars – Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk – both of whom enjoyed working with the filmmaker so much that they appeared in more of his films. At times, Husbands is a mess of a film with scenes that go on too long and acting that sometimes comes off as indulgent, but it is also brilliant and fearless as it transcends the men behaving badly cliché (see The Hangover movies) to show how men really behave around each other and how they communicate (or don’t) with each other. It’s a film that can test your patience, but also features some of the best acting ever put on celluloid.
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The Hustler

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By J.D. Lafrance

The Hustler (1961) is a crucial film in Paul Newman’s career. It launched him into the Hollywood stratosphere and marked the beginning of an incredible run in the 1960s, with movies like Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Newman became a movie star but acted like a character actor, creating one memorable character after another. Arguably, The Hustler is where he really came into his own, delivering a powerful performance as small-time pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson. The film takes place in dingy pool halls, lonely bus terminals and low-rent apartments. It’s a world populated by confident grifters, streetwise bartenders and small-time gamblers. In other words, The Hustler is about people living on the margins, refusing to live the humdrum, 9-to-5 lives that most of us lead.
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By J.D. Lafrance

The rise of media consultants in the 1970s and 1980s changed the way political campaigns were run and how politicians were sold to the public. Make no mistake; this is an expensive practice with costs to run a successful campaign increasing every year. It is the job of the media consultant to create the most attractive image of their client to present to potential voters while creating a negative image of their opponent. This is nothing new, but back in 1986 when Sidney Lumet directed Power from a screenplay by David Himmelstein, the notion of a media consultant wielding influence was a novel concept. So novel that the film received mixed reviews by critics and was virtually ignored by audiences (it failed to recoup its modest $16 million budget). With hindsight one can see that the film was ahead of its time with a slick, charismatic protagonist that anticipated real-life counterparts like James Carville. Power asks some fascinating questions about the nature of power and influence and its effects. It also remains one of Lumet’s sorely under-appreciated films.

The consultant’s job is to create a positive image of the client and this is evident in the film’s opening scene where a South American political leader is making a speech to hundreds of people in a crowded town square. A bomb goes off and the man springs into action, rushing to the aid of a woman injured in the blast. He cradles her head in his arms, making him look like an instant hero until we see a camera crew documenting the entire event. Successful media consultant Pete St. John (Richard Gere) coaches the leader once he hustles him into a waiting van, telling him to wear his now bloody shirt for the rest of the campaign. Pete proceeds to tell the man what to say, how to act, and so on. We’re left wondering if the whole thing was staged or did he brilliantly capitalize on the moment?
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By J.D. Lafrance

Created by Robert E. Howard, the character of Conan the Barbarian first appeared in a series of sword and sorcery stories published in pulp magazines, like Weird Tales in 1932. The success of these early stories inspired Howard to complete 21 stories before he committed suicide in 1936. These tales were set during the fictional “Hyborian Age,” which occurred after the fall of Atlantis. Conan was often described as a muscular yet agile man known for his tactical abilities as much as his brawn. Throughout the stories, he wandered the world, getting into adventures under a variety of guises: thief, outlaw, mercenary, and pirate.

It wasn’t until 1970s that plans for a cinematic adaptation began with a young Oliver Stone hired to write the screenplay. The film’s development hit a rocky period until the late ‘70s when John Milius was hired as director and Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as the titular character. The result was Conan the Barbarian (1982), a violent action/adventure film that embodied the spirit of Howard’s stories as much at its director’s own thematic preoccupations. It was a box office success and helped launch Schwarzenegger’s international career.
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By J.D. Lafrance

By the time he had made Frantic (1988), filmmaker Roman Polanski was in need of a commercial hit at the box office. His previous film Pirates (1986) bombed spectacularly both with audiences and critics. In a canny move, he cast Harrison Ford as the lead actor in his new film. As luck would have it, Ford was in a very interesting place, career-wise. Thanks to the massive success of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films, he had the clout and the confidence to try riskier films that played around with the public’s perception of him. With Blade Runner (1982), Ford played an emotionally distant cop hunting down replicants in a future dystopia. In Witness (1985), he played a gruff Philadelphia cop who hides out in Amish country when he uncovers corruption in his department. Mosquito Coast (1986) may have been his most challenging role as an inventor who moves his entire family to the jungles of South America and gradually loses his mind.

Finally, he took a stab at comedy with Working Girl (1988) playing a no-nonsense business executive helping a plucky young secretary masquerading as a financial executive broker an ambitious merger deal. Throw in Frantic and you have a pretty diverse collection of films that saw Ford unafraid to play abrasive even sometimes unlikable characters. With Polanski’s film, Ford would be on the director’s turf, thrust in a world of moral ambiguity with a dash of paranoia. It made for a fascinating clash of styles and results in an excellent thriller and something of an under-appreciated work in both men’s filmography.
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By J.D. Lafrance

One of the dangers in adapting a stage play into a film is that you won’t be able to break out of the theatricality inherent with so many plays. Fortunately, film director James Foley seemed to be acutely aware of this when he decided to take on Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), an adaptation of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name with the screenplay written by the man himself.
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