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

Strange Days

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By J.D. Lafrance

Mainstream popular culture’s flirtation with the Cyberpunk genre reached its cinematic zenith in 1995 with Johnny MnemonicJudge DreddVirtuosityHackers, and Strange Days. They all underperformed at the box office for various reasons and with varying degrees of success managed to convey the aesthetics and themes of the genre. The most satisfying film from the class of ’95 was Strange Days, an action thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron and Jay Cocks. Bigelow had already dabbled in the Cyberpunk genre by directing an episode of the sci-fi television miniseries Wild Palms in 1993. She was clearly testing the waters for what would be a full-on treatment with Strange Days. Anchored by strong performances from Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett, the film explores some fascinating ideas, addresses topical issues and comes closest of any film at that point since Blade Runner (1982) to translating the ideas of Cyberpunk authors like William Gibson onto film despite a disappointing ending.
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By J.D. Lafrance

Tony Scott has had a wildly uneven yet fascinating career that has seen him dabble in art house horror (The Hunger), jingoistic propaganda (Top Gun), and the buddy action film (The Last Boy Scout). He has always lived in the shadow of his older brother, Ridley, who makes epic, prestige films with A-list movie stars. Tony, on the other hand, has a more B-movie sensibility but is able to realize his films with large budgets and marquee names like Kevin Costner, Brad Pitt, and Denzel Washington. The studios like him because of the talent he attracts and his films consistently make money. In the 2000’s, he reinvented the look of his films with Man on Fire (2004) in an attempt to stay relevant with younger audiences with limited attention spans and raised on music videos, but risked alienating fans of his past films. The result was an intensely fractured editing style that propelled action thrillers like Domino (2005) and Déjà Vu (2006). It got to the point where this hyperactive editing began to distract from the narratives of his films. However, with Domino, this approach oddly enough works because the film’s style attempts to approximate its protagonist’s stream of consciousness. After all, she narrates her own story and so most of the film is told from her point-of-view.
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By J.D. Lafrance

Oliver Stone’s film, Nixon (1995) portrays the American political process as an unpredictable system that politicians have no hope of ever fully controlling. The best they can do is keep it in check most of the time. This theory can be seen in its embryonic stage in JFK (1991) with President John F. Kennedy being assassinated by shadowy forces within the political system, but it was not until Nixon that Stone was able to fully articulate it. As film critic Gavin Smith observed, “Nixon is a historical drama about the constructing and recording of history, assembled as we watch.” Stone has created a unique version of the historical biopic that combines fact and speculation with a cinematic style that blends various film stocks in a seamlessly layered, complex narrative. This fractured, overtly stylized approach draws attention to the fact that we are watching a film. As Stone has said in an interview, “I don’t pretend that it is reality.” This, in turn, allows him to deliver his message with absolute clarity.

Like Citizen Kane (1941) before it, Nixon traces the dramatic rise and fall of a historical figure who tried so hard to be loved by all but ended up being infamous and misunderstood. While Orson Welles’ film was a thinly-veiled attack on newspaper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst, Stone paints an almost sympathetic portrayal of Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins). Stone may not like Nixon personally, but he does try to explore what motivated the man’s actions and really get inside his head. The director even throws in a stylistic nod to Kane as part of the opening credits play over a shot of a dark and stormy night at the White House. The camera moves through the fence in a way that evokes the opening of Welles’ film with Kane’s imposing estate. And like Welles’ film, Nixon employs a flashback device as Nixon listens to the Watergate tapes and reflects on his life, from his tough childhood in Whittier, California, to his beleaguered political career that culminates with his tumultuous stint in the White House.
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by J.D. Lafrance

In 1989, up-and-coming screenwriter Steve Kloves wrote and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys, an engaging and insightful look at two piano-playing brothers working the lounge circuit. The film was a critical hit, but barely made back its modest budget. A few years later, he wrote and directed Flesh and Bone (1993), an under-appreciated neo-noir that also failed to connect with a mainstream audience. Its commercial failure must have hit Kloves hard as he wouldn’t have another screenplay made until Wonder Boys in 2000. Since then, he has been the go-to guy for the Harry Potter franchise, which hopefully has given him enough clout within the industry to write and direct again – it would be a shame if he squandered the promise showed on his first two films.
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The Hitcher

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By J.D. Lafrance

It was the film no one wanted to make. It became the film no one wanted to see. When The Hitcher came out in 1986, it barely made a dent in the box office and what few critics did see the film, hated it for the unrelenting sadism and brutality that occurred with seemingly no rhyme or reason. The film was quickly relegated to home video hell and doomed to obscurity. And then a curious thing happened. The Hitcher gradually began to take on a second life through word of mouth, spawned by the riveting performance of Rutger Hauer, the actor who played the frightening yet charismatic antagonist. The film, much like its villain, is a nasty piece of work that doesn’t care if you like it or not – it just wants to scare the living hell out of you and I would argue that it does so with a refreshing simplicity. The Hitcher doesn’t beg to be psychoanalyzed – it is something to experience in all of its white-knuckled intensity. The film has gone to inspire films like Jeepers Creepers (2001) and The Forsaken (2001) and spawn a vastly inferior sequel and remake.
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By J.D. Lafrance

By 1946, World War II had ended and joy and prosperity returned to the United States. However, a dark cloud hung over Texarkana (a city that resides in both Arkansas and Texas) during the spring of that year as a masked murderer known as the Phantom Killer terrorized the inhabitants of the town, killing five of them and severely wounding three others. These series of murders became known as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders because most of them occurred late at night. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) is an unsettling dramatization of the killer’s reign of terror and the authorities’ attempts to apprehend him. It was written in just-the-facts fashion by Earl E. Smith and directed with gritty, lo-fi style by Charles B. Pierce, both of whom had worked together previously on the cult film The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972).
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By J.D. Lafrance

“The outside world doesn’t want to hear this kind of bullshit. Just keep it locked away. They’ve already managed it for 2000 years.” – Birack

Prince of Darkness (1987) was made after John Carpenter went public with how dissatisfied he was with the studio interference he encountered while working on films like Big Trouble in Little China (1986). He decided to return to his independent filmmaking roots by signing a multi-picture deal with Alive Films. He would get a $3 million budget per film and complete creative freedom. The first result was a creepy horror film and the second installment of an informal “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with The Thing (1982) and concluded with In the Mouth of Madness (1995). Aside from being heavily influenced by legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft, all three films feature a higher, malevolent supernatural force that manipulates human beings against one another in order to bring about the end of the world.
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