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

atpm73-redfordhoffman

By J.D. Lafrance

The 1970s was a fertile time for challenging, politically charged movies. Thanks to Easy Rider (1969) a lot of riskier material was getting made by the major Hollywood studios and, in some cases, they were commenting on the current political climate and being socially conscious. One of the best examples from this decade is All the President’s Men (1976) – the Citizen Kane (1941) of investigative journalism films. It’s the benchmark by which all other films of its genre are compared to, from The China Syndrome (1979) to State of Play (2009) to Spotlight (2015). Its influence can be felt in the films of Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) and David Fincher (Zodiac).

All the President’s Men was immediate and topical, dramatizing Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigation of the Watergate Hotel burglary and the resulting scandal that would rock the White House and forever taint President Richard Nixon’s tenure there, effectively sending him home packing before his term was up. Alan J. Pakula’s film struck a chord with audiences of the day (and continues to do so) and is credited with inspiring future generations of journalists. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the film starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, two of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood at that time. Fortunately, they left their egos at the door to deliver thoughtful and intense performances. These are complemented by Pakula’s no frills direction and Gordon Willis’ moody, atmospheric cinematography.
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By J.D. Lafrance

From early on in his career, Clint Eastwood has been interested in taking the path less traveled when it came to his career, taking on roles and making films that often subverted his Hollywood icon image. In particular, the films he has directed explore the darker side of humanity with topics ranging from stalking (Play Misty for Me), drug addiction (Bird), violence (Unforgiven), and child abuse (Mystic River). White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) is no different. Based loosely on Peter Viertel’s experiences working with legendary film director John Huston on The African Queen (1951), Eastwood plays John Wilson, a filmmaker more interested in hunting down and killing a wild elephant then making his next motion picture. He becomes fixated on this quest and Eastwood uses this story as an opportunity to explore the notion of obsession and how it can consume someone at the expense of everything else in their life.

White Hunter, Black Heart played several prestigious film festivals around the world and was admired by many critics but was never a commercial hit with audiences perhaps expecting an exciting adventure. What they got instead was something more akin to an art film that saw Eastwood yet again subvert the Dirty Harry persona that has defined his career for many years. White Hunter has become something of a forgotten effort in his filmography and considered a minor work but I’ve always felt that it was one of his more interesting pictures.
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theinsider222

By J.D. Lafrance

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the typewriter, Michael Mann brought the crusading journalist back with The Insider (1999), which did for television journalism what All the President’s Men (1976) did for newspaper reporters. By 1999, with the exception of The Keep (1983) and The Last of the Mohicans (1992), people expected to see a bang, bang, shoot ‘em up, cops and robbers story from him. While Heat (1995) is often regarded as his signature film, The Insider is The One, an ideal fusion of his artistic and commercial sensibilities.

While The Insider certainly has its version of cops and robbers, good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats, Mann subverts his own stereotypes where the good guy and the bad guy are encapsulated in one man who grapples with his soul and makes hard decisions based on what he believes is right. For the first time in his career, Mann presented a vast antagonist and not just a serial killer or a bank robber but instead powerful institutions – a wealthy tobacco company and a major T.V. network. While they are given human faces – the CEO of the company or a high-ranking executive – they are minions of a much greater threat.
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black_stallion

By J.D. Lafrance

The two action/adventure films that made the greatest impression on me as a young boy were The Black Stallion (1979) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). While I’ve seen the latter countless times over the years, I realized recently that I hadn’t seen the former since my parents took me to see it in theaters back in 1979. How could this be? I seem to remember liking it enough that my folks bought me Walter Farley’s 1941 novel of the same name on which it’s based. It wasn’t exactly hard to find on home video or see occasionally on television.

I recently caught up with it and was instantly taken back to when I first saw it as a child. I was also able to appreciate its artistry more now as an adult. The Black Stallion is beautifully shot – it’s basically an art house film for children, which is unthinkable in this day and age of noisy CGI animated movies and dumbed-down live-action fare. This is due in large part to the intelligent screenplay – written by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, and William D. Wittliff – and the masterful direction of Carroll Ballard who got an incredibly sensitive performance out of a young boy by the name of Kelly Reno. The film was regarded as a unique anomaly when it came out and continues to be one of the most under-appreciated children’s films.
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By J.D. Lafrance

“I can see why people are asking me about a generation I happen to be a part of, but to me Slacker owes more allegiance to cinema than to a generation.” – Richard Linklater

“It was disturbing to me that an idea or a song could become something so different from what you originally intended. It’s like if a friend took a stupid picture of you at a party on their phone, and the next thing you knew, it was on every billboard.” – Beck on the surprise success of “Loser”

Even though I know they came out years apart, I always associate Beck’s hit song “Loser” with Richard Linklater’s film Slacker (1990). The former came out in 1993 and the latter had its premiere three years prior, but both took their time finding their audience. They also were touted by the media as defining what would be known as Generation X, a term popularized by Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel of the same name, and used to describe people born in the early 1960s to the early 1980s. Also rather interestingly, both Beck and Linklater felt uncomfortable with being heralded as voices of their generation.
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af_0472

By J.D. Lafrance

Anybody that bought Zeppelin I knows that the standout song is “Dazed and Confused,” and that’s great. It’s a masterpiece albeit a little too stifled because it is the studio version. If Almost Famous (2000) is the studio version than “The Bootleg Cut” is the live version of “Dazed and Confused” found on The Song Remains the Same in all of its epic grandeur, taking an already great song and making it live and breathe. Likewise, “The Bootleg Cut” of Almost Famous takes Cameron Crowe’s tribute to classic rock of the 1970s and improves on it by adding over 35 minutes of footage, which allows the world he created and the colorful characters that inhabit it to also live and breathe.

Almost Famous was clearly a labor of love for the filmmaker and his most personal effort to date. It is a fictionalized account of Crowe’s start as a rock music journalist at the age of 15 writing from Creem magazine and then a year later joining the staff of Rolling Stone where he would go on to interview the likes of Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, Neil Young, and many others. Unfortunately, his very personal journey failed to connect with a mainstream audience and despite being lavished with critical praise and awards (including an Oscar for screenwriting), the film flopped at the box office but has gone on to develop a cult following. However, one wonders if Crowe never fully recovered from its commercial failure. Perhaps he ran out of things to say, making two films adapted from pre-existing works (Vanilla Sky and We Bought a Zoo) and an original film, Elizabethtown (2005) that flopped both with critics and audiences. Regardless, Almost Famous will no doubt be regarded as his magnum opus and rightly so.
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6gdubev

by J.D. Lafrance

Hal Ashby directed some of the best films to come out of the 1970s, exploding out of the gates with four motion pictures over five years. They were all quirky comedy-drama hybrids that, in terms of subject matter, couldn’t be more different and yet are united in the sense that they all feature offbeat protagonists. They focus on outsiders that exist on the margins of mainstream society, like the death-obsessed young man who falls in love an unflappable, optimistic septuagenarian in Harold and Maude (1971). In its own way, The Last Detail (1973) is a comedy tinged with drama and one that features marginalized protagonists in the form of two veteran United States Navy petty officers that have to transport a young sailor from Virginia to New Hampshire and end up learning something about themselves and each other along the way.

At the time, Ashby was coming off the commercial and critical failure of Harold and Maude when Jack Nicholson told him about The Last Detail. Then up-and-coming screenwriter Robert Towne had adapted Darryl Ponicsan’s novel of the same name with the actor (they were close friends) in mind. Nicholson was on an incredible run of classic film roles that started with Easy Rider (1969) and continued with two Bob Rafelson films – Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The King of Marvin Gardens (1972). His role in The Last Detail would yet again demonstrate his power and versatility as an actor, resulting in him being crowned Best Actor at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival.
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