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

by J.D. Lafrance

When Tim Robbins’ mockumentary Bob Roberts was released in 1992 it was regarded as topical biting political satire, taking jabs at both Democrats and Republicans as well as the media that covers them. The film’s titular character was a hilariously creepy mash-up of Bob Dylan and Gordon Gekko, one that seemed like an extreme character carefully crafted by Robbins to comment on the political climate at the time. George Bush was on his way out of the Presidency making way for Bill Clinton and so Bob Roberts acted as kind of a transition between them.

In retrospect, Robbins was trying to warn us. America has elected a real-life Bob Roberts in the form of billionaire tycoon Donald Trump. Both men are polarizing figures appealing to disenfranchised white people on a grass roots level that is as fascinating to watch as it is more than a little scary as they tap into an ugly xenophobic streak that lurks in the heart of the country. As a result, Robbins’ film has gradually morphed from mockumentary into documentary.

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by J.D. Lafrance

“You have to be fearless about it, you can’t go, Oh gee, am I gonna come off too this or too that? Don’t make the movie then, don’t do that subject if that’s what you’re afraid of, play a lovable teddy bear.” – Albert Brooks

Albert Brooks has always been a fearless performer unafraid to play characters that are unattractive (Taxi Driver) or arrogant (Broadcast News). In the films he wrote and directed, Brooks helped pioneer the uncomfortable comedy, which featured characters stumbling into awkward situations and off-kilter comic pacing that often involved stretches with no jokes that cleverly built-up to a punchline or joke that wasn’t always blatantly telegraphed. One can see this influence in the comedy of Garry Shandling, Ricky Gervais and Louis C.K. among others.

One of Brooks’ best films is Modern Romance (1981), a funny, wryly observed comedy about love featuring the comedian as a neurotic guy repeatedly breaking up and getting back together with his girlfriend played by Kathryn Harrold. The film famously did not test well with audiences back in the day and when he refused to make any changes the powers that be released it with little fanfare only for it to promptly die on the vine. He subsequently sunk into a deep funk only to be rescued by none other than Stanley Kubrick who told him how much he admired the film.

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Michael Mann's Heat

By J.D. Lafrance

“Don’t keep anything in your life you’re not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” – Neil McCauley

“All I am is what I’m going after.” – Vincent Hanna

For his entire career Michael Mann has been obsessed with cops and criminals and the place where their lives intersect. He began to explore it in earnest with Thief (1981) by putting an emphasis on the criminal element. With Manhunter (1986), he shifted the focus to the law enforcement side. Fifteen years in the making, Heat (1996) was an epic culmination of his fascination with both sides of the law. In some respects, the film took the obsessive profiler from Manhunter and put him up against the no-nonsense expert safecracker from Thief while also examining how their cat and mouse game, through the streets of Los Angeles, affected those around them.

Mann parlayed the commercial and critical success of The Last of the Mohicans (1992) to cast two of the most well-respected American actors – Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – as the crook and the cop respectively, ramping up anticipation as it would be the first time these acting heavyweights would to appear together on-screen. They did not disappoint, delivering iconic performances as two driven men at the pinnacle of their professions, respecting each other’s skill but also acutely aware that if it came down to it one of them would probably die at the hands of the other.

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Cutter's Way

by J.D. Lafrance

One rainy night Richard Bone’s (Jeff Bridges) car breaks down in an alleyway. He spots a large, mysterious car in the distance. A man dumps something into a garbage can. At first, Bone thinks nothing of it and proceeds to meet his best friend, Alex Cutter (John Heard) at a nearby bar. Cutter, a Vietnam veteran who lost an eye, arm, and leg in the war, is an embittered shell of a man who lacks direction in his life. Bone is also stuck in a rut, selling boats for a mutual friend and hustling rich, beautiful women. He often stays at Cutter’s house and is attracted to his friend’s long suffering wife, Mo (Lisa Eichhorn). Insulating herself from a mundane existence with marijuana and alcohol, she is the only woman to have resisted Bone’s charms.

The next day, a young girl is found brutally murdered in the same alleyway where Bone abandoned his car. He becomes a suspect. When Bone spots the man he thinks is the murderer in a parade later that day – the very wealthy local tycoon J.J. Court (Stephen Elliot) – Cutter begins to take an interest in the mystery that unfolds. His interest soon becomes an obsessive conspiracy theory that develops into a troublesome investigation with his skeptical friend and the dead girl’s sister (Ann Dusenberry) along for the ride. Welcome to the world of Cutter’s Way (1981).

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By J.D. Lafrance

By 1990, David Lynch was at the peak of his popularity and enjoying the most productive period of his career. His television show Twin Peaks had captivated American audiences and he was directing a number of commercials and performance art pieces (Industrial Symphony No. 1). This all culminated with Wild at Heart (1990), an adaptation of Barry Gifford’s novel, which went on to win the coveted Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. It also helped establish Lynch as America’s premiere cinematic surrealist. At its core, the film is a touching love story between two people whose love for each other remains constant despite all of the obstacles that life throws at them, including an overly-protective mother, a dentally-challenged psychopath, and a grizzled rocket scientist. This film is, oddly enough, Lynch at his most romantic, a rock ‘n’ roll opera with vibrant, fiery imagery.

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By J.D. Lafrance

The early 1990s marked the emergence of two independent filmmakers who were seen as possible heirs to Woody Allen’s cinematic legacy: Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming) and Whit Stillman. The latter filmmaker, in particular, has often been cited in the same breath as Allen’s films. They both mine the same social strata — affluent, Upper East Side New Yorkers — for comedy. Stillman’s debut, Metropolitan (1990), is his most Allen-esque, right down to the simple opening credits sequence (using a font similar to the one Allen does in his films) accompanied by jazz music. Stillman’s characters, like Allen’s, also speak witty dialogue loaded with literary references. However, this is where the similarities begin and end. In Allen’s films, he presents upper class characters that are narcissistic and self-absorbed while Stillman tends to gently parody these qualities.

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By J.D. Lafrance

In a prolific and diverse career, some of Sidney Lumet’s best films dealt with police corruption. It was a theme that the filmmaker was drawn to as far back as the 1970s with Serpico (1973) and would revisit regularly in the 1980s with Prince of the City (1981) and the 1990s with Q & A (1990). It was towards the end of the latter decade that he made Night Falls on Manhattan (1997), an adaptation of Robert Daley’s novel Tainted Evidence about a newly elected district attorney’s attempt to battle corruption within the New York Police Department. The film wasn’t given a particularly wide release and performed modestly at the box office with mixed reviews. Perhaps it was felt that Lumet’s film was nothing more than an expensive, feature-length episode of Law and Order, which is unfortunately because it delves into the personal and professional dilemmas of its characters in a much deeper way than that television show.

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