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

By J.D. Lafrance

Prolific crime novelist James Ellroy has only had three of his books adapted into films (Blood on the Moon, L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia) while other novels continue to languish in development hell. On the surface, this is baffling as they are chock full of memorable characters, colorful period dialogue and engrossing mysteries at their heart. Dig deeper and it becomes readily apparent why his novels have largely failed to go into production; they feature large casts of characters, each with their own subplots pivotal to the main story. Additionally, the period dialogue is sometimes raw with racial epitaphs, and his lengthy tomes are quite plot heavy.

Where does a screenwriter begin in tackling one of Ellroy’s novels?

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By J.D. Lafrance

Alexander Payne is part of an exciting wave of filmmakers who grew up during the 1970s and were subsequently influenced by the films from that era. His contemporaries include the likes of Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and David O. Russell to name but a few. And like his fellow filmmakers, Payne eschews the Hollywood trend of placing an emphasis on special effects and trendy actors in favor of character-driven, comedy-drama hybrids populated with character actors like Laura Dern, Matthew Broderick and Kathy Bates.

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By J.D. Lafrance

“Many surfers ride summer and winter, but the ultimate thing for most of us would be to have an endless summer – the warm water and waves without the summer crowds of California.” – Bruce Brown

The Endless Summer (1966) is considered by many surfers and surfing aficionados to be the Citizen Kane (1941) of surfing films. While it certainly wasn’t the first, for its time Bruce Brown’s film was the most ambitious, well-made and popular one of its kind. The Endless Summer not only changed the general public’s view of surfing but it also paved the way for countless films about the sport. However, none of them have quite been able to convey the carefree attitude and sheer joy of surfing like Brown’s film – not even his own sequel, The Endless Summer II (1994) or the film by his son Dana entitled, Step Into Liquid (2003). 

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By J.D. Lafrance

After the success of the Academy Award-winning Terms of Endearment (1983), writer/director James L. Brooks spent a few years researching and writing what is possibly his most personal film to date: Broadcast News (1987). Drawing from his years in television, including a stint at CBS News, he took a spot-on look at the ethics of journalism and filtered it through a love triangle between people who work at a network affiliate T.V. station. In short, Brooks’ film is the Bull Durham (1988) of journalism films – smart, funny, insightful and even poignant in the way it looks at the people who deliver us the news on our T.V. screens every night. In some ways, Broadcast News anticipated the dumbing down of televised news so that now there is a whole generation of people who prefer The Daily Show, satirizing today’s top stories, over watching the real thing on the major networks or CNN.

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By J.D. Lafrance

A great hangout movie is hard to do well. You have to have a cast of memorable characters brought vividly to life by actors with quotable dialogue. All of these elements are crucial because they often distract from the fact that most hangout movies are about nothing and by that I mean they are largely plotless. The godfather of the genre is George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973), which followed a bunch of teenagers driving around in cars and goofing off. It featured a cast of then unknown actors, some of whom would go on to be big-time movie stars (Harrison Ford). It also had a fantastic soundtrack of vintage 1950s rock ‘n’ roll music. This film established a template that many others would follow – most notably Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993) and Superbad (2007).

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by J.D. Lafrance

In anticipation of its release later that year, Esquire magazine ran a substantial piece on Two-Lane Blacktop, boldly proclaiming it to be the best film of 1971. Despite such high praise from a prestigious periodical, the studio refused to promote the film and it was barely released theatrically. Perhaps the studio felt that the minimalist plot and characterization, coupled with the existential vibe, wouldn’t appeal to a mainstream audience. However, over the years Two-Lane Blacktop has developed a small, but loyal following among car enthusiasts who fetishized the 1955 Chevy and 1970 Pontiac GTO featured so prominently that they deserve top billing alongside the lead actors. The film also found an audience with people who dug other nihilistic road movies like Easy Rider (1969) and Vanishing Point (1971).

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by J.D. Lafrance

The popular comic book superhero Captain America had his debut in March 1941 courtesy of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; created as a patriotic symbol in response to the actions of Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the United States’ involvement in World War II. Like any enduring comic book icon, Cap has undergone all kinds of changes over the years, but adapting him for modern movie-going audiences was considered difficult as his beliefs came across as old-fashioned. The dilemma Marvel Studios faced when making Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was how do you make him relevant today? Made early on in the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it and subsequent sequels are among the studio’s best as they managed to make Cap’s personal dilemmas compelling while not losing sight of his place in the larger mosaic of the MCU.

Instead of modernizing the character right away, the filmmakers wisely stayed true to his origin story and made The First Avenger a period movie. These kinds of retro comic book movies rarely do well (case in point: The Shadow and The Phantom) and part of the problem is the talent attached to them. Getting the right director and cast that understand the characters and the worlds they inhabit is crucial. Joe Johnston was wisely hired to direct. Since it was decided that the movie would be set during World War II who better to recapture that old school action/adventure vibe then the man that helmed The Rocketeer (1991) and Hidalgo (2004)? For the pivotal role of Captain America, Chris Evans was cast. He already had experience with superhero movies playing the Human Torch in the awful Fantastic Four movies, but Marvel believed that they could reinvent the public’s perception of him. The question remained, how would such an earnest, idealistic character translate in our cynical times?

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