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

By J.D. Lafrance

“It’s like seeing someone for the first time. You can be passing on the street and you look at each other and for a few seconds there’s this kind of recognition. Like you both know something, and the next moment the person’s gone. And it’s too late to do anything about it. And you always remember it because it was there and you let it go. And you think to yourself, what if I stopped? What if I said something? What if?” – Jack Foley

This bit of dialogue from Out of Sight (1998) perfectly captures the essence of the relationships between the characters in this film. It is about the what ifs and the what could have beens. What the characters do and, more importantly, what they don’t do that directly determines their fate.

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High Fidelity

By J.D. Lafrance

Have you ever spent hours organizing your record collection in chronological order and by genre? Have you ever had heated debates with your friends about the merits of a band who lost one of its founding members? Or argued about your top five favorite B-sides? If so, chances are you will love High Fidelity (2000), a film for and about characters obsessed with their favorite bands and music. What Free Enterprise (1999) did for film geeks; High Fidelity does for music geeks. Based on the British novel of the same name by Nick Hornby, it is a film made by and for the kind of people who collect vintage vinyl and read musician and band biographies in their spare time yet is still accessible to people who like smart, witty romantic comedies.

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By J.D. Lafrance

After more than twenty years of failed attempts and missed opportunities, Terry Gilliam did what many thought impossible — he transformed Hunter S. Thompson’s classic novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, into the cinematic equivalent of a having sledgehammer whacked across your frontal lobes. The book had finally been fully realized and brought to the big screen in all of its demented glory. The film crashed and burned in theaters, infamously debuting at the Cannes Film Festival where it was roasted by critics, but it has aged very well, attracting a devoted cult film following that quote from its numerous memorable scenes.

Gilliam’s film faithfully adapts journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo’s (Benicio Del Toro) trip to Las Vegas to cover the 1971 Mint 400 motorcycle race for Sports Illustrated magazine. The competition, however, is merely an excuse for the duo to abuse their expense account and indulge in a galaxy of drugs. What was initially a simple journey to cover a motorcycle race mutates into a bizarre search for the American Dream.

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By J.D. Lafrance

In the late 1980s, Michael J. Fox attempted to break out of the typecasted roles he found himself stuck in – light, breezy comedies like Teen Wolf (1985) and The Secret of My Success (1987). He also didn’t want to be known just for his role as the ultra-conservative Alex P. Keaton on the hit television sitcom Family Ties. To this end, he tried his hand at three dramatic departures: the gritty, blue collar Paul Schrader film Light of Day (1987), playing a musician in a bar band; a naive American foot soldier faced with a tough moral dilemma in Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War (1989); and a cocaine-addicted fact checker whose life is falling apart in Bright Lights, Big City (1988). You can argue the merits of each film but clearly the mainstream movie-going public was not interested in seeing Fox’s serious side and all three films failed to set the box office on fire. The critics were just as unforgiving and the films received mixed reactions at best, or outright savaging at worst.

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The Good Shepherd

By J.D. Lafrance

The Good Shepherd (2006) had been a long-gestating project for screenwriter Eric Roth. But then again pitching an epic biopic about the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency with a large cast of characters and a complex plot must have been a tough sell for studios interested in making crowd-pleasing blockbusters and not overly long films about people talking. Originally, Francis Ford Coppola and a score of other filmmakers were going to direct this film at various points with Leonardo DiCaprio starring. Both men dropped out for various reasons with Robert De Niro stepping up to take over directorial duties and Matt Damon as his leading man. The result is an ambitious film that spans three continents and covers the years 1939 to 1961. Critics and audiences were put off by the film’s slow, deliberate pacing and distant approach to the characters but missed the boat on a brilliant film that examines the formative years of the CIA.

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By J.D. Lafrance

When The Warriors came out in 1979 it was a modestly budgeted film made by an up-and-coming director named Walter Hill and featured a then-unknown cast. With its nightmarish vision of New York City, the film certainly wasn’t going to be used in any of the city’s tourism ads extolling the virtues of the metropolis. Like many films from the 1970s, New York is presented as a dirty, dangerous place filled with jaded, cynical people (see Taxi Driver and The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three). The film performed decently at the box office but reports of gang-related violence at a few screenings caused the studio to panic and downplay promotional advertisements. But the film had left its mark and over the years it has quietly cultivated a loyal following thanks mainly to regular screenings on television and the occasional midnight showing at repertory theaters. 

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By J.D. Lafrance

Keith Gordon began acting at a young age, appearing in films by legendary directors like Brian De Palma and John Carpenter but when he found acting in films, like the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School (1986), unfulfilling, he decided to try his hand behind the camera, tackling a series of literary adaptations on modest budgets but managing to entice actors like Nick Nolte and Gary Sinise to appear in his films. In his Senses of Cinema interview with Gordon, Peter Tonguette best sums up the director’s body of work as having: “moral gravity and their aesthetic richness.” Arguably his most successful and sincere film to date is Waking the Dead (2000), a heart-wrenching story about love and loss spanning two decades.

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