Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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

North Dallas Forty

By J.D. Lafrance

There are few sports movies that rise above the tried and true conventions of the genre. For every Bull Durham (1988) that gets it right, there are a hundred ones like The Scout (1994). The 1970s was a particularly strong decade for sports movies with the likes of The Bad News Bears (1976) and Slap Shot (1977) offering gritty, funny takes on baseball and hockey respectively. These films dug a little deeper and were unafraid to present a cynical and irreverent look at sports, offering unfiltered insight inside the locker room. More so than these two sports, American football was scrutinized and satirized with comedies like The Longest Yard (1974) and Semi-Tough (1977).

It was North Dallas Forty (1979), however, that stirred up a fair amount of controversy with its highly critical look at the professional game. Adapted from Peter Gent’s novel of the same name, the film focused on the hard-partying and hard-playing team known as the North Dallas Bulls, based on the Dallas Cowboys. Gent had played for them for five seasons and then wrote a fictionalized account about his experiences. His uncompromising take on the physical punishment players endured on the field and the toll that the mind games of the coaches took on them in the locker room was authentically conveyed in director Ted Kotcheff’s film. So much so that upon its release there were accusations that the NFL blackballed some of the players that appeared in the film.

(more…)
Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Tim Hunter’s Tex

By J.D. Lafrance

In the early 1980s, Disney struggled to become relevant and in the process decided to gamble on several live-action films that weren’t the kinds of projects the Mouse House were known for making, chief among them Tex (1982), Tron (1982), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983). Tex was an adaptation of the popular S.E. Hinton novel of the same name. Her first four Young Adult novels (The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and That Was Then This Now were the others) were all set in and around Tulsa and struck a chord with young people as they refused to talk down to their intended audience. They also dealt with the class conflict between rich and poor kids in a way that not many other authors were doing at the time.

Her novels featured worlds inhabited mostly by teenagers with an emphasis on the intense friendships between them as well as the friction between siblings in an unflinchingly honest way. At first, Disney picking up the option for Tex seemed like an odd move as the book took a frank look at two brothers trying to stay together with very little money and each one heading off in different directions. However, it did fit in with the current regime’s desire to think outside the box and the end result was a smartly written, well-acted slice-of-life tale of regular folks just trying to get by.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By J.D. Lafrance

Allan Moyle and John Hughes both make escapist teen movies that feature fantasy stories populated by easily relatable characters that exist in an idealized world. The teenagers that inhabit their respective films are ones that are beautiful, funny and smart – in other words, what teens would like to be and not always what they really are. The crucial difference between the two filmmakers is that the characters in Moyle’s films are more flawed and fucked-up. There’s Nicky and Pamela – two runaways from a mental hospital in Times Square (1980); there’s the socially awkward and painfully shy Mark in Pump Up the Volume (1990); and finally, the suicidal Deb in Empire Records (1995). It is these last two films that are Moyle’s most well-known thanks to the casts of young, soon-to-be-successful actors and soundtracks featuring amazing collections of alternative rock music that were popular at the time.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By J.D. Lafrance

Ever since his directorial debut with Reservoir Dogs (1992), Quentin Tarantino has made a point of casting actors that were successful but whose marketability has waned over time only to be marginalized by Hollywood. Once leading men, they became character actors or starred in B-movies. He doesn’t care about what’s trendy and has sought out these forgotten actors with the belief that they can be great again if given the right material – think of John Travolta in Pulp Fiction (1994) or Robert Forster in Jackie Brown (1997) or David Carradine in the Kill Bill films. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) is the culmination of Tarantino’s fascination with these kinds of actors as its two protagonists are an actor and his stunt double who have been pushed to the margins with one trying to get back into Hollywood’s good graces while the other has made peace with his lot in life. The irony is that Tarantino has cast two of the biggest movie stars in the world in these roles – Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. The relationship between these two characters lies at the heart of the film – a sprawling, yet intimate epic set in Los Angeles at the end of the 1960s with multiple storylines whose end result is a love letter to that time and place.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By J.D. Lafrance

A lot was riding on Mission: Impossible (1996) for Tom Cruise. Not only was it the first film he produced (in addition to starring), it was also his first attempt to kick start his own film franchise. What better way to do this than resurrecting a classic television show from the 1960s? Cruise, always the calculated risk taker, wisely surrounded himself with talented people: Robert Towne (among others) co-wrote the screenplay, Brian De Palma directing and the likes of Jon Voight, Jean Reno, and Vanessa Redgrave in the cast. At the time, the James Bond franchise was in a transitional period and didn’t produce a new film until the following year. Despite a well-publicized troubled production, rife with clashing egos, Mission: Impossible was a huge box office success spawning a franchise that continues to produce installments.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

By J.D. Lafrance

When Jim McBride’s Breathless (1983), a fast and loose remake of Jean-Luc Godard’s French New Wave Classic A bout de souffle (1960), was released in theaters, it infuriated cineastes and film critics who couldn’t believe that the filmmaker had the audacity to remake such a highly regarded film with the likes of hunky actor Richard Gere and then-unknown actress Valerie Kaprisky, making her American debut. They couldn’t wrap their collective heads around McBride’s stylish reimaging of Godard’s film, updating it for the 1980s complete with ample nudity, numerous comic book references, and a rockabilly-heavy soundtrack that is as bold a cinematic statement today as it was back then.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

One of the marks of a true auteur is someone that can take a director-for-hire job and make it their own. They are able to take a project that originated from a major studio and infuse it with their own personal style. Sometimes this works (The Untouchables) and sometimes it doesn’t (The Cotton Club). The 1990s was the decade of John Grisham movie adaptations. He was a criminal lawyer that began writing very popular crime fiction several of which were made into successful movies by esteemed filmmakers like Sydney Pollack (The Firm), Alan J. Pakula (The Pelican Brief) and Francis Ford Coppola (The Rainmaker). These directors were very prominent during the 1970s and began to fall out of favor with the studios during the 1980s. They took these paycheck gigs as a way to stay relevant in mainstream popular culture while also hoping to parlay their potential success into financing more personal projects.

Along came Robert Altman towards the end of the ‘90s who decided to try his hand with The Gingerbread Man (1998), based on an original story that Grisham himself adapted into a screenplay. Never one to follow a script too closely, Altman heavily reworked it and created his own unique spin on the material. When an audience test screening went badly, the studio went in and re-edited the film against Altman’s wishes and their version tested even worse. They finally agreed to release his version and promptly buried it thus ensuring that it would not do well at the box office. While certainly not Altman’s finest work, it is a curious cinematic oddity full of fascinating quirks that help it stand apart from other Grisham cinematic adaptations.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »