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

American Psycho

By J.D. Lafrance

Every time I watch American Psycho (2000) I wonder why Christian Bale doesn’t do more comedies as he is so funny in this film as Patrick Bateman, a pathologically narcissistic Wall Street Yuppie that may or may not be a serial killer. Whether he’s pontificating about the best moisturizers for his skin or shimmying with reckless abandon to “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News, Bale looks like he’s having a blast playing up the more ridiculous aspects of his character which is in sharp contrast to some of the more depraved acts he indulges in during the course of the film.

Based on the controversial 1991 novel of the same name by Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho was considered unfilmable because of the long, detailed passages devoted to Bateman’s ruminations on the music of Whitney Houston and Phil Collins, punctuated by extremely graphic descriptions of sadistic violence inflicted on women. Anybody taking on this project would have to find a way to translate it in an interesting way without completely turning off audiences while also appeasing the MPAA.

For almost ten years filmmakers like David Cronenberg and Oliver Stone took a crack at adapting the book into a film while actors like Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio expressed interest in playing Bateman. In the end, Mary Harron, director of the critical darling, I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), and Bale got the film made. The end result predictably divided critics and underperformed at the box office, but considering the subject matter this is hardly surprising. American Psycho went on to enjoy a second life on home video where it developed a cult following.

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Shattered Glass

By J.D. Lafrance

For awhile The New Republic magazine had the reputation of being part of an elite class of periodical with an impeachable reputation. It boasted being the in-flight magazine of Air Force One. For a short time, its most popular contributor was Stephen Glass, a young, up-and-coming writer who wrote dynamic articles and was being courted by other well-known periodicals like George and Rolling Stone. However, an online publication discovered that one of his articles was a complete fabrication which forced The New Republic to do its own in-house investigation. When all was said and done, Glass fabricated either completely or partially 27 of the 41 pieces he wrote for the magazine. Screenwriter Billy Ray decided that Glass’ meteoric rise and fall would be the subject of his directorial debut and the result is Shattered Glass (2003), a fascinating look at contemporary journalistic attitudes and practices.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Che (2008) began as a personal project for actor Benicio del Toro around the time he was making Traffic (2000) with Steven Soderbergh. Originally, he planned on making the film about iconic revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara with Terrence Malick and its focus was to be on the disastrous Bolivian campaign in 1967. Malick eventually dropped out to go off and make The New World (2005). Soderbergh helped out Del Toro by agreeing to direct and in the process expanded the film’s scope by depicting Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution as a way of explaining his motivations for going to Bolivia.

Amazingly, Soderbergh raised the $58 million budget entirely outside of North America which allowed him much more creative freedom. The result was a four and half hour epic that refused to champion or demonize Che and instead opted to objectively depict his rise in Cuba and his fall in Bolivia. This approach ultimately doomed Che’s chances in North America where, despite breaking the film up into two more digestible parts, it received limited distribution. Predictably, it divided critics and was criminally ignored by all of the major award ceremonies – rather fitting for a film about someone who refused to rest on his laurels, always hungry to get back to the jungle and get back to work.

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The Woman Chaser

By J.D. Lafrance

Based on the classic pulp novel of the same name by Charles Willeford, The Woman Chaser (1999) debuted at the New York Film Festival where it went on to play on the festival circuit before doing rounds at art houses around the United States. The film was anchored by the unlikely casting of sitcom stalwart Patrick Warburton playing a 1950s used car salesman that tries his hand at filmmaking. Unfortunately, the low-budget independent film ran afoul or ownership issues, which resulted in a lack of a home video presence and it disappeared, surfacing occasionally on the Sundance Channel. A few years ago, it resurfaced on digital platforms like Netflix and iTunes but with a lot of its source music (featuring the likes of Les Baxter) replaced but at least this fascinating neo-noir can finally be seen.

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Stripes

By J.D. Lafrance

Watching Stripes (1981) again after all these years makes me nostalgic for the early comedies of the first generation of Saturday Night Live cast members: Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980), Fletch (1984), and so on. They were goofy and silly but they also had an engaging, anarchistic attitude that is so much fun to watch. This is definitely the case with Stripes, a film that pits a “lost and restless generation,” as the film’s main protagonist (Bill Murray) puts it at one point, against rigid authority that is only interested in producing, lean, mean, killing machines, to paraphrase another character. Much of the film’s humor comes from the clash of these two ideologies.

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By J.D. Lafrance

People have been fascinated with the enigma that is the Bermuda Triangle for decades. It is a region marked by the Florida coast and the islands of Bermuda and the Bahamas, a “danger zone that seems to swallow ships and planes,” as a vintage episode of the In Search Of… television show from the 1970s aptly described it. It is an area of 60,000 square miles where many planes and ships have mysteriously vanished over the years. Science has tried to explain the phenomenon but compelling anecdotal information endures and continues interest in it.

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by J.D. Lafrance

Coming early on in his career, The Lineup (1958) is the kind of no-nonsense crime film that director Don Siegel excelled at and, in some ways, anticipated the same approach he took to his remake of The Killers (1964) years later. He wastes no time as The Lineup starts off with an exciting chase as a taxi cab driver tries to get away from a pier full of disembarking passengers with a stolen suitcase, runs over a cop and is shot and killed. Inside the case is a statuette containing $100,000 worth of heroin. The two detectives investigating the case – Lt. Ben Guthrie (Warner Anderson) and Inspector Al Quine (Emile Meyer) – return the case to its owner in the hopes that he’ll lead them to a narcotics ring.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Anticipation was high when it was announced that Oliver Stone would be filming a biopic about the popular rock band the Doors. With Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), he was gaining a reputation for being the premiere chronicler of America in the 1960s so it made sense that he would tackle that decade’s most famous (and infamous) musical acts. The question remained, what kind of approach would Stone take on the material? Many books had been written by journalists, people that knew him and even by members of the band itself, all with their own perspective and opinion on what the Doors meant to them and to popular culture. The world found out what Stone’s take was on March 1, 1991 when The Doors was released to wildly mixed reviews and strong box office. While many critics felt that Val Kilmer delivered an excellent performance as the band’s lead singer Jim Morrison, they felt that the film dwelled too much on his darker aspects and excesses and that Stone played fast and loose with the facts.

One should look at The Doors much like Stone’s subsequent film JFK (1991), as a mythical take on historical figures and events and not as documentary-like authenticity. I find The Doors to be a big, bloated, fascinating mess of a film that reflects the tumultuous times of the ‘60s. Despite the miscasting of a few roles and the rather one-sided view we get of Morrison, Stone’s film is a beautifully-shot acid trip through the ‘60s with some of the best choreographed live concert sequences every recreated on film. Best of all, it brought the Doors’ music back into the mainstream, reminded everyone what a brilliant band they were, and how much they influenced and reflected their times.

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by J.D. Lafrance

In 1969, two important westerns came out examining the end of the Wild West in very different ways. Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch was a blood-soaked elegy to its aging protagonists who found themselves increasingly marginalized in a world that was passing them by. George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid also featured bank robbers finding it increasingly harder to ply their trade albeit in a lighter vein, emphasizing the undeniable chemistry between its two lead actors, Paul Newman and Robert Redford. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Hill helped create a classic buddy action film that would shape and influence the genre for years to come.

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By J.D. Lafrance

By the time he made The Getaway (1972), Steven McQueen was in desperate need of a commercially successful film. His last three were box office flops, especially his last one, Junior Bonner (1972). Incidentally, Sam Peckinpah, who directed both films, was also in a need of a hit and saw this project as a way to show Hollywood that he could make a box-office hit. In doing so, the director once again was forced to compromise his vision for someone else’s – in this case, McQueen who did everything in his power to make The Getaway his ticket back into the elite, A-list club of major Hollywood players.

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