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

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by J.D. Lafrance

Hell and High Water (1954) was one of 20th Century Fox’s earliest experiments with CinemaScope, widescreen movies that was Hollywood’s attempt in the 1950s to lure people away from their television sets and back into the theaters by giving them something they couldn’t get staying home. Samuel Fuller did such a good job with this format that he used it again on Forty Guns (1957), a hard-hitting western as only he could make.
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On the Road

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By J.D. Lafrance

For years, Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road had been considered unfilmable. That hasn’t stopped people from trying ever since it was published in 1957 with Kerouac himself sending a letter to Marlon Brando asking the actor to star opposite him in a film version. It isn’t the style or the structure that makes the novel difficult to adapt but rather its iconic status as one of the signature books of the 1950s. Even more daunting is its status as a book that millions of people grew up reading, like The Catcher in the Rye. As a result, it has become a much beloved and cherished book for generations of readers. Anyone attempting to adapt Kerouac’s novel into a film faces the intimidating task of living up to the impossible expectations of legions of fans, not to mention somehow making people forget the equally iconic people the characters are based on – Kerouac and his famous friends, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.
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Mulholland Falls

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By J.D. Lafrance

They say timing is everything and this certainly applies to the release and reception of movies. Case in point: Mulholland Falls (1996). Released a year before the very similar L.A. Confidential (1997), it was also a retro-neo-noir set in 1950s Los Angeles and featured a murder mystery leading to a vast conspiracy. However, Falls was promptly blasted by the critics and quickly disappeared from theaters while Confidential became the toast of critics and received awards from all over the world. So, what went wrong? Falls featured an impressive cast of solid character actors (it had more name actors than Confidential) and a critically acclaimed director with Once Were Warriors’ (1994) Lee Tamahori. Confidential had one name lead actor (Kevin Spacey) and two unknown Australian thespians with director Curtis Hanson who had only done adequate B-movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and The River Wild (1994). Now that a few years have passed, Mulholland Falls has aged surprisingly well.
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The Nickel Ride

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By J.D. Lafrance

I sometimes wonder while watching a heist film, what happens to the loot from a big score? Where is it stored? The Nickel Ride (1974) answers these questions by focusing on a man in charge of a set of Los Angeles warehouses that store the loot. It is a crime film you might not have heard of as it doesn’t have the pedigree of something like The Getaway (1972), which was directed by Sam Peckinpah and starred Steve McQueen. Instead, this film was directed by veteran journeyman Robert Mulligan (To Kill A Mockingbird) and starred Jason Miller, fresh from the critical and commercial success of The Exorcist (1973). Despite being nominated for the Palme d’Or, The Nickel Ride wasn’t well-received and quickly disappeared into obscurity, which is a shame because it deserves to be as highly regarded as other films of its ilk.
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Martin Ritt’s Hud

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By J.D. Lafrance

It has been said that Paul Newman was a character actor trapped in the body of a movie star. He had matinee idol good looks but was unafraid to tackle challenging roles in films like The Hustler (1961), Slap Shot (1977), and Road to Perdition (2002), but perhaps his riskiest role was that of the titular character in Hud (1963). Based on Larry McMurtry’s 1961 novel Horseman, Pass By, it depicts the conflict between an aging cattle rancher and his arrogant son with the nephew torn between his admiration for the former and his fascination with the latter. The film is a revisionist western, depicting a way of life that was becoming increasingly marginalized. Hud was a critical and commercial success while also being nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning three of them. It is also one of Newman’s signature roles and is a powerful example of his fearlessness as an actor.
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By J.D. Lafrance

The Stranger (1946) is generally regarded by Orson Welles aficionados as a standard thriller done for money, and to prove to studio executives that he could work within the system (it had been four years since his last directorial effort). He even said as much in interviews, and criticized the studio for cutting approximately thirty minutes from the beginning of the film that he wrote himself. Admittedly, it is not in the same league as, say, Touch of Evil (1958), but the film does have its merits. The Stranger is a tightly plotted and well-acted thriller that bears his unique stamp, in spite of it being a director-for-hire project.
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Strange Days

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By J.D. Lafrance

Mainstream popular culture’s flirtation with the Cyberpunk genre reached its cinematic zenith in 1995 with Johnny MnemonicJudge DreddVirtuosityHackers, and Strange Days. They all underperformed at the box office for various reasons and with varying degrees of success managed to convey the aesthetics and themes of the genre. The most satisfying film from the class of ’95 was Strange Days, an action thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron and Jay Cocks. Bigelow had already dabbled in the Cyberpunk genre by directing an episode of the sci-fi television miniseries Wild Palms in 1993. She was clearly testing the waters for what would be a full-on treatment with Strange Days. Anchored by strong performances from Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett, the film explores some fascinating ideas, addresses topical issues and comes closest of any film at that point since Blade Runner (1982) to translating the ideas of Cyberpunk authors like William Gibson onto film despite a disappointing ending.
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