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Scarface (#110 of 10)

Berlinale 2014 20,000 Days on Earth

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Berlinale 2014: 20,000 Days on Earth
Berlinale 2014: 20,000 Days on Earth

20,000 Days on Earth is a highly polished, carefully constructed docu-fiction hybrid about singer-songwriter Nick Cave, an artist who’s all about construction, polish (dig those dapper suits), and self-invention. Directors Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth were previously commissioned by Cave to film 14 short making-of documentaries packaged with the recent reissue of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ discography. So they have, in their way, already made their definitive-ish biographical portrait of Cave, his band, and his music. This is not that.

Instead, 20,000 Days takes the form of an imagined day in the life of Cave, as he drives his luxury car to his therapist, has lunch with bandmate Warren Ellis, heads to an archive loaded with bric-à-brac from his past (a scene that includes a hilariously detailed breakdown on an instance when a German concertgoer urinated on Birthday Party bassist Tracey Pew that plays like a deconstruction scene from JFK), and snacks on pizza while watching Scarface with his twin sons. In between, we’re treated to scenes of Cave working through material for his latest Bad Seeds album, Push the Sky Away, live concert footage, and chats with past collaborators Ray Winstone and Kylie Minogue.

Empathy for a Genius Karina Longworth’s Al Pacino: Anatomy of an Actor

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Empathy for a Genius: Karina Longworth’s Al Pacino: Anatomy of an Actor
Empathy for a Genius: Karina Longworth’s Al Pacino: Anatomy of an Actor

I approached film critic Karina Longworth’s recent book, Al Pacino: Anatomy of an Actor, with a special mixture of anticipation and dread, as the film and theater icon has the distinction of being my first favorite actor. I caught his performances in Dog Day Afternoon and Scarface for the first time on the same random fateful summer night sometime in the third grade, and was subsequently awakened to the notion of acting as a unique and personal art, rather than merely a method of supporting a director’s intentions—whose art form I had discovered the year before. Throughout the years, Pacino has remained one of my favorite actors, and I’ve found that he’s often been misunderstood and underrated by critics eager to plug him into a conveniently tidy rise-and-fall narrative that doesn’t really fit.

Sinful Cinema Disorderlies

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Sinful Cinema: Disorderlies
Sinful Cinema: Disorderlies

You gotta love Ralph Bellamy. In addition to having a reputation as an all-around nice guy and consummate professional, he ended his career on an odd, fascinating note. First, he was the guy who never got the girl in the 1930s. Then, in 1958, he became the quintessential interpreter of FDR on stage and screen. Finally, he ended up one of the few studio-system, Hollywood character actors a teenage Black kid in the ’hood could immediately identify. He showed up in a memorable role as one of the Duke brothers in Trading Places, a role he reprised in Coming to America, and between those two films he appeared in Michael Schultz’s live-action cartoon, Disorderlies. It’s here that Bellamy not only bronzed his ghetto pass but proved that he’s game for working with just about anybody. Disorderlies has both a novelty rap act AND Luke (Anthony Geary) from General Hospital. How can a connoisseur of trash not love this man?

Poster Lab: Spring Breakers

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Poster Lab: <em>Spring Breakers</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Spring Breakers</em>

The marketing behind Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, a trip that’s destined to become the sinful party/crime flick of the year, cheekily promises just what the gonzo film delivers: a neon rollercoaster of constant juxtaposition, where sugar and spice share space with drugs and bullets. Widely known as the movie to dash the goody-ness of tween faves like Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, and Ashley Benson, Spring Breakers is like Rainbow Brite by way Scarface, and you might gather as much from the film’s best poster, a careful assortment of travel items that range from the sweet to the deadly.

Begging you to lean in and look closer, the image, which is right in line with Korine’s strictly-adhered-to color scheme, boasts all the items its quartet of coeds (which also includes Korine’s wife, Rachel) will need for their balls-to-the-wall holiday. Lollipop? Check. Lip gloss? Check. Pink Chucks? Check. Brass kuckles, cocaine vial, condoms, and glocks? All present and accounted for. This is a truly ace one-sheet, fetching from a distance and intricate up close, while also proving evocative and the furthest thing from false advertising.

15 Famous Movie Drug Dealers

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15 Famous Movie Drug Dealers
15 Famous Movie Drug Dealers

In Pusher, which hits theaters this weekend, Briton Richard Coyle stars as a mid-level drug dealer, whose business is booming in London’s underground culture. A remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1990s thriller, the film (which also marks director Luis Prieto’s English-language debut) watches as a drug lord’s life implodes, a process with which filmgoers are quite familiar. Throughout much of cinema history, and especially in recent decades, drug pushers of all walks have graced the screen, providing brief escapes for lost souls and party people. But be them morphine sellers, pot distributors, or even moonshine runners, the party has to stop some time.

Farber/Hawks

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Farber/Hawks
Farber/Hawks

[Editor’s Note: Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday and Scarface play this weekend as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s tribute to Manny Farber. Click here (and on the film titles in the article) for more details.]

The auteurist debate is no longer a matter of dispute; the question critics should be asking is not if a director “writes” the film in cinematic terms, but how. Does he create a film in a way that can be told only through cinema, with many conflicting truths happening simultaneously? Or does he film a script, making a linear collection of words into something visible, connecting the dots with a standardized grammar of cinema that was developed in previous films? In the latter situation, one message is illustrated. However interesting this message may be, this is a waste of cinema. (Print conveys one voice in a linear order much less expensively.)

Manny Farber explained the elevated species of this second scenario more explicitly, under the banner of “masterpiece art” or “white elephant art.”

Double Reflections: Beyond the Shadow of the Double

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Double Reflections: Beyond the Shadow of the Double
Double Reflections: Beyond the Shadow of the Double

The theme of “the double” has exerted a complex and ambiguous fascination throughout the cultural history of the last century. Arguably, every form of contemporary art has been touched by this powerful theme and its many implications. Indeed, the double is more than a theme: it is a basic figuration, an archetype whose flexible structure can express multiple meanings and associations. In a sense, the double is, appropriately, a multi-faceted mental form.

The relationship between the double and the cinema is especially intriguing: we could say that the double, born mainly in literature and poetry, has found in cinema its natural medium of expression. The reasons for that are more structural than aesthetic: in fact, in film the double is often not only a theme or a form, but also a fundamental subtext directly connected to the particular nature of the cinematic experience.

Objects of Appalling Beauty An Appreciation of Brian De Palma

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Objects of Appalling Beauty: An Appreciation of Brian De Palma
Objects of Appalling Beauty: An Appreciation of Brian De Palma

“I’ve lived in empty places all my life. I don’t care where I live or what I look like.”

— Brian De Palma

“Critics—no maybe I should call them “reviewers” instead of critics—are looking for the latest thing rather than the truest thing.”

— Armond White, attempting to explain the critical abandonment of De Palma

In May, 2001, director Brian De Palma was honored with a one-month long retrospective, “The Responsive Eye,” at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. Although De Palma had been taken seriously for decades by international critics, and had cultivated a large domestic audience, reviewers in the United States had been slow to recognize his achievements and progression as an artist. This event was seen by many as a breakthrough.

The Plausibles: The Problems of Make-Believe in the Age of Reason

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The Plausibles: The Problems of Make-Believe in the Age of Reason
The Plausibles: The Problems of Make-Believe in the Age of Reason

Yeah, right.

I’ve heard this a lot lately; I suppose you have too. We may have said it ourselves on occasion. It’s the common phrase uttered by people who believe a piece of fiction has drifted a little too far from reality. Alfred Hitchcock had a name for these people. He called them “the plausibles.”

The Sopranos Recap: Season 6, Episode 13, “Soprano Home Movies”

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<em>The Sopranos</em> Recap: Season 6, Episode 13, “Soprano Home Movies”
<em>The Sopranos</em> Recap: Season 6, Episode 13, “Soprano Home Movies”

“Is this it?” Carmela asks Tony in Sunday’s episode of The Sopranos, after waking up to the sound of cops beating on their front door.

No, it’s not quite “it”—if by “it” you mean the point where Da Family’s bad deeds finally catch up with it. Tony is rich enough to buy a good lawyer, and the charge that prompted his latest arrest is old and weak (possession of a handgun and hollow point ammunition—fallout from the end of Season Five, where Tony fled from the feds’ arrest of Johnny Sack and chucked his piece in the snow, where it was discovered by a dumbass suburban teen). But in another sense, yes, this is “it”—the final stretch for The Sopranos, the series. To answer one Carmela quote with another—from Season Four—“Let me tell you something. Everything comes to an end.”