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Harvey Keitel (#110 of 9)

Cannes Film Festival 2015 Sicario and Youth

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Cannes Film Festival 2015: Sicario and Youth

Lionsgate

Cannes Film Festival 2015: Sicario and Youth

Watching Emily Blunt’s kidnapping specialist Kate Macer be talked into volunteering to assist on some patently shady cross-border operation near the start of Sicario, I was oddly reminded of a similar scene at the start of Aliens, where despite losing her entire crew in the previous installment, floating in space for 57 years, and having her daughter die in the meantime, Ellen Ripley needs only around two minutes of convincing to return to the fray. Macer doesn’t have the best of opening scenes either, which involves her discovering a whole army of corpses hidden in a suburban Arizona home by a drug baron, before a booby trap goes off, injuring her and maiming one of her team. Yet Macer is as ready as her kick-ass antecedent to throw caution and plausibility to the wind, happily donning the mantel of audience surrogate and taking unlikely decision after unlikely decision so we can be led ever further into the supposed intricacies of America’s war on drugs. Unfortunately, director Denis Villeneuve is incapable of putting together the same sort of thrillingly never-ending action sequences as James Cameron, marooning Sicario in the dubious borderland between serious analysis and dumb pleasure.

Summer of ‘88 Fathers and Sons: The Last Temptation of Christ

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Summer of ‘88: Fathers and Sons—The Last Temptation of Christ
Summer of ‘88: Fathers and Sons—The Last Temptation of Christ

I. Spreading the Word

I say this with love: My father is a master of rhetoric. He is a master of rhetoric without, by his own admission, ever having mastered anything to do with rhetoric. I think he’s too hard on himself. His style of argumentation is blunt, yet nimble, as straightforward as a battering ram, yet maddeningly hard to pin down (as another subversive, Ernst Lubitsch, was summed up by the Production Code, “We know what he’s saying, but we can’t figure out how he’s saying it”). He’ll keep hammering the same point over and over again, until you think you’ve got him, whereby he’ll swerve with surprising dexterity. Approaching 80, my father is typically right-of-center on most political and social issues, except when it comes to religion. Stephanie Zacharek’s description of Pauline Kael suits him on one point only: He has no truck with God. Even the renowned theologians of history would have had their hands full with his Columbo-like oratory (“Oh, yeah, just one more question…”). Augustine would have retaken to drink. Pascal would have lost his wager. Erasmus would have turned agnostic.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot Matt Maul’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matt Maul’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Matt Maul’s Top 10 Films of All Time

In compiling my Top 10 film list, I tried to avoid obvious choices based on general consensus. Movies like Modern Times, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Searchers are great, and I respect them for what they are, but I almost never stop what I’m doing to watch them. The list below includes 10 films I must make a pilgrimage to at least once a year.

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2012: Two by Mark Cousins, Boy Eating the Bird’s Food, House with a Turret, & More

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Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2012: Two by Mark Cousins, <em>Boy Eating the Bird’s Food</em>, <em>House with a Turret</em>, & More
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2012: Two by Mark Cousins, <em>Boy Eating the Bird’s Food</em>, <em>House with a Turret</em>, & More

Every year, the lovely spa town of Karlovy Vary—formerly known as Karlsbad—awakens from its long sleep to welcome hundreds of mostly young, backpack-toting film enthusiasts. For me, who’s been coming to the 47-year-old Karlovy Vary International Film Festival for about eight years, the place offers a comforting sense of annual déjà vu. There’s the solid Soviet-style Thermal Hotel where most of the action takes place: terrace meetings, the press room, the video library, and screenings in the five small, rather uncomfortable cinemas. There are also the delicious spreads at the Grandhotel Pupp (pronounced “poop,” a source of hilarity for most newcomers) and plenty of free wine and beer. Once you step out after a two-hour drive from Prague, the vibrant atmosphere hits you. And what you hear is the constant clamorous babble of cinephilic conversations between filmmakers, critics and the public.

15 Famous Movie Vampire Hunters

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15 Famous Movie Vampire Hunters
15 Famous Movie Vampire Hunters

For high-concept, lowbrow thrills, your hot ticket this weekend is surely Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Timor Bekmambetov’s visualization of Seth Grahame-Smith’s why-the-hell-not novel, which reimagines that most benevolent president as a part-time vamp vanquisher. The revisionist actioner may not be bound for the bloodsucker canon, but its lead character proudly continues a surprisingly prevalent filmic trend: that of the hero whose key duty is to pound a proverbial stake through the heart of evil. From Blade to Buffy, we’ve always needed fearless soldiers to battle creatures of the night, and to make sure that the only thing Dracula and company are biting is the dust.

Cannes Film Festival 2012: Moonrise Kingdom

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Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Moonrise Kingdom</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2012: <em>Moonrise Kingdom</em>

Moonrise Kingdom’s opening scenes are vintage Wes Anderson. A series of pans and lateral tracks explores the Bishop household in studied tableaux, each isolated member of the family captured in their native habitat, while on a 45rpm record a disembodied voice guides listeners through the works of Benjamin Britten. Likewise, there’s a narrator (Bob Balaban) to guide us through Anderson’s film, in just one of many recursively referential—and, at times, painfully self-aware—touches. Examples could be further multiplied, but let’s stick with the Britten: Not only does his music recur in the epilogue that effectively bookends the film, but Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludde, itself based on a medieval mystery play (see the Chinese puzzle box pattern emerge?), serves as an objective correlative for the acts of God or nature that dominate the second half. As the recorded voice intones late in the film, “Britten has taken the orchestra apart and now puts it back together again.” Much the same could be said for Anderson’s direction and script work with co-writer Roman Coppola.

15 Famous Bad Movie Cops

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15 Famous Bad Movie Cops
15 Famous Bad Movie Cops

Oren Moverman’s Rampart arrives in select theaters this weekend, adding Woody Harrelson to the pantheon of actors who’ve taken on crooked cop roles, playing officers who uphold the law about as well as a cheerleader holds her liquor. For decades, films have been infiltrated by serve-and-protect types who play both sides, abuse their powers, and leave behind paths of destruction. “The most corrupt cop you’ve ever seen on screen,” reads the tagline on Rampart’s poster. These 15 badge-defilers would beg to differ.

Take Two #6: Bad Lieutenant (1992) & Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

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Take Two #6: <em>Bad Lieutenant</em> (1992) & <em>Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans</em> (2009)
Take Two #6: <em>Bad Lieutenant</em> (1992) & <em>Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans</em> (2009)

[Editor’s Note: Take Two is an occasional series about remakes, reboots, relaunches, ripoffs, and do-overs in every cinematic genre.]

On the one hand: social tragedy, religious despair, wasted humanity, a primal wail, seediness and grime. On the other: pitch-black comedy, atheistic bafflement, an unflattering comparison of mankind to reptiles, a self-righteous cackle, camp and sleaze. And an excuse to work with Nicolas Cage.

I respect the hell out of the original Bad Lieutenant, and would point to it as definitive evidence of Harvey Keitel’s underappreciated greatness. I would also never watch it again. As a portrait of relentless misery and depravity, it has few equals in cinema, but depravity alone doesn’t do it for me anymore. Not that I can’t enjoy a stroll through the lower depths, but I now require that my guides (a) keep me entertained, in the classic sense, and (b) don’t get all religious in the end. Keitel’s a genius, and director Abel Ferrara is the kind of no-bull independent filmmaker that our culture could always use more of. But they don’t meet my criteria.

My Tarantino Problem, and Yours

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My Tarantino Problem, and Yours
My Tarantino Problem, and Yours

1. The Air of Unreality

Keith Uhlich: Here. Read this. It’s from Jorge Luis Borges’ Selected Nonfictions.

Matt Zoller Seitz: All right. (Reading aloud from text:)

“Objections of a more general nature can also be leveled against City Lights. Its lack of reality is comparable only to its equally exasperating lack of unreality. Some movies are true to life: For the Defense, Street of Chance, The Crowd, even The Broadway Melody, and some are willfully unrealistic, such as the highly individualistic films of Frank Borzage, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Eisenstein. Chaplin’s early escapades belong to the second type, undeniably based as they are on depthless photography and accelerated action, as well as on the actors’ fake mustaches, absurd false beards, fright wigs and ominous overcoats. Not attaining such unreality, City Lights remains unconvincing. Except for the luminous blind girl, extraordinary in her beauty, and for Charlie himself, always a rake, always disguised, all the film’s characters are recklessly normal. Its ramshackle plot relies on the disjointed techniques of continuity from 20 years ago. Archaism and anachronism are literary modes too, I know, but to handle them intentionally is different from perpetrating them ineptly. I relinquish my hope, so often unfulfilled, of being wrong.”

Okay!