Film Review: Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Release Date: May 14th, 1992 (Cannes)
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Zoe Lund, Paul Calderon, Abel Ferrara
Music by: Joe Delia
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Victor Argo, Paul Calderón, Leonard Thomas, Robin Burrows, Frankie Thorn, Victoria Bastel, Paul Hipp, Vincent Laresca

Bad Lt. Productions, Aries Films, LIVE Entertainment, 96 Minutes, 91 Minutes (R-rated)

Review:

“Vampires are lucky, they can feed on others. We gotta eat away at ourselves. We gotta eat our legs to get the energy to walk. We gotta come, so we can go. We gotta suck ourselves off. We gotta eat away at ourselves til there’s nothing left but appetite. We give, and give and give crazy. Cause a gift that makes sense ain’t worth it. Jesus said seventy times seven. No one will ever understand why, why you did it. They’ll just forget about you tomorrow, but you gotta do it.” – Zoe

I’ve heard pretty good things about this movie for years but I had never seen it. Sadly, I was really disappointed with it.

It’s a movie about a shitty, completely unlikable character. While that doesn’t mean that a story has to be bad, the problem is that he’s mostly surrounded by other shitty people and the few good ones are in such miserable situations that there really is no silver lining in this film.

Sure, it reflects the really dark parts about life but it doesn’t leave you with much to care about or anything to hope for. There’s nothing that grabs on to you and you’re just taken on a journey with a total piece of shit in the final days of his pathetic life.

I get it, you’re not supposed to like the guy but just making a movie about an unlikable character isn’t a good story. While he does appear to want to do something positive in regards to the nun who was raped, who isn’t seeking justice, I’m left feeling like he’s not really wanting to do it for her or for justice even. He just wants to take his anger and problems out on scumbags that deserve no mercy for their crime.

Apart from the shitty story and shitty characters, the movie is at least fairly well acted and competently shot.

It looks good, as it captures the grittiness of New York.

However, solid cinematography work can’t save a movie that’s just a turd to begin with.

When comparing this to other crime films of the era, movies like Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco are also full of mostly shitty people. However, those movies found a way to make you care about those crappy humans. They had charisma, charm and there was a suave coolness about them.

In Bad Lieutenant, Harvey Keitel is so unlikable and off-putting that it just broke the movie for me. I usually love Keitel but I sat through this whole movie hoping he’d get killed by the end. So I guess when that moment came, I wasn’t disappointed.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other Abel Ferrara films.

Film Review: Saturn 3 (1980)

Also known as: The Helper (working title), Saturn-City (Germany), Kronos III (Greece)
Release Date: February 15th, 1980
Directed by: Stanley Donen, John Barry (uncredited)
Written by: Martin Amis, John Barry
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel

ITC Entertainment, Associated Film Distribution, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Now tell me. Can you talk? Or are you malfunctioning?” – Benson, “I AM NOT MALFUNCTIONING – YOU ARE” – Hector

This film has three actors and a killer robot. Well two actors, a robot and Farrah Fawcett, who isn’t as robotic as the robot but is clearly overshadowed by the two other actors in this: Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel. Fawcett was the top billed star however, as she was at the absolute height of her career when this came out and she got her boobies out, which was something to behold when I was way too young to see this film for the first time.

I remembered this movie feeling incredibly cheesy and it does have a lot of cheese. However, it is also better than my memory’s recollection of it.

This film is pretty damn dark for looking like it was made on leftover sets from Battlestar Galactica. The robot is creepier than most of the killer robots from the time period. However, the story behind the robot and why it is a killer is more interesting than what similar films did, as he actually has a backstory and you fully understand why he is out for blood.

This film has a lot of narrative layers to it, which was impressive for a 1980 sci-fi film with an obviously small budget. There is some real philosophy in this movie, which was way over my head as a kid.

Harvey Keitel was a great slimeball in this but he wasn’t as disturbing as his role in Taxi Driver. But he did bring some of that darkness into this and he was great as the villainous Benson.

Kirk Douglas was typical Kirk Douglas as the more heroic male character of the two and he just came off as he always does, as a real man’s man.

Fawcett was also pretty impressive when you compare this to her most famous role as one of Charlie’s Angels. She got to be dramatic in this and showed signs that she could perform well beyond just being a TV sex symbol. I wouldn’t say that she ever became great but had her career continued on an upward trajectory, she wouldn’t have been half bad.

Saturn 3 looks fantastical and lighthearted in its style but it is a pretty dark movie with some disturbing undertones to it. It’s definitely worth checking out if you like sci-fi films of its era.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Outland, The Black HoleFlash Gordon (1980), The Last Starfighter, Dune and the original Battlestar Galactica TV series.

Film Review: The Two Jakes (1990)

Release Date: August 10th, 1990
Directed by: Jack Nicholson
Written by: Robert Towne
Music by: Van Dyke Parks
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Eli Wallach, Rubén Blades, Frederic Forrest, David Keith, James Hong, Tracey Walter, Luana Anders, Tom Waits (uncredited), Faye Dunaway (voice)

88 Productions, Paramount Pictures, 138 Minutes

Review:

“I’m used to seein’ the intimate details of people’s lives, but lookin’ at a guy’s x-rays is as intimate as it gets. It’s the kind of thing most guys don’t even tell their wives about.” – Jake Gittes

I have never seen The Two Jakes until recently. I feel like I was psychologically deterred for decades because I remember people bashing it ever since it came out. It is this film’s existence that pointed me towards Chinatown, the film it is a sequel too. Sure, I would’ve eventually discovered Chinatown but I saw trailers for The Two Jakes on the big screen when I was just eleven years-old, so I wasn’t quite up on my knowledge of neo-noir or 1970s crime dramas. I was big on Jack Nicholson, however, as he wowed me a year earlier as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman.

The Two Jakes has been treated unfairly, though. Is it as stellar as Chinatown? Not really but those are massive shoes to fill. However, it is one of the best, if not… the best, neo-noir film of the 1990s. Jack Nicholson directed this sequel and while he isn’t Roman Polanski behind the camera, he still had a great eye and knew what the hell he was doing, putting this second chapter of Jake Gittes life to celluloid.

The cast in this film really makes this thing work. I loved seeing Nicholson play opposite of greats like Harvey Keitel and Eli Wallach. It was cool seeing James Hong come back too. While Faye Dunaway was obviously missing from the film, despite lending her voice to a scene, Madeleine Stowe and Meg Tilly were really good as the two top ladies in the picture. Stowe was a hot drunken maniac in the best way and Tilly was a soft yet strong women with a good presence. David Keith, a guy I have always liked, shows up a few times and gets a real moment to shine alongside Nicholson and Wallach. Rubén Blades steals the show in his scenes and after really loving that guy on Fear the Walking Dead, it was neat seeing him so young, full of vigor and not so dissimilar from his character on that AMC zombie show.

Vilmos Zsigmond handled the cinematography. He was not the cinematographer on the original Chinatown but he had a lot of experience, his most notable credit at the time being Close Encounters of the Third Kind. His management of the film’s visual allure is worth some serious props, as he and Nicholson created a very authentic and lived in 1940s Los Angeles.

I feel that this film actually does rival its predecessor in its cinematography and overall ambiance. The tone isn’t as brooding and sinister as Chinatown but that’s film’s narrative went to some places that brought out that underlying darkness. The Two Jakes isn’t a cold and bleak tale wrapped in beauty and opulence like Chinatown was, but it is a perfect visual and narrative extension of what was established in the first film without copying it. I kind of respect The Two Jakes for being its own thing and not trying to capture lightning in a bottle twice… or at least, in the same way.

Robert Towne, who wrote both of these Jake Gittes pictures and won an Academy Award for Chinatown, had plans for a trilogy. Unfortunately, this film was not the success that Paramount Pictures had hoped for. The third film was cancelled, which is a shame. It was going to bring the story of Jake Gittes to a proper close, as it was to be focused on him later in life.

If you love Chinatown and have never seen The Two Jakes, you probably should. It isn’t as bad as some people have said and its lack of success upon its release was probably more of a reflection of the time and not the overall quality of the film itself.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Release Date: January 21st, 1992 (Sundance)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Chris Penn, Steve Buscemi, Lawrence Tierney, Michael Madsen, Edward Bunker, Quentin Tarantino

Live America Inc., Dog Eat Dog Productions, Miramax Films, 99 Minutes

Review:

“Hey, why am I Mr. Pink?” – Mr. Pink

Every great director has to start somewhere and this is where Quentin Tarantino’s career truly began. This is his origin story and for a first real attempt at creating a full-fledged motion picture, the young director absolutely nailed it and gave the world something exceptional.

The film also has a great ensemble of actors who would go on to do great things, as well as Harvey Keitel, who was already established as a master of his craft, especially in crime pictures.

The bulk of the movie, from a performance standpoint, mostly falls on the shoulders of Keitel and Tim Roth. While Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn and Lawrence Tierney were all perfect, it is the bond between Keitel and Roth that drives the picture and gives it the needed emotional weight and purpose.

The majority of this film takes place in one room. It actually only leaves this room when the actors walk out into its parking lot or during a flashback sequence. It is a very confined film but that works to its advantage and for its building of tension.

Reservoir Dogs also showcases Tarantino’s mastery of dialogue. While I feel that his dialogue tends to get really carried away in his later films and almost ruins them, in this picture he has the perfect balance of great dialogue, pivotal plot developments and overall motion. The conversations may go on for a bit but they are the driving force of the film. But never does it go on too long or go off on drawn out unnecessary tangents that don’t work as well on a second viewing. Every scene says what it needs to say and serves a purpose. The film just moves, flows and keeps you on edge in the right way. It is witty and it is fast in a way that Tarantino’s later pictures aren’t.

Now the film is also surrounded in some minor controversy, as people have gone on to notice that this film seems to borrow quite heavily from the 80s Hong Kong film City On Fire. Ringo Lam’s well-known picture in the Hong Kong crime genre predates Reservoir Dog by five years. It features an undercover cop infiltrating a group of jewel thieves, tension around the fact that no one knows who the cop is, a Mexican standoff finale and a whole laundry list of other similar plot points. Tarantino has casually denied that Reservoir Dogs is a sort of remake of City On Fire but it is hard to deny the myriad of similarities when you have seen both films.

The thing is, even if Tarantino ripped it off to launch his career, the fact remains that he made a much better picture than Ringo Lam’s City On Fire. Also, Reservoir Dogs, despite its inspiration, is very much a Tarantino picture. Also, hasn’t Quentin Tarantino’s entire career just been made up of artistic homages to all the things he thinks are cool? But I guess the thing that bothers people is that he won’t admit he lifted the plot when he very honestly states that Kill Bill was his version of Lady Snowblood or when he just borrows titles from other movies for his films like using Django in the title of Django Unchained or taking Inglorious Bastards and stylizing it Inglourious Basterds.

At the end of the day, I don’t care how Tarantino came to create Reservoir Dogs. It is still very much his and a work of modern cinematic art. It was, by far, one of the greatest debuts of any director in history and it will always be considered one of the greatest indie films of the 1990s.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

Release Date: February 8th, 1976
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd, Joe Spinell, Martin Scorsese

Bill/Phillips, Italo/Judeo Productions, Columbia Pictures, 113 Minutes

taxi_driverReview:

Martin Scorsese is one of my favorite directors. I was thinking about his work and then it dawned on me that I haven’t yet reviewed a Scorsese film for Cinespiria. Since I hadn’t seen Taxi Driver in a really long time, I decided to revisit it.

As great as Robert De Niro is, this is the film I most remember when thinking about his acting prowess. It is hard for me to envision how this film played for theatergoing audiences when it was released almost three years before I was born but when I discovered it as a teenager in the 90s, I was enchanted by De Niro’s Travis Bickle.

Taxi Driver is a film that is incredibly well-acted, and not just by De Niro, but by the entire cast all the way down to the smallest part. Even Scorsese’s small cameo in the film, as a taxi passenger admitting that he is going to kill his wife violently, is so chilling that it made me want to see more of Scorsese as an actor.

Martin Scorsese, as director, created a fabulous work of art and social commentary with Taxi Driver. Despite being modern for the mid 1970s, when it was released, the film doesn’t feel dated or ineffective. The picture is still very compelling and unsettling due to the harsh reality of its subject matter. No matter how many times I see this film, I will never be comfortable with Jodie Foster’s portrayal of a 12 year-old prostitute or Harvey Keitel’s sick obsession with her. But that’s the point, really.

Taxi Driver shows us the worst parts of American society and it deliberately makes us uneasy and angry at the world around us. Travis Bickle is our eyes, ears and an extension of how we feel. His fall into what some may deem is madness, isn’t completely implausible. There are reasons why the Bickle character is considered an anti-hero and why we, the American people, cheer for characters like this. He is a person with some emotional and social issues but isn’t that most people, to some degree? And don’t we accept him because he does what we all wish we could do in similar circumstances? He is a character that encapsulates justice in a world where none seems to exist. He takes the bull by the horns and runs with it.

Granted, I can’t get behind his attempt at assassinating a powerful political figure, which he fails to carry out, mind you. However, I can understand his reasoning, even if he has slipped into the realm of the mad and extreme.

Scorsese created a violent and dark world but it is really a reflection of our culture. He created an instrument of justice that was fitting for that world. The real magic, is looking back at it over 40 years later and seeing how it still reflects aspect of our current society and how it is still a film that works today.

Now there are things I didn’t like about the movie but they don’t detract from the overall package or the legacy of this being one of the greatest American movies ever made.

For one, I wasn’t a fan of the ending. Although, I understand that it shows America’s obsession with celebrity and that Old West mentality that will probably never go away. To be more specific, Bickle survives, he isn’t arrested and he is deemed a hero by the public, despite the violent way he took justice into his own hands. In a way, it seems to reward Bickle for what he did. But I also don’t think that such a situation is implausible.

Any other issue I have is just sort of nitpicky and isn’t that important to the overall experience.

Taxi Driver is a fine film. It is still an effective film. In the sea of great motion pictures that Martin Scorsese has directed, this is in the upper echelon and possibly his greatest.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Release Date: February 6th, 2014 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson

American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Studio Babelsberg, Scott Rudin Productions, TSG Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 100 Minutes

the_grand_budapest_hotelReview:

The Grand Budapest Hotel did the unthinkable, it became the highest rated film on IMDb of Wes Anderson’s career, despite the director making countless classics before it. It cracked the top 200 films of all-time and currently sits at 204 on IMDb’s well-known and highly referenced Top 250 list. That’s pretty impressive considering The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe Royal TenenbaumsRushmoreMoonrise Kingdom and others came out before it.

Let me get into the fantastic cast, which is huge.

In somewhat of a small role, never has F. Murray Abraham been better. That is a big statement to make, as he has been an actor featured in countless films over the last several decades but his ability to pull the filmgoer in, as he did, is a gift bestowed upon very few. This also brought out amazing performances by the rest of the cast, which isn’t just a who’s who of those cemented in Wes Anderson lore, it is a who’s who of Hollywood’s most talented crop.

You get Bill Murray in a small but amusing role, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe in an amazing sequence, Adrien Brody as a fantastic asshole, not to mention Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mathieu Amalric and Tom Wilkinson.

The bulk of the acting duties are split between the pair of the spectacular Ralph Fiennes and his perfect sidekick Tony Revolori. Saoirse Ronan, who is becoming a favorite of mine, was near perfection as the apple of the young Revolori’s eye. Léa Seydoux also shows up and she is alluring as ever, even as a maid in the hotel.

As a director, Wes Anderson never disappoints, at least in my experiences with his work. This was another gem to add to his seemingly flawless resume but going beyond that, one could argue that this was Anderson’s magnum opus. The high accolades and ratings for this film probably reflect that.

With this picture, Anderson broke his own mold and took some chances that he never has before, which paid off tremendously. For instance, there was a level of violence in this film that one wouldn’t expect from him. Yet, such changes in Anderson’s narrative tone were only enhanced by his crisp and colorful style, thus bringing a new layer to his methodical visual technique that added some depth to his artistic repertoire.

Wes Anderson found a way to reinvent himself and still stay true to his craft and style, giving his few critics something new to chew on and dissect that should thwart the naysayers who relish in the countless parodies of Anderson’s work.

Not to say that I don’t enjoy the parodies myself but Anderson proved that his quirkiness and visual approach aren’t predictable and mundane but that they work exceptionally well and are still presented in new ways: refreshing and enjoyable as the first time one experienced his style. For a filmmaker with such a specific visual aesthetic, such a feat is unheard of after having this much longevity.

Rating: 8.5/10