7 items from 2014
Josh and Benny Safdie’s explosive Heaven Knows What opens with the faces of two young junkies—Harley (Arielle Holmes) and the hooded Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones, wearing long, Tommy Wiseau-like dark hair)—huddled together in the frame. Moments later, Ilya pleads for Harley’s death—“If you love me, you would’ve killed yourself by now,” he tells her—and she attempts to oblige by digging a razor into her left wrist. This is the world of Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic in Needle Park, 40 years later, and part of the shock of the Safdies’ film is that the particulars of its heroin subculture so closely resemble those of Schatzberg’s. In Panic, a gum-chewing Al Pacino swiped a TV set from a parked va »
Living Through Oblivion: Safdie Bros. Lens Devastating Tale of Desperation and Depravity on the Streets of NYC
The story of how the directorial brothers Benny and Joshua Safdie found their muse and star, Arielle Holmes, for their latest feature seems like a shadowy tale from a gritty Craigslist missed connection. After Joshua and their producer Sebastian Bear-McClard spotted her on a subway platform while working undercover for research on an abandoned genre film, they approached her. A subsequent series of no call, no shows seemed like a dead end, but then Holmes reached out, admitting that she’d been homeless, out of touch and had recently attempted to take her own life and was just recently released from the hospital.
Having dropped out of school at 15 to become a homeless heroin junky running the mean streets of New York City, Holmes’s tale of depravity and desperation struck the Safdie’s with a fascinating idea. »
- Jordan M. Smith
In “The Humbling,” one of his two new movies (along with “Manglehorn”) having their North American premieres at the Toronto Film Festival, Al Pacino plays a legendary actor in career freefall. But talk to Pacino for a while about his characters and his craft, and it’s clear that one needn’t harbor any concerns about life imitating art.
When he first read the script for “The Humbling,” which was adapted by Buck Henry and Michael Zebede from the Philip Roth novel, Pacino called the movie’s director, Barry Levinson, and told him he thought the only way to play the role was to find the humor in it. “I can’t help it: it struck me as funny,” Pacino recalls over lunch at Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. “This idea of an actor who’s been doing this his whole life wanting to quit because he’s lost his talent »
- Scott Foundas
Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie play very different unfortunates who find each other on the streets of New York in “Shelter,” the writing-directing debut of Connelly’s actor spouse, Paul Bettany. The latter fares better behind the camera than he does wielding the pen, as his sometimes over-stylized helming nonetheless renders mostly credible a somewhat overloaded screenplay. that could have partaken more of the virtue of simplicity. Home-format prospects look stronger than iffy theatrical ones.
Tahir (Mackie) is a Nigerian immigrant who survives by busking on his plastic-bucket drums. His visa has expired, but he’s not considered a “deportation priority.” Upon release after a minor arrest, he finds all his belongings have been stolen, and he initially follows junkie Hannah (Connelly) because he realizes she’s wearing his purloined jacket. But his gentlemanly behavior persuades her into a wary trust that turns into a kind of mutually beneficial partnership, »
- Dennis Harvey
The times may have changed, but the heroin subculture of New York’s Upper West Side remains largely the same to judge by Josh and Benny Safdie’s “Heaven Knows What,” which revisits much of the territory mapped by director Jerry Schatzberg in 1971’s stark junkies-in-love drama “The Panic in Needle Park,” and finds it occupied by a new generation of addict drifter-dreamers spiraling towards oblivion. Far from a conventional “drug movie,” the Safdies’ third narrative feature tackles more overtly dramatic subject matter than the kleptomania rom-com “The Pleasure of Being Robbed” and the seriocomic family chronicle “Daddy Long Legs,” but with the same sharp sense of anxious characters catching as catch can on the unforgiving city streets. While the film’s unpredictable narrative rhythms and desire to jar audiences from their comfort zones will limit its exposure, “Heaven” feels like a sizable step forward for these scrappy, fiercely independent filmmakers. »
- Scott Foundas
Simon Columb continues our Al Pacino Retrospective with Serpico...
Al Pacino has been a target for many during his career. Serpico begins as full-bearded Frank Serpico (Pacino) is wheeled on a stretcher through bustling corridors, blood over his body, in the same manner as Carlito Brigante in Brian DePalma’s Carlito’s Way. Clearly DePalma owes a debt to Sidney Lumet in this open tribute. It’s an ambiguous start as cop-killin’ ain’t cool on the streets of New York.
But, unlike Brigante’s retiring gangster, Frank Serpico is a cop who’s joined the force with the intention to rid crime from the streets. His morals and idealism lands him in hot water with the New York Police Department as he refuses to join their corrupt, penny-pinching crew. Over time, he builds a ground-breaking court case, dubbed the Knapp Commission. Based on a true story, Serpico is written »
- Gary Collinson
Simon Columb begins our Al Pacino Retrospective with a look at The Panic in Needle Park...
While we read of those trapped in the never-ending cycle of drug-use, it is more tragic and soul-destroying to see the innocent victim pulled into it. In 1971, The Panic in Needle Park captures the story of an artist’s girlfriend Helen (actress Kitty Winn in the central-role), as she falls for heroin-addict and thief Bobby (in Al Pacino’s break-out role), one amongst the dealers and social-ills in New York’s Sherman Square – known as “Needle Park”.
Stark, arresting close-ups of needles pinching the vein and releasing their fluid are common place. The Panic in Needle Park is not a dying exposé on the hippy-culture that was rife in the 1960’s, and could hardly be considered a follow-up to pop-soundtrack drug-fuelled films such as Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy two years prior. Instead, more akin to Trainspotting, »
- Gary Collinson
7 items from 2014
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