Tag: Harvey Keitel

MOVIE REVIEW | Youth (2015)

Youth 1
You say that emotions are overrated. But that’s bullshit. Emotions are all we’ve got.

There’s a fairly common Oscar and award season narrative for older actors.  It doesn’t happen every year, but it’s semi regular.  An older actor, who has been liked or loved for many, many years, takes on a role that’s all about coming to terms with aging.  In an industry where people try to cling to youth for as long as possible, when an actor decides to embrace their age in anything half decent with a little sadness and contemplation, awards attention floods in.  This year, the actor is Michael Caine, and the movie is Youth.

For the 20th year in a row, retired music composer Fred Ballinger (Caine) is holidaying at the same resort in Switzerland. His routine of various forms of massage and soaking on the pool is interrupted when a representative of Buckingham Palace arrives.  Queen Elizabeth would like Fred to conduct a performance of his most famous piece of music at Prince Philip’s birthday.  Fred declines for personal reasons and the signs of his deep and long depression over his absent wife begin to show. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #52. Taxi Driver (1976)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.


“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

Martin Scorsese has a real knack for bringing iconic characters to the screen.  Joe Pesci’s benefitted from this more than once, Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio have several each under their belts, and there are notable one offs like Ray Liotta and Willam Dafoe.  But one man is responsible for more memorable Scorsese characters than anyone else.  Robert De Niro steals Mean Streets from Harvey Keitel, he won the Oscar for Raging Bull and is one of the most bizarrely sympathetic, terrifying, and goofy characters ever committed to film in The King of Comedy.  But above all of those, one De Niro role in a Scorsese movie reigns supreme; Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.

Plagued by headaches and insomnia, Travis Bickle (De Niro) takes a job working 12 hour shifts, six days a week, driving a cab. This is 70s New York at its dirtiest, seediest and most dangerous, and Bickle is one of the few drivers who’ll go to any neighbourhood and pick up any kind of passenger.  The people and places he sees fuel monologues about the filth of the city needing to be washed away.  But he does see the odd bright spot, including Cybill Shepherd as Betsy. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #94. Pulp Fiction (1994)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
True Romance was an amazing debut from a new screenwriter who introduced a new style of wordy, pop culture obsessed dialogue and story telling that was as inspired by high brow, classic cinema, as it was by 70s schlock, as it was by modern day blockbusters. Reservoir Dogs showed that the writer of True Romance had a visual style to back up the words on his pages. But as amazing as that one-two punch introduction was, Quentin Tarantino didn’t declare himself as Hollywood’s newest, loudest, most stylistic voice, until Pulp Fiction.

Fresh off the plane from Amsterdam, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) is on his way to conduct some gangster style business with Jules (Samuel L Jackson). Retrieving a briefcase from some young criminals for their boss Marsellus (Michael Clarke Duncan), Jules and Vincent end up with a headless dead body in the backseat of their car.

But Vincent has a bigger problem. He has to entertain Marsellus’ wife while his boss is out of town. With a fresh story of a man being thrown out of a window due to the jealousy of Marsellus, Vincent approaches the night with some trepidation. When he meets the wife, Uma Thurman as Mia, there’s an instant chemistry between the two that leads to $5 milkshakes and a late night overdose.

Meanwhile, boxer Butch (Bruce Willis) is being paid by Marcellus to throw a fight. A deal he breaks in the hopes of making one big score by betting on himself, before leaving town to start fresh. Once again, Vince is dragged into the situation, once again, things don’t go so well.

Pulp fiction is a movie that I always think is great, but not the mind blower its reputation would have you believe. Then every four or five years I watch it again, and wonder why I never give it the credit it deserves as a mind blower. Even 20 years later, the dialogue is as sharp and kinetic as ever. For a movie so reliant on references and pop culture allusions, I can’t believe how effectively Pulp Fiction refuses to seem dated.

Visually, Tarantino set a new standard that was copied incessantly for a lot of years after, that almost no one could ever emulate in any effective way. And again, I was surprised about how well it holds up. Actually, ‘holds up’ doesn’t do the look of Pulp Fiction justice. Usually when something this ground breaking happens, the unavoidable cheap imitations take some of the shine of the original. Here, it made me appreciate Tarantino’s eye even more.

I like the Tarantino movies that have come since Pulp Fiction (except Death Proof, possibly the biggest wast of movie watching time in my life), but I sometimes think the style is hiding a little lack of substance. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained are great looking, well written, expertly acted movies, but they seem like movies that know they’re movies. With Pulp Fiction, Tarantino made this amazingly hyper world, but the people living in it seem like real people, really living in it. In a few months, I’ll probably start to think it’s a little over rated again, but right now, I’m already looking forward to that next viewing in four or five years when it blows me away all over again.

Pulp Fiction
Directed By – Quentin Tarantino
Written By – Quentin Tarantino, Roger Avary

Academy Awards
Best Picture (nominated, lost to Forrest Gump)
Best Director (Tarantino nominated, lost to Robert Zemeckis for Forrest Gump)
Best Actor (Travolta nominated, lost to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump)
Best Supporting Actor (Jackson nominated, lost to Martin Landau for Ed Wood)
Best Supporting Actress (Thurman nominated, lost to Dianne Wiest for Bullets Over Broadway)
Best Original Screenplay – Tarantino and Avery  

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Scorsese: Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967)

Mean Streets gets all the love as Scorsese’s first proper movie.  Sure, it sets up a lot of the themes and film making flourishes that would go on to be the traits most associated with his career, but before Mean Streets, there was a pretty fun and better than it had any right to be exploitation picture, Boxcar Bertha.  And before Boxcar Bertha was Scorsese’s true debut as a feature film maker, Who’s That Knocking at My Door.

It’s also the first film by a jarringly baby faced Harvey Keitel as JR, a New York neighbourhood guy who meets and falls in love with a local neighbourhood girl played by Zina Bethune.  He decides she’s the one and that he wants to settle down and get married.  Until he learns a secret from her past that he can’t live with.  That is basically the plot of Who’s That Knocking at My Door, and I use the word ‘plot’ very loosely.

This is by far the most experimental, artsy movie by Scorsese, with a very loose narrative strung together by a series of stand alone scenes and vignettes.  It also has a drawn out feel that could put down to either a young film maker indulging in all their worst art house pretentions, or a young film maker desperate to get their short film to feature length and using as much slow motion and as many musical montages as possible to get there.  And some of the rambling conversations make me think Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarrentino might all be fans of Who’s That Knocking at My Door too.

None of that is say that I didn’t like Who’s That Knocking at My Door, because I really did.  But watching it 45 years later, with the hindsight of his amazing career since then, it’s hard not to look past Scorsese’s rough edges in places.  But for every rough edge he thankfully lost in later years, you see several that have gone on to become some of his greatest, most defining traits as a director.

A great soundtrack of current (at the time) pop songs, a kind of street language and street life that just seems so much more real than other movies, an obsession with the minutiae of his character’s life where even the most mundane activity somehow becomes fascinating.  You can see it all there, Scorsese just hadn’t quite figured out how to best present it yet.

The same can be said for Keitel’s performance.  A little awkward and stagey at times, you can still see the potential for him to become the amazing actor he would be just a few years later.  I know every one misses the days of Scorsese teaming up with Robert DeNiro, but when I think about this and Mean Streets and Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ, I miss the days of Scorsese teaming up with Keitel.  They really did some amazing work together.

At first I started watching Who’s That Knocking at My Door as a bit of a curiosity.  A student film level collection of student film level conceits from the man who would go on to be possibly the greatest film maker of all time.  But as it went on, I did find myself really getting into the characters and the world.

Who’s that Knocking at My Door
Directed By – Martin Scorsese
Written By – Martin Scorsese