Such are the totems of the godless world of Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, a season in hell that doubles as a vehicle for Harvey Keitel's blistering tour-de-force as the nameless officer that gives the film its name. Full to bursting with unadulterated drug use, violent sex, and moral decay, it also serves as Ferrara's most unfettered and primal ode to a one-time soulless New York that now looks more like a planet of condos.
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Though it's a wisp of a movie at 83 minutes, Ferrara manages to bore us to tears with the film's dippy story of drug deals gone wrong. The spare dialogue is a place to start: What little the film has is drowned out by annoying music and the rest consists mainly of unbroken strings of swear words, sometimes in English.
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The silly, one-joke story is reason enough to find Whammy (not a movie about Press Your Luck!) so inspiring. Leary plays a cop who, only through some fault of his own, is never able to bust a perp. It starts out in a fast food joint, when a gunman drives through the wall and starts shooting. Leary slips and hits his head, and a little bespectacled kid uses his gun to save the day. Later, his apartment supervisor is killed while he's oblivious in the building. Various quirky characters (like Hurley's masseuse) try to distract you into thinking this movie is actually about something, but the deception never works too well.
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And though Artisan is issuing a two-disc DVD release of the film, don't expect it to find much more of a cult audience 14 years after its original release.
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Ghost Dog studies the early eighteenth century Japanese warrior code from the book, Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai, and the story is told as a sequence of verses from the ancient text. Each morning he bows to the altar he has constructed and practices the ancient disciplines of the samurai training. In the spirit of the ancient warriors, he has pledged his loyalty to a single master, a small-time mobster named Louie (John Tormey - Kiss Me Guido, Jungle 2 Jungle), who saved Ghost Dog's life when he was young. As an assassin, Ghost Dog communicates only via carrier pigeon and moves through the night like a phantom, killing with the skill and speed of a true Samurai.
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Separated into segments with titles like "Brooklyn Attitude," Blue in the Face explores the Brooklyn mystique and the Brooklyn experience with video interviews and impromptu sketches. Everything "Brooklyn" is praised, from Ebbets Field and Jackie Robinson to Belgian Waffles and the sanctity of the local cigar store.
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Gray, recently appearing with The Yards at the Boston Film Festival, based his tale of New York City subway vendor corruption on his own father's experiences. The filmmaker has given us a well-composed script, deftly flowing through intertwining relations of families, friends, enemies, and politicians. He sustains a hopelessly dim design throughout the film, even having the mind to steal wonderfully from a few Godfather scenes (he claims by accident), and lifting Gordon Willis' outstanding cinematography with his DP, Harris Savides (on purpose). Gray's direction gives us an overriding sense of doom that retains suspense far beyond that of a second-time filmmaker (his first being 1994's grim Little Odessa). But all that is nothing without Mark Wahlberg.
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