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Films from the stacks

This week’s films articulate the best case scenario when you have rows to browse. There are always a number of titles I’m familiar with but I try to remove my safety net and dive into the abyss. Here is what I found:

Panic In Needle Park (1971) Dir: Jerry Schatzberg

A baby faced Al Pacino gives a glimpse of what is to come in Panic in Needle Park, where he plays a fast talking heroin addict in 1970s New York. The peace, love and happiness of the 60s has long been abandoned and addiction has become the ugly reality. Pacino is secondary to Kitty Winn, playing a women whose first drug is dependency and who finds solace with Pacino. Far from the nightmarish hell inside the minds of addicts in Requiem For A Dream, Panic In Needle Park grounds itself in the present, giving space for the actors to inhabit the claustrophobia of their addiction. A sad, yet hopeful film.

Letter Never Sent (1959) Dir: Mikhail Kalatozov

This is a film that Werner Herzog must have seen prior to making Aguirre: Wrath of God; however, Letter Never Sent is less of a black comedy on colonization but a journey of geologists facing the forces of nature, a running theme in Herzog’s work. In the film, a group of four geologists are mapping diamonds in the Siberian wilderness. Once the diamonds are found, nature rears its mighty head and threatens the lives of the geologists. The story is secondary to the experience courtesy of cinematographer Sergey Urusevskiy, as he turns this small tale into a grand epic. Aside from some hokiness from the characters, a highly entertaining film.

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman? (1971) Dir: Nelson Pereira dos Santos

Originally banned in its native Brazil for full frontal nudity, the film is what would happen if Monty Python and Herzog collaborated. Mixing Python’s absurdity and Herzog’s focus on the follies of man, dos Santos delivers the blackest comedy about colonization and anthropology. In a battle to colonize the same area, the Portuguese and French try to separately team up with the aboriginals to eradicate each other vying for the land. The film takes its time and is a bit longer than 80 minutes but there is more than enough to recommend this pre-cursor to the mockumentary.

Deathtrap (1982) Dir: Sidney Lumet

You could almost call this Superman versus Alfred and not be far off. Deathtrap is a nasty adaptation of a Broadway play that is itself about Broadway. Caine is a once successful playwright who isn’t getting as many call backs of late. Vacationing in a cabin with his wife (Dyan Cannon), Caine meets up with a young playwright (Christopher Reeve) who is hoping to sell his new play. Caine, on the other hand, plans to murder him and steal the play. There are lots of twists to be found in this tight little gem.

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