BAD LIEUTENANT (1992). Harvey Keitel began his career as one of Martin Scorsese's go-to guys, but lately, he's been mostly MIA from movie screens (his most visible work has been in a trivial role in those daft National Treasure flicks). Yet for a lengthy stretch during the 1990s, he emerged as one of cinema's great character actors, co-starring in such critical darlings as The Piano, Pulp Fiction, Thelma & Louise, and Bugsy (the latter earning him his only Oscar nomination to date). His finest performance, however, can arguably be found in this flawed yet harrowing drama whose NC-17 rating kept it from playing most U.S. cities (including Charlotte). Keitel plays one of the most corrupt cops ever to appear as a lead character in a film: When he's not busy snorting cocaine and fooling around with hookers, he's placing bets he can't pay off and masturbating in front of teenage girls. But amazingly, he's not beyond redemption, as the rape of a nun (Frankie Thorn) forces him to confront his own (lack of) spirituality. Scorsese and Keitel explored the place of religion in a crime-ridden landscape in 1972's Mean Streets; here, Keitel and director-cowriter Abel Ferrara attempt to take it even further, though the film's wallow in its own excesses (a recurring problem in Ferrara films) and some heavy-handed symbolism mute its overall impact.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Ferrara and cinematographer Ken Kelsch; a half-hour making-of piece; and the theatrical trailer.
THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD (2009). John Malkovich's greatest performance will probably always remain his turn as, well, John Malkovich in Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich, but that's not to say this versatile actor isn't always adding memorable bits to an increasingly impressive portfolio. Thanks to writer-director Sean McGinly, Malkovich triumphs again, this time portraying the title role in The Great Buck Howard. A slight yet satisfying show-biz tale that occasionally recalls such similar works as Broadway Danny Rose and My Favorite Year, this focuses on Troy (Colin Hanks), a young man who quits law school in order to find out what he really wants to do with his life. As he tries to figure it out, he takes a job as the road manager for Buck Howard, a temperamental mentalist who's convinced that his comeback rests just around the corner. As portrayed by Malkovich, Buck is a man who's by turns sympathetic, cruel, sincere and egotistical. It's a socko piece of acting, and while the likable Hanks is rarely more than adequate, Emily Blunt comes along (playing a no-nonsense publicist) and more than holds her own with a sly, charming performance. From narcissistic entertainers to overzealous fans, The Great Buck Howard has something to say about almost everyone positioned up and down the chain of command. This expose is more congenial than acidic, but it's difficult to dislike any movie in which a character states, "My college roommate was managing a multimillion dollar hedge fund, and here I was, helping Buck Howard with his benefit starring Gary Coleman and the guy from the Police Academy movies."
DVD extras include audio commentary by McGinly and Hanks; a 10-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; three minutes of deleted scenes; and an interview with The Amazing Kreskin, the real-life inspiration for Malkovich's character.
REPULSION (1965). In striking contrast to his real-life crime – having sex with a 13-year-old girl back in the 1970s – Roman Polanski has long been noted by critics and even several feminist scholars for his films offering sympathetic and perceptive treatment of women coping with patriarchy on a daily basis. Tess and Rosemary's Baby are the most famous examples, but the most striking one is Repulsion, which marked Polanski's first English-language film following his startling feature-film debut with the Oscar-nominated Polish thriller Knife in the Water. Catherine Deneuve stars as Carol, a young Belgian woman who shares a London apartment with her sister Helene (Yvonne Furneaux). A blonde beauty who's viewed as little more than a sex object by the men she encounters, Carol is quiet, introverted, and revulsed by the idea of physical contact. When Helene and her boorish boyfriend (Ian Hendry) take off on holiday for a fortnight, Carol is left home alone, whereupon she slowly experiences a mental breakdown that leads to grotesque hallucinations as well as some real-life violence. Psychological thrillers had already galvanized the era's audiences via Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (both 1960), yet this is the only one of the influential trio to place viewer sympathy firmly in the corner of the disturbed individual rather than those on the receiving end of the sharp/blunt objects. A couple of shots (including the final fadeout) suggest the reason for Carol's state of mind, but Polanski's real focus is on detailing how the callous treatment of Carol by practically everyone around her only further serves to denigrate her standing as a "real" person rather than just a desirable beauty. For all its merits, this doesn't come close to matching Psycho's sheer brilliance or even Peeping Tom's creep-out factor, but its bronze finish is a respectable one.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Polanski and Deneuve; the 24-minute documentary A British Horror Film (2003), about the making of Repulsion; and an episode from a 1964 French TV show featuring footage from the film's set.
WATCHMEN (2009). Clunky football metaphors are never out of season, so think of director Zack Snyder as the cinematic equivalent of the quarterback who's clearly no MVP but is just good enough to get his team to the Super Bowl. In turning (along with co-scripters David Hayter and Alex Tse) the sacred graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons into a motion picture, Snyder makes almost all the right plays – the movie is visually resplendent and remarkably faithful to the source material – but too often fails to find the heart buried deep within the darkness. Worshipped by comic fans and tagged by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best novels of the past several decades, Watchmen debuted in 1986 as a 12-part series for DC Comics before being compressed into graphic novel form. Remarkable in its storytelling prowess – both narratively and visually – the comic has been lifted almost wholesale from the printed page, with many screen shots serving as mirror reflections of illustrated panels. The story begins in 1985 with the murder of a fascistic superhero named The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and from there moves back and forth in time to track the exploits of the other members of the band known as the Watchmen: Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), Rorschach (terrific Jackie Earle Haley), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and the godlike Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). With its overlapping storylines of a world on the brink of annihilation, the deleterious effects of life as a superhero celebrity, and the vagarious manner in which time itself might operate, the graphic novel possessed no small measure of gravitas yet also found room in the margins for wit and warmth. The movie retains the seriousness but too often loses the sympathy.
The Watchmen: Director's Cut DVD runs 24 minutes longer than the theatrical version. Extras include a half-hour look at the impact of the graphic novel; 11 video journals totaling 37 minutes and exploring various aspects of the production; and the music video for My Chemical Romance's "Desolation Row."