Al Pacino’s first major screen turn — 1971’s “The Panic in Needle Park,” in which he played a sometimes homeless junkie in NYC — just popped up on Netflix. It’s fantastic, and you should stream it … and yet we’re still going to highlight the movie everyone already loves, at least now. It’s easy to forget Brian De Palma’s purple, bloody 1983 remake of Howard Hawks’ gangster great wasn’t actually a bomb. It was a big hit — it was just hated and debated, riling many with its excesses: its gargantuan length, its fearless gore and Al Pacino’s ridiculously accented turn, chewing not just the scenery but maybe the whole universe.
“Scarface” was rightfully reclaimed by the hip-hop community, who saw it as both inspiring (a member of the lower class pulling himself up from the bootstraps) and a warning sign (don’t get high on your own supply, or be an actual gangster). But there’s another group that saved it: Brian De Palma nerds. “Scarface” joins the likes of “Phantom of the Paradise,” “Blow Out,” “Raising Cain” and “Femme Fatale” as De Palmas whose craft and eccentricity were bound to be appreciated eventually — though here you can also thank Oliver Stone, whose predictably surly and cussy script provided the foundation for three hours’ worth of the director’s precise and thrilling set pieces.
‘Heaven Knows What’
Speaking of “The Panic in Needle Park,” the indie “Heaven Knows What” is its closest successor, even as it goes farther into the brink. How far? It was written by an actual recovering addict, Arielle Holmes, who gamely and ferociously plays a version of herself: a young woman who steamrolls through a barely eked-out life, sometimes clinging to an on-off-lover (Caleb Landry Jones, one of the few actual pro actors). . Ben and Joshua Safdie, seasoned chroniclers of the less moneyed side of today’s New York (see also: “Daddy Longlegs”), push their cameras in close on mostly real deal homeless kids without idolizing or demonizing them. It’s honest but not boastful or self-righteous, and sometimes even very funny — just like real life, though even that makes it sound precious, which it valiantly is not.
The romantic-comedy is dying, and perhaps only indies can save it. Like last year’s “Sleeping with Other People,” this British number both dismantles cliches and embraces them. It even has a strong rom-com premise: a single 30-something (Lake Bell) is mistaken for the girl set go on a date with a divorcee (Simon Pegg). It’s more of a rom-com than it sometimes lets on, though that’s fine: The entire genre shouldn’t be eradicated from the multiplex, especially when they’re as sharp and energetically acted as this often is.