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Of all the films that explore director Martin Scorsese's wounded Catholicism, the story of Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and his self-flagellating friendship with perennial fuck-up Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro) is perhaps the most iconic and enduring. Charlie's life is populated by the kind of tenuous relationships best maintained with a liberal application of social lubricant; so naturally, liquor becomes as constant a presence as the Manhattan skyline. As in future genre exercise "Goodfellas," an evening out with friends is never more than three steps removed from someone pulling a .38 from their trousers, though here it's neighborhood beef and low-stakes hustles that bond them together rather than an intricate web of mafia relationships.
While Scorsese would cement himself as cinema's premiere auteur for depicting cocaine on screen in "Goodfellas," the way he chooses to lens booze-soaked reverie in "Mean Streets" is astonishing: Time slows and the effects of gravity are dulled by hoisting Keitel onto a dolly while needle drops from the director's own 45 collection forge semi-diegetic soundscapes to synthesize the woozy head high that comes with being buzzed; the camera pushes in on the performers' respective faraway gazes before snapping back into focus when a rush of blood lights a violent fuse; and empty shot glasses tilted over on a condensation-slicked countertop before drunks (and one dead soldier) are rocketed at the lens, poked like billiard balls by an unsteady pool cue.
In the end, the bar where most of the film takes place comes to represent a space for burning time with friends you might not be able to stomach much less stand sober. It's an antimatter universe church for ne'er do wells who are just getting to sleep on Sunday mornings when families make their way to mass. (Dominic Griffin)
"The Legend of Drunken Master"
Currently streaming via Amazon Instant
Where the first "Drunken Master" was a bildungsroman in which a spoiled, unruly chauvinist unlearns toxic masculinity through the righteous power of intoxication, this one draws more directly from the storied legends of anti-imperialist folk hero Wong Fei Hung, with drunken boxing now being used to knock-out British colonialism. As a public figure, Chan's nationalism verges on the authoritarian, but in this context it is markedly radical—a form of rural resistance using the distorted sense of strength offered by alcohol as a means of decolonization, combating the theft of cultural artifacts and exploitation of Chinese labor by foreign rule.
Directed by (and co-starring) Shaw Brothers veteran Lar Kau-Leung (of the 36th Chambers series and "Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter"), "The Legend of Drunken Master" has not only a comic book sense of justice but an aesthetic one as well, each frame an outsized, gag-laden strip drawn to maximize Chan's balletic carnage (from virtually breakdancing his way through henchmen in the town square to a royal rumble with an axe gang inside a two-story tavern to the finale, which is like Buster Keaton waltzing through Eisenstein's Strike). Chan is still playing the same age nearly 16 years since the first "Drunken Master," while the equally funny and clearly younger Anita Mui is his gambling, pregnant, partner-in-crime stepmother, but it only amplifies the absurdity. The comedy has gravitas, as well. In a pointed moment, Master inverts the Orientalist "Raiders of the Lost Ark" gag where Indy shoots a sword-wielding Arab, and exposes it for the colonial tragedy underneath, making one all the more willing to drink to its demise. (Adam Katzman)
Currently available, appropriately enough, via torrent and other online bootlegging sources
Just as the grisly lore of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales was watered down for familial consumption, Gy Waldron's family-friendly serial "Dukes of Hazzard" got its start as the genially undignified B-movie romp "Moonrunners." Similarly based on the bootlegging exploits of Jerry Rushing, but instead of merely being on probation for past moonshine transgressions like the Dukes, the family here are the Haggs and they're in the thick of distilling and delivering white lightning on the black market. Your mileage may vary on how charming you find it, given the film introduced the show's cheery confederate aesthetic (i.e. Bo Duke is Bobby Lee Hagg here and the car is named Traveller, for General Lee's horse), but its politics are strictly limited to sabotage against shady (or shadier) businessmen and pissing off the cops, all of which is fairly agreeable.
Daisy Duke is no longer a cousin but an in-distress women named Beth Ann, a runaway bride sold into marriage by her debt-ridden Sheriff father. Uncle Jesse's reply, "didn't they tell your Daddy slavery was outlawed years ago?" is an indication that at this point all these hardscrabble horndogs care about is bootlegging, brawling, and blowing shit up with explosive arrows. Waylon Jennings, who started here as the balladeer, niftily turns expository narration into folksy legend, his jokey baritone occasionally providing an ironic counterpoint to the action as well. One of the highlights is seeing Robert Mitchum's son James as Grady Hagg, boozily attempting to inherit the mantle from his father in "Thunder Road" but getting lost somewhere in the uncanny valley. (Adam Katzman)