Expanded Review: “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans” – 2009. Dir. Werner Herzog

With Nicolas Cage, Eva Mende, Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Tom Bower, Michael Shannon, Vondie Curtis-Hall with Brad Dourif and Val Kilmer.

“You think fish have dreams?”

I have a love/hate relationship with Nicolas Cage, he leads a duel life in cinema. He’s familiar in mediocre to bad blockbusters: “National Treasure” movies, “Con Air”, “Ghost Rider”, “The Rock” and for roles that many actors wouldn’t dare touch with a ten foot pole: “Leaving Las Vegas”, “8MM”, “Adaptation” and the remarkable “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans”.

We find ourselves in the wake of post hurricane Katrina. Terrence McDonagh (Cage) is a good cop. He talks big, but does the right thing by injuring himself saving a prisoner who is about to drown in a locked jail cell. The result of his compassion leads to his addiction to painkillers that sends his life into the ultimate tailspin of sex, drugs, shakedowns and murder.

McDonagh is in love with a “classy” hooker Frankie (Eva Mendes), begins hallucinations of iguanas, his partner Stevie Pruit (Kilmer) is vaguely in his life, he sends his hooker/girlfriend to go live with his ex-cop, recovering alcoholic father (Bowen) and drug/booze addicted step mom (Coolidge). He begins working for a drug dealer (Xzibit) that he’s investigating. He shakes down two young twenty something’s for drugs outside of night clubs, and end up raping the girl. In a scary scene, Cage even cuts the oxygen off to an elderly woman and holds his magnum to the head of her elderly caretaker.

This film isn’t for novice film goers, or even advanced film goers. Herzog is as an eccentric filmmaker as Nicolas Cage’s performance. He is defiantly an acquired taste. This film drags you to hell, as McDonagh loses control of EVERYTHING. This film is near excellent through the way Herzog experiments with the genre. This film is the prime example of the “experimental” style of filmmaking.

If you are familiar with Abel Ferrera’s 1992 film called “Bad Lieutenant”; don’t be fooled – this film is a remake. Plain and simple. Sure there was the media war between Herzog and Ferrera where Ferrera claimed he was being raped, and Herzog claimed to not even know who Ferrera was. Bullshit. These men are way too smart for that. Oh, and the producer of this film Edward Pressman also produced the 1992 film.

Both “Bad Lieutenant” films deal with a cop, better yet a man, who has fallen so far from grace that he doesn’t even know who he is anymore. They’re both men defeated by addictions: gambling, sex, drugs – struggling with their faith. They have only one guarantee: they won’t reach Heaven.

The ensemble Herzog puts together for this film is grade-fucking-A! Aside from Cage, Mendes, Xzibit and Kilmer Herzog brings in Brad Dourif as Cage’s bookie, Vondie Curtis-Hall as Cage’s commanding officer, Michael Shannon as Cage’s hook-up in the evidence room, Fairuza Balk as Cage’s one time fling traffic cop.

This film makes you feel like you are smoking crack. It doesn’t stop for one second. It haunts you, scares you, and makes you laugh and even smile. All of our emotions are affected by every second of this film. There is an extremely touching and heartwarming moment when Cage brings Mendes to the shack in his father’s back yard where he used to hunt for treasure as a kid, and tells her a story from his childhood.

The imagery of the still is astounding.

The film takes us from one unbelievable event to another, its mindboggling watching Cage scurry from one scene to another, and you are just waiting for him to explode. The screenplay written by veteran “NYPD Blue”, “LA Law” writer/producer William M. Finkelstein (who turns a great performance as Dave Jacobs, the guy chasing after Cage for money) delivers an excellent script upon which Herzog and Cage thrive.

What keeps this film from me giving it a 10 is the ending. As the film wraps up, you find yourself about to hit yourself on the forehead and say, “give me a break!” – but wait, it’s not over yet. If the film would have ended two scenes before it’s closing, I would have given it a 10. Viewer be advised, I’m not really sure if this film is for you.

Bottom line Werner Herzog is a great, great filmmaker and Nicholas Cage gives a career best performance.

Review: 9.5/10

Plethra of 2009 Reviews Part 1.

Nicholas Cage in Werner Herzog's "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans".

“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”. Dir. Werner Herzog.  With Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendez, Xibit, and Val Kilmer.

Is this a remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 masterpiece “Bad Lieutenant” with Harvey Keitel as a junkie, gambler, killer, and cop?  Yes.  Is it a linear remake?  No.  Herzog brings a more coherent (believe it or not) story of an out of control police officer who is just a down right tortured soul.  Nicholas Cage gives his best performance since “Leaving Las Vegas” and quiet frankly one of the best performances not only of the year, but the decade.  The wicked mischief that Cage brings to this role is hard to handle.  He’s so insane and apathetic and it’s a brilliant performance to watch.  What else would you expect from Herzog making a film about an American cop in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? Cage is nothing less then witty, charming, sadistic and malicious in this role.  It’s a role that few actors could play, or even consider.  The only other actors who could truly play this hell bound character would be Harvey Keitel (which he did in the “original” film), Willem Dafoe, and Robert Downey, Jr.

There are scenes that will arouse you, make you laugh, and make you want to look away in disgust.  There are scene’s where Cage hallucinates that iguanas are staring him down, as well as a crocodile on the highway.  The film is a pure work of raw art that we rarely see today.

Cage’s character is perfectly balanced out by Stevie Pruit who is masterfully played by Val Kilmer who gives his best performance since “Tombstone”.  His role is extremely small in the film, but not small to the plot and story that Herzog shows us.  Kilmer is so laid back and very subdued in this film, playing off Cage so well.  I don’t think we’d be able to handle both Kilmer and Cage firing off at all cylinders at once.

Review:  9/10.

“The Hurt Locker” 2009.  Dir.  Kathryn Bigelow.  With Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geragthy, with David Morse, Guy Pearce and Ralph Fiennes.

This film has caught on fire like nothing like I’ve seen before.  “The Hurt Locker” is a good film, but not great.    It’s the first Iraq war film that doesn’t have a political agenda which is the exact film critics wanted to latch onto.  It’s a film that deals with a masochistic IED defuser who is only good at one thing: defusing bombs.  Renner gives a very good performance as the bomb defusing junkie, his character/performance reminded me of a younger Kurt Russel.  By no means does Renner give one of the best performances of the year, but he is very solid.  Anthony Mackie as the units commander gives a very good performance but the other member of the unit played by Brian Geragthy gives a distractingly bad performance.  There are three cameo’s in the film, the first is of Guy Pearce who plays the units original unit’s IED defuser, David Morse plays a Robert Duvall esq officer who gets an adrenaline rush off of watching Renner disobey all orders and flirts with death while defusing a bomb.  Ralph Fiennes plays the leader of a bounty hunting party that get’s bogged down by sniper fire.  And yes, Fiennes delivers as usual.  I liked the idea of how Bigelow inserted great actors into small but somewhat crucial roles, but in the end it comes off as distracting and the three actors give the best performances in the film, and makes you want to know more about them then you do Renner’s character.  The film is well structured, edited and shot.  The film drags at certain points but Bigelow keeps it rolling smoothly.  It’s not one of the best films of the year, but it does deserve an honorable mention.  James Cameron (Bigelow’s ex husband) called this film “the “Platoon” for the Iraq War”.  Sorry James, it’s not.

Review: 7/10.

“Julie & Julia” 2009.  Dir. Nora Ephron.  With Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Stanley Tucci.

This is a light and funny film.  It’s a great performance by Streep which all signals point to her winning her third Oscar.  Streep is so wonderful and joyous to watch.  She commands every scene she’s in, and it just makes you want to hang out with her.  The film nicely parralles between Julie (Amy Adams) starting a daily cooking blog of recipes that Julia Child compiled and worked on while she wrote her cook book in France.  The scenes with Adams drags on a little too much, but your attention is always quickly back in the hands of Streep.  Amy Adams gives a cute and sweet performance, but not nearly as interesting as Streep’s Child.  Stanley Tucci plays Child’s ambassador husband Paul.  Tucci gives a subtly brilliant performance and is Streep’s light house in the film, the one thing aside from food she can go to and get compfort from.  The film would have been much, much better if had just been a straight biography of Julia Child.  See it for Streep.

Review: 7/10.

“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” 2009.  Dir. Stephan Sommers.  With Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marlon Waynes, Sienna Miller and Dennis Quaid.

I rented this because of my nostalgic love for the old cartoon show.  And I wanted to watch something I could be entertained by and ignore.  I should have went with my safety blanket, “Cliffhanger”.  I got to halfway in the film when Brendan Frazer rolled up on a motorcycle and I turned it off.  I couldn’t watch it anymore.  The film peaked at that moment.

Review: 3/10.

“Antichrist” – 2009.  Dir. Lars von Trier.  With Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourgh.

This is a film that needs to be broken down frame by frame and studied.  There is so much symbolism, mainly religious, that is jammed packed throughout the film.  The opening of the film is a graphically romantic sex scene between a husband (Dafoe) and wife (Gainsbourgh).  It’s beautifully shot in black and white and slow motion with classical music playing as the soundtrack.  It’s so cliche, but it’s the only way it could have been mastered.  It’s one of the best openings to a film I have ever seen.  While the couple are having sex, their toddler son escapes his crib and falls to his death from a third story window.  The husband being a psychiatrist goes against everything he knows and treats his wife who is suffering from the utter guilt of their son’s death.  They go to their cabin in “Eden”, this is where horrible things start to happen.  This film is one of the most visually beautiful things I have ever seen.  Ever.  Expect to read A LOT more about this film very soon.

Review: 10/10.

Top Ten of the Year (Thus Far)

Top Ten Films of the Year

Here’s my top ten of the year thus far.  The notable films that I haven’t seen yet include “Nine”, “Avatar”, “An Education” and “Invictus”.  I would only assume that Avatar will make the cut, and maybe some more films.  So please dear reader, stay tuned.

1. “Antichrist” Dir. Lars von Trier.  With Williem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

2. “A Single Man” Dir. Tom Ford.  With Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Mathew Goode.

3.  “Up in the Air” Dir. Jason ReitmanWith George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Jason Bateman and Anna Kendrick.

4.  “Inglorious Basterds”.  Dir. Quentin Tarantino.  With Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, and Til Schweiger.

5.  “Bad Lieutenant:  Port of Call New Orleans” Dir. Werner Herzog.  With Nicholas Cage, Eva Mendes, Xibit, and Val Kilmer.

6.  “The Watchmen” Dir. Zach Snyder.  With Billy Crudup, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Mathew Goode and Jackie Earl Haley.

7.  “The Girlfriend Experience”  Dir. Steven Soderbergh.  With Sasha Grey and Chris Santos.

8.  “Taken” Dir.  Pierre Moral.  With Liam Neeson, Famke Jassen, and Xander Berkeley.

9. ????

10. ????