New Orleans Film Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (dir by Werner Herzog)


“Do you think fish dream?”

— Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Happy Mardi Gras!

Since today is not only Fat Tuesday but also rapidly coming to a close, I think it’s time for me to share one final New Orleans film review.  Admittedly, though this film takes place and was filmed in New Orleans, it doesn’t feature any Mardi Gras scenes.  However, it does feature a lead performance that is perhaps as bizarre as anything that you’re likely to see in the French Quarter tonight.  Of course, I’m talking about Werner Herzog’s 2009 film, Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans.

Whenever I mention this movie to anyone, it only takes a few minutes before they get around to saying, “What was the deal with the iguanas?”  Everyone remembers the two iguanas who would randomly show up throughout the movie.  At one point, they were sitting in a coffee table while Lt. Terrence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) and Sgt. Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) were watching a house across the street.  When McDonagh demanded to know why the iguanas were on his coffee table, Pruit replied, “There ain’t no iguanas.”  McDonagh looked down at them and grinned.  This was followed by several hand-held close-ups of the iguanas, looking around inquisitively while McDonagh kept giving them the side eye.

The iguanas show up a second time, after McDonagh has tricked one gangster into killing another gangster.  “Shoot him again,” McDonagh demands, “his soul’s still dancing!”  Herzog pans over to show us that, indeed, the man’s soul is still dancing next to his corpse.  After the soul gets shot down, an iguana wanders across the floor.

What do the iguanas represent?  Some people think that they actually are meant to be hallucinations.  As the result of a back injury that he received saving a prisoner during Hurricane Katrina, McDonagh has permanent back problems and this has led to him getting hooked on drugs.  The perpetually high McDonagh sees and does a lot of bizarre things over the course of this movie.  Perhaps the iguanas are just a part of his addiction.

Myself, I think the iguanas represent the fact that, no matter what McDonagh and anyone else in New Orleans does over the course of the film, the randomness of nature is going win out in the end.  After all, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans opens with Katrina, which is perhaps the ultimate example of how helpless modern society is in the face of nature’s whims.  The film takes places in neighborhoods that have yet to recover from the flooding.  Every corner of the film is full of physical, emotional, and mental debris.  McDonagh pops pills and snorts cocaine in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control but ultimately, the iguanas are going to show up regardless of how much control he thinks he has.  Just as how Klaus Kinski, at the end of Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, couldn’t keep the monkeys off of his raft, Terrence McDonagh can’t keep the iguanas off of his coffee table.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans apparently started life as a reboot of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant.  The script (which was credited to William M. Finkelstein) is full of moments that mirror scenes from Ferrara’s film.  Once again, the protagonist is a corrupt police lieutenant who spends almost the entire film fucked up on drugs and whose only friend is a prostitute.  Again, there’s a disturbing scene in which the lieutenant harasses a young woman in a parking lot.  Again, the lieutenant has gambling debts and again, the lieutenant has to solve a horrifying crime.

While promoting his film, Herzog always said that 1) he had never seen Bad Lieutenant and 2) he didn’t even know who Abel Ferrara was.  Judging from the way Herzog directs the film, which is the complete opposite of the approach that Ferrara took to similar material, I’m inclined to believe Herzog.  Whereas Ferrara’s film was a grim and humorless plunge into the depths of Hell, Herzog takes an almost satirical approach to the story.  The running joke throughout Herzog’s film is that the bad lieutenant gets results precisely because he is so thoroughly messed up and incompetent.  The final part of Herzog’s film features so many sudden twists and turns that it’s hard not to conclude that Herzog is poking fun at how American crime films always have to wrap everything up within the final fifteen minutes, regardless of how messy or convoluted their plots may be.  Whereas Ferrara’s film featured Harvey Keitel naked and bellowing in soul-searing pain, Herzog gives us Nicolas Cage grinning, laughing, and apparently having a ball.

This has got to be one of Nicolas Cage’s wildest performances.  He yells.  He bulges his eyes.  He grins maniacally at the strangest moments.  He interrogates a suspect while taking hits off a joint.  Because his character has a bad back, Cage moves stiffly, carrying himself almost as if he were a living Golem.  McDonagh may have his demons but, at the same time, he also seems to be having a blast every time we see him.  Wisely, Herzog also allows the character some quieter moments.  When the lieutenant talks about how he used to imagine there was pirate treasure buried in his back yard or when he and an ex-con sit in front of a gigantic fish tank, Cage gets a chance to show that there actually is something going on underneath all of McDonagh’s bluster.  This not only one of Cage’s most over the top performances but also one of his best.

Herzog not only gets the best out of Cage but also the best out of New Orleans.  He may not make New Orleans look beautiful but he still captures the atmosphere that has made New Orleans one of the most legendary cities in the world.  Cage, Herzog, and New Orleans make for a great combination.

Film Review: Lost River (dir by Ryan Gosling)


Lost River

I had high hopes for Lost River.  Not only is it the directorial debut of one of my favorite actors, Ryan Gosling, but it was also booed at Cannes.  Some of the best and most interesting films ever made have been booed at Cannes.  The reviews that I had read of Lost River indicated that the film was a mess but it was, at the very least, a visually intriguing mess.  I was expecting the film to be pure style over substance but you know what?  I like style.

So, with all that in mind, I finally got a chance to sit down and watch Lost River last night and … bleh.  It’s not a terrible film.  You can watch it and feel that Ryan Gosling does have some promise as a director, if not as a writer.  (Along with directing, he also wrote the film’s screenplay.)  There are some nicely surreal images, though almost all of them appear to have been borrowed from other better films and, as a result, even the strangest of images are rather familiar.  (To be truly impressed by Lost River, it helps to have never seen anything directed by Mario Bava, Dario Argento, David Lynch, or Terrence Malick.)  He gets a memorably unhinged performance from the great Ben Mendelsohn but then again, when hasn’t Mendelsohn given a memorably unhinged performance?

Anyway, Lost River takes place in Detroit, presumably because Detroit features a lot of dilapidated neighborhoods that look interesting on film and allow Gosling to pretend that his film is about America urban decay.  Billy (Christina Hendricks) is on the verge of losing her house but, with the help of sleazy bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn), Billy gets a job working as a performer at a club.  At the club, she and Cat (Eva Mendes) perform elaborate routines which always end with them pretending to die in some excessively brutal and bloody way.  The club’s largely affluent audience loves it.  Dave loves it so much that he’s inspired to sing a song on stage.  Later on in the film, Dave does an elaborate dance because every independent film has to feature an out-of-nowhere elaborate dance.

Meanwhile, Billy’s son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker), is trying to raise money to save the house by stealing copper out of abandoned buildings.  However, this gets him in trouble with Bully (Matt Smith, struggling to speak with an American accent), a psychopath who has declared his section of Detroit to be “Bullytown.”  Bully rides around in a convertible, sitting on a throne that’s been attached to the back seat.  When Bully discovers that Bones has been stealing copper from buildings in Bullytown, Bully declares that Bones must die.

(At some point, you have to wonder if Bully was doomed from the minute that his parents decided to name him Bully.  Maybe if they had named him The Doctor, he could have lived a very different life.)

Living next door to Billy and Bones is Rat (Saorise Ronan, who gives a good performance and deserves better than this role).  Rat is called Rat because she owns a pet rat that’s named Nick.  Got all that?  Rat also lives with her grandmother (Barbara Steele), who never speaks but spends all of her time watching old home movies.  Why would you cast an icon like Barbara Steele and then not allow her to do anything other than sit in a chair and silently stare at a television?

If Lost River was just an exercise in pure style, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.  I would much rather a film be too obscure as opposed to being too obvious.  Unfortunately, while Gosling the director is having a lot of fun being as stylish as he can be, Gosling’s the screenwriter proves himself to be heavy-handed and patronizing.  By setting the film in Detroit and having random characters show up to talk about how America is dying and the poor are getting poorer while the rich get richer, Gosling lets us know that Lost River is meant to be more than just an exercise in technique.

The problem is that, as well-intentioned as Gosling may be, you can’t help but get the feeling that he has absolutely no idea what it’s like to be poor or what it’s like to live in a dying American city.  According to the 2010 census, 82.7% of Detroit’s population is African-American.  If you’re making a movie the deals, no matter how strangely, with what it’s like to be poor and desperate in Detroit, why would you decide to exclusively cast affluent-looking Caucasians in all of the main roles?  The few black characters who appear in Lost River are largely there to either comfort or share wisdom with the main white characters before then quickly moving on, never to be seen again after their minute or so of screen time.  It comes across as being condescending in only the way something written by a wealthy white guy can be.

Lost River is a misfire, an attempt by a filmmaker to try to make a statement about something that he really doesn’t seem to know much about.  Judging from the film’s visuals, Gosling has some promise as a director but, in the future, he should probably try to work with a better screenwriter.  If you don’t listen to the dialogue and just consider the film as an exercise in visuals, it’s mildly diverting.  (That said, even the nonstop parade of surreal images gets boring after a while.)  Lost River is not terrible.  It’s just bleh.

Embracing the Melodrama #58: The Place Beyond The Pines (dir by Derek Cianfrance)


The-Place-Beyond-The-Pines

First released in 2013, the underrated (and, as far as end-of-the-year awards ago, underappreciated) The Place Beyond The Pines is actually three cinematic melodramas in one.  Much like a great novel, this movie is split into multiple pieces with each part telling a different part of a larger story.  It’s an interesting and ambitious concept, the type that we sometimes fear that audiences are no longer capable of appreciating.

The first third of the story centers on Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), a motorcycle stuntman who performs at state fairs.  During one such fair in upstate New York, he meets and has a brief affair with Romina (Eva Mendes, giving an excellent performance).  When he returns to New York a year later, Luke discovers that he is now a father.  Luke quits the fair and decides that he wants to be a part of his son’s life but Romina, who is now in a stable relationship with a good man named Kofi (Mahershala Ali), asks him to stay away.  Determined to be part of his son’s life and also looking to win back Romina, Luke stays in town and gets a job working with Robin (the always excellent Ben Mendelsohn).  Robin owns an auto garage and, as he explains to Luke, he also used to be a bank robber.  Soon, with Robin’s help, Luke is robbing banks and sending the money to Romina.

Place

Luke’s story is probably the strongest in the film.  Ryan Gosling is charismatic as the dangerous yet likable Luke and he and Eva Mendes have a lot of on-screen chemistry.  Ben Mendelsohn brings yet another one of his trademark burned out characters to life and Mahershala Ali is sympathetic as Kofi, a man, who despite being good and responsible, is simply no Ryan Gosling.

The second part of the story deals with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), the cop who chases Luke after one of his bank robberies.  Avery is the politically ambitious son of a former judge (Harris Yulin) and, much like Luke, he also has newborn son.  When Avery is originally hailed as hero for his pursuit of Luke, Avery’s feelings are far more ambivalent.  It gets even more difficult for him when he catches some of his fellow cops (led, of course, by Ray Liotta) stealing the money that Luke sent to Romina.  When Romina rejects Avery’s attempt to return the money to her, Avery is left with little choice but to try to take down the crooked cops himself.  It’s the only way for him to clear his conscience.

movies-the-place-beyond-the-pines-still-7

And, finally, in the third part of the story, teenager Jason Cankham (Dane DeHaan) meets and befriends Avery’s son, AJ (Emory Cohen).  What neither one of them realizes is that Jason is Luke’s son.  The interesting thing here is that the two sons have, on the surface at least, turned out to be the exact opposites of their father.  Jason is the good kid while AJ is probably one of the most despicable movie teenagers of all time.  When Jason learns the truth about both of their fathers, he has to decide whether he’s his father’s son or if he is his own human being.

the-place-beyond-the-pines03

As you might be able to guess from the above plot description, The Place Beyond the Pines is a big epic of a film and, perhaps not surprisingly, the end results are intriguing if occasionally uneven.  The film starts out so strongly with Ryan Gosling roaring down empty roads on his motorcycle that it’s hard for the rest of the movie to live up to that opening’s promise.  And yet somehow, the film manages to do just that.  Even the parts of the film that didn’t particularly intrigue me — like the whole subplot with the corrupt cops — were saved by the efforts of a perfectly chosen cast.  The third and final part of the film provides the perfect climax, helping us to both understand the legacy of Luke Glanton and Avery Cross but also to understand why both of their stories are important, both as individual tales and as parts of a greater whole.

The Place Beyond The Pines may not be perfect, not in the way that a film like Winter’s Bone is perfect.  However, we should still be glad that films like it are being made.

Place-Beyond-the-Pines

Here’s the Teaser Clip For Ryan Gosling’s Lost River!


Here is the teaser clip for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River, which was released ahead of the film’s premiere at Cannes.

So far, the majority of the reviews out of Cannes have been mixed.  The film has been called self-indulgent, incoherent, and pretentious and, perhaps worst of all, it has been compared by more than one reviewer to Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales.

Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian, a reviewer whose opinion I usually respect, writes: “Ryan Gosling’s Lost River is a conceited clunker – and yet there are great images and mad energy.”  That gave me some hope — I can forgive self-indulgence if it’s at least interesting to watch.  But then Jeff Wells had to pop up and start comparing it to Beasts of the Southern Wild.  As usual, Sasha Stone over at Awards Daily has some very strong feelings about the film, despite the fact that — as she readily admits — she hasn’t actually seen it.  (But Sasha’s so much smarter than the rest of us common people, so who are we to question her, right?)

Well, as you can probably guess, I don’t care what the critics think or say.  I’m still going to see it and judge it for myself.  Not only is the film directed by Ryan Gosling but it also stars three of my favorite actresses — Eva Mendes, Saoirse Ronan, and Barbara Steele.  Dr. Who fans will be happy to see Matt Smith while those of you who enjoy Agents of SHIELD can get a chance to apparently see a new side of Iain De Caestecker.

As for the teaser below — well, who knows what the Hell’s going on?  But aren’t you just a little bit intrigued to find out?

What If Lisa Marie Picked The Oscar Nominees…


With the Oscar nominations due to be announced this week, now is the time that the Shattered Lens indulges in a little something called, “What if Lisa had all the power.” Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations.  Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated.  The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not.  Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year.  Winners are listed in bold.

You can check out my picks for 2010 by clicking here.

My picks for 2011 can be found here.

And, finally, here are my picks for 2012.

Best Picture

Best Picture

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Before Midnight

Blue Is The Warmest Color

Frances Ha

Fruitvale Station

Her

Inside Llewyn Davis

Spring Breakers

Upstream Color

Shane+Carruth+Upstream+Color+Portraits+2013+DRHrpQS3Qacx

Best Director

Noah Baumbach for Frances Ha

Shane Carruth for Upstream Color

Spike Jonze for Her

Harmony Korine for Spring Breakers

David O. Russell for American Hustle

new-wolf-of-wall-street-trailer-leonardo-dicaprio-is-the-wealthiest-stockbroker-in-the-world

Best Actor

Bruce Dern in Nebraska

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Joaquin Phoenix in Her

Dennis Quaid in At Any Price

This-one-is-good

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Julie Delpy in Before Midnight

Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue Is The Warmest Color

Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha

Amy Seimetz in Upstream Color

00290065-0000-0000-0000-000000000000_00000065-06d3-0000-0000-000000000000_20130903202205_Chandler

Best Supporting Actor

Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips

Kyle Chandler in The Spectacular Now

Bradley Cooper in American Hustle

James Franco in Spring Breakers

Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club

1380134395_Lawrence

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle

Eva Mendes in The Place Beyond The Pines

Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years A Slave

Léa Seydoux in Blue Is The Warmest Color

Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station

Her

Best Original Screenplay

American Hustle

Blue Jasmine

Her

Inside Llewyn Davis

Upstream Color

Before-Midnight

Best Adapted Screenplay

12 Years A Slave

Before Midnight

Blue Is The Warmest Color

The Spectacular Now

The Wolf of Wall Street

November 1st, 2013 @ 20:49:52

Best Animated Feature

The Croods

Despicable Me 2

Ernest and Celestine

Frozen

Monsters University

STORIES-WE-TELL---SP-with-Super8cam-flatsc.JPG

Best Documentary Feature

20 Feet From Stardom

The Armstrong Lie

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Stories We Tell

Tim’s Vermeer

Blue-is-the-Warmest-Color

Best Foreign Language Film

(Please note that I do things differently for this category than the Academy.   For this award, I am nominating the best foreign language films to be released in the United States in 2013.)

Beyond the Hills

Blue Is The Warmest Color

No

Renoir

White Elephant

The Great Gatsby1

Best Production Design

12 Years A Slave

Gravity

The Great Gatsby

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Spring Breakers

Best Cinematography

Frances Ha

Inside Llewyn Davis

Nebraska

Spring Breakers

Upstream Color

American Hustle

Best Costume Design

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

The Copperhead

The Great Gatsby

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Upstream Color

Best Film Editing

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Gravity

Her

Upstream Color

American Hustle 2

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

Dallas Buyers Club

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Warm Bodies

Maniac

Best Original Score

Gravity

Her

Maniac

Trance

Upstream Color

The Great Gatsby2

Best Original Song

“Let it Go” from Frozen

“A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)” from The Great Gatsby

“Young and Beautiful” from The Great Gatsby

“The Moon Song” from Her

“I See Fire” from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

“Atlas” from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

“Please Mr. Kennedy” from Inside Llewyn Davis

“So You Know What It’s Like” from Short Term 12

“Becomes The Color” from Stoker

“Here It Comes” from Trance

Iron Man 3

Best Sound Editing

All Is Lost

Iron Man 3

Pacific Rim

Rush

Upstream Color

Pacific Rim

Best Sound Mixing

All Is Lost

Iron Man 3

Pacific Rim

Rush

Upstream Color

Gravity

Best Visual Effects

Gravity

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Iron Man 3

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Pacific Rim

List of Films By Number of Nominations:

9 Nominations — Upstream Color

8 Nominations — American Hustle

7 Nominations — 12 Years A Slave, Her

5 Nominations — Blue Is The Warmest Color

4 Nominations — Frances Ha, Gravity, The Great Gatsby, Inside Llewyn Davis, Spring Breakers

3 Nominations — Before Midnight, Dallas Buyers Club, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim

2 Nominations — All Is Lost, Blue Jasmine, Frozen, Fruitvale Station, Nebraska, Oz The Great and Powerful, Rush, The Spectacular Now, Trance, The Wolf of Wall Street

1 Nominations — 20 Feet From Stardom, The Armstrong Lie, At Any Price, Beyond The Hills, Captain Phillips, The Copperhead, The Counselor, The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest and Celestine, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Maniac, Monsters University, No, The Place Beyond The Pines, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Renoir, Short Term 12, Stoker, Stories We Tell, Tim’s Vermeer, Warm Bodies, White Elephant

List of Films By Number of Oscars Won

3 Oscars — American Hustle, Upstream Color

2 Oscars — The Great Gatsby

1 Oscar — Before Midnight, Blue is The Warmest Color, Frances Ha, Frozen, Gravity, Her, Iron Man 3, Maniac, Pacific Rim, The Spectacular Now, Spring Breakers, Stories We Tell, The Wolf of Wall Street