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.

Cleaning Out The DVR #36: Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart (dir by Vondie Curtis-Hall)


(For those following at home, Lisa is attempting to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing 38 films by the end of today!!!!!  Will she make it?  Keep following the site to find out!)

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It’s becoming a new annual tradition.  Every January, Lifetime airs a biopic about a singer.  As I watched Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart, I found myself thinking about what makes a good biopic.  Unfortunately, good lives rarely make good biopics.  After all, we watch biopics for the drama behind-the-scenes.  When someone has lived a successful life and has basically lived her life with intelligence and integrity, it makes them a role model.  But it doesn’t necessarily make them into a fascinating subject for a movie.

Now, I have to admit that, before watching this movie, I didn’t know much about Toni Braxton.  My musical taste tends to run from EDM to more EDM.  I had heard the name Toni Braxton, of course.  I knew that there was a reality show called Braxton Family Values, though I’ve never seen an episode.  But I didn’t know much about her or her life.

So, as I watched, I kept waiting for the inevitable moment when Toni Braxton would first be pressured into trying cocaine or when she would end up in an abusive marriage or when she would eventually end up going through a Hellish rehab experience.  But none of that happened, largely because Toni Braxton appears to have been pretty intelligent when it came to making her life decisions.

Oh, there’s certainly some drama.  She had some financial difficulties early on her career.  Some members of her family get jealous of her success but not so jealous that they can’t be totally supportive.  She gets married but the marriage ends — not because of infidelity or abuse but just because sometimes marriages end.  And really, Lifetime should be commended for the way it handled the end of Braxton’s marriage because sometimes, marriages just don’t work out and it’s not anyone’s fault.  Finally, Toni discovers the she has Lupus.  Lupus is a serious disease and both Toni and the movie deserve full credit for educating the public.

In the end, Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart is a well-made and perfectly pleasant film but it’s not particularly memorable  Lex Scott Davis does a good as Toni and the film provides good roles for a lot of talented African-American performers.  But, as a movie, Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart never quite reaches the memorable heights of last year’s Whitney.

Daredevil Has No Need For Iron Suits or Magic Hammers


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“I accept your conviction. The lone man who thinks he can make a difference.” — Wilson Fisk

Today we saw the release of the official trailer for Netflix and Marvel Television’s first of five series based on characters from the Marvel Universe. Daredevil will be the first out of the gate and it looks to darken things a bit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by bringing to the small screen one of it’s street-level heroes.

Daredevil (aka Matt Murdock) will soon be joined by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist in their own web series on Netflix before teaming up for the Defenders series.

Under the guiding hands of showrunner (and Whedon alum) Stephen S. DeKnight, Daredevil will soon be available for bingewatchers everywhere on April 10, 2015.

Trailer: Daredevil


daredevil“Bless me father for I have sinned.” — Matt Murdock

Marvel has pretty much been dominating the big-screen with it’s yearly event offerings. 2015 will not be an exception with Avengers: Age of Ultron set for a summer release expected to rake in the box-office by the money bins. Now, Marvel has set it’s site on the small-screen with it’s first Netflix Original Series that will be the first link in a five series set that will culminate in a team-up series called the Defenders.

This first link will be a new, and hopefully better take, on the street-level superhero Daredevil aka the Man With No Fear. The blind lawyer by day and vigilante by night whose blindness since childhood has helped him developed the rest of his senses beyond human levels. We shall not speak of the film adaptation starring Ben Affleck over ten years ago.

Marvel’s Daredevil will release all 10-episodes on Netflix this April 10, 2015.