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The Auteurs Daily: Venice, Telluride and Toronto. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

 

The Auteurs Daily

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

"Did you hear the one about the German maverick who signed on to remake a notorious existential American policier and turned it into a stuffy, if pleasingly ridiculous b-picture?" asks Time Out London's David Jenkins. "Werner Herzog's curious take on Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant received its premiere at the Venice Film Festival this morning, and as the curtains came down, there was the faint sound of booing to be heard amid the polite, cricket match-style applause. It's certainly not a terrible film, but you get the sense that were Herzog's (currently invulnerable) name not attached, it would have been prime grist for the straight-to-DVD mill."

Todd McCarthy makes a similar point in his review of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in Variety: "If one watched this movie without knowing the identity of the director, it would admittedly be difficult to give it much credit, since it is so indifferently made, erratically acted and dramatically diffuse. Not in 20 years or more has Herzog exercised the sort of formal control over his dramatic features that he has over his documentaries, and for a considerable stretch, it remains unclear how one is to assess the helmer's handling of vet TV crime writer William Finkelstein's pulpy scenario. The film is offbeat, silly, disarming and loopy all at the same time, and viewers will decide to ride with that or just give up on it, according to mood and disposition."

"While all would appear to be heading towards doom (as with Harvey Keitel's Bad Lieutenant in 1992), Herzog takes a sharp turn towards the sunny as the film nears its end," writes Mike Goodridge in Screen. "Such a surprise turn is laced with Herzog's deadpan irony and a disregard for conventional moral codes which is refreshingly un-American. [Nicolas] Cage, hunching with his bad back throughout like another of Herzog's monsters, Nosferatu, is thoroughly entertaining to watch as [Terence] McDonagh gets increasingly rattled, sleep-deprived and narcotics-fuelled over the course of the investigation. Despite a large supporting cast, it's really his show – an energetic variant on performances he has already given in Bringing Out the Dead or 8MM."

For Vanity Fair, Rebecca Sacks has had some fun with "Werner Herzog's Lost Bad Lieutenant Journals."

Meantime, Parallax View has been running a Werner Herzog special all week, revisiting "his earlier films with new and archival essays."

In the Guardian, Phelim O'Neill recommends Encounters in the Real World, a box set released in the UK collecting Encounters at the End of the World, Grizzly Man, The White Diamond, The Flying Doctors of East Africa and La Soufrière. On a related note, see Dylan Trigg's Side Effects entry, "The Wild Body."

Last month, Mark Harris reviewed Herzog's memoir, Conquest of the Useless: Reflections From the Making of Fitzcarraldo for the New York Times.

Online listening tip. Kevin Lee's "Best of the Decade Derby: Encounters at the End of the World roundtable podcast with 'Werner Herzog'."

Updates: It's been many years since Herzog's narrative features exuded the sure-footed directorial aplomb of his documentaries," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention, "but there is, somewhat surprisingly, a fairly clear artistic objective behind The Bad Lieutenant: to make a cult film, the kind of midnight movie treasured by trash geeks, stoners and the occasional leftfield auteurist alike." He also notes that the "The" is in the title as it appears on the screen.

Wendy Ide in the London Times: "Whereas in the first movie, audiences were treated to a brilliant but genuinely unsettling turn from Harvey Keitel as the eponymous corrupt cop, in this version we get a sweating, gibbering Nic Cage giving free reign to his inner nutcase but failing to deliver the requisite menace."

Herzog hopes to patch things up with Ferrara over "a bottle of whisky," reports the Guardian's Xan Brooks.

It's "a jazzy, entertaining riff on the theme of a cop who spends too much time in a sewer of criminality and corruption," finds Ray Bennett in the Hollywood Reporter; "there is a lot of very black humor; and it develops, somewhat surprisingly, into something suggesting a kind of cheerful pessimism."

Empire's Damon Wise: "There are loads of things wrong if you choose to dwell on them - no police department in its right mind wouldn't comment on a usually earnest officer hallucinating on the job, or turning up to work on heroin - but this is, after, a work of fiction and not a documentary. And it's easy to forget too just how competent a director Herzog is when he's working in the mainstream; aside from a few wilfully bizarre shots of reptiles, The Bad Lieutenant is a very slick, very superior slice of pulp."

Update, 9/7: Four out of five stars from the Guardian's Xan Brooks: "Herzog's Bad Lieutenant, like the lieutenant himself, is wild, ill-disciplined and never less than mesmerising. Even when it seems to be sticking doggedly to the script, there's something wonky and dangerous about this film. Herzog takes one of the oldest genre cliches in the book (the Maverick Cop Who Gets Results) and then sees how far he can twist it before it snaps."

Update, 9/14: Cage's is "a completely absurd performance," writes Eugene Novikov at Cinematical, "and, God willing, a way for the actor to let off steam and return to the more nuanced, settled acting he used to do. The movie itself is a hilarious genre pastiche that too frequently winks to let us know how aware it is of its own unseriousness."

Updates, 9/15: This is "perhaps Cage's most hilariously unhinged performance since Vampire's Kiss - a nonstop welter of weird tics, goofy line readings and impromptu outbursts." Mike D'Angelo at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "Herzog, for his part, matches Cage jape for jape, tossing in unexplained reptile hallucinations and contributing such soon-to-be-classic lines as 'Shoot him again! His soul is still dancing!' Fans of the Ferrara original may justifiably feel as if it's been treated with little or no respect, but Port of Call, for all its first-rate buffoonery, is in its own way every bit as sincerely, doggedly demented as its ostensible source."



"It's everything the trailer promised and so much more, a batty policier that's fueled by a sublimely deranged lead performance that recalls Herzog's work with the wild-eyed Klaus Kinski," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club.

"Go for the wacky Cage routine, stay for the Herzogian idiosyncrasies," advises Eric Kohn at indieWIRE.

Updates, 9/17: Bad Lieutenant is the New York Times' Manohla Dargis's "favorite discovery at Toronto." This is "a post-Katrina New Orleans that might have been conceived by Hieronymus Bosch but could come to the screen only through the feverish imaginings of Mr Herzog.... Mr Cage and Mr Herzog take you into a hell that leads straight to movie heaven."

It's "the most purely enjoyable movie I've seen in Toronto so far," wrote Tom Carson for GQ on Tuesday.

"What makes the film an undeniable blast is that Herzog's ongoing obsession with man's inherent animal instinct meets its ideal expression in Nicolas Cage, an actor for whom hysteria is autopilot, who here finally finds justification for his odd hybrid of wide eyes and monotone." Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog: "Whether they know they're doing it or not, the actor and director laugh in the face of the earnest spiritual confusion that's ultimately the Ferrara film's raison d'etre, conjuring a powerfully loony portrait of American rot."

"The title makes it sound less like a remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 masterpiece than a coming-this-fall-to-CBS cop show, yet Werner Herzog's dizzying comedy is its own unruly beast," blogs Fernando F Croce for Slant.

Rocco Castoro interviews Herzog for the new Vice Film Issue.

Updates, 9/19: It's "as fine an example of gonzo filmmaking that you are ever likely to come across," writes Twitch's Todd Brown, "a gleeful subversion of the American Dream that delights in poking pins into every sacred cow of action filmmaking."

"Though Cage doesn't evoke his gonzo early days of Vampire's Kiss, whether this is a flirtation with Christopher Walken self-recognition is hard to say," blogs Nicolas Rapold for the L Magazine. "Between this and Encounters at the End of the World, Herzog and Cage each stand at the abyss, wearing sandwich boards reading 'Check it out, I'm at the abyss.'"

Updates, 9/22: Daniel Kasman finds Bad Lieutenant to be "exquisite in its comic absurdity, but at two hours not nearly absurd enough."

Steve Ramos talks with Cage for Vulture.

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.

 

“…the kind of midnight movie treasured by trash geeks, stoners and the occasional leftfield auteurist alike.” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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