The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans -2009-


Directed by Werner Herzog. 122 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theatre)

I love Port of Call so much that this will resemble a gush far more than it will a review. Nicolas Cage and Werner Herzog may be the greatest actor/director collaboration since Emily Watson starred in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves. Cage turns in perfectly psychotic performance as Lieutenant Terrance McDonough, placing him right alongside Michael Corleone and Travis Bickle as a great American antihero. In spite of his latter-career focus on documentaries, Herzog hasn’t lost a step when it comes to narrative filmmaking. I’d say that Port of Call is the director’s best dramatic film since Fitzcarraldo.

Herzog wisely skips over the played out Mardi Gras and bayou bullshit that saturates most New Orleans based films, opting instead to show a grittier, post-Katrina side of the city (Andrew Dominik chose a similar approach while making Killing Them Softly). The film is a sincere character study of McDonough as he balances his addiction and corruption with his cases and personal life, but we know better than to think Herzog would make just any old cop-on-the-edge flick. And as always (with the exception of his documentary Wheel of Time), Herr Herzog does not disappoint.

Despite its dark marketing campaign and grim plot, Port of Call is a work of comic genius. McDonough never runs out of hilarious and clever ways to score drugs, make quick cash, and advance his investigation. Nearly every scene is memorable, and the reptile close-ups are Herzog at his head-scratching best. And the ending, with its rapid-fire plot resolutions, is beautifully implausible.

Aside: While the supporting cast is good all-around, a nearly-unrecognizable Jennifer Coolidge is especially impressive.

Aside: The screening preceded a discussion and Q&A with both Cage and Herzog, and it was as beautiful as you can imagine.

(Seen and written on 2014-04-04)

Man of Steel -2013-


Directed by Zack Snyder. 143 mins.

Worth my time? Yes. (Seen with a friend at Arclight Hollywood)

Man of Steel doesn’t have exceptionally lofty aspirations… and I couldn’t be happier.

Keep in mind, the last two times Snyder tried to tell complicated stories, we got the lame Watchmen and the horrible Sucker Punch. The narrative and dialogue are a couple notches below what fans may come to expect from screenwriters Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer, but I applaud them for keeping the director in mind. They’ve fed Snyder exactly as much as he could chew.

Henry Cavill is the best screen Superman yet. I thought Christopher Reeve was charming back in the day (and Donner’s original Superman remains my franchise favorite), but I’m glad his cheesy quips have been left in the past. For the first time, a movie had me not only wondering, “Is Superman going to save the day (of course he is)?” but more importantly, “Is Superman going to be okay?” This task is easier said than done since Kal-El is pretty much indestructible. However, Goyer and Nolan have fleshed him out as somewhat of a neurotic, extraterrestrial Bruce Wayne, complete with lotsa mommy and daddy issues. It’s as deep a character study as we could ever reasonably expect from Snyder.

Aside from an inconsistent performance by Amy Adams (who’s still a step up from Kate Bosworth), the rest of the cast does a great job. It’s always nice to see Kevin Costner remind us that he’s a solid actor, particularly in a post-Waterworld-Postman world (eew, too many posts and worlds). Michael Shannon occasionally hams it up as Zod, but he’s a good choice for the villain overall, and more believable than either his characters in Revolutionary Road or Boardwalk Empire. Plus, Russell Crowe turns in a much more involved Jor-El performance than Marlon Brando – probably at a fraction of his fee, too.

It bears repeating that Man of Steel is no game-changer, and my enjoyment of the film was most likely amplified by the soft bigotry of low expectations. Haters will find plenty of blatant product-placement and Christ allegories to nitpick. Still, it beats the pants off of summer fare like Furious 6, Iron Man 3, and even Star Trek Into Darkness.

(Seen and originally written on 2013-06-14)

The Iceman -2013-


Directed by Ariel Vromen. 105 mins.

 Worth my time? No. (Seen with a friend at Sundance Cinemas on Sunset)

 If you set out to make a biopic, the goal should be for the film to be more entertaining than its source material. Your motto should be Raging Bull (or at least Catch Me if You Can) or bust. The Iceman left me feeling that if I had spent the same amount of time with either the book (The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer) or documentary (The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer) named in the credits, I would have enjoyed myself a lot more.

 I bet you thought I was going to write, “The Iceman left me feeling cold.”  You thought wrong, punk.

 Vromen’s directing lacks any sort of pizzazz, and the entire film just feels flimsy. I’m sure it didn’t have the largest budget, but filmmakers in a post-Primer world no longer have that scapegoat. If not for the recognizable cast, the scenes could be from a TruTV special report.

 I guess Michael Shannon does as good a job he can with his thinly written role – Vromen couldn’t think of any character development device better than a brief flashback of Richard Kulkinski getting whipped as a child? – but he’s starting to test my patience. The dude almost exclusively plays crazy people. For every good My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, Shannon has a captacular Revolutionary Road. For every great Take Shelter, a whole her of terrible Boardwalk Empire episodes. Time to broaden your range, Mike.

 If the real Kulkinski could see this movie, the cast, crew, and their families would have to go into protective custody. I feel strange typing it, but this monstrous killer deserved better.

 (Seen and originally written on 2013-05-25)