Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Releases: The Missing Person, Defamation and My Dear Enemy

This week's reviews cover a flawed, if ambitious post-9/11 neo noir (The Missing Person), a provocative look at anti-Semitism and its uses (Defamation) and a Korean post-economic collapse urban odyssey/romance (My Dear Enemy). Read accordingly.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

In the director’s statement included in the press packet for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, filmmaker Werner Herzog attempts to distance his film from its nominal source, Abel Ferrara’s 1992 classic Bad Lieutenant, defiantly challenging “film theoreticians” to locate parallels between the two works. “Go for it, losers,” he hisses. But actually comparison between the films can only work in favor of Herzog’s movie, which in so much as it has a relationship with Ferrara’s, serves as a refreshing deflator to the earlier movie’s look-at-me unpleasantness and self-serious religiosity. Whereas in the Ferrara, Harvey Keitel’s cop effects a new low in cinematic sexual humiliation, the far suppler parallel scene in Herzog finds the woman at least partially turning the tables on Nicholas Cage’s officer. And in an alteration that perfectly differentiates the sensibilities of the two directors, while Keitel's drug-addled anti-hero hallucinates Jesus, Cage's dreams up iguanas. On the whole, I prefer the latter.

As a nutso portrait of a cop living on the margins of functionality, Port of Call is all about its lead’s central performance. With his adenoidal junk-sick voice channeling Nixon by way of Frank Langella, his slumped posture and his propensity for insanely hammy outbursts, Cage is in full Cage mode, delivering his most invitingly over-the-top performance since he believed he was one of the undead in 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss. Jetting around a wrecked post-Katrina New Orleans, Cage’s bad cop Terence McDonagh chases down the drug dealer responsible for a gangland style takeout of a rival, but he spends just as much time smoking crack lifted from the precinct’s prop room, ducking his gambling debts or bedding down with his call girl girlfriend. Soon the degree of his moral involvement becomes confused, as he strikes up a tentative business arrangement with the perp, his final intentions remaining largely unclear, even after he’s already acted on them.

“When is the audience allowed to laugh at a serious movie?” Jessica Winter began her Film Comment review of Port of Call by wondering, and it’s an important question to ask here, since much of the film seems deliberately pitched as comedy. As Winter points out, the screenplay is rife with actual punchlines, but beyond that, the very conception of character dreamed up by Herzog and Cage seems to be one in tune with a deliriously comic sensibility. Which is not to say that all this comedy negates the seriousness of the project. It is, after all, a humor borne of a hellish personal torment and Cage sells the torment as much as the deliriousness, but it’s the latter tendency that tends to dominate. Factor in some classic bits of Herzog surreality (a room-clearing shootout set to the closing theme from Stroszek, all those reptiles) and the film is more furiously exhilarating than it has any right to be. Only a puzzler of an ending in which, initially, everything seems to resolve itself too perfectly, seems to miss the mark, until we realize that the film’s perspective is tied to the unstable personality of its central character and that we can’t take everything we see too literally. It’s out of this shifting, unreliable world - which is also the world of early 21st century New Orleans - that Herzog has crafted his astonishing comedy of dissolution.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day Link Roundup

Two weeks of links covers a fair amount of territory, though not perhaps that much worth traversing. Highlights from recent reviews include Frederick Wiseman's latest look at institutional process, La Danse, and Scott Teems' southern feud drama That Evening Sun. Links below:

La Danse (Slant Magazine)
That Evening Sun (Slant Magazine)
Oh My God (Slant Magazine)
The End of Poverty? (Village Voice)
Dare (Village Voice)