Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, or "The closest I've come to doing heroin with Nicolas Cage and a couple of iguanas."

The first thing people say to me when I bring up the film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is, "Is it as fucked up as the original (Bad Lieutenant, which came out in 1992, starring Harvey Keitel and sporting an NC-17)?"  That's if they've seen BL, but most people just raise their eye-brows and nod.  And then I mention that it's "my favorite Herzog film to date! (which isn't saying much since I've only seen three out of his 80-something films)" and that's when they really feign interest.

The truth is BL:PCNO is as much a mystery to me as to someone who's neither seen nor heard of the original or of Werner Herzog. I'm not sure how the film came to be or why it was conceived in the first place.  Is it a sequel?  A follow-up?  Is it going to be the next big franchise, a la Harry Potter (I can envision a dark and twisted series of notorious crazies playing BL's in different cities all over the world, e.g. Del Toro in Mexico City, the dude from Brother in Tokyo, the dude from Oldboy in Seoul, Crowe in Sydney, Gary Busey in Starke, FL)?  When told about the possibility of a remake of his film, Abel Ferrera, who co-wrote and directed BL reportedly said he "felt horrible""like when you get robbed" and that those involved with the remake "should all die in hell."  When Herzog was asked why he was remaking the film, he reportedly claimed that it was not a remake and that he had never seen the original (bullshit).  Some theorize that the producers only added "Bad Lieutenant" to the title in order to get a better market, which I find unbelievable because so few people have heard of the first film.  Suffice to say, whether a sequel, remake, re-imagining or none of the above, both films share the same basic plot which follows a drug-addled, corrupt cop as he traverses the seedy parts of his respective city (the first BL takes place in NYC).

To elaborate a little on BL:PCNO's plot, we are introduced to detective Terence McDonagh (Cage) in the first scene as he's investigating a Katrina-flooded jail with his cop buddy, Val Kilmer.  They come across an inmate who begs to be released before he drowns in the rising hurricane water.  The two cops laugh and poke fun at the doomed man, and Terence complains about not wanting to ruin his European underwear, but he eventually jumps into the water and debris to save the pathetic convict, to the protest of Val Kilmer.  Fade to black.  Now, we find Terence in a doctor's office being told he's permanently damaged his spine (presumably in the rescue attempt), and that he'll have to take Vicodin for the rest of his life.  End scene.  The following scene show's McDonagh being promoted to Lieutenant for his heroic actions.  And that's all the exposition we're gonna get.  This is all we have to explain why Terence McDonagh spends the next two hours abusing his newfound power in increasingly hedonistic ways, scoring parking-lot sex and smack from night-clubbers, pimping out his prostitute girlfriend, Eva Mendes, and smacking around grandmas in a drug-induced haze.  Ostensibly, the rest of the story revolves around McDonagh's investigation of five Senegalese immigrants, but this case only serves as the sandbox for Terence's many vices and the methods in which he enjoys them.

I don't want to reveal too many of the juicy bits, but I will say that my favorite scene involves Nic Cage, a lot of drugs and a couple of lizards.  He walks into an apartment, high as a Georgia pine, where Val Kilmer and a couple of other cops are staking out a suspect, and begins to converse when he notices two iguanas on the coffee table.  He asks the other cops what they're doing there, and they look at him like he's dipped in shit.  His apparent hallucination continues, and is even joined by the audience in a playful poke at the fourth wall.  As Herzog gives one of the iguanas a couple of nudges with the lens, Cage looks on smiling humorously at the camera, and a moment is shared.  Fucking magic.

Given the aforementioned synopsis, a lot of people will not like this movie.  If you need reductive clarification for every movie you see (i.e. if you need to know exactly what was in Marcellus Wallace's briefcase), then this movie is not for you.  Oh, and if you don't like drug binges and gratuitous sex and violence and downward spiral tragic train-wreck stories, then it's not for you either.  But I for one enjoy a healthy fascination for train-wrecks, and this is one of the most personified examples of train-wreck, short of an actual train-wreck and Jon and Kate Plus 8.  And the fact that Herzog and Cage ride that fine line between train-wreck and fascination so precariously throughout the film is what makes it so brilliant.  That's right, brilliant, and in my opinion superior to Abel Ferrera's.  Both films were amazing, but Herzog's was just a little more palatable, and Cage a little more charming (I often found myself rooting for him, despite his, ahem, shortcomings; and vice-versa with Harvey Keitel).

You can not casually view this film and come away without an intense opinion, either positive or negative.   Fortunately for me, in this age of tabloid drug queens and crotch-shots, and video-games that give me bona-fide nightmares, my mind has been dulled to lasciviousness, so very little of BL:PCNO shocked me (but trust me, I did catch myself staring slack-jawed at the screen during two or three particularly nasty scenes).  But I still had an intense opinion, which is that I enjoyed every fuckin minute of this bizarre and rollicking good time.  And I didn't even mention the breakdancing corpse.

Note:  I got this off of Netflix.  I wanted to see it with Stu when it came to the Hippodrome, but I couldn't free myself up from my insanely busy schedule (ha).  The first Bad Lieutenant was my very first NC-17 movie (although it later got clipped down to an R).

4 out of 5

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Clash of the Titans

If the projectionist had spooled a roll of used toilet-paper to the projector, I would've walked away no less enlightened, and slightly less embarrassed (for myself and for the cast) than I felt walking away from the steaming pile of Kraken-turd that is this year's remake of Clash of the Titans.  Don't get me wrong, I knew I was walking into a shit film; it had been out for a couple of weeks and I had read or heard nothing but terrible things.  So, why did I still shell out the nine bucks for this abomination you might ask?  Let me explain.

I grew up watching the OG Clash (1981) I had taped on VHS from TBS' Super Scary Saturday with Grandpa Munster (anybody remember that shit?).  For those of you who had something better to do than watch TBS on Saturday mornings/midnights in the '80's, it's one of those cheesed-out flicks that tied the monster-movie madness of that decade with epic mythology (think Godzilla meets Homer's Odyssey), and was the last film to feature the deft handiwork of visual-effects-monster-master Ray Harryhausen, who was responsible for the campy yet awesome Sinbad movies of the '70's (full of clay-tastic cyclops and centaurs, rocs and eight-armed, sword-wielding serpentine women), as well as another mythological adaptation, Jason and the Argonauts.  So, my only hope was that the filmmakers would respect the source material on some level, and make even a potentially bad film somewhat enjoyable, even if only for the camp factor.

Here's the story:  The king of Argos locks his daughter, Danae, away from the filthy, philandering hands of men in order to avoid the prophecy (damn prophecies) of his death if she has a son.  This only entices Zeus, king of the Gods, and now the only person capable of impregnating her in captivity, which he does.  Learning of the pregnancy, the king seals his daughter and newborn son into a wooden coffin and casts it into the sea, to somehow prolong his fate.  When Zeus finds out, not only does he kill the king, but he tells his brother, god of the seas Poseidon, to unleash the mother-fuckin Kraken (a freakishly large sea-monster or "Titan", from before the time of the gods) upon the city of Argos completely destroying it (overkill?), while Danae and her son float safely to some island in the Aegean, where Perseus grows into the future tanned star of LA Law.

Meanwhile, Calibos, the son of sea-goddess Thetis, is set to marry Princess Andromeda of Joppa.  Being the redneck of Greece, Calibos hunts and kills every living creature in the countryside, including Zeus' prized herd of flying horses save one, Pegasus.  Incurring the wrath of said king of gods, Calibos is transformed into a freakish satyr-like creature and outcast to the swamps of Joppa.  Enraged, Thetis irrationally takes her vengeance out on Andromeda, for if Calibos can't marry her, then nobody can.  She curses the Princess so that if any man wants to marry her, they must answer a riddle, and if they do so incorrectly, they're burned at the stake.  She also meddles in the life of Zeus' son, Perseus, magically transporting him to Joppa, thinking he will fall in love with Andromeda, get the riddle wrong, and burn alive.  Spoiler: He gets the riddle right and marries the princess, making Thetis even angrier and demanding that her still virgin body be sacrificed to the Kraken in thirty days or Joppa will be destroyed.  Then it's Perseus Vs. Calibos/Giant Scorpions/Stygian witches/Medusa/and finally Kraken with help from Daddy in the form of a magical sword/shield/helmet/robotic owl (I shit you not).    Except that this is the plot of '81 Clash.  In '10's Clash, gone is the romance between Perseus and Andromeda, and subsequently the motivation for him to take on this impossibly ridiculous quest to fight a 200-story sea-monster with the head of a snake-haired bitch.  In 2010, Leterrier pits Perseus on a quest for revenge on Zeus and the rest of Mt. Olympus for letting a large statue fall on his boat, killing his adopted-family (sound stupid? trust me it looks stupider).  By taking out the romance, the apparently eunuch director takes out any reason why you should care about whether or not Perseus succeeds.

Much like this year's version, '81's Clash featured an all-star cast of classic screen-greats, including Burgess Meredith (Mick from Rocky), Ursula Andress (Honey Rider from Dr. No), Maggie Smith (McGonagall from Harry Potter and the head nun in Sister Act), and the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier (the original Heathcliff AND Mr. Darcy, and he was in just about every Shakespeare film adaptation), and a promising newcomer as protagonist Perseus, played by tanned TV star Harry Hamlin (ummm, LA Law?).  This time around the marquee boasts veteran names Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Pete Postlethwaite, with Aussie Sam Worthington taking on the lead-role of the demi-god son of Zeus.  It's hard not to like that list of names (Worthington was one of the few things I liked about both Avatar and Terminator Salvation), but that's the last time I will associate the word 'like' with this version of the Titans.

I'm not going to spend too much time (too late) breaking down this bad joke of a remake; I've spent enough brain cells on it already, and that doesn't include the bowls I smoked in the parking lot (a requisite for any movie involving Gorgons and flying horses, but especially in the case of this one).  I could argue that the movie should have never been offered in 3D, since it wasn't filmed in 3D, but I didn't see it in 3D, and honestly it couldn't be worse if it was in 1D pixels.  I could elaborate on how the film-makers botched the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, but the '80's version wasn't true to form either (as far as I know there is no mention of a Kraken in the Greek and Roman myths).  And speaking of the Kraken (the only reason why I stayed to the end), I prefer Harryhausen's silly Play-doh version to the ridiculously large, perpetually moving Leterrier version, hands down.  Which brings me to Leterrier, the primary reason why I hate this movie.  Louis Leterrier, French director of this Clash, and previously the first two Transporter movies and the most recent Incredible Hulk: Fuck you for having absolutely no respect for your audience.  You have no ear for dialogue, and even less for character development.  I could include the screenwriters in this blame, because the script (the source code for the dialogue) was indeed awful, but the movie is Leterrier's brainchild; he pushed for this remake, he's ultimately responsible for it, and he better stay the fuck away from my precious Marvel Universe forever more!  For shame.

I feel like I've misled you in that I feel most of this review is more an homage to '81's Clash and less a poo-poo of this year's impostor.  So let's treat this as a double review, and I hope that if you see only one Clash, now you know which one to see.

2010 Clash of the Titans:  1 out of 5
1981 Clash of the Titans:  4 out of 5
 (by the way, these ratings pertain to the stars I issue on Netflix, where I get the vast majority of my movies, and Netflix won't let me rate a movie lower than 1, which I would do so in this case.)

Friday, May 7, 2010


I came, I saw, I came again, and a pint-sized school-girl with a silencer kicked my optical ass! Every scene of director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of Mark Millar's comic was so fucking vibrant; the soundtrack, the colors, the costumes, the Cage, the c-bombs getting dropped by 12 year-olds. It's evident from frame-to-frame that everyone involved in the making of this film had a blast while doing so.

Kick-Ass embraces every mainstream taboo (teen sex, drug use, pro-pro-pro-violence, comic books, sailor-mouthed pre-teens) with loving arms, portrays them as humanly and humorously as possible, and then pours gasoline on them, cuts off one of their legs with a machete, calls them a cunt, and runs to grab a bazooka. This film was a high-water mark for all directors and writers, especially comic-book writers, who ever wanted to create a story into film for the masses, as raunchy and shameless as they want it, unhindered and un-impinged upon by the all-knowing deus ex machina that is the Hollywood studio exec. The Scotsman Millar had the privilege of seeing his brainchild fully realized into lovely, live-action glory, without the editing, censoring, or otherwise butchering of some platoon of big studio schmuck-o's and executive writer wannabes who think they know what their audience wants (which sadly, apparently they do, as the film is doing less than spectacular at the box office).

Here's a little 'nopis: New York teen, Dave Lizewski, wonders aloud to his friends why there are no super-heroes in the world, or at least why nobody even tries to be a super-hero. His buddies call him a dumb-ass and explain why this idea is obviously ludicrous, their skeptic isms perfectly illustrated by an Armenian kid with head-problems and home-made wings who plummets to his death from a sky-scraper. This of course spurs Dave to buy some ridiculous green and yellow spandex online, pick up a pair of sticks and head out into the most dangerous city on the planet to fight crime, adopting the moniker Kick-Ass; aptly-named as his first foray leads to his own ass-kicking. Actually, every fight Dave gets involved in leads to his ass getting kicked. But he eventually hooks up with the father-daughter, dynamic duo of Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), and the movie immediately takes a sharp turn towards awesomeness. Chloe and Cage absolutely MAKE this movie! Team-ups, hilarity and ass-kicking ensues as a stellar comic-book literally comes to life.

The players: Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, and he does a stand-up job as a ferd playing a nerd (ferd, or fake nerd, is a made-up word from Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost; ferds are coming out of the woodwork now that comic-books and their movie adaptations are making trillions of dollars; all of a sudden every one's a Batman or Iron Man fan). I seriously doubt that baby-faced Aaron ever spent any amount of time hangin' with his buds at the comic-book shop, lamenting over coffees and issues of Captain America about their lack of pussy. In real life, the British-born Johnson is known for playing a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy; he's in his early twenties and already married with children. But give him a pair of glasses, and he does an admirable job making us believe he's a dorky comic dweeb in NYC.

Mark Strong, aka Lord Blackwood from Sherlock Holmes, is New York crime-boss Frank D'Amico. Wonderful actor, but I would have loved to see an Italian-American or at least a New Yorker in this dialogue-heavy role. Can't wait to see him as Sinistro in Green Lantern.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin, plays D'Amico's spoiled, sheltered son Chris, who becomes inspired by Kick-Ass, and takes up the mantle of Red Mist....'nuff said.

Nicholas Cage reaffirmed my love for his sickly style of acting with his adaptation of the Batman-esque, Big Daddy. That love usually lasts about eight or nine shitty films (Knowing, Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man), which is about how many he makes between tiny masterpieces like this and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which we were lucky enough to get in the same year.

But seriously folks, this movie belongs to little Chloe Moretz and her character, Mindy Macready. Cunts can call her Hit Girl. Every scene involving Hit Girl - starting with her being shot in the chest by Big Daddy, to her Kill Bill in ten-minutes finale - is an absolute joy to behold. And I don't care if that's a little creepy. This Moretz girl has quite a career ahead of her, starting with the Americanization of Let The Right One In (thanks for that nugget, Ain'tItStu), the Swedish vampire instant classic.

The only character I had any sort of problem with was Lizewski's girlfriend, Katie. She's introduced as this untouchable, popular future tri-delt girl at Dave's high-school, who one day out of the blue asks him if he wants to meet for coffee at the hip, new comic-store. He soon realizes this has only happened because she thinks he's gay, and has always wanted a best-bud homeboy to go shopping and get pedi's with. Then he finds out sweet, innocent, cotton-candy Katie has a sordid past involving a pimp named Tre. What?! In a film full of unbelievable shit, Katie's story took the cake.

The soundtrack, while not the most ass-kickingest list of songs put together, works perfectly for Kick-Ass. There's some brilliantly used pop-punk tracks by The Dickies and The Hit Girls, fitting for the high-octane Hit Girl scenes. The original score played during Big Daddy's solo fight scene is pretty fucking raw. Vaughn even slipped in an homage to western soundtracks with Ennio Morricone's Per Qualche Dollaro In Piu (For a Few Dollars More). On the flip-side, there's two tracks by The Prodigy (remember Firestarter?), and they haven't gotten any better. More poppy if you can believe it.

I'm not going to say Kick-Ass is flawless. There are a few lulls in the script; one of the few downsides to staying absolutely true to the source material, you lose the polishing most treatments get once adapted. But for those of us who like pictures in our books, and who see comics as true storyboards, this film was a wet-dream come true. The highs more than make up for the very finite lows. Kick-Ass personifies the desire of every comic-book fan who's ever dreamed of enacting the feats of derring-do they've only witnessed at their finger-tips in the funny-books. And it just happens to have a lot of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. And c-bombs. See this fucking film.

5 out of 5

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Blood Simple: Dead In The Heart Of Texas

This being my first, fully fleshed movie review (besides the one for Watchmen that I video-taped for the Rotten Tomatoes Show that was almost aired on national television, and almost won me $100, but that they ultimately couldn't use because I taped and uploaded it in Thailand...and that I'm still bitter about), I wanted to run with the theme of 'firsts' and go with the first film from two of my, and now everyone's favorite filmmakers, the brothers Coen.

Blood Simple is old-school film noir spread unevenly over Texas toast with more than a few dollops of grisly, unflinching, comedic murder. It's a pathetic podunk love triangle gone rotten that only the Coens could make you care about. Fresh out of film school, the brothers brought every technique and trick they had learned to the table, and executed them with the taut precision of a Hollywood vet.

The title does not lend itself to the lack of a complex story, but is instead based on a phrase from the 'Dashiel Hammet' (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man) novel Red Harvest, in which "blood simple" is a term coined to describe the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations, and buddy, there is plenty of violent situation immersion in this here flick. The film stars John Getz (best known as Christina Applegate's scumbag co-worker in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead) as Ray, a bartender who falls in love with Abby (Frances McDormand, in her feature film debut), who happens to be married to his boss, Marty (played by Dan Hedaya, better known as the dad in Clueless). Abby reciprocates Ray's affections when he helps her dip town and Marty's clutches, which leads Marty to hire P.I. Loren Visser (played by a diabolically sleazy M. Emmet Walsh , who would've stolen the show had it not been for Fran McDormand's adorable Texas twang), to kill the back-stabbing lovebirds.

In addition to the tangled narrative that is anything but simple, the film is filled with distinct, visual originality, and money-shots a film-school art-house maven might write a thesis about, but that the Coens use with the ease of a close-up: a tense conversation between Ray and Abbey halfway through the film is broken up with succinct and slow-motion suspense of a mere newspaper tossed at the screen door they're standing behind; a scene involving a dark stretch of highway, a stubborn corpse and a shovel, that no doubt inspired a much similar incident in Fargo; Visser, first shooting, then punching through a wall with his left hand, to pry loose the knife stuck in his right hand; the erratic manual track-and-zoom shot that Joel Coen picked up from his buddy Sam Raimi, after working as an editor on Evil Dead; and the funniest use of a cul-de-sac before The Burbs, all make for the most entertaining "art" film I've ever seen. If you've never seen it, or haven't in a long while like me, you have to queue this shit up.

5 out of 5.