14 January 2013

Do Fish Have Dreams?


Nicholas Cage is an actor of extremes. Boringly there are his 'done it for the money' films such as National Treasure, in which he plays an adventurer so dull that the story is simply a quest for his own charisma, but then on the other hand he's also done stuff like Wild at Heart and Raising Arizona which are excitingly the performances of a shameless mental. These are the ones in which you assume that before arriving on set, he must have suffered an extreme blow to the head or had some unknown class-A drug injected straight into his spine. I guess a recent example of a role in which he's obviously fucking nuts would be Kick-Ass. In that film he played a retarded version of Batman who likes to shoot guns at his daughter and then reward her with a birthday knife. He also decided to perform the role whilst speaking with a voice that Adam West might have if he had a stroke and then started haemorrhaging brain-fluid out of his ears.

Whenever I see Cash-in-Cage I just want to walk the horse-faced dullard straight to the glue factory to put him out of my misery. When he forgets to medicate however, Deranged-Cage is one of the most interesting, unpredictable and brilliant actors currently allowed to work. It was therefore with some excitement that I decided to watch Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans.

The opening shot of the film is of a snake as it swims through a severely flooded prison. Eventually it reaches a cell which contains a prisoner still locked in and struggling to stay above the surface.
I'm assuming something has gone seriously wrong and this wasn't his court ordered punishment. Drowning in a giant, shitty fish bowl is something that should only be reserved for the worst of people and this man doesn't look much like Josef Fritzl, The Yorkshire Ripper or Piers Morgan. 

Valerie used to be attractive before she became a fat man.
Luckily though, help is at hand as two of New Orleans’ finest walk in to presumably save the day. Unfortunately for the drowning wrong doer, they are a Crazy-Cage and everyone’s favourite, fat transsexual, Valerie Kilmer. Now it was my understanding that the police are contractually obliged to help people who are in trouble. It therefore seemed slightly against regulation when these two instead decide to just take bets on how long it will take the prisoner to drown. I suppose it's possible that they'd had a long shift so we probably shouldn't judge them too harshly for playing games to pass the time. Having said that though, Crazy-Cage has a change of heart and kindly decides to intervene. He jumps into the watery shit, saves the prisoner, injures himself and now has to live the rest of his life with agonising back pain. I suppose the message of this is that if anybody ever needs your help then you should tell them to go fuck themselves. That's what I've been doing since, anyway.

In a way, this opening scene perfectly encapsulates a lot of what is important about the rest of the film. The flooded prison is a result of hurricane Katrina, it has a twisted sense of morality and there is a crime witnessed by a reptile. For some reason the movie is littered with Crocodiles, lizards and snakes all silently watching us humans from the sidelines. Either I need to watch The Departed again or a judgemental alligator is an unconventional inclusion to the cop genre. In fact there's not much about this film that does conform to the traditional rules of a crime-thriller. Not unless one of those rules is to have the lead detective stoned off his tits and watching the soul of a dead man break dance across the room. If movies could shag, then this one would definitely be the bastard offspring of The French Connection and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. That's also coincidentally exactly how good it is.

From this point on, the film tangents around several different strands of story: Cage begins investigating a mass-murder, raising money to solve his gambling debts and solving the escalating troubles of his girlfriend, Eva Mendes. All of which really just involve a self-medicated Cage drugged up to the eye balls, shouting, screaming and basically being hilarious. This might be a crime movie that looks at the lowest depth of evil that a person can sink to, but that doesn't mean it can't be fucking funny too. When Cage starts an interrogation of two innocent old ladies by hiding behind a door and shaving, you know this isn't going to be by the book. Cut to three seconds later and he's pulled out one’s oxygen tubes, is waving a gun at the other and getting angry at their long life, being the cause of America’s economic problems.

Human or spud? Either way, he's a useless fat vegetable.
Despite all this constant cuntish behaviour though, somehow Cage always seems fairly likeable. This is probably because things are also going very wrong for him and so in a way it's kind of hard not to sympathise. He might be violent, addicted to drugs and massively mental but at times he does seem genuinely vulnerable and capable of showing some heart. He worries about his Dad who is a recovering alcoholic and he does his best to look out for his girlfriend - having said that though, if my girlfriend was Eva Mendes then I too would probably be a little protective. I guess the only downside to her here is that despite being stupidly good-looking she also happens to be a whore. Not sure if I could actually go out with a prostitute but my gut instinct is certainly suggesting that I'm not above it. The point that I'm trying to make is that Cage's character is not that bad, he just keeps fucking up. A more apt title for the film would probably be The Unfortunate Lieutenant. Or at least it would be if that alternate title didn't make it sound like some crap, committee written comedy that would probably star Kevin James's fat potato of a head.
 
In actual fact a more apt title for this would just be Port of Call - New Orleans. The original Bad Lieutenant was released in 1992 and featured a guilt laden Harvey Keitel spending more time than I appreciated walking around with his old balls out. In that version he was tasked with solving your standard, everyday Nun rape case. The original was a catholic’s wet dream with lots of sin and lots of repentance. There might not have been too much plot but at least there was plenty to feel bad about. Beyond the fact that both Keitel and Cage's Lieutenants take drugs, have loose morals and look like famous actors, the two films are completely different. I can therefore only assume that the title was either a marketing tool or simply a way for director Werner Herzog to piss off the original’s creator Abel Ferrara. If so then I guess it was a mission success as Ferrara went on record to state, “As far as remakes go ... I wish these people die in Hell”. Although, when asked for a comment, I personally enjoyed Herzog's enjoyably dismissive response of, "I've never seen a film by him. I have no idea who he is." 

Here we see Herzog bonding with the cast.
Now it goes without saying that Herzog is a genius and one of the most interesting people working in film. He's a brilliant director and has made some of the most mental movies of all time. Back in 1982 he made the masterpiece Fitzcarraldo in which he took a film crew to the heart of the jungle and filmed them literally drag a boat up the side of a mountain. He's a man who is more than happy to go to the extremes to get the job done. In the same way that Cage is more than happy to risk making a tit of himself for a film, Herzog is more than willing to risk his life. In the past, Herzog's muse was the bat-shit lunatic Klaus Kinski and so in a way you have to wonder how it's taken so long for him and Cage to get together. Cage plays people who are just as mental but unlike Kinski, is unlikely to need a gun aimed at his head to keep him on set. Herzog once claimed to point a rifle at Kinski and state, “You leave this jungle now and you'll find eight bullets in you and the ninth one will be for me”. We can only live in hope that Michael Bay and a stubbornly rebellious Danny Dyer one day make the same deal...

It's been suggested that Bad Lieutenant is one of Herzog's less substantial films but I disagree.
Some of his most regular themes seem to be regarding the violence, chaos and madness of life. Let's not forget this is the man who made a penguin documentary in which he asked the expert, “Is there such thing as insanity among penguins?” Those three themes all seems present and here to me. They're encompassed in Cage’s character, the story and the landscape. What therefore surprises is how this movie about self-destruction ends up being such a feel good story.

I don't want to ruin the end of the film so I won't reveal what happens, but just because it's uplifting that doesn't mean it ends happily, instead it's more that everything before hand has been so grimly crap. People wrongly claim Mamma Mia to be a feel good film which for me just isn't true. To me a feel good film isn't one in which nice things happen for two hours but rather horrible things do with the odd ray of hope to bask in. Admittedly Mamma Mia does place us under constant threat from Pierce Brosnan's tuneless warbling, but really that's simply not enough, although having said that, his singing is still pretty fucking horrific. Despite all those crazy weapons that Q invented to help save the world, it turns out all Brosnan's Bond needed was some background music and a megaphone.

"Take a chance on me."
Anyway so the story development, dialogue, performance and music in the last scene of this Bad Lieutenant are all actually perfect. Seeing a minor positive in a junkie policeman’s life makes me feel more warm inside than hearing a slutty Margaret Thatcher belting out Abba's greatest hits. Again, I don't want to ruin the end but you can't help but wonder what the concluding moral is. It genuinely seems to be that a Hell of a lot of wrongs can make a right.

According to critics, this is Herzog's take on a mainstream movie. If that's the case then a lot of mainstream movies could do with following his lead. As far as I'm concerned, Cage too can do whatever the Hell he likes. If he wants to spend the majority of his time cashing in then fine, just so long as he brings out something as mad as this every couple of years too. It'd be nice to see the two work on something again in the future. Any director/actor pairings that can produce a crime-thriller in which the drugged up lead is distracted by the invisible lizards in his head can only be a good thing.

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