Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Capsule reviews: Bad Lieutenant (1992), Bad Lieutenant (2009), Battle Los Angeles

Bad Lieutenant (1992, Abel Farrara)

The one and only Harvey Keitel, one of my all time favourite actors, ventures into the dark side, psychologically, emotionally and physically as a New York city detective who investigates the rape of a nun and pillage of the church she tends to. ‘The Lieutenant’, as he is known, has several problems which greatly influence his detective skills and the relationships he builds with fellow officers and the scum that lives in the streets. The two most prominent faults are his incessant bets on the baseball playoffs and a massive drug addiction. Cops, for the right or wrong reasons, tend to earn bad reputations, but this fellow takes the cake. What follows is a sad, gritty descent into a bizarre form of depression and one hyper-funky drug hallucination.

Abel Ferrara is concerned with above all else with the journey of his central character. Side characters come and go, and none feel terribly important, if only for how and when they influence The Lieutenant and bring him closer, willingly or not, to the lowest depths of existential suffering. Keitel therefore rules this underworld by the nature of his character and his place in the film. He rules the movie, in essence, despite the fact that he is actually losing control of most of what he has, including his senses. There are some messed up scenes in this movie, particularly in the latter stages when The Lieutenant has been seriously lacking sleep and keeps on injecting whatever it is he injects himself with. Ferrara’s camera does not shy away from much, which enhances the movie’s visceral quality. The film also looks super gritty, filmed on the cheap, which at the same time makes everything feel a bit more real than the wackiness of the actual events would have the viewer believe. Not for the faint of heart, but one heck of a ride if the viewer is willing.

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans (2009, Werner Herzog)

Werner Herzog is known as much for his documentaries as he is for his works of fiction, if not more so. It is all the more interesting therefore that he set his version of Bad Lieutenant in one of the more fascinating locations in the United States, post-Katrina New Orleans, which itself has been the subject of some documentaries as of late. Terence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) is a dopey lieutenant tasked with catching the person responsible for the execution-style murder of an entire family in a predominantly African American neighbourhood. Much like in the previous version, this cop lives a life of decadence and physically intimidates people he believes to hold the clues to the investigation.

What struck me while watching this movie was how Herzog could not withhold from injecting little bits (and a few large bits) and oddball humour into the story and predicaments into which the lieutenant found himself in. The director has a history of making movies about strangely fascinating people (with some extra emphasis on the ‘strange part’, especially those days of filming with Klaus Kinsksi), so maybe none of this should come as a surprise. The result is just as fascinating for its treatment of fate as it is for its insistence on making the character of Terence as wacky intense as can be. Certainly the effects of Terence’s drug abuse are put to film in some overtly comical and audacious ways. One need only be reminded of the scene in which the lieutenant hallucinates about two iguanas sitting on his coffee table. Wha?!?... In the end, it is all rather silly, but silly can be quite entertaining, which this also happens to be.  The debate as to where this fits in the long spectrum of Herzog films probably shouldn’t arrive at any other conclusion than ‘it’s minor Herzog’, but ‘minor Herzog’ is more interesting than a lot of other stuff out there, so that’s that I imagine.

Battle Los Angeles (2011, Jonathan Liesbeman)

Aliens are invading planet Earth! Call the military!  Los Angeles is big and important for some reason, so we must win for the battle for it! Go! Go! Go!

So that’s the plot synopsis. Not too complicated, just the way we like. That really is what takes place. The aliens look very neat, even I couldn’t understand why they had two legs, two arms and one head just like us humans. Their method of attacks was also rather intense and led to a few great, high-octane shoot outs, even though their reason for claiming Earth (our water, apparently), felt somewhat flimsy.  Following soldiers played by Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez was fun, even though most of the dialogue was ridiculously poor, borderline laughable at times. It was the sort of film for which a lot of what was thrown on screen demanded praise, praise I am more than willing to award, but a few things let me wondering if the production could have used a couple extra months to iron some of the details out. Admittedly, some of the gun fights were numbing after a while. The climax was great, but somewhere in the middle of the film when the soldiers and aliens engaged in their third of fourth mini-battle, I felt things were getting stale. There is also an atrocious scene when a veterinarian is helping the Eckhart character to find a way to kill the aliens while they both mess around with an alien’s severely wounded body. I don’t even recall their being a payoff to that scene later in the movie. I’m being harsh on the film, but I’d be lying if I simply wrote that I didn’t have a good time, which I did. Definitely something one should see on the big screen.


Jack L said...

Great reviews,
I haven't seen Battle: LA and don't really want to...

But I have seen bother the Bad Lieutenants and I fully agree with your thoughts on both of them!
The Ferrara one was fascinating mainly because of Keitel's performance (he also happens to be one of my favourite actors as well!) and the Herzog one was fascinating in it's weirdness, although at times it did feel a bit to straightforward for a Herzog film, anyway Nic Cage was great and I enjoyed it, but it's definitely a minor Herzog...

edgarchaput said...

Thanks for the comments. I don't know about Nicholas Cage being 'great'...let's just say it is his own variation of greatness. Thanks for visiting again. I should spend a bit more time at your blog than I currently do!

Jack L said...

haha, yeah, I should have warned you that I'm a big Nic cage fan, many people find my enthusiasm for his work puzzling but I share Roger Ebert's views when it comes to Cage, he's a great actor in my opinion...

You're welcome, I really like you blog and I like your writing! Don't feel obliged to read my blog, although it's always welcome!

Again, great reviews!