PLOT: Terence McDonagh, a New Orleans cop, suffers a permanent spinal injury when rescuing a convict neck-deep in floodwater from Hurricane Katrina. Shortly thereafter he is promoted to the rank of police lieutenant and develops an opiate addiction, accrues massive gambling debts, and finds himself investigating the murder of five Senegalese immigrants. Over the course of the case, he teams up with local crime kingpin, “Big Fate,” in the hopes of keeping his head above water.
Abel Ferrara made the cult film Bad Lieutenant, starring Harvey Keitel as a drug, sex and gambling addicted cop investigating the rape of a nun, in 1992. Port of Call: New Orleans is neither a sequel nor a true remake.
The original New York City setting was changed at Nicolas Cage’s request in order to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (How the gesture would accomplish this is unclear.)
Director Werner Herzog claimed to never have seen Abel Ferrara‘s original, only signing on to the project because Cage requested him so to do.
It took nearly a decade for Werner Herzog and Abel Ferrara to bury the hatchet after Ferrara expressed his dismay at the project going forward without any input from him.
Adding to his list of “unlikely ingestibles”, Nicolas Cage inhaled baby powder every time his character snorted cocaine (or heroin).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: With the entire feature viewed from Lieutenant McDonagh’s perspective, its unreliability is a given—this is a man who loves his uppers, downers, and sleep deprivation. On the off chance the viewer considers taking his story at face value, this notion is disabused by a pair of phantom iguanas eyed suspiciously by McDonagh to the dulcet tones of “Please Release Me.”
TWO WEIRD THINGS: “There ain’t no iguana”; break-dancing soul
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cram a police procedural through the esoteric whims of Werner Herzog’s brain, then project this mishmash of corruption, drugs, nostalgia, and iguanas onto the frantic gesticulation of Nicolas Cage as a chronic back-pain sufferer going through some really heavy shit right now, and you have Bad Lieutenant.
Trailer for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
FEATURING: Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Saiorse Ronan, Matt Smith, Ben Mendlesohn, Eva Mendes, Reda Kateb, Barbara Steele
PLOT: An urban fantasy/fairy tale set in an unspecified city in decline (which looks a lot like Detroit) where single mom Billy and her sons Frankie and Bones attempt to keep their home despite all obstacles and enemies: for Billy, a bank manager/underground club impresario, and for Bones, the neighborhood gang kingpin, Bully.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Gosling calls Lost River (originally titled How to Catch a Monster) a dark fairy tale, inspired by both the 80’s fantasy films he watched growing up and by a stay in Detroit while acting in The Ides of March. It’s a very unorthodox melding, like lo-fi magic realism set against a documentary background. Some might feel it exploitative, which could account for the polarized reaction the film received.
COMMENTS: I guess it’s a gauge of where we’re at in film culture when something like Lost River can arise from sunken depths to befuddle everyone. People were expecting a disaster of epic proportion, judging from its reception at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the outright hostile reviews during its very brief theatrical run/VOD in the U.S. From that reaction, one would think that Lost River would be better paired with other recent cult “darlings” like The Room or Birdemic.
Happily, Lost River is nowhere near those icons of ineptitude, which makes the reaction to it even more of a curiosity. Critics seemed to take it personally that a Hollywood Star would actually choose to make his directorial debut an artistic endeavor rather than some flashy franchise production. It is evident that Gosling isn’t at all shy about his influences—he was paying close attention while he was working with Terrence Malick and Nicolas Winding Refn—but I would think that would be something to be encouraged by, rather than excoriated.
Apparently surrealism and dream imagery are only to be attempted when the director is a less well-known name. Either that, or most reviewers felt very uncomfortable with the approach in conjunction with the Detroit setting. There are several scenes with non-actors which briefly push the tone into docudrama, which is completely jarring with the “urban fairy tale” atmosphere Gosling is attempting to create.
Gosling’s direction is very assured, aided by the lensing of Benoit Debie (Enter the Void) and the music of Johnny Jewel, which provide the proper atmosphere. Performances are pretty good all around: Hendricks, DeCaestecker and Ronan are fine, though it’s mainly the supporting characters that make an impression, such as Mendes, Mendlesohn and especially Matt Smith’s villainous turn, which is as far away from his Doctor Who as possible. One caveat: it seems a waste to get Barbara Steele and give her nothing to do. She’s more of a presence than a full character.
Whatever you might think of Lost River, I highly encourage you to search it out and make up your own mind.
Available on Blu-Ray and DVD with no additional features.
PLOT: A man wakes up and walks through a secret panel in his bedroom wall that leads him into a cinema. Next we meet “Mr. Oscar,”who drives around Paris in a limousine taking on nine “assignments” which require him to become an accordion player, a hitman, and fashion model-abducting leprechaun, among other personae. After Mr. Oscar’s night is over, his chauffeur drives the limo back to a huge car lot labeled “Holy Motors,” where hundreds of similar vehicles are stored.
Holy Motors was Leos Carax’ first feature film since 1999’s Pola X.
Leos Carax is a pseudonym for Alexandre Oscar Dupont. In most of Carax’ other movies, Denis Lavant plays a lead character named “Alex.” Here he plays a character named “Mr. Oscar” (a name which is itself hidden inside the pseudonym leOS CARax).
The flower-eating leprechaun character, “Merde,” first appeared in Carax’ segment in the omnibus movie Tokyo! (2008).
The role of Mr. Oscar was specifically written for Lavant.
Carax originally wanted to credit Michel Piccoli (who is difficult to recognize under his makeup) under a pseudonym, but word of the actor’s involvement in the project was leaked.
Carax says he does not like to shoot on digital film, but did so because he found it made fundraising easier.
Holy Motors swept the Weirdest Actor (Denis Lavant), Weirdest Scene (the accordion intermission), and Weirdest Movie categories in our 2012 Weirdcademy Awards contest.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The character of Merde, the gimpy, gibbering, flower-eating subterranean leprechaun-creature, who was so unforgettable Carax recycled him from his segment in the triptych Tokyo!. For a single snapshot that captures Merde’s hard-to-define charm, we select the moment when he bites off a woman’s finger, then licks supermodel Eva Mendes, leaving a trail of blood on her armpit. Ever the professional, she never breaks her expression of sultry indifference.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Holy Motors is overwrought, pretentious, obscure, scatterbrained, confusing, and self-indulgent—all qualities that, when matched with talent, typically make for a great work of weird art. Prepare to be perplexed. You won’t, however, be bored.
PLOT: “Mr. Oscar” drives around Paris in a limo taking on nine “assignments” which require him to become an accordion player, a hitman, and fashion model-abducting leprechaun, among other personae.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Holy Motors is overwrought, pretentious, obscure, scatterbrained, confusing, and self-indulgent—all qualities that typically make for a great work of art. The main knock against it certifying it as one of the 366 Best Weird Movies immediately is that it’s not yet out on DVD—but keep an eye out for it in the near future.
COMMENTS: Leos Carax’ segment in the portmanteau film Tokyo! revolved around a gimpy, gibbering leprechaun dubbed “Merde” (played by Denis Lavant) who arose from the sewers to scandalize the polite people of Japan by eating money and licking schoolgirls on the street. In that movie Merde served as a symbol of Japanese xenophobia, a surreal and satirical rendition of boorish Western invaders as seen through Eastern eyes. Lavant reprises Merde in Holy Motors, but here the character is even more random, limping through a Parisian cemetery eating flowers off of gravesites and abducting a fashion model (Eva Mendes) with the backbone of a rag doll. The idea that an already mysterious and absurd character like Merde would be resurrected and tossed into a situation that’s even further out of context is typical of Holy Motors‘ approach. In between a very weird prologue featuring director Carax as a man living in a secret room behind a cinema where shadowy beasts prowl the aisles, and very weird epilogue featuring chauffeuse Edith Scob and a parking lot full of telepathic limousines, Lavant (presumably) plays ten different roles—nine “assignments” and his base character of “Mr. Oscar.” There are no connections between the parts he is assigned: some, like Merde, are purely absurd, some are musical, and some are legitimately moving human moments. Each segment operates according to its own internal illogic. The roles are arbitrary, like the jobs any working actor would take: this month an action hero, next month a dying benefactor. At times we see, or at least think we see, hints of the “real” person behind Mr. Oscar, but mostly we see him applying his makeup in front of his mobile vanity mirror, preparing to disappear into a new role. It’s never suggested what the purpose of these performances might be, or whom they are for the benefit of, or if they ever end (when Oscar goes home for the night, it appears he is only playing another insane character). Scenes that appear to involve Mr. Oscar as “real” person sometimes turn out to be part of another assignment; if we try to figure out who Oscar really is, we’re continually frustrated. By the end of the long twenty-four hour session Mr. Oscar looks weary, sad and resigned; but he must wake up in the morning and do it all over again. It’s a bravura suite of performances by Lavant, who is appointed to capture the whole strange and tragic spectrum of human activity in a single day. In Carax’ eyes this spectrum involves motion-capture sex scenes, accordion intermissions, and mixed human-chimpanzee marriages. Prepare to be perplexed. You won’t, however, be bored.
Carax assembled a fascinating cast for his first feature film in over a decade. Gnarly faced Lavant, who has appeared in all of the director’s previous films as well as gracing weird works by Veit Helmer, Harmony Korine and Veiko Õunpuu, was the obvious choice for the lead in the most ambitiously odd art film of the French calendar. The casting of Scob and Piccoli, who between them have worked with all of the great European Surrealist filmmakers of the past, from Franjou to Ferreri to Buñuel, is an equally obvious nod to Carax’ influences, one that positions Motors as the latest link in a long cinematic chain. Australian popstress Kylie Minogue immediately scores unexpected cool points by appearing in this project, while glamour girl Eva Mendes follows up her role in Herzog‘s Bad Lieutenant with this even weirder part. We definitely approve of the way her career is headed (even though her recent choices probably make her agent tear his hair out).
(This movie was nominated for review by “Dwarf Oscar,” who said it was “weird, weird, weird. You already guessed, I know that, but right now I’m making it official. For once, I’m pretty confident it’s going to make its way to the List…” . Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
PLOT: While investigating the slaughter of an immigrant family, a pill-popping and coke-sniffing New Orleans cop’s penchant for gambling and for rolling his escort girlfriend’s clients gets him into deep trouble with his department and with dangerous men; to save his life, clear his name, and crack the case, he must pull off several double crosses while strung out and sleep deprived.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Watched with a doggedly literal mind, this version of Bad Lieutenant could almost be seen as a straightforward thriller/police procedural, but most who check out this flick will come away with the nagging feeling that there’s something exceptionally strange afoot in NOLA these days. Less than a handful of hallucinations dog our drug-soaked antihero through the port, but the visions that do appear pack one hell of a wallop. Cage’s jittery, over-the-top performance and the enigmatic, dreamlike ending Herzog supplies notch two more points in the “weird” column.
COMMENTS: In 1992 underground auteur Abel Ferrara made a notorious movie about a corrupt New York City cop who shoots heroin, smokes crack, molests teenage girls, shakes down criminals for bribes, and tries to solve a case involving a raped nun while hallucinating and dodging a bookie he owes an unpayable debt. Bad Lieutenant was an overwrought, magnificent Christian parable that sought to demonstrate God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness by presenting a character that audiences couldn’t forgive.
In 2009 renowned German auteur Werned Herzog made a movie about a corrupt New Orleans cop who snorts heroin, smokes crack, molests young women over the age of 21, rolls johns for drugs and money, and tries to solve a case involving a murdered family while hallucinating and dodging a mobster he owes an unpayable debt. Herzog defiantly claimed never to have heard of Ferrara or the first Bad Lieutenant movie, but screenwriter William M. Finkelstein notably kept his mouth shut.