Friday, January 15, 2010

Bad Lieutenant Port Of Call New Orleans and The Princess And The Frog: Best New Orleans Double Feature EVER!!!

Yes I watched both of these films within an hour of each other. No my head somehow managed not to explode.

Herzog’s journey into the Iguana fueled heart of Darkness has by now been justly praised as a bit of batshit looney wonderfulness.

I unlike most of the people who have reviewed the film, I actually LIKE Abel Ferrara’s original, even though I have a friend who literally hasn’t forgiven me for showing them it. Ferrara’s movie is a dark, achingly serious film, a parable about God’s capacity for Grace, that’s earnest in both its theology and its depravity. Its no wonder that some find it a bit hard to swallow. That and it features a scene involving Harvey Keitel’s guttural howls and penis.

Herzog as expected took another route, turning the film into a perverse black comedy (if you want an uncomfortable try being the only person laughing during Bad Lieutenant while you are also perhaps the only person under 70 in the theater). And even less expectedly into a genuinely effective policier. Herzog has never been one to really give a fuck about plot. But he acquits himself surprisingly well here. You genuinely do want to see how it all comes out.

The film’s Catholic Angst has been almost surgically removed (Herzog keeps a lot of Catholic Iconography in the frame though in what basically amounts to a fuck you to Ferrara) replaced by a Teutonic Nietzschian splendor.

The film of course follows Nic Cage behaving badly as he stumbles his way to the conclusion of a case involving the execution of a family of immigrants by a gangster named Big Fate (Xzibit shockingly not terrible) Herzog uses post Katrina New Orleans the way he used the burning Oilfields of Kuwait and the Rainforest previously a wild exterior landscape that somehow perfectly reflects the interiors of his characters.

Fairuza Bulk continues her quest to appear naked in a film by every director of The New German Cinema (Its too bad Fassbender didn’t hang around he would have loved her. The scenes involving Cage’s alcholic mess of a family have a surreal Tennesee Williams on Abysinthe Southern Gothic vibe.

And yet, praising this film almost feels like praising bad Behavior. Not from Herzog but Cage. No matter how committed he is to the role, Bad Lieutenant feels like the apotheosis of BAD Nicholas Cage. The Cage who screamed “HOW’D IT GET BURNED!!! And THE CAVES WON’T SAVE YOU!!!!”

And the thing is I liked Good Nicholas Cage. Watching Kick Ass was such a shock, because Matthew Vaughn managed to pull out a good Cage performance for the first time in decades. I don’t know if he’ll be recognized for it, but for the first time in well forever, Cage was using all his weird live wire energy towards building a person rather then a ball of twitches.

Herzog on the other hand, is nothing if not indulgent, and he’s more then happy to let Cage go as far over the moon as he want’s too with his lucky crack pipes.

Still it seems churlish to complain about a movie’s gonzoness when it yields such rich rewards as the Iguana scene and a line like “Shoot him again his soul is still dancing.”

If I was surprised by how cruel Gilliam ended up being to his characters, the surprise of how lenient Herzog was to his but was just as shocking. Though he pretty efficiently mocks the idea of a happy ending to this story, he doesn’t preclude it either.

It’s a surprising ending to this surprisingly glorious mess of a film.

Princess And The Frog, has been taking a lot of lumps. Rather then hailing the return of 2D animation to theaters, many have stuck up their nose because of the film’s supposed flaws. It sticks too close to the standard style, it doesn’t focus on racism in the deep south setting, its unimaginative in its animation, and stupidly praises the Princess lifestyle.

I can’t help but find that most of these charges ring false. The film’s supposedly lack of a social conscience is kind of a head scratcher. I mean first of all this is a fantasy film for children, not The Color Purple. And secondly though it doesn’t beat you over the head with it, the commentary on racial disparity is there. On the opening trolley ride from Charlotte’s life of unearned opulence to Tianna’s own home in the slum, and a later patronizing comment from a real estate agent about “a woman of her position” make the point subtly but without any doubt to the subtext.

As for the supposed empty praising of the princess style, I was actually surprised at how harsh the film was to the whole idea using the character of the vapid Charlotte to take some pretty hard shots at the vapidity of “Waiting for you prince to come.”

As for the animation. I just rewatched Lilo And Stitch and was gratified by just how daring much of the animation was, from the Miyaziki inspired impressionistic water color backgrounds, to the expressionistic designs of the aliens themselves. While Princess And The Frog sticks much closer to the house style, though its far from the stagnant dung heap the studio drew in for its last couple of 2D films, it proves itself unafraid to take some real bold leaps with its animation. The film uses its (idealized of course) New Orleans setting to its full extent. Most strikingly in a Hirschfield inspired musical number, but also in the free form animation on Dr. Faciler and his merry band. The angular shadow men are sure as to inspire as many nightmares as Malificent and her isometric trolls. The handling of Facilier is surprisingly and gratifyingly dark. By the time he turns into a psychedelic Baron Samedi for his big musical number, he has simply become a literal joy to watch. The animation on his “friends from the other side” is genuinely unsettling, and Keith David’s performance has a delectably nasty edge to it.

It draws on other surprising influences as well. Some of the animation in the beginning draws on an anarchic Tex Avery style spirit (And features what I believe to be Disney’s first out and out tit joke. Though I could be wrong there). Later in the one truly inspired sequence in the film’s saggy middle section, involving three grotesque hill billy hunters, it reaches into its past doing the personality filled intensely caricature based animation, that made the Disney formula work in the first place.

Like I said, after the inspiring opening third, the film does sag in the middle. There’s a real chip on this portion's shoulder. A real “THAT’S RIGHT THE CLASSIC DISNEY PLAYBOOK STILL WORKS!!! WHAT!!!” As a result the sequences hit every beat in the Disney style that annoys the shit out of people. From cheery animal sidekicks, over blown (but above average) musical numbers, “banter” the fetishtic idealization of everything (It takes some work to idealize a fetid swamp but its managed) and valuable life lessons learned.

Now I don’t mean to be controversial here, but if anyone thought that any of these things wouldn’t be in a Disney movie they might not have any brains at all.

Still things pull together for a climax that brings back some of the innovation, with a surprisingly dark tone, along with some of the Disney beats that payoff well enough to suggest that there’s life in the dusty old playbook yet. 2D animation is an artform that’s very close to my heart. And it’s gratifying to see it back in such fine shape.

No comments: