Dancing Souls

Dancing Souls (photo)

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Envy me, because Werner Herzog’s “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” is more fun to write about than it is to watch, and it is barrel-of-monkeys fun to watch. Everything about it is wrong, so wrong that categorizing it that way is meaningless, but wrong nonetheless, down to its title (that awkward “the” on the film’s opening title card, that anachronistic and irrelevant “port of call,” the subtitle itself, erroneously suggesting sequel-hood, etc.).

Of course, the film has no relation to the 1992 Abel Ferrara film, except it involves a police detective who is “bad,” insofar as he dopes, gambles and isn’t very effective as a cop. In the first film, the character’s self-immolation was an existential passion; here it’s… I don’t know what it is. Herzog was brought on as a director-for-hire (which is very wrong, in the grand cultural scheme of things), after screenwriter William Finkelstein (“Doogie Howser,” “NYPD Blue”) was enlisted to sorta, kinda, remake Ferrara’s film, the producers’ initial intention. Star Nicolas Cage decided it would take place in New Orleans because he likes the city. One head-shaker after another. One imagines that by the time Val Kilmer was signed on for a worthless supporting straight-man part, the whole project was a giant rolling snowball of wrongness, headed inexorably toward us.

Oh, but if only movies were tidy little jigsaw puzzles, the assembly of which is either complete or not, rather than, sometimes, messy, impulsive, psyche-eating juggernauts within which visionaries, imps and opportunists have a unstable chemical romance and burn the place to the ground. Herzog’s long and great career, after all, can be seen as one long timeline of deliberate and horrifying accident-making, and so in that sense, if few others, “Bad Lieutenant” is quintessentially Herzogian. It’s the first time in the man’s fictional films we’ve smelt the singed carbon of self-parody, or at least tongue-in-cheekness, but in Werner’s world, the film itself can be scanned as another absurd, grotesque pageant, like the procession in “Even Dwarfs Started Small,” or Bokassa’s gold-plated ceremonies in “Echoes of a Somber Empire.”

Amid the chicanery — which only begins with an impulsive leap into Katrina floodwaters, and crests, perhaps, in the hallucinated presence of fat iguanas at the scene of a stakeout — there’s the brittle skeleton of a standard TV police procedural plotline, tracking down drug-cartel killers, by way of interrogations and evidence-hunting. Forget it, because although Herzog couldn’t quite, he obviously sighed with relief whenever he concocted a means to detour away from Finkelstein’s script (the iguanas, snapping at the camera to the tune of bluesman Sonny Terry’s “Old Lost John,” as Cage glares at them from the background, serve such a purpose).

The remaining 75% of the movie is comprised of the pas de deux between Cage and Herzog, as the two try almost anything that pops into their heads. Cage’s Terence McDonagh begins with a back injury, which nets him a Vicodin habit, which quickly graduates to crack and smack — hilariously, this heavy load of recreationals does not represent a “Leaving Las Vegas” death wish, but is merely a comically spiraling addiction scenario, fueled by itself, not by primal angst. (“I did what I thought was coke,” he explains woozily to hooker girlfriend Eva Mendes, “but it was heroin and I have to be at work in an hour.”)

McDonagh isn’t terribly irate about anything, and he doesn’t spend much time loathing himself — he’s just a dolt, a sloppy cop more worried about his access to his department’s property room and its stashes of powder (a great running gag) than his job or, really, anyone else’s well-being. Herzog never before seemed to be a filmmaker interested in the drama of addiction and recovery, and here he’s not either: he’s just letting Cage’s mayhem play out like any natural force run amok, as if the Hollywood filmmaking machine and the ego fireworks of one of the world’s most bankable stars is a warped spectacle on the level of the dancing chicken in “Stroszek.”

11182009_BadLieutenant5.jpgBut even that doesn’t “work” — we know how to watch a high-wire, no-rules actory tear. Cage is strangely subdued most of the time, and never approaches the incendiary lunacy of his earlier peak moments, in “Vampire’s Kiss,” “Peggy Sue Got Married” or “Wild at Heart.” Have so many stolid action movies tamped down his pilot light? Beyond an early conniption in a pharmacy, and a slew of late scenes in which crack reduces him to a yowling mess, McDonagh manages to keep his behavior under check, despite eventually lurching around with a rather Karloffian glower when having a hard time finding a fix, speaking as if he has a mouthful of bad dentures built from soft wax. For insurance, the film is stocked with other Industry eccentrics and inebriates, from Kilmer to Fairuza Balk, Michael Shannon, Brad Dourif and Jennifer Coolidge, and the vague conjunctions with David Lynch’s filmography seem organic and inevitable. (Lynch produced Herzog’s next film, “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done,” with several members of “Bad Lieutenant”‘s cast.)

Herzog has never been deft at comedy, and has rarely tried, and so this film has the ramshackle air of one made in an experimental spree, strapping a camera to a crocodile for a roadside P.O.V. (this after a lovely tableau of crushed croc roadkill, a blood trail and a car wreck), letting Cage frame out his scenes as if he were a stand-up comic imitating Klaus Kinski in Herzog’s “Nosferatu the Vampyre,” envisioning a drug thug’s post-shootout “soul” breakdancing, and so, crazily, on. In the most trivial ways, “Bad Lieutenant” is an anemic shadow of Ferrara’s knucklebuster, but for the most part, it is an animal apart, bristling with a set of conflicting and half-baked agendas, and as spellbinding as a Ferris wheel coming off its pylons.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.