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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Bad Lieutenant : Port of Call New Orleans [Blu-ray]

 

(Werner Herzog, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Edward R. Pressman, Saturn Films & Osiris

Blu-ray: First Look Studios

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (B + C untested)

Runtime: 2:02:09.363

Disc Size: 24,334,505,256 bytes

Feature Size: 21,943,474,176 bytes

Video Bitrate: 19.98 Mbps

Chapters: 13

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 6th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

Dolby TrueHD Audio English 1204 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1204 kbps / 16-bit (AC3 Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps)
Dolby Digital Audio English 256 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 256 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• Digital Photo Book by Lena Herzog – (8:55)

• The Making of The Bad Lieutenant : Port of Call New Orleans – in SD (31:10)

• Theatrical Trailers

 

 

The Film: 7
Werner Herzog's movie about a cop addicted to street drugs, street crime and street policing is fascinating enough that it might be fun to sit with a few critics for a spell, keeping in mind Roger Ebert's dictum that "It's not what a movie is about but how it's about it."

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times):
In the gallery of bad cops, Terence McDonagh belongs in the first room. Everyone will think of Harvey Keitel's lieutenant in Abel Ferrara's masterpiece "Bad Lieutenant" (1993) for the obvious reason. I hope this film inspires you to seek out that one. It deserves to be sought. Ferrara is Shakespearean in his tragedy, Herzog more like Cormac McCarthy [author of "No Country for Old Men" – LN]. Sometimes on the road to hell you can't help but laugh.

The details of the crime need not concern us. Just admire the feel of the film. Peter Zeitlinger's cinematography creates a New Orleans unleavened by the picturesque. Herzog as always pokes around for the odd detail. Everyone is talking about the shots of the iguanas and the alligator, staring with cold reptilian eyes. Who else but Herzog would hold on their gaze? Who else would foreground them, placing the action in the background? Who but Cage could regard an iguana sideways in a look of suspicion and disquiet? You need to keep an eye on an iguana. The bastards are always up to something.

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times)

Betsy Sharkey (L.A. Times):
Director Werner Herzog opens the film with the snake just so we're clear that he will be exposing the seductive and duplicitous underbelly of things from the start. It's a beautiful shot, dark and silvery, with a water moccasin moving inland through the rising black tide of Hurricane Katrina.

Enter Cage's detective Terence McDonagh, just part of the debris kicked up by the storm. There's a jail cell, a forgotten prisoner struggling to keep his head above water as Terence and his partner Stevie (Val Kilmer) look on, making bets on how long he'll last. In the first of many ripple effects, a last-minute rescue earns Terence a medal of honor, a promotion, a serious back injury and a cocaine habit to ease the pain. So we have the setup and the bad cop that Herzog will push into the deep bayou muck, human and otherwise, that Katrina leaves behind. You can almost see the director smile as Terence descends into a netherworld of drugs and gambling and murder investigations, the stakes getting higher, the risks greater, the world crazier.

Betsy Sharkey (L.A. Times)

A.O. Scott (NY Times):
“Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” — what an ungainly title for a movie. What does it mean? What kind of sense does it make? You might ask the same questions of the film itself, directed by Werner Herzog and related, by some equally puzzling movie-business genealogy, to another “Bad Lieutenant,” Abel Ferrara’s 1992 tour of New York law-enforcement hell. Neither remake nor sequel, this “Bad Lieutenant” is its own special fever-swamp of a movie, an anarchist film noir that seems, at times, almost as unhinged as its protagonist.

Fueled by Nicolas Cage’s performance — which requires adjectives as yet uncoined, typed with both the caps-lock key and the italics button engaged — Mr. Herzog’s film is a pulpy, glorious mess. Its maniacal unpredictability is such a blast that it reminds you just how tidy and dull most crime thrillers are these days.

A.O. Scott (NY Times)

. . . and there are those who didn't find a center:

David Edelstein (New York Magazine):
If there’s a sure thing in movies, it’s that if you cast Nicolas Cage in a role in which he goes crazy, he’ll rise to the occasion and keep on rising until he seems even loonier than his character. In Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (a sequel to Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant in name only), he plays Terence McDonagh, whose back is injured as he saves a prisoner when the levees break. As he moves from prescription painkillers to huge amounts of crack and smack, his shoulders stiffen, eyes bulge, and lips pull back to reveal hungry choppers. He’s like a vampirized Richard Nixon. Werner Herzog directed, deftly at first (plenty of noir atmosphere) but with escalating wigginess, as if trying to keep up with his leading man. Talk about the burden of dreams!

David Edelstein (New York Magazine)

David Denby (The New Yorker)
The movie is an approximate remake of the notorious Abel Ferrara film of 1992, in which Harvey Keitel bullied, thieved, snorted, and fornicated his way to immortality as a crooked and sometimes naked New York cop. Herzog, in his ineffably high-minded manner, has bristled at the “theoreticians of cinema” who would compare his picture with the earlier one, which he says he has not seen. (“Go for it, losers,” he tells them.) I am not a theoretician, but, as a mere vulgar critic, I have to report that Ferrara’s work was a highly sexual affair, with a real sense of pleasure in violation—a movie immersed in sub-Scorsesean despair, guilt, self-indulgence, and redemption. Herzog’s film, by contrast, is both an intermittent police procedural and an outrageously diverting celebration of crack mania. . . The movie is a mess, but it’s certainly not dull. At the end, McDonagh asks, “Do fishes dream?” That’s the kind of question Herzog finds interesting, and it inspires many questions of comparable fascination: Do clouds have an unconscious? Do pinball machines steal the souls of the drunken truck drivers who pull their levers? Conundrums, like wandering lizards, pile up at the gates of the cinema.

David Denby (The New Yorker)

 


Image: 7/8   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

As usual, First Look satisfies itself with a single-layer disc, skimping some on extra features and their presentation. Still, the AVC encode with a bit rate averaging in the low 20s does a journeyman's job of conveying the shadowy, reptilian world of light and color that Peter Zeitlinger, Herzog's DP of choice lately, created for Lt. McDonagh to inhabit in his head and out of it. The transfer is spotless, with no distracting artifacts, enhancements. There is some flare in strong backlit situations, such as in the sports bar where McDonagh and his bookie meet, but that's likely to be in the source material due to the way it was shot. The color fringing in those situations, however, is not. Blacks - and there's a good deal of them - are noiseless. Sharpness and color varies with lighting and intention – sharpness can be quite good at times (check out the lieutenant's threads); color is spot on.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 7/8
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 is a crackhead's daydream. In the police bull pen or at a bar or restaurant, the sound design implies that there is no one else in the room but McDonagh and the person he's talking to. All other conversations and effects are muted into meaninglessness. (Isn't drug-induced narcissism grand!) In other scenes a peculiar LFE inserts itself into the mix. It's low and subdued, and has almost no definition, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it's doing there. From time to time we are treated with Mark Isham's atmospheric score, reminiscent of Daniel Licht's music for Dexter. Here the soundstage, which is sometimes constricted and front-directed, opens up with a voluptuous sultriness that would seem out of place if it weren't for all the other excesses of image, performance and character. Here, the music comes to life as if the band in your room just woke up.

 

Operations: 6
Forced, but skippable previews are foist upon us with no direct recourse to the main menu. Once there, the design is in keeping with the noirish, yet, colorful style of the movie. The font is small for my taste, but there's not much of a chance you'll get lost.

 

 

Extras: 4
Besides a couple of trailers, there are two extra features: a beautifully imaged album of photographs taken on the set by Herzog's wife, Lena. You can let them self advance or take over on manual drive. The 30-minute making of piece shows off Maestro Herzog setting up shots and our seeing how that materializes into something like the finished product. Werner enjoys talking about himself and his creative process here as elsewhere, and these intermissions are always fascinating. We also hear from a few members of the cast. Val Kilmer, who is seriously underused in the film, gets in a few words edgewise.

 

 

Bottom line: 8
I admit I couldn't quite get a handle on Herzog's lingering images of reptiles. (The iguana on my back, perhaps?) And I'm still uncertain about its Taxi Driver ending. Perhaps I will sort it all out next time around, which I am looking forward to when unsuspecting company (the best kind) comes over for a movie fix. As you can tell from the aforequoted critics, regardless of how they come down on the movie, everyone thinks Cage is a knockout of one sort or other. I rather liked his Castor Troy impersonation that alternated without notice with his Jimmy Stewart. Except for a minor niggle or two, the image and audio are quite good, though some way from demonstration material – not that the movie would have argued for it. The price is right, so: Light Up.

Leonard Norwitz
March 21st, 2010

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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