Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: Ah, the Nicolas Cage conundrum, well-covered in Michael Joshua Rowin's review. I've long thought Nicolas Cage to be one of our finest actors, while recognizing that a lot of people intensely dislike him—which is really less surprising than the fact that he somehow became a movie star and stayed that way for most of the past thirteen years or so. When he made that transition into star-building with his Bruckheimer movies and Face/Off, I was even more convinced, because in a lot of ways it is harder to be inspired by Con Air than obvious Oscar bait. For awhile, the Cage machine was running smoothly, as he alternated stuff like Gone in 60 Seconds and National Treasure with more productive work in movies like Adaptation, Matchstick Men, and The Weather Man, modulating his nuttiness as needed. But at some point, perhaps owing to his recently discussed money problems, his sense of trash evidently began to simultaneously fail him, and overtake his sense of crazy, wonderful risks. Aside from the National Treasure sequel, his popcorn/paycheck movies have gotten substantially crummier and lower-grade: The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, Next, Bangkok Dangerous... genre movies with goofy hair and not a whole lot of actual action or horror or suspense or whatever they're going for. His performance is often the best part of these movies, but they rarely seem worth his effort (I'll exclude Knowing because at least that movie is as entertainingly bonkers and committed as prime Cage). Now his past four years' worth of bad action and voiceover work seems to have gotten clogged up in his brainpipes, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is here to blast them clear with fiery insanity. This is a Werner Herzog non-remake of the Abel Ferrara movie from 1992, which seems to take away mainly the idea that this lieutenant is, you know, bad. Some of the vices—hookers, drugs, gambling—seem to be the same, too, but that might just be coincidental; you don't make a Nic Cage/Werner Herzog bad-cop movie and have the vices be light beer and occasional insensitivity to a loving family. In short, this movie sounds awesome, especially for people who savor Cage's manic side. I'm just afraid this may be a one-off return to working with interesting directors. He left the Michel Gondry/Seth Rogen Green Hornet project, and in the next year or two he'll appear in Kick-Ass (ultraviolent comic-book adaptation); Season of the Witch (medieval action movie from the director of Gone in 60 Seconds); The Sorcerer's Apprentice (live-action update of the Disney cartoon; your guess is as good as mine); and Drive Angry (a revenge picture from the director of My Bloody Valentine 3-D). On average, a little higher-rent than the likes of Next, I suppose, but I hope we don't have to wait another four years for the likes of Bad Lieutenant: Off to Reno (or equivalent).
Broken Embraces: Generally, I find Almodovar a touch overrated: some of his dialogue can be clunky and expository and on-the-nose, I've never seen him as a great visual communicator, and nothing much from All About My Mother and Volver really stuck with me apart from Penelope Cruz's good work in both. That said, I was surprised by my relatively positive experience Broken Embraces, maybe because my expectations were adjusted to non-fan levels. I couldn't really say that it's technically a better movie than Volver—though there's at least one shot in the new one that I think I'll remember for awhile, and I can't say the same about Volver—but the film-set stuff (movies within movies abound) connect more with my interests, while still allowing room for another excellent Cruz performance. Broken Embraces isn't a great movie, but I pretty much enjoyed it. At least until Editor Mark suggested that maybe it should've been directed by Brian De Palma, at which point I kinda wanted to see that version instead.
The Blind Side: Ever since I dubbed this movie Hero White Lady based on the trailer, I've heard a lot about how this book slash actual story of a rich white family who adopted a poor black kid (who became a pro football player) is really pretty amazing and great, and that apparently the movie is something to be feared in the sense that it might screw up a good book, rather than in the sense that it stars Sandra Bullock in general.
Planet 51: An animation-loving buddy of mine remarked that he's almost weirdly relieved that there's now enough variety and quality of animated feature films that he can feel pretty much entirely indifferent to the existence of Planet 51, rather than honor-bound to check out any non-Disney alternatives. Well-put. So rather than complain about the generically dumpy-looking alien parent designs or express hope about the Rock's voiceover abilities, I'll use this space for an early Thanksgiving RE: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up, and even Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Red Cliff: For a long time, I think I was confusing John Woo's return to Chinese cinema with his long-planned dream project about the Chinese people who built the railroads, because I was assuming Red Cliff was some kind of somber, historical affair. Then I saw the trailer and it seems like it could scarcely be more John Woo even if it starred a pair of doves shooting at each other with a gun in each talon. OK, maybe that's an exaggeration but it looks a bit more Curse of the Golden Flower than I was expecting, which increases the likelihood that I will see it, even though Woo hastened my twentysomething self getting over my seventeensomething appreciation of him by never making a U.S. film nearly as awesome as Face/Off ever, ever again. Now here's his chance to not make a movie nearly as awesome as Hard Boiled! [I would have gone with A Better Tomorrow there, but six of one, really. -Ed.]