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Toronto International Film Festival 2009: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Neil Young Trunk Show, & Soul Kitchen

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Toronto International Film Festival 2009: <em>Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans</em>, <em>The Neil Young Trunk Show</em>, & <em>Soul Kitchen</em>

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans: The title makes it sound less like a remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 masterpiece than a coming-this-fall-to-CBS cop show, yet Werner Herzog’s dizzying comedy is its own unruly beast. It may have taken somebody who’s wrangled Klaus Kinski five times before, but Nicholas Cage’s bruise-purple twitchiness is employed fruitfully for the first time in ages: Playing the titular dope-snorting, high-gambling, granny-terrorizing homicide detective, Cage offers a deranged high-wire act that is unmistakably part of the director’s singular world even as it keeps spilling over the edges of that world. By the time the lieutenant is lurching across the screen like a broken-backed Nosferatu, even seasoned weirdoes like Brad Dourif and Fairuza Balk are stepping out of the way. Herzog’s New Orleans is even more aggressively eccentric than Tsai’s Paris in Face: Visions of demented lyricism (an alligator’s view of a roadside crash, a pair of iguanas seemingly breaking into a Big Easy aria) giddily punch through the film’s hack-policier surface.

The Neil Young Trunk Show: Next to their previous collaboration, 2006’s luminous Heart of Gold, Jonathan Demme’s new film of a Neil Young concert might seem like a minor work, though in its own way it presents fans with nearly as many blissful moments. Shot in Pennsylvania’s Tower Theater during the grizzled singer’s 2008 Chrome Dreams II tour, the pictures combines performances of classic favorites (“Cowgirl in the Sand,” “Cinnamon Girl”), overlooked tunes (“The Sultan,” “Mexico”), and autumnal numbers (“No Hidden Path”) on a stage bare but for a few props (mementos from the singer’s spiritual “trunk”) and Young’s guitar-thrusting physicality. Compared to the Young who was facing an open grave in the mortality-infused Heart of Gold, the performer here glows with lifeworn vigor, haloed by the spotlight and set off by vibrant stage colors, his hair thinning and unkempt yet still sweeping. Captured by Demme, it’s a beautifully crafted and profoundly emotive spectacle.

Soul Kitchen: This year, Toronto has largely been a festival of extremes, with several films either minimalist-morphing-into-wallpaper or with adrenaline leaking out of their ears. Like Lieutenant, Fatih Akın’s two-fisted culinary comedy falls (dropkicks, really) into the latter slot. Closer to the high-decibel exoticism of the director’s breakout hit Head-On than to the border-busting gravity of his previous The Edge of Heaven, the picture sets up camp at a ramshackle Hamburg restaurant run by a frazzled Greek bruiser (Adam Bousdoukos) and takes in the hotheaded chefs, paroled relatives, and corporate scumbags pushing through. The whirring multiethnic textures are more exhausting than exhilarating: Akin’s camera-in-heat keeps slamming, always rushing to cram in one more canted angle, one more musical cue, one more smackdown between squabbling characters. Still, it’s something of a relief to see Edge of Heaven’s we-are-the-world solemnity giving way to gags about massage-room boners and aphrodisiac-laced desserts.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 10—19.

This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.