Happy Fat Tuesday! (or Shrove Tuesday, as some say.) A few years ago I was lucky enough to take a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and whilst I experienced a lot during the week’s festivities, I still feel like I only scratched the surface of what the city had to offer. It’s that kind of place.
And because it’s been so long since I was there it’s got to the point where I’ll sometimes randomly corner my partner and morph into Matthew Fox’s character from the TV show Lost, crying that ‘we have to go back!’
But Fat Tuesday got me thinking, what is it about Nawlins? Why is it such a good place to set stories? For me, I think it’s America’s ultimate melting pot. At its essence, it’s the people and cultural equivalent of gumbo, a mish-mash of stuff all melted and blended together to form something quite enticing.
Evocative, spooky, mysterious, sexy, dirty, glorious, unabashed, and flamboyant. So why wouldn’t you set stories there? Here’s a few I think are worth a look.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
After the 1992 Abel Ferrara movie starring Harvey Keitel most actors would have left any kind of sequel or remake well alone. But then, most actors aren’t Nic Cage. And most don’t have Werner Herzog directing them. Apparently this film is neither a sequel nor a remake, yet features the same main character. Ferrara expressed his keen disappointment upon hearing the film was going to be made, yet it did well critically, and remains one of Cage’s best performances.
Legendary con artist (played by Will Smith) crosses paths with a raw but talented amateur (Margot Robbie). He sees promise and takes her under his wing. As you’d expect from this kind of film, there are twists, turns and cons within cons. It’s not the most complex entry in this genre, nor that demanding a watch, but Smith and Robbie’s chemistry propel it along.
Interview With The Vampire (1994)
Whilst this version of the city is quite an old and plague-ridden one, it still counts as New Orleans and thus makes the list. Brad Pitt’s newly turned vampire Louis struggles with his need to kill, whilst Tom Cruise’s flamboyant Lestat taunts him every step of the way. As far as vampire movies go (The Lost Boys notwithstanding) this remains my favourite, and one of the best.
Cat People (1983)
Paul Schrader directs Nastassja Kinski in this erotic thriller reimagining the 1942 original. David Bowie wrote the lyrics to Cat People (putting out fire) to go with the movie. In my opinion, it’s one of his best songs, and is a case of the song becoming far more famous than the movie it was trying to promote. In terms of the plot, I have to keep resisting the urge to call this Thundercats: the movie, but honestly the premise is ridiculous… thousands of years ago leopards ruled and mated with humans, creating cat people. Today, these ‘people’, when aroused, turn into savage leopards. Er, what? Ok, to be fair, legendary critic Roger Ebert quite liked it – so what do I know?
The Big Easy (1986)
This neo-noir romantic thriller stars Dennis Quaid, Ellen Barkin, Ned Beatty and John Goodman. The story focuses on Quaid’s lieutenant trying to solve the murder of a local mobster and it’s, er, well it’s something. Basically if you want proof that the 80s were ‘a different time’, at least for movies, then just watch this gem of a trailer.
Hard Target (1993)
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays an out-of-work Cajun sailor called Chance Boudreaux. I mean, as setups go, do you really need to know more? You do? Ok, fine. This film marked the US debut of Hong Kong director John Woo. Sam Raimi oversaw it, but it’s Woo’s film, and one that did relatively well commercially, as well as becoming a cult classic. Woo went on to direct some great films at the end of the ’90s, too… Broken Arrow (1996), Face/Off (1997) and Mission Impossible 2 (2000), to name a few.