Salt and Fire

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Surrounded by emptiness (script, direction, theaters…)

SALT AND FIRE—–or ‘Limburger & Castor Oil’, which would be easier to swallow than this bizarre excuse for a whim in search of a synapse. Not dissuaded by the overwhelmingly negative, universally perplexed reviews, I took the bait (hey, sometimes everyone is wrong: uh, sometimes).  Really–an ecological adventure, filmed in Bolivia, starring Michael Shannon and Gabriel Garcia Bernal, directed by Werner Herzog?  Sign me up. Yes, this is how a tequila night ends, with a raccoon facial tattoo in a taxi headed to boot camp—-and the stripper never even showed up.

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A U.N. team, sent to investigate an Eco-disaster in South America, are kidnapped on arrival by a team of mysterious, heavily armed (yet polite) guys, working for ‘The Consortium‘ (that’s some heavy shit). Since it’s a Werner Herzog movie, things are weird from the start; for the first twenty minutes or so curiosity holds, as, like the victims, the settings, strangeness and portent lead us to think we’re headed to something important. Deep. A meditative revelation. For that last, and some deep chuckles, read the attempts to defend this banana peel by strained-to-explain Herzog diehards. General consensus among unblinkered victims viewers is that what follows the first segment is the worst, most meaningless movie the crazypants director has ever freed from his concept-cooked noggin. He wrote it as well–and it’s one howler after another, almost a dictionary of pretentious gibberish.

Is it possible that there’s something pervasive all around us that your data can’t analyze?”

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Shannon is one of the most compelling actors of the day—but no one could rescue Herzog’s dialogue. Bernal (and his absurdly conceived character) leave, courtesy of “the mother of all diarrhea”, after a just few scenes, as does Volker Michalowski, apparently cast only because his diminutive 5’2″ stature makes a contrast with the statuesque 5’10” of Veronica Ferres. The noted German actress has the central role and must banter idiotic exchanges with Shannon (“Truth is the only daughter of time“) as the ‘story’ plows to its ever-more-daffy conclusion. Like Shannon, her presence commands attention, but this project really does her a major disservice.  They share some of the dopiest conversations this side of Plan 9 From Outer Space (which had a more coherent plot). On board for the hell of it is Icelandic beauty Anita Briem, barely there, as a stewardess. Also served with shoveling the script is renowned theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, who, as an actor—is, well…a renowned theoretical physicist.

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You will know how she feels

The noblest place for a man to die is the place he dies the deadest.”

Only the cinematography from Peter Zeitlinger emerges with credit, as the locations are striking: Bolivia’s vast altiplano salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni, with the impatient supervolcano Uturunku lurking in the distance.  The 2016 movie delirium runs 98 minutes.  Everyone thuds on occasion: Herzog will always boast Aguirre The Wrath Of God and Fitzcarraldo.

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* It’s always a kick (or gas pain) to decipher byzantine explanations from auteurists about whatever ‘vision’ it was that ____(insert director name) “shares with” ____(insert name of unheralded cinema genius from Albania or Tonga). Always say cinema, never movie. Lard paragraphs with French words: cornered, use mise en scene. Remember what your teacher in Film Class taught you—the guy who’d written screenplays that were never picked up because Hollywood is too crass?—about how “hacks’ like Spielberg” lacked the aesthetic courage required to shoot a five-minute take of that abandoned drinking fountain? Remember his Volvo? You learned so much. This movie is so monumentally dumb it’s a sure bet for cult status.

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Lost, mind: reward if found

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