Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

Pleased to Meet Me

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

by George Wolf

It’s not just that it’s the role he was born to play. It’s also that it feels like precisely the right moment for him to be playing it, as if the cosmos themselves are aligning to deliver us some rockin’ good news.

How good? Well, for starters, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent gives him about a minute and a half just to name check himself as “Nic f’innnnnnnnnnggggggggow!WoahCage!”

It’s a film that nails a joyously off the rails tone early and often, as Nic goes after the role of a lifetime with a public rage reading for David Gordon Green, but comes up short. The letdown has Nic considering walking away from the business altogether, until his agent (Neil Patrick Harris) calls with an attention-getting offer.

Attend one birthday party for a superfan, collect one million dollars.

So it’s off to Spain and the lavish compound of Javi (Pedro Pascal), where Nic is blindsided by two federal agents (Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz) staking out the place. Seems Javi is actually a drug kingpin who’s holding a young girl hostage in an effort to influence an upcoming election.

Sounds funny, right?

Not really. Which makes it even more of a kick when there’s no defense against giving in to the gleefully meta madness.

Director and co-writer Tom Gormican (That Awkward Moment) taps into the cult of Cage by both exploiting the myth and honoring how it took root. There are multiple, non-judgemental callbacks to the Cage filmography, while the young Nic (via hit or miss de-aging) drops in to remind his older self just who the F they are!

And while we’re loving all manner of Cage, here comes Pedro! More natural and endearing than he’s ever been, Pascal starts by channeling the fan in all of us, and then deftly becomes the film’s surprising heart. Yes, there are nods to Hollywood pretension, but they’re never self-serving, and the film is more than content to lean all the way in to a madcap adventure buddy comedy spoof.

Would it shock anyone if we eventually get a tell-all book revealing that Cage actually was a CIA operative? Or that he won Employee of Every Month? Nope, and Massive Talent is a fun, funny salute to a guy who’s improved a host of movies by never forgetting who he is.

WoahCage!

Going Like a Ghostland

Prisoners of the Ghostland

by Hope Madden

Nicolas Cage referred to Sion Sono’s Prisoners of the Ghostland as possibly the wildest film he’s ever been in.

Wilder than Wild at Heart?

Wilder than Mandy?

Wilder than – I mean, it’s a long list. We’re talking about Nicolas Cage here. But Sono (Suicide Club, Antiporno, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, Why Don’t You Play in Hell, among others) is no slouch in the wild department. So, it would seem that he and Cage make a suitable match.

Sono’s tale pits dastardly bank thief and all around nogoodnik Hero (Cage) against the clock, testicular bombs, and marauding trucker ghosts. Why? To return The Mayor’s (Bill Moseley) beloved granddaughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) back to him.

If that sounds simple enough —and it probably does not— the film’s even more unusual than the synopsis suggests. Prisoners of the Ghostland delivers a samurai cyberpunk musical Western dystopian neo-noir with flourishes reminiscent of Mad Max and Mulan Rouge.

I wish that mashup worked better.

The Mayor rules Samurai Town, a garish din of debauchery, color and indulgence. Here Sono delivers bold and bizarre visuals. He runs with the idea that the samurai and the cowboy are essentially, cinematically, the same beast.

Bernice is held in Ghostland, all ash and cinder populated as much by mannequins as humans. Haunting imagery here as well, though less of it unique, marrying Western to dystopic fantasy. Plus the Greek chorus.

Compared to Sono’s madcap antics, Cage is almost subdued. Does he ride naked on a child’s bike? Grapple with toxic mutant monsters? Sing? He does! It’s just that Sono’s vision is wilder still.

The filmmaker’s aesthetic is jarring, disjointed, overwhelming, frenetic, sometimes stupid, other times glorious, and never less than mad. The fact that he tries to tie it all together neatly at the end may be Prisoners of the Ghostland’s biggest drawback.

The underlying story is of trafficked women taking control of their lives and bodies, though the fact that Boutella is essentially voiceless and in need of saving speaks louder about the film’s themes. She does a solid job in a thankless role, as does everyone in the densely populated ensemble.

It’s bananas It doesn’t entirely work – sometimes it doesn’t work at all — but it is a bold mess that commands attention.

That’ll Do

Pig

by Hope Madden

A quick plot synopsis of co-writer/director Michael Sarnoski’s Pig suggests a very specific image. Nicolas Cage plays a hermetic truffle hunter whose beloved pig is kidnapped. He uses his particular set of skills to find her.

You are almost undoubtedly thinking this is John Wick, swapping Cage for Keanu and a pig for a puppy.

Nope.

This touching film—a tale of love, loss, authenticity and a good meal— is essentially the anti-John Wick. And we are better for it.

Cage’s legacy will rightfully be of an unhinged and singular talent—and also an actor who never turns down a gig. But every decade or so the stars align and Cage gets to stretch, he gets to underact. He hasn’t delivered as nuanced or thoughtful a performance since David Gordon Green’s 2013 film Joe.

Lurking, silent and disheveled, his character hitches a ride with the only soul who contacts him regularly, Amir (Alex Wolff, Hereditary), the slick wholesaler who takes his truffles off his hands each Wednesday.

As the two climb the ladder of potential kidnappers, from other outdoorsy truffle hunters to middlemen to chefs and higher still, Sarnoski mimics the beats of a vengeance thriller like John Wick or Taken, but he does this only to subvert expectations. It turns out, when your only real goal is to retrieve something beloved and lost to you, bloodshed doesn’t rank high in your thoughts.

A uniformly strong supporting cast and their priceless reactions to Cage’s vagabond presence not only illuminate the pretension Sarnoski hopes to call attention to in Portland’s high-end restaurant culture. They give the actor the chance to react.

Cage is almost always the center of attention in every film. It’s tough to look away from him because you’re afraid you’ll miss some insane grimace or wild gesture, but also because filmmakers love him and never pull away. Sarnoski asks you to wait for it. He gives Cage time to pause, breathe, and deliver his most authentic performance in ages.

I guarantee the folks to my left at this screening were here for Cage Uncaged! ™ Hopefully they appreciated the fact that they didn’t get it.

Search for Tomorrow

The Croods: A New Age

by George Wolf

At least two things have happened since we met The Croods seven years ago. One, we’ve forgotten about the Croods, and two, Dreamworks has plotted their return.

A New Age gets the caveman clan back together with some talented new voices and a hipper approach for a sequel that easily ups the fun factor from part one.

The orphaned Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) has become part of pack Crood, which is fine with everyone except papa Grug (Nicolas Cage), who isn’t wild about the teen hormones raging between Guy and Eep (Emma Stone).

The nomadic gang is continuing their search for the elusive “tomorrow” when they stumble onto the Stone Age paradise of Phil and Hope Betterman (Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann, both priceless). The Betterman’s lifestyle puts the “New Age” in this tale, and they hatch a plan to send the barbaric Croods on their way while keeping Guy for their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran).

But a funny thing happens along the way. Check that, many things happen, and plenty of them funny, in a film that nearly gets derailed by the sheer number of characters and convolutions it throws at us.

The new writing team of Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman and Paul Fisher keeps the adventure consistently madcap with some frequent LOLs (those Punch Monkeys are a riot) and even topical lessons on conservation, individuality and girl power.

Or maybe that should read Granny Power, since it is Gran’s (Cloris Leachman) warrior past that inspires the ladies to don facepaint, take nicknames and crank up a theme song from Haim as they take a stand against some imposing marauders.

Director Joel Crawford – an animation vet – keeps his feature debut fast moving and stylish, drawing performances from his talented cast (which also includes Catherine Keener and Clark Duke) that consistently remind you how important the “acting” can be in voice acting.

By the time Tenacious D drops in to see what condition the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” is in, the whole affair starts to feel like some sort of animated head trip.

Yeah, a little sharper focus wouldn’t hurt, but A New Age delivers the good time you forgot to remember to wonder where it’s been.

Rite Here, Right Now

Color Out of Space

by Hope Madden

HP Lovecraft has influenced horror cinema in ways too varied and numerous to really articulate. But true Lovecraft is tough to bring to the screen for a number of reasons, chief among them that his madness tends to involve something indescribable: a color no one’s ever seen before, a sound entirely new to the human ear, a shape that defies all laws of geography and logic.

Alex Garland pulled inspiration from Lovecraft’s 1927 short Colour Out of Space for his brilliant 2018 mindbender, Annihilation. But for direct adaptations, Richard Stanley’s newest may be the best.

Naturally, the film’s success is due in large part to Nicolas Cage’s performance, because who descends into madness quite as entertainingly?

Cage plays Nathan Gardner. Nathan and his wife (Joely Richardson), their three kids and their squatter (Tommy Chong – nice!) live a quiet life in the New England forest not far from Arkham. A meteorite changes all that.

Cage basically strums a favorite old tune, landing somewhere on his “nice guy gone insane” spectrum just this side of Brent (Mom and Dad) and Red Miller (Mandy). In fact, the voice that begins emerging once the meteorite hits is gleefully reminiscent of Peter Lowe from Vampire’s Kiss (a call back I can get behind).

Is that the only reason to see the movie? No. Tommy Chong is a hoot, Richardson gets one especially creepy carrot chopping scene, and things go a little Cronenberg just when you want them to.

There’s a lot wrong with the film, too. Scenes are sloppily slapped together, one rarely leading to the next. The film’s budget is betrayed by its FX and supporting performances are not especially strong.

But Stanley’s long-awaited comeback (this is his first narrative feature since being fired from The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1996) infuses Lovecraft with a much needed dark streak of comedy and entrenches his tale of madness within a loving family dynamic, offering an emotional center to the story that the author rarely delivered.

The film lacks the vibrant subversiveness of Mom and Dad and comes nowhere near the insane vision of Mandy, so Cage fans might be only mildly impressed. Lovecraft fans, though, have reason to be excited.

Pace that Kills

Running with the Devil

by Hope Madden

A tale told in bathrooms, Running with the Devil travels with The Cook (Nicolas Cage), a high ranking jefe in an international cocaine cartel.

He’s a jefe, but he’s not El Jefe. That’s Barry Pepper, as The Boss, and he has other pressing concerns. El Jefe needs The Cook to travel with his product from the farm where it’s produced through the forests, mountains, backstreets, highways and checkpoints to the hands of the dealers who sell it, so he can determine just where the other problem lies.

So while The Agent in Charge (Leslie Bibb) and Number One (Peter Facinelli) investigate suspicious OD’s stateside, The Cook heads south for his own form of investigation.

A word about character names. Writer/director Jason Cabell offers labels as opposed to your traditional Paul or Paulas. That would be interesting if the labels were fun or even on-the-nose, but The Cook? This isn’t meth. He actually just owns a restaurant on the side, which has nothing to do with anything, but I guess Cartel Middle Manager didn’t have the right zing.

Another word about Number One (Facinelli). This guy. He’s the trusted back up to The Agent in Charge. He’s the guy who gets stuck heading to the border to wait for the shipment. And he is the single most conspicuous person on earth. He’s like a Tom of Finland illustration come to life and dressed in JC Penney’s best.

Anyway, Cabell structures his film to draw tension and excitement from the inevitable collision between The Cook (Cage) and The Man (Lawrence Fishburne).

OK.

They may be borderline-geriatric badasses, but both have certainly cut interesting cinematic figures. What can they do together?

Well, in this case, they can disappoint. You can’t lay this on Fishburne’s portrayal. His commitment to the pursuit of cocaine and prostitutes impresses.

Unfortunately, this is one of those Nic Cage movies where he doesn’t cut loose—doesn’t go all Nic Cage on you. This means he has to act, but he more or less chooses not to. You get a flash here, a flutter there, but the naked truth is that Nicolas Cage has no idea how to behave like a regular person. The Cook is too ordinary a man for Nicolas Cage to properly portray.

And without the needed distraction of a Full On Cage, it’s tough not to notice the narrative inconsistencies, trite dialog, stupid character names.

I mean, Facinelli does what he can with that mustache to keep your attention, but when it comes to the school of Glorious Explosive Train Wreck Acting, he’s no Nic Cage.

Across the Universe

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

by George Wolf

Should we really be surprised a spider-based franchise has so many legs?

It wasn’t that many years ago when Spider-Man 2 was the conventional wisdom pick for all time best superhero flick. Then last year, Homecoming erased the memories of some disappointing installments with a tonally perfect reboot.

And now, Spidey gets back to his animation roots with Into the Spider-Verse, a holiday feast of thrills, heart, humor and style that immediately swings to the very top of the year’s animated heap.

Teenager Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore from Dope and The Get Down) is juggling a lot of teen drama. He’s trying to make friends at a new school, make nice with his dad (Brian Tyree Henry), and practice graffiti art with his cool Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), so he really doesn’t need to be dragged into an alternate universe with Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) right now, okay?

But, thanks to an evil plan from Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) and Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn), that’s just what happens. And before you can say quantum theory, Miles is meeting kindred heroes from all over the Spider-Verse, including another Spider-Man (Chris Pine), Spider-Man Noir (classic Nicolas Cage), anime version Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham, a hilarious Looney Tunes-style crime fighting pig (John Mulaney).

Writer Phil Lord follows his winning scripts for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Lego Movie with an even bigger bulls-eye, one that manages to honor franchise traditions as it’s letting in some fresh, hip, and often very funny air.

In the hands of directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, the story bursts to vibrant life. The dazzling animation gives a big soul kiss to comic books and pushes nearly every frame to its action-following limit.

This Spider-Man is filled with everything you want in a superhero flick today. There are compelling characters and engaging conflicts within a diverse climate, and a vital, clearly defined message of empowerment that stays above the type of pandering sure to bring eye-rolls from a kid’s b.s.detector.

And man, is it fun. That still works, too.





Surrender Mandy

Mandy

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

A hallucinogenic fever dream of social, political and pop-culture subtexts layered with good old, blood-soaked revenge, Mandy throws enough visionary strangeness on the screen to dwarf even Nicolas Cage in full freakout mode.

Opening with bits of a Ronald Reagan speech about traditional values and a knock-knock joke about Erik Estrada, director/co-writer Panos Cosmatos drops us in 1983 as Red (Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) live a secluded, lazily contented life somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

That contentment is shattered by a radical religious sect under the spell of Jeremiah (Linus Roache), who takes a liking to Mandy when the group’s van (of course it’s a van!) passes her walking on a country road.

Jeremiah’s followers return to abduct Mandy but only leave Red for dead, a move they won’t live long to regret.

Like Cosmatos’s 2010 debut Beyond the Black Rainbow, Mandy is both formally daring and wildly borrowed. While Black Rainbow, also set in 1983, shines with the antiseptic aesthetic of Cronenberg or Kubrick, Mandy feels more like something snatched from a Dio album cover.

Cosmatos blends ingredients from decades-spanning indie horror into a stew that tastes like nothing else.

Horror of the late 60s and early 70s saw hippies terrorizing good, upright citizens, perpetrating cult-like nastiness. Thanks to Charles Manson, society at large saw the counterculture as an evil presence determined to befoul conventional, Christian wholesomeness.

With Mandy, it’s as if the 70s and 80s have collided, mixing and matching horror tropes and upending all conceivable suppositions. In this case, zealots consumed with only the entitlement of their white, male leader wreak havoc on good, quiet, earth-loving people. The Seventies gave us some amount of progress, civil justice and peace that the Eighties took back under the guise of decency.

The fact that Red wears a 44 on his tee shirt and calls one baddie a “snowflake” shouldn’t be disregarded as coincidence.

But that’s not what you want to know. You want to know this: How bloody is it? And how insane is Nic Cage?

It’s plenty bloody (sometimes comically so), and though Cage is methodically unhinged, what Cosmatos is dealing makes Nic seem damn near understated.

Neither area disappoints, although the dreamlike pace leading up to the violence and the vividly Heavy Metal-esque visuals – including some animation and end credit shot- exacerbates the feeling that you, and quite possibly the characters, are only hallucinating all of this lunacy.

Mandy offers a commitment to vision above all.

Surrender to it.





Holding Out for a Hero

Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

by Hope Madden

Teen Titans was a beloved, fairly-serious, sometimes thematically challenging Cartoon Network program based on Glen Murakami’s comics.

Teen Titans Go! was Cartoon Network’s sillier spinoff show. Think Muppet Babies versus The Muppets: smaller, cuter, sillier and basically inferior in every way.

No, that’s too harsh. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies—the diminutive superheroes’ cinematic leap—is not without its share of charm. Directors Aaron Horvath and Peter Rida Michail (both from the TV series) bring the same zany, juvenile, self-aware sensibilities to the big screen that burst for years from the small one.

Robin, Cyborg, Raven, Beast Boy and Starfire aren’t being taken seriously by the superhero community. What they need is their own superhero movie! Everybody else has one! That’s how you know you’re really a hero, and not just a sidekick with a bunch of costumed goofball buddies.

What follows is a comment on the oversaturation of the superhero film punctuated by a lot of poop jokes.

The voice talent from the TV show (Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Khary Payton, Greg Cipes and Tara Strong) is joined by big names (Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Will Arnett, Patton Oswalt, Jimmy Kimmell) in fun cameos.

The best, most on-the-nose cameo belongs to Stan Lee, who sends up his own omnipresence as well as the Marvel/DC conflict and general nerdom with a spry little number.

There are laughs—some of them tossed with a surprisingly flippant sense of the morbid—and energy galore, but it’s all a kind of sugar rush. It’s fun for about 22 minutes, but by minute 23, you’ll be checking your watch.

By minute 50, you will be squirming restlessly in your seat.

By minute 80 you may have that fidgety kid next to you in a headlock, but who’s to blame him for kicking and wriggling and causing a ruckus? He’s as bored as you are!

By the 93-minute mark, you may be rushing for the door, and that’s too bad, in a way, because the bittersweet stinger you’ll miss with your hasty exit only brings home how slight and silly a spinoff Teen Titans Go! really is.

 





The Screening Room: Action and Oscar Contenders

Busy week! Loads covered on this week’s podcast: 12 Strong, Den of Thieves, Phantom Thread, Call Me By Your Name, Mom and Dad, The Road Movie, The Final Year and Mary and the Witch’s Flower, plus a quick look at what’s new in home entertainment.

 

Listen in HERE.