Tag: nicolas cage

Film Inquiry: What Constitutes A Cult Film?

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Cult films are difficult to define, as they vary in scope, themes, genre and in just about every other way. Despite these ambiguities, it is demonstrable that the revered Roger Ebert once got the definition entirely wrong.

In his review of Avatar, Ebert described the film as an “event” that was “predestined to launch a cult.” Avatar was indeed an event, as the film had been the subject of a relentless $150 million promotional campaign that employed methods as commercial and corporate as McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. An otherwise emphatic Ebert acknowledged this caveat, describing it as a “dubious advance buzz,” but I think this manufactured buzz should immediately negate any arguments that it is a cult film. Any highly successful blockbuster film with a profile that’s been pumped up by Rupert Murdoch’s deep moneybags can rarely be called a “cult film,” as its reach and grasp are far too large.

To continue reading, please follow the link to Film Inquiry: filminquiry.com/what-constitutes-cult-film/

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Joe (2013)

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Nicolas Cage disappears into his role as the titular Joe in a film that’s thematically rather familiar but also a surprisingly realist piece of cinema.

The film follows the principal characters Joe (Nicolas Cage) and Gary (Tye Sheridan). Gary is the only member of his degenerate family who is able to work and earn a living; he has been forced to become a responsible person by his vile, repulsive father Wade (Gary Poulter), a man who has abused his body so much and for so long that he can only speak in slurred, incoherent ramblings. I recently compiled a list of the 10 most hateful characters of cinema; I think Wade could quite easily be placed in it.

Joe is a recidivist who is haunted by his criminal history and continues to struggle with controlling his anger, it seems the only way he can stay out of trouble is by absorbing himself in his small landscaping company.

Joe leads a group of black workers, they clear wooded areas with these rather strange axes that waywardly squirt poison everywhere. Joe and Gary are brought together when the boy implores him to employ both himself and his father. Joe obliges and Gary proves to be a good worker, although the agreement is soon thwarted by his obnoxious father who is too polluted, weak and lazy to contribute to the team.

The cast of Joe’s workers and indeed the whole film is populated with actors who were seemingly taken from the street, their performances are completely natural and their language raw, colloquial and as a result sometimes completely incomprehensible! A few times I felt like an American watching Trainspotting, particularly during a row between the moronic Wade and a black worker, whose ebonics is the strongest I’ve ever heard.

Joe is a tough watch, there are characters that represent the very lowest form of human life, there’s seldom a room in the film that isn’t a filthy, cluttered mess. I didn’t expect it to be such a realist piece of cinema, its depiction of blue collar work and young Gary’s first foray into it is sure to resonate with anyone who’s had similar experiences, myself included.

Nicolas Cage doesn’t stick out at all, he effortlessly blends in with the surrounding cast of largely unknown actors. Like Leaving Las Vegas, Joe is an example of Cage moderating his idiosyncratic acting, which I like incidentally, and showcasing just how good he is.

Clear correlations can be made with Mud, a similarly themed film about a benevolent renegade forming a bond with Tye Sheridan’s conflicted teenage boy. Joe is the superior of the pair, although Mud boasted good performances from its leads, it was melodramatic and overrated. Tye Sheridan’s character Ellis in Mud, who is given far too much screen time, thought about love and human relationships in ways that 14-year-old boys just don’t – I didn’t believe in him. He also had a habit of vehemently punching people in the face that belied his prepubescent little frame. Joe’s Gary is a much better character, a measured boy who simply wants to make a living and prove to the men in his life that he’s no kid.

Mud lacked Joe’s gritty nastiness, it had treacly melodrama instead of stark reality. What they do share is the running theme of redemption, and in the case of Joe, I found its conclusion rather familiar and subsequently bathetic. Despite this, Joe succeeds in absorbing you in its masculine world and Nicolas Cage defies any naysayers by completely disappearing into his role as the titular rogue.

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Blog: The Top 6 Most Interesting Actors Working Today

I don’t consider this list to be definitive, there are of course scores of other interesting actors who may turn out to be far more interesting than the individuals mentioned below. For now though, here is a list of six people whose career paths are following the most interesting trajectory.

6 – Arnold Schwarzenegger

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He’s not the most talented, nuanced of actors, but I’ve been a fan of the Austrian Oak’s iconic persona since I was a child. Schwarzenegger deprived fans for 8 years during his incredulous tenure as Governor of California, and he downright teased us in 2010 with his brief cameo in ‘The Expendables’. However, he is no longer the Governator, he has returned to his second career, the one that made him most famous. He’s already starred in ‘The Last Stand’ (2013), a film that annoyingly I haven’t been able to see yet. However it was great seeing him in last year’s ‘The Expendables 2’ which was, to quote Patrick Bateman, a ‘laugh riot’. I’m always up for a slice of Arnie cheese, and I’m sure ‘The Tomb’, ‘The Expendables 3’ and perhaps even ‘The Terminator 5’ will be entertaining, however I’m not sure how the latter will work out.

5 – Michael Fassbender

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Fassbender has proved his worth in small independent films such as ‘Fish Tank’ (2009) and ‘Shame’ (2011) and big-budget blockbusters like ‘Inglourious Basterds’ (2009) and ‘Prometheus’ (2012).  With films like ‘The Counselor’, ‘Jane Got a Gun’ and ‘Prometheus 2’ in his upcoming canon, the affable Fassbender seems to be forging a career that is both critically and commercially successful.

4 – Ryan Gosling

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It’s remarkable to think that a man who starred in the worst film ever made, The Notebook, could appear on this list. Since the offence in 2004, Gosling starred in films such as Half Nelson (2006) and Blue Valentine (2010). He didn’t truly come to my attention until 2011, when he assumed the role of ‘The Driver’ in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. His performance, like the film, wasn’t the most layered, but he certainly excelled in producing a steely aura and being just so incredibly cool.

The great thing about Drive was that it signalled Gosling’s encroachment onto the edgy, independent area of cinema. It was also hopefully going to be the first instalment in a cinematic collaboration between him and Danish director Refn. Those hopes were confirmed when images of Only God Forgives surfaced, showing Gosling with a badly beaten up face.

3 – Nicolas Cage

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He’s by no means a new kid on the block, quite the contrary, he’s becoming a rather venerable member of Hollywood. Since his emergence in the mid to late eighties, Nic Cage has appeared in approximately two million films.

Some may be surprised by his inclusion, his role decisions are becoming increasingly questionable, but I really like Cage, he’s idiosyncratic in more ways than one. Firstly, as Mark Kermode once rather rudely pointed out, he certainly doesn’t have leading man looks, and his hair is very, very strange. He is also famously capable of delivering unhinged performances, performances which can only be described as ‘Cagesque’. Among the finest examples in the ‘Cagesque’ oeuvre are ‘Vampire’s Kiss’ (1988), ‘Bad Lieutenant’ (2010), ‘Deadfall’ (1993), ‘Face/Off’ (1997) and ‘Matchstick Men’ (2003). It’s this combination of unconventional looks and persona that make him a favourite of mine.

Of course, Cage can also deliver more balanced, subtle performances if a director manages to tame him, as demonstrated in ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ (1995) and ‘Adaptation.’ (2002). Because of the sheer personality of the man, I’m always on the look-out for updates on his career – I was utterly delighted to hear that he will be appearing in ‘The Expendables 3′.

2 – Christian Bale

Christian-Bale-transformationChristian Bale is the undisputed king of ‘weight acting’.

His performance as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000) is one of my all time favourites, and his roles in ‘The Machinist’ and ‘The Fighter’ show how he’s a truly committed actor. Now that the vastly overrated Batman trilogy has ended, Bale can leave the boring character of Bruce Wayne and build on an already impressive portfolio. His appearance in ‘Untitled Terrance Malick Production’, which co-stars Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Rooney Mara is a step in the right direction. Bale will be offered the best scripts in Hollywood; we’ll probably find him in the Best Leading Actor category at an Oscars ceremony in the very near future.

1 – Matthew McConaughey

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Matthew McConaughey’s films have been famously commercially-minded for the past decade or so, with films such as ‘The Wedding Planner’, ‘Sahara’, ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’ and ‘How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days’. This career move is understandable, the man has amassed a fortune from these films, however he has lost a damning amount of credibility in the process.

Not anymore though, over the past few years he has shown what he’s capable of in films such as ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’, ‘Bernie’, ‘Magic Mike’ and ‘Killer Joe’, which for my money is the best film of 2012. I fawned endlessly over his performance in my review of ‘Killer Joe’, and for good reason, he doesn’t just break his typecast, he shatters it. It’s one of the most menacing performances I’ve seen in years.

It seems this upward trajectory isn’t slowing either, with McConaughey going all method actor and losing massive amounts of weight for his leading role in the upcoming ‘The Dallas Buyer’s Club’. Other roles include ‘Mud’ and Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. I’m all for this, but I can’t help imagining this rapid ascension has left McConaughey feeling rather smug, he’s gone from a mere rich heartthrob to a rich, critically respected heartthrob!

Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

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I found myself laughing at this unsung gem far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’. 

Over the years, Nicolas Cage has developed a reputation for being a ‘paycheque actor’, the National Treasures, the Ghost Riders and the slew of others have, in the eyes of many, demeaned him as an actor. I can understand this, and agree to a certain extent, but Nicolas Cage is capable of many great things on the big screen, and Vampire’s Kiss, a genuinely peculiar piece of work, is a testament to that.

Cage occupies the role of Peter Loew, a womanising literary agent whose empty, high-pressure existence leads to a major mental breakdown. Peter is sent into a downward spiral of increasingly psychotic episodes, believing he is turning into a vampire after apparently being bitten by a rather more sinister one night stand.  As Peter crumbles under the grasp of his psychosis, he begins to antagonise his sweet secretary Alva, obsessively badgering her to fix a painfully daunting and monotonous filing issue.

Cage is at his unhinged best in this film; his rather idiosyncratic lunacy is perhaps an acquired taste, but I found it to be refreshingly hilarious. It’s a truly strange performance, there are many memorable outbursts that leave you rather incredulous, such as a scene of infantile crying that is quickly followed by Cage running down a street shouting ‘I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!’. Aside from the various crazy eruptions, the inflections in Cage’s voice also have this comic air of pomposity – it’s futile to try and describe them, you have to hear them yourself.

With its yuppie-in-trouble story line, Vampire’s Kiss bears a striking resemblance to American Psycho, only it’s much stranger. The film charts the descent into madness, but it does it in such a surreal, eccentric manner that you don’t take it very seriously, it is indeed difficult to empathise with Peter. Some have said that this is a detriment of the film, but I don’t think it is; besides, I think the themes of unhappiness and unfulfillment do have a certain degree of poignancy. It is first and foremost a black comedy with an oddball central performance, not a grim piece of drama.

‘Vampire’s Kiss’ is likely to polarise audiences. I’m sure many viewers would find it plain silly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m very much part of its cult following. I found myself laughing far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’.

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Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

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A somewhat idealised account of alcoholism, but still a thoroughly downbeat one.

Don’t get me wrong, this film is thoroughly downbeat, however I feel alcoholism is still somewhat sugar coated. The likelihood of Ben Sanderson (Nicolas Cage) finding a woman as attractive and utterly devoted as Sera (Elizabeth Shue) is slim. It’s possible of course, their bond is understandable; they’re both people in grave need of care, one being a severe addict and the other being a victim on the fringe of society. Also, the crucial element that makes the relationship and indeed the film work is its platonicism.

Nevertheless, I thought that ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ is a somewhat idealised account of dire alcoholism. This really struck me in an erotically charged scene in which the pair kiss and caress each other with the help of a large bottle of liquor – it’s an image that would exist merely in the dreams of most addicts. However, the engaging central romance certainly beats 2 hours of a more ordinary dive into alcoholism, which would be a film of roughly two sets: a pub and a bedroom stained with urine, excrement, blood and vomit.

A film of this nature depends on a good central performance, and it gets one. Cage is depressingly real and effective as Ben. I am a fan of many of Cage’s unhinged roles, however ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ is one the films that proves that when he moderates his idiosyncratic lunacy, he can produce genuinely good, measured performances.

The film is scored with smooth, melancholic jazz tracks and the narrative is constructed by a tautly composed prologue which gives a brief insight into Ben’s life before he left for Las Vegas. This includes a brilliant scene of Ben ridding himself of his personal and professional existence to the sound of Michael McDonald’s energetic ‘Lonely Teardrops’. It’s a scene of mixed emotions, although he is condemning himself, it is also an act of liberation. Not much detail is given about his life in the prologue, however it is clear that he was a popular and successful family man. When he is fired, his boss says with a touching sincerity ‘we enjoyed having you around here, but you know how it is’, giving him a cheque which Ben describes as ‘too generous’. This depth given to Cage’s character makes his decline all the more tragic.

‘Leaving Las Vegas’ is dark, seedy and tragic. Recommended.

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The Wicker Man (2006)

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As a piece of comedy, it is excellent.

As a horror film, it fails completely, and I mean completely. However, as a piece of comedy, this film is excellent. For instance, there is a dream-within-a-dream sequence that missed the mark so spectacularly that I burst out laughing in utter shock. Funnier than that however is Nicolas Cage, whose lines ‘How’d it get burned?!’, ‘What’s in the bag, a shark or something?’ and ‘Oh no! Not the bees! Aghhhh!’ deserve to be in the AFI Top 100 Quotes thanks mainly to Cage’s, shall we say, ‘Cageseque’ delivery. The terrific script is laced with unintentionally funny lines, another notable moment being when Cage turns the acquiring of a bicycle into a serious police procedure – *draws gun* “Step away from the bike.” Merely quoting these lines here does not do them justice, you have to see it to appreciate it. As you may know, the film’s direction was so markedly ill-judged that the aforementioned scenes have now become legendary in the online community.

Cage’s battles with the maddeningly brainwashed women of Summersisle are also a joy to watch, as there are no holds barred when things get physical. Cage lays down the law with a combination of thundering punches to the face, kicks to the chest and stern Cagesque shouting, and there are times where he does all of this whilst dressed as a grizzly bear. I suspect my enjoyment of the film was significantly compounded by the HD copy that I watched, so I would recommend that, as the filming locations are quite pretty. Overall I think this film is firmly within the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, it’s impossible to take it seriously – it really is entertainingly poor.

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