That’s Cage, Nicholas Cage – I’ve been watching a few of his movies recently.
Made between Wild at Heart and Leaving Las Vegas, I hadn’t heard of this film until I picked it up in a Poundland box set (not encouraging). It’s directed by Christopher Coppola and has a host of name stars – Cage, James Coburn, Charlie Sheen, Peter Fonda – all with careers either on the make or on the skids. Leading man though is Michael Biehn (skids after the glory days of Terminator and Aliens), who plays con artist Joe Dolan. Having accidentally killed his father Mike in a scam that went badly wrong, Joe travels west to seek shelter with Mike’s twin brother Lou, who is also a criminal. Years ago the two brothers fell out, over a woman or money, but Lou welcomes Joe and brings him in on a multi-million dollar scam he has in hand. Joe gets ideas of his own, leading to the inevitable ending in which our hero wises up and realises how he’s been played. The plot to my mind seems horrendously contrived, and would have been entirely predictable except you don’t think they could be so naff, and so end up mildly surprised in spite of yourself. Most of the cast seem to be going through the motions, with their eye on the pay cheque. The exception is Cage as Lou’s right hand man Eddie, who is so over the top you have to wonder if he was on pain killers or some other drugs at the time. He appears to be channelling Dennis Hopper’s Frank from Blue Velvet, but without the inhaler and without the feel of madness kept in check. He is the comic cutout version of the character, and for all the wrong reasons the most memorable thing in an eminently forgettable film.
Now this, contrarily, is probably my favourite Nicholas Cage film. Directed by Joel Schumacher, it’s a sleazy, borderline noir thriller that put me very much in mind of Raymond Chandler’s fiction. Cage plays private detective Tom Welles, hired by a wealthy widow to discover if the snuff movie she found in her husband’s personal effects is the real article or not. The trail leads Welles to Hollywood and a cinematic underworld to which Joaquin Phoenix, as video store employee Max, acts as his guide, introducing him to extreme and niche pornography, and people who will do absolutely anything if the price is right. And yes, Welles finds those responsible for the 8mm film as his client asked, but in doing so he opens the door to a world of pain and dubious moral choices. Tightly plotted, and with Cage turning in a marvellous performance as Welles, a man who knows that he is doing something sleazy but it’s a thing he does well and he has a family to care for, this is a film that plumbs the depths and provides an insight into a world most of us can only imagine. It is filled with larger than life characters, monsters who act as they do because it’s in their nature to hurt, or justify what they do as pushing the boundaries of art, or who simply have so much money they want to find out if they are above the law and moral code. Welles can’t help but be sullied by this world, and at the end he kills too, leaving the viewer to decide if his hands are any cleaner than those of the people he murders in the name of justice/revenge (take your pick). It’s a grubby and believable film, so that you suspect there is something of truth in the narrative, even though you don’t want it to be so. It’s a film that asks questions about the value of human life, where the boundaries of behaviour lie, and in what circumstances can they be crossed. It isn’t a comfortable private eye story, with a neat ending. It’s bold and messy, and I like that.
Cage plays John, a professor of astrophysics at MIT. His son Caleb is given a list of numbers found inside a fifty year old time capsule at the local school. John deciphers the numbers, realising that they predicted disasters that have occurred over the past fifty years, both date, time and number of fatalities. Some of the numbers refer to future events, which John witnesses taking place, and slowly but surely he is led to a terrible conclusion. Meanwhile strange figures are seen stalking John and Caleb, men with possible designs on the boy. And cue the no expense spared grand finale, with a codicil of hope. I’ve tried to be enigmatic to avoid plot spoilers, but I’d guess most will have figured out how it ends. There’s a nice, brooding sense of menace as Cage uncovers fresh clues to what is happening and has to come to terms with the certainty of the destruction of everything he knows and holds dear. For the viewer as well as the character there’s hard truth to take on board, and at the end the film deftly plays on our heart strings, offering moments of emotional resonance even as its Extinction Event scenario rolls out on an awesome scale. A part of me feels that I shouldn’t like it, that there is too much of sentimentality in the mix, but the best of me responds to that, no matter how hokey it seems. It’s a good, solid, apocalyptically slanted mix of horror and science fiction, one giving way to the other.
Season of the Witch (2011)
Now this one is pure horror hokum, with the sfx guys playing everybody else off the screen. Cage and Ron Perlman are Behmen von Bleibruck and Felson, two Teutonic Knights who have absconded from the Crusades as they didn’t sign up to slaughter civilians. Travelling through a Europe in which the Black Death is running rife, the two finds themselves charged with escorting Anna, a young girl accused of witchcraft, to a remote monastery where the monks have the power to defeat her. The two knights don’t believe the girl is a witch, but she has been promised a fair trial, and so they consent to the task, and en route they see signs and wonders, things that suggest something supernatural is on the loose. Upon reaching the monastery the shit really hits the fan, so to speak. At the film’s heart is a buddy buddy story, with Cage and Perlman the only honest men in a corrupt world, endlessly lamenting the failings of others while staying true to each other. Neither character really comes alive, while the story itself doesn’t build any genuine tension, despite sudden changes of fortune and plot twists that most will see coming a mile off. We never really care about any of the characters, and while the sfx laden finale is worth watching the once, on balance it’s all been done before and with much more gusto. At times it looks very pretty, or almost so, but there’s not a whole lot else going on, sad to say. It’s a film that falls between two stools, horror hokum and medieval spectacle, but doesn’t commit fully to either option. The horror is underplayed and too restrained, while the spectacle is muted and strictly budget class. I enjoyed it in a pass the time sort of way, but at the same time felt my time could have been better spent (e.g. seeing how many times I can shoehorn the word ‘time’ into an innocent sentence). Oh well, at least it wasn’t Ghost Rider.