Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

CAPSULE: DREAM SCENARIO (2023)

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Dream Scenario is available for pre-order to own digitally.

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DIRECTED BY: Kristoffer Borgli

FEATURING: , , Dylan Gelula, , Tim Meadows

PLOT: A mild-mannered evolutionary biology professor becomes a celebrity after appearing in the dreams of random strangers across the world.

Still from dream scenario (2023)

COMMENTS: Dream Scenario begins mid dream, as balding professor Paul Matthews, raking poolside, calmly watches his younger daughter float into the sky. This scenario is quickly revealed to be a dream: this is not a movie that plays with ambiguity between dreams and waking. Rather, it’s a magical realist fame fable about what it would be like to be a nice-enough 21st century nobody who mysteriously begins appearing in people’s dreams.

While I personally could watch 90 minutes of Nic Cage making cameo appearances in other people’s nocturnal hallucinations, Dream Scenario only enacts a smattering of the dreams themselves. One dreamer perches on a desk while a pair of crocodiles menace her and Cage watches dispassionately; another wanders through a forest with strange mushrooms growing from the trees, wearing a tux and pursued by a nightmare figure, while a distracted Paul munches on a shroom.Paul is distressed that he never takes an active part in anyone’s dream, but seems to enjoy the media attention—at first.

It’s all light comedy up until a midpoint pivot. Paul finds someone in whose dream he takes a more active part. And soon after, his mood sours, for reasons both related and unrelated to his newfound celebrity. Soon, dream-Paul starts misbehaving in dreams, in ways that turn him into a public pariah. Even if they know intellectually that Paul isn’t responsible for how he behaves inside their subconsciouses, people can’t help but be angry: his students stop attending his lectures, he’s asked to leave restaurants because he makes people uncomfortable. Of course, Paul has done nothing wrong, but every real-life mistake he makes now gets magnified and taken out of context, until he’s completely pilloried in the public mind and essentially exiled from society.

Paul’s severe change of fortune necessitates a corresponding change of tone, one that’s not quite for the better. Dream Scenario‘s second half amps up the “cancel culture” satire and critique of mob-think. It’s an obvious target that Borgli’s script handles competently, and with a few chuckles. But while it’s always fun to watch a villain, or even a charming antihero, get their comeuppance, it’s a harder ask to make us enjoy a Job scenario where we watch an innocent, generally likable character get raked over the coals repeatedly.

Dream Scenario explores the gulf between reality and public perception, a problem exponentially magnified in the TikTok era. It also posits fame as something inherently undesirable, or at least inherently dangerous, through a recurring analogy about zebra stripes: being the one who sticks out from the herd makes you into a target for predators. These are not (or at least, should not be) profound insights, which is perhaps why, by the end, the movie takes on the tone of a sad parable rather than a stern lecture. Fortunately, Cage’s balanced and committed performance buoys everything. He’s amusing in the first act, cringe-worthy in the second, and an unwilling (and unrecognized) martyr in the third. A few of the wackier dreams give him a brief chance to show off his crazy side. He’s perfect for the role. Nicolas Cage is a man who has achieved the same kind of meme-heavy, eccentric celebrity as Paul Matthews; someone who is widely known, and has been both worshiped and ridiculed, for his persona rather than his actual personality. Cage puts his soul into this one, making for a pleasant Dream.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The world has finally gotten weird enough that Nicolas Cage now makes total sense… It’s as if his movies are saying, ‘Yes, it’s bad. It’s as bad as you think. But there’s an aspect to this that’s actually funny.’ That notion that everything is both horrible and amusing all but sums up the story of ‘Dream Scenario.'”–Mick LaSalle, The San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

FANTASIA 2023: APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL (2023)

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DIRECTED BY: Yuval Adler

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Joel Kinnaman

PLOT: A father-to-be is waylaid at gunpoint while en route to the maternity ward, and instead spends the evening surviving his kidnapper’s increasingly odd and desperate outbursts.

Still from Sympathy for the Devil (2023)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: Idiot that I am, my initial thought was, “Nah. This is exactly the kind of movie Nicolas Cage would star in these days,” only to recognize some moments afterwards that, oh yes, that necessarily means it’s a weird ride.

COMMENTS: There’s an honesty to Yuval Adler’s film. It’s in the title, where we’re told up front just what emotion to succumb to. It’s in the song playing under the opening credits, heralding both a plot point and a celebration who this movie is for. (Hint: it’s for you, but not just you…) And it’s in the first, murky appearance of Sympathy for the Devil‘s raison d’être, the old man himself, Nicolas Cage. This is a vehicle for weird cinema’s favorite high caliber nutjob, and it appropriately takes place in a literal vehicle. Sure, sure, there are some segues: an amusing gas station aside, an extended diner freakout, and a Dantean expository oratorio in a labyrinth of big rigs. But this is about Nic Cage, in a vehicle, with his red hair and red lounge-jacket and assorted weapons and intermittent Boston accent.

Knowing the star and the premise, you know whether or not you’re going to watch this already. But I would like to take a moment to highlight two ancillary, but still important, elements. First, allow me to share the good news. This is a deliciously gleaming film. In case you’re not aware, it begins in Las Vegas, and though driver and passenger leave the Strip early on, they bring the colors with them.

Cage’s “passenger” does the heavy lifting (never has red hair looked so doofy, frightening, and appropriate as in this movie), but the film’s palette does its share of overtime to complement the bright, bright shock above the his maniacal face: the cool blues recurring around the bamboozled driver; the dreamy electro-greens during an inspired performance of Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Night Life“… Frankly, it’s a visual delight, particularly when the flames burst during Cage’s operatic rant.

Second, as you have probably guessed, is the bad news. But bad, well, that’s somewhat too strong. With an experience like Sympathy for the Devil, it’s borderline ungrateful to opine about the ending. We’ve had the pleasure of riding with a nutso Cage for ninety minutes, so damn the whys and wherefors! But an esteemed media colleague suggested that it may have been better—certainly more (which, we know, is a synonym for “better” in this case)—if the inverse had occurred. At the time I agreed, and still, for the most part, do. I got to thinking this past day, and began to wonder if there was any “ideal” way to wrap up this evening trapped in a car with Nicolas Cage. Presuming you can sink your teeth into his particular brand of ham, the only disappointing part is the meal’s completion. Mandy managed to end the dinner with a masterful touch of psycho-cutesy. But Yuval Adler just kinds of stops the car, turns the ignition key, and leaves us to wander off with a mere “oh, okay” after an evening of “oh dear Lord!”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Both actors play off each other well in this insane little indie that’s better and more outlandish than you’d ever expect.”–Randy Meyers, San Jose Mercury News (contemporaneous)

20*. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009)

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“No, it’s not a remake.” –Werner Herzog

DIRECTED BY: Werner Herzog

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, , Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner,

PLOT: Terence McDonagh, a New Orleans cop, suffers a permanent spinal injury when rescuing a convict neck-deep in floodwater from Hurricane Katrina. Shortly thereafter he is promoted to the rank of police lieutenant and develops an opiate addiction, accrues massive gambling debts, and finds himself investigating the murder of five Senegalese immigrants. Over the course of the case, he teams up with local crime kingpin, “Big Fate,” in the hopes of keeping his head above water.

BACKGROUND:

  • made the cult film Bad Lieutenant, starring as a drug, sex and gambling addicted cop investigating the rape of a nun, in 1992. Port of Call: New Orleans is neither a sequel nor a true remake.
  • The original New York City setting was changed at Nicolas Cage’s request in order to help New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. (How the gesture would accomplish this is unclear.)
  • Director Werner Herzog claimed to never have seen Abel Ferrara‘s original, only signing on to the project because Cage requested him so to do.
  • It took nearly a decade for Werner Herzog and Abel Ferrara to bury the hatchet after Ferrara expressed his dismay at the project going forward without any input from him.
  • Adding to his list of “unlikely ingestibles”, Nicolas Cage inhaled baby powder every time his character snorted cocaine (or heroin).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: With the entire feature viewed from Lieutenant McDonagh’s perspective, its unreliability is a given—this is a man who loves his uppers, downers, and sleep deprivation. On the off chance the viewer considers taking his story at face value, this notion is disabused by a pair of phantom iguanas eyed suspiciously by McDonagh to the dulcet tones of “Please Release Me.”

TWO WEIRD THINGS: “There ain’t no iguana”; break-dancing soul

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Cram a police procedural through the esoteric whims of Werner Herzog’s brain, then project this mishmash of corruption, drugs, nostalgia, and iguanas onto the frantic gesticulation of Nicolas Cage as a chronic back-pain sufferer going through some really heavy shit right now, and you have Bad Lieutenant.

Trailer for Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

COMMENTS: Werner Herzog, by an almost objective reckoning, is Continue reading 20*. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (2009)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND (2021)

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DIRECTED BY: Sion Sono

FEATURING: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Bill Mosley, Nick Cassavetes

PLOT: By order of “the Governor”, a nabbed robber must infiltrate the Ghostland to rescue the Governor’s grand-daughter.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA LIST: Directed by Sion Sono, featuring Nicolas Cage.

COMMENTS: “They helped me because I am radioactive.”

This epic line is delivered, epically, by Nicolas Cage, standing atop a grand stairway beneath a massive clock, his right arm shattered, his left testicle likewise. He stands before a crowd of downtrodden souls. Amongst them is the bookish Enoch, volume of Wuthering Heights in hand, as well as the gaunt undertaker who collects souls. Watching from the periphery is Ratman and his Ratmen, a crew of thieving mechanics. Bernice, chalk-limbed and with obsidian-black eyebrows, begins a chant of rebellion. And so, the prisoners of the Ghostland rally, before marching on Samurai Town to depose the evil Governor.

Forgive me if I am telephoning in this review, but I was up until almost two o’clock this morning and arose shortly after six. Though rendering me useless for almost anything else, this primed me perfectly for Sion Sono’s latest, Prisoners of the Ghostland. Having snaked its way through the festival circuit all this past year (thank you very much, Covid, for keeping me from covering this at Fantasia…), this oddity has finally hit a handful of screens as well as pay-to-stream services. Under-slept and over-caffeinated, I watched, intermittently overcome with awe, perplexion, and hearty guffaws.

“They helped me because I am radioactive.” Even within the confines of this film, the line makes no sense. There is a permeating sense that something deeper is going on here: the growing flashbacks of a robbery gone wrong, the strange drawl-stilted speechifying by the white-suited baddie the Governor, the analogue slide show—narrated by a Greek chorus of the dregs of humanity—recounting the horrific crash between a truck full of convicts and a truck full of nuclear waste. There are moments of surreal whimsy, as when a hail of bullets cracks open a gumball dispenser, its candy-coated contents clattering in slow-motion throughout the carnage; or when Nicolas Cage’s “Hero” catches a burnt-out football helmet and busts out his gravedigger audition for Hamlet. Yes, the minds behind this story aimed for a much-too-muchness, half hitting the mark, half sputtering into the fizzly “What the?” of miscalibration.

I should be slapping the “Recommended” tag on this; I should have had my “Must See!” entreaty swatted aside by more reasonably-minded site administrators. However, as much as I enjoyed watching Prisoners of the Ghostland, it suffers from one or more of the following: too much incoherency, not enough incoherency, too much crazy, and not enough crazy. Nicolas Cage, as always, delivers; but his too much is only mostly enough. Its Sergeo Leoneciousness borders on Jodorowskity, but never quite makes the final leap. As a movie, Prisoners falls short, constituting merely a wacky, weird exercise in eccentricity and nuclear-samurai-symbolism; but in memory, I have little doubt it shall blossom into a strange patchwork of giddily campy memories of a Hero, played by Nicolas Cage, whose force of will makes me believe that he is, indeed, radioactive.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“No movie with Nicolas Cage, directed by the wonderfully weird Japanese director Sion Sono, should be this taxing, drawn out, and plainly boring…  Cage and Sono are truly kindred nutcases: they are artists who do not question themselves, and while they have a sense of humor stranger than we can comprehend, they are too sincere for irony. But ‘Prisoners of the Ghostland’ is truly just a beginning; a false start to what should, and still could be one of the greatest cinematic collaborations since sound met motion.”–Nick Allen, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: JIU JITSU (2020)

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DIRECTED BY: Dmitri Logothetis

FEATURING: Alain Moussi, Nicolas Cage

PLOT: Jake awakens in a secret military facility in Burma with no recollection of his past, but with much recollection of jiu jitsu.

COMMENTS: Jiu Jitsu currently rates a mere three stars on IMDb. That’s two more stars than actually appear in it. Of course, when that single star is Nicolas Cage, it suggests one of two things. The first possibility is that it’s that once-in-five-or-ten-years alignment of the cosmos during which our boy Nic does something serious and taps into his capacity for gravitas. The second, much more possible, possibility is that Nic shows up, scatters his eccentric magic during his all-too-brief screen time, and raises a “crummy B-movie” to the level of a “crummy B-movie, but with Nicolas Cage!” Even someone as slow on the uptake as myself knew that this would be the latter, but I can say that Jiu Jitsu is not the worst 2020 release I’ve seen–by a long shot[efn_note] That distinction probably goes to Tezuka’s Barbara[/efn_note].

As any practitioner of the art can tell you, “jiu jitsu” was taught to mankind about two millennia ago by a traveling space creature desiring to hone his fighting skills by popping through a portal in a Buddhist temple which opens up every six years as augured by a cyclical comet. If this alien—let’s call it “Brax”, as per the director/writer’s advisement—does not get to jiu-jitsu his way through nine fighters when he visits, he will lay waste to all life on the planet. Bad news for mankind? Hardly. We’ve got two things Brax isn’t counting on: square-jaw superman Jake (Alain Moussi) and the wiley warrior Wylie (Nicolas Cage). With these jiu jitseleros and their team of seven interchangeable associates, Brax gets more than it’s bargained for.

Your patience for—and, conceivably, enjoyment of—Jiu Jitsu will hinge on two things. First thing: your appetite for staged martial arts ticklings. Leading man Moussi made his career as a stuntman, so he’s got the chops. And all the side-characters may not be able to act, but they do seem comfortable with the thwack-thwack-thwack element. (Though you may not quite believe it when you see Cage’s character do a leaping flip.)

Which brings me to the other thing: what is your devotion to Nicolas Cage? I cannot recall any film that I was not happy to see him on-screen in (be it wielding a chromium axe, spraying his girlfriend’s daughter with a hose, or riffing off himself during one of those “one-in-ten-year” roles). Hearing his delivery of bad dialogue as the druggy(?), crazy(!) mentor never failed to rouse at least a chuckle—particularly when he drops the bon-mot, “Just remember the one thing you always have with jiu jitsu… leverage.”

And with that bomb, I’m dropping the mic.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Jiu Jitsu feels like a deeply 2020 movie in that it is a barrage of WTF choices that hit without mercy until you either give in and go with the flow or just go mad. Or, hey, maybe both.”–Kristy Putchko, IGN (contemporaneous)