Michael Sarnoski’s Pig

Nicolas Cage just wants his beloved pet Pig back in a film that’s a lot more subdued, moody, rainy and melancholic than you might think, a Pacific Northwest tone poem about loss, grief, commerce, loneliness and truffles. It’s a strange brew of genre and tonal elements, but director Michael Sarnoski (in his feature debut, no less) spins them all together like the best chefs for a sensory experience and cinematic recipe that is something masterful, weird, eerily lingering and so deeply, deeply sad I had to watch some South Park afterwards before bed just so the heartbreaking, soul shaking beats of this narrative wouldn’t follow me into my dreams. Cage’s former legendary chef lives a hushed, reverent existence, haunting a stretch of rugged Oregon mountain country and dwelling in a simple shack with his pig, foraging and selling truffles to a cocky industry upstart (Alex Wolff, brilliant) from the city for a meagre living. When his pig is snatched in the night by poachers, he journeys back to Portland to a life and a restaurant scene he thought he left behind to find her, and along with her the last remaining ray of dim hope left in his broken, weary soul. This isn’t just about losing a pig, or finding a pig once again you see, it’s about loss overall, that of Cage’s character and that of the other two principal characters in the story, Wolff’s wayward young “entrepreneur” who has lost the favour of his restaurant mafia kingpin father (Adam Arkin, never scarier nor more bitterly pitiful) who has lost something so deep that he can’t even articulate it in words, and it takes involuntary sense memory to even get him to acknowledge it to *himself*. Sarnoski presents the Portland food scene as a frightening, clandestine mob underworld, a choice that could have easily come across as parody or tongue in cheek but the solemn atmosphere and deadly serious writing make it freakishly believable, I’ve spent time with people who work in that industry and it’s really not a far cry or embellishment from how it actually is. Cage’s performance is one of staggering vulnerability and shaggy, end-of-the-road resolve, a once worshipped god of cuisine reduced to a shambling ghost of greatness, made so by a tragedy he never speaks about and the film only carefully hints at. The poor lost Pig is indeed really his pet, whom he loves dearly, but she serves to represent that which we have all lost at onetime or another, that hidden thing that’s hard to talk about and sometimes makes us want to disappear into the woods of the northwest, live in a cabin and never see another human face again. This is a courageous film for allowing an actor like Cage to explore these painful, challenging themes against a backdrop of food, rain, trees and austere hierarchical czars and barons of fine cookery, a realm that is as fascinating as it is unsettling. Just be careful though man, because to be perfectly candid this film is sad as fuck, like maybe the most thoroughly spirit-dampening experience I’ve had in cinema for awhile, it took me a good hour to shake off the hopeless feeling it leaves you with, such is it’s power. It’s essential viewing for many many reasons, more than I’ve touched on here, but it should be wielded carefully, especially if you have issues with depression or immediate grief. I look forward to whatever comes next from Sarnoski, who has quietly ushered himself onto the scene with a stunningly powerful first feature, and provided Cage with what might be the role of his career so far. An absolute showstopper of a film.

-Nate Hill

Dominic Sena’s Season Of The Witch

Dominic Sena’s Season Of The Witch is one of those glossy, noisy supernatural medieval romps that somehow hovers on the line between feeling like a big budget blockbuster and a direct to video outing. It stars Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as two veteran knights of the crusades who become disillusioned with their often brutal cause and the unfortunate civilian casualties that accompany it. They set out on their own as freelance mercenaries and are soon hired by a plague-ridden Cardinal (a near unrecognizable Christopher Lee) to transport a suspected witch (Claire Foy)… somewhere, I wasn’t really paying attention but it involves lots of snowy mountains, dangerous bridge crossings and eventually a spooky old castle for the grand finale. This is pretty run of the mill stuff, the CGI is really weak, the plot is inexcusably thin, historical accents are dodgy and the PG-13 rating pretty much guarantees a lack of genuine bite or edge as far as horror is concerned. It’s mediocre on almost every level but for some reason I found myself enjoying bits of it, despite my best efforts. I think that it has to do with Cage and Perlman, who are both terrific here and really deserve to be in a better film. They’ve never acted together before but they have effortless bromance chemistry here, they take full advantage of the writing and simply seeing them bantering, bickering or slinging tavern pints together is kind of a small delight. Aside from them it’s generic, the supporting cast includes familiar faces like Stephen Graham, Ulrich Thomsen, Rory ‘The Hound’ McCann, Brian F. O’Byrne and Robert Sheehan who all try valiantly to make impressions with… varied results. The problem too is that the film promises us a witch and when it comes time to deliver they reveal that this chick isn’t really a witch at all, she’s something far worse and unfortunately something that the film just didn’t seem to have enough budget bucks to properly present onscreen, and it hurts its chances. Still, it’s worth a look for the beautiful, rugged scenery (filmed mainly in Austria) plus Cage and Perlman, who are legitimately engaging and perhaps someday will get a better film to do their buddy-cop knights edition routine.

-Nate Hill

Sion Sono’s Prisoners Of The Ghostland

Nicolas Cage has a big laundry chute from his agent’s office that goes right to his mancave at home, wherein various wild, weird and wonderful scripts are just hurled through, whereupon he can evaluate them from the safety and comfort of his pad, and agree to do absolutely amazing, one of a kind cinematic celebrations of unconventional spirit and innovation like Sion Sono’s Prisoners Of The Ghostland, a psychedelic arthouse dream-poem that I promise you is unlike anything you’ve ever seen Cage do and sits atop the mighty crest of other such curios in his recent career like Mandy, Willy’s Wonderland and Colour Out Of Space. This is my baptism by fire, so to speak, in Sono’s work, a Japanese mad scientist of celluloid whose work here is as wantonly jagged and subconsciously nebulous as it is specifically calibrated and lovingly detailed as he tells the story of one lone hero recruited by a sinister southern dandy called The Governor (Bill Moseley, curdled to hammy perfection) to rescue his ‘granddaughter’ Bernice (Sofia Boutella) from a vague netherworld called the Ghostland where she is being held by forces unknown. Cage is outfitted with an explosive device suit that looks like a hand-me-down from Snake Plissken, complete with little bombs to detonate each testicle, should he get frisky. I’m not sure why I’m describing plot here because there really isn’t one, but there also kind of is. Ever have one of those dreams where you’re in a narrative that should make sense from an earthly, rational perspective yet everything is somehow… off, somehow topsy-turvy and abstractly bizarre? This film literally functions within the logic of a dream, and you have to shift gears of perception before you’re in tune with it, there’s just no sense to be made of it beyond the intuitive on a subconscious level. Cage’s character here is nameless beyond the archetypal moniker of ‘Hero’ but I suppose if we wish to put a name to this stranger we can refer to the actor’s own comments, as he has said this guy is supposed to be a spiritual amalgamation of his work as Sailor Ripley in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart and Castor Troy in John Woo’s Face/Off. How awesome is that? It’s fitting because there’s a reunion of sorts for him and Nick Cassavetes, playing his hulking partner in crime here. The film is much less of a manic action spectacle than the trailers might show; there is action, yes, but mostly there’s just atmosphere, and heaps of it. Cowboy/samurai hybrid goons, giggling geisha girls overflowing with bizarrely effervescent personality, animalistic scavengers who roam the Ghostland, all adorned in breathtaking costumes and inhabiting some of the most arresting, beautifully otherworldly cinematography I’ve ever seen, something like post apocalyptic kabuki with vivid splashes of steampunk and shades of zombie horror peppered in too. Characters behave free from inhibition and careen wildly about at the mercy of their own impulses and those of Sono’s who is one hell of a visual artist. There are random pauses in the narrative as the cast breaks out into song for no apparent reason other than they feel like it, including a haunting group rendition of Burl Ives’ ‘My Grandfather’s Clock’ led by Moseley and tons of hectic Greek chorus exposition in blessed unison from background cast. This is cinema distilled straight from REM sleep mode and blasted onto a screen, strikingly unique dream logic storytelling disguised as a latter day Nic Cage gonzo picture, the stuff of beautiful nightmares that will lull you into a hypnotic trance with it’s relentless, all encompassing alien energy. One of the best films of the year.

-Nate Hill

Willy’s Wonderland

I never thought I’d live to see Nicolas Cage violently tune up a giant plush gorilla with a toilet plunger and curb stomp it’s head onto a urinal, but here we are. Willy’s Wonderland is an absolute bonkers blast, the kind of delirious, fucked up, funny as hell, gory as shit horror comedy I haven’t seen the likes of since the original Evil Dead. Now, I’m not sure what the rights or relationship situation is to the video game Five Nights At Freddy’s because this is clearly very much inspired by it, but that aside this finds it’s own demented groove, devilish mythology and wicked funny dark humour. Cage plays a mysterious, mute drifter who takes a night job cleaning a creepy, rundown Chuck E. Cheese restaurant to pay off a mechanic debt but it’s clear that the inbred yokels of this backwater enclave have a more sinister agenda, starting with the no nonsense sheriff (Beth Grant, Speed, Donnie Darko). Sure enough, the seemingly dormant animatronic toys are possessed by evil spirits and come to life at night with plans on killing Cage. What to do? He springs into silent but deadly action and beats the ever-loving fucking piss out of these loud mouthed Fisher Price rejects in what can only be described as an experience of pure unfiltered pandemonium. Meanwhile outside the restaurant a group of local kids prepares to pour gasoline and burn the place down in attempts to end the evil forever. This is Cage’s show and he’s a tornado of charisma even with no dialogue, guzzling down soda pop and dancing around pinball machines when he isn’t ruthlessly and violently decimating the animatronics, who all have interesting and creative designs from an ostrich to a medieval Knight to a Mexican mariachi turtle (lol) to Willy himself, a giant leering weasel with an elongated neck. The unnerving theme song and all of the musical numbers belted out by this demonic cabal of zoological burnouts are all written by experimental multi-musical artist Emoi and they all pop for a soundtrack that sets the cheeky tone perfectly. The story, although completely ludicrous, somehow feels engrossing and believable in a manic, bizarro world kind of way and every actor knows what kind of script they’ve been handed and does a terrific job with the humour. It is what it is man, if you came to see anything other than Nic Cage tangle with animatronics you’re gonna disappoint yourself but I’ll tell you this much: this could have been cheap lazy trash built around a gimmick they expected to sell itself. It isn’t. The gimmick is just the diving board, and the film itself is a genuinely well written, acted and executed piece that’s impressive and fun beyond being ‘just that crazy Nic Cage flick.’ It’s even legit scary in a few places, which is did NOT expect. So buckle up.

-Nate Hill

Richard Stanley’s The Colour Out Of Space

I missed out on Richard Stanley’s Colour Out Of Space last year but I’m glad I caught up because wow what a trip into earthbound cosmic madness as only the mind of H.P. Lovecraft could dream up. When a weird meteor thing plummets into the backyard of Nic Cage and his average, slightly hippie family, things start to get strange in the surrounding area as a mysterious ‘colour’ from another part of the universe begins to transform everything around it into something else, sometimes just odd, sometimes beautiful and eventually downright terrifying. I love the idea of a meteor falling and being the setup for a horror film because there’s so much you can do with that concept in the realms of imagination. This film reminded me of Alex Garland’s Annihilation in a sense, but whereas the entity that came from a meteor in that used the genetic codes and biological structures of our planet to create something new, this Colour thing just shows up and begins fucking around with things on its own shocking, illogical terms, like any self respecting Lovecraft monster should. It’s a hoot watching this family slowly start to lose it, starting with Cage in one of his patented full on neurotic meltdowns filled to the brim with maniacal rants, grotesque physicality and pitch black humour. His wife is played by Joely Richardson who I haven’t seen in a while, since Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at least but I always love seeing her turn up. The cast is pretty darn eclectic too and includes the lovely Q’orianka Kilcher as the world’s bitchiest small town mayor and beloved Tommy Chong as a forest dwelling oddball with a cat he calls ‘G-Spot’ (*snicker*). The main draw for me here is the otherworldly, mystical horror elements and director Stanley pulls out all the stops in terms of atmosphere, visuals and things just going berserk. Everything turns pinky purple, the family loses their sense of coherence and time and eventually they begin to transform, and there’s one sequence in particular that is fucking miles beyond how horrific I thought they were gonna go with this film and is disturbing to the core. Great film.

-Nate Hill

An offer you can’t refuse by Kent Hill

Booze-Broads-And-Blackjack-Poster

I’m guilty of not reading Carl Nicita’s book which kicked this whole thing off…but I plan to remedy that as soon as humanly possible. Because, from the campaign art (pictured above), I thought I might be in for the stock standard gangster offering. I’d already swallowed the hook, ’cause like director Rickey Bird Jr. told me, “That’s a great title,” and indeed it is. Still, as is often the case with the gigantic strides being taken in the field of low budget film-making nowadays, like Transformers, they are increasingly becoming more than meets the eye.

26904231_784671038395111_4130600506394971127_n

What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas. So when Jack King (Joe Raffa, “Portal”, “Dark Harbor”) decides to try his luck at a blackjack tournament – with a little somethin’ on the side to handle for his mob boss Uncle Vinny, Vincent Pastore (HBO’s “The Sopranos”) , this tale transforms into a vodka martini shaken by an earthquake and stirred by a maelstrom. Jack’s Vegas weekend descends from one hell to the next when he is targeted by the mob after his girlfriend witnesses a murder

Booze, Broads and Blackjack, received a release on Amazon Prime Video on July 24th, 2020 in the United States and United Kingdom after racking up several awards despite being sidelined by COVID-19. The mob thriller, nominated for Best Picture in both the Los Angeles and New York Film Awards, won Best Crime Film in both festivals. In the Actors Awards Los Angeles 2020 competition – Pastore was nominated as Best in the ‘Fest and garnered Best Actor in a Crime Film. Co-star Sarah French (“Rootwood”) won Best Actress in a Crime Film.

unnamed(2)

The film was produced by a joint venture between Film Regions International (FRI) the company behind the acclaimed groundbreaking documentary “My Amityville Horror” Hectic Films Productions, best known for “Machine Gun Baby” and Good Knight Productions.

26850513_10156199939794078_6708552863731108156_o

In addition to Pastore, Raffa and French, the film also stars Felissa Rose (“Sleepaway Camp”), Vincent M. Ward (AMC’s “The Walking Dead”) and James Duval (“Independence Day”, “Donnie Darko”).

unnamed(2)

The film is available on Amazon Prime Video for rental or purchase and will also receive subsequent VOD platforms to follow in the near future.

RICKEY BIRD JR.

MV5BNjBlYWUzNGEtZGQ3OS00Mjg3LWExMWUtN2M2MzlhZTQwMmI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjIxNDcyMDU@._V1_SX750_CR0,0,750,499_AL_

CARL NICITA

MV5BNDRmNzg2NjktOGNiMi00MDBjLWI1MjctYWZmYzgzOGUxODBkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTIzMjI3NjE@._V1_

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Inconceivable

Inconceivable eh. Anytime I see that title I just think of the little dude from The Princess Bride barking out that word. Anyways this was, for the most part, a rotten turkey of a film. I read in the trivia that Lindsay Lohan was attached to star at one point and had to drop out, but her presence would have elevated this thing nicely, because this Nicky Whelan girl they casted in her stead is a dud, no charisma whatsoever. And then there’s the script… this is supposed to be some kind of “Hand that Rocked The Cradle” shoutout where a supposedly battered wife (Whelan) escapes to a new life, befriends a wealthy couple (Nic Cage and Gina Gershon) and becomes their surrogate mother when they can’t properly have kids, until she becomes creepy and is suspected of sinister ulterior motives. But it plays like a bland, lackadaisical Hallmark-lite thriller where nothing much of anything happens and man I was bored to fucking tears. Cage is relaxed, unflappable and just ruffled enough to pass off as a distraught father when he needs to be. Whelan looks like a wax figure with vague mannerisms but I just didn’t buy that this random chick could befriend, infiltrate, gaslight and royally destroy this family, like it just didn’t seem plausible. A fossilized Faye Dunaway shows up as Cage’s suspicious mother, the only person to have doubts about this stranger in their midst but of course no one listens to her pleas of reason. The only person to give a terrific, fully formed performance is Gina Gershon who is always amazing. She makes the wife character sympathetic, believable and almost saves the story, plus it’s a reunion of sorts for her and Cage after Face/Off back in the day which was nice to see. As a thriller though this just strikes out hard, and it’s leading lady doesn’t have the talent or magnetism to carry a HomeSense commercial, let alone a feature film. Lazily plotted, weirdly paced, unpleasant and uninspired. Two Cages out of five, and one of those is solely thanks to Gershon.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Arsenal aka Southern Fury

Colour me very pleasantly surprised with Arsenal, a spectacularly gory, engrossing and quite effective rural New Orleans crime saga that delivers the goods and then some. Nic Cage plays the bad guy here and I really mean a fucking *BAD* guy. The frantic, heavily character based and supremely entertaining story shows fierce momentum and follows construction entrepreneur JP (always nice to see Vinnie Chase get some decent work) as his fuckup criminal brother Mikey (Jonathan Schaech, always great) is kidnapped and held for ransom by the local crime boss, a twitchy, psychotic piece of work named Eddie King, played by Cage in a delightfully offbeat piece of character work that is the kind of funny/scary antagonist who makes a lasting impression. JP and Mikey grew up poor and rough and while their lives were never easy they always had each other, there’s a fierce love and bond of brotherhood that is written quite well, acted believably by the two and stands as the emotional core of the film. JP enlists the help of several underworld buddies to go up against Eddie including plainclothes vice cop Sal, played by a low key and terrific John Cusack who stands as moral conscious, sidekick and badass when he needs to be. This is a gruesomely violent film, the carnage filmed in broad sunny daylight and often in scrutinizing, Zach Snyder-esque slow motion, with multiple bloody gunfights, vicious bone splintering beatdowns and brutal fights, all shot competently and enthusiastically by director Steven C. Miller, and despite being cheekily gratuitous in areas it somehow just gets away with being that over the top by making the violence a lot of fun, the way Walter Hill or Sam Peckinpah cheekily pull off. Cage is a mad dog off the leash as Eddie King, this guy is a monster and just in case he wasn’t scary enough already the makeup department decided to slap a terrifying, knobby prosthetic nose on his face, an unsettling Pinocchio schnoz that makes him look like something Jim Henson dreamed up. He makes Eddie nuts but not in the “oh look Nic Cage is being nuts again” type way but legit puts work into the character until I believed I was watching ‘rural crime boss Eddie King freaking’ out and not ‘cash strapped Nic Cage monkey dancing for a paycheque freaking out.’ The brotherhood between our two leads is excellent and affecting, the action exciting and well staged, the setting specific and visually stimulating and the story well told. Oh and I might add that in some areas this is called ‘Southern Fury’ instead of ‘Arsenal’ which is another case of them taking a fucking amazing, perfect title and rebranding it with something way less impactful.. what the hell is up with that? Four Cages out of Five.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Grand Isle

This was something else, and aside from a few well placed moments of black comedy and some decent atmospherics, kind of a WTF waste of time. Grand Isle refers to the swampy Louisiana island that kooky alcoholic war veteran Walter (Nic Cage) and his bizarre, manipulative wife Fancy (Kadee Strickland) are confined to during a hurricane sometime circa 1988. They hate each other, he’s a cantankerous, mean spirited drunk and she’s a slinky, untrustworthy wannabe femme fatale and the young man (Luke Benward) that he hired to fix the fence before the storm hit is now stuck in their house with them, a hapless pawn in their half crazed mind games with each other that ultimately end in murder. We know this because there are flash forwards to the future where Buddy, soaked in blood, is being periodically and lazily interrogated by a suspicious detective played by a sneering Kelsey Grammar. This thing tries to be a sultry, southern gothic potboiler and provide a decent mystery but it just can’t keep its story straight or its ducks in a row enough that we care nor comprehend what’s going on. Cage is kind of a hoot here though as the misanthropic asshole drunkard, swilling down an entire case of Pabst Blue Ribbon only to line the bottles up on the fence while Buddy is fixing it and go up to the roof to blast them with a scoped rifle just to shake the poor kid up, lol. Strickland hams it up a lot as the wife and you’ve gotta give her credit for such a crazy performance, whether she’s slowly serving mint juleps or taking a candlelit bath with Billie Holliday’s Strange Fruit warbling off a turntable in the background she’s like a weird southern belle Jessica Rabbit or something. Benward is unfortunately just bland and very not charismatic which is felt throughout, and Grammar does his best with his few scenes and is always some kind of presence but his efforts, although garnished with a hilariously over the top southern dandy accent, are kinda lost in the shuffle. I feel like this setting, idea and cast would have been great with a way better script but as it is there’s just nothing of substance there. Two cages out of five.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Tokarev aka Rage

Good god this one was depressing, like knowingly, on purpose, almost cheerfully fucking bleak, with no clear theme or message to wring out of it. It’s called Tokarev officially and was renamed Rage for North American distribution (don’t get me started) but it kinda works because the original title is only mentioned once in the film and so fleetingly I couldn’t even surmise who or what a Tokarev was and how it related to the story whatsoever. Nic plays reformed career criminal Paul Maguire here, an upstanding citizen forced to return to violent ways from the past when his teenage daughter is kidnapped and murdered. Assembling his two former buddies (Max Ryan and Michael McGrady, both badass and likeable) he launches a covert quest for revenge and justice that manages to somehow be both high octane and not very focused for… odd results. He’s hassled by a hotshot detective played by Danny Glover who literally is too old for this shit now and just seems disinterested, even in a monologue that’s meant to be introspective but comes across hilariously tone deaf and out of context to the conversation he and Cage are having. Peter Stormare shows up as a crime boss in a wheelchair and at first I didn’t want to admit to myself that any filmmaker would try and cast him as an Irish dude but the character’s name is Francis O’Connell and Peter’s usual brisk, eccentric Swedish twang is harried by a disastrous attempt at brogue and I just couldn’t with that casting decision man, and usually I’ll buy Peter in any role because the guy is an acting genius. Anyways I’ll give credit where it’s due: director Paco Cabezas has undeniable skill with action and there’s a few scenes that are impressively, kinetically staged with a sense of space and dynamics with the camera. The brotherly camaraderie between Cage, Ryan and McGrady feels quite authentic and is both well written and strongly acted by the three. But that’s about it man, this is a dour, punishingly violent film without the kind of impactful story to make any of it earned or worthwhile and a wannabe Mystic River twist ending that feels out of left field and very unconvincing. You’ll just feel shellshocked when all is said and done and get off the couch feeling like a truck hit you for no good reason. Two Cages out of five.

-Nate Hill