Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

Ghost Rider

There’s no way around the fact that Ghost Rider is a garbage film, from Nick Cage’s ridiculous Yu Gi Oh haircut to Wes Bentley’s faux Dracula bad guy to the unpolished screensaver special effects to yet another creepy case of him getting blessed with a love interest half his age, this time poor Eva Mendes. When it comes to the Ghost Rider aesthetic, PG-13 theme park flash like this is the wrong way to go, it needs something grittier like the Nick Cave/John Hillcoat touch (not even the reliably edgy Neveldine/Taylor could save the sequel, but that’s a story for another day). That all said, there’s a few key elements that I love about this film and two actors in particular who do a bang up job and really deserved a better film than they got. Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a motorbike stunt demon who grew up in a circus and made a deal with the devil (Peter Fonda) to save his dying father (Brett Cullen), a deal with fine print that dictates his soul remains prisoner and he must serve out a very long time bounty hunting runaways for the big guy. Later in life he becomes the legendary Ghost Rider, a big bad biker with a chain whip, flaming skull and leather metal-head outfit, tasked with bringing down renegade demon Blackheart (Bentley) and juggling his awkward romance with Mendes and friendship with fellow rider Donal Logue. This is all a lot less cool than it sounds and all the scenes of him as the rider that are supposed to be awesome are just… not. Now this isn’t one of those ones where the good qualities redeem the film, it’s just too silly and far gone, but they are there and are noticeable, starting with Fonda’s absolutely rock ‘n roll performance as Mephistopheles, a silk voiced, well dressed manipulator who commands the screen and to this day is one of the most fun film versions of the Devil I’ve ever seen. He’s accompanied by a fantastic, sinister low level music cue from composer Christopher Young that sets the mood perfectly. You also get Sam Elliott as former ghost rider and mentor to Johnny in another one of his brilliant, charismatic cowboy turns that the film hardly deserves, but his scenes sure pick up on the gravity that Sam exudes wherever he goes. That’s about all the film has to offer in the realm of quality. There’s an opening credit sequence set to an instrumental version of Ghost Riders In The Sky with POV shot of a bike careening through a racecourse that’s kind of cool. Mostly though this is one big flaming sinking ship and just made me wish for a less cartoonish prequel starring Elliott’s Rider and Fonda’s deliciously evil Satan. Next time.

-Nate Hill

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Dominic Sena’s Gone In 60 Seconds

I’ve always liked Gone In 60 Seconds, even if it is one of the more lukewarm notches in Jerry Bruckheimer’s belt. Helmed by Dominic Sena who comes from a music video background, you get what you’d expect from a craftsman like that in the way of a flashy, eye catching popcorn flick that sees an easygoing Nicolas Cage as Memphis Rhaines, a car thief guru culled out of retirement when his dipshit little brother (Giovanni Ribisi) gets in deep with a dangerous UK mobster (Doctor Who). It’s the perfect setup for one long night of auto boosting as the villain gives them a laundry list of sweet cars to steal and ship out of the port by sunup or they end up as fuel for his scary flame factory/junkyard thing that these guys always seem to own and live in. The real fun is in seeing Cage put together an eclectic team of fellow thieves to work their magic, including Will Patton’s slick veteran booster, Scott Caan playing yet another insufferable horn-dog, Robert Duvall as a sagely old fence, Vinnie Jones as the strong silent muscle and Angelina Jolie as the motor mouthed tomboy who inevitably ends up in the saddle with Cage. They’re all hunted by two detectives, one an intuitive veteran (Delroy Lindo) and the other a misguided rookie (Timothy Olyphant) who always are naturally one step behind them, and so the formula goes. The cars are indeed pretty cool, especially Eleanor, Rhaines’s fabled unicorn automobile that happens to be a gorgeous matte silver Shelby GT with a seriously sexy purr. The supporting cast is solid and includes William Lee Scott, James Duval, Chi McBride, Michael Pena, John Carroll Lynch, Master P ad Twin Peak’s Grace Zabriskie as Cages’s feisty mom. This isn’t a knock your socks off flick or anything revolutionary in the genre, but it cruises along with an easy swing, carefree urban vibe and the actors, as well as Sena’s sharp and snazzy visual editing make it fun enough. Oh and it doesn’t get much cooler than those wicked opening credits set to Moby’s Flower, that’s how you lay down a mood for the film to follow.

-Nate Hill

Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish

Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish is a gorgeous, star studded look at street hoodlums of the 1950’s through a strange, dreamlike prism of off kilter dialogue and mesmerizing characterization. It’s based on a book by S.E. Hinton, who also wrote The Outsiders, which Coppola adapted as well, this one is a bit of a different animal. Where one might expect a grounded, topical, straightforward script and narrative, we’re instead treated to a lyrical, dense and almost experimental tone. Characters exude archetypal charisma that is stunningly thrown off balance by the poetic, otherworldly dialogue that’s at times almost inaccessible, but always feels intuitively… right somehow. It’s as if The Outsiders went to sleep and had a dream, functioning on a similar yet highly unconscious plane. Once you get accustomed to such an aesthetic, it’s a film to draw you in and give you poetic dreams of your own. Young Matt Dillon is Rusty Ryan, a naive upstart with dreams of notoriety in the worn doldrums of his urban sprawl neighbourhood. He lives under the intense reputation of his older brother, known only as The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). Rourke is at the peak of his moody blues James Dean phase here, and commands the screen with a laid back abandon and smirking charm. He gets romantically involved with angelic local beauty Patty (young Diane Lane, stunning), and deals with his loveable deadbeat father (Dennis Hopper). The scenes between Hopper, Dillon and Rourke have an easy swing to them, and the three inhabit a lived in dynamic that strengthens their characters, individually and as a group. Rourke is under the suspicious eye of robotic, violent local cop Patterson (William Smith), who is just waiting for him to step out of line. Dillon and his thug pals, including Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn and Vincent Spano, daydream their days away pining for the oft talked about days when gang warfare was commonplace. There’s a splendid supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, Sofia Coppola, Diana Scarwid and Tom Waits, mumbling sweet existential nothing’s to themselves in the local diner, the silent streets and other beautifully shot locations. The film is shot in wistful black and whites with the vivid exception of the titular rumble fish, who appear in vibrant hues to accent their metaphorical presence. The film exists in a realm of heightened emotions where the characters all seem to be a little larger than life, but nevertheless human. There’s a gorgeous, entrancing surreality to it too, a free flowing, dreamy vibe of chrome on asphalt, lazy afternoons and long glances at pretty girls in windows. An unconventional masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man

It’s always nice when a film as bizarre, unconventional and downbeat as Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man gets approved by the big studio system, but the flip side of that is that when it inevitably gets a wide release and considerable marketing, score of reviewers and audiences are going to talk shit about it because it’s ‘different’ and ‘depressing.’ It is definitely those two things, but it’s also a painfully funny, insightful piece with fantastic work from Nicolas Cage, brilliantly placed dark humour, the briefest glimpses of pathos and an offbeat indie pulse. Cage is Chicago TV weatherman Dave Spritz, a guy whose swanky six figure salary and cakewalk career hide a disturbed, dysfunctional family life and a deep, cultivated self loathing that Cage pours out from every anguished glance and hangdog piece of inner monologue. His ex wife (Hope Davis) can’t stand him, his kids (Nicholas Hoult in an early career turn and Gemmenne De Le Pena, a great find) have a laundry list of their own issues and their interaction with him is strained for starters, while his Pulitzer Prize winning author dad (Michael Caine trying an American accent on for size and kind of struggling with it) frequently points out his shortcomings with measured acidity (“You don’t even have a degree in meteorology”). In short, his life has become one big absurdist joke punctuated by awkward altercations, passive aggressive jabs, misdirected anger, frequent instances of fast food being thrown at him by angry passersby and an overall blanket of deadly hilarious, glumly enlightening moodiness that you can’t decide whether to laugh or cry about. So who would want to watch a major movie filled with such rampant, cheekily deliberate unpleasantness? I would, and I for one totally loved this film for what it is. You could say it’s an acquired taste or you have to ‘get it’ or whatever smug, flavour of the month platitude that well travelled cinephiles like myself are peddling this week, but the plain truth of it is that not every Hollywood film can be a traditional ‘Hollywood’ film and there has to be room for off killer, weirdly staged stuff like this or the recipe is just too boring. Roger Ebert understood that, he gave this a glowing review and made particular mention of how slightly inaccessible stuff like this needs to be given a chance more often. In any case it’s an excellent film thanks to Cage’s reliably hilarious work, he almost seems to have been tailored for this role and you can tell he’s having a blast with every tortured mannerism and inappropriate outburst. I love and appreciate every single film that director Verbinski has made in his eclectic, unpredictable dervish of a career, the guy has done everything from Pirates Of The Caribbean to slapstick period piece to Hammer horror throwback to south of the border romance end even an animated film for adults which you don’t see too often. He always approaches us with something different to offer, and with The Weather Man he’s come up a winner again, I love this sad, self aware, pathetic yet touching portrait of a man adrift in his own inadequacy, his frequent attempts to swim serving as our entertainment, however much we pity or feel for the guy and his oddball family. Great film.

-Nate Hill

“You vicious snowflake.” A review of Mandy – By Josh Hains

The last time I saw a movie as batshit-fucking-insane as this year’s Mandy, a young woman was hacking apart her demonically possessed friends during a rainstorm of literal blood in Evil Dead (2013). And just like Evil Dead before it, Mandy earns its insanity by establishing it right from frame one with an epigraph containing the last words of the deceased murderer Douglas Roberts (who killed a man whilst under the influence of drugs):
“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones in my head and rock ’n’ roll me when I’m dead.”, a stanza which is evocative of the impending descent into a similarly drug induced murderous frenzy the character of Red will endure.

The plot is so exceptionally simple you can practically predict the ending from a mile away: happily in love lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and the introverted artist and convenience store worker Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough, who doesn’t have to stretch much here but is still great nonetheless), are living a peaceful existence near the Shadows Mountains of the Mojave desert in California, when the megalomaniacal cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his drug addled Jesus-freak followers and a few near demonic drug fueled psycho bikers who growl and roar like pissed off dragons, kidnap and murder Mandy, and Red sets out on an obvious path of bloodthirsty revenge. You’ve seen plenty of movie with similar plots to this one, haven’t you?

While your answer may be a resounding yes, what separates Mandy from the typical revenge thriller is how the movie is executed by director Panos Cosmatos (the son of the late George P. Cosmatos, whom directed Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Cobra), with lush and often trippy visuals occuping the space between small bouts of impactful dialogue, or gory killings at the hands of the broken hearted Red. After kickstarting the movie with the aforementioned metal mantra, and accompanied by a haunting score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson that sounds like a 2 hour theme for the arrival of an apocalypse, Cosmatos beautifully conveys the idyllic lifestyle of Mandy and Red through lush, high contrasted photography while simultaneously gradually disintegrating the visuals into a trippy style that operates like a fusion between the surrealism of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, and the nightmarishly hallucinatory trip of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, as the film’s events become more hellish and violent.

This first half of the movie is literally separated from its second half by the title card “Mandy”, followed by Red suffering an all-out emotional and psychological breakdown that allows Cage to go “full Cage” without the scene itself feeling fake or forced. Red then arms himself for bloody battle, collecting a crossbow from an old friend (Bill Duke) forging an axe that would give Thor heart palpations, and unleashes his near animalistic, boiling like an active volcano rage upon Mandy’s murderers. And yes, the rumours are true, there is indeed a one-on-one chainsaw duel, and it’s every bit as metal, badass, and grotesque as you’re wishing it to be. And no, that’s not the goriest death in Mandy.

Of course, Mandy does have a couple flaws in its blood drenched body armour. A confrontation between Mandy and the cult that provides deeper insight into their madness serves great purpose, but ultimately felt like it brought the movie to a grinding halt until this prolonged sequence finally came to a close. I also found a supporting performance by an unknown actor as a cult member who I can only assume was intentionally meant to annoy the audience, didn’t match the tone of the movie and was distractingly campy, though thankfully limited in their screen time.

Mandy may not be a revolutionary, game changing motion picture by any means, but along with the similarly slick and brutal (and goddamned great) revenge flick Upgrade, it is the kind of gloriously gory genre fare that Hollywood used to make in fistfuls, and needs to keep producing at this level of craftsmanship. So if you’re looking to spend the night all cozied up with a violent movie pulsing on your television, or screaming in your ears at your go-to theatre, look no further than the blood soaked beast that is Mandy.

*Mandy is currently in limited theatrical release and available through VOD and iTunes across North America, and features a brief post-credits sequence.

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy

“When I die

bury me deep

lay two speakers around my feet…

wrap two headphones around my head, and rock and roll me when I’m dead”

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. Wow. This is a film I have been waiting a year for, and while I eagerly devoured up every production still, sound byte and trailer released for marketing, none of that diminished the thunderous, neon drenched nirvana that was the experience seeing it on the big screen. Cosmatos is madly, deeply in love with 80’s horror/fantasy/scifi cinema, and after the initial stroke of brilliance that was Beyond The Black Rainbow, he has evolved into something more cohesive and specific, but no less balls out surreal and brazenly expressionistic. Set in the same austere, timeless 1983 twilight zone meta-verse as Rainbow, this one sees tortured lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) exacting apocalyptic vengeance on both a maniacal cult and a clan of demon bikers for the murder of his beloved girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). That is of course the nutshell, analytical summary you’ll see in the online rental guide. What really fills up this two hours of nightmarish bliss is a more free flowing, right brain amalgamation of everything special to Cosmatos in both cinema and music, mottled using material from his own lively imagination, wearing influences both proudly and organically on his sleeve and giving us the gift of one of the most intensely invigorating pieces of art I’ve ever seen. The rage is all about Cage and his gonzo performance, and while that is a sideshow later on, it’s certainly not the main event and the real strength of his performance lies in the restrained, beautiful relationship he has with Mandy, which only makes his crazed rampage cut all the more deep later on. Riseborough is really something special in her role too, she’s the crux of the whole deal and gives Mandy an ethereal, introverted aura that’s just creepy enough and cute enough to live up the film’s title. Linus Roache is really something else as Jeremiah Sand, the fiercely insecure, manically dangerous cult leader, it’s a career peak for the former Thomas Wayne and he plays him like a bratty failed folk musician who’s delusions have fused into his very soul and made him really fucking sick. Ned Dennehy is freakishly deadpan as his second in command, while chameleon actor Richard Brake has a key cameo and veteran Bill Duke shows up to provide both weapons for Cage and a tad of exposition regarding the Hallraiser-esque bikers. This is the final original score composed by Johann Jóhannsson before his untimely passing, and it’s one hell of a swan song. After a gorgeous, arresting opening credit sequence set to King Crimson’s Starless, its all dreamy synths, thunderclaps of metal, extended passages of moody, melodic strains and threatening drones, a composition that leaves a scorched, fiery wake in its fog filled path. One thing that’s missing or at least depleted in film these days versus yesteryear is atmosphere: Back then there were ten smoke machines for every acre of set, title fonts were lovingly hand painted and scenes took their time to unfold, rather than tumbling out of the drawer in a flurry ADHD addled action and exposition. Cosmatos is a physician to this cause and his films feel like both blessed nostalgia and an antidote to that which many filmmakers have forgotten. With Mandy he has created a masterpiece of mood, violence, dark humour, hellish landscapes, softly whispered poetic dialogue, Nic Cage swilling down a sixty pounder of vodka in his undies, fire, brimstone, roaring engines, beautiful music, a tiger named Lizzie, and a pure unbridled dove for making the kinds of films I want to see at the multiplex. Best of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

David Lynch’s Wild At Heart

David Lynch’s Wild At Heart can be given the nutshell description of ‘Lynch does Bonnie & Clyde’, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this twisted, surreal, beautifully scarring piece of bizarro cinema cunningly disguised as a love story. It is a love story, first and foremost, but that’s also only a blueprint onto which all sorts of other dreams, visions and nightmares are painted. It’s very, *very* loosely on a book by Barry Gifford, but what Lynch whips up makes the source material seem grey and unrecognizable in comparison. Gifford’s book is the black and white prologue to The Wizard Of Oz and Lynch’s version is the dazzling yet unnerving technicolour dream world that follows, and indeed he uses imagery and gives shout outs to that film any chance he gets here. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are Sailor Ripley and Lula Pace Fortune, lovers on the run from the Deep South and Lula’s tyrannical monster of a mother Marietta, played by Diane Ladd in an Oscar nominated turn that doesn’t just chew scenery but devours it with the force of an imploding neutron star that eats galaxies. Marietta is intent on keeping the two of them apart for reasons slowly and subtly unveiled, and she sends everyone and their mother after them including mopey private detective Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) and dangerous mobster Marcellos Santos (the late great J.E. Freeman). Sailor and Lula’s journey is a deranged yellow brick road through 50’s infused Americana, perverse apparitions abound and literally almost everyone they meet ranges from deeply disturbed to outright psychotic to marginally quirky. Santos sends a cabal of weirdo assassins headed up by ghoulish sadist Perdita Durango (Grace Zabriskie in a pants shittingly scary performance) and her cronies (David Patrick Kelly and Calvin Lockhart). In Texas they run into reptilian scumbag Bobby Peru, brought to life by Willem Dafoe in a skin crawling portrait of sexual menace and warped glee that would scare off Frank Booth. Lula tells tales of her delusional cousin Dell (Crispin Glover) putting cockroaches on his anus and of being raped at age thirteen by her father’s business friend (actually shown in a brief but upsetting cutaway). Why all this unpleasantness, you ask? Well… I don’t know, but Lynch seems to and he isn’t sharing the coordinates of his moral compass with anyone, he’s simply storytelling and holding nothing back of the weird or wild variety. Amongst all the violence and monstrosity there’s an undercurrent of tenderness and love that pulses via Sailor and Lula’s relationship, cultivated in an ebb and flow tide of simple, candid pillow talk and unbridled passionate sex that mirrors their frequent and feverish visits to sweaty dance clubs. This is their story, and every ghost, goblin and witch they meet along the way is simply a dark passenger or otherworldly day player in their tale, plus they often make for hilariously off colour vignettes, like Jack Nance’s deranged 00 Spool or Freddie Jones’s gnomish pigeon expert. My favourite sequence is a sobering, haunted diversion off the side of a freeway where they discover a distraught girl (Sherilyn ‘Audrey Horne’ Fenn) rambling through a bout of brain trauma from a car accident. Angelo Badalamenti’s score sings through this to the point of chills, as it does throughout the film. Also traversing down this dark yellow brick road are William Morgan Sheppard, Frances Bay, musician John Lurie, Nicholas Love, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Frank Collison, Ed Wright, Isabella Rossellini and Sheryl ‘Laura Palmer’ Lee herself as Glenda the Good Witch. As proclaimed by Lula at one point, “this whole world is wild at heart and weird on top..” It is indeed, and we’re lucky to have a filmmaker like Lynch to do his part in keeping it that way by making unique, bizarre films like this to remind us just what is possible in cinema with a little invention, a whole lot of colour, splashes of horror and a love of storytelling. Maybe not Lynch’s most prolific or instantly recognizable work, but a full on classic for me and high up on his filmography list.

-Nate Hill