Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

Scott Walker’s The Frozen Ground

Nicolas Cage has been on a seemingly never-ending rampage of starring roles in some… odd flicks post mid 2000’s, and it can seem like kind of a quagmire to navigate through them without landing yourself a turd (one day I’ll do a comprehensive flow chart so everyone knows which ones to avoid). There are some pretty great films scattered throughout though, and Scott Walkers’s The Frozen Ground is one I’ve always enjoyed and wish it got a little more hype. Cage ditches the crazy and seems down to earth here in a stone cold, somber tale based on the hunt and capture of Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen, here played by John Cusack in his nastiest, most skin crawling role. Cage is Robert Halcombe, a real life state trooper who bonded with a teenage sex worker (Vanessa Hudgens) who once escaped Hansen’s clutches and tries to track the guy down, as well as prove that he’s the monster killing girls out there on the tundra. What ensues is a gritty, episodic police procedural that earns the 1970’s cop thriller vibe it’s going for, showcases stunning and eerie Alaskan photography and tells a powerful, suspenseful and at times repellant story. Cage is earnest and relatable,

Cusack is despicable without getting campy or going over the top, an everyday monster whose laid back facade make the darkness just below even scarier when we’re forced to be privy to his crimes, filmed with raw frankness. Most impressive though is Vanessa Hudgens, who I didn’t pay much attention to until this, but gives a visceral portrait of fear and determination, believable every step of the way. There’s a galaxy of supporting work from Dean Norris, Brad William Henke, Michael McGrady, Kevin Dunn, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Matt Gerald, Radha Mitchell and 50 Cent as a pimp with a mullet (lol). It works as a moody thriller, a docudrama and mutual character study of Cage and Hudgen’s roles, as well as being scary in the right places.

-Nate Hill

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Brian Taylor’s Mom & Dad

I read an article a while back saying that at the premiere of Brian Taylor’s Mom & Dad, the director attended the screening and prefaced it by saying that his film has “mental problems.” Well… he wasn’t wrong. Taylor is one half of the Neveldine/Taylor genre filmmaking team, a blitzkrieg duo responsible for both of the Crank movies, plus Gamer, and if you’ve seen any of those you’ll have an idea of the way their sense of humour slants towards the bizarre. With this one it kind of trundles headlong into willfully fucked up territory though, and before you know what’s happened, it’s scant 86 minute runtime is up and you’re left there in the dust, feeling somewhat violated. The concept is blunt and visceral: everywhere, all at once, the nurturing instinct in parents is savagely reversed and they immediately start to murder their own children. Only their children, mind you, and with a disturbing lucidity that I couldn’t decide whether to laugh at or get spine chills from. An amped up Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair play your average upper middle class parental unit, and the film mainly focuses on their eventual snap, and a subsequent tooth & nail fight to snuff out their poor son and daughter (Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur). That’s pretty much the film, although for such a seemingly simple concept within a short piece it somehow manages still clearly articulate its narrative amidst the ruckus and even comment on something deeper than it’s 70’s Midnite Movie veneer initially suggests. Cage treats this as the ultimate midlife crisis, and indeed his acting these days is more gonzo than ever. He’s got a mental breakdown midway through the film and before the killer epidemic even breaks out that is so over the top it reaches a kind of feverish harmony, not to mention appearing scarily un-faked on the actor’s part. Though quick and fierce, the film could have still tightened the pace a bit in the opener and extended the super violent, Home Alone-esque second act a smidge, but oh well. Watching Cage and Blair overact to the heavens as they try and kill their own kids with every household item they can grab including a meat tenderizing hammer (ouch) and a Sawzall (“Sawzall… saws…. all…”) hits some blissfully transcendent notes, if you have the twisted mind to stomach it. There’s a scene that will test boundaries though and walks a fine line between crazy and flat out uncalled for (one of my friends walked out of the room in disgust), but hey, that’s the kind of stuff this director is known for, so try and roll with it. Things get really bizarre when Cage’s own parents show up to add to the cluster-fuck, his demonic veteran daddy personified briefly and perfectly by a ferocious Lance Henriksen. Accompanied by a sketchy, warped and nerve-shredding score and some off kilter editing, this will either be your thing or it won’t, there’s just no middle-ground in an arena this fucked up. Good luck.

-Nate Hill

The Puppet Master: An Interview with Kevin McTurk by Kent Hill

They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.

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Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.

For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.

There is still time for you to join Kevin in his latest cinematic offering (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/935772123/the-haunted-swordsman-a-ghost-story-puppet-film), and to listen in now to the man himself talk about his movies, influences and career.

I give you the talented Mr. McTurk.

Visit Kevin’s website for more: http://www.thespiritcabinet.com/

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20 years in the making: An Interview with Steve Alten by Kent Hill

 

 

Sometimes good things take time. Still, it is rare that Hollywood, being in possession of what it believes is such a ‘hot property’, would allow said property to languish in the depths of development hell. Especially for 20 years. But that is exactly where Steve Alten’s bestseller has been in residence. That, of course, is about to change.

Yes ladies and gentlemen (and in case you haven’t been following the story) next year Alten’s leviathan shall rise and finally arrive at a cinema near you. I have long been fascinated with the journeys  movies take on the road to the big screens on which we witness them. Some of these films never arrive, some appear in a confused and unfinished form. Others are the victims of too many cooks and most are a product of the machine.

For the films that don’t make it, (see great documentaries like Lost in La Mancha and Jodorowsky’s Dune (though Gilliam seems to have at last remedied this)) their journey is often as intriguing, if not more so, than what the final product might have been. But with MEG, the powers that be have what is a potentially massive franchise on their hands. So, why the wait?

The fates are strange and fickle. Steve Alten’s bestseller was optioned before it was complete, but it has taken the better part of two decades to arrive. I found this story intriguing, mainly because this was not some sort of artsy passion project or some grand tale of ridiculous hubris. No, what could have been, and what we may yet experience, might very well be the next JAWS? And while Spielberg’s film is by its nature a far more intimate piece; the shark menaces a small community and finally three men set out to kill the beast, MEG is something we are definitely going need a bigger boat for. A really BIG boat for!

Thus Steve Alten agreed to have a chat with me about the origins of his book’s long gestation toward its screen adaptation. What he relayed I found fascinating, and still believe it could become a great extra feature or a terrific stand-alone documentary of the ride this big shark movie as taken. But, like most fans, I am just grateful that with each passing day, we finally are at last drawing closer to the MEG movie’s premiere. Of course the real relief belongs to the creator. In many ways it has been worse for him, he having served on the front lines, he having been present for each false start and each heartbreaking hurdle. I have agreed to catch up with Steve before the film’s premiere next year. As the hype builds and teasers and trailers and all the ads  bombard our senses, what brings me pause and makes me smile is the thought of Steve Alten waking the red carpet, entering the theatre, taking his seat . . . and enjoying the movie…

…as I hope you will enjoy this.

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Christopher Coppola’s Deadfall


I hear a lot of talk about how weird Nicolas Cage can get in films, and I’m always seeing top ten craziest Cage compilations on YouTube and such, but people often seem to neglect the veritable cherry on top, the big cheese of nutso Cagery, a terrible conmen flick from back when called Deadfall. This is a film directed by a member of the Coppola family, and anyone who’s done their base research knows that Cage is a member of the brood, which is the only reason he ever broke into the industry in the first place. Now as to why and how he was allowed to give the unapologetically certifiable ‘performance’ we see here, well that remains a mystery. Needless to say, this is Cage unchained, off the leash and out of the Cage, an unnecessarily clownish banshee cry of a turn that derails the entire film, eclipses every other actor and puts a big dark stain on everyone’s career. The protagonist here is Michael Biehn as a shit-outta-luck hustler who accidentally kills his own father (James Coburn, who also does double duties to play the man’s brother), and ends up in the criminal doghouse, reprimanded by his boss (Peter Fonda) and left to flounder in small time stings. Enter Eddie (The Cage) another small-potatoes loser who clashes with anyone and everyone around him, a true lunatic of a character whose left empty of any sort of engaging qualities or charisma thanks to Nic’s utterly bombastic histrionics and lunatic ravings. If I sound like I’m overselling just how fucked up his performance is or making mountains out of molehills, please feel free to jaunt on over to YouTube, type in ‘Nic Cage Deadfall’ and see for yourself. If bad performances were represented as train wrecks, this would be the infamous explosion escape scene from The Fugitive, and even that doesn’t do it justice. This is a giant schoolyard tantrum, an inexcusable, near fourth wall busting bag of uncomfortable verbal utterances and bodily contortions that make you want to call an exorcist for the poor spastic, I really don’t know how the film ever got released with such fuckery on display. Anywho, all that just drowns out literally *everything* else about the film, and when one of your actors acts out so much that they smother work from heavy hitters like Biehn and Coburn, you know your filmmaking process is handicapped beyond repair. As such, brief appearances from Michael Constantine, Talia Shire and Charlie Sheen are subsequently lost to the abyss of Cage’s deafening orbit. A mediocre film without him as it is, but add what he does to the mix and you have a true stinker, the cinematic equivalent of a spittoon filled feces. Don’t bother. 

-Nate Hill

John Woo’s Windtalkers


John Woo’s Windtalkers is a brutal, somber, joyless affair, a muddy and hopeless war picture that contains little of the ethereal poise of stuff like The Thin Red Line or heroic muscle such as Saving Private Ryan. As long as you can adjust and tune into it’s frequency it’s a well made, sorrowful look at the American effort against Japan, particularly a mission involving a regiment whose task is to protect Native Navajo code breakers that can detect messages fired off by the enemy. A mopey Nicolas Cage is their shell shocked leader, pressing his men onward into territory that no doubt contains the same horrors he witnessed before the film begins. We find him in a trauma ward initially, cared for by a kindly nurse (Frances O’Connor), until Jason Isaacs cameos as the recruitment officer who spurs him back into action. His troupe is composed solely of excellent, distinct acting talent and they help the film considerably. The Navajo are played by Adam Beach and Roger Willie, giving grace and nobility to two men who are out of their depth and terrified. Peter Stormare, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt and a standout Martin Henderson are the rest of the troops, each getting their moment to shine within the unit’s cohesive arc. Woo is an odd choice for a war picture, and his stylized flair for bullet ridden action is nowhere to be found in these bleak, bloodied trenches, trading in suits and duel wielded glocks for faded camo and muted rifle fire. The action is neither cathartic nor poetic, simply a concussive cacophony of combat that offers little aesthetic pleasure, forcing you to find the value in empathy towards these men, and as long as you can do that, you’ll get something out of it. 

-Nate Hill

EPISODE 33: DOG EAT DOG with SPECIAL GUEST MATTHEW WILDER

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Podcasting Them Softly is honored to be joined with returning guest, Matthew Wilder, to talk about his latest film, DOG EAT DOG starring Nicolas Cage, Christopher Matthew Cook, and Willem Dafoe.  Matthew adapted Edward Bunker’s novel of the same name, and the film was directed by legendary filmmaker Paul Schrader.  Matthew is currently in pre-production on his next film; MORNING HAS BROKEN starring Lydia Hearst and Peter Bogdanovich.  Matthew is currently writing BAD COMPANY: THE COTTON CLUB MURDERS.  DOG EAT DOG is currently avalible to rent and purchase on VOD with a blu ray being released on December 27th.