Nicolas Cage

Raising Arizona (1987, Joel Coen)

Halfway through Raising Arizona is this breathtaking chase sequence. Until this point in the film, while there’s been a lot of phenomenal direction, it’s all been brief. Raising Arizona starts in summary, with lead Nicolas Cage narrating, and it doesn’t start slowing down the narrative pace until just before the chase sequence. But then the chase happens and it’s amazing and Arizona seems poised to just keep going with that precise, outrageous filmmaking.

Then it doesn’t. Instead it gets lost in its supporting cast for a while before getting back on track, which is too bad. But there had been warning signs–like the film never really giving Holly Hunter reasonable character motivation, instead letting Cage’s narration–and charm–sell their romance. Though, at the halfway point, it certainly doesn’t seem like Hunter and Cage are going to get the narrative shaft for supporting cast members John Goodman and William Forsythe. Yet they do.

It’s during Goodman and Forsythe’s tedious time in the spotlight one has time to reflect on just how few of its promises the film has fulfilled.

The starting narration is long. Arizona runs about ninety minutes (without end credits) and it’s got a long, narrated opening summary sequence, then the lengthy chase sequence right in the middle. And then a substantial “epilogue” but more wrap-up.

Cage is front and center, literally–he’s getting his mug shot taken–right at the start. Hunter is taking his mug shot. He robs convenience stores (without bullets so it’s not armed robbery). She’s a cop. They fall in love. Without her saying very much. It’s all from Cage’s perspective, which is great. He’s a lovable, well-meaning recidivist. Right from the start, Cage’s performance is amazing. His narration and his regular performance. It’s all amazing.

No one else is amazing. There are some other excellent performances, some quite good ones, no bad ones, but nothing compares to Cage’s. So it’s really too bad the Coen Brothers’ script gives him so little to do in the second half of the film. Better than Hunter, of course, who doesn’t really get to show any personality until the prelude to the chase sequence–and then barely anything the rest of the film. And that epilogue demotes her importance, which she’s sort of been clawing to get.

Cage and Hunter get married. In the narrated summary. Cage has been in and out of prison, but he settles down once they’re married. Hunter wants kids. Only she can’t. It’s not a story arc for her. It’s a plot detail in Cage’s story. Hunter becomes scenery for a while until they hear about some quintuplets and decide to kidnap one. This decision isn’t discussed in any scenes, it’s all covered in Cage’s narration. Because apparently the Coen Brothers couldn’t figure out a way to get Hunter to go from cop to kidnapper in scene.

Cage–and the film–can cover it. It’s shocking how much it can cover, which just makes it even more shocking when it no longer can cover. Even though Goodman and Forsythe give fine performances, it’s stunning how much lost the film gets in the weeds with them.

See, once they kidnap a baby–from unpainted furniture king Trey Wilson (who’s fantastic) and his wife, Lynne Kitei (who gets a scene and a quarter)–Goodman and Forsythe break out of jail and visit old buddy Cage. They need a place to lie low, unaware there’s a bounty hunter (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) after them.

Pretty soon Cobb sees the news about the kidnapped baby and decides to go after it too.

Then there’s a throwaway subplot involving Frances McDormand and Sam McMurray as a couple Hunter wants to be friends with. It’s a contrived, connective subplot, just there to move things around and to be funny. There’s some gorgeous photography from Barry Sonnenfeld during that sequence; the photography’s always good, always great, but the couples picnic sequence is about the only time Sonnenfeld gets to shoot exteriors during the day. It’s also a place where Hunter could get some material.

She doesn’t. Instead, the Coen Brothers focus on McMurray’s dipshit, who’s Cage’s boss; that detail comes out of the blue, since the only person Cage is ever working with is M. Emmet Walsh in a two scene cameo.

Eventually everyone wants the baby. The script uses it as punchline, not actual character motivation. It’s during that weedy period in the runtime when it doesn’t seem like Arizona is ever going to get back on track.

It does, finally, because it puts Cage and Hunter together in scenes and as a team. Despite the film being all about their whirlwind, glorious romance, they don’t get to establish actual chemistry–between the actors, not chemistry created through editing–until the third act. Way too late.

But then there’s this great action showdown in the third act, with a small but excellent chase scene, and director Coen, cinematographer, Sonnenfeld, and editor Michael R. Miller work some magic. Not as magical as the chase sequence, but magic enough to find the movie in the weeds and get it out onto the road again.

There’s some great writing. But most of it is in the first act. Wilson ends up with better scenes than anyone else in the second half. The movie doesn’t just sacrifice Hunter for Goodman and Forsythe, it eventually sacrifices Cage.

Great music from Carter Burwell. The whole thing is technically marvelous. It just doesn’t have anywhere near enough plot for the story it says it’s going to be telling. Even if the Goodman and Forsythe stuff were good, there’s not enough of it.

Raising Arizona has got plenty of problems, but it’s still a fairly thrilling success. You just have to wait through a lot of second half of the second act lag. But the filmmakers do come through. It just doesn’t make any sense why they don’t for a while.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joel Coen; written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen; director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Michael R. Miller; music by Carter Burwell; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Ethan Coen; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Nicolas Cage (H.I. McDunnough), Holly Hunter (Ed), John Goodman (Gale), William Forsythe (Evelle), Trey Wilson (Nathan Arizona Sr.), Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb (Leonard Smalls), Sam McMurray (Glen), Frances McDormand (Dot), Lynne Kitei (Florence Arizona), and T.J. Kuhn (Nathan Junior).


Shadow of the Vampire (2000, E. Elias Merhige)

Shadow of the Vampire opens with some title cards explaining the setup. Well, it opens with some title cards explaining the setup after what feels like nine minute opening titles. In reality… it’s six. Vampire ostensibly runs ninety-five minutes.

Anyway. The title cards setup the making of Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s highly influential 1922 vampire film. The cards end saying Nosferatu is going to establish Murnau as one of “the greatest directors of all time,” which would imply Vampire’s going to be very positive about Nosferatu and Murnau.

Not so much as it turns out. John Malkovich plays Murnau. The movie presents him as a pretentious dick, which you’d think Malkovich could easily play, but not so much. Steven Katz’s script is particularly wanting in the Murnau characterization department. Besides a visit to a sex club and drug use, there’s nothing to Malkovich’s character. He gets the least character development of anyone in the film. Except Eddie Izzard, who gets ingloriously chucked at some point. Anyway. Murnau’s direction is always played for laughs in one way or another. Sometimes it’s in how Izzard (as the human lead in Nosferatu) acts, sometimes it’s in how Malkovich directs, but there’s always a bit of a joke. Sometimes there’s a lot of one. Shadow of the Vampire has some good laughs.

But Vampire’s not a biopic or non-fiction. It’s about how Malkovich has hired a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) to play the vampire in the movie. Two big problems. One, Dafoe’s a vampire who wants to kill people. Two, he’s not an actor. There’s some real funny stuff with Dafoe. It’s just not particularly good funny stuff. Vampire’s not a comedy. Director Merhige manages to get into the third act without ever fully committing to a tone. He eventually does pick one and, wow, it’s a bad choice.

But Dafoe. Let’s just get it out of the way. He’s phenomenal. His performance gets the humor in the situation, but never at the expense of being scary. Katz and Merhige never take advantage of that aspect of Dafoe’s performance–the spontaneity of it. Because they’re not doing particularly good work.

At no point does Vampire show much potential. Malkovich is chemistry-free with everyone, which is a problem when it comes to leading lady (barely in the movie, completely “harpy,” ultimate damsel-in-distress Catherine McCormack) who he’s apparently been intimate with. Kinky sex implication intimate. He uses it to control McCormack. But she’s barely in the movie–three scenes, maybe four.

He’s also no good with Udo Kier as Nosferatu’s producer, or Cary Elwes as the ladies man cameraman. Or Izzard, but he and Malkovich don’t actually share the screen much. Malkovich is usually directing Izzard in Nosferatu, not acting opposite him. Malkovich also doesn’t have any chemistry with Aden Gillett, who plays the Nosferatu screenwriter. Gillett’s got no purpose except suspect Dafoe and play well opposite Kier. So Merhige does get these actors need to play well off one another, he just doesn’t do anything to facilitate it. Kier and Gillett have one of the film’s best scenes, if not the best. They bond with Dafoe.

So while often amusing–and quick-paced, at the expense of logic and character development and narrative gestures–Vampire doesn’t have much heft. Then it tries to get some and it doesn’t work out. At all.

The third act’s a bust, with Merhige, Katz, and Malkovich the prime offenders. But mostly Katz. There’s nothing you can do with the third act as written. Then Malkovich, then Merhige. Merhige needed to figure out how to cover for Malkovich’s broad performance.

Kier and Elwes are all right. Same goes for McCormack and Izzard. After Dafoe, Gillett gives the best performance. No one gets enough to do, not even Dafoe. Kind of especially not Dafoe.

Technically it’s a little dull, but still colorful. Lou Bogue’s photography doesn’t do crisp. Chris Wyatt’s editing is good. He knows how to cut for the comedy. Dan Jones’s music isn’t memorable.

Merhige’s composition is a little too tight, his narrative impulses aren’t good–somehow he still keeps a nice, brisk pace–he’s indifferent to actors’ performances. Lots, but nothing to really suggest how bad the movie’s going to close.

It’s worth seeing for Dafoe’s performance. And maybe Malkovich’s if you don’t like him. Vampire pretends Malkovich is giving a great performance–one where he has chemistry with Dafoe and whatnot–but Malkovich doesn’t even put in enough effort to pretend anything similar. It’s a problem.

Vampire’s got too many problems.

BOMB

CREDITS

Directed by E. Elias Merhige; written by Steven Katz; director of photography, Lou Bogue; edited by Chris Wyatt; music by Dan Jones; production designer, Assheton Gorton; produced by Nicolas Cage and Jeff Levine; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring John Malkovich (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau), Willem Dafoe (Max Schreck), Udo Kier (Albin Grau), Eddie Izzard (Gustav von Wangenheim), Aden Gillett (Henrik Galeen), Cary Elwes (Fritz Arno Wagner), Ronan Vibert (Wolfgang Müller), and Catherine McCormack (Greta Schröder).


Kiss of Death (1995, Barbet Schroeder)

Kiss of Death takes place over four years, has eight to ten significant characters, and runs an hour and forty minutes. It skips ahead three years at the forty-five minute mark. And the last twenty minutes could have their own movie, as David Caruso returns to the city to face Nicolas Cage, who knows Caruso snitched on him only it’s never clear how he knows or to what extent.

And it’s important to look at why it’s unclear because Richard Price wrote this Kiss of Death–I’m a Price aficionado–but Price also wrote it like a novel. Then he cut a bunch out of a four-hour miniseries, threw in some more scenes of Cage’s absurd villain who isn’t actually a character so much as an unthinking monster moving his way through the film, and called it… well, probably not good, but called it a movie. Only it’s not a movie, especially not with Schroeder directing.

Kiss of Death is a remake of film noir and, in updating noir, Schroeder basically dumps anything related to the genre in terms of visual style. Luciano Tovoli’s photography is technically fantastic, but it has no personality. The film opens on this fantastic tracking shot of an auto yard, which figures into the fates of Caruso, Cage, and everyone else in the film only Schroeder’s got no visual style to tie it in. It’s like doing a Touch of Evil homage without understanding how it works for the viewer. It feels tacked on and generic, like almost everything else in the picture.

But, you know, Schroeder’s not terrible, he just doesn’t know what to do with this movie. He directs maybe four of the actors well. And never Caruso, who’s going through all these physicality bits–trying to do more with saying less–only Schroeder doesn’t seem to pick up on them. Caruso’s walking away in a medium long shot physically reacting to something and Schroeder doesn’t want to concentrate on Caruso. He doesn’t understand how to make Caruso the protagonist given the depth of supporting characterization. It’s kind of a mess.

Caruso’s okay. He’s best with Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kathryn Erbe. His scenes with Michael Rapaport and Stanley Tucci are too forced, either by script, direction, or Caruso himself. It’s an okay performance, not great, but with glimpses of great. Cage is in a similar boat. The actor, the script, and the director are all in disagreement about how to portray the character. When it’s Cage and Caruso together, Kiss of Death is at its best. There are lots of contrary things going on and the actors are still working so it creates a tone for the film, which otherwise has none.

Jackson’s got some really good moments, same for Erbe, though she’s utterly unappreciated. Actually, Helen Hunt’s unappreciated with some really good moments too. It’s kind of like Kiss of Death has too many good actors without enough material for them to do, so Price hints at better stuff off screen and then Schroeder’s not good enough at the on screen. Kiss of Death is its own worst enemy.

Michael Rapaport’s probably gives the film’s best performance as an annoying worm of a sociopath. Stanley Tucci’s fun as a righteous but greedy district attorney. Anthony Heald’s phenomenal as the mob lawyer. He gets two scenes. Just watching him and Tucci argue in front of a judge could carry a movie.

Lee Percy’s editing is a tad fast-paced. Trevor Jones’s music is a disaster.

Kiss of Death has too much potential, too little ambition, and some rather good performances (all things considered).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Barbet Schroeder; screenplay by Richard Price, based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky and the 1947 screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; edited by Lee Percy; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Schroeder and Susan Hoffman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Caruso (Jimmy), Samuel L. Jackson (Calvin), Nicolas Cage (Little Junior), Helen Hunt (Bev), Kathryn Erbe (Rosie), Stanley Tucci (Zioli), Michael Rapaport (Ronnie), Anthony Heald (Gold) and Ving Rhames (Omar).


Honeymoon in Vegas (1992, Andrew Bergman)

Honeymoon in Vegas almost defies description. Bergman drags a sitcom out to ninety minutes. But he also makes his straight man—Nicolas Cage—act like a lunatic. Cage’s performance during the second act features him screaming the end of every sentence.

Wait, I forgot about the utterly useless prologue (though it does give the chance for an Anne Bancroft cameo). Also important is when James Caan’s character reveals himself to be a dangerous psychopath—at the start of the third act, before then he’s just enthusiastic. What else am I forgetting….

Bergman treats the narrative like Johnny Williams’s terribly unfunny flunky, who’s constantly eating. Bergman pays so little attention to his film… he forgets he’s got Cage narrating it in the past tense.

Caan’s bad throughout—it’s the script’s fault, but it’s also his inability to deviate from his normal performance anymore. It’s depressing to see him in Vegas.

Cage is good at the beginning, terrible in the middle and okay at the end. His character is unbelievably stupid because he needs to be, which makes it hard to like him.

And Sarah Jessica Parker, who they both love (Cage had her first, Caan steals her away), is terrible at the beginning. But then she’s great in the middle. She holds up at the end too.

Bergman’s directing of actors is almost as bad as his soap opera composition.

Oh, I didn’t even mention David Newman’s terrible score….

Honeymoon in Vegas is, like I said, indescribable. Except by negative adjectives.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Bergman; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Barry Malkin; music by David Newman; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Mike Lobell; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring James Caan (Tommy Korman), Nicolas Cage (Jack Singer), Sarah Jessica Parker (Betsy), Pat Morita (Mahi Mahi), Johnny Williams (Johnny Sandwich), John Capodice (Sally Molars), Robert Costanzo (Sidney Tomashefsky), Peter Boyle (Chief Orman), Burton Gilliam (Roy Bacon), Seymour Cassel (Tony Cataracts), Tony Shalhoub (Buddy Walker) and Anne Bancroft (Bea Singer).


The Rock (1996, Michael Bay)

I’m loathe to say it, but The Rock isn’t bad. Its good qualities are questionable, but it’s not bad. Besides some of the acting, what’s best about the film is how it fuses the action and adventure genres. Bay does his action stuff in traditional adventure settings—there’s a setting straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but Bay plays it as action and it works.

What doesn’t work—I’ll finish with what does to be positive—is, first and foremost, the writing. Most of the one-liners flop. There are occasional decent moments, like when Sean Connery’s character shows his army experience, but there are also the terrible scenes with Ed Harris. Every one of them is awful. Harris tries, but there’s nothing he can do. His voice cracks during one tense scene and it sort of sums up his entire attempt at essaying the character. He just can’t sell it.

As the lead, Nicolas Cage has some problems. He’s appealing in his first Hollywood manic role, but not quite good. But he’s irreplaceable.

Oh, I forgot the other bad stuff—some of the acting is terrible. Gregory Sporleder, Tony Todd and Bokeem Woodbine give awful performances.

Then there’s the score. Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer make some terrible music together.

Great supporting work from David Morse, John Spencer and Stuart Wilson. Bay knows how to fill a room with character actors and make it work.

It could be better, but also a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; screenplay by David Weisberg, Douglas Cook and Mark Rosner, based on a story by Weisberg and Cook; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael White; produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (John Patrick Mason), Nicolas Cage (Dr. Stanley Goodspeed), Ed Harris (Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel), John Spencer (FBI Director James Womack), David Morse (Major Tom Baxter), William Forsythe (Special Agent Ernest Paxton), Stuart Wilson (General Al Kramer), Michael Biehn (Commander Charles Anderson), Vanessa Marcil (Carla Pestalozzi), Claire Forlani (Jade Angelou), John C. McGinley (Marine Captain Hendrix), Gregory Sporleder (Captain Frye), Tony Todd (Captain Darrow), Bokeem Woodbine (Sergeant Crisp), Raymond Cruz (Sergeant Rojas), John Laughlin (General Peterson), and Philip Baker Hall (Chief Justice).


Drive Angry (2011, Patrick Lussier)

Drive Angry is T2 with a supernatural bent. It’s like Lussier wanted to make a 3D Terminator movie, couldn’t, and came found a way to make it possible to do most of the action scenes of one. Actually, Drive Angry isn’t just some supernatural movie. It’s all about Nicolas Cage breaking out of Hell (which is just a prison—Satan isn’t that bad of a guy and the lack of a cameo is one of the film’s big problems)—to stop a Satanist cult from sacrificing his granddaughter.

Along the way he runs into old friends and makes new ones. William Fichtner is the emissary from Hell sent to bring him back. So it’s a chase and be chased movie.

Cage is not very good, which is probably a combination of bad writing (his character’s boring) and bad direction from Lussier. Lussier can compose an inoffensive shot, but he’s terrible with actors.

And it seems like he knows it, so he casts great actors whenever he can. Fichtner alone is probably worth seeing the film for. He’s got this playful performance (his writing is pretty good) and it’s just amazing.

Then there’s David Morse, who only has one big scene and he nails it in that fantastic David Morse way. As the bad guy, Billy Burke is surprisingly good. He swaggers around like a demented Elvis.

Unfortunately, leading lady Amber Heard is unspeakably horrific. She’s nightmarish.

Drive Angry’s about twenty minutes too long, but Fichtner frequently makes up for it.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Patrick Lussier; written by Todd Farmer and Lussier; director of photography, Brian Pearson; edited by Devin C. Lussier and Lussier; music by Michael Wandmacher; production designer, Nathan Amondson; produced by Michael De Luca; released by Summit Entertainment.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Milton), Amber Heard (Piper), William Fichtner (The Accountant), Billy Burke (Jonah King), David Morse (Webster), Todd Farmer (Frank), Christa Campbell (Mona), Charlotte Ross (Candy), Tom Atkins (Cap), Jack McGee (Fat Lou), Katy Mixon (Norma Jean) and Pruitt Taylor Vince (Roy).


Amos & Andrew (1993, E. Max Frye)

The problem with Amos & Andrew is the execution. Frye has a good concept—a black professional moves to an island community filled with guilty white liberals and suffers thanks to their community interest, finding he has more in common with a two bit criminal than his neighbors. And the stuff between Samuel L. Jackson and Nicolas Cage is occasionally quite good. Cage’s performance reminds why him no longer doing comedies is a loss. Jackson isn’t awful (his character is a stereotype—Frye never gives him anywhere near the depth of, say, Lionel Jefferson–but no telling if Jackson could handle it if he had).

Frye sets it up as a comedy of errors. Islanders Michael Lerner and Margaret Colin mistake Jackson for a thief (because he’s black). It gets worse when the dumb, racist white cops arrive (there’s an oxymoron). Oddly, the villain—Dabney Coleman’s politicking chief of police—is one of the few white characters who isn’t racist. He’s just an ass. And Frye gets points for not shying away from the bigotry. Lerner and Colin never get redeemed, even after he makes them primary supporting cast members.

Maybe with a different director—Frye has no sense of scale—it could have worked out. He shoots a major media event in a shoebox.

Lerner and Coleman are caricatures, but Colin’s got some good moments, as does I.M. Hobson. Giancarlo Esposito, Loretta Devine and Bob Balaban all do well in thankless roles.

Amos & Andrew is almost worth watching for Cage.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by E. Max Frye; director of photography, Walt Lloyd; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Richard Gibbs; production designer, Patricia Norris; produced by Gary Goetzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Andrew Sterling), Nicolas Cage (Amos Odell), Dabney Coleman (Chief of Police Cecil Tolliver), Michael Lerner (Phil Gillman), Margaret Colin (Judy Gillman), Brad Dourif (Officer Donnie Donaldson), Chelcie Ross (Deputy Earl), I.M. Hobson (Waldo Lake), Jeff Blumenkrantz (Ernie the Cameraman), Giancarlo Esposito (Reverend Fenton Brunch), Loretta Devine (Ula), Bob Balaban (Fink), Aimee Graham (Stacy) and Tracey Walter (Bloodhound Bob).


Con Air (1997, Simon West), the extended edition

I loathed Con Air back when I first saw it. I’ve only seen it that one time, opening night thirteen years ago. And many of my complaints at the time still hold true–Nicolas Cage is awful, John Cusack is awful (worse, his jokes fall flat), Simon West is a terrible director (but thirteen years later he’s not as bad as the mainstream directors who’ve followed) and the music is bad. All those complaints do hold true. The writing’s really bad in parts too, mostly as how it relates to Cage and his wife. Monica Potter plays the wife.

But it’s a whole lot of fun to watch John Malkovich go crazy as a poorly written bad guy. Malkovich is so good chewing up the scenery here, I realized him never getting to play Lex Luthor is one of the great Hollywood tragedies. I don’t know if he had fun here, but it sure seems like it.

The supporting cast is mostly impeccable–I haven’t seen one of these Bruckheimer super-cast movies in a while–except Colm Meaney. Meaney is awful.

But Ving Rhames, Mykelti Williamson, Rachel Ticotin and M.C. Gainey? They’re all amazing. Or Steve Buscemi, charged with making a Dahmer-like serial killer likable? Buscemi practically makes the movie on his own.

One of the other big failures is the CG and the composite shots. And the hair. Cage’s extensions look ridiculous and Cusack looks like he refused to cut his hair so they greased it back.

It’s diverting Hollywood junk food.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Simon West; written by Scott Rosenberg; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Chris Lebenzon, Steve Mirkovich and Glen Scantlebury; music by Mark Mancina and Trevor Rabin; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Cameron Poe), John Cusack (U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin), John Malkovich (Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom), Ving Rhames (Nathan ‘Diamond Dog’ Jones), Nick Chinlund (William ‘Billy Bedlam’ Bedford), Steve Buscemi (Garland ‘The Marietta Mangler’ Greene), Colm Meaney (DEA Agent Duncan Malloy), Rachel Ticotin (Guard Sally Bishop), Dave Chappelle (Joe ‘Pinball’ Parker), Mykelti Williamson (Mike ‘Baby-O’ O’Dell), Danny Trejo (Johnny ‘Johnny-23’ Baca), M.C. Gainey (Swamp Thing), Steve Eastin (Guard Falzon), Renoly Santiago (Ramon ‘Sally-Can’t Dance’ Martinez) and Monica Potter (Tricia Poe).


Face/Off (1997, John Woo)

A lot of Face/Off is okay. Nicolas Cage does a great job as the hero stuck with the villain’s face and makes it worth watching. The same can’t be said for John Travolta, who’s only a little better as the villain with the hero’s face than he was as the hero (the movie’s got a half hour plus opening act), and he’s terrible as the hero.

I haven’t seen Face/Off in many years, though I’d probably still assume it’s Woo’s best American film. It’s amazing what stylization does to a picture–the story’s so stupid it could have been Tango & Cash 2 (well, okay, maybe not Tango & Cash 2, as some of the scenes are really effectively written), but people loved it.

Woo didn’t make those scenes good, it’s pretty clear; he’s totally disinterested with anything nuanced. He’s also disinterested with getting good performances. Besides Joan Allen, Robert Wisdom and CCH Pounder, practically every performance is cartoonish and awful. Alessandro Nivolo, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes… their performances make one wonder if the casting director was just playing a joke on the audience. Gina Gershon’s weak too, but more miscast than bad. Margaret Cho, however, gives one of the worst performances I can think of right now.

There’s a lot of good stunt work, a lot of gunfights–it’s hard to call them good, since everyone has bad aim except when shooting at unnamed very supporting cast members and it gets annoying, and it’s never boring until the finale.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Woo; written by Mike Werb and Michael Colleary; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Christian Wagner and Steven Kemper; music by John Powell; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by David Permut, Barrie M. Osborne, Terence Chang and Christopher Godsick; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring John Travolta (Sean Archer), Nicolas Cage (Castor Troy), Joan Allen (Eve Archer), Alessandro Nivola (Pollux Troy), Gina Gershon (Sasha Hassler), Dominique Swain (Jamie Archer), Nick Cassavetes (Dietrich Hassler) and Colm Feore (Dr. Malcolm Walsh).


Kick-Ass (2010, Matthew Vaughn)

Is Kick-Ass any good? Um. That question is somewhat complicated, because there are very good things about it–Chloë Grace Moretz’s fantastic as a foulmouthed twelve-year-old version of the Punisher, with some Jackie Chan thrown in, and so is “lead” Aaron Johnson, who manages not to look like he’s lost the movie he’s top-lining to every single other cast member, whether it’s Moretz, Nic Cage, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (whose squinty nerd thing, identical to Superbad, is just annoying here) or Mark Strong, even though he does at one point or another in the film.

It’s never clear if the filmmakers realize the lead of the movie doesn’t even get to really end it (there’s a big scene between Johnson and girlfriend Lyndsy Fonseca missing) so they can set up the sequel or not.

But it doesn’t matter much, because Vaughn realizes the gleeful violence of Kick-Ass (not, however, when Johnson gets constantly beaten up while trying to do good)–it’s all about Cage and Moretz–is the selling point. Kick-Ass feels a little like one part Dirty Harry, one part inspiring father-daughter movie, half part Superbad and a little Spider-Man thrown in. I’m not sure if Vaughn was mimicking Raimi or unaware, but the film’s general incompetence with plotting resembles that movie quite a bit….

Cage is great, playing the impossible script straight, with his Adam West impression a real plus.

And the music–seemingly entirely lifted from other scores–is fine.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Matthew Vaughn; screenplay by Jane Goldman and Vaughn, based on the comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Jon Harris, Pietro Scalia and Eddie Hamilton; music by John Murphy, Henry Jackman, Marius De Vries and Ilan Eshkeri; production designer, Russell De Rozario; produced by Vaughn, Brad Pitt, Kris Thykier, Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack and David Reid; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Aaron Johnson (Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass), Chloë Grace Moretz (Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl), Mark Strong (Frank D’Amico), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Chris D’Amico/Red Mist), Lyndsy Fonseca (Katie Deauxma), Clark Duke (Marty), Evan Peters (Todd), Omari Hardwick (Sgt. Marcus Williams) and Nicolas Cage (Damon Macready/Big Daddy).


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