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Entries in Nicolas Cage (4)

Friday
Feb252011

Drive Angry

3D is the bane of cinema. There, I said it. And I’m glad I did. Despite the occasional three dimensional triumph (How to Train Your Dragon), most movies do not need it. Rarely have I been thankful I saw a film in 3D, fearful that I may have missed something watching it in boring old regular 2D. After the backlash from shoddy up conversions, it appears studios now deem it necessary to advertise their film as being “shot in 3D,” as evidenced by the Drive Angry poster, though at this point, it hardly matters; the extra dimension is still unnecessary. Nevertheless, I’ve always stood by this point: 3D, as good or bad as it can be, is never the deciding factor in the quality of a picture. So as much as I hate the notion of wearing those silly glasses and looking at a dim picture, I still must admit to having quite a bit of fun with Drive Angry.

Nicolas Cage (who seems to be in every other movie these days) plays Milton. He has just escaped from Hell and is on a mission to save his infant granddaughter from being sacrificed by a Satanic cult led by Jonah King, played by Billy Burke. On his journey, he befriends Piper, played by Amber Heard, and has to contend with “The Accountant,” played by William Fichtner, who is on a mission to capture him and bring him back to Hell.

If you couldn’t tell by that ridiculous plot synopsis, Drive Angry is essentially a B-movie. It has a B-movie story, B-movie dialogue, B-movie acting and, keeping in line with its B-movie brethren, a number of nagging narrative inconsistencies. Although I suspect some of its inanity is unintentional, most of it is a wink and a nod to the people in the audience who get it. Aside from a couple of dramatic missteps (mainly due to the fact that drama even exists—in a movie like this, it shouldn’t) it knows exactly what it’s doing. Drive Angry is a silly, violent, purposely over-the-top picture that is accompanied by blazing heavy metal whenever someone struts or postures. It's exactly the type of low grade filth many will shun, but there's no denying that what it does, it does well.

It’s a movie that wishes to channel those old grindhouse films while keeping a modern tongue-in-cheek vibe. In a way, it aspires to be like 2007’s Shoot ‘Em Up, even going so far as to replicate one of its crazier scenes. However, Drive Angry doesn’t have the style or humor of Shoot ‘Em Up. With the exception of a few funny lines, only William Fichtner channels the type of vibe that film nailed so perfectly. Every moment he is onscreen is a delight and as soon as he disappears, you’ll be counting down the minutes until he comes back.

There’s not much more to say about Drive Angry. It’s big, loud, relentless and stupid, but it’s fun. Not random-trip-to-Vegas fun; more like a casual trip to a restaurant with friends fun—you’re glad you did it, but once you’ve digested it, it’s time to move on.

Drive Angry receives 3/5

Friday
Jan072011

Season of the Witch

If this year is anything like the last, January is going to be a cinematic wasteland with little to cheer about. Limited releases notwithstanding, the month is looking to be a bad one. So here we are with the first wide release movie of the year, Season of the Witch, and, well, it’s terrible.

The story takes place in the 14th century during the Crusades. Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) have dedicated their lives to the church and their cause, but after witnessing the slaying of innocent people, they decide to defect and go about on their own. After some time, however, they find need for supplies and are forced to stop in a local village where they first come into contact with the Plague, which is said to have been caused by a witch roaming the lands. They are quickly spotted and recognized as traitors, but rather than condemn Behmen and Felson to death, they are asked to help transport the alleged witch (Claire Foy) to a monastery where she will stand trial, to which they begrudgingly agree.

Season of the Witch, to put it lightly, is one of the most embarrassing movies I’ve seen in a long time, to the extent that everyone onscreen and behind the scenes should be ashamed for having worked on it. While it may be set in the early 1300’s, all characters speak with modern dialects. The actors make a bare bones attempt to bridge the gap between then and now, but each line comes off as hokey. Every utterance from the mouths of Cage and Perlman, in what could be the worst performances of their careers, was cringe worthy.

Had the film been tongue-in-cheek, this could be forgiven, but the subject matter, as silly as it is, is taken deathly seriously. Aside from an effective opening scene (that is only loosely tied to the movie as a whole), the rest transcends unintentional camp and reaches pure awfulness. The whole affair is a cumbersome, mishandled and painfully amateurish vision that is brought to a quick death as soon as Cage steps onscreen in his raggedy wig.

All one can hope for is some exciting action, but director Dominic Sena, who is responsible for the guilty pleasure, Swordfish, and little else, works them like your typical mindless hack ’n slash movie, in that unnamed people (and animals) run towards the screen only to get slaughtered and disappear. It also suffers from showing us too little. In order to avoid an R rating, camera shots are kept close and tight, so we see only the reaction of the person getting gutted rather than the actual gutting.

Season of the Witch is a film where nearly anything that can go wrong does. On top of all the problems already mentioned, it sports bad CGI, bland cinematography, a forgettable score and a script that feels like it was written by a teenager who has played one too many video games. It all ends with a final twist that goes against the very title of the film, which would have come as a surprise had it not already been given away by an early poster with a none too subtle logo behind a silhouette of the supposed witch. I predict that having already shot itself in the foot by ruining its ending will hear little outcry, however. It’s hard to believe that anybody with a modicum of self respect could find this interesting anyway.

Season of the Witch receives 1/5

Wednesday
Jul142010

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Nicolas Cage has had a bumpy ride. Never mind his personal life and tax problems. His cinematic endeavors alone have yielded mixed results. Raising Arizona, Con Air, Face/Off, Adaptation, all have showcased his considerable skill as an actor in a variety of ways. But the last few years have shown a dip in his ability to perform. National Treasure, Ghost Rider, Bangkok Dangerous and the atrocious Next have rounded out his recent portfolio. However, he seems to be making a comeback. With his darker, comedic turns in movies like The Bad Lieutenant and Kick-Ass, he is once again proving himself as more than capable of carrying a film. His latest movie, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice isn’t quite what you’d expect next from a re-blossoming career such as his, but its good hearted nature, interesting premise and sly humor make it worth a look.

Cage plays Balthazar, a sorcerer who has been on the search for the one known as the Prime Merlinean for centuries. On happenstance, he finds him in physics nerd Dave, played by Jay Baruchel, and takes it upon himself to teach him the ways of sorcery, explaining that sorcerers can use their brains to their fullest extent, which explains why physics comes so easy to him. He is told that he holds the power that will help him defeat Horvath, played by Alfred Molina, who plans on breaking free the evil sorcerers of the world who have been trapped inside of a wooden doll for hundreds of years. Despite his reluctance, Dave agrees to help, though he finds himself sidetracked by the beautiful Becky, played by Teresa Palmer, and unwittingly drags her into the fray.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a movie that gets by on its charm alone. It’s a marginal movie that verges on the brink of self-destruction with problems persisting throughout its runtime, but I found myself smiling and laughing nevertheless. My brain says no, but the small child within me says yes. Chalk this one up as a guilty pleasure.

Such praise may come off as negligible, but I couldn’t be happier. See, I’ve already discredited John Turteltaub as a competent action director. After two unwatchable National Treasure movies with action scenes that have the same effect as a shot of NyQuil, I didn’t expect to find much pleasure here, but I did. While still not particularly memorable, Turteltaub is getting better, although much of the action hinges on special effects with which the actors unrealistically interact.

Baruchel in particular is unconvincing, especially during the dragon chase scene midway through. He has a niche type of talent that fits certain types of movies, like this year’s She’s Out of My League, but he has a tough time pretending to be scared of something that isn’t truly there. It’s good for him then that he’s allowed to venture into other territories away from the action. When not screaming at mythological beasts or throwing his arms around to conjure up plasma balls, he gives a winning performance that makes us care about him and root for him to get the girl. He steps away from the whiny, pity me personality he has inhabited in past films and shows that he can carry some charisma when given the chance.

Still, this is a kids oriented movie, complete with inconsistencies and juvenile humor, which is to say it’s harmless. Perhaps I was in a good mood, or perhaps it was due to the humorous nods to other Disney franchises—the homage to Fantasia (which this is very loosely based on) was fantastic—but I latched onto The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and never let go. I try to walk into every movie with my mind set to neutral, but realistically, one can’t help but have predetermined thoughts on whether or not a movie will be good. In this instance, my expectations and the actual outcome did not match.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice receives 3/5

Friday
Apr162010

Kick Ass

Here we are. The movie that will have comic book lovers the world over joining in a collective nerdgasm. Kick Ass, the popular novel from the mind behind Wanted, is hitting the big screen and the geeks of the world are more eager to see it than a sex tape between Jessica Biel and Jessica Alba. I'm one of those geeks. After reading the comics it is based on (which a friend so graciously lent to me), I was hyped for the movie. The comic was amazing; well written, well drawn, violent, hilarious and fun. It was everything I wanted a comic book called Kick Ass to be. The movie, while still a rollicking good time, lacks the wit and style of its source material.

The movie follows Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), a mild mannered high school outcast. He and his friends, played by Clark Duke and Evan Peters, are comic book nerds. Like many similar to them, they dream of fighting crime in extravagant outfits, leaping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit of an evildoer, standing up for justice and integrity in a world spiraling to hell. The difference is that Dave takes that to heart. He's sick of being a nobody. He's an outcast, a guy who can't get a girlfriend to save his life, much less his crush Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca), so he decides to strap on a scuba suit he buys online and attempt to make his city a better place through his new persona, Kick Ass. But this is the real world, not a comic book, and he soon finds himself lying in the middle of the road beaten, bloody and bruised with a knife wound to the stomach. After his recovery, and despite his better judgment, he returns to the streets where he meets Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), a father/daughter superhero team who have been working their ranks through the local mafia, eliminating them all in the hopes of eventually getting to the head honcho, Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). In fear of these superheroes, Frank enlists the help of his son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a fellow comic book nerd, to disguise himself as a new hero, Red Mist, and lure the trio into a trap where he can finish them off once and for all.

I'm no comic book connoisseur, I admit. I couldn't tell you why one works and another one doesn't. I'm not aware of the inner workings that go into the construction of one of these tales. All I can tell you is how I perceive it and I loved the Kick Ass comic book. I couldn't put it down. I loved the gruesome violence, the spot on humor and the interesting narrative. I hoped for the movie to excite me in the same ways and it did, but not as consistently.

For what I assume are practical purposes, the violence isn't nearly as abundant, the humor is hit and miss and the interesting narrative from the comic is changed enough that it didn't hold the same appeal. I found more emotional connection between drawings on a page than I did the live action film.

Although some of the humor is forced, it can be funny, but that's why I didn't care. It doesn't do a good job of balancing its comedy with its more dramatic moments and when a major character bit the dust, I could only stare blankly at the screen wondering if I was supposed feel something. Consider the fact that jokes aren't only thrown in before and after this scene, but during it and you start to wonder why the filmmakers tried to create any drama at all.

Besides, it's called Kick Ass. Just as nobody watched Zombie Strippers for the choreography, nobody will watch Kick Ass for the drama. Luckily, the action scenes are top notch. They're wild, crazy, over the top and damn fun. Though toned down from the comic, this things gets bloody and watching an 11 year old girl do most of the killing makes things even crazier.

At times, the film gives off a Scream type of vibe by parodying the genre it is portraying. But whereas Scream was steady in its self-spoof, Kick Ass fluctuates. It's amusingly self-deprecating at first, but then drops that angle only to pick it up again later, and so on. It's smart at times, but it's not consistent and you'll quickly see how jumbled it can be.

But you know what? This is still a great time at the movies. Nicolas Cage gives his best performance in years and had me laughing all the way down to my toes, Chloe Moretz is brilliant as the adorable little girl that can put a bullet through your head before you even realize she's packing and its excessive nature is a welcome treat in a cinema world that is getting increasingly picked on by past generation curmudgeons who are intent on finding something they can complain about. Kick Ass looks at those people and flips them the bird, welcoming their hatred.

I like that.

Kick Ass receives 3.5/5