Tag: Nicolas Cage

Face/Off (1997)

Nicolas Cage and John Travolta swop faces (yes really) in Face/Off

Director: John Woo

Cast: John Travolta (FBI Agent 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), Harve Presnell (FBI Director Victor Lazarro), Colm Feore (Dr Malcolm Walsh), John Carroll Lynch (Guard Walton), CCH Pounder (Hollis Miller)

After five years, Sean Archer (John Travolta) has finally caught his nemesis, terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage). But, with Castor in a coma, only his brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) – yup really – knows the location of the deadly bomb they planted in Los Angeles. With Pollux now in prison how can they get him to talk? Well obviously the easiest way is for Archer to undergo extensive, experimental surgery to alter his build, voice and (piece de resistance) have his face removed and replaced with Castor Troy’s. And of course, this should be top secret so no-one knows it happened. Because there is absolutely no chance Castor will wake up from his coma and have Archer’s face placed on his own head is there? But of course. Let the violent mayhem ensue, as Troy/Archer (Travolta) manipulates the FBI for his own ends and Archer/Troy (Cage) battles to reclaim his life and face.

Reading that, it won’t surprise you to hear that Face/Off is a hyper-reality film. Hailing from the 90s, when Hong Kong gun-fu director John Woo was seen as the auteur of action, every single thing is dialled up to eleven. Early in the film Archer is told that the voice-alterer attached to his vocal codes could be dislodged ‘by a violent cough’. Needless to say, it doesn’t shift once during the orgy of intense, balletic violence that follows, no matter how many times Archer/Troy flings himself through the air, guns blazing, or flips backwards to avoid bullets.

Face/Off it’s clear is a very silly film. It works, because it knows it is a very silly film. It dabbles only lightly in the psychological trauma of finding yourself in another body – and in Archer’s case not just any body, but the body of his son’s killer. But it’s less interested in that than in seeing the two actors have immense fun apeing each other’s intonations and mannerisms. Travolta in particular has a whale of a time as the id-like Troy/Archer, campily springing about the stage and good-naturedly mocking his own physique (“This ridiculous chin”), while prancing about with all the wide-eyed, giggling mania Cage has made his own.

In case you hadn’t worked it out in a film where faces can be swopped, nothing feels like it’s happening in the real world. Gun battles defy logic and physics. Archer’s obsessive pursuit of Troy in the film’s opening battle causes a jaw-dropping level of destruction, mayhem and death (in a real world, with his obvious psychological problems, he would have been off the case years ago). But then, he’s so reckless perhaps that’s why people don’t really notice when he’s replaced by Troy.

There are some interesting beats, many of them centred around Troy/Archer’s arrival in the Archer family home where he forms a superficial bond with Archer’s daughter (including saving her from assault from a creepy boyfriend) that, aside from his obvious insanity, perhaps things could be different (and there is a suggestion Troy/Archer plays with the idea of going straight – or at least a corrupt version of it). Joan Allen comes on board to add acting lustre as Archer’s doctor wife, so distant from her husband for years that she needs time to work out he’s been replaced.

But the film’s heart is in the violence. There are five or six action set-pieces that use every weapon in the Woo arsenal. Slow-mo? Check. Operatic grandness? Check. Walking with intent? Check. Diving forward while firing two guns? You betcha. Doves? But of course. Any real sense of logic is thrown out of the window, and really the film at heart is a comedy of two famous actors pretending to be each other, in between jumping at each other, screaming their heads off, practically making gun noises while they point their weapons, like maniac kids.

And, you know what? It works. Sure the entire enterprise feels very much of its time: and Face/Off captures Woo’s style so perfectly (with its huge body-count and reckless disregard for life and property) that he never topped it again. A director who basically could do one thing really well (future films would merely demonstrate his limitations), throwing himself into a film of intense silliness, with big-name stars having a whale of time and action set-pieces that make no real sense but are impressive to watch, he aces it here. Face/Off is an odd classic of its time, ludicrously silly but always choosing to double-down on its intense silliness – to gloriously entertaining effect.

Wild at Heart (1990)

Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage in the hideously empty Wild at Heart

Director: David Lynch

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Sailor Ripley), Laura Dern (Lula Pace Fortune), Diane Ladd (Marietta Fortune), Harry Dean Stanton (Johnnie Farragut), J.E. Freeman (Marcello Santos), W. Morgan Sheppard (Mr Reindeer), Willem Dafoe (Bobby Peru), Crispin Glover (Dell), Isabella Rossellini (Perdita Durango), Sherilyn Fenn (Car Accident Girl), Sheryl Lee (Good Witch)

David Lynch is an eccentric film director. I think that is a fair comment. At his best, he combines his “view askew” look at the world with genuine comedy and pathos. At other times, his films disappear down a self-reverential rabbit-hole that seems designed to frustrate and alienate the viewer. Wild at Heart is the latter type of movie.

Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) is released from prison after his self-defence response to a knife-wielding man at a party turns into a homicidal fury. The knifeman may (or may not) have been hired by Marietta (Diane Ladd), mother to Sailor’s “girl” Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern, Ladd’s real life daughter) a woman with a sexually troubled background of abuse, who is in the middle of a sexual awakening. Together they go on a road trip to – well just kinda to get away I guess.

I’ve got to confess I really hated this movie. I only stuck with it to the end, because (a) it wasn’t that long and (b) I wanted to have actually watched the whole thing before I laid into it in this review. This film is the absolute worst elements of Lynchian oddness and gore mixed with pop-culture references to the 1930s through to the 1950s.

In fact it’s a film that is so totally obsessed with these two things that there is literally no room in it for any real plot or emotion. Instead it’s full of pointless, smug and irritating visual and audio quotes from Elvis to The Wizard of Oz, and empty characters played by showboating actors giving massive performances under ostentatious make-up, all to hide the fact that the film (for all its bombast) is a shallow as a puddle. It’s a horrible piece of intellectual fakery, that pretends to be about deep profound themes about love and death but tells us nothing about them. In the end it gets more delight from Dafoe blowing his head off with a shotgun than it does from anything to do with its so-called themes.

Lynch piles on the violence for the sake of it, all in the name of parodying the aggression that lies under his apple-pie surface Americana. This worked in Blue Velvetbecause the contrast was so great, and the characters (for all their larger-than-life qualities) felt real. Here, everything feels artificial. A constant visual image of fire and flames runs through the story – it’s a reference back to the murder (it’s not a surprise to say) of Lula’s father (burnt alive on the orders of his wife it turns out). This adds nothing at all to our understanding of anything – particularly since Marietta is the most obviously corrupt and hypocritical character from the start, drawing attention in such a ham fisted way to her past misdeeds, and the impact of them, hardly seems necessary.

The film is full of signs of man’s inhumanity – the brutal shootings, the torture of Harry Dean Stanton’s luckless PI (toned down considerably from the original cut), Sailor’s brutal murder at the start, a road accident peopled with twisted bodies – but it’s all so bloody obvious. We get it David, the world is bad and people suck. Just because you’ve shot this with some tricky angles and carry it across with a tongue-in-cheek delight at your own naughtiness doesn’t make this a masterpiece. It just highlights the shallow emptiness you are peddling as art.

The rampant self-indulgence spreads to the actors. You’d think Cage would be perfect for Lynch right? Wrong. His hideously self-conscious performance of overt oddity here just makes his performance all the more unbearable. Diane Ladd gives the sort of performance many call brave, but is really just about shouting and smearing lipstick all over her face. By the time Willem Dafoe turns up with ludicrous teeth, ripping into the scenery, you’ve lost all patience. The only person who emerges with any credit is Laura Dern, who at least invests her characters with some level of humanity and sweetness. Everyone else (everyone!) is a stock cartoon drawing.

But even Dern is cursed with Lynch’s awful sexual abuse sub-plot, which is genuinely offensive in its trite shallowness and in its suggestion that having sex with your uncle as a young teenager will turn you into a real goer later in life. Did he really deal with the same themes with such sensitivity in Twin Peaks? As for the so-called romantic happy ending – it’s unearned in any way by the film, which has treated the subject with scorn. The film’s dark wit isn’t even particularly funny – everything is so dialed up to eleven, that all the comic beats get smothered in over acting or over stylised dialogue and action.

Wild at Heart won a flipping Palme d’Or (to be fair the announcement was booed). But don’t be fooled. This is a film pretending an intellectual depth it never gets anywhere near to achieving. It’s a horrible, pathetic, cruel and empty film that thinks it’s a satire on the dark heart that lies at America’s soul. It’s not. It’s just a cartooney, self-important lecture which mistakes oddity and eccentricity for heart. Lynch is a talent for sure, but here his talents are sorely misdirected into indulgent, childish emptiness and faux profundity. Don’t watch it.

Left Behind (2014)

Nicolas Cage snores through this disaster of a movie

Director: Vic Armstrong

Cast: Nicolas Cage (Rayford Steele), Chad Michael Murray (Cameron “Buck” Williams), Cassi Thomson (Chloe Steele), Nicky Whelan (Hattie Durham), Jordin Sparks (Shasta Carvell), Lea Thompson (Irene Steele)

Christian film making. Bible dramatisations can have a certain strength and weight to them. But when it tries to reach into the realm of the blockbuster (inevitably involving the Antichrist somewhere along the line – he would have popped up in the never-made sequel to this piece of excrement) – it never gets it right, po-faced amateurishness taking over as it tries to tell a story that “will appeal to the kids”.

I can hardly bear to remember it, but Left Behind is about the Rapture. In a flash of light, the good people and all the kids in the world disappear leaving only their clothes behind (heaven is a naked place apparently). The bad and the unbelievers (shame on them!) are LEFT BEHIND!!!! The film focuses on some people on a plane. The plane flies around a bit while they panic. Then it lands. Then the film finally ends. There is no plot as such. Every character has been plucked from a stock catalogue: the lothario pilot, the slutty stewardess, the wisecracking New Yorker, the savvy journalist, the plucky daughter… Drinking is essential for viewing the film.

This is an incomprehensible, pointless film devoid of plot or suspense that drifts clumsily from event to event, never building towards any point or resolution. It was clearly intended as the first film in a series, and therefore feels no need to attempt to function as a stand-alone film. In fact the entire film feels like an extended first act – and with tighter story telling it could have been that. What actually happens in this movie? A bunch of people disappear. Cage lands a plane. That’s it. Nothing else really happens. Even the concept of the Rapture having even taken place is basically only a guess by some of the characters: they haven’t got a clue.

In fact, that’s another reason why this film is both terrible and dull. Because bugger all else happens in the story, it’s promoted as the “Rapture movie”. So we at home know straightaway what has happened, but the film drags out its protagonists working it out and then suddenly has them reaching a conclusion based on the watch inscription of a vanished co-pilot and a “BIBLE STUDY” note in the diary of a vanished stewardess. The wait for them to work it out is dull – and then the reasons for their conclusions so swiftly raced through they make no sense.

For a Christian film, as well, the story alternates between heavy handed dwelling on crosses and other paraphernalia, and a bizarre presentation of the overtly religious, who all seem to be either cranks, sanctimonious or both. The film is so ineptly made that it’s clearly not their intention to present the religious like this – it just comes out that way.

Nicolas Cage stars in this film. I can only assume that this was in the midst of his financial problems and that the offer for a huge slice of the budget was too good. Never mind autopilot, he’s barely awake, plodding through the film with a dead-eyed stare, mouthing the direlogue and clearly wishing he could be raptured out of the movie. Even on the poster he looks bemused and confused about why he’s there. The rest of the actors are so non-descript that this turd is basically their career highlight.

Leaving aside the acting, it’s a hideously made, cheap-as-chips movie with D-list actors stumbling around wobbly sets. It has no sense of humour, no sparkle but is directed with a hamfisted seriousness. The “action” and “thrills” are laughably flat and have less pazzaazz than an episode of Thunderbirds. But taking pot shots at this crap is like shooting dead fish floating in a barrel. It is horribly, horribly, horribly bad, bordering on inept. Even the most blindly devout Christian couldn’t find a message in this. With friends like these God doesn’t need enemies.