Neil Patrick Harris

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

23/04/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

As most cinema-goers will testify there are actually two Nicholas Cages. One of them is the skilled actor who won an Oscar for Leaving Last Vegas and starred in a whole string of superior action movies like Face/Off and Con Air. Then there’s his more recent incarnation, the wild-eyed weirdo who seems happy to turn up for any old film, so long as there’s a pay cheque and a handy chainsaw. Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing rather too much of the latter Cage over the past few years.

TUWOMT takes this basic idea and runs with it, creating something that’s both incredibly meta and perfectly happy to hold the long-cherished values of Hollywood up to ridicule. Sometimes, a great idea comes from out of the blue and, luckily, director/writer Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten managed to persuade Cage to sign on for this bizarre project, because it really couldn’t have worked without him. The result is one of the most immensely likeable movies I’ve seen in quite a while.

Actor ‘Nick Cage’ is on his uppers. He’s starred in a few too many stinkers and has failed to land the role he thinks might change his career for the better. He’s getting desperate – and it doesn’t help that his younger alter ego, ‘Nicky Coppola,’ keeps popping out of the woodwork to berate him for forgetting that he’s a film star first and an actor second. Meanwhile, he’s living in a hotel (where he owes $600,000 in back rent), he’s divorced from his long-suffering wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan), and he’s rapidly losing the affection of his teenage daughter, Addy (Lily Mo Sheen).

When Cage’s agent, Richard (Neil Patrick Harris), mentions that Nick has just been offered a million dollars to attend a birthday party in Mallorca, he reluctantly accepts and is whisked off to the mansion of Javi Guttierrez (Pedro Pascal). Javi is Nick’s number one fan and has a collection of Cage-related movie memorabilia to prove it. He’s also written a screenplay that he wants Nick to star in. Awkward.

Almost before you can draw a breath, events start to pile in from the wings. CIA operative Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) informs Nick that Javi is a dangerous criminal who may just have kidnapped the daughter of a prominent anti-corruption politician. She wants Nick to work with her to find out where the girl has been hidden. It doesn’t help that he and Javi are getting along like a house on fire, sharing an affection for great films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and er… Paddington 2. Oh, and one other thing. They’re planning to write a screenplay together…

If this is starting to sound distinctly unhinged, that’s exactly what TUWOMT is all about, but it’s crazy like a fox. There’s something infectiously funny about the idea of undermining the pomposity of Hollywood and Cage never holds back, investing his character – himself – with a whole raft of pretentious interests and self-destructive urges. He doesn’t actually play his part for laughs but attacks it with genuine acting skill and the film is all the funnier for it.

He and Pascal cook up a fine old bromance amidst the mayhem and, as their planned screenplay develops, so the film hurtles breathlessly from one set-piece to the next. Amidst the resulting onslaught of shoot-outs and car chases, there really isn’t time to stop for a moment and consider how unlikely it all is, but it hardly matters. While TUWOMT is unlikely to feature on future lists of ‘the best Nicolas Cage Movies of all time,’ it’s nonetheless a hoot from start to finish.

And it’s also proof that Paddington 2 – awarded a full 5 stars here on B&B – is one of the greatest films ever made.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Matrix: Resurrections

06/01/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Few movie fans would deny that 1999’s The Matrix was a game-changer.

Back then, this uber-stylish, martial arts-infused sci-fi mash up looked like nothing else that had gone before. It introduced the innovative ‘bullet-time’ technique and had its followers feverishly discussing what it might all mean. But then of course, its success meant that in 2003 there were a couple of over-elaborate sequels – Reloaded and Revolutions – which seemed to take the whole idea a bit too seriously for comfort. Over the intervening years, it seemed increasingly unlikely that the concept would ever justify another reboot, but nevertheless, here it is, with just one of the Wachowski siblings (Lana) at the helm. So what’s left to say?

As if to demonstrate that the filmmakers mean business, Resurrections kicks off with a lavishly mounted action sequence, where characters we haven’t met before observe others, who resemble ones we already know. A confusing fight scene ensues, guns fire, people run up walls and vehicles dutifully explode, while the protagonists mumble things that might mean something to me if I’d only watched the three previous films recently… but it’s been years, and the mutterings mean zilch.

Then the plot kicks in and things don’t really get any better.

Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is an award-winning designer of a video game called The Matrix. A fellow worker grumbles that ‘Warner Brothers’ are keen for Thomas to produce a sequel, but he’s not sure that’s a good idea. (See, we’re really going meta here!) Thomas has other things on his mind. In a coffee shop he visits regularly, he’s started noticing a woman called Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), who looks uncannily like his old flame Trinity. Hmm. The names are similar. Could she still be alive, despite having died in an earlier film? Thomas’s analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris) assures him that he’s just getting mixed up between what’s real and those crazy video games he creates. But Thomas can’t help but wonder. Is his ‘reality’ real … or just another cunningly crafted construct of The Matrix?

Take a wild guess.

For all of its attempts at ‘nod-wink-cleverness,’ Resurrections feels like it’s trying to be a greatest hits package, only – where the original was fleet-footed and powered by its own internal logic – this just feels bloated and, for the most part, incoherent. Still, familiar scenes keep popping up with annoying regularity. Red pill, green pill? Tick! A reprise of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit? You got it! Morpheus (this time played by Yaha Abdul -Mateen II) crossing his arms and firing two automatic weapons simultaneously? It’s right there, baby!

But where the original was nimble, Resurrections feels lumbering and confused. It’s really coming to something when you can’t follow a simple punch-up without wanting to rewind it for a second look. Reeves stumbles through this mess looking bewildered. Perhaps he’s wondering why this isn’t another John Wick movie. He’s not helped by brief cutaways to the original film, where he looks more awake and like he actually knows what’s happening to him.

And then in comes Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, who, being older – and therefore supposedly wiser – than most of the other characters, speaks like a collection of audible fridge magnets. At which point I kind of give up on trying to follow the ridiculously complicated storyline. I think it basically comes down to everyone trying to reunite Thomas with Trinity, whilst destroying an awful lot of vehicles and buildings in the process. And it’s important for them to be together again, because… nope, sorry. Must have missed that.

The simple truth is that The Matrix was a smart little movie that never needed to be remade, reloaded, rebooted or – as is clearly the case here – reheated. The film runs for a formidable two hours and thirty- five minutes, but trust me, it feels much, much longer than that.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney