Nicholas Cage

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

Pig

06/02/22

Now TV

I’m late to this, mostly because of my inability to find the film showing at a cinema anywhere near me. But I’ve heard good things about it and eventually, I chase it down on the small screen. My expectations are that it will turn out to be a kind of ‘John Wick with a pig’ scenario, which isn’t a prospect I relish, but happily it is gentler and a bit more nuanced than that.

Disturbingly, though, days after the viewing, I’m still not entirely sure what it is.

Nicholas Cage plays ‘Rob,’ who ekes out a precarious existence in a tumbledown cabin in the middle of a forest in Oregon. He makes his living from harvesting truffles, along with his beloved er… pig (Brandy), who has a snout for that kind of thing. Rob is visited from time to time by young entrepreneur, Amir (Alex Wolff), who sells those foraged truffles in Portland, where they are prized by chefs at the fancier dining establishments. It’s an odd arrangement but it seems to work.

But things take a nasty turn when Rob is attacked one night and his pig stolen. So, with Amir as his driver, Rob sets out for the big city with only one thing on his mind: to get his pig back. It’s nothing to do with the truffle situation, though. Rob loves her and cannot envisage life without her.

As he and Amir travel through the city, it soon becomes clear that Rob has been here before. Once upon a time, it transpires, a near legendary chef and the very mention of his full name – Robin Feld – is enough to invoke awe in everyone who hears it. (It’s hard to imagine that the names of Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay could inspire such respect.) Along the way, Rob has some strange encounters. He volunteers to be beaten up in a private fight club (as you do), he cooks food for Amir and his ruthless father, and he makes it clear that he has nothing but contempt for his former career and for the customers who used to flock to him for his gastronomic delights.

Pig is an odd film, to say the very least. While it’s refreshing to see a Nicholas Cage project that doesn’t require him to chew the scenery, it’s also probably true to say that most of what’s going on here is in the subtext. Rob is a shambling, monosyllabic central character, covered with bruises and blood throughout the film – a scene where he books a table at a swanky restaurant and none of his fellow-diners raise so much as an eyebrow actually beggars belief – and he is single minded in his determination to get that pig back, come hell or high water.

Debut director/co-writer Michael Sarnoski’s fairy tale seems to be suggesting that greeting violence with love (and food) is the way to solve problems, and perhaps he’s right on that score, but ‘turning the other cheek’ is hardly a revelation, and it doesn’t seem enough to hang an entire movie on. While it’s also true to say that Pig never goes anywhere you expect it to, it feels somehow as though the stakes need upping a little.

Bacon sandwich, anyone?

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Snowden

14/12/16

To some, Edward Snowden is a menace, a man who endangered the security of the USA. To others, he is an unsung hero, somebody who sacrificed his career in order to tell the truth about the ways in which the CIA was covertly spying on everyday citizens. (Trust me, this film will almost certainly have you sticking a plaster over the camera on your laptop). It’s perhaps no great surprise to learn that Oliver Stone, one of America’s most infamous liberals,  belongs firmly  in the latter category; and as portrayed by Joseph Gordon Levitt, Snowden is a decent man, a gifted computer nerd who loves his country, and becomes increasingly dismayed by the lengths that the organisation he works for is prepared to go to in order to ‘preserve the nation’s security.’

Stone has been off form for some years now. It’s a very long time since he dazzled us with the likes of Salvador and JFK – and the unmitigated disaster that was Alexander the Great is perhaps best brushed under the Persian carpet. Here, he’s on much more confident form, ably assisted by a measured central  performance by Gordon-Levitt and a nicely Machiavellian turn from Rhys Ifans as shady wheeler-dealer, Corbin O Brian. The likes of Nicholas Cage and Timothy Olyphant pop up in cameo roles, while Tom Wilkinson, Melissa Leo and Zachary Quinto portray the trio of journalists who help Snowden break the story that sends him into exile.

It’s a prescient story and an important one. Stone manages to pull off an inspired trick by having the real Edward Snowden portray himself in the film’s closing section. While this may not be up there with his finest efforts, this is definitely Stone’s best work in quite a while.

Here’s hoping that the powers that be will eventually be shamed into giving Edward Snowden the pardon he so evidently deserves.

 

4.2 stars
Philip Caveney