Tag: nicolas cage

Drive Angry

Drive Angry (2011)
★ / ★★★★

Milton (Nicolas Cage) breaks out of Hell to return to the land of the living in order to rescue his granddaughter, an infant, from being sacrificed by a religious cult leader, Jonah King (Billy Burke), the very same man who murdered Milton’s daughter because she wanted to resign from the cult. While sipping black coffee at a diner, Milton takes notice of a kind but tough waitress, Piper (Amber Heard). He asks her to give him a ride and she decides to help. Before she knew it, she is an integral part of Milton’s mission to hunt down the zealots. Meanwhile, The Accountant (William Fichtner), Satan’s right-hand man, is assigned to bring the escapee back to where he belongs.

Written by Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier, “Drive Angry” is not without ambition but it is so sloppily put together, there is barely a glimpse of a story we can invest in. Its many attempts to exude excitement comes in a form as basic as shooting and blowing things up.

Milton is supposed to be a grandfather on a bloody rampage and will do absolutely anything to save the baby. His mission might not have been so unbelievable if he isn’t so easily distracted, especially by the opposite sex. For someone who has literally escaped Hell, his weakness is women? Really? When a blonde waitress at a bar makes passes at him, the very next scene shows them having sex. As Jonah’s henchmen come barging in like wild animals, Milton grabs his gun with one hand and uses the other to keep the woman attached to him until all the assailants are dead and bloody.

But it does not stop there. The whole thing is shown in painful slow motion. Since we can see where the attackers are located prior to raising their weapons, tension is sucked out of the scene. It looks pretty, I suppose, but only for about five seconds. It glorifies violence by making it look like an elegant dance. As many of us should know, violence is anything but.

It leaves a confusing message. The woman releases moans of pleasure during the shootout yet she is left traumatized after the fact. If the writers had managed to put the same amount of thought in the implications as much as the visuals, they might have had a film worth cooking and it might not have been insulting. Other scenes run similar to this, only increasingly less interesting due to diminishing returns.

And then there is the question involving Milton’s state of being human. Yes, he is unable to die, but what is so special about him that he is one of the very few to have escaped from the land of the dead? Not enough backstory is given to us and Cage’s somewhat relaxed–some might say narcotic–performance does not help. Following Milton on his journey is like watching a robot doing the same tricks over and over again. For someone who has broken out of Hell, he sure does get boring fast.

“Drive Angry,” directed by Patrick Lussier,” tries to be cheeky in order to have variations in tone between action sequences, but it fails to work because every event feels contrived. Instead, it comes off so desperate, it forces some characters to actually wink at the audiences before doing something naughty, like they need our approval.


Moonstruck (1987)
★★★ / ★★★★

Loretta (Cher) was married for two years until her husband passed away. Since then, she came to believe that she was unlucky and had stayed away from potential bachelors. But when Johnny (Danny Aiello) suddenly proposed to her in a restaurant, she was intent on doing everything the traditional way, for instance, the man must kneel before she could accept his proposal, hoping that her luck would turn around. She accepted but they couldn’t get married just yet because Johnny had to go to Sicily to visit his terminally sick mother. Meanwhile, Johnny asked Loretta to contact his brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), and invite him to their wedding. The problem was Ronny and Loretta became very attracted to one another and the two felt the need to keep it a secret. Written by John Patrick Shanley and directed by Norman Jewison, “Moonstruck” was an intelligent romantic comedy about Italian-American characters and what love and being in love meant to them. The scenes were relatively simple but the underlying emotions were complex. Take the dinner scene between Loretta’s mother (Olympia Dukakis) and a professor (John Mahoney) who dated his students. Despite their age difference, I expected them to get involved emotionally. However, instead of taking the easy route, the picture allowed the two characters to speak about their lives. By taking the time to allow the characters to interact in a meaningful way instead of resulting to cheap and easy gags, we considered questions that we otherwise wouldn’t have by just looking at them. Loretta’s mother became involved in her own questions about what it meant to be a wife versus a woman while the professor discussed his sadness because he no longer felt passionate about his work. Although they were concerned about very different things, they occupied the same space. Being in front of one another, despite being strangers, was enough for them to engage in a real and meaningful conversation. I found them relatable because at times it’s just easier to talk about very personal things to someone I don’t really know. There’s a reassuring feeling in the transient bond between us and a stranger perhaps because we feel like we’re not alone with our problems. While the story was about Loretta and Ronny in its core, I loved that the supporting characters had particular importance instead of just playthings that conveniently entered and exited the frame. The elderly characters with their wisdom, sometimes lack thereof, served to highlight the magic between what Loretta and Ronny did not yet know they had. Cher played her fiercely independent character with bravado yet she was as effective in showing Loretta’s weaknesses. Cage played Ronny with charm combined with a dangerous edge. I never would have guessed he loved the opera. Cher and Cage’s intense chemistry complemented the wonderful and crackling script. “Moonstruck” proudly wore its positive outlook on love, courtship, and marriage. I only wish it acknowledged those who will not be lucky enough to find their one.

Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Ben (Nicolas Cage) was an alcoholic intent on traversing a destructive path. His wife and child left him and he was recently fired from his job so he decided to go to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. Sera (Elisabeth Shue) was a prostitute and Yuri (Julian Sands) was her pimp. When she didn’t make enough money for a night, he took pleasure in beating her. She didn’t seem to mind. For her, being hit was a better feeling than being lonely. When Ben hired Sera, it wasn’t a regular night on the job. He just wanted someone to talk to and listen to his sometimes incomprehensible words. In just one night, she seemed to have fallen for her client. Based on a novel by John O’Brien and directed by Mike Figgis, it’s easy to classify “Leaving Las Vegas” as a romance film, but I didn’t see it from that perspective. In my opinion, for there to be romance, two people had to be relatively functional and emotionally available. Ben was far from functional and he was definitely not emotionally available. I wasn’t convinced that we knew his true self. In each scene, he was either drunk with confidence or he was going through ugly withdrawals. Cage’s performance was very impressive because he had control of such an uncontrollable character. He had an organic way in terms of shifting from one intense emotion to another without ignoring the subtleties requisite to make us believe that we were still watching a person worth saving even though the beast inside him had almost completely taken over. For instance, while having dinner, Sera suggested that Ben go see a doctor. With bulging eyes, he said he wasn’t going to see any doctor with such authority in his voice, but at the same time I felt that the longer I looked in those eyes, there was nobody there. I cared for Ben but there was something about that moment that scared me. It reminded me of those times when I was about four and my father, who drank alcohol profusely at the time, would return home and act like a damn fool in the living room and my mom and I stayed out of his way. The fear I felt as I looked in Cage’s eyes was similar to the fear I felt when my father’s monster would throw furniture around the house. Was there love between Ben and Sera? I thought so. But I wasn’t convinced Ben and Sera were really in love with one another. Ben depended on alcohol and Sera depended on the feeling of having someone there. They enabled each other’s disease. One of the most beautiful things about “Leaving Las Vegas” was love, like addiction, encompassed many forms. Depending on our experiences, we were able to take a unique magnifying glass and interpret why certain scenes unfolded the way they did. But one thing was certain. It was accurate in portraying alcoholism: the temporary and fleeting illusions of joy, the ticks when the mind was hungry for alcohol, the self-loathing because loved ones left, and the crippling depression. Those who’ve never had experience with an alcoholic should see this film. It was scary in its realism.


Trespass (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

When their daughter, Avery (Liana Liberato), snuck out to attend a posh teen party, Sarah (Nicole Kidman) and Kyle’s (Nicolas Cage) home was invaded by four thugs (Cam Gigandet, Ben Mendelsohn, Dash Mihok, Jordana Spiro). They knew Kyle’s business involved selling diamonds and they hoped that by forcing the husband to open a money vault, they would be that much richer by the end of the night. But Kyle wouldn’t open the depository even if his wife’s life was threatened. Written by Karl Gajdusek and directed by Joel Schumacher, “Trespass” could have been a lot of fun if it hadn’t taken itself too seriously. Once Sarah and Kyle were on the floor, screaming, begging, and arguing for their lives, they weren’t given very much to do. With such a high caliber actors, one would think that the filmmakers would take advantage of it, take some risks, even unnecessary ones, and really challenge its audiences in terms of what was normally expected in home invasion movies. Instead, the film was too safe. Aside from the shot when Sarah realized that one of the men wearing masks was someone she knew, there was no other scene that moved me, good or bad. The rest were just there as I passively watched the formula: the hostages waiting for an opportunity to run, finding a chance to get away for a couple of minutes because the thugs ended up on each other’s throats, and eventually getting caught because the backyard was so big, it was like running a marathon from Point A to Point B. Back to square one, nothing changed. To its credit, the formula wasn’t boring, per se. It was repetitive but I wanted the family to find an escape so badly to the point where I didn’t mind. I just wasn’t as involved as I felt I should have been. The characterization was obvious especially concerning the head of the family: Kyle was like a diamond. Despite the heat and pressure applied by the criminals, he just wouldn’t break. But there was nothing else to his character. Aside from Cage doing his crazy yelling in an outstanding (and borderline comical) manner, his character wasn’t very interesting. He was smart and sarcastic but he held so many secrets that, by the end, we ended up not really getting to know him. And then there was the criminals’ laughable decision to bring a druggie, Petal, the only woman in their group, as a helping hand. I thought it was unintentionally funny. She pranced around the house wearing other people’s clothes, admiring shoes, jewelry, purses and taking drugs. When she wasn’t doing the aforementioned activities, she went downstairs to whine about what was taking so long and wanting to slap around Sarah out of jealousy. It was like bringing an already ticking bomb to a supposedly controlled situation. For a group who went out of their way to gather so much information about Kyle and his family, stringing a loose cannon along just didn’t feel right. With all the things that happened, “Trespass” probably would have worked as a farce or a satire instead of a straight-faced suspense picture if the writing had been exaggerated and ironic. Since it settled with typicalities, it ended up blending in a haystack of mediocrity.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Many years prior, Merlin had three apprentices: Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), Horvath (Alfred Molina), and Veronica (Monica Bellucci). However, Horvath decided to team up with the evil Morgana (Alice Krige) and take over the world. Veronica decided to sacrifice herself, through a series of magical spells, by emprisoning Morgana’s soul in her body. Fastforward to the 21st century, Balthazar recruited a geeky Physics student (Jay Baruchel), Dave, who he believed to be the so-called Prime Merlinian, Merlin’s successor, to prevent the release of Morgana and defeat Horvath once and for all. Naturally, nerdy Dave had other things on his mind like romancing a girl he knew when he was still in grade school. There was a lot of unnecessary backstory in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and it did not have a lot of payoff. Special and visual effects were abound, some were, admittedly, impressive (I highly enjoyed the scenes when statues would come to life and attempt to kill the protagonists), but what it lacked was a strong and defined emotional core. As much as I like the adorable Baruchel as an actor, I believe he might have been miscast because he failed to inject multidimensionality to his character. Yes, Physics and the girl were very important to him but what else was he passionate about? When he found out he was supposed to be the next Merlin, there was no sense of wonder and I did not feel a conflict moving enough to keep me wanting to see how things would unfold. Furthermore, I felt as though Cage was too campy for the role and most of his one-liners fell completely flat. It was almost desperate. The writers should have trimmed the parts when Cage made heavy-handed speeches about embracing destiny and focused more on the twenty-year-old who was supposed to wield a great power but did not know what to do with it. Considering that the picture was essentially a Disney film, perhaps it felt the need to cater toward children and that was the reason why pretty much everything was oversimplified. However, I think a bit of edge could have greatly benefited the movie in terms of tone. Not for a second did I believe that the bad guys had the upper hand over the good guys. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” delivered many action-packed adventures all over New York City but, other than occassional thrills, it lacked a range of other emotions. Its references to “Fantasia” were highly enjoyable but since the filmmakers did not take the material to the next level, I’m not quite sure if modern audiences (especially younger kids in which it catered toward) will recognize the allusions.

Astro Boy

Astro Boy (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on a manga by Osamu Tezuka, “Astro Boy” told the story of a brilliant scientist (voiced by Nicolas Cage) specializing in robotics who recreated his son (Freddie Highmore)–physically with memories included–after the boy’s untimely death during a military testing led by a cruel president (Donald Sutherland). I thought the first third of this film was very strong. Although the look of the movie was crisp so it easily appealed to children, the story was almost a little too dark. I was impressed that it immediately tackled the idea of a parent’s debilitating grief and the effects of trying to replicate a child. It was like watching a version of Steven Spielberg’s underrated “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” but aimed toward children. And like that film, this animated movie also explored what it meant for the main character to be a human (initially), a robot (later on), and accepting the fact that having both characteristics wasn’t so bad. It was also interesting because the first half was set in a world where robots were passively enslaved to humans. In the second half, like David from Spielberg’s film, Astro left the shiny, floating city for the city below where robots were hunted and were forced to participate in a battle royale sort of event. Unfortunately, that part of the picture wasn’t as strong. In fact, it was unfocused. There were times when the attention wasn’t on Astro’s journey but instead on the side characters’. The darkness of the first thirty minutes were stripped away and the tone felt very uneven. The momentum was so slow to the point where I wondered whether it ran out of creative ideas to entertain. I haven’t read the manga but I think if David Bowers, the director, made this picture with edge from beginning to end, it would have been a lot stronger and more interesting to adults. The whole bad guys versus good guys toward the end was kind of typical–something that one can easily see in other animated movies designed for children such as the disappointingly mediocre (but very cute) “Monsters vs. Aliens.” I felt like this film had an innate capacity to be more introspective than other animated flicks and it’s a shame it didn’t take advantage of that. Other notable voices included Bill Nighy, Samuel L. Jackson, Kristen Bell, Eugene Levy, Nathan Lane and Charlize Theron. “Astro Boy” was about a boy’s identity crisis but as a film it should have had a clearer picture about what it wanted to be. However, I did have a good time watching it because it had so much energy and some of the jokes were pretty amusing. Perhaps it’s a good rental if one could use a break from a series of serious movies like I did.

Bringing Out the Dead

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on Joe Connelly’s memoir, “Bringing Out the Dead” was about a paramedic named Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) who increasingly became out of touch with reality after several sleepless nights and increasing guilt involving a girl he failed to rescue. I liked the film’s first half but I was very put off by the second half. What I thought the first hour of the picture was strong because it captured the reality of how it was like to be a paramedic in the city. I liked the way Martin Scorsese, the director, highlighted the grittiness and ugliness of city life and putting his characters in the middle of a sea of negative emotions. The way the paramedics dealt with their patients were sometimes very sad, sometimes amusing, and sometimes maddening because the ethical codes were not always followed. The way they numbed themselves by means of making jokes out of serious situations were interesting defense mechanisms to observe. Unfortunately, the second half consisted of way too many scenes in which Cage’s character experienced hallucinations. I understood that he was guilt-ridden but I felt like the hallucinations were very distracting and it took away the picture’s sense of momentum. Maybe Scorsese wanted to contrast those fantastic elements with realism but I did not think it worked to the movie’s advantage. Those scenes went by so slowly and I became very frustrated. I also did not like the romantic angle between Cage and Patricia Arquette. It felt forced because they did not have any sort of chemistry. “Bringing Out the Dead” features a main character who is very flawed and at times unlikable but those are the qualities that made me interested in him. He took his job seriously so he was very hard on himself, which were most prominent when he drove around in an ambulance with another paramedic (John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore). This film is definitely not for everyone because it doesn’t really have a defined plot. It’s more of a peek on a man’s life and how he swallowed the elements of the job he hated such as the deaths and dying people. Set mostly at night, Cage’s narration while patrolling the streets reminded me of “Taxi Driver.” Unfortunately, “Bring Out the Dead” isn’t as strong and isn’t as focused. At least it had good performances.