Tag Archives: Adam

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

9 Jan

Watching Vampire’s Kiss is like watching a mad, performing animal; occasionally glimpsing what looks to be a zipper on its back, up near its tufty black neck, half-hidden beneath the fur. Behind the animal, out of the corner of our eye, we see – or think we see – the twirl of a moustache; some pulleys and puppet strings; hidden and fiendish mechanics. We leave the theatre not knowing whether we have just watched a cruel and mindless spectacle or an intricate pastiche of the same. Once again, it was Nicolas Cage who was billed in bright shining lights on the marquee as we entered the theatre and surely Nic who was looking at us from within the dancing bear suit, giving us a knowing wink from beneath the furry mask barely perceptible upon the darkened stage.

Hello you! After a Christmas and New Year hiatus, Cage Wisdom returns like a squawking and insufferable baby cuckoo to the warm and homely nest of online film criticism. Just as Rudolf needs his brandy-soaked carrots to keep him going through the long nights of the season, so too do we Cage fanatics need new Nicolas Cage movies, like brightly burning SAD lamps, to ward off Jack Frost with his big black sack of melancholia. Yet, while watching Cage deport himself madly upon the film stage, strutting and flailing, may have kept my humours in check, Vampire’s Kiss is a film about a man who can’t do the same; a man called Peter Loew whose black bile we watch bubble up through the movie like a sadly salted slug.

Peter Loew is a literary agent by day and womanizing bar-fly by night. He is not, seemingly, a man of friends, exemplified by the fact that instead of some cherished loved one, he keeps within his office a framed photograph of Franz Kafka, a man who died around three decades before his own birth. He was born in Philadelphia, yet speaks with what sometimes sounds to be an affected English accent. Perhaps like Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) in Spike Lee’s ludicrously underrated Bamboozled (2000), Loew affects a continental accent (and Kafka portraiture) in order to appear more cultured to the colleagues he has failed to bond with.

Cage’s voice is at its most expressive as he attempts a form of ‘vocal gurning’ encompassing whines, cackles, whoops and bellows. The effect is singular because the dialogue is simple and unadorned. Characters state intentions and ask questions clearly, without recourse to, say, the syntactical pirouettes of the Coen Brothers or the stunted half-sentences of David Mamet. So, in contrast to the Coen’s Raising Arizona, where the stylisation of the script matched the cartoon eccentricities of the performance, Joseph Minion’s script is a blank slate where Cage is free to kick up some manic chalk dust! Lines are made quotable, not due to their inherent absurdity (although the situations in which these lines occur are absurd) but due to Cage’s inspired, gesticulatory deliveries. Often, Cage has (perhaps behind scenes) devised some arm-thrusting hand-bending gesture which, throwing caution to the wind, he pairs with an otherwise innocuous line. Consider, for example, his delivery of the phrase “It’s all you have to do”:

It’s all…you have…to do!!!

The stills above are taken from a scene in Loew’s psychiatrist’s office. During these sessions Loew enters into rants of raging, sulking, petulant defiance like some righteous shock jock, on topics as diverse as proper filing etiquette (“You just put it in the right file!”) and bat bite induced erections (“I was a little drunk… plus I was horny.”) When we meet Loew he is already dangling from sanity’s gorge by a precious thread, but when the clandestine bat bite leads to the belief that he has become a vampire, resulting in a remarkable sequence in which Cage rushes down a New York street proclaiming his vampirism to passers-by, Elizabeth Ashley’s psychiatrist becomes a locus of sanity for the audience, who watches Loew’s erratic descent with concerned, yet bemused detachment.

Another figure of sympathetic engagement is Maria Conchita Alonso’s Alva, who is tormented and bullied by Loew through the film. The scenes between the two at first elicit laughter due to Loew’s ludicrous expectations of his secretary and become gradually more troubling and distressing as Alva’s psychological distress becomes increasingly apparent. The effect is not dissimilar to watching Jack Nicolson’s Jack Torrence torment Shelly Duvall’s Wendy in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). At first, Nicolson’s charisma and derelict charms ask us to root for the bad boy, to take snide and secret joy in how Jack lords it over the quivering Wendy. Kubrick almost constructs a litmus test for the audience, tempting us to hold out sympathy for the victim, until a point where not to do so would be to share in Jack’s psychosis. We begin by cheering on the exciting male transgressor and end up inadvertently cheering for a monster.

Yet, Cage’s charms are of a more daffy variety than Nicolson’s. At first, we resist seeing Loew at a monster, not due to his “machoistic” charisma, but precisely due to his lack of it. Strutting through bars searching for ladies, he seems like nought but a dandified yuppie, whose limp handshake and foppish parting belie his attempts at suavity.

Later, when he is bitten and gormlessly seduced by a (possible) vampiress he is a tragic yet witless victim – the rubbish younger brother of an Oedipus or Hamlet, undone by his own pants buckle. Before Vampire’s Kiss Cage had mostly played gangly firecrackers, young idealists, lovers and whippersnappers, so an audience as of yet unfamiliar with his idiosyncracies, may have been surprised to watch him lauch so energetically into dereliction and depravity. Yet, what fascinates about Loew is that even when hollerin’ and psychotic, he remains wretched. Though the Kafka portrait is not matched by a labyrinthine design, gnomic dialogue, or enigmatic direction, Loew is as hopeless and festering as Gregor Samsa and the film, like Birdy from 5-years previous, shows Cage at his most hunched and beetley.

Like some bizarre Vaudevillian magician!

Also, while fun, the film is a little unkempt and abject. It’s both much darker and dafter than expected, with passages of absurdist humour followed by moments of genuine unpleasantness. It’s a curious beast, but not without its strange delights, especially from Cage who is a whole curiosity cabinet of contradictions; manic yet controlled; aggressive and submissive; hair brill-creamed but foppish. These apparent contradictions might suggest that the role should feel fragmentary and disjunctive, but through the repetition of stylised gestures and vocal mannerisms he holds it together, like some mad acting robot that’s learnt emotions and gone haywire!

BOO-HOO! BOO-HOO!

Peter Loew may not be a good vampire, but Nic seduces with the best of them, convincing you through his sheer commitment to the role of his character’s insanity. By the end of the film Loew’s delusions have grown fully fledged and he’s stalking through the nightclubs looking for prey with a black suit and a plastic fang over-bite, like a cartoon Vincent Price half remembered from Saturday morning tv.  He walks stiffly through the crowds and, on meeting a lady charmed by his eccentricity, gestures graciously like the count and chitters his teeth.

We’ve come full circle back to the early scenes of Loew’s bar haunting, but now he is fully ensconced within the jaws of madness and can never go home again. A low-rent tragic hero Loew may be, but Cage gives no half-measures in transforming himself into a shambling wreck.

This is what Nic does at his best, he makes the ludicrous inarguably convincing. There’s a much recounted scene in which Loew (and Cage) eat a cockroach crawling across the stove in his apartment. Originally the script asked for Loew to eat a raw egg. Yet for Cage there must be a sacrifice, a ritual, a gesture towards the authenticity of his character. Like Werner Herzog insisting that a real boat be pulled up a mountain, simulacra isn’t enough. This kind of method acting registers Cage’s early love for Marlon Brando and James Dean, who acted with an intensity that became inseparable from their lives. Yet Cage is also, to paraphrase David Lynch, a ‘jazz actor’ and this was his self-proclaimed Picasso period and while this never meant anything as literal as descending a staircase naked, it meant mixing things up and giving a distorted vision of angular shapes and ritualistic repetitions. Here, deep in the late 80s of synth-pop anthems and sensible hair, Cage offer us an experiment in form and if that means jumping on a desk and reciting lines like he’s doing the macarina, then jimminy-f’ing-cricket he’ll do it.

post scriptum: at the height of his Vampire fever, Loew sleeps under a leather three-piece-suite as if it were a coffin. This is inspired!

I'm sleeping easy tonight!

Cage Rage

4 Dec

When we started ‘Cage Wisdom’ at the beginning of October we envisioned this would be a blog with niche appeal like a blog about orange juice, Snoopy or Microsoft Excel. I mean sure, who hasn’t sipped a nice tall glass of OJ, stuffed a unsharpened HB into a Snoopy pencil case or kicked back with some friends, a pack of bud light and ‘had a whirl at Excel’? Similarly, who hasn’t seen Cage sport a thrush muffler or wear John Travolta’s face at the multiplex? Yet how many people care enough about these things to read, Citrus ‘R’ Us, Snoopy’s Groupies, Excelibur or Cage Wisdom?  Orange juice, Snoopy, Microsoft Excel and Nicolas Cage all hold mass appeal and niche appeal simultaneously. OR SO WE THOUGHT!!!

Because, while we haven’t actually broken through the ’30 views a day’ glass ceiling, it seems like these days all eyes are swivelling as if on wheelie-chairs towards Cage, or more specially, youtube viral sensation ‘Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit’. In lieu of any proper reviews as I await the anticipated arrival of Neil Lebute’s maligned, misunderstood, ursinological remake of The Wicker Man, let’s give this sweary little shout-a-thon a little not totally undue attention.

When I used to perform in York’s premier and only improvised comedy troupe The Shambles we had a game we didn’t often play called ‘Requiem for a Shamble’. This game was heavily inspired by the plot and tone of Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 addiction melodrama Requiem for a Dream, in which some people take some drugs and then find that, unbeknownst to them, they’ve been living in a 16th century anti-drugs morality play and so Things Get Really Bad through a series of events that waggishly defy any sense of causal logic.  Accompanying the Bad Things Clint Mansell’s soundtrack broods and lurches through an auditory purgatory of violin crescendos and drones of evil portent. Here it is below:

For the Shambles game we asked the audience for something that our protagonist could be addicted to and after we had fielded the usual screaming chants of SSSEEEEXXXXXXEEXCXE ZX and DILDDILOOOEEEEASSSSSSS we usually settled on something funny and banal like an addiction to magnets or flickbooks or rye bread. The scene would then play out with the life of the poor addled Shamble narrated dispassionately as they lurched from one sordid scene of desperate backstreet rye bread eating/ flickbook flicking/ magnet polarization to the next, until the scene reached its tragical apex. In the case of the girl who was addicted to flickbooks, her thumbs had to be surgically removed because of repetitive strain injury. But the icing on the comedy cake was that while this awful climax played Mansell’s Lux Aeterna would be playing seriously, somberly in the background. The dramatic, heavy sounding music was juxtaposed against the flippancy of the overwrought acting and from thence the hilarity arose. Now cast yer sightballs at this:

Sterling viewing! Watching Cage punch, scream and gesticulate wildly through his film career is funny, especially if he is dressed as a bear, but I feel that the music sacrifices some fine acting at the altar of lol. Some of the scenes featured in the video’s quick-fire montage of Caged madness are genuinely moving (Wild At Heart, Adaptation), frightening (Bringing Out the Dead) or intentionally humorous (Vampire’s Kiss) in context, but the music always tips things toward the ludicrous. Also, through placing genuine masterpieces next to shoddier fare, ‘Nicolas Cage Loses His Shit’ creates a continuum of unhinged masculinity, which obscures the more nuanced work that the excerpted films also exhibit.

For, it is a specific strain of Cage on display here, rather than a more general overview of his work. Since Cage is such an idiosyncratic actor it is tempting to see his career as such a series of quirks… Cageisms, as we at ‘Cage Wisdom’ have coined them. However, the viral video doesn’t focus on the pear plucking, jellybean eating, Carpenters listening that we find so charming, but on the seismic expressions of rage launched into by some of his most manic creations. There is some variety in the yelping and hollering; Peter Loew in the Vampire’s Kiss segments flops himself about like an angry, unhinged puppet; you can’t see Edward Malus’ face from underneath his bear mask, but you can bet he’s scowling seriously; while Eddie from Deadfall, who is highly present here, is foul and slobbering as a pitbull trying to have sex with a dead pigeon.

To tell the truth, Deadfall is the only Nic Cage film I have genuine apprehension about watching, since it seems unpleasant in a skeezy, dirty way that it sure to leave me feeling a lil’ OCD.  However, it crops up 6 times here, the most along with Vampire’s Kiss. The Wicker Man comes just behind those two. Maybe this is simply because they find Cage at his most furrowed and clenched, but I being a fretty fretty fretwork can’t help but fear it also has something to do with the fact that in these films there is a sizeable amount of Cage shouting at women.

Now, before all of you who were hoping to make a husband/ wife outta Cage leave in disgust, sit on down and give me a minute. I don’t wish to condemn our mutual friend for being in any of these roles (Deadfall potentially notwithstanding) – I have a warped place in my heart for The Wicker Man remake. Yet outside of their justifying narratives in which they play a part in the moral downfall of a character, these scenes become simplified to the level of meme; endemic of an insidious kind of ‘post-ethical’ thinking characterised by 4chan, Family Guy and the youtube comments section.  So, when user ‘rekrapnaht’ writes, “I like the part where he punches women”, irony is flattened to a point where we can’t tell if he means:

1.) The inverse of the sentence – he *doesn’t* like Nic Cage punching woman and since only a person of low moral fibre would enjoy this, we laugh at the brazen idea of someone enjoying it.

2.) He doesn’t really ‘like’ the scenes of women punching, but they are “deliciously un-PC” entertainment. It’s wrong to laugh at women being punched, but it’s funny because it’s wrong. This is known officially as the “Jimmy Carr response” even though Jimmy Carr himself sometimes pretends to be doing 1.)

3.) He enjoys watching women being punched. Literally.

I think most people have some truck with no. 1.) Some people, those who probably like political correctness a lot less than me, would be alright with no. 2.) Any sane person would say that no. 3.) means a person is essentially evil.

Now, at this point, most people would say, “Adam, you’ve written over 1,000 words about a video entitled ‘Nicolas Cage Loses His Shit’, you’re an English lit. student… on crack! Stop over-analysing!” In response to that I would say that you think what you think because you didn’t breast feed enough as a baby and this has led you to project feelings of frustration that you feel about yourself, onto me and my over-analysis. But basically, I just don’t want the internet-going public’s appreciation of Cage to boil down to a semi-ironic smirking over his most macho moments taken out of context. Sure, these moments are still compelling and mostly funny, because Cage is amazing, but really you need to see the whole film, not the clips, to appreciate the divine plan of Nicolas “blue eyes” Cage, a man who is not always angry.

Cage himself has remained stoically sober about the whole affair, saying the following in an interview posted on the lovely Cage appreciation forum ‘Cage alot Castle’:

“I think it’s exciting. I want people to discover my movies and however they chose to receive it is their business. I can’t help but be a little flattered by it and thankful for it.”

Can you really imagine such a sweet, earnest response coming from the mouth of a violent bear?

P.S. If you would like to discuss Nicolas Cage with like-minded individuals, please join:

http://cagealotcastle.activeboard.com/

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

23 Nov

Raining on Nic's parade

Flannery O’Connor once wrote to her friend Betty Hester; “all my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.” This might also serve as a description of those three collaborations between director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader, of which 1999’s Bringing Out the Dead is the last. For Scorsese, a lapsed Catholic and Schrader, who was raised in the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church, grace isn’t some fuzzy-felt affair. God doesn’t wear mittens. Grace is violent and reaches people at their lowest ebb in the searing, unconditional present of their daily-lived lives. It cannot be achieved complacently. Cage, an Italian-American by birth like Scorsese, was raised a Catholic, but in interview refuses to be prescriptive with regards to his own religious feelings. One might conjecture a belief in the benevolent justice of Marvel Comics heroes, tempered by the restorative power of personal creativity, with some more abstract, holistic ideas of a cosmological order sincerely but speculatively entertained. What we can be more certain of Cage’s belief in is, I think, the need for good, romantic figures who act with integrity; fuelled by a personal vision sometimes knowable only by themselves.

In Bringing Out the Dead Cage plays Frank, a paramedic who cruises the streets for the sick and the dying looking for the sweet hit of salvation he gets from saving a life. There’s an inner sluice of humanitarian feeling in Frank, only those waters have got a little muddied; the sluice has got bent out of shape. The reason…? Frank is very, very tired. As much as Bringing Out the Dead is a story of inner-city grace, it’s also a paean to the incredible, curative powers of sleep told through the character study of a man who doesn’t get any. Either the make-up work in the film is top notch or else Cage slept with slices of onion in place of cucumber slices, because he’s got enough sagging under-eye flesh to fill an elephant’s graveyard. Throughout the film, Cage is bug-eyed and weary and through point-of-view shots and the film’s over-cranked cinematography, we share in the sense that Frank’s mind has, to quote The National, “come loose inside its shell”. Everything is too big; too close. Lights are too bright; movements too fast. With Frank we are cast into one of Scorsese’s odysseys of strangeness, like 1985’s After Hours and this year’s Shutter Island.

These are all films in which enjoyment derives less from the gratifying peaks and troughs of a story well told, but from the appreciation of moments that catch you off guard; lyrics in the soundtrack ironically matched to a scene’s action; tricksy displays of camera work. A character study, rather than a fully-fledged narrative, that charts three successively bleary night shifts in the life of Frank. In this way, Bringing Out the Dead feels like a road movie told from the front seat of a stalling, kicked-in ambulance from which we glance, a passenger, at the scenes of suffering through which we pass. Frank speculates in his troubled, brooding voice-over that his role as a paramedic is not so much to save lives as it is to bear witness; his mother always told him, he says to Patricia Arquette’s Mary, that he looked like a priest. The notion of the camera as a means of bearing witness is a notion engaged with by films more sober and less strung-out that this one, like Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951) or Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952), which present the torments of their protagonist quietly. By contrast, Scorsese wants us to be in the maelstrom. Oddly, the film Bringing Out the Dead most recalled for me, was Gilliam’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998); a queer comparison when we think that Hunter S. Thompson’s drug-induced suffering is self-willed in a way that Frank’s is surely not.

Actually, this is where the film strikes a curious note, which give it a maturity that the more structurally gratifying Scorsese-Shrader collaboration Taxi Driver (1976) lacks; Mary tells Frank plainly, “No-one asked you to suffer; that was your idea.” The film takes a hard-line on the need for human charity, but there’s a suggestion that suffering can become indulgent, can get in the way of doing good. This then, is a film about the pain of deep, unremitting concern but not letting that pain sink you too far into a rut; of not letting your anger about injustice contaminate the river of good will and good work.

Three different partners accompany Frank on his night shifts. The first is Larry, played by John Goodman, displaying the typical goony belligerence that characterises his roles, as he follows Cage into hostels and hospitals like a meaty familiar. Frank’s partners on the second two nights, played by Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore successively, display the two different ways of channelling an inner-river of moral manliness – this being a film about tough, on-the-streets charity performed by men, as is Shrader’s wont. Marcus, played by Rhames, has taken the path of the preacher; brimming over with love for the Lord and his belief in Salvation. Tom, played by Sizeman, beats down those he thinks are less deserving of his charity, warped by the injustice that, to his mind, dictates that a self-harmer receives help and medical attention, while a homicide victim dies. This path is eventually shown as destructive as the last shot we see of Tom is of him pounding his ambulance in emasculated fury; trying pathetically to destroy the very vehicle that helps him save lives. To quote again, this time from Kurt Vonnegut, “God damn, you’ve got to be kind.”

As ever with Cage it’s the eyes that show the kindness. Occasionally his face softens from a Loony Tunes death’s head into a smile or an expression of compassion and love. In these moments, Cage might remind us of Seth from City of Angels, but a Seth that’s been out on the streets for too long and has fallen away from idealism. Since Cage’s performance jolts along with the camera work, thrashes out to the music of the Clash, it’s a real sea change when he slows things down to become something like an everyman. Personally, I find this preferable to the all-out sapling-eyed dew-baby fawn-a-like naivete of an angel whose wings have yet to go to the dry-cleaners… but, of course, I can see the appeal. Some days, you just want to turn away from the suffering and watch something nice. Most of Bringing Out the Dead is “hard, hopeless and brutal”, its only humour straight from the gallows, but the shot that really stayed with me is the shot of Frank and Mary sitting together in the back of the much-abused ambulance, smiling to themselves and almost, but not quite, holding hands.

Wild at Heart (1990)

29 Oct

"Go grease lightning you're burning up the quarter mile..."

Wild at Heart is bold, brassy (sometimes literally, the soundtrack features a few blasts from some demonic trumpets) and about as subtle as Brian Blessed overdubbing an episode of Transformers, yet beneath the cock-crowing visuals, Nicolas Cage as Sailor Ripley is possessed of a tenderness that puts the heart, if you will, in this restless, tempestuous film.

Wild at Heart wears its pulp origins tattooed upon its chest. It follows some strange days and nights in the lives of honeymoon tearaways Sailor Ripley and Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) as they attempt to escape from the Bad Circumstances that attempt to drive them from their yellow brick road. Lula’s momma Marietta (Diane Ladd) has placed a hit on Sailor’s head, who once spurned her advances in a bathroom stall and might know too much about the death of Lula’s pappa. Sailor is blue-eyed with love for Lula and muscle-bound with violence for anyone who would stand in the way of that love. In Bad Lieutenant the teal & orange colouration of post-production turned Cage’s eyes to a jaded grey, but here Lynch lights Cage’s eyes so they are clear Texas sky blue. Whether lit by a bedside lamp in a roachy hotel room or by a light hidden in a tree stood in the middle of Texas shrub-land Cage shines… which might have much to do with the iridescent snake-skin jacket he wears throughout the movie that is a symbol of Sailor’s individuality and his “belief in personal freedom”.

This would seem like a fitting manifesto for Cage who, to evoke Fleetwood Mac, tends to ‘go his own way’. While we saw that under the auteurist Coens a fine performance was subsumed into the body of the film as a whole, here Cage stands tall through his unusual decision to perform Sailor in impersonation of Elvis. In interview Cage proclaimed; “In the book An Actor Prepares, by Stanislavski, it says the worst thing an actor can do is to copy another performer. I had always believed that, but then with Wild at Heart, I thought, maybe it’s time to try something else.” The Tennessee drawl, sweet/ sardonic smile and insouciant swagger are all clear signifiers for the King.

Also, putting myself at risk of swooning into a cataleptic state, Cage’s inner furnace of acting power seems to be fuelled by coal-sized lumps of libido! Gasp as Cage kick-boxes his way through a hair-metal routine! Scream as Cage recounts a lurid sexual experience with a kinky weapons enthusiast! Take a cold shower as Cage thrusts his serious face through steamy sex scene after steamy sexy scene!  Cage has recounted that as a child he was always shocked when he would go to the doctor’s and find he wasn’t some alien with blood the colour green. In Wild at Heart Cage’s green blood boils over and spits.

But what I love most about Cage’s performance as Sailor Ripley is that through his evident passion for Elvis and the source material, he transforms what could seem glib  and cursory in the script, to something downright romantic. Many critics have argued that the romance between Sailor and Lula in the film is intentionally corny and a parody of the earnest romances of 50s Hollywood cinema. What is pretty special about Lynch is his ability to make cynicism and sincerity compatible and it is Cage’s performance which allows for this fusion animated, as it is, by a brimful of desire.

Also, Cage and Dern are a useful point of anchorage and identification in the film, which is a rogue’s gallery of creeps and carnies. There is a lot of ‘casting at face value’ going on by Lynch here (see also Terry Gilliam) which has the advantage of creating a cohesive-feeling world of nightmarish deformity and the sure disadvantage of using funny looking faces as scene-dressing and little more. William “Willem” Dafoe is particularly repulsive as Bobby Peru, a warped and giggling sleazebag with teeth that look like extended stalks of gum braced with metal. Cage’s manly yet angelic face, even when sheathed in a nylon tight, fares comparatively well besides it.

I have a real fondness for Lynch, especially at his most grubby-fingered. While his stories may be slight, his sound work and shadows compensate through atmosphere. Wild at Heart is undoubtably a road movie with several pit-stops, but it also includes stretches of sublime film-making. I would hardly be the first to describe Lynch’s films as oneiric and there are times where the outlandishness of Wild at Heart seems too calculated to fully justify the description, yet there are other moments still where some grand intuition on Lynch’s part has clicked the elements into place and the film registers a shift of consciousness, in which the viewer feels transported to a stranger, queasier plane of seeing, a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.

One sequence, firmly within this blue-and-purple-Bemuda-Triangle-nightmare-of-a-lost-child territory involves a car crash and its victim (Sherilyn Fenn) pleading desperately for Sailor and Lula to help her locate a lost comb that is bookended perfectly by mesmeric, cyclical guitar music that plays as if uninterrupted on the car’s radio before and after the accident, as if the tragedy was an interlude that took place in quite a different time and place to the one occupied by Sailor and Lula cruising along in their car.

Take it away, Cage:

(A sterling performance of Love Me Tender by Cage, while wearing a plasticine conk over his real nose – somehow it seems to assimilate with his face)

Kick-Ass (2010)

3 Oct

Cage in Kick-Ass

Nicholas Cage loves comic books. Not graphic novels, not web comics and sure as hell not sequential art. Comics about men and women in latex who dole out justice like chlamydia tests in fresher’s week: routinely, for free, and for the health of the nation. His second son is named Kal-El after Superman’s birth name. He wrote the comic Voodoo Child with his first son Weston. Clearly, comics are in his blood. Thus Cage must have seemed like a natural choice from the role of Big Daddy in Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar’s comic Kick-Ass released earlier this year. Kick-Ass tells the story of Dave who, inspired by the same sort of comic books that Cage himself read as a kid, decides to become a vigilante superhero.  Through implicitly lauding the actions of skinny geek kid vigilantism, many feared that the film would transform 2010’s Comic Con into a riot of delusional masked crusaders, taking to the street latex-clad and nun-chucks in hand. Actually, the film is so keen to be liked, that its dubious ethics are neutered by its general gap-toothed goofiness.

Big Daddy himself is an ex-cop turned lone wolf. While in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Cage plays the role of the fallen cop as a lurching amoral, steely agent of chaos, here he is a man of tough love and twisted idealism. Big Daddy, wrongly imprisoned as the patsy in a drugs bust, has a brush moustache and a receding hairline. He loves this daughter and shows this love through putting a bullet proof vest on her and then shooting her at close-range with a semi-automatic. This is the kind of exercise Big Daddy uses to put his daughter (Hit Girl) through her paces in her training to be a superhero. While another actor would play the character as a charismatic psychotic, living his delusional fantasies vicariously through his daughter, Cage strikes a curious balance. Undoubtedly his design for his daughter is a broken one, which endangers her life and removes her from schooling and friends, but Cage leaves us in no doubt that he loves his daughter. In his own addition to the script he calls her “child” and when he does so you can hear his voice soften and his eyes grow moist. He plays the role like one of those fathers who enters their kid into spelling bees and beauty pageants and then expects them to win because they know their child is the best and they love them for it. One would hope that little Kal-El isn’t being primed to be the next Superman but I don’t think we can promise anything.

Cage always looks wrong with a moustache. Cage is famous for his face – not his eyes (Johnny Depp), not his nose (Sarah Jessica Parker), not his jaw (Christian Bale)  but his face. For me, those wrinkles on the forehead stand out, but otherwise I picture his face like a would a mask, undifferentiated, the features all part of the whole. Thus, a moustache on his face looks incongruous as if stuck on. My friend Tim said that in the comic Big Daddy looks, quite deliberately I suppose, like a sticky-tash-no-pants-dirty-long-brown-coated paedophile, like one the police might conjure on an E-fit. There is something skeezy about Cage’s moustache, but then you look up into his kind eyes, and you forget all that.

Interestingly, despite his recent stint in the National Treasure films and Harrison Ford still doing his own stunts in Indiana Jones while well into his 60s, Cage doesn’t show many feats of athletic prowess. He shoots a few guys and he splashes a canister of kerosene about, but otherwise Big Daddy lurks in the shadows, sniping from a balcony, plotting in his studio, controlling Hit Girl from afar like a remote-controlled assassin. He is very rarely “in the fray”. Also, his face tends towards the chunky so the general impression is of the solider gone to seed, like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. As in Apocalypse Now, where the character of Kurtz seems to be a reflection of the by-gone days of Brando’s hulking, method acting fame, in Kick-Ass, Big Daddy seems like the strange, bitter ghost of Cage’s action hero persona, washed up but not out of the game.

More disturbing that Cage’s moustache however is his eventual immolation. As the cruel fates would have it, a man who set a warehouse to blazes earlier in the film, is now set alight like so much meaty kindling. Throughout the film, when Big Daddy is wearing his Batman mask and outfit, he speaks in a low growl, somewhere between the guttural of Bale and the noble, high-pitched tones of Adam West. Now, set on fire, his growls become snarls and yelps. If I’d put the subtitle on I’m sure there would have been words, but I couldn’t work them out. I didn’t want to. It was pitiful animal fury. A lion thrashing in its cage as it is taken away, for away, from its cub. Some reviewers read Cage’s performance of Big Daddy as an ironic homage to Adam West – a pastiche of superheros, but Cage loves comic books. If parodic, his performance is an earnest parody of reaffirmation and those final gnarly cries a savage testimony to Big Daddy’s love for his daughter Hit Girl and maybe, just maybe, Cage’s love for his son Kal-El.