Tag Archives: emasculation

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)

31 Mar

After watching Honeymoon in Vegas last night, I had a dream that I myself was Nicolas Cage, and I was wearing a kilt and brazenly showing off my muscular calves to a troop of admiring schoolgirls. Of course, Cage doesn’t wear a kilt in Honeymoon in Vegas – he wears an Elvis costume, completing the Elvis diptych begun in 1990’s Wild at Heart.  It’s the Elvis costume, coming only in the last 20 minutes of the film that puts Honeymoon in Vegas in the passion portion of the venn diagram, and Cage seems to be having a ball when he gets to improbably win back the woman of his dreams through a sky-diving Elvis extravaganza.

Cage plays Jack Singer, a man who is emasculated in the first five  minutes of the film when his mother, lying on her deathbed, makes him promise that he will never get married because ‘No girl could ever love you like I did!’ . In Peter Jackson’s brilliant film Braindead, hero Lionel’s mother utters a very similar sentence to him; the difference being that she says it at the end of the film, rather than the beginning, and that Lionel’s mother is a 15 foot tall reconstituted zombie, opening the cavernous maw of her womb to slide her rebellious son back in once and for all.

"No-one will ever love you like your mother, Lionel!"

Jack Singer foolishly promises the coddling harridan that he will never marry, and so embarks on a fearsome battle against the frenzied ticking of his girlfriend Betsy’s biological clock.* When a casino sleazeball resembling an evil Gene Wilder falls in lust with Betsy, Singer’s emasculation grows tenfold, and his subsumed aggression is released in staccato hand gestures and erratic bouts of shouting. There are traces of Vampire’s Kiss in Cage’s performance – in a scene in which Betsy reveals that she is going for a weekend in Hawaii with the sleazeball, Cage pleads, prowls and menaces to Sarah Jessica Parker’s admirable unconcern.

The slightly unhinged performance is given a virility by Cage’s abundant body hair, generously smothering his chest and arms in unusual profusion. Not in this film are the burnished bronze expanses of The Boy in Blue and Ghostrider, here Cage is hairy as a modest bear. At times, he seems to put on a New York accent to fit in with his humorous gambling cronies, butt of many a fat joke throughout the film’s 90 minutes. It’s hardly consistent, but perhaps helps to lend Jack Singer’s claim that ‘I’m an everyman!’ some kind of credence. In any case, the New York accent disappears entirely when he puts on the Elvis suit, flexes his hip and delivers his lines in the drawl familiar from Wild at Heart. It’s in the Elvis costume that Cage seems to come alive, he’s magnetic, even sexy – perhaps the more so in contrast to his previous costumes in the film, all patterned shirts and long beige cardigans that make him look like a Chris Ware caricature of Nicolas Cage .

The ending is a top-class crazy random happenstance, but kind of delightful anyway. Cage somehow makes it work; who wouldn’t (you find yourself thinking) forgive their selfish, gambling-addicted, commitment phobic boyfriend if he laconically fell out of a plane, gazing soulfully up at you from under his flirty Elvis eyebrows?

And who wouldn’t (you begin to ponder) forgive Nicolas Cage his odd blunder when he sky-dived over Vegas, dressed as Elvis Presley, lit down on a landing pad like an illuminated celestial moth and gazed into your bemused yet delighted eyes, languidly inclining his head as if to say: ‘I’m all yours audience, all yours’.

* All sexism in the sentence is irony accredited.


Guarding Tess (1994)

14 Mar

Emasculated Cage throws a chair

Before watching Guarding Tess we believed that a Nicolas Cage film couldn’t be boring*, but Guarding Tess feels as though it was shot on a succession of rainy Sunday afternoons, with a cast listlessly doing their homework the day before it’s due in…. It feels as though it was written by a white-collar civil servant as he died stuck in an lift, in blood, on the walls. Out of respect they filmed it. To capture the feeling of Guarding Tess without having to watch it, we at ‘Cage Wisdom’ advise you to press play on the video link below and feel the wave of melancholy wash over you as you read the following…

As immediately discernible from the dvd box, in which a suited Cage stands serious behind a wry and ironical looking older stateswoman, Guarding Tess follows some days in the life of secret service agent Doug Chesnic (Cage) in his job of guarding former First Lady of the U.S. of A. Tess Carlisle (Shirley MacLaine). Before we sat down to watch Guarding Tess, we made a few predictions for this “comedy beyond the call of duty”:

    1. There will be a scene where Cage has to hold Tess’s handbag in a public place, to emasculating effect.
    2. Tess will make innuendos not befitting a woman of her age.
    3. There will be a shopping sequence, to emasculating effect.
    4. They will walk dogs, and people shall trip over leads.
    5. Tess will accidentally hit Doug in the balls with a hand-bag.
    6.There will be a serious bit at the end where she actually gets kidnapped by terrorists.
    And most importantly…
    8. She’ll teach him how to let down his crew-cut and have a good time.

In the event of the film, only 3, 6 and 8 turned out to be true… although to call what transpired the “good time” anticipated by the overly-optimistic point 8, would be to guild a very boring lilly.

It is a very boring film. At one point we see a two second close-up of a document printing, and the script has the unfortunate habit of having Cage repeat exactly what’s been said in the previous scene to a different character, perhaps to give the audience a chance to reflect on the good times they’ve had. We cut from a comedy golf scene, shot on some desolate windswept moor, to Cage in a cafe aggressively repeating the dialogue to a cornered bystander:  ‘And then I said – I’m not getting your goddamn ball!’,  ‘Uh-huh’ replies the extra resignedly, as they help themselves to another coffee.

The Face of the Audience

Guarding Tess is the American equivalent of the British heritage film, where tiny dramas of social impropriety nudge the narrative forward like a kindly but quietly insistent teacher softly pushing a reticient young actor onto stage. At 25 minutes into the film’s running time the most dramatic incident had been Nic’s ill-judged decapitation of a flower. I employ the word ‘decapitation’ to lend the moment the excitement worthy of it. You see, Nic takes a rose – a rose, that most beautiful of flowers, carrying with it the Heavenly scene of Romeo and Juliet and the musk of those historical houses of York and Lancaster – and audaciously removes its head – that most essential part of the rose – and has the audacity, the waggish audacity, to place it within his own lapel, in obscene defiance of the fact that the rose’s owner – former First Lady no less and furthermore his employer – did not (absolutely, unequivocably not) instruct him to do so. Oh how we laugh at this mad comedy of errors while silently assenting that the rose should have been left in its place. When later in the film Nic woke the ex-First Lady of the U. S. of A. while she indulged her God-given right to a snooze at the opera (but oh how funny of her; how perfectly old-lady-like) I was so appalled I vomited all over my eiderdown.

Guarding Tess continued at this pace to a degree that was almost aggressively boring, as though it were a maiden-aunt or bearded pedagogue chastising us for wanting to play our sexy violent computer games and not being content with our cup-and-ball instead.*

I work in insurance and in my spare time compose hundred-page excel spreadsheets of the words most commonly appearing on ceefax and yet my life is still more exciting that Guarding Tess. It doesn’t even have the doily-dress delights of a proper heritage film where you get to watch Helena-Bonham Carter standing next to furnishings – everyone wears grey, has grey skin and lives in a kind of fortified castle, where esteemed and respected British actors are forced to make sandwiches and provide unfunny buffoonish diversions.

Richard Griffiths, Yes, Richard Griffiths himself sits glumly to one side in the kitchen, the “hub” of the Guarding Tess action, trying not to look the camera in the eye while an under-appreciated chef cooks constant broth for no-one. While it might seem unfair to famous and lauded actor Richard Griffiths to mention that he was in the film Guarding Tess, I do so because people have got into the habit recently of pinning all bad film choices on Nicolas Cage’s lapel. Sure, Cage is in bad films. But you know who else is in bad films? Richard Griffiths. Tom Hanks is also in bad films. Tom ‘the ham’ Hanks was in a film called The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), rivaling any of Cage’s output for hokyness – and yet it’s Cage who must be martyred for the cinematic sins of all actors. I’m not saying Nicolas Cage is Jesus, that’s for other people to say

Cage does what he can with the wet sack of Sunday afternoons he’s given. For most of the film his acting is muffled, as if he’s in a library, waiting for the Queen to arrive – but sometimes it all gets too much and he just has to shout out a line with erratic ferocity. This culminates in a bizarre scene in which Cage pre-cogs his performance in Bad Lieutenant by 15 years, and shoots the toes off a chauffeur. ‘Where’s the first lady? Where is she?!’ Doug Chesnic demands, as the chauffeur lies in hospital, gun pressed to his little toe. Another Secret Special Agent looks on with faint disgust, as if Cage is a tolerated school friend, too enthusiastic about pulling the legs off a spider.

But for Doug Chesnic this is a victorious moment. Tess always made him leave his gun outside the door when he came knocking, but now the proud gun has been proved right all along. If Chesnic did not have the maverick sensibilities needed to torture a chauffeur as he lies in a hospital bed, Tess could not be victoriously rescued from the hillbilly’s hidey-hole where she’s been stowed away. And if Chesnic couldn’t roll up his shirtsleeves, grab a spade and start manfully digging the former first lady out of a hole, he would be doomed to a life of emasculated chair-breaking (and probably bicycle-wheeling too).

Thank God for the gun, as Cage proves once again that he’s no-one’s fancy man. Grab your clapping-hand hats everyone, it’s going to be all-right.

Such a thing as I could never imagine in my most lucid daydreams

* I gently remind the audience at this juncture that Adam was absent while I was reviewing The Boy in Blue.

*At this juncture I am obliged to note that Jay much prefers a cup-and-ball to sexy violent computer games.

The Wicker Man (2006)

18 Dec

Featuring bees, women, bee-women, wobbly bicycle riding and a great big bear suit – the product of some surely disturbed minds –  it’s The Wicker Man!

Nicolas Cage plays Edward “Steady Eddie” Malus, a traffic cop who eats salad and reads self-help books (what, you want character development? He eats salad and reads self-help books!). He comes to the island of Summerisle in the Pacific Northwest when his ex-fiancee writes to tell him that her daughter, Rowan, is missing. Rowan is named after the actor who played the policeman in the 1973 original, which gives her the slightly unsubtle nature-worshiping name Rowan Woodward, pronounced Woodwood. Edward is also allergic to bees, and woe betide you if you dismiss that character quirk as insignificant. On Summerisle, people wear their hair in plaits, carry sacks around that drip blood, and have no phone reception. They also operate under a (steel yourself!) matriarchy, leaving poor emasculated men only fit to wheel bicycles around at their mistresses’ behest.

The horror!

Watching Robin Hardy’s 1973 The Wicker Man you are assaulted by lurid sensuality, like being handed a faded postcard of Waterhouse’s ‘Hylas and the Nymphs’ in the toilets of a London Underground station. By contrast, Neil LaBute’s 2006 remake of Hardy’s film is like a laminated Victoria Francés poster of a bodiced angel, its ripped corsetry and smeared make-up clumsily foregrounded signifiers for the a pre-Raphaelite sensuality which the artist blandly simulates. The original film pitches the uptight Protestantism of Police Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) against the pagan spiritualism of the inhabitants of Summersisle, ruled over by charismatic Lord Summersisle (Christopher Lee). Over the course of the film it is slowly revealed that the local bucolic scenes of naked maidens cavorting under light dappled trees are a desperate pantomime that mask a rotting away at the heart of Summersisle itself. However, the sun drenched cinematography captures these rituals with a polaroid warmth which, when accompanied with the melodies of lightly fluting folk songs, makes a life of pagan naturism seem beguilingly attractive, almost in spite of Sargeant Howie’s unseemly fate at the heart of the wicker man. It is a film about the allure of a very old belief system that runs below staid Christianity through which Jesus, not the clean-cut philanthropist of Sunday sermons, can be glimpsed, “a wild ragged figure who moves from tree to tree”, to quote Flannery O’Connor – who has become a fixture here at Cage Wisdom. As Lord Summersisle reminds Howie, Jesus was “himself the son of a virgin, impregnated – I believe – by a ghost”. The tangled, bramble-cut crags of Ayrshire and the other Scottish locales where the film was shot provide authenticity and help lend a curious wind-swept purity to the bawdy fertility rites and carnivalesque knees-ups that gives the film the atmosphere of wholesome tawdriness which is totally unique to it.

Hylas and the Nymphs

By contrast, LeBute’s remake feels synthetic, like a fake log cabin at a ski-resort. Instead of the ratty fur trimmed costumes of the original’s parade, the new islanders’ masks look cleanly vacuum formed and store bought. Post-production has given the cinematography a grimy sheen, as if we were watching the film through a newly polished, yet somehow still dirty window. Flash-back sequences (and this film contains a dreamt flash-back of a hallucinated vision) look especially like they’ve been ‘made on the cheap’ as we stumble drunkenly through much-repeated footage retrospectively filtered through the dull exposure of Malus’ tormented memories.

A Victoria Francés angel

While the original film may look wholesome, but be about unwholesome things, the remake’s digitized colour tinting makes the film stock look anaemic, as if drained of vitality. If the film contained naked pagans they would not seem fleshy and earthy, but neutered and metallic. Not that the film has any naked pagans, because while it may be queasily unwholesome to look at, there is no lust on display. LaBute characterises the female enclave of his Summerisle as a smug, sneeringly straight-laced bunch who never dance and sing and probably don’t even laugh at racist 70s sitcoms. Basically, they’re what The Daily Mail imagines Guardian readers to be like. They drink in clean beer-free gastropubs, live in mock Tudor cottages in sensible gender neutral clothes and feed their emasculated menfolk to swarms of ravenous bees. Problem is, Guardian readers are both less creepy and alluring than naked pagans and despite the fact that the film often takes dialogue and plot points from the original, this really changes the stakes. Instead of having a frowny righteous middle-aged man pushing his way through a bunch of flannel-shirted heathens, we how have an even-frownier righteous middle-aged man pushing his way through a bunch of clean-living Wholefoods customers. Nature is not shown thrown into excess; nature is cellophane wrapped and made of fibreglass.

Summerisle lives the Good Life

But this is satire, right? It’s hard to tell with LaBute, whose break-out hit In the Company of Men (1997) was condemned  as misogynous by about as many critics who celebrated it as an ironic exposé of the same. From his own words it is difficult to ascertain why he took the project on; Nic himself was on board long before him, since he had pledged to Johnny Ramone before he died that he would see it through. One could image the ludicrous Bacchanalian heights Cage must have envisioned taking the film to, when pitching the idea to Johnny, perhaps setting himself on fire in the wicker man itself or punching people while dressed in a bear costume… yes, there is that, but the Youtube montages belie the preceding nature of the film and of Cage’s role in it. For the majority of the running time Cage stands in front of people, solidly planted, making churlish, no-nonsense remarks about his hatred of bees and women and bee-women, since in the screenplay and through the hive based architecture they are often conflated. Summersisle’ economy is based around honey creating, LaBute says in the commentary, “a kind of loose colony effect using a Queen Bee at the centre… and then the females represented the worker bees and the males represented the drones.”

As becomes transparently obvious during the course of the film, the bees and the women are one and the same. Both have a queen, both employ subordinate males to do grunt work, both have a long proboscis that enables them to acquire nectar, the resemblance is uncanny. Bees are women, women are bees – there is literally no difference between the two creatures in Neil LaBute’s mind. He leaves the house in summer, the scent of wild flowers on the breeze and watches the women flying around, pollinating the lavender –  ah, to live in such a world as Neil LaBute’s.

As we know, Steady Eddie is allergic to bees. It is, therefore, not a great leap of imagination to say that he is allergic to women. However, while we see an early establishing shot of the epi-pen he uses in the case of bee-stings, he seems to have left his epi-fem behind, and must resort to the cruder tactic of punching women in the face before they sting him. It’s purely self-defence; Adam, for example, is slightly allergic to cinnamon, and many’s the time I’ve seen him sidling up the spice aisle and punching  little bags of cinnamon full in the face.

Performing masculinity through the bee-ard

The film’s memorable moments come densely packed in the last, climatic third, but here Nic often runs past the most crazy of spectacles, perhaps slowing a little so that the woman in question can register his look of disgust and then speeding up again. Off he runs! Past two mumps-cheeked old lady grotesques! On, past children in masks – he stops, swipes the masks off – runs on. He barely registers a woman with a body suit made of bees and a man bumpy with bee-sting boils, so concerned is he with running! Revealingly, the moments of the greatest madness and thus the most mundanity breaking are those introduced by Cage himself, but introduce a little chaos into the mis-en-scène rather than into how he plays the role, which is a shame. On the DVD disc’s commentary LaBute says that the bear costume was a Cage intervention and that he was very keen to wear it during through the entire final sequence when he is finally tortured by the islanders. More fool LaBute for not yielding to Nic’s wondrous whims, those intuitive ideas he creates, often on set. The bear suit is far too shortly lived and even avoids the flames.

We could have been treated to Nic dressed in a bear wailing and thrashing like a stuck Morrissey, on fire. The bee mask, the height of gothic absurdity in the film, was brought onto the set by Cage, who is as LaBute informs us, a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe. Though Poe never wrote about the primal terror of bees (‘that ineluctable bee, that singular bee, that still buzzes in my mind’s eye’) he definitely should have and though their CGI swarming leaves a lot to “bee” desired, it’s as terrific an idea as Cage has ever had. It’s also remarkably similar to the rat mask that Winston is made to wear in Room 101, in the climatic scene of the film adaptation of Orwell’s 1984. Although the ‘no, not the bees, not the beees!’ is unintentionally funny, perhaps it’s heading for Room 101 horror and getting lost along the way. It’s only at this moment that Cage breaks free from the tough cop persona which I feel restricts him in the film, but some fine hollering in a film’s last ten minutes cannot save the mediocrity of the previous hour and a half, however loud Cage yells.

The uncut British DVD release of the film comes with a commentary courtesy of LaBute, producer Norm Golightly and editor Joe Plotch, in which they try to back-classify the film as an intentionally campy comedy, in spite of Angelo Badalamenti’s broody, brow-furrowing score, which tells us in no uncertain terms that we are on Serious Ground. Knowing that the film has been received badly within circles of serious criticism and positively in ironic ones, puts the crew in a peculiar and often defensive position, which creates fascinatingly flinty exchanges. So uncertain of his own film is LaBute that in the first 30 seconds of the movie’s commentary he refers to The Wicker Man as “the film you’re about to see… unless you’re switching it off now” and talks about the commentary as ‘Mystery Science Theatre-ing’ his own movie. In fact, the commentary is one of the most interesting I’ve ever heard, due to its generous self-deprecating critiques and displays a humour that the film itself often lacks. One is given the impression that it was a project with eager beginnings, hampered by its adherence to the original, while the North American location and cast, forced strange and disjunctive changes, resulting in a lack of cohesive atmosphere and tone.

What disappoints me about The Wicker Man is that the States have their own fevered puritanical history, you need only look to the Salem witch trials, which could have informed a much creepier, more troubling film. Instead, the result is as curiously staid in its way as  Police Sergeant Howie in the original film. It spends so much time rallying against feminism and their bee breeding that it doesn’t take any fun from probing its own country’s myths and heritages of folk music and peculiar Christian off-shoots, like the Hussites. America has ghosts and strange practices of its own with a history that reaches back through a civil war and revolutions. Nic voices his own interest in myth and legend in many interviews; hopefully the upcoming Season of the Witch, will see him as a character immersed in the darkness of the past, rather than merely policing it.