Sunday, November 15, 2015

An Acidemic Nic Cage Reader

In the 1968 head trip masterpiece PERFORMANCE there's a famous line spoken by Mick Jagger as Turner, a musician trying to get his mojo back by tripping with a bi sadist gangster."The only performance that truly makes it," he says "is the one that achieves madness."

Turner, know that a man who embodies this adage has finally come! It's Nic!

So many actors mistake genuine wild man edge for just being a dick or bugging their eyes, but ever since he won our hearts by shouting "bring me a knife so I can cut my FROAT" in MOONSTRUCK Nic Cage has had a grip on our darker looney tunes prickly pear hearts of darkness. He once spent a whole movie talking in a joke of a nasal whine I thought totally ridiculous until I met my Italian-American college girlfriends' adenoidal cousin from Yonkers who talked the same way. Sublime. As always, Cage was ahead of his time even then. As I battle my usual post-Halloween sober date mid-November ennui and its inevitable writer's block, I realize there's only one way to go, the past. I realize there's only one man to battle the demons with me, Nicolas Cage. And one reader, and you know who you are. It's you... always you.

(Nov. 30, 2009)

If you're familiar with Cage's oeuvre you will undoubtedly realize this role is something of a mid-career capstone. He even finds his way home to the nasal whine he adopted in his uncle Francis's time travel romance, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986) and branches out all serpentine. Lots of us back then who were in awe from him from BIRDY (1984), RAISING ARIZONA (1987) and MOONSTRUCK (1987) thought to ourselves where the hell he picked up this ridiculous nasal vocal style? Shit was so good it became ridiculous in PEGGY, it was too much. Now we know how he got it, from all the crack he be smokin' in the future!

[...] Lastly is the brilliant way the film brings in sobriety as an option. Going off to AA and leaving your druggie mate behind to drink alone is hazardous to any relationship, an instant point of cataclysm usually seen from the sober person view (28 DAYS, CLEAN AND SOBER), but Herzog would never dream of following the sober person and leaving the crazy druggie behind. When everyone else is slinking away as the abusive crackhead rants and froths at the mouth, Herzog walks boldly in with his camera and asks said crackhead about his dreams. Herzog would be a great "guide" on an acid trip. You can see him getting all up in a cop's face over his charge's right to roll around foaming at the mouth in Central Park or to bite the heads off slow-footed squirrels. And that's how it should be, maybe, in a perfect world. (MORE)

(January 7, 2010)

Whenever we think our man Cage is totally sucking, it's probably that he's just so far ahead of the curve we're afraid to follow lest we get hit by a truck careening around the bend. Not unlike the character he plays in the BAD LIEUTENANT 2, Cage's cop in WICKER is brave so far beyond reckless that he comes back around to cautious and upwards towards brave again. (MORE)

(August 3, 2012)

"There were several scenes in SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE where I was almost rolling on the floor in hysterics like I was the first time I saw FASTER PUSSYCAT, KILL! KILL! and never before or since. The peak scene in the film being outside an underground boxing match, where Cage's Blaze--his eye sockets warping into skull pits and flames shooting out of his nose--threatens a shady promoter that the 'rider wants to come out,' over and over. It's a moment as thoroughly awesome as Cage's rant against the elderly woman in Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT or against the maid in VAMPIRE'S KISS! Junk cinema has been needing scenes this crazy for decades, and you're not going to get them anywhere else except with crazy Cage. The film's sheer psycho-cycle balls out, hanging brain, pissing fire off the back of a pick-up truck as it speeds down the highway reckless giddy oil-stained freedom is all him, and his obliging directors of course. It's clear co-directors Taylor and Neveldine work very well with the right actor, like Statham in the CRANK films, tailoring the madness to fit their leading man, director and actor encouraging each other like bad influence friends into progressively more dangerous and foolhardy endeavors, to all our benefit. " (more)

(June 8th, 2011)

DRIVE finds Cage--once again back from the grave to avenge his daughter's death and/or save his granddaughter. Apparently Hell consists of watching helplessly from beyond the veil as your loved ones suffer. If the veil in this case was the screen and we were his loved ones, well, there you are, all meta and--unless you're at a drive-in or 3-D ready--choking on the exhaust fumes of cynical producers and product placement.

A pretty boy from the WB casting couch (Billy Burke) is the swaggering evangelical Satanist cult leader who's holding onto Cage's granddaughter until the moon is right for the solstice sacrifice which will herald doomsday. William Fichtner is 'the accountant' who's followed Cage up from Hell to ask him to at least call Satan and let him know when he intends coming home for dinner.

There are some plusses to DRIVE ANGRY: in one scene Cage is shooting bad guys while sitting up, wearing shades, having sex with a naked waitress and holding a bottle of whiskey all at the same time. He shoots the bad guys without spilling a drop, even taking a swig between bullets. Damn! The copious humiliated naked women parts however taint the film with that smell of new leather misogyny. Amber Heard, Nic's gal Friday has a lot of moxy and fighting skill but does that really make up for her objectification? She all but grinds herself on the hood ornament like a frat pledge's dorm room poster. And don't she and that waitress have mothers, too? Where's the ghost moms roaring back from the grave to punch old Nic for treating their daughters like shit? (MORE)

(Bright Lights, January 29th, 2010)

Playing one of the most unbelievable MIT professors in cinema history, Cage is so out of it his science classes consist of elementary film school plot exposition like “Sharon, what can you tell me about the sun?” Still grieving the loss of his wife some years before, he drinks like a fish but won’t let his son have any friends. Nic thinks he’s the only friend his son needs, even as he ignores him to mope over old videos of his wife.

Able through an elaborate and rather labored series of plot devices to predict future disasters, Cage runs hither and yon, yelling at SWAT teams like they’re incompetent student aids, and chasing possible terrorists around on subway platforms. This is a guy who probably cries and freaks out over every single death he sees on the news. You can imagine him calling up Haiti and demanding something be done about the earthquake. He's the guy who has to butt into every accident he passes on the highway in case me misses a chance to cradle a dying child’s head in his lap and scream “Noooo!” in pitch-shifted slow motion. He’s the kind of navel-centric nutjob that the SIMPSONS parodies by having Mrs. Lovejoy run around in circles screaming, “Won’t somebody think of the children!” (MORE)

(August 20, 2010)

I thought the age of great 70s dads was done, but that was before I saw KICK-ASS (2010), in which a truly cool father (Cage) manages to slide past the doting widower daddy ("mommy's in heaven!") morons of Hollywood to finally do what Batman should have been doing all along: using firearms, gutting mobsters with exotic weaponry, and teaching his 11 year-old daughter to be a pint-sized killing machine.

This is the kind of film where you see something genuinely subversive -- kids as instruments of lethal vengeance-- and know instantly that a dividing line will form between film critics that are cool (i.e. they get intentional subversion of the treacly overprotective cinema status quo) and the dull self-appointed moral guardians (i.e. status quo dogma-eating douches) as easy to demarcate as a scroll down the Rottentomato meter. (MORE)

Cher's chemistry with Nicolas Cage sizzles like butter and garlic. Cage was a relative unknown at the time but brings such mushmouth ferocity to lines like "Gimme da knife so I can cut my froat!" and "I'm going to take you to da bed" that we all would have fallen off a cliff for him if he asked. Between this and Raising Arizona (also 1987) and The Vampire's Kiss (1988), Cage's effect on us was akin to what Brando's must have been 30 years before: an infectious mix of madness, sexual heat, wit, beauty, and ferocity, 
all unleashed at the right time to electrify an entire generation.

Interestingly, all three of these early Cages are dark comedies, though Jewison's is only dark literally, i.e. clothed a beautiful palette of black fabrics, red roses, and silvery nights, overflowing with dark color and un-cliche'd character, climaxing in a family breakfast where all grievances are aired, love declared, and Olympia Dukakis steals the film with little more than a series exasperated but resigned sighs. Forget Scorsese, it was this film that made me proud to be dating overlapping Italian-American chicks (whilst at SU), their dark mothering oomph compensating for their tendency to wear way too much make-up and perfume when they 'dressed up' to meet your parents.

"As Red, a woodsman (aka lumberjack, for the chainsaw hath replaced yon axe), Cage starts out soft and intimate, but then gets mad, walks with his gut out, his butt lit, his eyes covered with shades instead of goggles when he uses his home forge, probably a good drinking buddy, guzzling his shower vodka in his underwear and pouring it over his open wounds, howling in a way that's new for the actor--not nasal and hysterical but deep, tragic and genuinely scary, riding a demonic ATV through the wild north woods in the dead of night, and fighting chainsaw duels, burning churches, doing every drug in sight, crushing skulls, losing his shit over a demon ripping his favorite shirt, saying wild shit like "a psychotic drowns where a mystic swims" and telling super-cool Bill Duke he needs his crossbow back because he's hunting "Jesus freaks" (spoilers why); oh my god- he's tremendous! (full)


  1. Have you seen the Nicolas Cage chart, that places each performance on an x axis ("seroius" to "mental" and y axis ("brilliant" to "rubbish")? Fantastic chartt, and well worth the career.

    I saw part of "Bad Lietenant" once, when I was doing something else and had the TV on mute. I knew it was Herzog, but still ended up spending my time, without the sound on, trying to figure out if Cage was supposed to have syphilis (Vonnegut says that late-stage syphilis makes people unable to bend their joints). I still don't know the answer to whether he did.

    Anyway, brilliant stuff. Cage's career is a bizarre goldmine. Ghost Rider 2!

    1. Katy@ you're right that Nicolas Cage's post-Oscar winning/Straight-To-VOD/DVD/Blu Ray career has become quite the bizarre goldmine(ala John Cusack,Ray Milland,Rod Steiger,and Michael Madsen).


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