Top 10 Films – Nicolas Cage

Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)

The Rock Yep, Cage is pretty happy right here in his action flick The Rock

List compiled by Eddie on 30/01/2015

While there is little doubt about that fact that now days Nicolas Cage is very much an actor for hire (supposedly due to some outstanding taxes) there was a time when Cage was one of the biggest actors in the business, an Oscar winner that also garnered some huge box office receipts the world over and a performer at home in big budget action flicks as well as small scale comedies.

During the mid to late 90’s in particular Cage appeared in many hits that flowed into the new millennium and then plateaued in the late 2000’s. Many pundits predicted a renaissance of sorts when Cage almost stole the show in 2010 cult classic Kick-Ass but sadly that has yet to eventuate as anyone who may have seen Left Behind may attest…

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Classic Review : Superman the Movie (1978)

I have a tendency to revisit old films frequently, from those I loved to those I hated, just to re-analyse them from the perspective of the older self. In the first of a planned series of Classic Reviews, I take a look back at Richard Donner’s Superman.

Richard Donner’s 1978 superhero film had quite an effect on the 5-year-old me as I sat and watched it at the cinema. Only a year earlier had I been thrown into a galaxy far, far away, and now I was believing a man could fly. It probably was the one moment that sparked my fascination and love for comic book characters who dress in costumes and fight crime. This is one film that I return to time and time again and experience the same surge of emotions that I had as a child. So, returning to the film now was never going to be a chore, and in fact was a great pleasure.

The opening sequence shows us the comic book history of the character before thrusting us into the opening credits, whilst John Williams’ epic score builds behind them, stirring our emotions even before the story has begun. This origin tale shows how Kal-El, son of Jor-El, was sent from his dying world by his father to go to Earth, where he grows to become their protector and defender. Found and raised on Earth by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he grows to become news-hound Clark Kent by day, his disguise from his true identity as Superman. Throw in support characters such as Lois Lane, another reporter at the Daily Planet who provides love interest, and Lex Luthor, a crazed genius who will become Superman’s nemesis, and the stage is set for an adventure that sees love, loss, and action.

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The film was originally intended to be be completely shot back to back with the second film, and indeed Donner did complete a substantial chunk of that sequel, but due to pressure in editing and time constraints, work was stopped on the sequel so he could cut this film down to size. In doing so a few ideas were moved around, such as the ‘reversing time’ sequence, which was initially intended as a closing of the whole two part story but was moved here to offer some climactic ending to the first film. It’s easy for us to forget these days how risky a comic book film was back in the 70s, so to even consider a sequel in the first place was extremely daring for the studio, which likely explains their cold feet over the idea.

There are plot contrivances and unexplained moments throughout, but the whole film is played with such a charm and sweetness that it’s easy to gloss over the more bizarre or nonsensical moments. Christopher Reeve himself manages to captivate when on screen, either as the humble Kent or the commanding Superman. Margot Kidder shares such on-screen chemistry with Reeve that their scenes as roving reporters, or love-struck man of steel and journalist, truly sparkle with energy. Marlon Brando famously refusing to learn his lines actually works in favour of the scenes in which he conveys his concerns and desire for his son as the planet falls apart around them. Gene Hackman adds great comic menace to Lex Luthor, aided by Ned Beatty as Otis, his bumbling henchman. Glenn Ford, Jackie Cooper, Susannah York, and everyone else involved all work to ensure that whilst light in nature, they never see the film as a cheap comic-book movie, and instead give the tale the dignity it deserves. We also get a short glimpse of things to come via the trial of Terrence Stamp’s General Zod which opens the film, and in those moments as Zod tells Jor-El that he will make him bow down before him, Stamp ensures that any audience watching will be waiting for him to return in future films.

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I see a little silhouetto of a man....

The film established quite a few things which were then adopted by the comic books, such as the ‘S’ symbol actually being a representation of the El family crest, the crystalline technology of Krypton, Jonathan Kent dying of a heart attack, Lois frequently misspelling words; and so is held in high regard by many as a definitive origin tale film. The action takes a while to arrive – it’s over an hour before we first see Superman in action saving Lois from a helicopter crash – but when it does it delivers. The earthquake sequence gives us Superman inside the earth’s crust fixing the fault, a school bus in peril on the golden gate bridge, a damaged train rail that threatens a high speed locomotive, Lois buried alive, a dam breaking, all of this within minutes of each other, and leading to an emotional decision which would have repercussions later on.

All in all, Superman may not be quite perfect, and the film does suffer from a few oversights and contrivances, but even with the dated effects work it’s still easy, when watching, to believe a man can fly – thanks to the fantastic direction, the great cast, and that perfect score by John Williams adding emotional undertone to every scene.

This review was originally posted over at World of Superheroes as part of my writings there.

Opinion: Don’t be ashamed to love Comics

You would imagine, what with the surge of popularity that comic book films are enjoying on the big screen these days, that those who enjoy reading the materials they are adapted from would be proud to be comic geeks (and let me make it clear that the term ‘geek’ is not offensive, and us now embraced by the community as ‘our term’).  After all, has it not become true that the biggest ‘jock’ event (to use some US terminology) of the year, the Superbowl, now sees as much excitement around it due to the showcasing of the latest comic book movies trailers as it does from the sport itself?  So why are some folk still ashamed to admit to having a cupboard full of long – boxes stuffed with poly-bagged comics?dc-comics-universe

I’ve generally encountered two types of folk who fit into this denier category.  There are those who deny any involvement at all, and those who try to add some prestige to the hobby. By this I mean they say things like, “No, I don’t read comics. I read graphic novels!” To me, these folk are worse than the straight out deniers. They want to be accepted as part of the comic community, but also position themselves above all ‘that childish nonsense’ to the outside world. “Oh, the next Avengers film is based upon the Age of Ultron graphic novel!” No it isn’t. Heck, it isn’t even adapted from the comic book event of the same name (they just used the name because it is cool). I genuinely don’t understand those who refuse to accept that their precious graphic novel collection is just a bunch of comics collected into 4 to 8 issue volumes. By reading ‘Kraven’s Last Hunt’ graphic novel format doesn’t make your enjoyment of the story any more prestigious than my reading it when it spun over the three Spidey titles at the time (Web of, Amazing, and Peter Parker the Spectacular). It is the same story, same art, and same experience.

As for the total deniers, now is the time to step out and let people know your love for comics. You will find that you suddenly become a popular person when a new film throws out a tease at the end credits. Your font of knowledge will make you like a deity to those baffled by terms such as cosmic cube, or negative zone. Embrace who you are, the days of mockery are long gone.

Review: Jupiter Ascending

It is fair to say that the Wachowskis have a surplus of ambition when it comes to their forays onto the big screen canvas.  It is probably also fair to wonder how exactly are they still being granted large budgets given their track record since the turn of the century, whilst at the same time pondering what they could achieve if they had the budget to genuinely bring all their ideas to the screen.  Jupiter Ascending is the latest garbled mess that the writer/directors have brought to the screen, and just like those films before it, I actually enjoyed it despite the flaws.

When the duo first hit the screen with Bound they brought a skilful direction style with them, and made clear they would make a mark on cinema.  That mark came in the guise of The Matrix, which still looks and plays great today.  Spinning from that iconic film came two sequels that divided audiences each time, resulting in only a small percentage of remaining fans by the end of Neo’s journey.  I was one of those few, and even on recent rewatches of the trilogy I still enjoy the pomposity and bizarre mess the films became.  I can understand why others don’t like them, but I still do.  Speed Racer came next, adapting an anime by simply casting actors in live action fused with CGI anime for the screen.  The film never found an audience, which personally I think is shame.  It was criticised by many for being exactly what it was supposed to be – a giant cartoon of a film aimed at 10 year olds.  Vibrant, fun, and totally off its toast, it was candyfloss for the eyes, and nothing more.  After that flop it would be a few years before Cloud Atlas ambitiously hit the screens, and once more audiences failed to show.
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Jupiter Ascending was a chance for the duo to get back to sci-fi action adventure, and maybe redeem their name.  When it suddenly saw it’s release date pushed back, dumping it in the wilderness of the February schedule, it was a sign that all was not rosy.  The end result that has seen release comes over as a mess of a film that looks great, has some great ideas, highlights how skilful the pair are at making action look amazing, but tries to shoot for the moon and misses by a fair angle.  The story sees Mila Kunis playing Jupiter Jones, a Russian immigrant who cleans toilets for a living, who finds herself hunted by alien beings.   You see, she is actually royalty by resurrection (seriously), and therefore the most important and wealthiest person in the universe.  Sadly this makes her a target for her offspring who either want to kill her, or marry her (which is as creepy as it sounds) then kill her.   Oh, did I mention they want to kill her?  Well except one offspring who wants to…erm…Well,  I’m not sure as it felt pretty much like a huge chunk of the film was missing at one point.  Anyway, only a buff looking Channing Tatum with pointy ears can save her, and he’s half wolf or something.  Oh and Sean Bean is another human/alien warrior, who appears to be spliced with a Yorkshireman,  and has an affinity for keeping bees in his house (which is handy as bees can detect royalty for some reason).  As the film flits from one location to another,  each time throwing some peril and chases in the mix, you have to really concentrate to keep up with things, and can’t help but notice how there is no sense of wonder displayed, even though the film is a visual treat.  Maybe it is that we have seen this visual style before in other films, or maybe it is just that we never spend long enough anywhere for it to really register as anything special.  Whatever it is, it all feels very formulaic and typical pulp sci-fi.

The Wachowskis seem to make films for themselves, and for that you have to give them credit.  The Matrix series turned more and more Manga inspired over the course of the trilogy, with philosophy and thematic elements of the best Manga churned out, as that was the medium that inspired the duo.  Speed Racer was their chance to pay loving homage to another inspiration.  With Jupiter Ascending the pair seem to want to build their own Flash Gordon style space epic, whilst also dropping in elements of grandiose space opera of The Chronicles of Riddick, and twisted bureaucracy of Brazil.  Again the pair are simply using a movie budget to play with their own toys, but are restricted from fulfilling their true ambitious ideas – or maybe they are genuinely incapable of making their ideas work in any coherent manner.
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Much like Lynch’s Dune, within this ham-fisted mess there is a strong, epic scaled story trying to get out, and you get the impression that many hours of material never made the cut.  If given a six hour canvas to explore the material more, maybe this one film could have made for a more impressive 3 films.  As it stands, however, it is rushed, exposition packed nonsense that doesn’t give time to flesh out any of the key players in the story.  Lines of dreadful dialogue are churned out with utter po-faced seriousness, with Eddie Redmayne in particular being laughable as he talks with a stiff upper lip and sinister whisper, except when he suddenly shouts.  No mid range to his voice, it is as though his volume control has two settings.  Kunis highlights how she isn’t lead actress material, and is very flat in her performance, failing to convey any sense of wonder that someone who has just been kidnapped by aliens should show as they find they are royalty and get taken to alien landscapes.  Nope, it is all a walk in the park for her.

Maybe this pomposity and low key acting approach was intentional.  Maybe the idea was to emulate the absurdity of Flash Gordon.  Sadly that film works so well because it looks so cheap.  Jupiter Ascending looks expensive, and so the pantomime nature of the acting works against it.

But, all that said, you know what?  I kind of enjoyed it.  Not in any way that makes me want to race out and watch it again, but in the same way I enjoyed John Carter.  Yes, it is flawed, but it was still fun to watch (even if for the wrong reasons at times), and in there somewhere is an epic space adventure fighting to get out.  Sadly, I can’t see it finding an audience, and it is likely to be the final call for two visionary and ambitious directors and their dalliance with the big screen.  Maybe this is for the best as it seems the canvas isn’t big enough for what they want to do, and maybe other mediums such as comics or TV will give them the freedom to explore their concepts more effectively.