CAGE-FEST!

nickcagecrazyeyesIn preparation for — nay, in honor of — the upcoming premier of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call in New Orleans, directed by Werner Herzog and starring the great performer Nicolas Cage, the Acme Video blog will be running a series of (at least) daily pieces on the entire Cage Oeuvre, with its startling highs and mystifying lows. It is one man’s tale… a chronicle of madness and obsession.

DAY 1: VAMPIRE’S KISS

I begin with Vampire’s Kiss because, for the uninitiated, for the non-believers, for the haters and the nay-sayers, there is probably no better single testament to Nick Cage’s truly unique, entirely reckless, batshit-crazy brand of “acting.”  This is Cage’s Last Tango In Paris. His Aguirre, Wrath of God. His Silence Of The Lambs. If you crossed Marlon Brando, Klaus Kinski, and Hannibal Lecter you would end up with something close to Peter Loew, Cage’s utterly psychotic method-acting transformation from depressed-skirt-chasing-1980’s-literary-agent to control-freak-vampire-maniac-rapist.

One is tempted to use the phrase “a descent into madness,” but Vampire’s Kiss is more like a private tour of every wing of the nut-house. Loew is mad even at the film’s outset — a spastic, giggling, sexually-charged playboy, with women and money to burn and an awesomely Gothic Manhattan apartment. Cage adopted a strange, high-falutin, vaguely English accent for part, which comes and goes depending on his mood (and in one of several phenomenal scenes with his shrink, it actually becomes contagious; see the clip below). It’s just one of several crazy-as-a-fox decisions Cage makes, choices that would have been disastrous for a lesser actor — or at least one with smaller cajones. The fun really gets started once Loew gets his first vampire bite and begins his fitful, wildly uneven mutation into a blood-starved creature of the night. A fun enough premise in its own right, but both the film — and primarily, Cage — take so many stylistic left-turns that it’s not long before you’re feeling just as lost and desperate as Loew, wandering through Robert Bierman‘s fantastically cheerless Manhattan. Vampire’s Kiss then becomes a truly Kafkaesque fracturing of the Cage psyche. Donning a pair of old-person driving sunglasses, Cage’s movements become decidedly bat-like, as he leaps and flits around his office, screaming and twitching at his lowly assistant because of some completely insignificant file that’s gone missing. Much of the film is devoted to the manic-depressive head games Loew plays on this poor young woman (a perfectly mousy Maria Conchita Alonso) who fears — rightly — for her safety. Cage’s performance is truly one of the moodiest I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in the best possible sense: you can’t look away, and you never know what’s next. Few actors have ever mixed horror and comedy this well.

He eats a cockroach, people (in fact he ate three, one for each take). Gobbles it up. The final scene is an insane Cage-vs.-Cage riff, basically like watching a psychopath simultaneously prosecute and defend himself in a court of law. You MUST see this film.

Impossible to pick just one scene, but yeah… this one rules.

Acme Sponsored Screenings at E & O

e&oBeginning this month on Wednesday nights at the E & O Tap, 289 Knight St. on the west side, Acme will be sponsoring Double Feature screenings presented by Liz Lemon! Films will range from the highest of brow to the lowest of trash. Coming up in December, various films of Nicolas Cage will be the focus to coincide with the release of the new Werner Herzog film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans! See links for more info.

Steven Soderbergh, Meet Sasha Grey

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Steven Soderbergh would seem to have walked a pretty short, straight line from Sex, Lies, And Videotape – released way back when in 1989 — to The Girlfriend Experience. He has, once again, made a film which at first blush would seem to be explicitly about sex but which, viewers will find, shows nothing of the kind on screen. There is, of course, a great deal of talk on the subject, and The Girlfriend Experience being what it is, that talk is something slightly more explicit than in Sex, Lies… For those unfamiliar, The Girlfriend Experience stars Sasha Grey, who made a name for herself initially in hardcore-pornography, while name-dropping Jean-Luc Godard in interviews and displaying a penchant for masochism in her movies. In this film she plays an ultra-high-class call-girl, providing “the complete girlfriend experience” for her über-rich financial-district clients. And in typical Soderbergh style, the film is superbly edited, expertly shot, lushly colored… and colder than a witch tit. But mercifully, the casting of Grey turns about to be less a marketer’s wet-dream than an inspired, essential choice. She gives a surprising warmth to a role that doesn’t present too many obvious opportunities for drama or sentiment. And Soderbergh, who more often than not has struck me as kind of a wuss as a filmmaker, generally seems to have the good sense to stick with his star and the natural energy she carries with her. My biggest gripe would be that Soderbergh spends too much time with the various Wall Street meat-heads who are supposed have had their realities all shaken up by the “Great Recession.” Who the fuck cares? Some of this stuff will seem really dated in just a year’s time.

Kind of a bummer that this guy is what passes for a rebel in Hollywood these days, but I digress… The film is worth seeing, and Ms. Grey might just turn out to be the real deal. Whatever that is.

The Garden

GARDEN_IMG3Just arrived: a new documentary from Oscilloscope, The Garden, about the headline-making fight between a group of South Central Los Angeles community gardeners and some back-room-dealing city hall officials who tried to take the gardeners’ land away. The garden was originally given over to the community as a sort of concession following the Rodney King Riots, and over the next ten years grew into a thriving community-run garden — fourteen acres in all — serving a primarily Latino-American population.  The story would have been interesting enough just viewed through prism of the locavore movement gaining popularity through the country right now; but unexpectedly (for me, at least) this is a particularly gripping true-life tale, with a half-dozen unexpected plot twists and a number of nefarious, quietly corrupt political figures who play the role of heartless, self-serving bamboozlers to a T. Honestly, the straight-up evil nature of some of these guys is like something out of a cautionary, near-future science fiction book, and is a sobering reminder of the havoc that corrupt, conniving local figureheads can still wreak, even in the age of information. It all makes for exciting cinema, as tension boils over in the movie’s final act in a scene that eerily echoes the King riots played out at the beginning of the film.

And on a side note: What is the deal with Oscilloscope? Where did they come from? Why are they so awesome? Near as I can tell, Oscilloscope Laboratories was created by the Beastie Boys, but I have no idea what (if any) their involvement in the film side of things may be. Either way, this little production company has spun out a starling number of quality stuff in a very short period of time, many of them small, intrepid documentaries in the vein of The Garden. Among them: Flow, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, Unmistaken Child, and No Impact Man (which just recently completed its theatrical run at the Cable Car). They also gave a home to Wendy And Lucy, which I’ve written up previously on this blog. And their cache of upcoming films looks just as promising as everything we’ve seen so far. So who are these guys? Where are they getting the cash to put this stuff out? And where and how are they finding these films?

The Loveless

the lovelessdafoeFor the past couple weeks I’ve been slowly working my way through the work of director Kathryn Bigelow, whose latest film, The Hurt Locker, has been garnering major praise (I haven’t seen it myself). To be honest, her work left me fairly underwhelmed, but it wasn’t for lack of variety; she’s definitely not a director who works exclusively in just one or two genres. Have a look around Acme and see for yourself: she has a film each in Horror, Sci-Fi, Indy, War, and Juvee, plus three more in thriller (those three are easily the worst of the bunch: Blue Steel is Jamie Lee Curtis doing the female cop thing, with a god-awful Ron Silver as her crazed lover/nemesis; K-19: The Widowmaker is Harrison Ford doing his best Russian accent in the face of one of the most expensive independent films ever made — over $100 million, of which it failed to recoup even half; and then there’s Point Break, which needs no synopsis). All that being said, y’all should really check out her first feature-length, The Loveless.

This was Willem Dafoe’s first film, playing the young leader of a biker gang on their way to Daytona who get waylaid in a small, Podunk southern town. I haven’t seen too many films — especially low-budget, independent films — that have gotten the ’50s biker-flick look so right, and Bigelow deserves major credit for that. The bikes, the cars, the costumes and the sets — everything looks exactly as it should, and it’s all topped off with a totally kickass rockabilly score with original stuff from Robert Gordon and John Lurie. But this isn’t just your typical biker-gang-wreaks-havoc flick, as Bigelow punctuates the film with all manner of disconcerting images: from the boredom and malaise on the faces of the local help, to the vaguely-illegal oil business run by town’s antagonistic alpha-male, to the punchy, nervous atmosphere of the bar in the film’s final scene. Working with just a few set pieces, the photography is thoughtful and consistently original, and Bigelow does a wonderful job of insinuating a great deal about the pain of characters’ lives without beating you over the head with any of it. Dafoe’s performance is the real stunner — and even more so given his age and inexperience. Watching him, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Brando’s early stuff, as he plays the role with a remarkable softness that belies the intensity of his character. Young ‘uns only familiar with the man from his Spiderman role would do well to seek this one out.

The DQ

One of my all-time favorite cinematic moments.

Dalton Trumbo – Yes, The Brave Are Lonely

johnny-got-his-gun4Recently, the people at Shout!Factory, an independent releasing company on the fast track to greatness in the post-Rhino era, had the good sense to put out a special release of a long unavailable independent film. (Shout is continuing to release also the beloved Mystery Science Theater, which Rhino had the good sense to deliver for a while until they went broke because not a huge market exists apparently for indie products because people are so homogenized and blah blah).   Johnny Got His Gun, written and directed by Dalton Trumbo, is perhaps THE most inflammatory indictment not just of war, especially for the sake of “democracy”, but of any bureaucratic system led by those who would ignore individual determinism while claiming to represent the greater morality.  It is the story of a soldier in WWI named Joe Bonham who winds up in a bizarre predicament after surviving a mortar shell explosion. Armless, legless, blind, and unable to speak, he is trapped inside what remains of his physical  body, and at the mercy of those around him while he lies on a hospital table and tries to reckon with his despair and the idealism that led him down the road. Through memories and a few conversations with Jesus Christ, his life replays in his mind and for the audience.johnnygothisgun13

The thing about Trumbo is his language, very intelligent and written with a flair for meter, at times very poetic. The film retains little of this, so the book is a must read. The book came out in 1939, won the National Book Award for best original story, and was promptly squelched, pulled out of print for being “subversive”. What followed for Trumbo was a brief period of successful screenwriting for Hollywood films and then a long nightmare of persecution by HUAC, a jail sentence, and years of being blacklisted. Despite the merry turn of events, he continued to write screenplays for Hollywood films using fronts to take credit for his work, which allowed him to scrape by financially and raise his family. It would come out years later that he actually wrote some true classics like Gun Crazy, Roman Holiday, and The Brave One, for which he won an Oscar but never got credit until years later.JOHNNYGOTHISGUN_THUMBNAIL

In 1960, Otto Preminger made his screenplay for Exodus into a film and pushed to have his name credited as screenwriter. Next was Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas, a supporter of Trumbo and his work. He continued to work and wrote several good stories and screenplays including Lonely Are The Brave, The Sandpiper, Hawaii, The Fixer, The Horsemen, Papillon, and Executive Action. In a sense, one could say he beat the odds of his situation and he acheived a lot. Certainly getting to make Johnny Got His Gun into an uncompromised film was a major acheivement, despite the lack of any commercial success for the film. It stands as a major independent work and perhaps as people get to see it on dvd and the new Magnolia documentary, Trumbo, a new generation can fully appreciate the work of an American artist whose life was adversity, while his work reflected the adversities faced by his fellow man and resonate as powerful contributions.trumbo_l200805221603

In the new documentary by Peter Askin, cast members of productions of Trumbo’s works including Donald Sutherland, Michael Douglas,Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti and Joan Allen read Trumbo’s letters to family, friends and foes alike, bringing to life his language which was so eloquent and infusing the emotions he was going through. A fragile but passionate Kirk Douglas, always a champion of Trumbo, pays tribute even as he struggles to speak. It is a wonderfully warm documentary that leaves you disturbed by our nation’s capacity to get it wrong and at the same time feeling a sense of celebration for the human spirit and the concepts worth fighting for.

The Johnny Got His Gun release is packed with extras including interview material with Trumbo used in the new film.  Trumbo comes out this week, and has outtake footage of readings as added bonus features.