Joe

images

DIR David Gordon Green WRI: Gary Hawkins   PRO: David Gordon Green, Lisa Muskat, Derrick Tseng, Alexander Uhlmann, Christopher Woodrow  DOP: Tim Orr   ED: Colin Patton  DES: Chris L. Spellman MUS: Jeff McIlwain, David Wingo   CAST: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter

Many great American films could be classified as Southern Gothic, but whatever the reason the last few years in particular have seen an explosion of films from the US focusing on the rural Southern states and their inhabitants. You have Beasts of the Southern Wild, Mud, Winter’s Bone, Killer Joe, Hide Your Smiling Faces and more besides – very different films, but all memorably and proudly Southern. To that list we can add Joe, David Gordon Green’s hasty follow-up to Prince Avalanche.

 

This isn’t new geographical territory for Green. His still remarkable debut George Washington was set in North Carolina, and several of his subsequent films also affectionately portrayed life in the South. Sadly for fans of these films, Green’s incredibly promising early career was interrupted by his work on a trio of dumbass comedies that could generously be described as varying degrees of shit (although not without their fans). While no doubt there were reasonable motivations behind this bizarre shift in directorial direction, for this viewer at least Green’s return to smaller, character-based dramas – and, not coincidentally, the Southern states – has proved something of relief.

 

Like Prince Avalanche, Joe takes place in rural Texas. Like the earlier film’s haunting use of destroyed woodland, the setting here is one of its most valuable assets. Plot-wise, there’s not a whole lot going on in Joe you haven’t seen before, but Green manages to maintain an uneasy, even surreal mood.

 

Joe (Nicholas Cage, in one of his occasional excellent performances) is a man with a colourful history with the law, but seems to have settled down. He runs a tree-poisoning business, in which and he and his men prepare stubborn trees for timber companies. He lives alone, albeit with the occasional casual visit from Connie (Adriene Mishler). Joe being Joe, though, peace is a challenging state to maintain, and a disagreement he had in a bar with an aggressive local (Ronnie Gene Blevins) threatens to escalate. But it’s the appearance of young Gary (Tye Sheridan), who has is looking for work for himself and his father Wade (Gary Poulter). Gary proves to be a hard and loyal worker, and Joe takes him under his wing. Wade, though, is cruel, lazy and abusive, and as is to be expected this starts to cause some problems.

 

This is Southern Gothic turned up to eleven, and sometimes to the point of near parody. Joe’s world is an incredibly grimy, miserable one. Violence, substance abuse and prostitution of an almost Old Western sort are commonplace here. It might not be pleasant, but it sure is atmospheric. Muted but moody cinematography further emphasises this powerful sense of place.

 

It could, in less skilled hands, come across as almost exploitative in its stylistic exaggeration of an impoverished community. That’s a line individual viewers might feel is crossed at times. But Green lends a strange empathy to proceedings, and a respect and understanding of a lifestyle most of us aren’t familiar with. This might be a gritty thriller featuring violent characters committing violent deeds (or, in the protagonist’s case, trying desperately not to), but Green takes the time to carefully portray the daily rhythms of the poor but proud people too. It’s far from a romanticised portrait, but it can be a quietly affectionate one. That ensures things don’t descend into the ‘hicksploitation’ realm – well, at least for the most part.

 

As the title indicates, Cage’s Joe is very much the centre of attention here. Cage, I think it is fair to say, isn’t always a fan of subtlety (even in some of his best performances), but here his distinctive style works very well indeed. He plays Joe as a man constantly on the edge of exploding, and largely articulates this through body language and gestures. On the occasions when he does blow up, Cage’s familiarly wild acting style is a perfect fit for the fits of rage that follow.

 

Even then, however, there’s a powerful sense of regret and frustration in the character, as if he is trying with everything he has to keep in control. Although there’s a fundamental goodness about Joe, he’s just as likely to act indifferently or even cruelly to those he’s closest to. He might not always be a traditionally likeable protagonist, but he sure is a compelling one, and it’s not hard to buy into the deep-rooted respect many peripheral characters have for the man.

 

Cage’s stylised, powerhouse performance cannot help but dominate proceedings, but he’s capably backed – particularly by Tye Sheridan as the young Gary. Amazingly, though, there is something of a match for Cage’s typically bold performance, and that’s from Gary Poulter.

 

Poulter – who died last year while living in a makeshift campsite for the homeless – had never acted before (bar a role as an extra on TV), and had been diagnosed as bipolar. His life was equal parts wild and tragic – and that carries over here in an utterly unique performance that could only have come from a non-professional actor. Once again, there’s the threat of exploitation here, especially given Poulter’s own life story and its sad conclusion so soon after the film wrapped. But it is hard to deny the performance is fascinatingly raw, further enhancing the film’s memorably chaotic atmosphere.

 

Potently chaotic though the film may be in many respects, the actual story that drives it is largely lacking in surprise. The surrogate father-son relationship that develops between Gary and Joe is as familiar as they come, while there’s no doubt whatsoever everything is building up to a violently melodramatic conclusion. When that comes, it’s a dispiritingly familiar punctuation mark. But the performances and direction allow Joe to overcome some of its limitations. It certainly is ridiculous and exaggerated at times, but that helps make for a combustible cocktail of hyper Southern Gothic.

Stephen McNeice

16 (See IFCO for details)
117 mins

Joe is released on 25th July 2014

Joe – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: The Frozen Ground

IMG_0133.CR2

 

DIR/WRI: Scott Walker • PRO:Remington Chase, Randall Emmett, Jane Fleming, Jeff Rice • DOP: Patrick Murguia • ED: Sarah Boyd • DES: Clark Hunter • Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Dean Norris
 
The 1988 film The Accused in which Jodie Foster was gang raped in a local bar went some way in dismissing the attitude that if a woman dressed a certain way she was “asking for it”.  The Frozen Ground, written and directed by Scott Walker is based on the true-life story of the rapes, murders and burials carried out by Alaskan serial killer Robert Hansen, in and around Anchorage from 1980-1983.  This, William’s first feature-length film, focuses on the final stages of Hansen’s spree.  We are shown Hansen in the act so innocent until proven guilty isn’t an issue.  What drives the film forward is the suspense built by State Trooper Halcombe’s efforts to gather enough evidence to persuade local law enforcement to arrest the allegedly respectable Hansen.

 

The film begins in 1983 when Cindy Paulson, played by Vanessa Hudgens, is found handcuffed and terrified in a motel bedroom.  She claims to have been kidnapped, tied up and raped by local man Robert Hansen, played by John Cusack.  As Cindy is a local prostitute and Hansen a respectable local businessman, the police give her a hard time down at the station before sending her back to the streets.  State Trooper, Sergeant Jack Halcombe, Nicholas Cage, enters the film when a year later, a dead girl is uncovered out in the wilderness.  Researching old cases of missing women presumed prostitutes or dancers Halcombe is convinced the dead woman is the victim of a serial killer.  Finding Cindy’s testimony he believes she has survived the murderer he is convinced can only be Hansen.

 

How many dead prostitutes does it take to change an attitude?  The local police had so little interest in prosecuting anybody for the assault on Cindy, never mind local resident Hansen, they didn’t even bother to collect the DNA evidence from the hospital.  They are angry with Halcombe reopening the cases of missing women they hadn’t found and only start to help, reluctantly, when another woman’s body is found.  The aerial shots of the snow-covered wilderness, contrasted with the frantic camera movements of Halcombe’s movements, capture the sense of urgency he felt in trying to stop Hansen.  In juxtaposing this cold wilderness with the prostitute-lined city streets and strip clubs, Walker shows us an Anchorage that is a “wild west” kind of town, where men are men, women do what their husbands tell them to do and prostitutes well, they are just “asking for it”.

 

Any one of the three main characters Cindy, Halcombe or Hansen would have made a feasible protagonist for the film but instead Walker chose to take an overview of the story focusing on all three.  As a result I was left needing more.  We are told, not shown, that Hansen is a respected member of the community; we only glimpse this for a moment when he pops into the bakery to knead bread.  In the scene with his family, dominating his wife he dismisses her plans to spend Thanksgiving with her parents.  I wonder how he got away with leading his double life for so long?  And what drove Halcombe? Over a period of a few days he puts his marriage and family on the line in his pursuit of Hansen, we are told his sister was killed in a car accident but there has to be much more of interest to this man who was so driven to find justice for all these women.  Cindy escaped Hansen and was strong enough and brave enough to help Halcombe catch him, I’d like to have found out more about her too, and her ability to survive.

 

Nicholas Cage, Vanessa Hodgens and John Cusack all give good performances and while I usually complain that films are a bit too long and could do with more of an edit, my complaint with The Frozen Ground is that it could have been a bit longer, its 115 minutes but I would like to have seen a bit more of Cindy, Halcombe and or Hansen.

Susan Leahy

115 mins
16 (see IFCO website for details)
The Frozen Ground  is released on 19th July 2013

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=079SqPq5r7g

 

 

 

Share

Cinema Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

audience member at screening

DIR: Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor • WRI: Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman, David S. Goyer • PRO: Ashok Amritraj, Ari Arad, Avi Arad, Michael De Luca, Steven Paul • DOP: Brandon Trost • ED: Brian Berdan • DES: Kevin Phipps • Cast: Nicolas Cage, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Violante Placido

The first clever decision made by the makers of Marvel’s latest superhero movie Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is to assume that you didn’t see 2007’s Ghost Rider – to which this film is to some degrees a sequel – because, let’s face it, you didn’t. (Although that film made more than $200m around the world, so surely someone did…)

The film opens with a crudely animated rehashing of the more important elements of the first film; motorbike stuntman Johnny Blaze made a dodgy deal with the Devil, who turned him into a skull-faced, soul-reaping monster who rides a flaming chopper. But now he uses those powers against the minions of Satan, in an attempt to earn back the soul he has sold. In the first film, the Rider could only come out at night, but this film happily does away with that requirement as it doesn’t fit the plot, which requires one daylight action scene. Sure, why not?

In fact, the only continuity here is that Blaze is once more played by Nic Cage, but to complicate matters, this is the ‘other’ Nicolas Cage – while the first Ghost Rider made use of the slightly spaced-out, dull Cage of Knowing and National Treasure, Spirit of Vengeance unleashes the off-his-face whacked-out lunatic of Face/Off and Bad Lieutenant.

The plot follows the trippy Blaze – driven as mad as Nic Cage by guilt over selling his soul, apparently – hiding out in Eastern Europe, because it is cheaper to film there. Seeking redemption, the Ghost Rider teams up with a drunken, shotgun-wielding monk (played by The Wire’s Idris Elba, with a Moroccan-French accent) to save a young boy the Devil has a little too much interest in.

Ciarán Hinds, rapidly gaining ground on Brendan Gleeson to become Ireland’s answer to Samuel L. Jackson (he’s in everything), takes on the role of the Devil, and chews an unfortunate amount of scenery for a film also featuring Nic Cage. There’s only so much growling you can do to try and make a script this lazy work, and it doesn’t help that his ‘evil’ makeup includes one gratuitously bloodshot eye.

The demented duo of directors known as Neveldine/Taylor, the pair behind the ludicrous but undeniably inspired Crank movies, give the film a sort of flair and show a talent for controlling Cage’s uncaged mania that only Werner Herzog has managed in recent years. But the material is all wrong. With PG-13 deaths resulting in offed villains bursting into CGI embers (think the Phoenix deaths in X-Men 3, only slightly less pixelly), and a child actor so dull he drains the energy from the screen, there’s simply nothing Crank going on here. One can only hope Neveldine and Taylor will work with Cage again in future but on more… eccentric fare.

While the film is almost worth seeing for the unleashing of Cage at his craziest – a scene where he repeatedly pops little blue pills feels all too real – the sloppy writing, confusing action scenes and the generally cheap appearance of this $75 million production make this film well worth keeping your distance from. It’s almost an added insult that the story is by David S. Goyer, who gave us The Dark Knight.

If you must catch it, be sure to avoid the unconscionably poor 3D, which is the worst retro-fitting since Clash of the Titans, and barely works for a moment with Neveldine/Taylor’s Tourettes-like camerawork.

David Neary

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is released on 17th February 2012

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance  – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgvBmvF1RB8&feature=fvst

Share

Cinema Review: Justice

This is how Nicolas Cage orders pizza

DIR: Roger Donaldson • WRI: Robert Tannen • PRO: Ram Bergman, Tobey Maguire, James D. Stern • ED: Jay Cassidy • DOP: David Tattersall • DES: J Dennis Washington • CAST: Nicolas Cage, January Jones, Guy Pearce, Harrold Perrineau, Jennifer Carpenter, Xander Berkeley

In a desperate economic climate, desperate solutions are often sought out by those enduring hardship – borrowing money from loan sharks, resorting to petty crime, taking on multiple low paid part-time jobs, selling your body for cash etc – but for Nicolas Cage the solution is quite simple; take on as many projects as humanly possible regardless of quality, taste or even common sense in the hope of reducing your gigantic tax bill and keeping the IRS at bay.

How else to explain his saying ‘yes’ to starring such a generic, dull and obvious thriller as Justice? Cage plays English teacher Will Gerrard, happily married to musician Laura (January Jones). Their life of domestic bliss is shattered when Laura is brutally attacked by a stranger leaving her traumatized and him in a state of anxiety. Waiting in the hospital, Will is approached by a snazzily suited mystery man Simon (Guy Pearce), head of a renegade vigilante group who offers Will the chance for swift justice against his wife’s attacker.

He initially declines the offer but soon changes his mind to rid himself of his sense of powerlessness and laughable inner rage which manifests itself in Cage (echoing his display of anti-feminist fisticuffs in the dreadful Wicker Man remake) treating one of his students to a full force fist sandwich. But soon learns that the dubious proposal comes at a cost; he must in return do a ‘favor’ for the shady organization in exchange for their dispatching of the scumbag who raped his wife.

After he performs a simple task, sure enough Simon pressures Will into performing another favour which involves the killing of a known pedophile. In a ludicrous, borderline laughable scene in which Cage accidentally contributes to the demise of the ‘criminal’ the formerly mild-mannered and least convincing teacher of Shakespeare in recent film history soon finds himself caught up in a web of deceit spun by the organization, falsely accused of murdering innocent’ man.

Now, this could have been an entertaining thriller in a trashy kind of way and don’t get me wrong I am mostly a fan of Nic Cage’s operatic acting style but it is for the most part, directed and acted in such a perfunctory way it feels as though director Roger Donaldson (No Way Out, The Recruit) can’t wait for it to end.

In fact, Cage’s performance suggests a man already thinking about the next film and its corresponding paycheck. He seems distracted here though he is not helped by a pretty by the numbers script which annoyingly re-introduces minor characters at key plot moments to provide clichéd pay offs and the banal dialogue leaves talented performers like Pearce stranded.

What’s missing here is a stylistic point of view it seems or any kind of creative energy. The whole exercise feels mechanical and lacks any of the moral queasiness or nasty, gut punch moments other films of its genre such as Neil Jordans’ 2007 Jodie Foster vehicle The Brave, Death Wish or even Abel Ferrara’s classic Ms.45 provide.

Some of these are not necessarily ‘good’ films; they could be interpreted as misguided or exploitative even but at least they feel alive in some way. Justice thinks it’s clever by making the vigilantes the bad guys and thus reversing our expectations. Normally we identify with the Charles Bronson type character, someone wronged by society, pushed to their emotional and psychological limits but Cage is so irritating here and the bland Jones playing his wife so devoid of personality that it is hard to care about these people. Only Pearce is of interest here and the actor tries his damnedest to give his character some dimension or depth

A slick and perfunctory exercise lacking in flair and personality, Justice unfortunately feels more like a gift to Nicolas Cage’s creditors than a piece of entertainment.

Derek Mc Donnell

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Justice is released on 18th November 2011

Justice – Official Website

Share

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

DIR: Jon Turteltaub • WRI: Matt Lopez, Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard • PRO: Jerry Bruckheimer • DOP: Bojan Bazelli • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: Naomi Shohan • CAST: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Teresa Palmer, Alfred Molina, Toby Kebbell

The long wait is over and here at last is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. I kid, I kid. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is indeed another of the many Harry Potter clones to grace our screens, this one based on the segment of the same name from Disney’s Fantasia (as far as original source material goes, it’s certainly better than a theme park ride). Director Jon Turteltaub teams up with his National Treasure star, Nicolas Cage, to bring us on an energetic journey into the realms of magic and physics.

The plot will raise no eyebrows as following the death of Arthurian wizard Merlin his apprentice, Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage), is assigned to await the birth of Merlin’s successor, who alone can defeat their evil nemesis. This gifted youth turns out to be an oblivious and clumsy physics student, Dave (Jay Baruchel), in present day New York. While it is an unabashed Harry Potter clone, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice emerges as a surprisingly funny and highly entertaining addition to this rapidly expanding sub-genre.

The cast make a good go of it with Baruchel exhibiting charisma and humour as the titular apprentice while his Conan O’Brien modelled quiff makes up for his added years. Nicolas Cage is entirely at home playing the outwardly grumpy Balthazar while the film had a real coup with the casting of its villains. On the side of evil is Balthazar’s peer, Maxim Horvath, played with relish by Alfred Molina, along with his own apprentice, Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell). Kebbell is excellent as the rock star magician complete with ostentatious penthouse and 6-inch heels while you can’t help but root for thespian Molina as he chews through scenery with reckless abandon.

Visually, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a real treat as the many set-pieces feature very impressive special effects. These aren’t just the usual good and evil opposing beams of light either – as with Fantasia, the film gets some great work out of the sorcerers’ possession of inanimate objects.

What is most striking about this film is how it manages to be entertaining as a magical tale but also to include physics and, shockingly, make it cool. Just like the similarly entertaining Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief which makes Greek mythology appealing for a young audience, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is highly recommended as a film to entertain children but which may also have the added bonus of rousing their interest in science.

Peter White

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
is released on 11th August 2010

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Official Website

Share

Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass

DIR: Matthew Vaughn • WRI: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn • PRO: Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack, Brad Pitt, David Reid, Kris Thykier, Matthew Vaughn • DOP: Ben Davis • ED: Eddie Hamilton, Jon Harris • DES: Russell De Rozario • CAST: Aaron Johnson, Nicolas Cage, Chloe Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong

This is certainly an oddly enjoyable film that is skilfully constructed to please a certain type of audience. If you don’t mind laughing at severed limbs, people taking a brutal beating and fathers firing bullets from close range at their daughters, and if you have no problem with an 11-year-old girl coming out with profane language referring to a room full of baddies as c***s before kicking the living bejaysus out of them (go girl); then Kick-Ass is for you.

Kick-Ass is Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar and John S. Romita Jr.’s cult comicbook series of the same name. With its tongue firmly placed in its bloodied cheek, the film is an over-the-top raucous twist on the superhero genre. Kick-Ass explores that childish fantasy of becoming a superhero. Most people at some stage threw a blanket around their shoulder and jumped off a bed roaring: ‘I am Blanketman. Look upon me with fear’, before heading off to save the world.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is that teenage boy who tries to fulfill this fantasy by donning a green and yellow internet-bought wetsuit that instantly transforms him into Kick-Ass – the crime-fighting vigilante who’s had enough of the scum on the streets. Sadly, Kick-Ass, as an untrained, no-powers-at all vigilante, soon finds himself on the wrong end of a beating, ending up in hospital. Luckily for Kick-Ass, help is at hand – the fearless and highly-trained father/daughter crime-fighting duo, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), who take Kick-Ass under their cape wings and set up a showdown with local mafia druglord, badfella, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong).

Kick-Ass manages to play its over-the top-violence for laughs while at the same time orchestrating some finely choreographed fight scenes. As a result, the film never descends into mere parody and holds its head up proudly as a lovingly created homage. The writing is sharp and the performances are spot on. Nicolas Cage hams it up as Big Daddy (‘Easy! Easy!’ – sadly, not that one. Yet a Shirley Crabtree, Jr. superhero would certainly be a sight to behold), who, upon costuming-up, sports a side-splitting aural homage to Adam West’s staccato delivery in the 1960’s camp crusader, Batman TVseries. But it is Moretz’s Mindy who is the true hero of the piece. Moretz walks away with the film with her performance as the coolest superhero. Her Hit Girl is a fiery concoction of Bruce Lee, a Masyaf assassin and Uma Thurman’s The Bride.

The romantic subplot grates, but hey, every superhero needs a love interest (with the possible exception of Castratoman) and the film could have done with being a bit more compact. However, the high-octane visceral thrills and well observed writing ensures that the world is a better place with Kick-Ass in it.

Steven Galvin

Rated 15 (see IFCO for details)

Kick-Ass is released 26th March 2010

Kick Ass – Official Website

Share

Astro Boy

Astro Boy
DIR: David Bowers • WRI: Timothy Harris • PRO: Maryann Garger • DOP: Pepe Valencia • ED: Robert Anich Cole • DES: Phillip Barker • CAST: Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Bill Nighy, Freddie Highmore

Astro Boy was originally a Japanese comic from the 1950s and was developed into a cult animated TV series in the 1960s. Now, in 2009 it has been translated to the big screen as a computer-animated feature by David Bowers of Flushed Away (2006) fame. The opening of Astro Boy is narrated by Charlize Theron, who explains that in the future, the human population will depend on robots as a workforce and to serve them in their every need.

Toby Tenma (voiced by Freddie Highmore) is a thirteen-year-old boy, who does well in school. Toby is interested in his father’s work. His father, Dr. Tenma (voiced by Nicolas Cage), is the head of the Ministry of Science in the fictional town of Metro City. The devilish President Stone (voiced by Donald Sutherland) wants the ministry’s latest discovery of positive and negative energy to activate and control the ‘Peacekeeper’ military robot to get him re-elected as president. Toby dies in a freak accident at the ministry when the ‘Peacekeeper’ is being tested with negative energy.

Dr. Tenma is devastated and decides to revive Toby with positive energy and makes him a robot, with the same memories and feelings as Toby. Toby soon discovers his identity and that he has super powers. He goes to another city and encounters some new friends among them Cora (voiced by Kristen Bell). She and her friends take an interest in Toby who keeps the fact that he is a robot a secret. Toby also encounters the ‘Robot Revolutionary Front’, three old English robots who are against the treatment of robots by Hamegg (voiced by Nathan Lane) who just so happens to be the father figure of Toby’s new friends.

Donald Sutherland’s character has an extraordinary animated likeness to himself in appearance. President Stone’s scheming to retain the positive energy at any length becomes tiresome and through the action scenes the script runs out of steam because these characters are not interesting. Astro Boy has its moments of cheesy one-liners and loud special effects. But the journey that Astro Boy takes is dense and predictable. The blaring over-use of John Ottman’s music and the level of sentimentality wound the film severely. It becomes manipulative and forced. However, the ‘Robot Revolutionary Front’ will keep you amused with some decent one-liners.

Peter Larkin
(See biog here)

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
Astro Boy is released 5th Feb 2010

Astro Boy – Official Website

Share