I know, I know. I came up short last week. Things got a bit hectic with the new job; these animals ain’t gonna masturbate themselves. To make up for it, I’m doing back-to-back posts today and tomorrow. Excitement!
That brings me to Face/Off, the movie with an unnecessary slash in its title. Whether it’s this or Se7en, the mid-90s were probably when all this shoving things into names fad started. No originality these days, I tell ya. Looking at you, Scre4m.
When serial terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) accidentally kills the son of Special Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta), Archer vows for revenge. Years later, he gets that chance after tracking down Troy’s latest bomb plot to level Los Angeles. Although Troy is gravely injured in the ensuing firefight, this film is more complex than other 90s action flicks like Bad Boys, where everything is simply tied up with explosions and Martin Lawrence quips. Troy’s incarcerated brother and partner in crime, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), refuses to reveal when his comatosed brother’s bomb will go off, so Archer agrees to undergo experimental surgery take his face off (!) and replace it with Troy’s to discover the brothers’ plans before the explosion reduces LA to an even bigger geographic butthole. Whew. While Archer-now-as-Troy works his magic on Pollux, Troy wakes up and surgically assumes the mantle of Troy-now-as Archer, invading the professional and private life of his newly imprisoned nemesis. Naturally.
My fun-loathing self would have a lot to nitpick here, but even I can’t be a Scrooge about this ridiculous premise when Face/Off so clearly doesn’t take itself seriously. The concept alone — the notion that one can assume another person’s physical features, right down to bone structure — would be asinine if the screenwriters weren’t having so much fun with it. And let’s not forget about the director, John Woo. I enjoy his legendary Hong Kong action piece, Hard-Boiled, and I definitely understand why he is involved with this project. The film is admirable in taking a crazy premise and showing how society’s stark lines become obfuscated because of it. It’s a trope that’s been played out time and time again, yet so rarely to its fullest, bat-shit crazy extent.
Speaking of bat-shit crazy, let’s not forget John Travolta aaand Nicolas Cage are in this thing, and fifteen years later, the parallels between their careers and acting choices aren’t a whole lot different. Name Travolta’s last good role? Either way, saying it’s a complete riot watching both actors ape themselves would be a huge understatement. Take Archer-as-Troy’s first foray into prison life as a testament to that:
I misspoke, that’s actually Nic Cage playing John Travolta playing Nic Cage. Despite Cage accepting this role only because the majority of his screentime was as the protagonist, we get some solid scenery-chewing here. There are a slew of over-the-top cackles and a sequence where he orders an undercover fed to suck his tongue. Without a doubt though, Castor Troy’s grand exit from LAX as a dancing, ass-grabbing preacher who spins and conducts his way through the opening credits takes the proverbial cake:
When you know enough to refer to Handel’s “Messiah” by its actual title, you can grab as many rear ends as you want. I almost wonder if Cage would have been better off playing Sean Archer first. He’s so magnetic as a villain. I think that’s a good thing…
I will say Face/Off offers a fantastic solution to any parents with the unfortunate circumstance of grieving for a deceased child.
MILD/SPOILERS: It’s eventually revealed that Castor Troy shares a bastard son with ex-girlfriend Gina Gershon. Archer-as-Troy warms up to the child and in the film’s final minutes, we get a surgically reconstructed Travolta/Face along with quite a demented ending. For Archer isn’t coming home alone. He’s brought newly orphaned Adam with him, as in the child of the man he ran down and murdered in a speed boat. The offbeat reactions Joan Allen and their daughter give are priceless, though I’m of the opinion that had they scripted more of this out, it would’ve been even better:
‘Dead son? What dead son? Why my son is standing right here!’ *pats head*
For tomorrow we’ll be getting dangerous. Bangkok Dangerous.
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Want more Cage? You got it.
Before we begin, credit goes to the girlfriend who stumbled across this gem earlier this week:
Writer Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) — an unfortunate mixture of self-loathing and hesitation — struggles to adapt The Orchid Thief into his next screenplay and hopes to cure his writer’s block with a meandering, voyeurisitc investigation of the book’s author, Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). With the help of his twin brother Donald (Nicolas Cage!), Charlie discovers Orlean has become romantically involved her book’s subject matter, the toothless, often delusional orchid hunter John LaRoche (Chris Cooper). Frustration escalates, lives are changed, and everything somehow fits in to the greater arc of the planet’s larger eco-history. It’s very Terrence Malick.
I’ve always found Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays — that’s the real person, mind you — to be overwhelmingly rich and dauntingly dense. Part of that stems from his obsession with the “meta” realm of cinema; watch his directorial debut, Synecdoche, NY if you want to see what I mean. But Kaufman’s screenplays also boil over with dialogue, for there are moments in Adaptation that play out like an unfiltered Adderrall binge at a Friday night pub. The incessant jawing is unrestrained but still directed, like a lawn mower you can steer but never hope to shut off. And it all feels appropriate, because Charlie — at least the filmic iteration of Charlie — has a cluttered mind.
Cage’s double portrayal of Charlie and Donald plays out like a facsimile of Tweedles Dee and Dum, albeit one that’s often more pathetic than comical. Take the following scene where Charlie experiences a flourish of inspiration only to have his spirits dashed when a giddy Donald arrives home from a screenwriting seminar:
“My genre’s thriller, what’s yours?” It’s easy to take jabs at something like Season of the Witch, but Adaptation is a different kind of beast. In part, it’s a story about injecting falsity into truth, since many of these characters are versions of real people. If, to quote Streep’s Susan Orlean, “change is a choice,” Kaufman seems to be acknowledging that fictionalizing very non-fictional subject matter is a part of the screenwriting process he chose to make. After all, what kind of a writer inserts himself into his own screenplay? Probably the same kind who puts his own transgressions on trial via Florida swamp chase.
In adding to our digital cult of personality, iMDb claims that Cage resisted everything he knew about acting in portraying Charlie and Donald Kaufman. And he earned an Academy Award nomination for it.
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Want more Cage? You got it.
Last time, I treated myself to the Brothers Coen and their deranged comedy, Raising Arizona
. This week, I wasn’t so lucky. Two renegade crusaders, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), are reluctantly thrust back into serving the church when an ailing Cardinal (Christopher Lee) appoints them to escort a suspected witch (Claire Foy) to her trial. If found guilty, her death may bring the end of a mysterious sweeping plague as well as the swift and painless end to a terrible movie.
It stands as a true cinematic testament that the individuals behind Season of the Witch manage to fuck up a simple premise so completely. Our introduction to Behmen and Felson spans the course of twelve years, as we not only see the duo strike down God’s enemies in a blaze of shoddy CGI and repetitive staging, but we also apparently learn that both characters are apparently ageless. For the duration of this time the makeup department doesn’t so much as bother to add a few wrinkles to Cage’s complexion or touch up Perlman’s grizzled facial hair into older, grizzled facial hair. All this on the heels of a movie about killing fucking witches, though. So touché I suppose.
Taking bets on whether or not that’s a wig
What I enjoy most about Season of the Witch is Cage’s unabashed nonchalance for the material. Every actor apes his or her best vague Anglican accent except our two knights. Ignoring the fact that nearly every period piece bafflingly equates “old” with “British,” you mean to tell me nobody else in this film suspects something might be up with the two dudes speaking with straight American accents? Ron Perlman sounds he ventured to Syria BY WAY OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE. Ay, Yankees ahh playin’ like shit fuggedaboutit! Is there a more egregious version of “phoning it in?” You can probably make a lame E.T. reference somewhere here.
Maybe the beaks were used as a bacterial deterrent so that —
You know what? Not even worth it.
If you’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing Blast From The Past, wherein a baby boomer Brendan Fraser is thrust into the hilarious antics of the mid-90’s, time travel back to the middle of the Black Plague and that’s how serviceable Nic Cage is here. His performance, if we can stretch that term to its absolute limit and apply it to Season of the Witch, exists only in the loosest sense. The character of Behmen amounts to donning nondescript medieval costumes and then making absolutely no attempt to convince the audience that this film isn’t actually just Da Demon n’ Nic Cage.
Just look at that thing. Somebody should’ve been fired for that helmet. And it might have been Nic Cage.
Next week: Adaptation!
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Want more Cage? You got it.