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Belated thoughts on Nicolas Cage in ‘Community’ S5/E2 “Introduction to Teaching”

Community- Season 1

In the second episode of its fifth season, Community featured a sub-plot involving a great deal of Nicolas Cage. As a result, I feel obligated to write about it. My obligation is belated. I am aware Community S5/E2 “Introduction to Teaching” doesn’t count as a Nicolas Cage film. I’m doing this anyway. Apologies.

With the gang having re-enrolled back into Greendale Community College, several study group members enroll in a two-day film studies course on one, Sir Nicolas Cage. The course, led by Kevin Corrigan’s thoroughly plussed film Professor Professorson, aims to investigate a single premise: Is Nicolas Cage good or bad? Short of a warning against shotgunning Cage films in marathon-styled succession, a warning Abed will of course ignore, there’s little else involved in the class. ‘Watch five movies. Report back to me.’ With the exception of Abed, everyone else seems resigned to failure in their assignment; classifying a career as bonkers and bipolar as Cage’s within a good-or-bad dichotomy just seems cruel. He’s hypnotizing in Leaving Las Vegas and gloriously naked in Adaptation., but with hammy turns in Next and (of course) The Wicker Man, you’re not sure what to think. And it’s best to not dwell on the impossible.

Naturally, Abed treats the professor’s warning as a challenge. Unlocking the essence of Cage seems like a kind of pop cultural forbidden fruit, one whose rind Abed must pierce to taste the sweet, sweet Cage nectar from within. When Abed takes a taste, the consequences are disastrous. His presumably frenzied 24-hour Cage-a-thon finds Abed stringing together film titles, Cage-isms, acting jags, frantic fits, and explosive outbursts in a rat’s nest of movie trivia. (Think Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, just with way less math.) It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect in a Nic Cage highlight reel. Like this one.

Community’s acknowledgment of what’s long been obvious to most of Reddit and Uproxx is forgivable, but its ambitions toward that subject matter are less so. Complexities and contradictions are part of Cage’s appeal, but Community reduces any nuance to easy punchlines within its B-plot. Shirley likens Cage to one of Hellraiser‘s cenobytes, both good and evil. The unexpected reference impresses Abed, and it should impress us, but Dan Harmon’s better than this. He’s been better than this within the same episode. Classifying Johnny Depp as the “bad” kind of good actor is spot-on, yet for a show that can offer such an incisive look into pop culture, the episode’s Cage material is one-dimensional, settling for a middling “it’s both” argument over nuance.

Danny Pudi’s Cage impression is solid but as Jack Black would sing, it’s low-hanging fruit, especially for a celebrity Abed once refers to as “one of pop culture’s great mysteries.” It’s easy to reference Windtalkers. The difficulty lies in doing something with those references. (adds Windtalkers to Netflix queue)

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12 Ways of Christmas Vol. II — #8: ‘The Ref’

The Ref Denis Leary Christmas movie review Kevin Spacey Judy Davis dinner scene

Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?

With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.

Opposites attract. At least that’s what they say, isn’t it? Presumably at some point in the lives of Caroline (Judy Davis) and Lloyd Chasseur (Kevin Spacey), passionate discord begot hot and heavy romance. Caroline’s a frazzled, noncommittal creative type while Lloyd’s buckled down, black-and-white understanding of right and wrong trembles in the shadow of his controlling, penny pinching-mother (Glynis Johns). These days, Caroline and Lloyd can only bicker over money, failed restaurant businesses, affairs, and the rearing of their delinquent military cadet son (Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr.). Whether their marriage was always this divided is up for debate — a debate with no foreseeable end in sight.

Regardless of how “game” he is for the task (read: he’s not game), serial burglar Gus (Denis Leary) falls, quite literally, into the position of family referee. While finishing up his “one last score” at the suburban palace of the Chasseur’s neighbor, Gus lands himself into a booby trap of Merrie Melodies proportions, getting sprayed with cat urine and falling down a secret chute next to an ornery rottweiler. However Gus manages to escape, he besets a visibly distraught Caroline in a local convenience store, fresh from a draining therapy session with Lloyd and Dr. Wong (B.D. Wong), coaxing the couple at gunpoint to their home, where he ties them up and waits for his getaway driver to snatch an unoccupied boat.

Often typecast as the wry asshole, Leary’s persona is tailor made for Gus’ no-nonsense vigilante. (he towers over the likes of Spacey and Davis in the film’s poster.) Stuck between a bickering couple, and later a full-on Chasseur family Christmas dinner, he soon learns he may have bitten off more than he can chew, and while threats and waving his big gun around work well enough for a while, Gus eventually names himself as the evening’s de facto therapist. Unable to leave this domestic chaos until police finish their sweep of the neighborhood, Gus poses as Caroline and Lloyd’s therapist as Mama Chasseur and Caroline’s in-laws arrive for the evening. Predictably, Lloyd’s prodding mother soon tires of ribbing Caroline’s aggressively authentic candlelit feast and Gus is forced to improvise in his new role. His cocksure dismissal of both marital strife and psychiatric disorders write large raises more than a few eyebrows, but the candid attitude is enough to spark the family into voicing long held grievances. The holiday juxtaposition is further enhanced by the amber hues of cinematographer Adam Kimmel, as the warm glow of ambient mood lighting and a roaring fire come to run sour and yellow under the catharsis of group “therapy.”

As Caroline’s “lucia wreath” headgear demonstrates, the holidays can bear down on us like a gaudy, flaming burden. The Ref enjoys upending rosy Rockwellian portraits of the holidays, and its setup promises interesting directions for its two leads; it also helps to place the frayed ends of an unraveling marriage in the hands of Spacey and Davis, the latter of whom is particularly excellent as a walking, empathetic disaster. but what’s gained from a few more shouting matches and an airing of dirty family laundry on Christmas Eve? With Gus in control, it’s easy to root for Leary’s ironic voice of reason, but barring his formulaic lesson of “right and wrong,” Gus’ lack of emotional baggage turns him into the least interesting eccentric of the bunch. It’s a shame too, given how easily the Chasseurs come to sympathize with their captor, biding time and mapping out a credible escape route to the New Jersey docks. Back at the trashed Chasseur home, Caroline and Lloyd toast glasses, apparently satisfied the latest direction their marriage has taken. Were it not for the visible shocks and squeals but an hour ago, one might think these ugly slugfests were a part of an annual Christmas tradition.

Way #1: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Way #3: Jack Frost (1997)

Way #4: Jack Frost (1998)

Way #5: Jingle All the Way

Way #6: Santa’s Slay

Way #7: Scrooged

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12 Ways of Christmas Vol. II — #1: ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians review Rifftrax MST3K

Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?

With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.

Short of a plate of chocolate chip cookies, the notion of Santa Claus “conquering” anything stretches the imagination, so duking it out with denizens of Mars sounds plain absurd. Nicholas Webster’s Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is as much a woefully misguided mashup of family holiday fun and science fiction as its title implies, and to return to the image of Kris Kringle blowing away green spacemen, its haphazard conceit likely accounts for much of its cult status. Because really, why martians?

Perhaps a better question is why Santa? The children of Mars have become enamored with Old Saint Nick after absorbing hours of television — yes, American television. On Mars — and its in-depth coverage of goings on at the North Pole. Consulting his village’s 800-some odd year prophet, concerned father and village leader Kimar (“King Martian”) endeavors to capture Santa and return him to Mars where the Martian council can presumably set him up with some sweet kickstarter money to get to cracking on toys for Martian children.

The shortsightedness of Kimar’s Martian brigade is arguably where the “lesson” here would lie were it not for the film inadvertently preserving much of the previous decade’s insularity. An “us vs. them” mentality is a vestigial tail borne out of Cold War politics, whether it’s “us” as in Earth against the brute force of Voldar’s mustachioed emerald adonis or the “U.S.” opposed to those Soviet cats out east, an inconsequentially small region of Earth whose sole existence is to fact check to whom those strange UFOs belong — if you believe everything you see on TV, that is.

The American media certainly seems to buy their own product, as a news reporter pre-empts our introduction to Santa with a ludicrous check-in at his workshop. John Call’s rendition of Claus resembles a schlubby Bert Lahr type, an aloof man-pixie who ambles about scenes with a lackadaisical whimsy — and possibly a heavy buzz going. Were he not the closest cut to a protagonist, such lightness might work. As it stands, Santa makes for a piss poor anchor. In one moment, he enters a room and, apropos of nothing, immediately induces a laughing jag in the children, earthling and martian alike. What shred of stakes remain in such a feeble plot line are singed by Santa’s arbitrary presence, hooting and hollering without a care or clue in the galaxy. It’s as if Jack Nicholson’s Joker wandered into the wrong makeup trailer (and decade) and proceeded with his same shtick anyway. “Oh me, oh my, oh me!” smashes mirror on table “Ho ho, we meet again, eh?” murder by hand buzzer.

From its opening jaunt of a children’s choir sing-yelling “Hooray for Santy Claus!” the production quality is an immediate red flare that explains why the crew of MST3K would have any interest in recording a scathing commentary. Costumes appear to be the spray-painted contents of a PA’s toolshed, its fist fights are feigned beyond belief, and a certain polar bear “suit” imbues Star Trek’s Gorn with the special effects sophistication of Gollum by comparison. But alas, a list of Santa Conquers the Martian’s failings would far exceed beating a dead reindeer. What’s any of this got to do with Christmas?

Propelled by “golden age” TV mechanisms in its dissolves and punchy sitcom-styled stingers on the end of sequences, Nicholas Webster pulls from early serial storytelling techniques to fashion an inept chunk of holiday pop culture that unknowingly anticipates the deluge of televised Christmas specials to follow. That the traitorous Voldar’s plot is ultimately foiled by a children’s barrage of manufactured toys is oddly indulgent of the glimpses of B-roll military-industrial footage we glimpse of rockets blasting into space. And of course, Santa’s stump speech on the follies of industrialization fly in the face of the idea that a toy train set, whether handcrafted or machine-generated, hurts all the same when chucked at your head.

Perhaps the children of Mars’ baffling awareness to secular commercialism speaks volumes about the ubiquity of the Christmas profit engine. Oh, who am I kidding, right?

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“Destroy Malevolence” – S1/E4

Destroy Malevolence

The whole gang’s back together! Thank God. I was beginning to think Revenge of the Sith was just a dream and Padme actually died in the arena battle.

With the Malevolence in hasty retreat from Republic forces, Grievous goes to one last gambit by capturing “Senator” Padme Amidala, whom Count Dooku reveals is en route — What exactly is Padme doing here? No idea. It’s hastily explained away through Palpatine’s machinations, something Clone Wars has taken plenty advantage of already. Grievous secures Padme, with C-3PO in tow, and uses them as a bargaining chip against the sympathies of Obi-Wan and Anakin. Skywalker, not one to trust Padme’s safety with the incompetent Separatist leader, sneaks aboard the crippled Malevolence with Kenobi and R2-D2. They hope to rescue Padme and goldenrod as well as finish off the remains of the ship — with any luck while Grievous is still on board.

Sure, Padme’s presence here is a cheap but satisfying way of bringing the three together for the series’ first time, but it doesn’t make a great deal of sense in terms of storytelling. Again, I’m not sure why Padme is going where she’s going in the first place, apart from giving her a reason to be in “Destroy Malevolence.” Through its first four episodes The Clone Wars has already milked plenty out of “It was Palpatine,” and in some fashion this consistency with Episodes I and II is nice. But jeez, if the Rebel Alliance were this clueless, there would be no Empire Strikes Back after the “Great Galactic Bitch Slap of Yavin IV.” Padme’s presence does allow for some okay albeit broad character moments. Anakin and Obi-Wan show the chummier side of their relationship, and Anakin shares a nice beat with Padme about trust and love and cool Force powers — you know, stuff of romance.

Clone Wars continues to either hit or miss in its choice of callbacks. In the case of C-3PO’s tumble through yet another obstacle course, it’s a brutal miss. Attack of the Clones’ factory sequence was lamentable for taking too many liberties with the humor the droids lent to the Star Wars universe, exaggerating it to embarrassing lengths of slapstick with C-3PO. This instance is far more merciful in its brevity, and thankfully Obi-Wan’s quick rescue of Threepio is followed by a short duel with General Grievous. I was under the (apparently naive) assumption the two would fight for the first and only time in Sith, but seeing Obi-Wan hurl Droidekas like bowling balls was cool enough to make me forget about canon. Hey Qui-Gon, where was that move in Episode I?

Its exact demise may have been uncertain, but the Malevolence probably wasn’t making it out of the series in one piece, so this episode was more of an inevitability than anything else. Thankfully, it lands on its feet with the decision to send Grievous packing. Anakin re-programming the warship’s navicomputer to crash into a nearby moon was a nice touch; Grievous’ cutting off communications with Dooku mid-transmission was even better. His shame at a resume of successive failures finally provides some self-awareness on the series’ end. I faulted previous episodes’ shortsighted characterization of Count Dooku. Too often the Separatist leader forgot that his droid general was just as likely to fail in the worst possible way as he was to succeed. It remains unclear if Grievous engaged the hyperdrive only to run back to Dooku anyway, but where their dynamic goes from here is something I look forward to. For now, let’s appreciate that The Clone Wars is finally developing its character moments and shifting at least one important relationship, as opposed to merely creating and then destroying surface level MacGuffins.

Stray Observations:

  • The Federation’s “firefighter” droids are a new benchmark of stupid. Why they would resemble anything like a fire department’s uniforms is beyond me, though I suppose an idea as dumb as that requires a real-world proxy.
  • Little from Ahsoka Tano means little complaining on this end.
  • Really thought the writers would try a “Padme as rough and tumble Leia” angle here. Alas, she self-destructs her cruiser in an attempt to take out Grievous and then reactivates Mousy Helpless Mode. Padme’s cogency as a galactic politician was always criminally underused in the Prequels. One can still dream, I guess.
  • Anakin goes to sabotage the Malevolence’s computer while Padme… cleans the droids. Star Wars at its most regressive!
  • Anakin adds insult to injury: “How’s the housecleaning going? Make me a Corellian club sandwich when you’re done too, toots”*

*Only half of this dialogue has been altered

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I hope these 1D movies are just a fad: ‘Gangster Squad,’ reviewed

Ugh.

Just ugh.

Click on through so we can discuss the weird non-nuances of Ryan Gosling’s whiny East Brooklyn robot voice thing together:

gangster-squad-ryan-gosling-josh-brolin-explosion-trailer.jpg

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What do you mean “two more movies?”: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,’ reviewed

It’s easy to rip bad movies when you aren’t emotionally invested in their success. It’s a lot harder when you love the source material, and to a lesser extent, the creative minds involved.

I really went into An Unexpected Journey with as little cynicism as possible. Despite my reservations toward production choices or the whole trilogy nonsense, I had faith Peter Jackson and his team of magical movie wizards could once again pull it off. Weirdly enough, tighter source material has led to a stretching of its filmic counterpart. An Unexpected Journey shows flashes of the old trilogy’s “lightning in a bottle” brand of movie magic, but it never lasts.

Just a short stumble? Let’s hope so. Click on through so we can feign naivete until ‘Elevensies’ together:

Hobbit Bilbo Baggins fireplace Gandalf promise i will come back

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12 Ways of Christmas: #1 ‘Christmas Carol: The Movie’

christmas carol ghost present michael gambon the movie

Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. 

Why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when is giving in to peer pressure a bad thing? With little rhyme or reason, check in every day from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.

No, this is not the one with the Muppets. It’s not the George C. Scott version. Or Robert Zemeckis’ weird vision with CGI Jim Carreys. It’s not the black and white version either. It’s THE MOVIE. Literally. 2001’s Christmas Carol: The Movie. Yeesh. That title has absolutely no ring to it. If anything, it sucks all surrounding “ring” into its black hole of terribleness. One look at the cover and this already feels like a Brady Bunch TV movie.

If you’re expecting some profound answer as to why people keep retelling the same story, prepare for a letdown. That’s like asking why we have so many different Bruce Waynes and Snow Whites. They’re all things Hollywood can’t help but indulge, and retelling this Dickensian Classic gets filed under ‘Incessant Groin-Scratching.’

One thing’s for sure, Ebeneezer should not be this young. He’s still brown on top! Simon Callow’s booming pomp and lippy trills make for a big, aloof interpretation of the old codger, but I prefer my Scrooges bitter and soft spoken and Michael Caine. For crying out loud Scrooge should at least be older than Callow’s forlorn romantic. Director Jimmy Murakami chooses a younger Scrooge, likely to better gel with the scripts oh-so-forced obsession with Belle (Kate Winslet). (For those of you asking who?: Sad song lady from the Muppets.) This expanded relationship between Ebeneezer and Belle is something new The Movie brings to the dinner table, but it never flows with the iconic, better written moments. Real estate foibles aren’t particularly riveting and the third grade caliber of romantic tension Winslet and Callow are forced to spew is beyond rough.

Characters’ relationships with Scrooge are really what’s changed in Christmas Carol: The Movie. Scrooge is strangely fond of Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner. Oh, and what’s with the mice? Shoving in a pair of cutesy mouses for Scrooge to caress and coo is as shameless an attempt to lighten the material as it is disturbing to see a middle-aged man feed a rodent from his porridge bowl.  The obvious attempts to pass off Scrooge as a decent human being swing too far the other way; Ebeneezer should still be a dick.

Christmas Carol the movie future ghost scrooge

To make matters worse, The Movie’s animation style both looks and feels pedestrian. Movements are choppy and stand out against stale, washed out backgrounds. In a refreshing moment of ingenuity however, Murakami & Co. interpret The Ghost of Christmas Future (Yet to Come, whatever) in a novel way. Fleeting in his presence, he resembles a constantly shifting fingerpainting of the grim reaper, and everyone in Future Christmas glides around on this ethereal plane of existence. It’s a burst of macabre rejuvenation among a sea of cash-grabbing ne’er-do-wells.

To return to the land of milk and negativity, Nicolas Cage deserves a trip to movie jail for his “performance” as Jacob Marley. Surrounded by an all-British cast, the Cage clearly just hunched over and died during the recording sessions because he makes no attempt to sound remotely like them. Marley whispers in breathy parables with all the diction of HAL-9000. You’ve seen those trippy 5 Gum commercials? Cage is the voiceover dude.

In the end I’m left grasping at straws for balance. There’s such little value in this hasty, vacuous journey bereft of emotion and warmth. At the least, let us hope Murakami learned one thing: Pimping your new romantic storyline at the expense of the classic elements is so so very wrong. Ever play on a team where the coach’s kid was the favorite? Even though he’d trip over his own dick trying to shag balls in left? Whiff at every pitch? Spit sunflower seeds all over himself? This guy.

* * * * *

Want more Cage? You got it.

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