Nick Cage has one last chance to find the enemy who once held Cage captive and messed up his ear (Benir – sounds like “bent ear” – is played by Alexander Karim, actually a Swede). The first problem is that Benir is presumed dead (actually sick, in seclusion), and the second is that Cage has been diagnosed with rapidly-advancing dementia – so both men are dying of health issues aside from the revenge drama.

Cage gets help from his spy buddies Anton Yelchin (between Only Lovers Left Alive and Experimenter) and Irène Jacob (The Double Life of Véronique), and impersonates a doctor (Serban Celea of Retro Puppet Master) to gain access to his nemesis. But this is where the movie finally gets interesting. After the studio recut the movie and released it as Dying of the Light, Schrader recreated his preferred version using unconventional means, with Lynchian overlays, quivering closeups, reversed shots, and scenes rephotographed off a TV. Finally, after the typical spy-movie plot and dialogue, Cage and Benir’s confrontation breaks down into experimental sounds and colors, then cuts to Cage’s tombstone.

A failed recording artist turned minor cult leader ties up Nicolas Cage and kills his wife – bad move. Nic John Wicks the enemy, but with less professional skill and more sheer bloody rage. The cult calls in their supernatural enforcers, the Black Skulls biker gang, but Cage’s Rage is too strong to be stopped. The movie’s story seems like a thin excuse to unleash an intense Cage performance and psychotronic visual effects on the viewer, and this viewer ain’t complaining. Seems like I noticed references to Friday the 13th, Rob Zombie, Evil Dead, Hellraiser – there must be more.

Visually and performatively stylized melodrama, slangy and retro and dreamily lit, like a much better Grease, or a nonmusical West Side Story. Rusty James (Matt Dillon in his third S.E. Hinton movie in a row) mopes around with his tough friend Smokey (Nicolas Cage, his second year in the movies) and his nerdy David Cronenberg-looking friend Steve (Vincent Spano of City of Hope) and Nice Guy Eddie, speaking wistfully about Rusty’s long-missing older brother, local-legend gangster The Motorcycle Boy. Rusty James has a hot girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) who’s into him, but he cheats and disappears and flakes around. Rusty James is trying to keep alive the gang wars he barely remembers from his brother’s day, and just as he’s losing a fight, The Motorcycle Boy dramatically reappears. This is the earliest I’ve seen Mickey Rourke, four years before Angel Heart, doing his gentle/tough handsome-zen thing – everyone in town agrees he’s crazy, but we don’t see him acting crazy, except maybe when he liberates every animal in the pet store.

It’s clear from the tone of the thing that somebody is doomed – probably Rourke (and yup, sure enough). The cops aren’t happy to see him back, but a heroin-addict substitute teacher starts hanging around, and old rivalries start simmering. It’s kind of a hangout movie where not much happens, but it feels tense most of the time. Dillon’s character is kind of an idiot, and his idol brother’s return blows up his worldview that things were better in the tough old days. In the end Rourke has died, Cage has stolen the girl and said he’d take over the gang if there even was a gang, Rusty James rides his brother’s motorcycle to the ocean, and it sounds like Wall of Voodoo over the credits but I guess it was that guy from The Police.

I keep meaning to watch the four hours of extras on the Criterion disc, but haven’t found the time. The Outsiders was also a Coppola-shot S.E. Hinton-written gang movie made the same year, and I should have double-featured these. The cast in this film is impressive – the brothers’ shitty alcoholic dad is Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne is a gang go-between, Tom Waits a bartender. William Smith, who starred in the real David Cronenberg’s Fast Company, is the mustache cop who uses inappropriate force to kill Rourke after the pet store incident.

Rumble brothers with grudge cop:

Watched this again over a couple days… the Grindhouse version with trailers and interstitial stuff, not the extended director cuts released separately. I’m usually a nut for director’s cuts and extended versions, which is why I keep re-buying The New World and Michael Mann movies, but for some reason I’m satisfied with the theatrical edits here – maybe because the two “missing reels” are the best jokes in the movie.

Replacing my original writeup, which was pretty worthless. I didn’t know who most of these actors were at the time… going through ’em now with too many screenshots.

Machete:


Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez)

I really enjoyed this the first time around, but conventional wisdom from critics in the intervening decade has been “Death Proof is a masterpiece, too bad it’s attached to that garbage Planet Terror.” So this time I was expecting to be disappointed in Planet Terror, to admonish my stupid youthful self for ever having loved it, but nope, still awesome.

Introduces a bunch of great characters in the first half, then brings them together at BBQ joint The Bone Shack, which gets invaded by zombies and catches fire in the missing reel, followed by the all-action showdown finale.

Pole dancer Cherry (Rose McGowan) is reunited with her ex, legendary biker El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, “lopsidedly muscled” in Lady in the Water)… while scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews: Sense8, Lost) gets double-crossed by militia monster Bruce Willis

Scientist w/ wicked knife:

Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas) stops at JT’s Bone Shack, talks to proprietor Jeff Fahey:

Dr. Josh Brolin and his anesthesiologist wife Marley Shelton (Sin City, Pleasantville):

Sheriff Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese in The Terminator) and Deputy Tom Savini:

Drama: Cherry loses her leg in a car crash and gets a machine gun replacement. Brolin catches his wife cheating, sticks her hands full of numbing meds, then their young son shoots himself and her Southern gentleman dad (the late Michael Parks) joins up. Willis turns into a giant mutant and his colleague Tarantino gets severe eye trauma. Most everyone dies, the survivors retreat to Mexico.

Marley with messed-up hands:

Fahey and Cherry:

QT, staked:


Werewolf Women of the SS (Rob Zombie)

This was actually kinda overlong and uninteresting and I was forgetting why I thought it was so great, and then came those magic words, “and Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu” and suddenly I remembered.

Still love the voiceovers on Don’t (Will Arnett) and Thanksgiving (Eli Roth).


Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino)

Opens with a great replacement-title gag, then there’s some editing humor and surface noise, and another “missing reel” right when something sexy’s about to happen, but then QT chills out with the self-reflexive filmmaking gags as his movie gets darker.

Three girls are out for drinks in Austin: local DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier of last year’s Too Late and Netflix horror Clinical), Shanna (Jordan Ladd of Cabin Fever) and out-of-towner Butterfly (Vanessa Ferlito of Spider-Man 2). QT and Eli Roth are in the house, then their friend Lanna Frank (Monica Staggs, Daryl Hannah’s stunt double in Kill Bill) finally shows up and the girls take off. Meanwhile, Stuntman Mike has been stalking them, agrees to give a ride to drunken Pam (Rose McGowan again) at the bar, then kills everybody. I remembered Pam getting bounced around in his open passenger area with Mike in the protected driver’s seat, but forgot the rest – he rams the other girls’ car head-on, just destroying it, and the movie jumps back in time to show each death in detail. Except for this gruesome couple of minutes, it’s practically QT’s most wholesome movie, 80% talking and 20% car chases.

Up front: Shanna, Lanna, Jungle Julia, Butterfly:

Pam at left, with bartender QT and patrons:

Planet Terror characters cameoing in Death Proof’s hospital scene:

And about that car chase… next, a bunch more girls, and I can’t maintain much interest in the dialogue after he’s just Psycho’d his entire cast and expecting us to care about a whole new one, but here goes. This time they’re all in the film business: makeup artist Rosario Dawson, actress/model Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the girl with hair like this), and two stunt women, Kim (Tracie Thoms of Rent, Wonderfalls) and Zoë Bell (as herself, lately of The Hateful Eight). Lee is left with some redneck while the others test drive his Vanishing Point car. Kim drives while Zoë does poses on the hood, then suddenly Stuntman Mike starts running them off the road. Some of Zoë’s hood antics here are unbelievable, and the chase goes on nearly forever, then at a stop Kim shoots Mike, who drives off crying until they catch up and beat the shit out of him. Mike is one of my favorite QT creations, a super-tough, scar-faced pervert predator who becomes an absolute whiny little bitch when the tables are turned.

Habitual thief marries cop, they steal baby, then every other character in the movie (his boss, his prison buddies, the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse) try to steal him back.

Some similarities to the later Wild at Heart: Nic Cage, wide-open Western locations, amour fou, people exploding. Is it just me, or is there an Evil Dead reference in the low, traveling camera move when Mrs. Arizona discovers her missing son? And the movie has a similar ending (hazy dream of a child-filled future) to 25th Hour.

Haven’t seen Holly Hunter since The Incredibles (and haven’t seen her since O Brother). Her last movie before starring in this was Swing Shift. Tex Cobb (Police Academy 4) is the Lone Biker, a bounty hunter seemingly summoned by Cage’s nightmares. Sam McMurray (a cop in C.H.U.D.) is Cage’s boss who gets punched (and thus fires Cage) for suggesting a wife-swap, then schemes to steal the stolen tyke for wife Frances McDormand. John Goodman and William Forsythe (of the Steve Gutterberg version of The Man Who Wasn’t There) are brothers who break out of prison (then in the epilogue, back into prison) assuming Cage will join them on some heists. And Trey Wilson (a baddie in Twins who died soon after) is Nathan Arizona, father of the quints, who proves to be a decent fellow at the end.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010, Jon Turteltaub)
Our brash teen hero is driving around anxiously. But elsewhere – Alfred Molina/Nicholas Cage wizard battle! That’s what I came here for. The CGI flies as dark sorceress Monica Bellucci unleashes ancient evils. Cage inhales her face, Mummy Returns-style, but gets possessed by dark powers. Then our teen hero discovers the power was within him all along. From the director of the National Treasure series and the first 3 Ninjas.

Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002, Jay Roach)
Instead of the last ten minutes, I enjoyed the Tom Cruise / Gwynyth Paltrow / Kevin Spacey / Danny Devito / Steven Spielberg open and the Britney Spears / Quincy Jones credits sequence. If I hadn’t read the reviews when this came out, I’d gladly sit through the rest of this. While Myers has kept busy voicing cartoons lately, Roach made a Ben Stiller and a Steve Carell comedy, neither of which looks good.

Mercury Rising (1998, Harold Becker)
One of those generic-looking action thrillers from the late 90’s with a forgettable nonsense title. Alec Baldin is the government baddie, and after watching four seasons of 30 Rock I cannot deal with him in a straight role anymore. I thought Bruce Willis was doing pretty well in the 90’s – what would make him agree to something like this? The two stars are fighting on a greenscreen roof until Bruce saves the autistic kid who cracked some kinda government code according to the plot description, sending Alec to a gruesome death plummet. Becker also made other action thrillers with generic names like Sea of Love, Malice, City Hall and Domestic Disturbance.

Starship Troopers 3 (2008, Edward Neumeier)
Two women are praying, and a giant beastie made of dodgy CGI is arising from a volcano, until Casper Van Dien’s dodgy-CGI power suit comes and rescues them. Looks like the worst movie ever, and practically a cartoon with all the poorly-rendered graphics. Neumeier wrote the original Starship Troopers and Robocop, so he can’t be all bad, but he also wrote all their shameful sequels, so maybe he is.

The Funhouse (1981, Tobe Hooper)
Looks like our heroine (who played Mozart’s wife in Amadeus) has finally reached the breaking point into psychosis when presented with the dead body of her (husband? brother? best friend?) by a robot clown. After a long suspenseful chase sequence, a dude in a drooling latex mask catches up with her, but gets electrocuted and chewed up in some gears while she screams uselessly. Some heroine. A forgotten feature made by Tobe between Salem’s Lot and Poltergeist, from the writer of that gag 1990 Captain America movie.

Blood Creek (2009, Joel Schumacher)
The man once in charge of the Batman franchise is now making direct-to-video nazi zombie flicks? Apparently his career was destroyed not by his derided comic movies or his despicable follow-up 8mm, but by the 2004 Phantom of the Opera. Some people are running from the nazi, and some from the zombie, who has a wormie in his forehead just like Jeffrey Combs in From Beyond. Anyway, this looks no good, but at least the effects are better than the above three movies combined. From the “writer” of a whole bunch of remakes.

Stone (2010, John Curran)
Robert De Niro’s house is on fire! He rescues his wife, who gripes some religion at him. Flash forward, Rob is retiring, and is an asshole. Then he finds, and does not kill Ed Norton, who steps back into the shadows. Some stuff about redemption and god’s will, oh and here’s Milla Jehovavich finally, in a bar. The sound mixer thinks he’s all that. Was a time I wouldn’t have missed a De Niro/Norton movie, but that time was about a year before The Score came out. From director of The Painted Veil and writer of Junebug – weird combination.

War of the Worlds (2005, David Latt)
Another one of those quickie direct-to-video titles designed to confuse Blockbuster patrons looking for the Tom Cruise version. C. Thomas Howell plays substitute Tom Cruise here (he’s also sub-Jennifer Connelly in The Day The Earth Stopped and sub-Will Ferrell in The Land That Time Forgot). Some guy informs us D.C. is gone (budget filmmaker’s motto: tell, don’t show) and the rebellion is hiding out in the Blue Ridge mountains, and oh here’s Jake Busey as an authoritarian dick army man, cool. But Howell makes it to D.C., gazes at some CG backgrounds, crosses a bridge that crumbled in a totally believable way (destroyed but for a convenient walking path down the center), chats with a dying alien tripod (err, 4 or 5-pod) and is reunited with his family in the last minute. Just like the Spielberg version, except not any good. From the writer of The Da Vinci Treasure, AVH: Alien vs. Hunter and Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls.

Nicolas Cage’s first good part since Lord of War and Val Kilmer’s first good movie since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Cage hurts his back rescuing a prisoner, starts taking lots and lots of drugs and racks up gambling debts. He robs kids outside clubs, gets a violent dude mad at Cage’s hooker girlfriend and loses a key witness. Surely he is a bad lieutenant, but he has a few principles, and Cage’s charismatic intensity keeps us on his side even as he’s waving guns at grammas (lovable Irma P. Hall of the Coens’ Ladykillers). Ultimately he takes down a drug baddie (Exhibit, fifth-billed in the second X-Files movie), saves his girl (Cage’s Ghost Rider costar Eva Mendes) and pays off his bookie (Awwww Brad Dourif is getting old. Life is too short).

Nic, Brad and red beans:
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The story (from a lead writer on Cop Rock) isn’t great, and the idea (remaking Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant) is awful, but Herzog pulls it off with flair. The occasional weirdness (extreme closeups of reptiles, including an iguana music video – what is it about drug movies and visions of reptiles? See also Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas), the sense that Cage is having too much fun to take anything seriously, and a lovely tacked-on ending where Cage meets the ex-con he saved and they get philosophical at an aquarium rescue this doomed movie and turn it into something I’d actually recommend. Can’t wait to see Werner’s other 2009 movie (star Michael Shannon, the contagiously crazy dude in Bug, shows up here as a police property guy).

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Cage pulls up at a building I think I saw in Wild At Heart. Maybe lots of buildings in New Orleans look like that. Jennifer Coolidge (Pootie Tang), Fairuza Balk and other names I know or faces I’ve seen pop up regularly. Surprising that so many actors wanted to be associated with a cheapie indie remake of a cult film, but I guess you can’t discount the Herzog factor.

Salon:

Your ending really defies expectations. I’m not quite sure what to think about it, in fact. We expect one of two possible endings — the bad lieutenant triumphs, or he is punished for his misdeeds. And you really don’t give us either one.

Herzog:

In my opinion, it’s a very beautiful and very mysterious ending. You see, according to the screenplay, it ended with a false happy ending that became a real abyss of darkness. And I thought, no, we should not dismiss the audience like that, out into the street. There should be something vague, something poetic, something mysterious.

If we are to become mighty auteurist film scholars, there are worse hazards than having to declare Public Enemies the greatest film of the year when it’s clearly not; we must also face up to people who question our devotion to the less acclaimed directors working in commercial cinema – specifically, girlfriends who frown incredulously, asking “Snake Eyes? The Nicolas Cage movie? I thought you hated him” and co-workers who say, mockingly, “De Palma isn’t even an auteur… he sucks!”

True, Cage is known for being goofy/awful, but I’ve got a soft spot for his early goofy/awesome roles in Raising Arizona and Wild At Heart (and even Bringing Out The Dead), and I still fancy a good Cage cameo in Grindhouse or his less-crazy role in Lord of War. De Palma seems to have been too concerned with his own gigantor-budgeted bag of tricks to worry about Nic’s wild, yelling performance in the opening scenes. After that, he and best friend/worst enemy Gary Sinise calm down to the standard cop-investigation double-cross game.

The quickly-forgotten Round 7 Girl who’s hot for Cage and his pretend hollywood connections, with the assassin above her to the right.
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Back to Brian’s bag of tricks: we’ve got cameras through walls and ceilings, split-screen, playback, point-of-view, and long, long shots (the opening sequence, awesomely filmed as it is, has plenty of hidden cuts). It’s bravo filmmaking, but the story dies so hard at the end it seems like Brian has just been giving a turd unprecedented amounts of polish. Everyone online seems to know that a massive sfx tidal-wave-flooding-the-casino ending was cut and replaced by the WTF ending of Sinise shooting open the door where informant Carla Gugino (mom in the Spy Kids series, also in Watchmen) is hiding just as the storm rips the outer wall off the building so an arriving police car can catch him, but why? The current ending (and unnecessary epilogue where Gugino catches up with Cage months later) sucks so hard that throwing a giant tidal wave at the movie could only have improved it. No deleted scenes on the disc, so those of us who don’t buy copies of scripts on L.A. street corners will never know what ending was deemed even worse.

Even if Femme Fatale outdid this one in audacity of plot, this has got plenty to recommend it from a purely De Palma geek-out standpoint.

De Palma takes the split-screen next-level, showing simultaneous actions at one moment, and present-tense Cage split with his recreation of past events at the next:
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Ends with a cheesy theme song – what is this, a Bond movie? Batman? Nobody does that anymore.

Nic Cage goes to jail. Twice.

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Harry Dean is a lovestruck sucker, gets killed by three characters who are far more prominent in the deleted scenes: Quiet Dropshadow (Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks), talky, over-friendly Reggie (black islander Calvin Lockhart, who played “Biggie Smalls” in Sidney Poitier film Let’s Do It Again, which I must see sometime), and creeeepy cane-walkin’ woman Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie, even creepier in Inland Empire, also Laura Palmer’s mom). Álex de la Iglesia made some sort of a sequel featuring these three characters called Perdita Durango or Dance With The Devil. I guess it’s not really a sequel, but both films are based on novels by Barry Gifford, who also cowrote Lost Highway and Hotel Room.

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Lynch has plenty of contenders for Creepiest Character In Film History – there’s Robert Blake in Lost Highway, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet… my personal pick is Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart.

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Crispin Glover also gets a bigger part in the outtakes, including the scene below where he’s almost discovered by our heroes working at a gas station. I can’t remember if the revelation that he impregnated cousin Laura Dern when they were younger was in the movie or not… I’m thinking it’s from the outtakes too.

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“How many stars you think are up there, baby?”
“There’s a couple.”