Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

Review: ‘Arsenal’

dfn_arsenal_300Steven C. Miller’s Arsenal begins as a straightforward film dealing with the concrete-thick bond between brothers and ends up as one of the more unintentionally funny films I’ve seen in a long time.

The fact this happens right as Nicolas Cage’s performance as Mississippi bayou low-life mobster Eddie King begins to take hold of the film should come as no surprise. Seemingly impertinent to criticism and embracing his now decade-long choices of unwieldy, half crazed and buoyantly energetic on-screen personas, this one is very close to his best (or worst, depending on how one looks at it).

But, before going there, Arsenal assembles a loose plot of revenge, kidnapping, extortion and bloody beatings that sees innocent and successful businessman J.P. (Adrian Grenier) become absorbed in helping his deadbeat older brother, Mikey (Johnathon Schaech). shake off his extraneous criminal ties. Basically, it’s filler for the in-between times Cage is not on screen.

The brothers’ disparate paths in life are established from the outset in a brief prologue as young Mikey and J.P. are forced to fend for themselves after their uncle commits suicide. That Mikey gravitates towards the protection and menial jobs of mobster King (Nicolas Cage) after witnessing him commit murder, while the wide-eyed J.P. takes over his older brother’s lawn mowing business and eventually turns it into a money-making construction business 23 years later is just one of the simple ideas Arsenal blithely cruises over in quick succession.

Their diametric lifestyles are shown further as grown men. While J.P. enjoys the labors of his business with a happy home, loving wife and new baby, Mikey can’t make his child support payments to his ex-wife (Heather Johanson), even as his teen daughter (Abbie Gayle) becomes mixed up with the wrong crowd. The only happy times the brothers seem to share are watching minor league baseball games… which of course end up with Mikey punching out a heckler behind him.

Mikey digs himself into a hole even further when he uses money borrowed from J.P. to buy and resell cocaine, which he promptly has stolen from him. On the edge of alcoholism and desperation, Mikey runs into old boss and former mentor King at a bar one night and the mechanisms of a larger crime scheme comes into focus. What Mikey didn’t count on, though, is the extent his younger brother would be involved. The growth of Adrian Grenier as a shotgun-toting Superman is now upon us.

It’s hard to fault Arsenal for not being a complex examination of brotherhood. Or even good art. Obviously, based on director Miller’s previous forays into action cinema like Marauders (2016) and Extraction (2015), his inspirations and purpose lay in the direct to video ‘badness’ of Steven Seagal and filmmaker Albert Pyun (look up this guy’s stuff for some fun).

The added layer of Nicolas Cage, made up in fake nose, dark sunglasses and an accent that oscillates between creole and Northeastern, further exacerbates the film’s obvious ploy for z-grade attraction. And did I mention John Cusack plays an undercover cop who guides J.P. along in the hunt for his brother? Perhaps that’s where the film’s alternate title of “Philly Fury” comes into play?

Still, one can hope for some sort of originality or inventiveness. Instead, Arsenal frames its relentless beatings doled out by Nicolas Cage against slow-motion effects and a melancholic hymnal of sorts. Allusions to The Matrix and its slow-mo-bullet scenes are displayed for the climactic shoot-out. And gestures of simple bonding between people are experienced in over-the-top shouting matches at July 4th dinners and the mantra that all this has to happen because “he’s my brother.”

Perhaps the best way to view Arsenal is through the lens of guilty pleasure. Or just chalk it up to the doldrums of the January dumping-ground release season. Either way, I suspect the film will find the right audience.

Arsenal opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, January 6 at the AMC Mesquite 30 and will be available on VOD platforms the same day.

Review: ‘The Runner’

'The Runner'
‘The Runner’
In director Austin Stark’s The Runner, Colin Price (Nicolas Cage) embodies that central ideal both literally and figuratively. Not only does he enjoy jogging as a sport, but his fierce, no-nonsense approach towards the disastrous British Petroleum oil spill off the Louisiana coast in 2010 builds political clout with his constituents and propels him for higher office.

But, absolute purity within a politician is inherently impossible, and Price manages to destroy both the professional and the personal via some risible choices, negating both sides of his runner personality. Sadly, besides that somewhat creative play on words, The Runner boasts little imagination or narrative force. It doesn’t help matters that Cage seems completely lifeless, unable to breathe any energy into an already static script of public humiliation and ultimate redemption.

Well liked and born from good stock of a Louisiana political family (with Peter Fonda appearing in a few scenes as his brash, stubborn alcoholic father), we first meet Price as his strong words and actions bring universal support for his coastal hometown in the aftermath of the oil spill. Pegged for the governor’s race and sharply supported by wife Deborah (Connie Nielsen), it’s not long before the entire thing comes crashing down upon him when his affair with a local cheerleader coach (Dana Gourrier) surfaces and his political career is destroyed.

After bouts of self-pity, alcoholism and the common ‘ism’ known affectionately as ‘rock bottomism’ Price tries to pull himself back together, reconnecting with old friend Kate (Sarah Paulson) and searching for the roots that won him popularity in the not too distant past.

Any time a film places itself in the political world with a righteous-minded individual at the helm, I think back to Michael Ritchie’s 1972 masterpiece The Candidate and how wonderfully it elicited all the right emotions, intellect and political hubris. This is unfair, I know. Different era, different liberal agenda and certainly a different framework of Hollywood product, but it’s inevitable that my mind goes there in comparison. Nicolas Cage’s Colin Price is basically a good soul like Robert Redford’s Bill McKay, trying to make subtle changes in a maelstrom of bureaucratic nonchalance and backhanded lobbying. It’s never overtly stated, but the shadowy reasons of the law firm henchman (Bryan Batt) and his wife who urge Price to run have more than his good intentions at heart. Certainly, Price’s extramarital affair is bad, but writer-director Stark lobbies for the idea that political skulduggery is a worse sin.

Yet, having said all that in halcyon fondness for similar films, The Runner never approaches any of that grandeur or takes any chances, aspiring to be nothing more than a mid-level character study with Nicolas Cage as its main draw that feels like it were made for television.

Likewise, the coastal community of Louisiana where the film is set- so vital, mysterious and enchanting on screen- is barely exploited besides a few rambling shots in the French Quarter and a backyard craw-fish fry that could have been filmed in Southern California.

There’s a good film embedded somewhere in The Runner, perhaps in the relationship between Cage and Fonda who share several good scenes together as son scarred by a domineering father. These scenes resonate and Cage comes to life a bit, but they’re too few and far between. If anything, his reactions to his father cement Price as a flawed individual, trying to live up to a non-existent ideal held by others. With that knowledge, it’s more than likely he’d end up staring at the walls like Redford’s McKay asking “what now?” if and when he actually did reclaim the throne.

The films opens on Friday, August 7 at AMC Grapevine Mills 30.

‘Season of the Witch’: Alas, Poor Knight

Season of the Witch
Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman ponder their future. (Relativity Media)

Having seen ‘Season of the Witch,’ starring Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, and Claire Foy (as the titular witch), all I can say is: “Ouch!”

Actually, I had a few more things to say, which I wrote in my review for Twitch Film, beginning thusly:

“Some movies are ‘so bad they’re good’ — and then there are the lumbering, ungainly monstrosities that are the films of Dominic Sena. Like a near-sighted brontosaurus whose legs have been broken, SEASON OF THE WITCH joins GONE IN 60 SECONDS and SWORDFISH and WHITEOUT as standard bearers for a certain kind of action picture — the kind of low-grade mediocrity that consistently falls short of even the lowest of expectations.”

Assorted rambling mutterings ensue at Twitch.

If you’re still inclined to check it out, either because you like to make up your own mind, or don’t trust me, or have cash you don’t need, or a girlfriend / boyfriend (or parental unit) who loooooooves Nicolas Cage, it’s playing at every theater in town. Or, at least, practically every multiplex in the Metroplex.

Via Google: Theaters and Showtimes for ‘Season of the Witch.’

Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Nicolas Cage and Jay Baruchel in 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'

Falling into the vast middle ground between ‘OK’ and ‘not bad,’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice provides plenty of whiz without much bang.

Oh, sure, many things go “Blam!” and other things go “Kablooey!” Hundreds, if not thousands, of objects fly through the air with the greatest of ease, and the heroic Nicolas Cage (as ages-old Balthazar) and the villainous Alfred Molina (as former compatriot Horvath) stare intensely at one another as though they were angry, and move their arms with great drama and emotion. The hesitant Jay Baruchel (as the diffident Dave) gets in the spirit too, only in his case it’s more akin to squinting and aimless gesticulating with inordinate uncertainty.

Yet The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is only fitfully engaging. Two or three moments soar toward the stratosphere — such as when college student Dave makes Tesla electrical arcs dance to modern music, to the delight of his long-time crush Becky (Teresa Palmer) — but succeeding scenes let the air out of the balloon, and there are too few of such moments to prop up the generally lackluster pace. It’s not a horrible movie, but it is routine and unexceptional.

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