Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

Shadow of the Vampire (2000, E. Elias Merhige)

Shadow of the Vampire opens with some title cards explaining the setup. Well, it opens with some title cards explaining the setup after what feels like nine minute opening titles. In reality… it’s six. Vampire ostensibly runs ninety-five minutes.

Anyway. The title cards setup the making of Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau’s highly influential 1922 vampire film. The cards end saying Nosferatu is going to establish Murnau as one of “the greatest directors of all time,” which would imply Vampire’s going to be very positive about Nosferatu and Murnau.

Not so much as it turns out. John Malkovich plays Murnau. The movie presents him as a pretentious dick, which you’d think Malkovich could easily play, but not so much. Steven Katz’s script is particularly wanting in the Murnau characterization department. Besides a visit to a sex club and drug use, there’s nothing to Malkovich’s character. He gets the least character development of anyone in the film. Except Eddie Izzard, who gets ingloriously chucked at some point. Anyway. Murnau’s direction is always played for laughs in one way or another. Sometimes it’s in how Izzard (as the human lead in Nosferatu) acts, sometimes it’s in how Malkovich directs, but there’s always a bit of a joke. Sometimes there’s a lot of one. Shadow of the Vampire has some good laughs.

But Vampire’s not a biopic or non-fiction. It’s about how Malkovich has hired a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) to play the vampire in the movie. Two big problems. One, Dafoe’s a vampire who wants to kill people. Two, he’s not an actor. There’s some real funny stuff with Dafoe. It’s just not particularly good funny stuff. Vampire’s not a comedy. Director Merhige manages to get into the third act without ever fully committing to a tone. He eventually does pick one and, wow, it’s a bad choice.

But Dafoe. Let’s just get it out of the way. He’s phenomenal. His performance gets the humor in the situation, but never at the expense of being scary. Katz and Merhige never take advantage of that aspect of Dafoe’s performance–the spontaneity of it. Because they’re not doing particularly good work.

At no point does Vampire show much potential. Malkovich is chemistry-free with everyone, which is a problem when it comes to leading lady (barely in the movie, completely “harpy,” ultimate damsel-in-distress Catherine McCormack) who he’s apparently been intimate with. Kinky sex implication intimate. He uses it to control McCormack. But she’s barely in the movie–three scenes, maybe four.

He’s also no good with Udo Kier as Nosferatu’s producer, or Cary Elwes as the ladies man cameraman. Or Izzard, but he and Malkovich don’t actually share the screen much. Malkovich is usually directing Izzard in Nosferatu, not acting opposite him. Malkovich also doesn’t have any chemistry with Aden Gillett, who plays the Nosferatu screenwriter. Gillett’s got no purpose except suspect Dafoe and play well opposite Kier. So Merhige does get these actors need to play well off one another, he just doesn’t do anything to facilitate it. Kier and Gillett have one of the film’s best scenes, if not the best. They bond with Dafoe.

So while often amusing–and quick-paced, at the expense of logic and character development and narrative gestures–Vampire doesn’t have much heft. Then it tries to get some and it doesn’t work out. At all.

The third act’s a bust, with Merhige, Katz, and Malkovich the prime offenders. But mostly Katz. There’s nothing you can do with the third act as written. Then Malkovich, then Merhige. Merhige needed to figure out how to cover for Malkovich’s broad performance.

Kier and Elwes are all right. Same goes for McCormack and Izzard. After Dafoe, Gillett gives the best performance. No one gets enough to do, not even Dafoe. Kind of especially not Dafoe.

Technically it’s a little dull, but still colorful. Lou Bogue’s photography doesn’t do crisp. Chris Wyatt’s editing is good. He knows how to cut for the comedy. Dan Jones’s music isn’t memorable.

Merhige’s composition is a little too tight, his narrative impulses aren’t good–somehow he still keeps a nice, brisk pace–he’s indifferent to actors’ performances. Lots, but nothing to really suggest how bad the movie’s going to close.

It’s worth seeing for Dafoe’s performance. And maybe Malkovich’s if you don’t like him. Vampire pretends Malkovich is giving a great performance–one where he has chemistry with Dafoe and whatnot–but Malkovich doesn’t even put in enough effort to pretend anything similar. It’s a problem.

Vampire’s got too many problems.

BOMB

CREDITS

Directed by E. Elias Merhige; written by Steven Katz; director of photography, Lou Bogue; edited by Chris Wyatt; music by Dan Jones; production designer, Assheton Gorton; produced by Nicolas Cage and Jeff Levine; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring John Malkovich (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau), Willem Dafoe (Max Schreck), Udo Kier (Albin Grau), Eddie Izzard (Gustav von Wangenheim), Aden Gillett (Henrik Galeen), Cary Elwes (Fritz Arno Wagner), Ronan Vibert (Wolfgang Müller), and Catherine McCormack (Greta Schröder).


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Kiss of Death (1995, Barbet Schroeder)

Kiss of Death takes place over four years, has eight to ten significant characters, and runs an hour and forty minutes. It skips ahead three years at the forty-five minute mark. And the last twenty minutes could have their own movie, as David Caruso returns to the city to face Nicolas Cage, who knows Caruso snitched on him only it’s never clear how he knows or to what extent.

And it’s important to look at why it’s unclear because Richard Price wrote this Kiss of Death–I’m a Price aficionado–but Price also wrote it like a novel. Then he cut a bunch out of a four-hour miniseries, threw in some more scenes of Cage’s absurd villain who isn’t actually a character so much as an unthinking monster moving his way through the film, and called it… well, probably not good, but called it a movie. Only it’s not a movie, especially not with Schroeder directing.

Kiss of Death is a remake of film noir and, in updating noir, Schroeder basically dumps anything related to the genre in terms of visual style. Luciano Tovoli’s photography is technically fantastic, but it has no personality. The film opens on this fantastic tracking shot of an auto yard, which figures into the fates of Caruso, Cage, and everyone else in the film only Schroeder’s got no visual style to tie it in. It’s like doing a Touch of Evil homage without understanding how it works for the viewer. It feels tacked on and generic, like almost everything else in the picture.

But, you know, Schroeder’s not terrible, he just doesn’t know what to do with this movie. He directs maybe four of the actors well. And never Caruso, who’s going through all these physicality bits–trying to do more with saying less–only Schroeder doesn’t seem to pick up on them. Caruso’s walking away in a medium long shot physically reacting to something and Schroeder doesn’t want to concentrate on Caruso. He doesn’t understand how to make Caruso the protagonist given the depth of supporting characterization. It’s kind of a mess.

Caruso’s okay. He’s best with Cage, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kathryn Erbe. His scenes with Michael Rapaport and Stanley Tucci are too forced, either by script, direction, or Caruso himself. It’s an okay performance, not great, but with glimpses of great. Cage is in a similar boat. The actor, the script, and the director are all in disagreement about how to portray the character. When it’s Cage and Caruso together, Kiss of Death is at its best. There are lots of contrary things going on and the actors are still working so it creates a tone for the film, which otherwise has none.

Jackson’s got some really good moments, same for Erbe, though she’s utterly unappreciated. Actually, Helen Hunt’s unappreciated with some really good moments too. It’s kind of like Kiss of Death has too many good actors without enough material for them to do, so Price hints at better stuff off screen and then Schroeder’s not good enough at the on screen. Kiss of Death is its own worst enemy.

Michael Rapaport’s probably gives the film’s best performance as an annoying worm of a sociopath. Stanley Tucci’s fun as a righteous but greedy district attorney. Anthony Heald’s phenomenal as the mob lawyer. He gets two scenes. Just watching him and Tucci argue in front of a judge could carry a movie.

Lee Percy’s editing is a tad fast-paced. Trevor Jones’s music is a disaster.

Kiss of Death has too much potential, too little ambition, and some rather good performances (all things considered).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Barbet Schroeder; screenplay by Richard Price, based on a story by Eleazar Lipsky and the 1947 screenplay by Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer; director of photography, Luciano Tovoli; edited by Lee Percy; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, Mel Bourne; produced by Schroeder and Susan Hoffman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring David Caruso (Jimmy), Samuel L. Jackson (Calvin), Nicolas Cage (Little Junior), Helen Hunt (Bev), Kathryn Erbe (Rosie), Stanley Tucci (Zioli), Michael Rapaport (Ronnie), Anthony Heald (Gold) and Ving Rhames (Omar).


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Honeymoon in Vegas (1992, Andrew Bergman)

Honeymoon in Vegas almost defies description. Bergman drags a sitcom out to ninety minutes. But he also makes his straight man—Nicolas Cage—act like a lunatic. Cage’s performance during the second act features him screaming the end of every sentence.

Wait, I forgot about the utterly useless prologue (though it does give the chance for an Anne Bancroft cameo). Also important is when James Caan’s character reveals himself to be a dangerous psychopath—at the start of the third act, before then he’s just enthusiastic. What else am I forgetting….

Bergman treats the narrative like Johnny Williams’s terribly unfunny flunky, who’s constantly eating. Bergman pays so little attention to his film… he forgets he’s got Cage narrating it in the past tense.

Caan’s bad throughout—it’s the script’s fault, but it’s also his inability to deviate from his normal performance anymore. It’s depressing to see him in Vegas.

Cage is good at the beginning, terrible in the middle and okay at the end. His character is unbelievably stupid because he needs to be, which makes it hard to like him.

And Sarah Jessica Parker, who they both love (Cage had her first, Caan steals her away), is terrible at the beginning. But then she’s great in the middle. She holds up at the end too.

Bergman’s directing of actors is almost as bad as his soap opera composition.

Oh, I didn’t even mention David Newman’s terrible score….

Honeymoon in Vegas is, like I said, indescribable. Except by negative adjectives.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Bergman; director of photography, William A. Fraker; edited by Barry Malkin; music by David Newman; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Mike Lobell; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring James Caan (Tommy Korman), Nicolas Cage (Jack Singer), Sarah Jessica Parker (Betsy), Pat Morita (Mahi Mahi), Johnny Williams (Johnny Sandwich), John Capodice (Sally Molars), Robert Costanzo (Sidney Tomashefsky), Peter Boyle (Chief Orman), Burton Gilliam (Roy Bacon), Seymour Cassel (Tony Cataracts), Tony Shalhoub (Buddy Walker) and Anne Bancroft (Bea Singer).

The Rock (1996, Michael Bay)

I’m loathe to say it, but The Rock isn’t bad. Its good qualities are questionable, but it’s not bad. Besides some of the acting, what’s best about the film is how it fuses the action and adventure genres. Bay does his action stuff in traditional adventure settings—there’s a setting straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but Bay plays it as action and it works.

What doesn’t work—I’ll finish with what does to be positive—is, first and foremost, the writing. Most of the one-liners flop. There are occasional decent moments, like when Sean Connery’s character shows his army experience, but there are also the terrible scenes with Ed Harris. Every one of them is awful. Harris tries, but there’s nothing he can do. His voice cracks during one tense scene and it sort of sums up his entire attempt at essaying the character. He just can’t sell it.

As the lead, Nicolas Cage has some problems. He’s appealing in his first Hollywood manic role, but not quite good. But he’s irreplaceable.

Oh, I forgot the other bad stuff—some of the acting is terrible. Gregory Sporleder, Tony Todd and Bokeem Woodbine give awful performances.

Then there’s the score. Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer make some terrible music together.

Great supporting work from David Morse, John Spencer and Stuart Wilson. Bay knows how to fill a room with character actors and make it work.

It could be better, but also a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Bay; screenplay by David Weisberg, Douglas Cook and Mark Rosner, based on a story by Weisberg and Cook; director of photography, John Schwartzman; edited by Richard Francis-Bruce; music by Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer; production designer, Michael White; produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer; released by Hollywood Pictures.

Starring Sean Connery (John Patrick Mason), Nicolas Cage (Dr. Stanley Goodspeed), Ed Harris (Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel), John Spencer (FBI Director James Womack), David Morse (Major Tom Baxter), William Forsythe (Special Agent Ernest Paxton), Stuart Wilson (General Al Kramer), Michael Biehn (Commander Charles Anderson), Vanessa Marcil (Carla Pestalozzi), Claire Forlani (Jade Angelou), John C. McGinley (Marine Captain Hendrix), Gregory Sporleder (Captain Frye), Tony Todd (Captain Darrow), Bokeem Woodbine (Sergeant Crisp), Raymond Cruz (Sergeant Rojas), John Laughlin (General Peterson), and Philip Baker Hall (Chief Justice).