Face/Off

FBI Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) has been on the hunt for career criminal Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) for years, a search that was intensified six years previously when Castor accidentally killed Sean’s young son whilst trying to kill Sean. Finally, Sean has managed to catch and apparently kill Castor and incarcerate his brother Pollux Troy (Alessandro Nivola), but not before the pair have planted a bomb somewhere in L.A. With only a few days before the bomb is due to explode in an unknown location, the only way Sean can discover the location is to talk to Pollux, but the only person Pollux will trust is his brother. So, the only logical solution is for Sean to remove his own face and replace it with Castor’s, going undercover as the man he’s spent the past few years despising.
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The Rock

This review was originally written for French Toast Sunday.

Michael Bay’s The Rock sees U.S. Marines, led by Ed Harris’ Brigadier General Frank Hummel, taking over the island prison of Alcatraz, now a tourist attraction, and keeping the tourists hostage until a ransom is paid to cover the money owed to unpaid troops. If the money is not paid, Hummel and his men will launch deadly chemicals into San Fransisco, killing thousands of people. The FBI arranges for a Navy Seal team to go after the marines, but to do so they need the help of a chemical weapon specialist, Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) and John Mason (Sean Connery), the only man ever to survive an escape from Alcatraz.  Nicolas-Cage-in-The-Rock-nicolas-cage-18205121-1067-800 Continue reading

Christmas Carol: The Movie

Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly debt collector in 19th century London, is something of a git. He shuns all those around him, choosing to spend Christmas alone instead of with his nephew, his only living relative. He is cruel to his clients and staff, rude to charity collectors and has no qualms with ordering people to be locked up and their furniture repossessed on Christmas Eve. Oh, and he pours a bucket of cold water onto Tiny Tim, a sickly carol singer, who also happens to be the son of Scrooge’s secretary, Bob Cratchit. After finishing work on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the spirit of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him that he will be visited by three more ghosts before the morning, in the hope that Scrooge will change his miserly ways and live a better life, or face the same fate as Marley.
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Raising Arizona

It’s hard to imagine a sharper left turn taken by a director than from the Coen brother’s debut, Blood Simple, to their sophomore picture, Raising Arizona. Where Blood Simple was dark and mostly serious, Arizona is the closest a film has ever come to capturing a Tex Avery cartoon in live action – with the possible exception of some parts of The Mask.

in the role that possibly best combines his often underrated acting ability, comedic potential and trademark brand of insanity, Nicolas Cage gives one of my favourite performances of his as H. I. McDunnough (‘Hi’ for short), a serial petty convict whose ineptitude at evading the law is only matched by his love for police photographer Ed (Holly Hunter). On at least the third time Hi is released from the prison where Ed works he proposes, and the two settle down for a life of happiness in a trailer park in Arizona. But all is not well in the McDunnough household. When Ed discovers she is unable to have children she falls apart, not helped by Hi’s criminal background leaving them unsuitable for adoption, so the only logical solution is, of course, to kidnap one of a famous batch of quintuplets born to a local unpainted furniture magnet, Nathan Arizona. To add to Hi’s woes, two of his former cellmates, Gale and Evelle Snoats (John Goodman and William Forsythe) escape from prison and attempt to crash on the couple’s sofa, Hi’s boss at the metalworks attempts to entice him into swinging, and there’s Leonard Smalls (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb), a bounty hunter from Hell, on the path of the stolen baby.

This is a film with no intentions of meandering along at a gentle pace. The opening ten minutes or so, setting up the couple’s initial meetings, Hi’s triple incarcerations, their engagement and marriage, runs along at such a breakneck pace you’re liable to get whiplash once the credits roll and a more sedate step is taken. The change in speed is almost jarring, but is helped along with ample amounts of comedy and terrific, perfectly pitched performances, especially from Cage. His Hi, sporting a now standard ridiculous feathered hairdo, is a manic, OTT oddball with more Hawaiian shirts than sense. Hunter’s performance is good, but Ed doesn’t really get to do an awful lot other than reprimand Hi at every turn.


If the characters feel like exaggerated caricatures, then this is exactly the point. This film doesn’t take place in any kind of recognisable reality as much as it does in the heightened, prison-crazed mind of the lead. At times though I felt it went a little too far. The two escaped convicts are maybe a little too stupid – though often to hilarious results, as in their ill-planned bank robbery – and their incessant screaming throughout the entire film became beyond grating. No-one can yell like John Goodman. Leonard Smalls, on the other hand, wasn’t enough of a badass. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I always felt that he was a guy pretending, Cobb never inhabited the role quite as fully as I’d have liked, so his presence was very much under felt. It’s a shame, as the Coens can do great work with the right actors in the antagonist roles – check out Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men, or Paul Newman’s Sidney J. Mussburger in The Hudsucker Proxy. Smalls should have been larger than life, and could have been the best part of the film, but remains sadly forgettable. Which in itself is impressive seeing as he is a guy who will happily grenade a fluffy bunny just for being alive.

The fight scenes are tremendously enjoyable, and really cement home the cartoonish nature of the film. Most of the characters involved would have received serious, possibly fatal injuries several times throughout the film – particularly Hi – yet they mostly just walk it off with little more than a plaster stuck to their face. And the film’s solitary death scene is so ridiculously over the top and insane that it is very much a moment of explosive comedy, regardless of whether you can see it coming or not.

I think that one of the overall messages from the film is that Hi and Ed, though they seem incredibly unsuitable to take on the task, are possibly the best parents of all the film’s characters. Of the various people who assume the role of the kidnapped baby’s guardian throughout the story, Hi and Ed are the only ones to not immediately name the baby after themselves. Granted, they name him after each  other instead, but at least they’re thinking about someone else, not just themselves.

Whilst this is in no way one of the best Coen brothers film, it is still hugely entertaining and definitely worth a watch, if only to see some classic comic Cage before he went off the rails.

Choose film 8/10

Kick-Ass

Just as Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) cannot understand why no-one has tried to become a superhero in Matthew Vaughn’s first American film (after Layer Cake and Stardust in the UK, before X-Men First Class), so too it is difficult to understand why no-one has made a film about someone trying to become a superhero. It’s such a forehead-slappingly simple premise that you assume someone else must have already done it. Of course, since then the likes of Defendor (starring Woody Harrelson) and Super (with Rainn Wilson) have put their spin on the idea, and received less critical acclaim and box office revenue in return, as they have failed to match the level of absurdity, shock or brilliance of Kick-Ass, based on Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s excellent graphic novel. And, they don’t have a 10-year old girl calling a room full of drug dealers cunts and being shot in the chest by her doting father.
Using a scuba suit, rubber gloves, self-taught nunchuck skills and the inability to pain and a partially metal skeleton gained from wildly overestimating his ability to take down some thugs, Dave transforms into Kick-Ass, soon becoming an Internet sensation after being caught on a cameraphone helping a victim of a gang crime.
Meanwhile, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, channelling original Batman Adam West with a kiddy-fiddler moustache) and daughter Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) already exist as superheroes, albeit far more covertly than Kick-Ass, and are trying to take down crime kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), whose nerdy son Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) goes to school with Dave, and thinks he can help his Dad by becoming Kick-Ass’ sidekick, Red Mist.
Whilst very much an origin story, this neatly sidesteps being bogged down in exposition and training montages with the already established Big Daddy, whose backstory is succinctly covered in a well-played comic book style. The standout though is Moretz, clearly having clocked some serious training in both combat and knife skills, despatching the aforementioned gang of hoodlums with all manner of weaponry; stabbing, shooting and dismembering as though an everyday occurrence, although there’s a fair chance that for her it actually is. There is some truly amazing music to kill people to as well, with Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation being a particular favourite.
Choose film 7/10

Bad Lieutenant Port of Call

This is not a remake, nor is it a sequel or prequel to Abel Ferrara’s Harvey Keitel-starring 1992 Bad Lieutenant, although there is one key similarity, in that the titular law enforcement officer is a corrupt drug addict attempting to solve a crime, in ’92 the rape of a nun, in Port of Call, the murder of a drug dealer, using their own, unconventional methods.
In this film, the drug-fuelled lead role is not so much played as inhabited, snorted, smoked and injected by a wired, tense and almost hunched Nicolas Cage, giving his best performance since Leaving Las Vegas, alongside a cast of largely unknowns or non-actors (including Xzibit as the drug kingpin lead subject of the investigation). As is traditional with maverick cop movies, there is more than just the case plaguing Cage’s Lt. Terence McDonagh, and at one point he must also juggle looking after his father’s dog, protecting a witness to the case, his friendship/relationship with Eva Mendes’ high class hooker/partner in narcotics and an investigation into his unorthodox interrogation of the witness’ grandmother, jeopardising the life of an elderly woman in her care. The very fact that McDonagh faces the repercussions of his actions sets this aside from other films in the genre, that so usually see their protagonists commit crimes in the name of justice with no consequences.
As amazingly intense as Cage’s performance is, the film itself never quite grips the attention. There is little here that hasn’t been seen before (other than hallucinations of iguanas and the break-dancing of a recently deceased hoodlum), but director Werner Herzog should be commended for rewriting the script to set the action in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in order to provide the city with jobs and income.
Choose life 5/10