Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Elle"

Elle

Paul Verhoeven has had quite an interesting late career. After making (what I consider) classics like Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers, Verhoeven slowed down and re-emerged with Black Book (a surprisingly impressive WWII film about a female spy). He followed that up with Tricked, a short film (under one hour) that I didn't see. Now he's back with another interesting female-driven film: Elle.

Elle starts off mid-rape. That should be enough to let you know if you're going to stick with it or bail out. Many will probably bail out. It's understandable. Rape is not a simple issue, and this film's treatment of it can be seen as offensive. It's understandable if people come away offended, but this is a truly interesting film about modern women that should not be defined by rape.

Elle is a complex character piece about the titular woman played by Isabelle Huppert. Huppert, by the way, gives one of the most nuanced, amusing performances of the year. The film starts out with her being raped, and it seems like it's going to be a thriller about her finding out who did it, but it's so much more than that. Who raped her is not really that important. Her reaction to the rape is more interesting that who did it. She reacts as if it were a common everyday occurrence, finally telling her ex-husband and a couple friends at dinner a few days after it happens. 

To explain much further would be pointless. There are so many sub-plots that it would disservice the film to list them because it would make it seem melodramatic, which it is not. Elle is endlessly fascinating, and, more importantly, darkly comic. You can't help but laugh during certain moments. 

This is why the rape issue should not be the be-all end-all. People get hung up on that word and can't deal with the film beyond it. But this film is about a woman who has experienced trauma before and refuses to be defined by it. She takes over the trauma, rather than letting it define her. Maybe that makes it offensive, but it's really more empowering than your standard rape/revenge film. Just giving a woman a knife and letting her get revenge does not make her powerful; it makes her the same as her attacker. Having a woman experience rape, among many other things, and then moving on in her own way is much more powerful. 

That said, this isn't some feminist film about the power of women. Verhoeven delights in our expected reactions. Who else would start a film that is nearly a comedy with a rape? He's playing with our perception, which is what makes his latest work among his most interesting. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see a resurgence of his gory, action heyday, but this type of film is equally satisfying. It is easily the most thought-provoking work of Verhoeven's career.

"Arsenal" - You Can Just Save Time and Watch the Youtube Clips of Cage*

Arsenal

*Actually, all you'll find are small clips and trailers. He is the best part of this movie, but his scenes don't come close to the insanity of Deadfall.

I don't actually own Arsenal, thankfully, but when I was able to get a screener link to this odd film that features Nicolas Cage reprising a dead character from Deadfall, I had to check it out. Unfortunately, Cage's character is the only similarity to Deadfall. To be fair, Deadfall is terrible, but Cage makes it worth watching with his unhinged "my brother told to do whatever I want" performance. It appears that he was not given as much freedom for Arsenal.

Arsenal stars Adrian Grenier as an owner of a construction business who will do whatever it takes to help out his troubled brother (Johnathon Schaech). When his brother ends up kidnapped by the wannabe gangster (Cage) he used to work for, Grenier goes on a mission to save him. It's not a terrible plot, but it is pretty bland. It's the kind of plot that could be saved by an eccentric performance or a unique style. As far as style goes, the film is very basic aside from oddly gruesome slow motion violence here and there. No one is watching this for action, though; we want that eccentric Cage performance.

Cage does get to go a bit crazy here, mainly in two violent scenes. You need to have seen Deadfall to appreciate the performance, however. Honestly, fans of Deadfall are probably the only people who will get even a small bit of enjoyment out of this film. I consider myself a fan of Deadfall, but I came away disappointed. (Warning: SPOILERS for Arsenal and Deadfall from here on out.)

When I found out Cage was reprising his role of Eddie from Deadfall, I had high hopes. In Deadfall, he is pushed face first into a deep fryer, and his body is disposed of. I hoped Arsenal would posit that he was actually still alive and was now hiding out in a small town. That's not the case. He's simply the same character. That's it. Deadfall didn't happen. 

This makes very little sense because the film goes out of its way to remind you of Eddie in Deadfall: he speaks straight up gibberish early on; when he kills his brother it's with a slow motion punch that really looks like a karate chop ("Hi-fucking-yah!") until the last second; he mumbles most of his dialogue; he uses eyedrops randomly in what's supposed to be an important scene. Why recreate all of that only to have him play second fiddle in this weak story about brotherhood? This film could have been so funny and unique if they had made it a quasi-sequel to Deadfall

Then there's the oddest Deadfall connection: the writer-director of that film, Christopher Coppola, plays Eddie's brother (Coppola is Cage's real life brother, too). Eddie kills his brother early on in a fit of rage. This leads me to my only theory for the Deadfall connection. Cage agreed to do this film, but would only do it if he could reprise his role as Eddie and kill his brother onscreen. This is his onscreen payback for his brother's crappy film. I don't think Cage is actually ashamed of Deadfall, but he is aware of his insane performances (he claims The Wicker Man was intentionally funny). He and his brother probably thought it would be a funny in-joke to have Eddie kill Coppola. That's probably not the case, but thinking of why Eddie is in this film brought me my only enjoyment from watching it. 

Oh, and John Cusack is in this film. I have no idea why.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"Deadfall" - You Can Just Save Time and Watch the Youtube Clips of Cage

Deadfall

Originally, I was going to write about National Treasure for this post, but something better came up. I was sent a screener link to Nicolas Cage's newest film, Arsenal. At first, it didn't seem to be worth my time, and I figured I'd wait until Netflix to check it out. But then I came across some astounding information: Nicolas Cage was reprising his crazed character from Deadfall for the film. This led to two things. One: I had to buy Deadfall, re-watch it, and write about it. Two: I had to watch Arsenal and post a review when the embargo is lifted in a few days. So right off the bat, I own this Cage "classic" just so I could write about it.

This isn't the first Cage film I bought just for his insane performance. I bought The Wicker Man years ago, and I proudly own Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, among others. Nicolas Cage is one of my favorite actors, especially when a director lets him do whatever he wants. Deadfall is written and directed by Cage's brother, Christopher Coppola, so you know he gave Cage complete freedom. 

Aside from Cage's hilarious performance (which is the only reason to watch this insipid wannabe noir con movie, Deadfall stands out for being a movie completely made by doing favors for the Coppola family. The cast includes James Coburn, Talia Shire, Charlie Sheen, and Peter Fonda. There is simply no reason why these actors would take part in this film aside from helping out a family member and/or friend. It's probable that the star, Michael Biehn, took the job sincerely, but his performance reeks of someone going through the motions along with the others...except for Cage. 

This is why Cage is such a fun actor to watch. Most people would come to this nepotism project with the least possible effort, but Cage truly turned up for his brother. He's not one to sit back and coast through a film when he's given the chance to do something unique, and my God, is he unique in this film. 

Cage is such a standout because the story is so boring. I'm not a fan of good con movies, much less crap like this, so Deadfall's plot, about a young con man (Biehn) looking for answers from his con man uncle (Coburn) after accidentally killing his con man father (also Coburn), is extremely difficult to stay interested in. It doesn't help that Biehn is challenging Harrison Ford (from the theatrical cut of Blade Runner) for most disinterested narration of all time. 


So the first few minutes of Deadfall are quite a slog. But then, Cage appears. His wardrobe makes little sense throughout (my favorite is the tuxedo, cummerbund and all). He wears sunglasses to hide his hilariously bloodshot eyes (I couldn't help but be reminded of Slurms McKenzie from Futurama when Cage slowly takes of the shades). His wig is bad, even by Cage standards (but in a great twist, it's shown to be a wig in the film). And his line delivery ranges from stoned mumble to outright nonsensical jabbering. In other words, perfect Cage. 


Had Cage's character, named Eddie, by the way, been the main character, Deadfall would be one of the funniest, craziest bad movies of all time. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, his character (SPOILERS) is killed off little more than halfway through. The Cage-less portion is hard to watch, even with a strange cameo from Charlie Sheen, and the appearance of Angus Scrimm, who is playing what appears to be a crappy James Bond villain (his name is Dr. Lyme and, for reasons never explained, he has a pneumatic lobster claw for a right arm). 

This is why Arsenal interests me. Someone is attempting to fix the mistake of this film, and bring Eddie back from the dead. I can't wait for the explanation for his character still being alive in this new film (and I kind of hope there isn't one). My main hope is that Eddie hasn't calmed down in his old age.

Which version of Cage would you rather watch? Also, the Cage
in the first cover does not appear in the film.
Of course, I plan on keeping this crazy, weird film. I'll even keep the stupid cardboard cover the studio added to make the movie look more normal. Why would you want to play down the craziness of Cage in this film? It's the only part worth watching. Here's hoping Arsenal even crazier.