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Film

#80: Army Of One (2016)

My name is Ed, and I am still trying to watch every Nicolas Cage film, then play the lottery using numbers picked from that film. This was a considerably less painful exercise back when there seemed more chance that there might be any good ones left, so I’d better bloody win soon.

Army Of One is the third Cage film of 2016 to be based on a true story! This time it’s that of the very briefly infamous Gary Faulkner, an unemployed Colorado handyman, who in 2010 was discovered in the mountains of Pakistan with a sword, a gun and a plan to assassinate Osama Bin Laden. Ha ha Gary Faulkner you idiot you failed to assassinate Osama Bin Laden and you don’t even have a Wikipedia page about it, you twat.

It’s got something else in common with Snowden, too: the film’s lead affects a distractingly odd voice which doesn’t bear any relation to the real person you might assume it’s an imitation of. In this case, Cage’s version of Gary Faulkner is not a million miles away from his near movie-wrecking performance in Peggy Sue Got Married, where he drove everyone round the bend by doing a bizarre high-pitched imitation of a cartoon horse. For the entire film. I suppose at this stage if you cast Nicolas Cage you know you’re rolling the dice on that one.

The film follows Faulkner’s various bizarre attempts to take out Bin Laden — struggling with poor planning skills (e.g. attempting to sail to Pakistan solo despite never having set foot in a boat), his own failing kidneys, and ultimately reality itself. None of which matter to him, because he’s on a mission from God. Who’s played by Russell Brand. Of course!

Brand’s had a, politely, chequered film career, but I actually quite like him in the right role (i.e. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in which he was basically cast as himself). And if you squint can sort of see the thinking here — God as somewhere between a cult leader and Peter Cook’s off-handedly cool devil in Bedazzled. But it doesn’t sit quite comfortably with the rest of the film: Russell Brand might be someone’s vision of God, he just doesn’t seem like he’d be Gary Faulkner’s vision of God.

(The missed trick here is not just casting Cage against himself, because at a certain point what have you got to lose?)

In the end, the film fails because Cage’s version of Faulkner just isn’t much of a character — it would wear thin in a comedy sketch, let alone an entire film. So it does nothing to elevate a significantly less funny than it thinks it is script that ultimately wants us to laugh at and/or cheer for someone who, presumably, only did all this stuff because he wasn’t quite right in the head.

THE NUMBERS

1 — The film is called Army of One. Let’s not make this any more difficult than it already is.

11 — Gary Faulkner claims to have made 11 attempts to assassinate Osama Bin Laden.

26 — Gary’s first attempt to reach Pakistan involved trying to sail a 26-foot yacht from San Diego. He ends up crashing it into Mexico during a hurricane.

30 — Gary’s last attempt to kill Bin Laden started with his departure from the US on May 30, 2010.

34 — During another attempt Gary decides to hang-glide into Pakistan from a mountain in Israel. He claims this is a good plan because if he misses he’ll land in the Dead Sea and float, because it has 34% salinity. This is factually accurate, according to a Google search I just did.

50 — Faulkner was 50 years old at the time of his last ‘mission’ to Pakistan.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2288

Date: Saturday 25 November, 2017

Jackpot: £5,145,663

Draw machine: Guinevere

Ball set: 1

Balls drawn: 4,7,29,45,54,56

Bonus ball: 8

Numbers selected: 1,11,26,30,34,50

Matching balls: 0

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-158

0 numbers. God definitely doesn’t appear to be speaking to me through the medium of Nicolas Cage films. I guess Richard Dawkins was right.

NEXT TIME, ON WINNING THE LOTTERY WITH NICOLAS CAGE:

Arsenal: in which Nic Cage possibly reprises the role of Eddie from Deadfall, despite the fact that last time we saw Eddie from Deadfall he was having his head fatally cooked in a deep fat fryer.

Categories
Film

#79: Dog Eat Dog (2016)

My name is Ed and I have cursed myself to watch the films of Nicolas Cage until either he dies, I die, or I win the lottery by choosing numbers based on the films.

Director Paul Schrader has worked with Cage twice before: he wrote Bringing Out The Dead (along with more famous Scorsese films including Taxi Driver), then he directed Dying Of The Light. That turned into something of a disaster after it was allegedly so badly gutted by the studio during post-production that both Schrader and Cage disowned.

Despite that setback, they were obviously up for working together again, as we now have Dog Eat Dog, an odd sort of crime caper that blends nihilism and the feeling of having had too much sugar for breakfast.

Dog Eat Dog sees Cage on fairly familiar ground as one of a trio of ex-cons (the others being Willem Defoe and some guy who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page) who attempt to escape their criminal pasts by, er, kidnapping a baby for ransom. This and their various other misadventures end poorly for all concerned, including the viewer.

At first glance, the film’s got enough style — brash, lurid, loud though that style may be — that it raises some hope. Especially if you’ve just watched Snowden and USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage. But it never gets beyond that, as half-baked characters stumble through a series of vaguely-connected events that only qualify as plot on a technicality. A shaggy Dog Eat Dog story, if you ask me!!!!

As the performances go, Dafoe is enjoyably unpleasant as the ‘title’ character Mad Dog, is at turns the most simpleminded, psychopathic and neurotic member of the group. The role was initially offered to Cage, who felt it was too close to what he’d done in something else (presumably Army Of One, of which more next time). This is a shame, as I suspect he’d have made a bit more of it than he does as Troy, the group’s leader. He gets a bit more to chew on than in the last couple of films, but he doesn’t quite do enough to save the aimlessly nihilistic material.

The film occasionally wobbles into something fun — a character unexpectedly launching into a conspiracy theory about sad dead musician Elliott Smith, the criminals spraying each other with condiments in a hotel room, the unsettlingly sight of Willem Defoe making out with someone — but it never seems to quite get ahold of the tone it’s grasping at.

Even if it had, it wouldn’t excuse it from practically all the female characters being either a) props, b) victims or c) punched in the face by Nicolas Cage in lingering slow motion. Are you thinking of doing some edgy ironic misogyny in a film? Probably do something else instead!

To be charitable, perhaps you could read some of the flaws of Dog Eat Dog as ‘the point’ — to give us a bunch of criminals so morally bankrupt, inept and generally awful that all the slick film-making techniques in the world can’t glamorise them. To be less charitable, it executes that idea badly and I didn’t need to spend two hours watching a film to know that crime is bad.

THE NUMBERS

15 — Nic Cage goes to jail for a ‘5 to 15 year hit’ for naughty drugs crime and then attempting a violent escape from the court where he was being convicted of the naughty drugs crime.

25 — The film was apparently shot in only 25 days, by a crew mostly comprised of recent film school graduates.

26 — This is, as far as I can recall, the first Nicolas Cage film to feature Taylor Swift. She isn’t actually in it, she’s one of the things that Willem Dafoe says he didn’t know about because he was in prison. Along with the Iraq War. Later in the film Nicolas Cage reads the issue of GQ on which she appeared on the front cover. She was 26 at the time.

28 — Nic Cage ended up in prison because ‘some asshole cop’ planted 28 grams of coke on him.

30 — Making her second appearance in a Nicolas Cage film (after a fairly big part in Left Behind) is Nicky Whelan, better known to people who watched the Australian soap opera Neighbours in 2006 as Pepper Steiger from the Australian soap opera Neighbours in 2006. She lived at number 30, Ramsay Street.

47 — The first dialogue we hear in the film is someone on TV talking about a hypothetical 62-year-old woman with an AK-47.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2287

Date: Wednesday 22 November, 2017

Jackpot: £1,855,244

Draw machine: Lancelot

Ball set: 3

Balls drawn: 2,16,17,27,36,37

Bonus ball: 42

Numbers selected: 15,25,26,28,30,47

Matching balls: 0

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-156

0 numbers. Truly I have learned that crime does not pay. Again.

NEXT TIME, ON WINNING THE LOTTERY WITH NICOLAS CAGE:

Army Of One, which is another bloody True Story, only this time featuring Russell Brand as God. That’s sure to be good.

Categories
Film

#78: USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2016)

Playing the lottery is, generally speaking, an extremely bad way to make money — the statistically expected return is less than £1, for a £2 ticket. But the lottery works as a money-maker for the organisers because even though I rationally understand that, when I started purchasing tickets some particularly deluded part of my brain woke up and started fantasising about what would happen when, not if, I win the lottery.

But I probably will win the lottery, because I’m not just picking any old numbers like some kind of rube: I’m watching every film Nicolas Cage has ever made, and picking numbers based on things that happen in those films. This week, yet another true-life tale of derring-do. Or possibly derring-DON’T.

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2016)

The USS Indianapolis, as it turns out, was the ship that had the fateful duty of delivering the key components of Little Boy, the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshama in the final weeks of World War 2. Only after it did that, it got blown up by Japanese submarine, leaving the surviving crew drifting in the shark-infested Pacific Ocean. All of which, on the face of it, sounds at plausibly like something you could attempt to turn into a film.

And so director Mario Van Peebles (who’s also an actor — he played the bad guy in Highlander 3 which is nice, if like me, you’re morbidly obsessed with the bafflingly improbable longevity of that franchise) has had a go. The problem most war movies have is that inevitably you’re going to end up with a cast of quite literally uniform young men. USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage doesn’t help itself on this front, because a) it expects us to keep track of dozens of them, and b) fails to assign any of them particularly distinguishable personalities.

One character is much easier to keep track of — Captain McVey, played by Nicolas Cage. The material doesn’t allow him to play to his strengths, and he turns a rather stoic, ‘respectful’ performance — there’s a flash of something early on when he writes a letter to his wife, pontificating about the evils of war, before screwing it up and writing something sappy about wanting to see her on his birthday — but that’s about as much playfulness as there’s space for in this Very Serious Movie about Very Serious Events.

At one point in the film, apropos of not very much, the exact latitude and longitude of the ship are displayed on the screen, as though the audience is going to start whooping for the 12th parallel — and this rather gives away what’s really going on. USS Indianapolis isn’t a proper film, it’s military fan-fiction, ploddingly recreating real events and padding them out with some standard movie tropes — got to get home for my best girl, let us overcome differences through adversity, look a shark bit my leg off, and so on.

It’s also got, at best, rather variable production values — any special effect involving a computer is abysmal TV movie stuff. The rest of it hovers around ‘competent if you squint’ but occasionally takes a nosedive, e.g. when someone is seen to reading a magazine titled ‘NATUTAL GEOGRAPHY’ (sic).

Just as you think it’s over, the film takes a hard swerve into courtroom drama for an extended coda in which McVay is court-martialed and convicted by Navy officials covering their own arses, despite the testimony of the Japanese captain responsible for the Indianapolis’s destruction. An important part of the story, but a clumsy way to tell it. Still, it’s the first Nicolas Cage film to end with him shooting himself in the head, so points for that I guess.

THE NUMBERS

4 — One of the basically indistinguishable men has been sweet on his girl ‘since 4th grade’. Awww, or possibly ewww.

5 — The surviving crew of the Indianapolis were rescued 5 days after the ship went down.

7 — “W division was 7 seconds faster”, I have scrawled, for some reason presumably related to this not very interesting film.

13 — The USS Indianapolis was 13 years old when it was sunk, as someone gloomily points out shortly before it gets blown to bits. They should have known, really.

35 — At the time she was sunk, the USS Indianapolis carried the hull number CA-35. CA means ‘heavy cruiser’, for some special military reason I expect.

58 — The Japanese submarine that did for the Indianapolis was the I-58. It’s always a bit bleak when I’m picking the numbers off of real life things that happened, but I suppose I’ve already bottomed out by using 9–11 for that shitty Oliver Stone World Trade Center movie.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2286

Date: Saturday 18 November, 2017

Jackpot: £18,188,218

Draw machine: Guinevere

Ball set: 2

Balls drawn: 1,20,24,36,54,58

Bonus ball: 11

Numbers selected: 4,5,7,13,35,58

Matching balls: 1

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-154

1 number.

NEXT TIME, ON WINNING THE LOTTERY WITH NICOLAS CAGE:

Dog Eat Dog, which on the one hand isn’t an earnest portrayal of a real life thing, but on the other hand is written and directed by the same guy who made the fairly poor Dying Of The Light.

Categories
Film

#77: Snowden (2016)

In May 2013 Edward Joseph Snowden walked out of a National Security Agency facility in Hawaii with thousands of classified documents, and, after fleeing the country, released them to the public. A heroic act, or a traitorous one, depending on your point of view.

In January 2016 Edward Hart Jefferson decided to win the lottery by watching every Nicolas Cage film, in order, and picking numbers inspired by each film — his theory being that magical forces that produce a typical Nicolas Cage performance might be powerful enough to make him rich. The jury is still out on that one.

My name is Ed. I watched every film Nicolas Cage had ever made. I did not win the lottery.

But Nicolas Cage did not stop making films.

I last encountered the work of Oliver Stone when Cage played a firefighter in turgid 9–11-based dross World Trade Center. I suppose at least Snowden has a happier ending.

For it is the exciting true-life tale of the spy/hacker guy who revealed America’s secrets to the world, here played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, putting on a much deeper (and consequently, sillier) voice than usual in what is presumably a misguided attempt at an impersonation of the real Snowden. I mean, that’s what I presumed until the final scene, which cuts from Gordon-Levitt’s Snowden to the man himself, who gets to deliver the final bit of saccharine make-you-think. At which point I started yelling at the television: because he sounds absolutely nothing like whatever the hell it is Joseph Gordon-Levitt was doing for the preceding 2 hours.

But what the film was doing for the preceding 2 hours is a fairly straightforward chronicle of Snowden’s intelligence career: discharged from the army after breaking his legs, he realises he can instead serve America with his amazing cyberhacking skills. After spending the next few years doing naughty things for the American government he changes his mind, downloads state secrets onto a Rubix cube and fucks off. The end.

In between all that he gets a girlfriend, Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), who is very useful for the film because she allows us to witness sophisticated political debate such as:

SNOWDEN: The liberal media is bad and damages our country. I respect the president.

MILLS: I disagree.

AUDIENCE: Oh, the delightful irony of it all!

He also gets a mentor — and, hey, guess what, it’s Nicolas Cage. He doesn’t get a lot to do — he’s only in about three scenes, but he makes a decent fist of the fairly limp material. Not notable, but not notably bad, and he brings a least a little charm to his thankless role, a weary former wunderkind kept in the CIA’s basement in case any passing trainees ever need a lecture on the corrupt nature of the military-industrial complex.

Snowden’s other mentor is his CIA boss, Rhys Ifans, who, SPOILERS, turns out to be a rotter who’s prepared to do all sorts of dubious things in the name of national security. Stone named the character O’Brian as a ‘clever’ allusion to Orwell’s 1984; at the point Ifans’ face is looming at Snowden out of a gigantic video screen the film might as well have a “DO YOU SEE?” caption.

If anything in the film succeeds, it’s the framing sequences in which Snowden, holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room, relates his story to journalists. Partly because Zachary Quinto (Glenn Greenwald) et al are among the better bits of casting, partly because the scenes are too simple to fuck up.

Gordon Levitt’s strange vocal choice is perhaps just one symptom of the problem with the entire film: too often it seems to have failed to discover anything interesting in the truth, so makes something up to fill the gap. It ends up as this slightly lame spy thriller — it won’t leave reality far enough behind to do anything really fun, but it gets far enough away that it stops ringing true.

I don’t know whether there really was a tense moment where Snowden watched a progress bar agonisingly crawl to 100% as the secret files were copied over. But if it did really happen, ‘Snowden’ fails to make anything more of it than a thousand other scenes in a thousand entirely fictional stories. So what’s the point?

THE NUMBERS

3 — Cage’s character, Hank Forrester — worked on a project that would have cost 3 million dollars to set up in-house. It was taken away from him, and outsourced, costing 4 billion dollars. Naughty government!

4 — Snowden is 4 minutes late for his first meeting with the journalists at the start of the film.

12 —When they meet they exchange some code phrases involving a restaurant being open at noon. And the food being too spicy.

14 — Edward Snowden meets his girlfriend on ‘geek-mate.com’, where she has the username JourneyGirl_14. They chat about anime. I don’t know whether this is meant to be the only funny bit in the film or not.

38 —It takes Edward Snowden 38 minutes to complete the special cyber hacking test to get into CIA cyber hacking school. This is apparently unlikely to be true, but you have to put things like this in films for so that some notional stupid person can follow it.

54 — In the film, Snowden hides the SD card full of secret files in a Rubik’s cube to smuggle it out. Rubik’s cubes, invented by architecture professor Ernő Rubik, have 54 squares. In real life Snowden has never revealed how he did it. Is that code for “I put it up my bum?”

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2285

Date: Wednesday 15 November, 2017

Jackpot: £15,654,281

Draw machine: Lancelot

Ball set: 1

Balls drawn: 2,11,22,36,51,49

Bonus ball: 7

Numbers selected: 3,4,12,14,38,54

Matching balls: 0

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-152

0 numbers.

I now agree that Edward Snowden is an extremely bad man who should be in prison.

NEXT TIME, ON WINNING THE LOTTERY WITH NICOLAS CAGE:

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage. Which was renamed USS Indianapolis: Disaster in the Philippine Sea in the first country it was released in, the Philippines. Marketing, what a science.

Categories
Film

#76: The Trust (2016)

My name is Ed, and since January I have been watching every film Nicolas Cage has ever made. Also two TV shows and a piece of avant-garde musical theatre that he was in. I have been doing this in order to win the UK National Lottery, because I believe that Nic Cage’s ‘nouveau shamanic’ acting style accesses the fundamental forces of the universe and has the power to affect probability, causing me to pick the six winning numbers by watching his films.

I have now watched all of those films, finishing with: The Trust.

A recurring theme in recent entries has been my exasperation with films that have absolutely no reason to exist. It’s not that anyone needs to have a particular justification for making a film, but it’s depressing to watch an entire film that no-one involved appears to have any interest in. Are there massive tax incentives for studios to produce tedious thrillers starring Nicolas Cage regardless of whether anyone actually wants to make those films, or indeed pay to see them.

Thankfully, The Trust lets me on a high note. Or indeed, a… heist note. Aren’t words fun?

The film sees Cage and noted hobbit Elijah Wood as a pair of disaffected Las Vegas cops. Cage is Jim Stone, so bored with his unrewarding work and depressed by his superiors’ lack of interest in doing anything but the bare minimum that when he stumbles across evidence of a huge haul of criminal cash, he decides that today is his lucky day. He recruits his colleague Waters (Wood) to help him locate and steal the money: nothing can possibly go wrong, except everything that inevitably does.

At its core The Trust is a very blackly comedic character piece, with a really nice sense of how to play off humour with real tension — Cage’s character in particular, one of his most brilliantly odd in a while, turns on a knife edge between hilarious and terrifying. The whole film turns on this, and Cage steps up to the plate to knock out one of his best performances in years. Is that how sports metaphors work? Who knows? I have watched 76 of these films and I am so tired.

I’m sometimes unconvinced by Elijah Wood as an actor, but he’s perfect here as the ever-more rattled sidekick, who realises too late that he might not be entirely up on, or even in on, what’s really going on. When I watched The Trust for the first earlier in the year, I was a bit dismissive of Jerry Lewis’s slightly unlikely cameo as Stone’s dad, but I think it’s a better bit of deadpan work than I gave him credit for.

The Trust is a fairly slight piece of work, put it is a proper piece of work, something that people were excited to make, were excited about making, and were honestly excited to have made. It’s not ‘rush out and buy it now’ brilliant, more ‘if it happens to be on the telly’, but you know. It’s not a shit version of Rocky but with rowing, it doesn’t feature any crusaders with terrible accents and thank Christ it doesn’t involve Nic Cage having to rescue another boring kid.

THE NUMBERS

3 — Waters says it took him 3 hours to make his plan of the building where the safe is hidden. This work is Da Vinci-esque, according to Stone.

5 — Stone becomes suspicious that the drug dealer he’s tailing is bothering to show up 5 nights a week on time to stock a bar, instead of spending all his drugs money.

6 — When the drill they’re using to access the safe breaks, they have a quarter of an inch left, which is about 6mm.

10 — The special drill they order costs them 10 grand each. I’d be happy with the 10 grand to be honest. Pay off a bit of debt, go on a little holiday.

18 — When a security guard comes to check on the apartment they pretend they’re on a police observation assignment, telling him they’ve been there for 18 hours.

28 — The opening shot of the film includes Las Vegas’s High Roller Ferris wheel, which has 28 cabins.

3, 5, 6, 10, 18 and 28.

The numbers which, will, presumably, win me the National Lottery.

It can’t not work.

It can’t.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2169

Date: Wednesday 5 October, 2016

Jackpot: £16,333,383

Draw machine: Lancelot

Ball set: 7

Balls drawn: 11,16,25,37,43,44

Bonus ball: 39

Numbers selected: 3,5,6,10,18,28

Matching balls: 0

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-150

0 numbers.

Well.

Piss.

Cost of playing the lottery based on Nicolas Cage films:

£150 (It would have been £152 I forgot to buy a ticket that one week, although I wouldn’t have won anything anyway.)

Winnings:

£0

10 months of Nicolas Cage films and if anything I’m even more destitute and miserable than I was when I started.

So what have we learned?

Is it the case that you cannot, in fact, win the National Lottery simply by watching every film Nicolas Cage as ever made? Was the whole premise completely flawed, and if I’m honest, just an attempt to give a vague sense of structure to a series of film reviews? Is the real lesson you learn by watching Nicolas Cage films the friends you made along the way?

No

Because of course, I haven’t seen every film Nicolas Cage has ever made.

Yet.

I mean, there are two Nicolas Cage films out right now that I haven’t seen because I don’t live in either the USA or the Philippines.

IMDB lists no less than six others being to be released between now and then end of 2017. The man is a goddamned movie-making machine.

But in the meantime, maybe I’ll try watching a film that doesn’t have Nicolas Cage in.

Winning The Lottery With Nicolas Cage Will Return

Categories
Film

#75: Pay The Ghost (2015)

My name is Ed, and soon I will be able to tell you about any film that Nicolas Cage has ever been in. But I won’t talk to you, because you’re probably a schlub and I will soon be a millionaire, for after I watch a Nicolas Cage movie, I play the lottery. There is no way that the magical energy of Nicolas Cage will not cause me to win the lottery with one of the final two films. No way.

Finally, Nic Cage is in an utterly generic horror movie! As happens surprisingly often, here he’s an unconvincing academic, lecturing students about spooky myths. They’re dressed up as spoooooky cats, because it’s Halloween, the spooooookiest day of them all. Then Nicolas Cage’s kid is abducted, by a ghooooost. Hey Nicolas Cage why are your kids always being abducted you dumb idiot?

I am not a huge horror fan, because I am basically too wet for all but the most tepid of jump scares, but Pay The Ghost is deeply untroubling viewing. Even if the special effects didn’t appear to come out of a ‘standard horror’ computer graphics package, this is such basic fare that they might as well just have had someone shout “boo” through a letter box for an hour and a half.

But even if the film somehow engineered a few moments of genuine terror, it would be pretty tough to disguise the non-existent plot which for the majority of the movie consists of Cage searching fruitlessly until right at the end a random pagan lady shows up to tell him exactly what to do to get his kid back.

The cast mostly spends the film looking half-asleep, which is fair enough. If pushed to find anything of merit in this film I guess Nic Cage does some vaguely amusing eye acting.

They could have saved a lot of time making Pay The Ghost by simply cutting scenes from other bad Nic Cage thrillers together with parts from other bad horror movies. Why not try doing this and upload it to the internet where no-one will ever bother watching what you’ve done because no-one has real any interest in your bizarre hobbies?

The most entertaining part of the film by far is the hilariously optimistic scene right at the end where the corpse of one of the ghost’s victims springs to life, ready for the sequel that critically-panned straight-to-the-internet films like this don’t get.

Someone’s left a comment on the Wikipedia page for Pay The Ghost noting that the plot summary “seems a litle flat, should be completed a litle more if possible”. Quite.

THE NUMBERS:

2 — The portal to the special ghost world where the missing children are taken to only stays open for 2 hours.

3 — The ghost steals 3 children every year, as revenge for the murder of her own 3 children. That doesn’t really seem fair to be honest.

6 — Just before his kid goes missing Nic Cage buys him an ice cream. It cost $6. Is that really how much ice creams cost in New York? If I ever go back there I shall bring my own ice cream.

7 — Nic Cage’s kid is 7 years old. He’s still 7 years old a year later, because of being kidnapped by a ghost, which raises a few questions that obviously the film ignores entirely.

17 — The ghost comes from the 17th century, where she was burned to death for having the plague or whatever dumb made-up bullshit. It’s all fake it’s just a film none of it happened.

31 — Halloween is on the 31st of October. Which is just a true fact, but they do say the date in the film.

THE RESULT:

No stinking numbers. How is this fair? 4 and 5 come up but not 2, 3, 6 or 7? Stupid ghosts.

Image for post

I suppose it makes sense. I suppose I couldn’t possibly have won before the very final instalment. Where would the drama have been in that?

NEXT TIME, ON THE FINAL WINNING THE LOTTERY WITH NICOLAS CAGE:

The Trust

My name is Ed, and soon I will be able to tell you about any film that Nicolas Cage has ever been in. But I won’t talk to you, because you’re probably a schlub and I will soon be a millionaire, for after I watch a Nicolas Cage movie, I play the lottery. There is no way that the magical energy of Nicolas Cage will not cause me to win the lottery with one of the final two films. No way.

Pay The Ghost (2015)

Finally, Nic Cage is in an utterly generic horror movie! As happens surprisingly often, here he’s an unconvincing academic, lecturing students about spooky myths. They’re dressed up as spoooooky cats, because it’s Halloween, the spooooookiest day of them all. Then Nicolas Cage’s kid is abducted, by a ghooooost. Hey Nicolas Cage why are your kids always being abducted you dumb idiot?

Image for post

I am not a huge horror fan, because I am basically too wet for all but the most tepid of jump scares, but Pay The Ghost is deeply untroubling viewing. Even if the special effects didn’t appear to come out of a ‘standard horror’ computer graphics package, this is such basic fare that they might as well just have had someone shout “boo” through a letter box for an hour and a half.

But even if the film somehow engineered a few moments of genuine terror, it would be pretty tough to disguise the non-existent plot which for the majority of the movie consists of Cage searching fruitlessly until right at the end a random pagan lady shows up to tell him exactly what to do to get his kid back.

Image for post

The cast mostly spends the film looking half-asleep, which is fair enough. If pushed to find anything of merit in this film I guess Nic Cage does some vaguely amusing eye acting.

They could have saved a lot of time making Pay The Ghost by simply cutting scenes from other bad Nic Cage thrillers together with parts from other bad horror movies. Why not try doing this and upload it to the internet where no-one will ever bother watching what you’ve done because no-one has real any interest in your bizarre hobbies?

Image for post

The most entertaining part of the film by far is the hilariously optimistic scene right at the end where the corpse of one of the ghost’s victims springs to life, ready for the sequel that critically-panned straight-to-the-internet films like this don’t get.

Someone’s left a comment on the Wikipedia page for Pay The Ghost noting that the plot summary “seems a litle flat, should be completed a litle more if possible”. Quite.

THE NUMBERS

2 — The portal to the special ghost world where the missing children are taken to only stays open for 2 hours.

3 — The ghost steals 3 children every year, as revenge for the murder of her own 3 children. That doesn’t really seem fair to be honest.

6 — Just before his kid goes missing Nic Cage buys him an ice cream. It cost $6. Is that really how much ice creams cost in New York? If I ever go back there I shall bring my own ice cream.

7 — Nic Cage’s kid is 7 years old. He’s still 7 years old a year later, because of being kidnapped by a ghost, which raises a few questions that obviously the film ignores entirely.

17 — The ghost comes from the 17th century, where she was burned to death for having the plague or whatever dumb made-up bullshit. It’s all fake it’s just a film none of it happened.

31 — Halloween is on the 31st of October. Which is just a true fact, but they do say the date in the film.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2168

Date: Saturday 1 October, 2016

Jackpot: £14,494,590

Draw machine: Merlin

Ball set: 8

Balls drawn: 4,5,18,28,43,58

Bonus ball: 55

Numbers selected: 2,3,6,7,17,31

Matching balls: 0

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-148

No stinking numbers. How is this fair? 4 and 5 come up but not 2, 3, 6 or 7? Stupid ghosts.

I suppose it makes sense. I suppose I couldn’t possibly have won before the very final instalment. Where would the drama have been in that?

NEXT TIME, ON THE FINAL WINNING THE LOTTERY WITH NICOLAS CAGE:

[2020 note: Well, the final one then.]

The Trust

Categories
Film

#74: The Runner (2015)

My name is Ed and when I have seen all the Nicolas Cage films I expect I will be invited to become a professor of cinema at a prestigious university. But I will turn down this invitation, because I will be a rich millionaire thanks to having used one of those films to win the National Lottery. Will it be this one?

My first impression of The Runner was a slightly confusing one, because it opens with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, currently co-starring with Mark Wahlberg in cinemas near you. But the natural disaster is just background detail here, and The Runner is instead about the political and personal disasters of Congressman politician Colin Pryce. The character is, as far as I’m aware, entirely fictional, although the film plays oddly like biopic.

Which is sort of my problem with it: it feels like you’re supposed to be bringing some prior knowledge to it, that it’s offering commentary on something specific. The film’s title refers to Pryce keeps fit by running —but it’s not particularly clear what this has to do with the rest of the film — is there a real US congressman noted for their wicked 5k times? A lot of the plot treads down well-worn paths for political drama — infidelity, corruption but it’s less pointed than it seems to want to be, because it’s hard to see what it’s pointing at. Do I just need to rewatch it after taking a course on the recent political history of Louisiana or something?

It’s a shame, because in other ways it’s a solid little film: Cage is actually rather good as the conflicted Pryce, struggling to align his genuine basic decency with career pragmatism and the usual base personal demons. He apparently spent a lot of time studying tapes of real politicians and it’s certainly a nicely observed performance. Not much to complain about with the rest of the cast, which includes Peter Fonda, Sarah Paulson and Wendell Pierce. But ultimately they can only do so much with The Runner’s fairly limited story, which just can’t go the di… Oh god, shoot me in the head.

If nothing else this is good dry run for when Nic Cage eventually plays the President, which seems kind of inevitable. Fingers crossed it won’t be in a straight-to-DVD Christian movie where he has to save his daughter from an abortionist, but, you know.

THE NUMBERS

11 — The news report at the very start of the film mentions that 11 crew members of the Deepwater Horizon rig are missing. Is it okay to use real life dead people to pick lottery numbers? I mean I used 9–11 so I guess I’m already going to hell.

16 — Pryce has supposedly been sober for 16 years, although he falls off the wagon here. Or gets onto it. However that works.

18 — As the film progresses it becomes clear that local senator Tom Owens is facing an 18-month investigation over corruption, which ends up providing the impetus for Pryce to start making his way back into politics after his ‘fall’.

24 — The film opens with Pryce giving a tearful speech to Congress about the effects of the oil spill on his state. A caption tells us this speech happens on May 24th, 2010. Which is a real date that actually happened.

27 — Pryce’s life unravels when it’s made public that he had an affair with a 27-year-old cheerleading coach. Rude.

37 — When Pryce offers to go for a drink with his publicist, Kate, she tell him he doesn’t need to be burdened by a 37-year-old woman’s midlife crisis. They end up boning. Spoilers.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2167

Date: Wednesday 28 September, 2016

Jackpot: £11,106,204

Draw machine: Lancelot

Ball set: 5

Balls drawn: 19,29,37,41,51,53

Bonus ball: 55

Numbers selected: 11,16,18,24,27,37

Matching balls: 1

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-146

1 number. Stupid BP.

NEXT TIME ON NICOLAS CAGE:

Pay The Ghost

Categories
Film

#73: Dying Of The Light (2014)

My name is Ed and I must win the lottery so that I can buy a ticket for Elon Musk’s rocket ship to Mars and escape the crumbling hellhole that used be called the Earth. Because the odds of winning the lottery are quite low, I have decided to increase my chances by picking the numbers based on the films of Nicolas Cage.

Dying Of The Light has the unfortunate distinction of having been publicly disowned by most of the creative minds behind after significant studio meddling with the post-production process. Both writer/director Paul Schrader (best known for writing Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, as well as directing Lindsay Lohan non-classic The Canyons) and the cinematographer were vocal about their disapproval of the final product; photos of cast and crew wearing t-shirts that pointedly quoted the “non-disparagement” clause in their contracts appeared on social media. Which is always a good sign.

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It’s hard to really know whether those complaints are justified, but it does feel like a film that never quite capitalises on its material. It’s got a reasonably compelling premise: Cage is Evan Lake, a CIA agent out for revenge on the terrorist who captured and tortured him 20 years earlier: if he’s going to do this, he has to do it now, because that very torture has left him with a progressive form of dementia. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite know what to do with this, spending a lot of time wandering around on the runway and never quite getting around to taking off.

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At times the movie plays like an ultra-downbeat entry in the Mission Impossible series — there’s a whole sequence involving Lake being made up to look like a Romanian professor (giving Cage the chance to do an… interesting… accent). But the big spy thriller stuff doesn’t sit easily with the smaller moments as Lake struggles to do deal with his condition: there should be an interesting dynamic in the contrast, but instead it never quite feels like the same movie.

Cage has a few fun moments, but while his railing against the modern CIA — “You got your head so far up Obama’s ass you can’t see shit anymore!” — is presumably meant be a reflection of his frustration with his deteriorating mental abilities, really it would be about as effective if he was just a cranky old dude. The tragically late Anton Yelchin puts in a competent but unmemorable turn as sidekick Milton Schultz: like all the characters who aren’t Lake, Schultz is pretty undeveloped. It’s very much a one-man show, which could have worked if the material was stronger — at his best Cage is more than capable of carrying this kind of thing.

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It’s a frustrating film, because there’s definitely the seed of something here, pieces of something more interesting. My suspicion is that this would have been the case to some extent even before the studio hacked it about — but we’ll probably never know, as it’s unlikely anyone’s going to bother funding a director’s cut of a film that was ultimately released on 2 screens before heading straight to DVD. Maybe I’ll fund it if I win big on the lottery!

THE NUMBERS

Unusually, I’ve taken all the numbers from a single scene — Lake sits on bench on a freezing cold Bucharest night, saying numbers to himself as he desperately tries to remember the address of his hotel:

“31… 44… 35… 17… 10… 3…”

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2166

Date: Saturday 24 September, 2016

Jackpot: £9,286,909

Draw machine: Merlin

Ball set: 6

Balls drawn: 11,24,34,43,33,47

Bonus ball: 42

Numbers selected: 3,10,17,31,35,44

Matching balls: 0

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-144

0 numbers. I guess that’s what you get for attempting to monetise fictional dementia.

NEXT TIME ON NICOLAS CAGE:

The Runner

Categories
Film

#72: Left Behind (2014)

My name is Ed and I will soon have seen every film Nicolas Cage has ever made. I will also be a millionaire, because every time I watch one of the films, I pick 6 numbers and use them to enter the UK National Lottery. There is no way that this plan cannot succeed.

Christianity, for all its faults, has produced some astonishing art, e.g. Bruegel’s Tower of Babel, Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, a straight-to-DVD movie in which Ted McGinley has to stop the shittest Baldwin brother from banning Christmas. It’s also responsible for Left Behind series of books which I’m led to believe are the evangelical version of Tom Clancy thrillers, and thus this film, the second attempt to adapt them for non-reading Christians, following a trilogy so bad the original authors sued the producers for breach of contract.

The premise of Left Behind is that, for reasons never clearly established in this film, God has decided that its time to go a Rapturing, and several million people are suddenly transported to heaven, leaving everyone else somewhat bewildered. Cage, presumably in it for the reported $3 million cheque rather than his deep love of the Lord, plays the improbably named airline pilot Rayford Steele. Midair at the time of the Rapture, can Steele get his plane safely back on the ground despite the ensuing chaos? Probably, with the assistance of a former teen heartthrob with three first names and a blonde lady from Neighbours who must be really annoyed about how well Margot Robbie’s doing.

The slightly baffling cast list also includes Lea Thompson from Back To The Future, American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and a former Olympic bobsledder. Ashley Tisdale from High School Musical was at one point going to play Cage’s daughter but sadly dropped out. It was directed by the guy who was Harrison Ford’s stunt double in the Indiana Jones films. What is life?

It must be so bad it’s good, right? Right?

Sounds of someone blowing a raspberry goes here.

Mainly the issue is that the plot is almost non-existent— there are thirty painfully event-free minutes before the Rapture happens, in which very standard character types are laboriously laid out as though the viewer has never seen a film before, or ever met a human being. Even after that, there’s not a great deal going on: Cage tries to land his plane, the daughter wanders around witnessing the aftermath and looking sad.

The problem, I would guess, is that Left Behind is deliberately hedging its bets: it wants to stay true to its evangelical origins but also take a punt at the mainstream (hence shelling out for Cage). A lot of the more ‘out there’ elements of the books have been dropped, including Israel being protected from Russian bombs by a heavenly forcefield, the UN being taken over by the literal antichrist and the formation of a team called ‘Tribulation Force’ to fight him. But there’s also no exploration of the premise, no consideration of the philosophical (or religious) implications of living through the Rapture: no-one ever really asks ‘Hey, why didn’t I get to go to heaven?’. Instead, we just get poorly written action movie character banter dragged out for an hour and a half.

As if it could get any slower, the ‘big action finale’ involves one of the characters driving a fucking steam-roller. A sequel is apparently planned, although the producers’ crowdfunding campaign raised less than 20% than they were asking for, so presumably they won’t be able to afford Nicolas Cage next time. Praise be.

THE NUMBERS

3 — Nicolas Cage’s plane leaves from Terminal 3.

6 — The flight to London will take 6 hours. A character mentions this will all change with the HYPERJET, which I guess must have been on the news on the afternoon the screenwriter spent on the script.

13 — The film closes on a quotation. “But of that day and that hour, knoweth no man.” It’s from Mark 13:32, which I believe is part of the Bible.

16 — The flight departs from gate C16. C16 is the World Health Organization code for stomach cancer, which is not mentioned in this film.

24 — A lady tells hotshot journalist Buck Williams that Matthew 24:7 predicts the end of the world, which I suppose is better than asking whether someone got paid for this or arguing with the headline instead of the article.

32 — When the daughter is trying to escape the post-Rapture chaos of the mall, we see a guy who appears to have shop-lifted a 32 inch TV. 32 inches! Have some ambition mate. Have some bloody ambition.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2165

Date: Wednesday 21 September, 2016

Jackpot: £5,968,842

Draw machine: Lancelot

Ball set: 2

Balls drawn: 20,21,28,33,49,56

Bonus ball: 43

Numbers selected: 3,6,13,16,24,32

Matching balls: 0

Numbers selected (lucky dip): 3,6,22,36,40,51

Matching balls (lucky dip): 0

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-142

Zero numbers on either this ticket or the Lucky Dip I won last time. God is clearly dead.

NEXT TIME ON NICOLAS CAGE:

Dying Of The Light

Categories
Film

#71: Outcast (2014)

My name is Ed and I need to win the lottery because the sum total of my worldly wealth is £9.98 in change plus some foreign coins and a coin shaped token from commemorating some event I attended in 2012. Have you seen the price of the own brand Tesco lager these days? This no way to live. In order to guarantee that I will win the lottery I am picking the numbers using the complete works of Nicolas Cage, in order, in the hope that the otherworldly magic channelled by his best performances will somehow bring me luck.

Outcast starts with two Crusaders, one of whom is played by Nicolas Cage, abandoning their mission because they’re sickened by the murder of innocents and oh my god wasn’t Season Of The Witch bad enough the first time? The two films have similar enough openings that I genuinely started to wonder if I was finally properly losing it, 71 Cage projects in.

The storylines diverge a few minutes in, and Outcast takes a less tediously supernatural tack, as instead of going home they run away to China, for no readily explained reason. Instead of Ron Perlman, Cage is accompanied by Hayden Christensen, apparently determined to prove that the Star Wars prequels won’t be the nadir of his acting life.

The plot concerns the succession of the Emperor’s throne, the old Emperor’s dying wish that throne go to his quiet sensible youngest son rather than his bloodthirsty warmonger eldest son. This obviously works out well for everyone concerned. The younger son and a sister end up on the run, hiring Hayden Christensen, who’s actually ostensibly the star of this, to protect them.

About the best you can say for Christensen here is that he avoids attempting to act if at all possible, though there is a weird subplot about him being hooked on opium that seems to have lost any point it might have had somewhere in the cutting room.

Then you get to Nic Cage, who isn’t actually in this very much and appears to have no interest in the movie as written, instead opting to play a sort of ersatz Captain Jack Sparrow. Between laughing his head off, wearing a series of improbable hats and barking bizarre dialogue like “The Black Guards are as thick as flies on a farting goat’s arse”, it’s hard to credit that he’s doing anything else than outright taking the piss. On the other hand this bizarre turn is the only thing of any interest in the film whatsoever, so fair play.

Eventually the plot plods towards the predictable conclusion via some dull travelogue and rote fight scenes, without ever having stopped to consider things like characters, story or a comprehensible screenplay. There’s a strange moment where someone raises the idea that autocracy might not be that great whoever wins, which is a sort of weird thing to hang a lampshade on unless you’re seriously worried about people getting offended by the politics of a fictional, ahistorical, version of 12th century China.

Outcast seems to have been a badly calculated attempt at a film with wide international appeal, i.e. putting ‘established’ American stars in a Chinese setting. Unfortunately a Christensen/Cage pairing was deemed unworthy of US cinemas, and the Chinese release was delayed over censorship issues. Oops. Still, I can only assume it will win me the lottery.

THE NUMBERS

3 — Our merry band of outcasts takes in a girl whose village has been destroyed by the Black Guard. Qiang says it’s worth the trouble because their enemies seek 3…

4 — not 4. There really aren’t a lot of numbers in this film. No bloody number plates in the 12th century.

10 — Qiang, the would-be boy emperor is accused by Nicolas Cage of being 10.

12 — The history in this film is vague in a way that suggests no-one involved could be arsed to crack a book, but a caption near the start informs us that we’re in the 12th century.

14 — Qiang, the would-be boy emperor is actually 14. This is a bit embarrassing. Put more numbers in your movies.

18 — According to Chinese mythology, as referenced here, there are 18 levels of hell. Presumably on one of those levels you have to watch Outcast over and over again.

THE RESULT

Lottery draw: 2164

Date: Saturday 17 September, 2016

Jackpot: £3,777,516

Draw machine: Merlin

Ball set: 3

Balls drawn: 10,14,25,29,52,54

Bonus ball: 37

Numbers selected: 3,4,10,12,14,18

Matching balls: 2

Numbers selected (lucky dip): N/A

Matching balls (lucky dip): N/A

Winnings: £0 (£0 to date)

Total Profit/Loss: £-140

2 numbers, so I win a Lucky Dip. Outcast finally paid off for someone!

NEXT TIME ON NICOLAS CAGE:

Left Behind