Pig

The pig and Nicolas Cage

“John Wick with a Pig” is how Pig, starring Nicolas Cage, is often described. Fair enough, even if that only really works as a shorthand if you’ve got a big bag of “buts” handy.

Admittedly, the plot is strangely similiar – loner loses favourite animal and goes on a payback jag. But though Cage and Keanu Reeves are both boomers from 1964, the similarities end there – Cage is a “big” actor embracing the extra texture that age brings, Reeves is more minimalist and doing his best to ignore it.

Either way, this is a vastly entertaining odd-couple comedy served straight. And that’s another thing – this is a buddy movie, whereas the various John Wick slaughterfests even in their most collaborative moments never really are.

Once the truffle-hunting porker has been stolen in the night, out in the Oregon woods where he’s been living a hermit’s existence for 15 years, Rob (Cage) is forced into an uneasy alliance with Amir (Alex Wolff), the city-slick middle man he’s been selling his truffles (the best!) to for years.

Amir wears a suit, he drives a yellow sports car, his hair is slicked back and he listens to improving talks on classical music while going about his business. Rob looks like a hobo at the best of times, and looks even worse once he’s been beaten up as part of the robbery.

Off they head together, into the business end of the movie, a shambling, shouting Rob and his slim, nervous driver, into the rarefied restaurant scene in Portland, where foams and smokes help justify the huge price tag on dishes served up in exclusive restaurants.

Who stole the pig? As with John Wick’s dog, it barely matters. Why Rob doesn’t at any point get a shower, put on cleaner clothes or at least scrape some of that dried blood off his face is a more pertinent question (and once it turns out that Rob is familiar with Portland’s underground fight scene, there’s even more blood that needs scraping off).

Rob and Amir
Rob and Amir



It’s a film in three parts, with their own chapter titles – Rustic Mushroom Tart, Mom’s French Toast and Deconstructed Scallops and A Bird and Bottle, & a Salted Baguette (take up the Oxford comma with director/writer Michael Sarnoski), yet it still comes as a surprise that this toxic avenger who we first meet chewing a mouthful of forest soil was once a chef so legendary that people quail at the mention of his name (see John Wick, perhaps as played by Gordon Ramsay).

At a philosophical level, if it grabs you that way, the film can be seen as a meditation on the fleeting nature of “your moment”, with Rob delivering lessons on how to let go (dis)gracefully. The film’s best scene takes place in Portland’s most exquisite fine-dining establishment, where the curl-lipped Rob delivers gobbets of hard-won wisdom to a chef (brilliantly nervous David Knell) he fired years before for always overcooking the pasta, both on how to live your life and how to approach food. Gratefully about sums it up.

Shot dark as you like – a generation of DPs have now grown up using digital and have fully embraced its ability to catch detail way down in the mix – as it winds into its final chapter and the animal kidnapper is revealed in Bond villain style, it looks as if Pig is going to climax as a medley of 007 and cult foodie film Babette’s Feast – no, Mr Bond, I expect you to diet!

There’s not much actual food eaten in Pig and yet it somehow manages to be a great foodie film nonetheless, celebrating the simple joy of eating and the more complex pleasure of eating really well, while at the same time pointing out that restaurants are a terrible bear pit of snobbery, oneupmanship, emperor’s new clothes-ism and straightforward old-fashioned faddery.

As for the star’s performance, which seems to have got one of those critical circle jerks going, as happens every few years (last time was 2013’s Joe), it’s not a particularly good Cage performance, but it is a typically good one, replete with “mega-acting” tics. As humblebraggy thespians say when accepting gongs, “It’s not the performance, darling, but the role.” This is a great role for Nicolas Cage. Poor Alex Wolff, entirely admirable and enjoyable throughout as his unwilling buddy, has trouble cutting through.



Pig – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Adaptation.

Nicolas Cage as Charlie and Donald Kaufman

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

21 February

 

 

The New Yorker launches, 1925

On this day in 1925, The New Yorker magazine was launched by Harold Ross and Jane Grant. Intended as a cosmopolitan magazine for the urban sophisticate – and those who aspired so to be – it started out as a broadly humorous publication, though quickly shifted its focus towards quality fiction and long-form journalism, though its cartoons have remained a key feature. Unafraid to be thought of as intelligent, educated and interested in a magazine world that largely pretends to the opposite, it could take its pick of a certain type of writer – Hannah Arendt wrote her long-form piece on the trial of Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker, James Thurber contributed cartoons, Salinger, Nabokov and Hemingway sent in short stories.

 

 

 

Adaptation (2002, dir: Spike Jonze)

Adapted from a piece for The New Yorker by Susan Orlean called The Orchid Thief, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s film takes a distinctly New Yorker approach – intelligent and entertaining – to tell the story of… what exactly? At one level it is Orlean’s story, of a thief (Chris Cooper) so driven by his thirst for the rare exotic plant that he’ll pay anything, go anywhere, even kill to get hold of what he wants. On another level it’s the story of writer Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt the New Yorker piece he has read into the film we are watching. And sitting side-by-side with that story we have Charlie’s brother, Donald, also a writer, but a pen-for-hire keen to bolt together a Hollywood blockbuster by following the screenwriting edicts of Robert McKee (played as a stiletto to the McKee system by Brian Cox). Both Kaufmans are played by Nicolas Cage and in real life Kaufman doesn’t have a brother called Donald, so we can kind of guess that Charlie is pulling a “two sides of the same coin” number here – sure he writes for pleasure, but he also wants to get paid. There is more plot than this, notably featuring Meryl Streep as Susan Orlean – with whom fictional Charlie has developed an obsession – plus John Cusack and Catherine Keener as themselves, sort of. The whole thing takes that reality/fiction/actor/character shtick worked so well by Jonze and Kaufman in Being John Malkovich (in which JM played a version of himself) about two levels further. It’s a virtuoso plate-spinning exercise, with Cage admirably suited by virtue of his independently swivelling eyes to play a man who is losing sleep, weight and neurons trying to work out where to go next. Personally, I don’t think Kaufman (the screenwriter) quite manages to extract himself (the character) from the tangle he eventually winds up in, though plenty think the ridiculous, funny guns-ablazing finale to the film is entirely appropriate. Robert McKee would probably love it.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Surely the Charlie Kaufman film par excellence
  • One in the eye for auteur theorists
  • Donald Kaufman gets a screen credit, even though he doesn’t exist
  • Look out for an uncredited John Malkovich

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Adaptation – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Drive Angry

Obligatory slo-mo explosion shot with an unconcerned Nicolas Cage in Drive Angry

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

7 January

 

 

Nicolas Cage born, 1964

On this day in 1964, Nicolas Coppola was born. The son of a literature professor and a choreographer, Cage is the grandson of Carmine Coppola, another of whose sons is the Francis Ford Coppola (which makes the director his uncle). Cage decided that trading on the family name wasn’t for him, so changed his surname to Cage, though he was happy enough to take a leg-up by taking a role in Coppola’s cult item Rumble Fish. One of the most prolific actors in Hollywood, Cage is also one of its biggest earners and alternates between what might be called serious roles – Moonstruck, Leaving Las Vegas, Lord of War – and a style of gonzo film that Cage has made his own – Face/Off, Con Air, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Whichever it is, Cage remains the same, extremely focused, intense. It’s been called extreme acting, or “mega acting” (by outlawvern), while Ethan Hawke praises Cage’s abandonment of naturalism in favour of a kind of “presentation style of acting”. Cage himself describes it as “nouveau shamanic”. Cage’s bad films are rarely as bad as the critics suggest, and he has, though it’s often forgotten, won an Oscar, for Leaving Las Vegas, and was nominated for one for his barnstorming role in Adaptation, a film whose logic-scrambling plot was a perfect fit for Cage’s style. A comics fan, a buyer of castles and islands, a lover of luxury cars and a publicity-shy humanitarian who has given millions away, he remains an enigma – he was married to Lisa Marie Presley for only 12 weeks before divorce papers were filed – who seems to grasp that success and wealth allow more scope for experiment, in life and at work. A lesson many of his contemporaries could usefully heed.

 

 

 

Drive Angry (2011, dir: Patrick Lussier)

A splendidly mad work of tongue-in-cheek grindhouse, Drive Angry is the sort of film you could imagine Quentin Tarantino wanting to make and stars Nic Cage in another of his improbable-hair roles (bad blond this time), this time as an escapee from Hell who is back on earth to save the daughter of his daughter (tellingly, the word “grand-daughter” is never used), a waif who has been kidnapped by a gang of devil worshippers. It’s a chase movie in other words, with Cage in hot pursuit in a souped up vee-hickle. Along for the ride is Amber Heard, the former scream queen on co-star duty in this film and so allowed to keep her clothes on. Most of the other women in the film don’t, and in the film’s key scene Cage remains fully clothed while boning a waitress, smoking a cigar and shooting bad guys simultaneously. It is a very funny film, with William Fichtner if anything even funnier than Cage, playing another fugitive from Hell, an avenging angel called the Accountant – merciless, brutal and ridiculously camp. Yes, it goes off a bit at the end, but then most films do, until then we’ve had lots of action in a Dodge Charger (the go-to car for movie bad-assery) – registration plate DRV AGRY, bumper sticker “I brake for pussy” – an awful lot of badass-motherfucker language, some fabulous scenes of extreme ballbusting by a great Heard, lots of dopy 3D and even more ropey SFX. It’s two thirds brilliant, one third so-so. Tip: concentrate on the former.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Everyone follows Cage’s weird wired lead
  • A film including a Dodge Charger is usually worth look
  • Cage plays a character called John Milton
  • The woo-hoo waitress/cigar/guns scene

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Drive Angry – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

The Family Man

Tea Leoni and Nicolas Cage in The Family Man

 

 

On with the florid jumper, down with the heavy meat-based meal and away we go for Christmas. Oh no it isn’t, I hear you shouting. See, you’re getting it. But, inexplicably, when this festive-themed movie was released in the UK on DVD, it was decided that the middle of the summer was the time to do it. Windows, that’s the reason – the scheduling slots decreed by the suits to give the cinemas time to milk the product first, before the home entertainment departments get their hands on the big cash-laden teat. It’s that sort of film too – two sets of concerns vie for a hold on the central character, played by Nicolas Cage. In one, the real reality, he’s the big swinging broker guy who abandoned his girlfriend (Tea Leoni) years before for a job in London. In the other, fantasy, reality he didn’t. After the film does a cute bit of nonsense hocus-pocus stuff, involving Don Cheadle as a taxi driver with a supernatural connection, Cage winds up back where he might have been if he hadn’t taken that London job. Which is with boisterous kids and a slobbery dog and a wife who loves him, a two bit job that allows him to cover the bills with not much over. You know, the way most of us live. Big swinging Cage hates it. But the movie, like a rom-com, has a destination that’s set in stone. We know where Cage is heading and where we’re heading. What sort of a ride is it? Kind of on obverse It’s a Wonderful Life, deliberately so, with director Brett Ratner laying on all sorts of visual cues that Frank Capra is somewhere there in the mix. As for the enjoyment factor – Cage is nice, Leoni is nice, the kids are nice. It’s nice nice nice. Like a Christmas jumper, then – you don’t really want it but it is kind of cosy.

© Steve Morrissey 2001

 

 

The Family Man – at Amazon