Quarantined With Nicholas Cage

What did you do during the pandemic?

A lot of people picked up a new skills and or hobbies during our collective quarantine. Some people got going with a sourdough starter. Some people began learning a new language. Others just worked on their alcoholism.

What I did was decide to watch as many Nicolas Cage movies as I could.

Nicolas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” 2022.

While I didn’t make it through his entire oeuvre, what I did do was see a good mix of older and newer movies, both good and not so good. From that exploration I’ve collected five below that I think demonstrate the recent best of Nicolas Cage. I’ll also rank them from #5 to #1.

Nicholas Cage in “Vampire’s Kiss” 1988.

I’ve got a lot to say about each of these films but I will constrain myself to just a few sentences, a few tasty bits of weirdness, to get you in the door. Why try to convince you? Because I really think that these are high-quality Nicolas Cage movies. You may have a sense that Nicolas Cage is not the greatest actor of his generation and, sure, there are some reasons why one might think that. He is a polarizing figure. Whether you love him or hate him, you can’t say he’s boring. I think that if you look at specific moments in the Oscar-winning actor’s career, you will see that he has moments of pure transcendence.

Given that, I’m always down for a foray into cinematic ridiculousness with him.

5) Pig (2021)

Nicholas Cage as a grimy, crazy, disaffected former-chief who goes all Fight Club in an attempt to recover his stolen truffle-sniffing pig. What more do you need? Best part: When our pig hunter shames the hell out of the hoity-toity world of fine dining.

“Pig” movie poster

4) Mom and Dad (2017)

This genre-bender reverses a lot of what you might expect from where you think it is headed, and that’s good. There are classic one-liners, great Cage rage sequences, and some fun camera work and editing. Best part: Selma Blair (i.e. Mom) in a great match up with Cage in a role that plays off his crazy with some crazy of her own.

“Mom And Dad” movie poster

3) Between Worlds (2018)

Ok, listen. This is one weird movie. It’s got an interesting sci-fi premise and would have been a much worse movie in less confident hands. Cage and veteran Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, The Borne Identity) anchor the film with seriousness and earnestness, in spite of how ridiculous parts of it are. And parts are really ridiculous. The scene where Cage’s character is being hosed down while dancing is just next level. And then there’s the scene where the character is having sex while READING A BOOK OF POETRY BY NICHOLAS CAGE. Ok? We’re getting meta here. It’s worth the watch just for the water hose thing.

Nicholas Cage and Penelope Mitchell in “Between Worlds”

“Between Worlds” movie poster

2) Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Imagine walking into an abandoned, decrepit Chuck-E-Cheese’s and being attacked by animatronic characters that have been possessed by evil forces. That’s the basic idea here. Ok, now imagine you’re Nicholas Cage AND YOU HAVE NO DIALOGUE AT ALL. No words are spoken by the star and top-billed actor in the movie. None. This movie is mostly just campy fun, but half of the tension it carries is found in waiting for and expecting words to come out of Cage’s mouth. This full-on indie project must have been someone’s labor of love that just happened to get Cage behind it. It’s so odd and off-tone in ways, yet it works. Come for the epic death blows to possessed animatronics, stay for Cage’s wordlessness.

“Willy’s Wonderland” movie poster

1) Mandy (2018)

Mandy is a work of art. Italian-Canadian Director Panos Cosmatos continues in Mandy the qualities that made his epic Beyond the Black Rainbow so strange and powerful. Atmospheric space and light. Intense color. Aural compositions that influence the space and visuals. The use of chiaroscuro to force viewers to complete the dynamics of action and scenic structure. Absolutely one of the best movies I’ve seen a decade, Mandy embraces its heavy-handed narrative and unanswered questions. Yet the emotion that comes through is palpable and so important to how it remains re-watchable. Andrea Riseborough’s subtle and keenly-felt performance is a wonderful foil to the insanity mounting in Cage’s character. If you see only one movie here, see this one.

“Mandy” movie poster

To conclude, I have to say that the movies Nicholas Cage has made in his mid to late 50s are bending toward a quirky and chaotic quality that can’t be easily dismissed. Yes, there are duds, and perhaps Cage himself is a dolt of a dude. But with roles like the ones I’ve listed above, he’s continuing to show himself to be a capable, if odd, actor more often than not.

Halloween Portraits

I decided to make a few strange and wonderful portraits for the spoooooky Halloween time, but it ended up turning into a whole family kind of thing. So here we are…

Miranda Grace
MeiMei
FangFang
Atticus
Alison
Matt

I had a fun time manipulating these in Procreate on my iPad Pro. Hope you enjoy them – or are freaked out by them. Don’t forget, fear and anxiety can (CAN, but not always DO) produce a redemptive tension. So go out there and watch The VVitch, or Hereditary, or Mandy, or Goodnight Mommy. Embrace it, then look towards a day of All Saints.

Go Home, 2019… You’re Drunk

Dani's boyfriend had an interesting experience in a bear at the end of Midsommar...
Dani’s boyfriend had an interesting experience in a bear at the end of Midsommar…

Some years I do a year end list or two (Here’s 2016, 2015, and 2011). Why not? I mean, 95% of the lists out there are lame, so why not throw my 2 cents in to the hopper?

Top Songs of 2019 (which may or may not have been released in 2019)

Timebends by Deerhunter cover artwork
Timebends by Deerhunter cover artwork

Here are the songs that have dominated my Spotify listening the last year… If you’d like to take a listen, click on the Spotify Playlist Link here.

  1. Timebends by Deerhunter from the album Timebends (2019)
    • A sprawling, rambling, operatic jam, this track is a phenomenal breath of fresh air. At nearly 13 minutes it has enough room to breathe and transform as it goes. It is a joy to take in.
  2. Cop Killer by John Maus from the album We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of ourselves (2011)
    • I discovered this ethereal, weird song while watching Russian Doll this year. The oddly (and almost cliched) vampiric delivery of the transgressive lyrics force a detached, otherworldly vibe.
  3. Doin’ Time by Lana Del Rey from the album Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019)
    • Lana Del Rey is phenomenal mood-maker and NFR! is a great effort. I’m drawn to many songs on the record, but this is quintessential LDR. Bartender is also a standout track. My only real low for this album is the horrible cover art; get a graphic designer, Lana.
  4. Tiberius by The Smashing Pumpkins from the album Monuments To An Elegy (2014)
    • Tiberius signaled a real return to form as the lead track on William Corgan’s reconstituted Pumpkins lineup in 2014… though I didn’t experience this album until 2019. It might as well have been recorded in 1996 for all the melodic bombast and lyrical melodrama it contains.
  5. True Dreams of Wichita by Soul Coughing from the album Ruby Vroom (1994)
    • Mike Doughty‘s Soul Coughing made some of the most unique and catchy tunes of the 90s. True Dreams of Wichita – like many of the songs Doughty has written – is loaded with imagery and visual/linguistic puns. The phrase turning paired with a sharp evocation of location and emotion is just good poetry.
  6. Pitch Or Honey by Neko Case from the album Hell On (2018)
    • Neko Case is nothing short of a national treasure. Outspoken (follow her on twitter [@NekoCase] for some serious fire) and totally aware of her power, Case brings intensity from the first note to the last on the Hell On album. Pitch Or Honey is the perfect song for an artist like me; the refrain “am I making pitch or honey?” is a question all creatives – indeed, all people – have to ask ourselves. I want to make sweet sustenance, not just crap to gum up the works. Neko knows.
  7. I Only Play 4 Money by The Frogs from the album Starjob (1994)
    • I was introduced to this legendary shock/lo-fi/weirdo-rock band from Milwaukee, WI in 2001 while ensconced in the woods between the town of Saugatuck, MI and Lake Michigan. It was a strange time. Recently I’ve been obsessed with this song and the number of versions where the likes of Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan sing and play on the song. Go to YouTube and just search for the track to discover these funny, chaotic iterations.

Best Shows of 2019 (that I watched in 2019, at least)

Regina King as Sister Night from HBO's Watchmen
Regina King as Sister Night from HBO’s Watchmen
  1. Watchmen – HBO (2019)*****
  2. Russian Doll – Netflix (2019)*****
  3. Schitt’s Creek – POP (2015-2019)****
  4. Dark – Netflix (2017-2019)****
  5. True Detective Season 3 – HBO (2019)****
  6. Better Call Saul – AMC (2015-2019)****
  7. Black Mirror – Channel 4 and Netflix (2011-2019)***

Watchmen is an incredible thing to see exist as art in today’s America. It’s everything you want art to be – challenging, genre-breaking, character-driven but not subservient to tropes and minor concerns. While many producers of American culture believe that they can fulfill the representation of people of color or tell formerly-non-centered stories with token characters and shallow arcs (I’m looking at you, Disney) Watchmen doubles down on history, context, and powerful performances with developed characters. The ensemble cast is top notch, but Regina King (Sister Night) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Dr. Manhattan) absolutely dominate as the main characters. Jeremy Irons, Jean Smart, and an amazing Louis Gossett Jr. anchor a group of actors – both veteran and very young – who really buy into the deep magic of the Watchmen universe in ways that give keen insights to what is happening with racism, rising nationalism, and the frayed edges of our political establishment right now… wow. All that and an alien squid shower.


Best Movies of 2019 (well, watched in 2019)

Florence Pugh as Dani in Midsommar
  1. Midsommar – Directed by Ari Aster (2019)
  2. The Lighthouse – Directed by Robert Eggers (2019)
  3. Mandy – Directed by Panos Cosmatos (2018)
  4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Directed by the Coen Brothers (2018)

Midsommar is a powerful film about family, death, belonging, and the social construction of meaning. The tension created between how death visits Dani’s typical American family and how it visits the cloistered, alien, cult-like community she visits in Sweden calls us to reconsider how we understand the trajectory and significance of our lives. Are these very different notions of human dignity, purpose, and value truly at odds? Might the strange, pagan ritual of Midsommar offer something altogether deeper for those who believe? Excellent, challenging film making.

Dani simultaneously experiencing existential brokenness and the assurance of communal emotional support in Midsommar.
Dani simultaneously experiencing existential brokenness and the assurance of communal emotional support in Midsommar.