Skip to main content

Is this supposed to be me? It’s grotesque.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

(SPOILERS) I didn’t hold out much hope for The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent being more than moderately tolerable. Not so much because its relatively untested director and his co-writer are mostly known in the TV sphere (and not so much for anything anyone is raving about). Although, it has to be admitted, the finished movie flourishes a degree of digital flatness typical of small-screen productions (it’s fine, but nothing more). Rather, due to the already over-tapped meta-strain of celebs showing they’re good sports about themselves. When Spike Jonze did it with John Malkovich, it was weird and different. By the time we had JCVD, not so much. And both of them are pre-dated by Arnie in Last Action Hero (“You brought me nothing but pain” he is told by Jack Slater). Plus, it isn’t as if Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten have much in the way of an angle on Nic; the movie’s basically there to glorify “him”, give or take a few foibles, domestically and professionally. And yet, it’s pretty much good fun, something of a blast and an irrepressible ride, with Cage clearly fully on board and Pedro Pascal proving surprisingly likeable; how often can you say that? Plus, the movie knows when to quit.

Lucas: I would like to believe you, but either I kill you, or you kill Nicolas Cage.

The conceit here is that, rather than an actor playing themselves as a snivelling cowardly and/or obnoxious and preening, pampered Hollywood elite, Nicolas Cage is affable, amenable and more than capable of punching a villain out cold or shooting them dead. So not much different to movie Nic Cage. Which kind of fits. There are a few affectionate digs aimed at him, of course, such his penchant for making lots of movies, spending lots of money, and for making a performance spectacle of himself (“You know what, I’m going to read!” He tells David Gordon Green, who actually looks a tad malevolent, and so exactly the sort of guy who’d retcon Halloween – badly – and is doubtless looking forward to doing the same thing – badly – to The Exorcist). This Nic has a strained relationship with his ex-wife and particularly his daughter, so obsessed is he with his own actorly transcendence and his movie loves (junior doesn’t appreciate The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari). Anyone who’s seen his resumé for the past decade will know he’s not above taking cash gigs either, so the one dangled before him by agent Neil Patrick Harris – everywhere you look, there’s NPH just now. I guess 50 kazillion Twitter fans will do that – isn’t such a stretch. In this case, that gig is billionaire super-fan Javi Gutierrez’ (Pedro Pascal) birthday.

Turns out, though, the CIA are interested in Javi too, on account of his being a suspected arms dealer and kidnapper of the daughter of a Catalan politician. So Nic agrees to help the CIA out, even though he doubts Javi’s illicit credentials on account of his being such a Nic super fan and Nic having such a super time with him. Why, Javi’s favourite movies of all time are Face/Off, Caligari, Paddington 2 (the latter becomes a genius running gag. And let’s face it: it deserves the high praise). Along the way, Nic rigs some cameras in Javi’s compound, drugs himself and miraculously manages to administer the antidote despite being comatose (“Action!”), takes acid with Javi – in aid of writing their script together – discovers the latter’s shrine (and offers $20,000 for the life-size replica Face/Off Nic), and is suitably shocked when ex and daughter arrive for lunch, since it looks like his cover is blown.

Javi: I read that you did all you own stunts in Gone in 60 Seconds.

The intrusion of schematic plot mechanics – Javi’s cousin Lucas (Paco León) is the actual head honcho – is perhaps a shame, and Cage’s performance as disreputable associate Sergio is never quite as whacky as it might have been, despite the gonzo makeup (this could have been his chance to really Clouseau-it-up). And it’s during this third act that Cage confirms to us what a cool and capable customer Nic Cage is under fire. Nevertheless, he and Pascal have excellent chemistry, the latter all over his hero like an over-enthusiastic puppy – his dream owner come true. Plus, the constant Nic Cage movie references are often very funny: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (“Underrated for sure”); Gone in 60 Seconds; Guarding Tess; “Is that the chainsaw from Mandy?” And the truly nightmarish Nic Cage pillow. And perhaps too a dig at Adam Sandler picking his next Safdies role (“The gay uncle in the next Duplas Brothers kind of thing”).

The extended LSD sequence is also much funnier than it has any right to be, given this kind of thing has been done a thousand times. And is invariably better in person anyway. Besides the leads, Horgan is decent as the ex (and apparently a better actor than Nic when under pressure). NPH has little to do. Demi Moore – at least, that’s what it says here – has a cameo as another ex-wife. Tiffany Haddish… Sheesh, no amount of shaving your head will convince us (a) you can act and (b) you’re a CIA hard-ass (big ass, I’ll grant you).

What of Nic’s performance? Obviously, Wild at Heart-era Nicky is a CGI-enhanced recreation of his former self, but I’m not so sure what’s going on with his current incarnation. Is he suffering from facial paralysis? And then there are his alarmingly concentric teeth. And that facial hair is the look Keanu goes for when he’s had work done. On the other hand, maybe this is just a guy in a Nic Cage suit? Wouldn’t be that the ultimate meta-contra-meta-ness? Either way, I found his face frequently distracting here, which wasn’t true of his hangdog presence in Pig.

Nicky: You tell ’em! Nick Cage smooches good!

No, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent isn’t “A smart, driven adult drama about real people”, but given Nic’s already appeared (as twins, no less) in an inevitably kind-of-meta Charlie Kaufmann movie, we wouldn’t have wanted him to repeat himself, now would we? This one is pretty throwaway, then, on that postmodern yardstick, closer to the Muppets than a profound existential rumination. And since that’s true of ninety percent of Nic’s output (ninety percent of whatever percent I’ve seen, anyway), that’s probably entirely appropriate.


Popular posts from this blog

I’m smarter than a beaver.

Prey (2022) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, I have to respect Dan Trachtenberg’s cynical pragmatism. How do I not only get a project off the ground, but fast-tracked as well? I know, a woke Predator movie! Woke Disney won’t be able to resist! And so, it comes to pass. Luckily for Prey , it gets to bypass cinemas and so the same sorry fate of Lightyear . Less fortunately, it’s a patience-testing snook cocking at historicity (or at least, assumed historicity), in which a young, pint-sized Comanche girl who wishes to hunt and fish – and doubtless shoot to boot – with the big boys gets to take on a Predator and make mincemeat of him. Well, of course , she does. She’s a girl, innit?

I’m the famous comedian, Arnold Braunschweiger.

Last Action Hero (1993) (SPOILERS) Make no mistake, Last Action Hero is a mess. But even as a mess, it might be more interesting than any other movie Arnie made during that decade, perhaps even in his entire career. Hellzapoppin’ (after the 1941 picture, itself based on a Broadway revue) has virtually become an adjective to describe films that comment upon their own artifice, break the fourth wall, and generally disrespect the convention of suspending disbelief in the fictions we see parading across the screen. It was fairly audacious, some would say foolish, of Arnie to attempt something of that nature at this point in his career, which was at its peak, rather than playing it safe. That he stumbled profoundly, emphatically so since he went up against the behemoth that is Jurassic Park (slotted in after the fact to open first), should not blind one to the considerable merits of his ultimate, and final, really, attempt to experiment with the limits of his screen persona.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) (SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron ’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison. Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War , Infinity Wars I & II , Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions ( Iron Man II ), but there are points in Age of Ultron whe

If you ride like lightning, you're going to crash like thunder.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) (SPOILERS) There’s something daringly perverse about the attempt to weave a serious-minded, generation-spanning saga from the hare-brained premise of The Place Beyond the Pines . When he learns he is a daddy, a fairground stunt biker turns bank robber in order to provide for his family. It’s the kind of “only-in-Hollywood” fantasy premise you might expect from a system that unleashed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Point Break on the world. But this is an indie-minded movie from the director of the acclaimed Blue Valentine ; it demands respect and earnest appraisal. Unfortunately it never recovers from the abject silliness of the set-up. The picture is littered with piecemeal characters and scenarios. There’s a hope that maybe the big themes will even out the rocky terrain but in the end it’s because of this overreaching ambition that the film ends up so undernourished. The inspiration for the movie

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991) (SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell , as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick. Evil Bill : First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted : Then we take over their lives. My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reev

I think it’s pretty clear whose side the Lord’s on, Barrington.

Monte Carlo or Bust aka  Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969) (SPOILERS) Ken Annakin’s semi-sequel to Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines tends to be rather maligned, usually compared negatively to its more famous predecessor. Which makes me rather wonder if those expressing said opinion have ever taken the time to scrutinise them side by side. Or watch them back to back (which would be more sensible). Because Monte Carlo or Bust is by far the superior movie. Indeed, for all its imperfections and foibles (not least a performance from Tony Curtis requiring a taste for comic ham), I adore it. It’s probably the best wacky race movie there is, simply because each set of competitors, shamelessly exemplifying a different national stereotype (albeit there are two pairs of Brits, and a damsel in distress), are vibrant and cartoonish in the best sense. Albeit, it has to be admitted that, as far as said stereotypes go, Annakin’s home side win

This entire edifice you see around you, built on jute.

Jeeves and Wooster 3.3: Cyril and the Broadway Musical  (aka Introduction on Broadway) Well, that’s a relief. After a couple of middling episodes, the third season bounces right back, and that's despite Bertie continuing his transatlantic trip. Clive Exton once again plunders  Carry On, Jeeves  but this time blends it with a tale from  The Inimitable Jeeves  for the brightest spots, as Cyril Basington-Basington (a sublimely drippy Nicholas Hewetson) pursues his stage career against Aunt Agatha's wishes.

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994) (SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction ’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump . And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

Poetry in translation is like taking a shower with a raincoat on.

Paterson (2016) (SPOILERS) Spoiling a movie where nothing much happens is difficult, but I tend to put the tag on in a cautionary sense much of the time. Paterson is Jim Jarmusch at his most inert and ambient but also his most rewardingly meditative. Paterson (Adam Driver), a bus driver and modest poet living in Paterson, New Jersey, is a stoic in a fundamental sense, and if he has a character arc of any description, which he doesn’t really, it’s the realisation that is what he is. Jarmusch’s picture is absent major conflict or drama; the most significant episodes feature Paterson’s bus breaking down, the English bull terrier Marvin – whom Paterson doesn’t care for but girlfriend Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) dotes on – destroying his book of poetry, and an altercation at the local bar involving a gun that turns out to be a water pistol. And Paterson takes it all in his stride, genial to the last, even the ruination of his most earnest, devoted work (the only disappoint

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.