Thursday, November 30, 2023

When Nicholas Cage Dreams Become Nicholas Cage Nightmares

Opening this evening, and tomorrow nationwide:

DREAM SCENARIO (Dir. Kristoffer Borgli, 2023)

In over 100 movies since he first hit the big screen in 1981, Nicholas Cage has forged an iconic, eclectic, and just plain crazy career to which no other actor’s filmography can possibly compare. The often-manic man’s many looks, which all still look like him, along with his all-over-the-place, yet strangely specific delivery has made him into a world-wide-recognized walking meme, and a genre onto himself. Admit, before you even know anything about a new movie – whether it’s good or bad – the fact that it’s a Nicholas Cage movie is alone appealing.


That’s why Cage is perfectly cast in DREAM SCENERIO, writer/director Kristoffer Borgli’s second feature, in which he portrays Paul Matthews, a schlubby, bald biology professor (with a big prosthetic nose btw), who for some reason starts popping up in the dreams of a sizable percentage of the population. But he doesn’t appear in the dreams of his wife, portrayed by a jaded Juliane Nicholson) apparently in real life either; but his daughters (Lily Bird, and Jessica Clement), actually consider calling him a cool dad when Cage’s Paul goes viral. 


Our hapless non hero enjoys the spotlight as he’s craved some sort of fame for a long time we find in an early scene when he’s upset about not getting credit in an article a former colleague has written that he believes borrowed from his research. We get from this that the guy is rather pathetic, and, despite the attention, Paul is concerned that people tell him that he’s just a bystander in their night visions – “You don’t do anything, you’re just there” – one woman tells him - and that he just walks through not helping when the dreamer is in peril.


Then the film takes a dark turn when the Paul in people’s dreams starts becoming violent, and even murderous, and a shadow grows over his image meaning that a book deal he was hoping for looks to be doomed, and the viral PR firm he’s been working with (headed by another piece of perfect casting, an aptly glib Michael Cera with the perfect name of Trent) goes from pitching high profile campaigns (“we think we can get Obama to dream about you”) to saying they can maybe get him on Tucker Carlson.


DREAM SCENARIO is a witty piece of cringe cinema that is incredibly compelling, but can be incredibly unpleasant as one can completely get Paul’s spouse telling him, “It’s really embarrassing to be married to you right now.” Possibly the most I cringed was when a young woman, Trents assistant Molly (Dylan Gelula), wants Paul to help recreate her sex dream about him, and, well, I’m not going to go any further because it makes me shudder just thinking about it. Throughout this film, I can’t count how many times I squirmed in my seat for this guy.


Yet, with its imaginatively punchy premise, and Cage’s fearlessly awkward performance that feels like it could stand as one of his most authentic characters, this is one of the best films of the year. Despite its darkness, it has affection for Paul, considerable empathy for his predicament, and strong thematic thought-provoking points about cancel culture.


Borgli’s surreal satire is another win for the indie studio A24, who just came off winning the Best Picture Oscar for EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, and I love how it has a possibly unintended connection to the company’s re-release of Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE, the classic Talking Heads concert film celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Like the cringy sex scene, I won’t spoil it, but I’ll just say that the band’s David Byrne’s famous over-sized suit is involved, and leave it at that.


Finally, I must share the nifty Nicholas Cage sleep mask I got at the press screening:

More later...

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

THE MARVELS: An Immaculate But Way Clunky Mess of a Marvel Movie

Opening at every multiplex in the multiverse:

THE MARVELS (Dir. Nia DaCosta, 2023)

A decade or so ago, the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe was a lot of fun. What with all the interlocking storylines from film to film, and the charisma and humor of leads like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson (all of whom can be seen shining in the Marvel logo banner than begins every movie), many movie-goers and myself enjoyed quite a few of the ongoing adventures of the AVENGERS, and off-shoots like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. 


But now, after over 30 movies, the whole thing has become a big, bloated franchise that I hear more people dis than praise these days. This new release, serving as a sequel to Captain Marvel and an extension of a show I haven’t seen (Ms. Marvel), tries as it might to offer some difference, and diversity, in its leads being three females – respectively Brie Larson as Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, Teyonah Parris as Proton/Monica Rambeau, and Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan – but they seem to be winging, rather than helming, their way through this immaculate mess of a Marvel movie.


The premise having to do with ancient glowing bracelets (this film’s MacGuffin/Infinity Stones) sought after fiery villain Dar-Benn, played by a crazy-eyed Zawe Ashton, and a couple of our female leads body-switching when they use their powers at the same time, never built any momentum, with action sequence after action sequence piling up with little impact.


While she sure can’t sing as can be seen in a strange musical number with her alien prince played by Park Seo-joon, Larson is a fine actress (she well deserved her Oscar for 2015’s ROOM), but she mainly serves as a straight person to her co-stars and the scenery. She does lighten up dancing to hip hop with Parris and Vellani (whose spunk does charm at odd moments) in one scene, but otherwise her stoic demeanor is frankly dull throughout.


THE MARVELS looks mahvelous, as Billy Crystal’s SNL character Fernando would say (outdated reference lost on younger readers), with its incredible cinematography by Sean Bobbit (another Academy Award winner), that presents eye-popping visuals of space stations, alien terrains, and cats with tenacles coming from their mouths that can devour whole human beings, and such sights can surely amuse.


But the action surrounding that doesn’t excite, and worse, the comedy that should be the saving grace is awkward, and clunky AF. This latest Marvel offering doesn’t improve on the last entry, ANT MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA (Lord, I hate that title!), and makes me weary of considering what’s to come. There’s no way this Marvel machine is gonna stop, but maybe some flops like these will slow it down so some quality control can be instigated. Here’s hoping because even Samuel L. Jackson, here playing Nick Fury for the umpteenth time (15th, I think), can’t even muster much edge for this beyond played out material. 

More later...