Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

I love the smell of free movie in the morning…

Smelled like… victory.

So a few weeks back, the Screen Cinema in town held a pub quiz to raise money for its rather run-down forecourt, and to give a nice polish to Mr Screen, the ever-so-creepy miniature usher statue that stands in the garden there. But it wasn’t just a pub quiz; it was a movie pub quiz.

Mr Screen, not so clean

Rarely one to miss a pub quiz, and never one to miss a movie quiz, I set about assembling a crack team to enter and win. None of that Oceans 11 nonsense mind, we’re talking full-on MASK here (except I texted them, no fancy watches). My crack team consisted of indie and ’50s specialist and fellow unpaid film critic Fergal, US arthouse and modern European cinema encyclopaedia Paul, collected all-rounder James and film studies master Pete. We thought we had it made…

So confident were we of winning that we decided to go for a team name that would, in theory, consign us to defeat. Now, it needs to be said that my pub quiz teams are known for their provocative titles. Some years ago our first film quiz name was the all too prophetic ‘Roman Polanski’s outstanding arrest warrant for statutory rape’. We came second. In a literature pub quiz shortly after, we kept the theme going with ‘Ayatollah Khomeini’s outstanding fatwā for Salman Rushdie’ – we won a sweeping victory. So the idea pitched for this quiz’s team name was to list off character traits in movies that would imply an early defeat (thus surprising everyone when we won). And that was how we came up with the team name ‘The corporate black guys wearing red shirts who have only one day to retirement’. Feeling this too long, we settled on the shorthand ‘Black guys in red shirts’, ensuring everyone at the quiz thought we were a pack of racists. You can’t win everything.

That over-confidence was shattered on arrival at MacTurcaills, the venue for the evening, when we saw the quality of some of the other teams, including one made up of the assembled film critics of Dublin, led by The Irish TimesDonald Clarke, and friends from the Irish Independent and Hot Press magazine. *Gulp* we thought. And indeed some of us did – approaching drunkenness would be another spanner in the works of our otherwise well-oiled (and apparently racist) machine.

Do you know these men?

And yes, as a few rounds passed, we suddenly became aware that we were doing very well. The few we missed were close – the year the original Terminator was sent back from was 2029, not 2027. Then there were the lucky guesses – Nic Cage’s character Hi does in fact work at a Hudsucker plant in Raising Arizona, and somehow I remembered reading somewhere that The Wizard of Oz went through four different directors. And then there were the incredible moments – Fergal amazingly (and I might add ludicrously) naming all four Ghostbusters (first and last names); Paul delving into his brain to retrieve the name of Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson. But it was the themed rounds where we crucified. Quotes from films – 10/10. Matching actors to roles and roles to actors – 10/10. Naming foreign films based on their original titles – 10/10. That last one was a great round for me, if only because I always call Wild StrawberriesSmultronstället’; not out of pretension, the word just amuses me.

So yeah, we won. By a good margin, too. We triumphantly went up to claim our prize, with only one person coughing *racists* as we went. I’d rather be a racist than a loser. Though I’ll reiterate – not a racist.

Now, while in a way the real prize was beating the venerable Mr Clarke, whose own perplexing film quizzes have often ruined my Fridays, in another more accurate way, the real prize was the prize we received – a free screening of any film of our choice in the Screen. Win win.

There were complications of course: it had to be shown before the cinema opens at 2pm, so we’d need to start the film at 11am, limiting us to a 150min film. Also, only a Sunday would suit the five of us. More worrying, how do five people agree on the one film they want blown up on the big screen?  We each pitched five films, an odd mix of classics (The Adventures of Robin Hood, A Matter of Life and DeathÀ Bout de Souffle), blockbusters (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and retro cult delights (Labyrinth, Repo Man, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension) that might never see a cineplex ever again. Then we each vetoed one film, leaving us with 20. Some good films fell by the wayside there, such as Battle Royale, Road House, Bridge on the River Kwai. To make the final decision, we turned to the cornerstone of Western democracy – Eurovision!

We each voted for our 12 favourites, giving them from one to 12 points, and some interesting films came to the fore. In fifth place came the delightfully manic Crank – probably for the best, as we’d have been so over-energised that Sunday morning we’d have spent the rest of the day running around punching strangers in the face. In fourth place came The Lion King, a nostalgic necessity (though soon for re-release, rumouredly in vile 3D). In joint third came Repo Man and T2 – both worthy contenders, especially since we were all too young to have seen T2 when it was originally released. Second came a pitch of mine, and one of the entries in my pantheon of great movies – Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. But the clear winner (with an impressive 39 votes to Mononoke’s 33) was Apocalypse Now.

Mr Clean, not so... not riddled with bullets

Surely if there is a list of the films you must see on the big screen before you die, then Apocalypse Now is amongst them. The broad visuals, the alarming soundscape, the terrifying performances. It was indeed a perfect choice (albeit a touch heavy for a Sunday morning – the horror… the horror…). So we arrived at the Screen on Sunday morning with a few extra friends (the ones who weren’t hungover) in tow and enjoyed an audiovisual feast. It really did smell like victory. And coffee.

The whole experience was a delight. I had, admittedly, never seen the original, non-Redux cut of Apocalypse, and enjoyed the smoother flow of the story. Our slim audience, seen embarrassingly out of focus below, were for the most part hugely impressed. Many had never seen any version of the film, and none on the big screen, especially a private big screen.

Not a full house

On our way out, the girl who ran the quiz asked us how we’d enjoyed the film, and told us that the quiz had indeed raised enough money for a little polish for Mr Screen and a sprucing up of his cobblestone garden. On the off-chance there will be another quiz, she asked us what hypothetical rounds we might do poorly in to give other teams a chance. We weren’t sure, so suggested romcoms – nothing we can’t bone up on in the interim. “You know you beat Donald Clarke?” she asked, still surprised. Yes. Yes we did.

And as an extra bonus, Apocalypse Now had totally vindicated our team name – the two black guys died first.

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Nicolas Cage ≠ Bruno Ganz

Wings of Desire

Flicking through the movie channels last night I stumbled upon City of Angels, that purest example of the pop-rock chick flick, and it caused me great discomfort. It was less than a month ago that after many years of hoping to see it that I finally caught Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire at the Irish Film Institute during their Wenders season, choosing only to book tickets at the last minute as I collected mine for Paris, Texas.

Wings of Desire had a huge effect on me, as it has on so many for the last twenty years. Part art movie, part historiography, part dramatic love story, it was one of the most spellbinding films I had ever seen. The ten minutes I saw of City of Angels only affirmed my passion for Wenders’s film more so.

Here in the place of Bruno Ganz, quiet, calm, restrained, and transfixed by the world around him, is Nicolas Cage, one of a number of actors, and perhaps the best example of them, for whom acting emotional is shown through elongating the face, flailing limbs and raising the voice to a shout.

Meg Ryan, playing the Solveig Dommartin role, is pictured as the perfect girl, one worth giving up immortality for, not because of her lost and challenged soul as in the original film, but because she’s pretty, played by someone famous and cures babies for a living.

Some references to Wings of Desire are worthy in their attempt to live up to the original. The scenes in the library for example are directly borrowed, and have some of the style, but none of the artistry of those from Wings, which cannot be rivalled in terms of cinematography nor subtly.

What is troubling rather is the nods to Wings of Desire with which director Brad Silberling has failed to follow through. Occasional flashes of black and white through Seth’s eyes are only shadows of the beautiful but haunting mono-coloured eternity in Wings. When Seth elects to become mortal, his “fall” is embarrassingly literal. Damiel elects to become human and simply is; he breaks the heart of his friend and counterpart Cassiel in mid-conversation with his conversion. Both Seth and Damiel awaken as mortals and experience everything human as a joy, but Ganz and Wenders have Damiel take things in; his confusion and joy almost rob him of his attention to his goal, to find the woman he loves. Cage’s Seth, now human, flaps about dementedly like a drunken schoolgirl.

The differences between the two films can be summed up in the characters’ introduction to a colourful world. Seth discovers blood is red, symbolising lazily that human existence is both beautiful and hard. Damiel learns his colours from graffiti adorning the Berlin Wall, spectacularly summarising some of the worst and greatest aspects of human existence in a manner made so poignant given that the Wall would fall only two years later.

Surprisingly, I learn from a combination of Wikipedia and YouTube that Meg Ryan’s character dies in City of Angels, leaving Seth alone to discover life as a mortal man. Certainly this allows for a good hard weep from the audience, and people can question whether Seth’s sacrifice was worth it… or they can see Wings of Desire, and see that the purpose of the story is not about whether they get together or not (they very nearly miss one another at the Nick Cave gig), but about the experiences of mortality versus immortality (barely summed up in the American film by “he can touch her, and have sex with her, therefore mortality is awesome” – not a direct quote).

If any moment in Wings of Desire are truly touching, they are not those in which Damiel longs for Marion, but in the inner thoughts of the characters. The young girl escaping school for prostitution, the old man determined to tell the story of his people, Peter Falk’s ponderings on the effects of WWII and his art work. The sequence with the suicide is overwhelming to watch but has a profound effect.

The popularity of City of Angels amongst the average audience testifies not only to the pulling power of its stars and its shiny pop-rock soundtrack, but also to Wenders and Peter Handke’s story, that given the intellectuality and artistic competence that fill the film are unlikely to allow Wings of Desire appeal to many international audiences.

Those who have seen it however, will likely be touched to the core of their being. Those who see City of Angels will likely be entertained for two hours, and might even get a little teary eyed, but they should be looking for more.

Oh, and no matter how hard he wishes, Dennis Franz ≠ Peter Falk.

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