Nicolas Cage & David Gordon Green – Joe

April 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Returning to what he considers his independent roots, Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage moves to the opposite end of the spectrum from his usual roles in big-budgeted Blockbusters to star in a film he had been looking for for an entire year. In filmmaker David Gordon Green’s indie drama “Joe,” Cage stars as the title character, an ex-con who befriends a 15-year-old boy (Ty Sheridan) who is living with an abusive, alcoholic father.

During an interview at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March, I spoke to Cage and Green about their new film and asked Cage what it’s like to get back to a role that allows him to focus on the work itself. We also talked about both men’s most labor-intensive jobs they’ve ever had in their lives.

Nic, how liberating is it for you to be able to take on a role like this? I know you probably have your pick of the litter when it comes to movies every year. I mean, how liberating is it for you as an actor to be able to focus on the work itself and not have to worry about anything else like green screens or CGI?

Nicolas Cage: This was a very liberating experience. I waited a year to find this script and to be able to work with David. For me this was a character where I didn’t have to act so much. I could be more truthful – not put things on, but take things off and sort of be more naked as a film presence and recruit any of my memories and experiences I went through for the last couple of years. “Joe” was a script that allowed me to do that. When I got to meet with David and understand his process, it was a very encouraging one and one where you work on the character together. He would interview me and find little memories I might have and find bits of dialogue and maybe put that into the role. I would say it was a joyous experience making this movie.

David, was Nic someone who was at the top of your list from the start?

David Gordon Green: He was the first person I talked to about it. I sent a script to his agent with a letter and said, “Hey, you know, I’ve seen all your movies and would love for you to consider this project.” Sometimes you get caught up in that submission process and it can turn into a long development process. In this case, it was a matter of a few days and I got a call back and it was Nic and he said, “Hey, I read the script. Call me back.” I saved the voice mail for nostalgia. So, I called him back and he said, “Yeah, I read the script and the book a couple of times…” So, not only did he flip through the pages of the script and make a judgment call, which is what I would typically get from a submission like that, but he read the script and was curious enough to open the novel a couple of times. So, there was something really exciting about that. Then he came down to Austin and we drove around in the countryside and talked about the character. Larry Brown, who was the writer of the novel, we talked about his work and what it meant to us and what we could do with his character. It was really a perfect fit.

Nic, talk a bit about picking projects. I mean, if David had called you up and asked you to do this and then someone called you to finish up the “National Treasure” trilogy, how do you chose between those projects? How do you make that decision?

I think it has to do with what is the best opportunity at any given moment no matter the genre. It could be a science fiction movie. It could be a comedy. It just so happened that this project came to me when I was actively looking for a return to a more dramatic, independently spirited film – where my roots were and where I originated from. I had seen David’s work and I knew the level of talent. So, I came out to meet with him. Even when I got the part, I came out a month early just so I could soak up Austin and get in step with his process.

Nic, you started your career around the same age your fellow castmate Ty Sheridan started his, around 15 years old. Were you that good at 15?

(Laughs) Well, first of all, I think Ty is vastly superior. I mean, he’s a great actor in every sense of the word. He’s full of life and charisma. But I try not to compare myself to other actors. It’s just something I don’t do.

David, I’m always interested when directors choose to use “non-actors” in their films. Do you ever think of those actors after the film is over? I mean, it’s like the story of the kids from “Slumdog Millionaire.” These kids are cast in this movie and are on a high and then when the movie is over, they’re back to their normal lives again. Do you ever think about that?

Yeah, I think about it a lot. I think it has to be very challenging to walk into the experience of filmmaking, which can have a lot of people giving you attention and taking care of you. [These actor] walked into a wonderful team of people and a very positive working environment. I’m there to design that. That’s part of my process and is very important to me. Bringing in actors who aren’t necessarily theatrically trained or haven’t had the experiences of on-camera performances, it can be very different from their everyday life. So, I think about it a lot. I know what it’s like even for me – I go from production to production – but when I wrap up a production, I have to switch gears and get back into my normal life and that can be very difficult. So, for a lot of these guys, I think it was such a novelty of an experience. But I know the guy who plays Junior in the movie, the foreman, he owns Sam’s Barbecue up the road. I just finished another movie with him. It is kind of fun to be able to pull some of these guys back on the team. For all of us, I think we look at it as a breath of fresh air in our often-frustrating lives. It’s just a matter of hoping people can keep it in balance and not become too entitled or have too unrealistic expectations after the process.

The physical labor Joe and the rest of his crew do in the woods seems like backbreaking work. David, we also saw your characters doing some hard labor in your last film “Prince Avalanche.” What has been the most backbreaking work you both have ever done in your lives?

NC: I used to sell popcorn at the Fairfax Movie Theater in Los Angeles. That was my first job. I took the tickets as well. I was also the usher. I was trying to figure out how to get from selling the tickets to being on the screen. I would watch the movies. One day, a guy was smoking in the movie theater and my boss said, “You’ve got to tell him to put it out.” So, I went up to the guy and said, “I’m sorry sir, but you’re going to have to put your cigarette out.” He had some girl around him and he just took one big puff and he just blew all the smoke in my face. And I quit. That was the most backbreaking work I’ve ever done. My dad said, “Go back to the movie theater and get your job back.” So, I had to beg the boss to give me my job back.

DGG: I used to insulate attics. I was a little guy, so they always used to send me into the nooks and crannies to roll out the insulation. I’d be crawling around in small spaces and sweaty. This was in North Carolina, so it was pretty intense in the summertime. I also did a weird job where I worked at a doorknob factory. I only worked 20 hours a week, but I was paid really well. I would dunk doorknobs in acid. They would bronze these chrome doorknobs and if there were bumps in the chrome, they’d have to redo it. So, it was just me in this Hazmat suit dunking doorknobs into tubs all day. I really worked out my shoulder muscles.

Nicolas Cage and David Gordon Green – Joe – SXSW 2014

March 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

 

Premiering at SXSW this past week, “Joe” brings Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage back to his indie roots in the title role as the hard-living, hot-tempered, ex-con Joe Ransom, who is just trying to dodge his instincts for trouble – until he meets a hard-luck kid played by Tye Sheridan (“Mud”) who awakens in him a fierce and tender-hearted protector.

The story begins as Joe hires teenaged Gary Jones and his destitute father onto his “tree- poisoning” crew for a lumber company. Joe might be notoriously reckless with his pick-up, his dog and especially with women, but he sees something in Gary that gets to him: a determination, a raw decency and a sense of resilience he can barely believe in anymore. Gary has truly had nothing in life – he’s never spent a day at school – yet something drives him to take care of his family, to keep his sister safe when his father turns monstrous, to hang onto hope of a better future. Joe and Gary forge an unlikely bond. When Gary finds himself facing a threat greater than he knows how to handle, he turns to Joe – and sets off a chain of events that play out with the brutal inevitability of tragedy and the beauty of a last stab at salvation.

Shot on location in Texas, the film features Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter and Ronnie Gene Blevins leading a cast made up of a mix of indie actors and non-actors cast off the streets of Austin, Texas.

“Joe” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Kick-Ass

April 19, 2010 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Aaron Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Nicolas Cage
Directed by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”)
Written by: Matthew Vaughn (“Stardust”) and Jane Goldman (“Stardust”)

When did it all of a sudden become cool again to rip off from Quentin Tarantino? When filmmakers were doing it back in the late 90s, everyone scoffed. Now, they just slap “Tarantinoesque” on it and praise it for its stylized violence. While “Kick-Ass” boasts some of the same campiness as “Kill Bill,” it’s not nearly as fun. Besides the scenes where Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) goes medieval on the bad guys, there is not much behind the rather dull story about a geeky high school kid (Aaron Johnson) who becomes a wanna-be superhero. This should have been a movie about Hit Girl and her father (Nicholas Cage). Instead, the script devotes most of its time to the most uninteresting characters of the bunch.

Astro Boy

October 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Charlize Theron
Directed by: David Bowers (“Flushed Away”)
Written by: David Bowers (“Flushed Away”) and Timothy Harris (“Space Jam”)

For those familiar with Japanese anime and manga, there is no one more influential from the genre than the late Osamu Tezuka, the artist behind such revered creations as “Metropolis” and “Kimba the White Lion.” If Tezuka was already on your radar, then you probably also know that in the early ’50s he published the comic book “Astro Boy,” the story of an android child created by a brilliant scientist to take the place of the son he lost in a car accident.

While most families who flock to the theaters to see the Hollywood version of Tezuka’s vision probably won’t care too much about the mythology, they should still know that the original story is much more appealing that the one director/writer David Bowers (“Flushed Away”) has jerry-rigged for us in the animated feature “Astro Boy.” Borrowing from films such as “WALL-E,” “Pinocchio,” “Oliver Twist,” and a host of other enchanting classics, Bowers fashions together some respectable computer-generated images young kids will enjoy, but the narrative is left as a mishmash of charming ideas and political undertones that transform into a fairly routine animation.

In “Astro Boy,” Dr. Tenema (Nicholas Cage, whose voice simply doesn’t fit his character no matter how creative he gets with his monotonous tone) builds a robot in the likeness of his son Toby (Freddie Highmore) who he loses in a freak laboratory accident. Not only does the android look exactly like Toby, Dr. Tenema has equipped him with all of his son’s memories.

Unable to accept his science experiment as a replacement for his dead child (he probably should’ve said something a little earlier, huh?), Dr. Tenema turns his back on the robo-boy (in the original he sells him to a circus) and leaves him to fend for himself against a pursing military who wants to destroy him. To escape, Astro leaves the bustling Metro City for a new life on Earth, the planet under his hovering metropolis, which has been reduced to a landfill (sans cute, love-struck, squared robot to clean up the mess).

There, Astro Boy befriends a group of salvage yard youngsters and their makeshift leader Ham Egg (Nathan Lane) and learns to live life as – say it with me kids – a real boy. But living on Planet Trash isn’t an option anymore when warmongering President Stone (Donald Sutherland) aims to get his hands on the positive energy source that powers Astro’s superhero abilities.

While the action sequences keep the movie from nose-diving into a scrap-metal mess, Bowers comes up short as a storyteller for anyone who won’t be begging for “Astro Boy” action figures for Christmas. For teenagers and parents, the narrative will come off as stiff as Astro Boy’s rockabilly hairdo.

G-Force

July 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Bill Nighy, Will Arnet, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Hoyt Yeatman (debut)
Written by: Cormac Wibberley (“National Treasure”), Marianne Wibberley (“Bad Boys II”), Ted Elliott (“The Legend of Zorro”), Terry Rossio (“Déjà Vu”), Tim Firth (“Confessions of a Shopaholic”)

Hear that laughter? There might be a few children in the audience who are easily-entertained by the antics of the fluffy computer-generated guinea pigs that star in the new family adventure “G-Force,” but most of the giggling is coming from producer Jerry Bruckheimer as he strolls all the way to the bank.

As unbelievable as it is, the producer, who is known mostly for mindless action flicks like “Armageddon” and “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” has found another way to fill his pockets all while releasing projects with the entertainment value of a rusty jack in the box. Earlier this year, Bruckheimer jumped genres and released the subpar romantic comedy “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Now, it’s on to live-action/animation with “G-Force.”

It’s true, Bruckheimer has been down this avenue before, but a computer-generated kangaroo really didn’t do well for him in 2003’s box office and critical bomb “Kangaroo Jack.” In “G-Force,” he and first-time director and visual effects icon Hoyt Yeatman (he won an Oscar for “The Abyss”) shrink the heroes into cuddly rodents with “Mission Impossible” tendencies. Did we mention it’s in 3-D?

The story follows a group of secret agent guinea pigs – voiced by Sam Rockwell, Tracy Morgan, and Penelope Cruz – who try to stop an evil home appliance industrialist (Bill Nighy) from taking over the world. Zach Galifianakis plays the FBI agent who trains the furball trio and the rest of the team, which includes Speckles the Mole (Nicolas Cage, who does some nice voice work) and a housefly named Mooch. Galifianakis, the star of the surprise summer hit “The Hangover,” however, is wasted as is the rest of the human cast. All are lost in a pointless script that relies on stale pop-culture references most kids won’t understand. And don’t say those references are there so parents in the audience don’t go crazy from boredom. If the mental well-being of moms and dads was really a concern, the rest of the movie would’ve at least tried to be entertaining for someone above the age of five.

While the guinea pigs themselves are impressive in terms of quality of graphics, the five screenwriters who churned out “G-Force” don’t give them much to do or say other than the basic action-star drills, stereotypical dialogue, and more than occasional act of flatulence. Guinea pigs were just so much cuter when they were voiceless pets who slept most of the day.

Knowing

March 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Rose Byrne, Chandler Canterbury
Directed by: Alex Proyas (“I, Robot”)
Written by: Alex Proyas (“Dark City”), Juliet Snowden (“Boogeyman”), Stiles White (“Boogeyman”), Stuart Hazeldine (debut), Ryne Douglas Pearson (debut)

Actor Nicolas Cage has only been making consistently terrible choices in movies since 2006, so why does it seem longer?

After doing a fine job in the Oliver Stone–helmed “World Trade Center” where he played a New York City Port Authority police officer, Cage went on a massive losing streak with critical bombs including “The Wicker Man,” “Ghost Rider,” “Next” and “National Treasure: Book of Secrets,” and “Bangkok Dangerous.” While it’s only been three years of cinematic gaffes, the torture Cage has put us through seems endless.

He continues his mission of futility with his latest bomb, “Knowing,” an absurd sci-fi movie posing as an end-of-the-world thriller, both of which support the idea that moviegoers should always do their research before going to the theater and raise a red flag when a production gives more than a couple of screenwriters credit for the work. In “Knowing,” five (!) writers are credited and none of them come close to making anything credible or inventive.

It might be just a mediocre combination of ideas, but “Knowing” ends up being a haphazard mess starting from the top. Cage plays John Koestler, a college professor and astrophysicist who stumbles onto a sort of numerical puzzle that reveals the dates, coordinates, and death toll of the world’s most major tragedies.

The list of random numbers comes from a time capsule buried 50 years prior at the school where John’s son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) now attends. Back in 1959, schoolchildren were given an assignment to draw a picture of what they thought the world would look like in the future. Instead of drawing robots and astronauts like her classmates, one of the students, Lucinda Embry (Lara Robinson), an antisocial little girl with dark circles under her eyes who hears voices, begins to handwrite a sequence of numbers on her paper.

Fifty years later, Caleb ends up taking the excavated note home where his father begins to decipher what it means. For this plot point, all the five-headed screenwriting team could come up with for John’s interest in the numbers is that a stain he accidently makes on the paper directs his eyes to the numbers 9112001, code for the attacks on 9/11. From there, John, like Jim Carrey in “The Number 23,” becomes obsessed with his set of digits, the last of which point to the date of the earth’s demise.

The end of the world doesn’t come soon enough as Proyas and his team focus more on the computer-generated disaster scenes than they do on the actual narrative. Cage and the rest of the cast, which includes Rose Byrne (“28 Weeks Later”) as Diana Wayland, Lucinda’s grown daughter, become pawns for the unpredictable albeit mangled conclusion. “Knowing” thinks it’s more meaningful than it actually is, and that’s the most disturbing part of its inconspicuousness.