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Rage in the Cage

Alamo celebrates the inimitable genius of Nicolas Cage

By Richard Whittaker, 12:30PM, Sat. Jan. 4

The many, many, many faces of Nicolas Cage
The many, many, many faces of Nicolas Cage

There are good actors, there are great actors, and then there are actors who operate so much on their own terms that they are beyond good or evil. Klaus Kinski. Marlo Brando. And (*shakes hands furiously*) Nicolas goddam Cage.

That's why, this weekend, the Alamo Drafthouse is screening Caged: A five film celebration of the bugnuts brilliance of modern cinema's most gloriously erratic but always electrifying talent, mister Nicolas Kim Coppola himself. As Drafthouse booker and Tough Guy Cinema officer-in-chief Greg MacLennan explains it, "You might go to a boring Nicolas cage movie or a bad Nicolas Cage movie, but you'll never be bored by a Nicolas Cage performance."

OK, so you're all thinking, "Nicolas Cage? The 'Not the bees', punching a bear costume, Bangkok Dangerous Nicolas Cage? That guy? Mister over-the-top?"

But, as Abed on NBC's Community so wisely (and weirdly coincidentally) said this week, "Is he good or is he bad? Every actor is something. Robert Downey Jr, good. Jim Belushi, bad. Van Damme, the good kind of bad. Johnny Depp, the bad kind of good. There's a spectrum, and Cage is on it."

His acting style is undeniably ... "You can use the term 'mega-acting'" said MacLennan. But the point is, Cage knows it. "He's like Daniel Day Lewis, but he doesn't get the kudos he deserves."

Here's a theory. Cage always brings his A-game. Some films can handle it. Some can't. Hey, Werner Herzog could handle Kinski, so is it any wonder that Cage's teeth-grinding performance in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is so transfixing? This is a guy that ate a live cockroach on screen for Vampire's Kiss, and then six years later won the Academy Award for best actor for Leaving Las Vegas. "He's got an undefinable heap of charm," said MacLennan, and that's what's helped keep him a leading man for nearly three decades.

MacLennan has programmed these marathons before, but traditionally they've been for recognized action figure icons like Sylvester Stallone, Michael Bay, and Kurt Russell. How does Cage fit in there? Easy, says MacLennan. "Watch The Rock and tell me he doesn't turn from nerdy dweeb into a badass."

The big challenge was to strike a balance between the epicly, insanely huge performances, and the ones that highlight Cage at his best. To wend that narrow path, MacLennan called in Alamo Ritz programmer Tommy Swenson to help him, and they took a divide-and-conquer approach to Cage's back catalog. "I always make sure there's another programmer," said MacLennan. "I really like having another head I can butt against."

As always, the list of five films is under wraps until the celluloid starts rolling (five films? Back to back? Isn't this exactly what Community told us never to do?) So will it be the browbeaten and subdued Cage of Adaptation or The Weather Man, the cult hero of Wild at Heart or Vampire's Kiss, the blockbuster hero of Con Air, Face/Off and Gone in 60 Seconds? Or maybe the man who took risks on edgy material like the criminally underrated 8MM or the sadly under-seen The Frozen Ground? Maybe even the romantic lead of City of Angels or Moonstruck. Doesn't matter, because what you get is pure, unadulterated, 100% Cage. MacLennan said, "People ask me, 'why are you watching Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance? Because it's so bad?' 'No, because it's got a great Nicolas Cage performance.'"

"So many of his movies are under-rated," said MacLennan. "He's going to be one of these actors that people will look back and say, 'why didn't we appreciate this while we had it?"


Tough Guy Cinema presents Caged: The Nicolas Cage Marathon, Sunday Jan. 5, 2pm. Alamo Ritz, 320 E. Sixth. Tickets available now.

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