The one line that comes to mind whenever I think about the most recent installment in the Star Wars franchise is Kylo Ren imploring Rey to “let the past die.” I feel that it cuts to the heart of both the tone and the thematic framework that the movie works within, whether or not that change is for the better.
Usually, I don’t really fixate on the actors of a movie. If all of the other moving parts come together and the acting is decent at least, I can enjoy the film, and being generally terrible with names it can be hard to remember who they are beyond a couple of popular characters they played. Other than Tommy Wiseau, whose antics I’m tempted to revisit at a later date with the advent of his return in Best F(r)iends, the only exception I can think of is Nicolas Kim Coppola, known professionally as Nicolas Cage. I can fairly reliably count on enjoying his acting even if the movie itself isn’t great (The Wicker Man, Drive Angry, etc.), so after browsing on Netflix through a few movies with him that I haven’t seen yet I settled on Matchstick Men, directed by Ridley Scott.
This crime film focuses on Cage and Sam Rockwell as a pair of con artists, Roy and Frank respectively, operating a fake lottery by selling water filters, although Roy suffers from severe OCD, panic attacks, and verbal and facial tics that he keeps suppressed with illegal medication. Roy suddenly learns that he has a 14 year old daughter living with his ex-wife, which leads him to agree to Frank’s proposal of a long-term con that he had always refused. What follows is a strange mix of a crime film plot and the story an emotionally broken man trying to put the pieces of his life back together to reconnect with his long-lost daughter.
As weird as it feels to say, Matchstick Men has what can be considered one of Nicolas Cage’s more subdued roles; by that, I mean that he only has one hilariously over the top freak-out in the whole movie. When I learned a short way into the movie about Roy’s conditions, I braced myself for the worst, but Cage surprisingly veers mostly away from portraying Roy as a raving lunatic and instead gives an excellent performance of a man who has some ethical, emotional, and mental problems, but is still very human. Some of his character’s quirks are of course used for comedic purposes, and the movie and Cage do succeed in being genuinely funny when they’re trying to be, but I was pleasantly surprised at some of Roy’s more serious moments and the way he grows as a character all the way until the very end. Alison Lohman, who plays Roy’s daughter Angela, and Rockwell are also great, but Cage’s acting stood out due in part to both his starring role and the contrast to his acting in other movies.
As for the movie itself, I really liked how some visual elements correlated to Roy’s mental state. Dark interiors dimly lit by what little of the almost blinding outside light is let in highlights Roy’s fear of outside places, and the distortion of both time and vision during his panic attacks was interesting as well. Netflix lists this movie as both a comedy and a drama, and while in my opinion the ratio was distinctly weighted in the favor of drama, as I mentioned before the comedy portions are solid. Plot-wise the film somehow manages to stay interesting in the parts focused on the cons, the scenes about Roy growing closer to his daughter, and the times when the two intermingle. It also ends with a twist that, while not overly obvious beyond some callbacks to certain lines after it’s revealed, has enough little clues and tidbits hidden throughout the film so that the viewer could figure it out before the end. That person would be admittedly smarter than me, but even without realizing it before it was revealed, the twist was entertaining and the bittersweet ending left me satisfied.
Its generally positive reviews despite its lack of box office success meant that, for the most part, critics were left satisfied as well. Matchstick Men holds a respectable 83% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a four out of four stars from Roger Ebert, although some critics were dissatisfied with Cage’s acting, the deviations from the original novel by Eric Garcia, or both. Although I’m a sucker for almost any movie with Nicolas Cage in it, I firmly believe that Matchstick Men would merit being called a great film even without his unique acting talents, which is a lot more than I can say for some of the other movies he has appeared in. So, if you’re looking to enjoy some good old fashioned “Cage rage” crime drama, it admittedly can be found in about 80% of his movies that are on Netflix right now, but I can vouch for this one in particular.
After a long, hard weekend of scouring Netflix, I’m back again to talk about movies I’ve never seen as if I had some kind of authority on the subject. For this installment, I decided to search for something that could justify the “retro” in my title. After avoiding the temptation of watching a movie I’ve already seen and scrolling past some other well-known films, I came across Heathers.
This is a title that wasn’t too familiar to me, and its casual mention of suicide and listing as a dark comedy had me intrigued. It’s also listed under “Cult Movies,” although its inclusion alongside The Iron Giant and three different installments of the Sharknado franchise has me questioning what that really means, if anything. Unlike the last movie, Heathers is an American movie, written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehmann. Fans of recent TV shows will recognize the stars Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, who’ve each gotten a Golden Globe for their performances in Mr. Robot and Stranger Things respectively.
Ryder plays Veronica, who puts up with the company of the three eponymous Heathers in order to be a part of the most popular clique in her high school. While she’s not alone in hating the Heathers, Veronica stays with them until she meets the mysterious transfer student Jason, played by Slater. The movie continues to portray a typical high school setting, including levels of swearing, drinking, and sex one would expect of an actual high school rather than of one portrayed in a movie, until the tragic suicide of Heather Chandler.
Netflix’s categorization of this movie as a dark comedy was pretty appropriate; the dialogue before, during, and after these “suicides” is filled with irreverent dry wit. What was really surprising was that the movie was also able to deliver tense moments that could be genuinely unnerving as well, although those tended to be relatively short-lived. All of the stereotypes one would expect from a high school movie were there, but they were taken to their extremes and used to make statements not only about social structures and cliques, but about a wide array of topics including homophobia and bullying. The stereotypes and other motifs, such as the color associations of the Heathers group and reoccurring conversational structures, persist through the dramatic events of the film in order to both parody them and to highlight their ever-present influence. To be fair, though, reading too far into things is another thing that is mercilessly made fun of in this movie.
If you’ve read this far, it’s probably safe to say that you can tell that I enjoyed this movie, and I’m not alone. 95% of critics gave Heathers a positive review according to Rotten tomatoes, and Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 out of 4 stars. The movie even managed to achieve one of the highest honors of any modern work: having a musical made out of it. If I had to choose something to complain about, it would be that the soundtrack was lackluster even without its noticeable aging. That said, Slater’s and Ryder’s performances were a pleasure to watch, the writing for the jokes was consistently hilarious, and there were even some cool visual elements and details to enjoy throughout.
I apologize for another positive review, and for it being of another movie that definitely isn’t family-friendly, but if you’re in the mood for some dry, morbid humor, there are worse high school movies that you could choose.