As a huge coward who has been generally soured on horror movies by more recent films that seem to only function as vehicles for as many jump scares as possible, I was a bit conflicted about going to see the new IT incarnation, despite having enjoyed the older mini-series recently. I would definitely say I was pleasantly surprised, and would compare it to this commercial that showed before the movie: unnerving, alien, and hilarious.
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.
For those who are constantly badgered by friends to watch older movies that you just never got around to watching, Netflix is a godsend. I find myself in the same boat pretty often, with some people acting almost insulted that I haven’t seen one classic or another, so in a desperate attempt to stay relevant I’ve recently been trying to find the time to go through the older movies on Netflix that have passed me by as yet more and more movies make their way to an easily accessible platform. 2003 is already over ten years ago now, so I think that this movie qualifies.
Scrolling through Netflix, the title Oldboy caught my eye because of some vague recollection of a friend saying how much he hated the movie because of its ending. Granted, this is the same friend who rewatches The Dark Knight Rises at least once a week, so I was already prepared for a difference of opinion. Before I continue, I’d also like to note that the movie on Netflix is the 2003 film directed by Park Chan-wook, not the 2013 American remake by Spike Lee. This means that the entire movie is in Korean with English subtitles, but their pacing makes them easy to read compared to some other foreign works. I’m looking at you, The Tatami Galaxy.
Based off of a manga by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, Oldboy is the second installment of The Vengeance Trilogy, which should give you an idea of what sort of themes it deals with. Oh Dae-su is kidnapped on while he is out drinking instead of attending his daughter’s birthday and ends up held hostage in a hotel room for fifteen years. After learning that he has been framed for his wife’s murder, Dae-su clings to his sanity by training to fight, digging a hole in the wall to freedom, and planning his revenge on the one responsible for his imprisonment. However, just as he manages to break through the wall of the building, his room fills with gas, and when he wakes up he finds himself on a rooftop in the city. The movie continues as a thriller in which Dae-su, accompanied by a young sushi chef, goes on a hunt for the man who imprisoned him and the reason why. These scenes of intrigue are punctuated by the occasional outbreak of graphic violence or sexuality, so I wouldn’t recommend this film for younger audiences.
This work is visually enthralling from start to finish, playing with perspectives using mirrors, phone and computer screens, and different shots being shown at the same time. The choreography in the fights is also a pleasure to watch due in part to the fact that Choi Min-sik, the actor who plays Dae-su, did most of his own stunt work. Additionally, his portrayal of a man driven to desperation and insanity shines in its contrast to Yoo Ji-tae’s acting in the role of Dae-su’s adversary Lee Woo-jin, who is meticulous, obsessive, and possessive. The man bites the head off of a live octopus, and I loved every minute of it.
As far as themes go, Oldboy is far more introspective about revenge and the search for truth than other thrillers in recent memory. The tendency for revenge to be consuming but ultimately unsatisfying is touched on throughout the film, and it is portrayed as competing with the pursuit of truth even to the point of making one lose sight of which truth he should find. The nature of memories themselves also play a large role in the work; their distortion, manipulation, and loss, natural and unnatural, are key to the central conflict. Each character is troubled by their own personal demons, and even if they are viewed as insignificant in the eyes of others, they have wide-reaching consequences.
As far as the plot goes, I enjoyed this movie as a thriller especially because the main character isn’t some kind of professional killer or unbeatable martial artist. Dae-su is a man who was past his physical prime even before the events of the movie, and no amount of physical training was able to wipe away the toll of fifteen years of isolation. He’s able to beat up his fair share of henchmen, sure, but he also suffers his fair share of injuries and fainting in the process. The mystery was intriguing even after the identity of the imprisoner is revealed, and while the ending definitely has some controversial elements, its twisted version of poetic justice and its bittersweet result bring about a satisfying if somewhat open-ended conclusion. There were even some genuinely comedic moments sprinkled throughout the film to provide a stark contrast to its brutality.
At least I take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in enjoying Oldboy, despite the opinions of one or two personal friends. The critics of Rotten Tomatoes gave this movie scores that averaged out to 80 out of 100%, which is only 7% below The Dark Knight Rises and, tellingly, almost twice the score of the newer adaptation of Oldboy. I would definitely suggest waiting until any kids (or, if you’re a rebel watching movies above your suggested age rating, parents) are definitely asleep before starting it up, but if you don’t mind its graphic nature and having to read subtitles for about two hours, then it is definitely one of the better thrillers available on Netflix.
- Review of Bawds Playhouse Creatures, ADC Theatre, Cambridge
- Photos courtesy of D Stuart Photography
To meet Chris Hudson, director of Bawds’ Playhouse Creatures, you meet a softly spoken, understated chap. The mental gymnastics required to see the link between the quiet wrestling geek in front of you and the person who could drive a schizophrenically emotional roller coaster such as tonight’s show are no mean feat.
It is a rare thing to be belly-laughing one second at a raucous bawdy play on words and then seconds later to be moved to tears by a level of emotion and impact that takes you aback on a visceral, instinctive level. Set in 17th century London, Playhouse Creatures deals with the first actresses working after Charles II altered the law to allow women on stage.
The clever relationship between the fictional actresses and audience and the real-life actresses and audience is a charm of the script but making it work as something other than breaking the 4th wall with a knowing wink is a credit to the ladies and gents involved in the production. The revolving set to transport us in and out of the backstage area gives a sense of professionalism in the production and also gives the audience a large-print cue as to what section of these people’s lives we are watching. The voyeurism of their highs and lows mirrored between the script attendees and the real ones was something to make you keep coming back, and I am sure this show will stay with me for some time.
The cast is excellent without exception, with Becky Gilbert’s enchanting portrayal of folk heroine Nell Gwynn effervescently taking us from rags to…well, almost… you’ll have to watch the show. Other highlights are an amazingly powerful Sarah Ingram playing the actress within the actress flirting with Lady Macbeth’s madness and one of the first tastes of the darker impact behind the play comes from a passionate Helen Holgate. It’s a nightmarish task to pick highlights, as the whole cast was splendid, and the level of support from an excellent crew backstage and an inspired set was apparent even to us plebs in the cheap seats.
These ladies and gentlemen have done wonders with their parts (cheap laugh, cheers.), contributing to an extremely enrapturing whole (cheap laugh, cheers.) and at the same time have shown us the best and worst of the arts and the audience. Very powerful, very evocative, riotous good fun. There’s nothing am about this amdram. You’d be bonkers to miss it.
Tickets are available from the ADC Theatre website.
Alex Page is a freelancer and unionist, and bank person and cross-dressing stage extra and soon-to-be-dad and wannabe standup from Cambridge, UK. See him write stuff and say stuff at multimediamouth.com, see him say stuff he’s been told to say onstage from 23rd – 26th July at the Corpus Christi Playrooms in Cambridge for Breakanegg Theatre.
Lord Jimsicle and Chris Maddock of Earth take a look at the classic Superman cartoons from the 1940s!
Apologies for the low video quality, had some HD rendering problems!
Lord Jimsicle reviews Man of Steel! Be warned, there are spoilers!
Here’s the second part of our Christmas special where we talk about comic-based works in film and television
Twitter @jimsicle #YHI
I listened to Taylor Swift’s new album Red, and boy was I confused! I mean, Taylor, I am a huge fan of your big hits, and have listened to all your albums, and this has to be the most awkward album I have heard from you. Usually I do a track by track reviews, but I really can’t this time around.
As cool as it would be to have a real hurricane from the type of music you write, Switchfoot did not really cause “Hurricane Foot”…lame joke? However, the band released a brand new album, Hello Hurricane introducing a whole new, and different sound from most previous albums. The Foreman brothers are musical geniuses, but they had a sound when they first started that was distinctive to them that they have now seemingly abandoned.