Tag Archives: Nicolas Cage

Face Off: Hercules (1997) and Superman I/II (1978/80)

Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

As the leading voice in movie reviews, we at Motion State Review judge films based on a wide variety of factors — dialogue, acting, cinematography, whether or not Nic Cage is in it, etc. But perhaps the most important quality a movie can have, in this contributor’s humble opinion, is originality. Sometimes, we do not recognize a movie’s level of originality unless it is noticeably unoriginal (Avatar rehashing Pocahontas, to name one; seriously they are the same movie). Other times, you can see a movie a dozen times before realizing that maybe you have seen the same exact thing somewhere else. Such was the case as when I traveled to Athens and watched the Disney movie Hercules for the first time in several years, because a true movie critic travels thousands of miles just to watch an animated movie that takes place there. I expected to get a heavy dose of nostalgia while watching; instead I got a heavy dose of…Superman?

In the same way that Avatar and Pocahontas are similar enough that any high school teacher would claim plagiarism, so, too, I found, were Hercules and the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies. Heck, they’re about one Superman solo song away from being the same movie (which would be awesome in the next Man of Steel flick, as long as Henry Cavill’s singing voice is as fantastic as his acting). But, let’s make one thing clear about who’s stealing from whom: the myth of Hercules came just slightly (a few thousand years) before the character of Superman was invented.

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Gods of Egypt (2016)

For a long time now the internet has been a halcyon refuge for those steadfast in the belief that opinions can be equated with facts. Prior to the actual release of Gods of Egypt the film was subjected to the fervor whipped up by the fact that the cast was almost entirely white, and before you could say CGI sphinx most had written off GoE as a waste of time. In what may have been a heartfelt apology or one driven entirely by a marketing scramble to save face, director Alex Proyas publicly stated that they dropped the ball on the whole diversity thing. #EgyptSoWhite persevered as if Proyas had stayed silent because, hey, it’s the internet. No well-meaning statement is going to stopper a good ol’ fashioned media frenzy.

After GoE came out, though, the film was subjected to another kind of criticism, this time whipped up by the notion that the movie was actually really bad. Ah, the internet. Proyas responded, as Proyas seems wont to do. Here is his post from his Facebook in near-entirety, edited only slightly for length:

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The Devil’s Double (2011)

Yesterday morning, after I wrote about Moneyball, I went back and looked up the other films from 2011 in my little Film’s I’ve Seen notebook. I don’t actually have a little Films I’ve Seen notebook, but I do have a computer and an uncanny ability, usually, to read the title of a movie or see the poster and recall if I have recently watched it. Sometimes not. Alex Cross? I watched that? But sometimes I manage to remember something I did without even being reminded by a computer that I did it, and watching The Devil’s Double is one of those things.

I don’t know if that thing is a good thing or not, though. The Devil’s Double is definitely memorable, but it lacks the certain whatever that would make it truly unforgettable. Dominic Cooper (Howard Stark from Captain America: The First Avenger/Agent Carter and soon-to-be-star of AMC’s Preacher adaptation) pulls double duty as Uday Hussein (the eponymous Devil) and Latif Yahia (the eponymous Double) in this highly-fictionalized biopic, and he’s the reason the film sticks in your mind at all. Latif, the man forced to become the body double for the sadistic eldest son of Saddam Hussein, is the heart and soul of The Devil’s Double; Uday, heartless, soulless, is the real force of nature within the film.

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Kiss of Death (1995)

Maybe the lasting symbols of the 1990s are different for everyone, but as far as movies go there’s an uncomplicated formula: we either remember a movie because it’s great or we remember a movie because it absolutely sucks. The vast majority fall in the middle, films that might have been passable at the time but are ultimately forgettable because, hey, look, Dunkaroos. Did you see that movie? No, I was too busy trading six Warheads for a gel pen and beating the hell out of my siblings with Sock’em Boppers with a sweatshirt tied around my waist. But what a time the mid-’90s was for movies that were just straight-up fun — like Space Jam, Home Alone, Men in Black, Independence Day, Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Flubber, every other Robin Williams movie. And what a time it was for movies that were just straight-up awful — like Kiss of Death.

Admittedly, this is not a movie I remember from childhood as being spectacularly bad. It came and went and I never watched it or even heard of it until recently, engrossed at the time in Goosebumps books and Outkast (Say Cheese and Die! was my jam, Outkast still is). But the first ten minutes of Kiss of Death brought ’90s nostalgia rushing back — the good kind, not the O.J. Simpson kind — in such a way that it felt like this just might be one of those terrible, laughably overacted ’90s action flicks that, were I a few years older, I might have remembered as one of those terrible, laughably overacted ’90s action flicks. In lieu of entering the abyss of nitpicking that would result from a look at the entire movie, let’s just take those first ten minutes.

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Adaptation. (2002)

I have no idea who Charlie Kaufman is. I’m aware that he’s a screenwriter, that for a while he was known mostly as “the Being John Malkovich guy”, that he’s forayed into directing, and that he’s the esteemed subject of this Writer Series (one lucky guy). I’ve seen his movies, read his scripts, watched his interviews. I’ve done all of that all over again. I could zip over to Almighty Wikipedia and tell you his middle name and age and birthplace and favorite Dr. Seuss book (probably Hop on Pop), but the point is that when the only access point to a person is their art, it’s difficult to say you really know that person at all. In much the same way that a picture of a person is not, in fact, the real person, poring over an artist’s work hardly gives any insight at all to what kind of person they really are.

…that’s the easy answer, at least, and it’s one of many possible answers to the fantastic knit ball of questions that is Kaufman’s second collaboration with director Spike Jonze. The beautiful, prismlike nature of Adaptation. really can’t be overstated: dynamic and poignant, sensible and absurd, heartbreakingly sad and riotously funny. It respects and follows a certain structure while simultaneously succeeding in not giving a single shit about structure, consequently managing to start at the literal beginning of time and nonetheless distilling those billions of years into a single keystroke.

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Joe (2013)

There’s a movie called Bob and the Trees that premiered at Sundance last month. It’s about a guy named Bob, and it’s about some trees. Bob’s a logger in rural Massachusetts, and when winter sets in he starts encountering problems. The premise alone isn’t particularly exciting, so Bob and the Trees draws compelling cinema from another source: the fact that Bob is played by a logger named Bob, and Bob the character is very much a version of Bob the logger. It’s fiction, of course, but it’s also true (“nonfiction” doesn’t seem like the right word). The characters are reading a script, but they’re more or less reading it as themselves. It makes Bob and the Trees into a kind of hybrid that looks and feels — again, for lack of a better word — real.

David Gordon Green’s Joe isn’t exactly that. It’s not a true documentary, not docudrama, not cinéma vérité, not kino-pravda (“film-truth”), and not even as factual as Bob and the Trees. But damn if it isn’t close, and damn if it isn’t Green’s most balanced and lifelike film since his 2001 debut George Washington.

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