Tom Jolliffe looks at two highly anticipated and unique films due to hit cinemas on April 22nd, The Northman and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent…
April has perennially been something of a slow month in film release terms. In more recent times, given the sheer volume of blockbuster tent-poles, (particularly those under the Marvel and DC brand) its been the appetiser ahead of the summer season onslaught. Historically the big studios have always looked to target summer, or target specific holiday releases like Christmas. Marvel in particular, have changed the viewpoint on April, with early Spring releases proving more popular. Avengers: Infinity War for example, was an April release, and went on to become one of the highest grossing films ever. It was deemed the audience demand was there to pitch it early, in the hope that continuing into summer the film would have longevity. It did. Avengers: Endgame then did the same. As far as 2022 goes, The Batman went even earlier in the years slate, though in actuality you might consider that it arrived significantly later than the original intention thanks to Covid.
So this April one scans the release slates. The comic book film of choice is Morbius which has opened to scathing reviews and solid if unspectacular box office. The month as a whole doesn’t offer a huge range in interesting choices, but we do have a new Michael Bay film in Ambulance which has received better reviews than he’s managed in over 25 years. Still, it’s not so much the blockbuster line-up that has intrigued me this year. The Batman was the pick of the bunch as far as buzz as far as those, and we’ve had that out already. There is a date in the calendar, at least for the US schedules, that really does catch my eye. Why? Because my two most anticipated films of the year come out on the very same day. Being UK side however, I get one of these, of Viking persuasion, a week earlier. These two particular films have gathered some buzz, some early positive responses, and have released some mouth watering trailers.
Firstly, let’s look at The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Nicolas Cage is killing it right now. The Cage-naissance is in full swing. He’s ploughed away merrily doing straight to video films, which often end up crushingly average, but where Cage never goes through the motions. He’s always invested in what he’s doing, even when he’s turning up on a quick paycheck job. Something happened around a decade ago though, and Cage found himself becoming an internet phenomenon. Endlessly memed for his treasure trove of eccentric performances and over the top facial gurns (going back the entirety of his career), people suddenly remembered Cage, and a new wave began appreciating his quirks and unique approach to film acting. Then a few film-makers began to catch on to the potential to hone in on this. We’ve had the ironic approach, where Cage was given license to send himself up in films like Mom and Dad, Willy’s Wonderland or Prisoners of the Ghostland. They had their moments, but thematically those films didn’t quite connect beyond Cage being allowed to willfully chew scenery or make outlandish choices.
In amongst the innumerable Cage releases of the last five years, there have been two of the best films of recent years full stop. First came Mandy, a kaleidoscopic, psychedelic, colour drenched fantasy horror that allowed Cage unfettered freedom, but made it feel genuine. For cult horror lovers, Mandy became an instant cult favourite. It’s a masterpiece in horror cinema fusing art-house, grindhouse, fantasy and horror beautifully into something that feels inherently unique. Side-note, the imminent return of Panos Cosmatos with Nekrokosm cannot come soon enough. Mandy not only made the most perfect use of ‘Nic Cage losing his shit’ but it added pathos and intensity. It’s an acquired taste but if you love it, you really fucking love it (I really fucking love it). Then Cage starred in Pig, a contemplative odyssey as a reclusive former chef goes searching for his stolen truffle pig. The outline might have teased the prospect of Cage doing John Wick with a pig, but the film delivered something else entirely. I’ll say it now, it’s a great piece of work and Cage should have been nominated for an Oscar. It’s one of his most refrained and introspective roles, and even in the moments he threatens to go wild, he reigns it back in beautifully, whilst still conveying that inner turmoil. Pig opened to rave reviews but deserved a far wider audience than it got. In truth, Mandy was more than deserving of a wider release than it garnered too, particularly given the high turnouts in the limited screens it appeared on.
With Cage on the up and people taking notice once more (notably auteurs), the search for another perfect role raged on. As well as an upcoming performance as Dracula in the film Renfield (which is inspired casting), Cage first takes on his ultimate role: Nic Cage. We’ve seen Meta movies with stars playing exaggerated versions of themselves. When they’re pulled off well, the results can be great (see Being John Malkovich and JCVD). Cage thus, goes into a film with exponential potential to entertain if honed into something coherent and watchable. Ironically, perhaps Cage may have been partly inspired by a certain Muscles From Brussels. There’s interview footage going back to the time JCVD was having a successful festival run, where Cage gushes about the film. He was blown away by it. He loved it, particularly surprised at the dramatic powers of the titular Belgian icon. I can’t help but feel that heightened take on a real person in a high concept plot was something Cage thought back to whilst reading the script for this one. In any case, Cage as Cage puts him in a bizarre situation where a billionaire and massive Cage fan, invites the actor to stay with him. As they begin to bond over Cage’s back catalogue, the CIA pull Cage in and task him with helping to take down the billionaire (Pedro Pascal) suspected of being a crime lord.
Frankly it’s a great concept with a trailer promising laughs, adventure and anarchic chaos with Cage and Pascal looking like a brilliant double act. The reviews thus far seem to suggest that promise is more than fulfilled with this likely to become a cult favourite joining the ranks of Being John Malkovich. For Cage, it’s another inspired performance allowing him to play up to his image, but keep a grip on the kind of pathos he’s capable of conveying. The fact it’s not just resting on Cage doing his thing is also sensible, showing significant creative intelligence. It could have been lazy, a cacophony of ‘big’ moments cobbled together to vaguely resemble a movie, but writer/director Tom Gormican (co-written with Kevin Etten) appears to have crafted something a bit special and allowed ample platform for the other cast to shine too. For me, as a Cage fan, from the first announcement, this was always going to rocket to the top end of my most anticipated films.
SEE ALSO: Read our review of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent here
One of my other most anticipated films sees the return of another visionary director. Right now, Robert Eggers is two for two with cult horror films. The Witch helped a growing resurgence in folk horror, offering the kind of adept subtlety that demands repeat viewing. The Lighthouse was bolder and bigger, whilst being even more confined. A cabin fever classic shot on old film stock, in black and white and 1.19-1 format. The narrow frame perfectly adhering to the confines of the cramped lighthouse setting created claustrophobia and domineering tension. Meanwhile, the two actors, Willem Dafoe and Robert Battinson (Pattinson) perfectly flit between introspection and bouts of scenery chomping (Dafoe leaning more heavily on the latter). It’s an atmospheric, terse and creative film, loaded with playful ambiguity. In fact, alongside Mandy it’s one of my favourite horror films from the past decade. Eggers is an auteur to watch. His work showing the clear mark of a visionary. Someone adept at creating enthralling cinema on low budgets and confined settings.
Now we see Eggers going into expansive territory. His choice to do a big budget, violent Viking opus raised eyebrows, not least studios I should imagine. As a genre it’s a tough sell on the big screen. The old historical epics seem to be out of fashion. Ask Ridley Scott, who has consistently struggled to match the success of Gladiator and whose The Last Duel bombed at the box office (despite his best reviews in years). Still, there’s just this sense that Eggers has probably done something more unique, more redefining. That he’s done something more daring and creatively inspired than a routine period epic. This has elements of Norse fantasy in a film that doesn’t look unlike Conan the Barbarian (both in terms of ethereal visuals, brutality and a plot centered on a life consuming quest for vengeance, from child to adulthood). Conan was an operatic and atmospheric masterpiece, never quite appreciated for just how good it was, and undervalued partly because its star, Arnold Schwarzenegger has perennially been written off as a bodybuilder action man rather than actor. There will be no such issues for Alexander Skarsgard who comes from character acting royalty. A family of acting geniuses, not least Pa Stellan, one of the most consistently enthralling character actors in modern cinema. He’s sadly not in this, but the cast is stellar regardless with Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Willem Defoe, Ralph Ineson, Anya Taylor-Joy and Bjork all getting in on the Nordic action.
As a film it looks grounded, gritty, stark, but also with the right amount of mythology and fantasy. It comes in an age where these films are far more valued. If Eggers has kept a tight grip on the story and not succumbed too much to the indulgence of an auteur in good form, then this should deliver something special. He’s a director very assured in his vision and someone who seems to like to challenge his audience. As such, the films aren’t always instantly accessible for everyone. Some couldn’t quite hook into The Witch or The Lighthouse, and it could prove the case here, but hopefully enough will to create buzz and another cult movie. Additionally I’d have few doubts (famous last words of course) that this will be layered with plenty beneath the surface to be unearthed on repeat viewings. In all truth too, I’m also delighted to see Bjork return to cinema. An all around amazing artist, whose work in Dancer In The Dark was hauntingly good, I’m hopeful she proves impactful in the film.
SEE ALSO: Read our review of The Northman here
The question is, if these two do hit their potential. Is it all downhill for the rest of 2022? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.