Screenshots: Vikings vs. Nic Cage in Cult Movie War

At the beginning of June, Netflix organizes a “Geeked week”, with a lot of content aimed at genre fans. But it looks like that moment is already here, given the arrival of two movies that could hardly be more suited to a particular type of cult moviegoer, and both of which have been eagerly awaited by that demographic for some time.

Both could be called “action movies”, but neither is exactly within the range of “standards” for this genre: one is from an authentic author (and not, that of Michael Bay Ambulance a few weeks ago didn’t count), while the other one is, well, about as postmodern as such things get.

Robert Eggers acquired a sizable cache making two bedroom-scale period horror films that were true psychological thrillers, at least until the end. (And even then, you could argue that any supernatural events that have occurred have only been hallucinated by characters pushed beyond reason.) The witch was an extraordinary portrait of religious fear and bigotry within an exiled settler family in 1630s New England.

three years later Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattison as island station keepers gone mad from isolation in the 1890s, was equally striking, though arguably a less successful mite overall. Both were singular visions that had an uncompromising sternness to style, atmosphere, and story content – ​​something difficult enough to pull off, let alone excite a wide enough audience.

The man from the north is something quite different, though, a big, long, star-studded sword-and-sorcery epic that probably costs five or six times the combined production budgets of those previous features. It begins in Ireland in 895 AD, as King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) returns from conquests abroad, eager to reunite with Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman) and their son Prince Amelth (Oscar Novak), who is around 10 years is considered ready. undergo a ritual passage to manhood under the guidance of his father’s holy fool Heimir (Dafoe).

But soon after, Aurvandill is murdered by his own jealous brother Fjolnir (Claes Bang), forcing the boy to flee or be killed. When we next meet Amelth, he’s played by the burly Alexander Skarsgard and part of a roving band of bloodthirsty barbarians raiding villages for loot and sport. He abandons this batch of mercenaries to pose as a captured slave upon learning that Fjolnir and Gudrun are now living in Icelandic exile. He then sets out to prove himself “loyal” in many ways to gain access to the fallen royal couple, while also planning revenge on his deceased father and presumably remarried mother against his will.

It’s a brutal and very masculine world, in which Anya Taylor-Joy of The Witch (as a Slavic slave-witch) and Icelandic icon Bjork (in a glorified cameo as “The Seeress”) have the only other female roles of note. , ones that could have easily been cut with little change to the central plot.

You can tell Eggers and co-writer Sjon were as scrupulous as possible about the period’s veracity; like the director’s previous films, this one is visually arresting in a way that emphasizes the physical challenges of landscape, custom and time. All performances are strong. Skarsgard was born for this kind of role, as he has the impressive physique and heroic good looks required, as well as the acting chops to create a believable real-world character rather than a cartoon action figure like Conan the barbaric.

Yet impressive as it is in all these departments, The man from the north– over which the director had no final control, calling his post-production process “painful” – never quite transcends the genre as Eggers has done before. It’s an unusually serious (even humorless) Dark Age show of combat, adventure, and Shakespearean intrigue, with a touch of magic. But while it lacks the pulpier qualities of ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘The Vikings’, it doesn’t land far enough from them in the essentials, nor the big-screen ‘muscleman’ epics ranging from Steve Reeves to Schwarzenegger. Eggers hasn’t quite elevated familiar conventions to the point where they become something else entirely, as David Lowery did with the Arthurian Saga last year. The green knight.

Of course you don’t give someone $75-90 million and expect them to deliver anything in the area of ​​1967 Czech Marketa Lazarova or Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2009 Rise of Valhalla, two brutally “pure”, almost abstract representations of medieval difficulties. It would be financial suicide. But for all its pagan mysticism, clever detailing and frequent beauty, The man from the north ultimately feels like a fairly stereotypical costume revenge tale – one with higher pretensions than most, sure, but not so much of higher effect. It’s a good movie, but also a little disappointing, because it’s not good enough to get away with so little fun.

There is really nothing but pleasure in the program of The unbearable weight of massive talentwhich also opens in theaters nationwide on Friday the 22nd. Its central joke is, well, Nicolas Cage: playing half-washed-up movie star Nicolas Cage, still starring in plenty of movies (the last few years he’s released about six), their highly erratic quality being seen as part of his charm – and self-harm.

Given that he was known almost from the start for his peculiar and over-the-top performances (even in mainstream hits like Peggy Sue got married or Dreamerbut especially at quirkfests like vampire kiss, The heart that is in Desert and Raising Arizona), it seems pretty amazing in retrospect that for a time there this weirdo was one of the most popular actors in the world, starring in at least some of the most in-between entertainment imaginable, starting in 1996 The rock to 2004 national treasure.

But that didn’t last, and his increasingly busy and less selective filmography (supposedly fostered by very expensive off-screen means) gradually turned him into something of a professional novelty act. How gonzo would it be this time? How random could his eccentricities become? Would they actually be related to the movie they’re in, or not? Will he raise it or sink it? Or if it’s in a serious infrequent mode, will the effect be touching or just seem disinterested? I’ve really enjoyed some Nic Cage performances and movies over the past few years (the main one mandy, Mom dadand last year Pork), but he’s still a real wildcard, not only in that you don’t know what he’s going to do, but you don’t know if what he’s doing will be good for the movie, or even for Nicolas Cage.

Unbearable weight has intelligence if it’s risky (see: the uplifting example of Burt Reynolds’ 2017 quasi-swan song The Last Movie Star) idea of ​​having his star play essentially himself. Well, he’s playing himself, Nicolas Cage, albeit a version that apparently took a few arm twists before he was ready to accept: Infinitely self-absorbed, pretentious about his art (and his “instincts comedian’s shamanisms”), very sensitive about criticism concerning: his career trajectory, a little too eager to please, bordering on desperate to obtain “the role of a lifetime” which would put him back at the top (but what he may not be too hot to win anymore). In other words, exactly the mix of larger-than-life swaggering celebs and terminally ill basketball we might just imagine Cage to be.

It’s Cage 2.0 director Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten who takes on a fictional ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and teenage daughter (Lily Sheen) who’s been suffering for a long time and really cares. fed up with his shit. Especially after reacting to a professional setback by getting drunk very hard and extremely embarrassing during the latter’s 16th birthday party. So much the better, then, that the next gig arranged for him by agent Neil Patrick Harris isn’t a movie but a paid personal appearance on the estate of a wealthy Spanish superfan, would-be olive grower Javi (Pedro Pascal). Yes, it’s humiliating to parade around in front of complete strangers and pretend to be their “friend” just for a million dollar salary. But such are the woes of a former A-list actor.

Belying his lavish digs and high security, it turns out Javi is a pretty nice guy, as well as a genuinely flattering fan. And despite the occasional nagging from his younger self’s inner voice (“Nicky,” Cage digitally rejuvenated through the mid-1980s), our protagonist has begun to enjoy the stay when he’s informed by two CIA agents ( Tiffany Hadish, Ike Barinholtz) that they need his cooperation. Javi, they say, is actually a leader of a “violent international arms cartel” whose henchmen have just kidnapped the teenage daughter of a Latin American president he wants to overthrow. The captive girl may even be held in the premises where the star of Front/Off and Air conditioning is currently sunbathing.

For America, for the sake of decency, he must use his acting skills to pose as a spy, maybe even an action hero to save her. What could be simpler ? How many times before has he played this kind of role? Could it be so hard to do it “for real”? Needless to say: Oh yes, it could.

Unbearable weight isn’t deep, but it juggles a lot of balls rather deliciously, paying loving homage to its “fuckin’ legend” star while ridiculing him (and letting himself be ridiculed), functioning like a real action movie while by parodying the genre. There are a bazillion references to Nicolas Cage’s past films – you could even say that the passage in which he and Pascal travel on LSD is a long arc to his gonzo-dom screen. Still, a measure of the film’s essential bonhomie is that the best cinephile joke here is a running reference to a movie it has nothing to do with: Paddington 2the cuddly sequel from 2017 that might just be the best feature film of the past decade that no childless adult has ever thought to watch.

Why is he plugged in so incongruously in this goofy adult fan-flick? Well why not?! Paddington 2 it’s really all that. And The unbearable weight of massive talent only makes it that much nicer to say.

The man from the north and The unbearable weight of massive talent both open in Bay Area theaters on Friday the 22nd.