Welcome back to Reagan’s Recs, we took a brief break for the holidays but we’re back to kick off the new year (can you believe that it’s 2022 already?) with some Nic Cage talk from Chris Eddleman, one of the hosts of Chrises on Infinite Earths, a podcast about comics crossover events like Crisis on Infinite Earths (get it? I think it’s great.) Aside from comics, Chris also loves movies, he has an enthusiasm for them that made me seek him out as a potential guest. I was very excited when he agreed to do this and even more excited when he pitched his theme. So, without further ado, I’m glad to present Chris’ thoughts on the greatest actor of our time, Nic Cage.
Nicolas Cage is in like a million movies. Upon starting this article, I was kind of astonished just HOW MANY he’s in. And what’s absolutely wild is the stark range of quality that these movies show. Cage is in Oscar-Winning Films (not to mention having won one himself) as well as an incredibly large amount of direct-to-video movies. He’s in action, comedies, intense dramas, indie movies, and summer blockbusters. Cage is a chameleon, able to turn it up and down as the movie dictates. In one film he’ll barely have any lines while another will have him screaming and flailing across the set. I’m not sure if he’s the best actor of his generation but he’s certainly the most interesting, a man who has been in Drive Angry and Leaving Las Vegas. I’ve got for you this month a list of indispensable Cage films, not necessarily good, but definitely intriguing.
The action classic, containing possibly the silliest and most ludicrous premise of all time, absolutely belongs on the list of Cagiest things. It took me far too long into my adult life to catch this flick, and I’m absolutely kicking myself because it’s the kind of movie I would have watched forty times as a teenager. Anyway, John Woo directs this frenetic action movie, in which Nicolas Cage plays terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy and John Travolta plays FBI hotshot Sean Archer. Archer wants revenge for Troy (accidentally kind of) killing his young son, and he goes to basically any length to do so—including TRADING FACES with the captured Troy in order to get information from the villain’s dweeby brother Pollux (Castor and Pollux Troy in case we’re wondering if this movie is making any attempt at subtlety).
This movie is absolutely a delightful blockbuster, with more chases and gunfights than you really expect, sometimes straining the limits of credulity. And Cage and Travolta are absolutely wild here playing each other, with Cage at his absolute most bonkers and Travolta trying his absolute best to keep up. Highlights include a scene where Cage is dressed as a priest conducting a choir and dancing like a maniac, an improvised monologue in which the name of the film is dropped, and a beachside funeral that ends in a boat chase. Come for the action and the two men clearly in love with each other, stay for the weird way Travolta’s family shows affection by swiping hands down each other’s faces.
A recent Cage movie, and one in which I think he shows his quality—Pig is the story of a solitary man named Robin (played by our guy) whose prized truffle-sniffing swine is snatched away from his, as well as the lengths he’ll go to get said pig back. I say it’s about that, but it also absolutely isn’t at the same time. I’ve seen this movie compared to John Wick, and I suppose that’s an okay comparison. There’s just a lot of quiet moments in Pig, as the plot and Robin’s past slowly unfold over the course of the film.
Pig is absolutely a movie that subverts (at least my) expectations. I thought we would be getting something more like Mandy, a movie drenched in bloody violence. Now there is a bit, but it’s meted out sparingly, while most of the caper is solved by Cage’s character’s words and deeds as he steps back into his old life of a famous chef. This film is honestly beautiful, with deliberate pacing and a restrained Cage proving that he’s more than just a man who can yell. It’s a film about the things we do in response to loss, and what we use as a crutch to avoid the past.
The film that brought about the true return of Cage (even though he’s really never left), Mandy is a film of visceral bloody revenge. Cage plays a logger named Red Miller, who lives with his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), an artist who works at a convenience store. The duo make a heartfelt pair, two quiet stoic people who deal with their traumas together. Things turn sour as a local cult leader has his eye on Mandy, and things only escalate from there as the drug-providing cult recruits a demonic-looking biker gang to kidnap Mandy, with Cage vowing terrible vengeance.
Surrealist imagery and ultra-violence are at the center of this film, as everything evil seems to be fueled in the story by drug use. The film uses psychedelic imagery to further the escalating dreamlike feeling of the film, as drug use creeps into every character’s story. This is a wild ride, and is the only movie I’ve actually gone and checked my color settings for, because I assumed the solid shaded lenses were the doing of my television rather than this film. Watch Cage in two flavors, as he shifts from quiet and introspective into a crescendo of violent monster. Unlike the “Full Cage” movies that follow on this list, this is a tempered Cage, directed into truly effective character work, even as we still get a scene of him absolutely screaming his lungs out in a bathroom.
Prisoners of the Ghostland
Chris, why did you put this—Cage’s newest film on the list? Well, because it’s absolutely bonkers. If Nicolas Cage could somehow act in a movie that was also him, this would be the one. Sion Sono directs this flick and decided that the ever-present push and pull between westerns and samurai movies would be simply solved by mashing them together and injecting some post-apocalyptic flare. Prisoners of the Ghostland stars Nicolas as a former bank robber turned prisoner in the only town in a quarantined area where many years ago a nuclear waste cataclysm took place.
Cage (who is only known as Hero in this film) is sent by a local warlord to retrieve his “granddaughter” (think Immorten Joe’s wife) who left the stifling safety of the town for freedom in the wild Ghostlands outside. Hero is outfitted with a suit equipped with explosives in case of his disobedience and boy do we see them used. This movie is a fever dream, more style than substance, and of possibly dubious quality but, it’s a necessary Cage watch. What other movie from this year contains a man who encases women in mannequins for artistic purposes, a group of cultists trying to keep a nuclear clock from striking midnight, and Cage somehow turning “testicles” into a six-letter word? Plus, the action is slick and the ambiance is wild off-kilter armageddon. It’s a little too neat as the theme about our actions from the past catching up with us in ways we don’t expect comes together in a little bow. The plot is kind of shallow and somewhat nonsensical but it’s absolutely visually intriguing and never boring. And what else can I ask for in a film?
And finally, the absolute pillar of Cage-Vampire’s Kiss. When I say this is Cage at his least restrained, seemingly barely taking direction from anyone outside of his own skull, I absolutely mean it. We tend to think of post-2000s Cage as the one who got really out there but, this film did it first, and it did it best. It feels like a strange comedic shadow of American Psycho, only years earlier and even stranger.
Cage plays Peter Loew, a literary agent who lives a hedonistic 80s big shot life, but has a slowly declining mental state which he treats with talk therapy. However, things get completely out there when he has a one-night stand with a woman (Jennifer Beals) who appears to be a vampire. Loew, however, merely THINKS he is turning into a vampire and is instead losing his mind.
Cage puts on the absolute strangest 80s yuppie New Yorker accent, which kind of comes and goes throughout the film. This is coupled with several instances of him absolutely berating and gaslighting his poor secretary (María Conchita Alonso) in terrifying fashion. Cage is absolutely devouring the furniture in every scene he’s in, exuberantly flailing and making the most extremely wide-eyed faces imaginable. He’s as Cage as Cage can be, in a movie where a man wearing cheap plastic vampire fangs reasons with a dumpster.