Cage Examination #15: Honeymoon In Vegas
Film: Honeymoon In Vegas
Demeanor: Scared, angry, scared, angry, scared, angry, angry, angry, angry, and then maybe happy?
Hair Quality: Long and often sideways.
Performance Quality: Seven Cages Out of Ten
Prior to rewatching Honeymoon in Vegas for this feature, I remembered exactly two scenes from my earlier viewings as a kid. Specifically, I remembered the image of a then still somewhat appealing Sarah Jessica Parker emerging from a swimming pool (in a bikini that offered a generous helping of “underboob”) to a sweaty, nervous Nicolas Cage, and her face going from one of happiness to immediate concern as Cage prepared to tell her that he had essentially just lost her in a poker game. The other scene involved the great Burton Gilliam as a Flying Elvis, explaining to Nicolas Cage that he is, in fact, a Flying Elvis. I didn’t even remember the actual scene of the Flying Elvi flying. I just remembered the words “We’re the Flyin’ Elvises!”
In rewatching Honeymoon In Vegas last night, those two scenes have been joined by the image of Nicolas Cage shouting angrily in an airport at a clueless Ben Stein, and coining the term “airport jail” in the process. The rest of the movie? Pretty much forgotten it already.
Okay, forgotten is maybe overstating it, but I now understand why Honeymoon In Vegas remained in my brain as little more than a pair of scenes for so long. Most of this movie is little more than a fevered blur of idiotic Hollywood romantic comedy tropes laid out across hacky covers of Elvis songs by artists who were old even by 1991 standards. Sorry Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, but I never needed to hear your best Elvis interpretations.
Cage Examination #14: Zandalee
Demeanor: The most slithery, scumfucky, pre-hipster artist asshole humanity has ever known.
Hair Quality: Lengthy, greasy, largely overshadowed by his pirate goatee.
Performance Quality: Eight Cages Out of Ten
It pains me to realize how little of my life as a writer on subjects regarding film has been dedicated to analyzing the erotic thriller genre. Is there any film genre more hilariously era specific than this one? My memory has always been a fuzzy one, but I’m fairly certain that the years between 1984 and 1995 were what would be referred to as the Halcyon Days of erotic thrilling via film. It was a glorious time to go through puberty, I must admit. Movies like Body Double, Basic Instinct and the Poison Ivy series easily made up for their lack of plot and acting by being completely acceptable masturbation material for the pre-Internet male population. And even when these movies failed at being particularly erotic, they usually did it in such remarkably bonkers ways that they became legendary in their own, hyper-specific right.
Zandalee is a film that definitely fails to be erotic. It’s also not much of a thriller. But it is completely fucking bonkers.
Cage Examination #13: Wild At Heart
Film: Wild at Heart
Demeanor: Pretty much just like Elvis, except way more manslaughtery.
Hair Quality: Your typical Nicolas Cage poof, dyed darker than usual.
Performance Quality: Eight Cages Out of Ten.
I should have known exactly what I was getting myself into with this feature. I looked down the list of films I’d be watching countless times while preparing my schedule. I knew the movies I’d have to watch, and even with the movies I’d never seen, I had a reasonable expectation of what would be coming my way in most cases. When I came to March 26, and put it together with the David Lynch/Nicolas Cage collaboration Wild At Heart, I remember thinking to myself, “Huh, I totally forgot Nic Cage was ever in a David Lynch movie. That should be good and weird.”
I had no idea.
It’s not that I’ve never seen a David Lynch movie. In fact, I’ve seen most David Lynch movies, as well as most of the Twin Peaks series run (that second season is a bit tough to get through.) It’s not that knowing Lynch’s catalog is somehow an easy preparation for what you might be in store for, mind you. David Lynch’s brand of weirdness is so distinctly and uniquely unpredictable that it’s even been branded “Lynchian,” for lack of a better descriptor. By all accounts, I should have known that I’d have no idea what I was in store for with Wild At Heart. And yet, I was nonetheless dumbfounded by what I saw.
Cage Examination #12: Fire Birds
Film: Fire Birds
Demeanor: That of a brash, cocky, jockish poon-hound who also flies helicopters real good.
Hair Quality: The same haircut every jock asshole I went to high school with sported through most of the ’90s.
Performance Quality: Six Cages out of Ten
When we think of Nicolas Cage: The Action Star, it’s not difficult to quickly conjure up images of him Rocket Man-ing his way through Alcatraz alongside Sean Connery in The Rock, doing both his best John Travolta impersonation and also a fairly ridiculous Nicolas Cage impersonation in Face/Off, and drawling his way through Con Air as a long-haired, peace-loving former Army Ranger on a plane full of mass murderers. These are the iconic Nic Cage action roles, the movies that made him a real, honest-to-god action star, very much flying in the face of his supposed “Oscar Prestige,” earned for his dramatic turn in Leaving Las Vegas.
But it’s not as though Nicolas Cage had never done a big, dumb action movie prior to Leaving Las Vegas. In fact, his first foray into cocky action heroism and running away from random explosions came years prior to his 1996 Oscar win, in the little-seen and understandably ignored 1990 boondoggle Fire Birds.
Easily summed up as Top Gun with helicopters, Fire Birds is an unsurprisingly awful movie. It’s little more than a mummified relic of the kind of brain-free action horseshit that was so popular during the jingoistic Reagan years; one that doesn’t seem quite aware that the world was then two years deep into the original Bush years, and that dudes with fancy military weaponry spouting cut-rate one-liners while killing bargain-basement bad guys wasn’t quite enough to grab an audience’s attention anymore—especially after Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, and Chuck Norris had done it so many times before, and so much better. By the time 1990 rolled around and Fire Birds released, it had to go directly up against movies like Back to the Future Part III, Total Recall, and The Hunt for Red October. Unsurprisingly, it failed. It’s probably telling that I was shocked to learn Fire Birds came out in theaters at all, let alone made $14 million in ticket sales. Watching it now, you’d easily expect it to have been a direct-to-video affair.
Cage Examination #11: Tempo di uccidere (Time to Kill)
Film: Tempo di uccidere (Time to Kill)
Demeanor: I sincerely have no idea how to describe this succinctly.
Hair Quality: Angry.
Performance Quality: Three Cages Out of Ten.
When researching this feature, I initially came across the title Tempo di uccidere and dismissed it, simply assuming that it was some kind of cameo appearance in some random Italian movie that I wouldn’t have to address. Maybe Nicolas Cage had simply made an appearance in the film to placate a friend of the Coppola family, or just happened to be in Italy at the time. So you’ll imagine my amazement whereupon I discovered that Nicolas Cage was, in fact, the star of this English language Italian production. This fact became all the more bewildering as I attempted to do some cursory research on the movie ahead of watching it, and came up mostly empty. Listings for the movie certainly exist, as do a few scattered images and brief, often unintelligible user reviews. There is also a full stream of the movie available on Hulu at this very moment, should you suddenly have the desire to go watch it. However, I cannot recommend enough against this.
Suffice it to say, with no significant DVD release that I can point to (the DVD I bought looks like it was produced out of some dude’s basement) and zero mentions of the movie anywhere in Cage’s interview history, I had little to nothing to go on here beyond this bizarre, and frankly amazing IMDB plot summary as written by someone who clearly does not speak English as their first language. From IMDB user 1felco:
1936, Italian army is invading Ethiopia. Lieutenant Silvestri suffering toothache decides to reach the nearest camp hospital. But the lorry has an accident and stop near a rock, so Silvestri continues by walk. On his way he meets and rapes a wonderful young Ethiopian. He also wound her when he shot to a wild animal, and later kills her to avoid further pain. When he finally reaches the hospital, he realizes he gets probably leprosy. Trying to escape from Ethiopia Silvestri will kill again. But surprises aren’t still over.
Cage Examination #10: Vampire’s Kiss
Film: Vampire’s Kiss
Demeanor: Falsely affluent and ill-tempered, eventually snowballing into something that closely resembles a schizophrenic as envisioned by Brian Cosgrove.
Hair Quality: The Patrick Bateman yuppie cut, which becomes progressively more disheveled as the movie wears on.
Performance Quality: Something like a billion Cages out of Ten. All of the fucking Cages, okay? All of them.
There is a name that, when uttered among fans of Our Greatest Living Actor, brings a hushed sense of awe over those in the room. It’s a name that is synonymous with all things Nicolas Cage. It is a name that brings with it an overwhelming volume of exasperatingly delivered lines of memorable dialogue, more bug-eyed facial expressions than one ever assumed a single man to be capable of, and more patented Nicolas Cage freakouts than any other movie before it, and any other movie since. That name is Peter Loew.
As the despicable, crumbling shell of a man at the center of Vampire’s Kiss, Peter Loew is as loathsome a character as Cage had played to date. He’s a horrific man, prone to gross displays of shameless narcissism, insane bursts of abject rage (often directed at his poor secretary, who we’ll discuss more later), and crazed hallucinations that make him believe that, yes, he is a vampire. It is, in my assessment, one of the most exaggeratedly crazed deconstructions of a man ever put to film. It’s the role that solidified Cage’s raison d’etre as a vessel through which pure, uncut insanity flows with no identifiable hindrance. It is the movie that made Nicolas Cage into Nicolas Cage.
And to think, the role of Peter Loew almost went to Judd Nelson.
Cage Examination #9: Moonstruck
Demeanor: Operatically lovelorn. Sometimes less so.
Hair Quality: The bedraggled muss of a man who lost both his hand and his bride. Except when he bothers to comb it. Then it looks okay!
Performance Quality: Seven Cages out of Ten.
If it weren’t for Cher, Nicolas Cage would never have been a part of Moonstruck.
Think about those words for a second. Think about them in the context of Nicolas Cage’s career up to this point. Eight films deep, Cage’s reputation is still something not yet fully formed, and yet there is a distinct aura around what a Nicolas Cage performance looks like at this point in history. He’s officially graduated from his days playing teens and developmentally arrested early 20-somethings. Raising Arizona solidified his transition from full-on teen-ish heartthrob to a grown ass adult—albeit a very strange one. Nicolas Cage is something damn close to a movie star at this juncture, and his persona, as we know it, is nothing short of operatically crazy. If a filmmaker in 1987 were looking for a man to portray a comically tortured soul, especially one of Italian descent, who else but Nicolas Cage would sound correct for the part?
And yet, if it weren’t for Cher, Nicolas Cage would not have been in Moonstruck.
Cage Examination #8: Raising Arizona
Film: Raising Arizona
Demeanor: A mixture of suave, Southernly charm, and enough manic facial tics to make you wonder if he’s having a stroke every other scene.
Hair Quality: Tall, and often sideways.
Performance Quality: Ten Cages out of Ten.
A hundred years from now, when film students and scholars of the post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland discuss the sublimely weird cinema of the past, three names will invariably come up again and again in their discussions: Joel and Ethan Coen, and Nicolas Cage.
Think of the respective catalogs of both these entities. The Coen Brothers, often seen as one singular creature of cinematic weirdness, have somehow built a legitimately successful career out of making movies that most indie filmmakers would have nightmares about trying to get produced. Certainly they started out as struggling filmmakers initially, but in the years since films like The Big Lebowski, Fargo, and yes, Raising Arizona have gone on to become cult classics, the brothers have repeatedly avoided any possible aspersions of going soft on their inherently odd tendencies. Their entire catalog is as easily definable as being “Coensian” as it is utterly undefinable otherwise. These guys don’t just shirk genre classification; they defeat genre classification.
Cage Examination #7: The Boy In Blue
Film: The Boy In Blue
Demeanor: The 19th century equivalent of Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.
Hair Quality: Very blonde, and very carefully combed. Even when he’s drunk!
Performance Quality: Six Cages out of Ten.
Chances are that, unless you’re one of those 19th century enthusiast types ordering mustache wax off the Internet, or perhaps one of the Winklevoss twins, you don’t have a clue what sculling even is. It’s rowing. Specifically, the rowing of a boat in competitive form. According to the preamble of text that opens The Boy In Blue, “Before baseball, football, or soccer, one sport alone captured the imagination of both rich and poor—sculling. The masses turned out by the thousands to cheer their heroes as they battled on the water, while gamblers won and lost fortunes on the outcome.”
So you see, sculling is very important. Long before you got way into gambling on fantasy football and lost all your kid’s college savings betting on the local soccer match, robber barons and wealthy political types were gambling away their fortunes on dudes in boats.
Cage Examination #6: Peggy Sue Got Married
Film: Peggy Sue Got Married
Demeanor: A kind of squirmy, high-voiced innocence mixed with high school alpha male bravado, and just a dash of creepy old man behavior.
Hair Quality: Magnificently poofy, even when he’s 25 years older.
Performance Quality: Nine Cages out of 10.
If one had to pick just two tropes favored by 1980s filmmakers as the most overused/significant of the decade, inexplicable time travel and 1950s/early ’60s nostalgia would probably win by a country mile. Time travel had, of course, been a staple of all things science fiction for many decades prior to the ’80s, and continues to be so. Still, there was something about the time travel methodologies employed in ’80s film that demonstrated a certain frivolity not often seen since. I’m not talking about hyperserious stuff like Trancers and The Terminator. I’m talking about the likes of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Time Bandits, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and of course, the Back to the Future films. These are movies that, at various expository points, make a minimal effort to explain the science and purpose of their time travel methodologies, and yet half the fun comes from just how utterly frivolous the time travel element actually is. 88 miles-per-hour in a garbage powered DeLorean? A slingshot maneuver around the sun in your junked out Klingon Bird of Prey? A time travelling phone booth just because? Sure, why not?
And then there is that ’50s/’60s nostalgia. That pining for the simpler times of pompadours and poodle skirts and rampant racism and communist paranoia and…uh, you know what? Maybe things weren’t so simple then. Still, the way the filmmakers of the ’80s often portrayed the era prior to the rebellious uprising of the hippy culture was often with deep reverence and love. Specifically, they really seemed to dig it as a launching point for coming-of-age comedy/drama. Whether it was Back to the Future’s long, lingering looks at Hill Valley high school life circa 1955, the intense, formative events experienced by the boyhood friends in Stand By Me, the greaser gang rumbling of The Outsiders, or the deeply dirty dancing of, well, Dirty Dancing, the period between 1955 and 1965 was the go-to ten year period for backward looking filmmakers in the ’80s.