Terminal USA

1993 dysfunctional family comedy

Rating: no rating

Plot: A Japanese-American family deals with everyday drama.

Like a more frenetic John Waters' movie, Jon Moritsugu's Terminal USA is just under and hour, just about the most amount of time that somebody can handle something like this. It's got its share of funny moments, and Moritsugu, seemingly parodying either something or several somethings, uses dopey music, intentionally bad acting, dialogue that seems like 80's comedy on acid, and exaggerated sound effects about as well as they can be used. My favorite sound effect? A cute little DOINNG while one of the brothers is enjoying skinhead pornography. That freak in the back bedroom's also got a great masturbation scene, a sequence that involves a rocking horse.

Because that's the kind of movie Terminal USA is--the kind where the act of pleasuring yourself is symbolized with the vigorous movements of a rocking horse. It's also the kind of movie with lines like these:

"I don't want to go to college. It's a load of crap straight out the doggy's ass."
"So you've experienced the joy and ecstasy of the natural configuration of a man and woman?"
"You know, you really sizzled my wiener last night. It was a real wiener roast."
"Did he finger your buds?"
"Confucius say, hospitals are for pussies."
"Sugar snatch snackaroos."

Ok, I'm not typing out anymore of those. There's just no point, my oinky-doinky silly friends.

My favorite character was the goggled pizza delivery man. And my favorite scene was probably the one where a pair of skinheads danced. They danced with great energy, my friends!

I don't know why I'm telling you all this.

I might check out other things by Jon Moritsugu. I like how all of these different individual family concerns all came together into one giant magically chaotic mess during the narrative's climax. But since this is so much like a John Waters' movie, I'm going to refuse to rate it.

Speaking of my brother who isn't speaking to me--this movie starts with the Birthday Party's "Sonny's Burning." I only mention him because this is probably the kind of movie he'd like more than me. He's a sugar snatch snackaroo!

I was just scanning the cast list for this and noticed that Gregg Turkington was in it somewhere. I missed him! He must have been one of the skinheads.

The Commuter

2018 action thriller

Rating: 11/20

Plot: An former-cop-turned-insurance-salesman is having a bad day when Vera Farmiga gives him an offer he can't refuse--to find somebody on his commute who doesn't belong and collect a cool 100,000 smackaroos. He probably should have just read his Steinbeck instead.

The kind of thriller that grows more preposterous as it continues down the tracks, The Commuter could have been called Murder on the Incoherent Express. That seemed a little bit funnier in my head. This really is largely incoherent though, and when it's not incoherent, it's predictable. There's nothing new here, and it's not like the old is even done particularly well. Liam Neeson is starting to get a little too old to growl out lines about his family, minor action sequences and one gigantic explosive action sequence are too ludicrous to buy, and the twists and turns in the narrative work about as well as a commuter train making 90 degree turns. Close-quartered train fisticuffs nearly work, but the dizzying editing distracts and makes you wish you could just stare at a motionless Vera Farmiga instead.

Spotted on a wall at the station--a poster for Paddington 2, the movie I probably should have seen instead of this one.

Seriously, watch this movie and then try to convince me that it makes any sense at all. If you can, I'll leave 25 dollars and 30 cents in an envelope hidden in a restroom for you.


1983 candle commercial

Rating: 17/20

Plot: A Russian poet makes a new friend in Italy and struggles with keeping his candle lit.

No idea what this movie's actually about, but it sure is pretty. Lovely extended scenes, great Tarkovskyian landscapes, time and time and time. Paced like a dead man's brain queef, stuffed with enigmatic symbols, effortlessly bouncing between dream and flashback and everyday listlessness.

The climactic scene--and this is probably a spoiler--is an intense action sequence featuring the main character trying to walk a lighted candle from one side of a drained spa to another. It's around ten minutes of unbroken dreary metaphor. Is that life--trying to carry a lighted candle from one side of a pool to the other? If not, should it be?

The first shot in this is beautiful, and I got to wake my wife up by saying "Slug bug" and slugging her. I had no choice because rules are rules. The fog is impossible, rolling in as quickly as the plot develops. The final shot, fittingly another of those extended shots where the camera zooms out on a character and a dog for the amount of time that it needs to, is almost beautiful enough to stop your heart. Everything in between? Well, all that is stunningly beautiful, too, from a mother prayer ending in an eruption of birds, to a floating feather, to a glimpse of an angel, to an opening door revealing a Eugenia smiling in slow motion, to a crazy man's rain-filled home, to a boob, to a landscape constructed in a room that bleeds into the landscape seen through the open window, to a fog-drenched spa with a quartet of gossipers, to awe-inspiring architecture, to an insane man devouring bread in front of a mirror, to a shocking scene of self-immolation that is apparently mocked by a doppelganger. Tarkovsky paints like a poet and makes movie scenes like a God. This surprises you with just how beautiful a shot from a movie can be, and then it surprises you again by showing you something even better.

Nostalghia is as impenetrable (at least to this slightly-dumb viewer) as it is beautiful. Perhaps the title gives away that this is intensely personal, but Tarkovsky's got that gift of taking all these memories--real or cinematically manufactured, and making them the memories of his audience. The mystery is thick, but the emotions are acutely felt. It's a movie you carry in your soul.

A special call-out to Domiziana Giordano's left breast.

Darkest Hour

2017 historical drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Winston Churchill becomes the prime minister as England wrestles with capitulation or fighting back as Hitler attempts to take over the world.

This blogger is too classy to start fat-shaming famous people, but man, Gary Oldman has really let himself go.

This and Dunkirk make a great companion pieces as they're two different sides of the same historical coin. Nolan's picture has battlefield action and dog-fights, but this drama is just as action-packed with words replacing bullets and typewriters replacing bombers. This really is about the role of language in conflict, and least when it's not pulling up Winston's shirt and blowing raspberries on his bulbous tummy. Frenzied rhetoric, actors playing characters in states of turmoil spitting lines at each other in darkened and/or subterranean rooms, ideologies clash like sharpened swords. Words boom like tanks.

With words and the power of them being so important to Darkest Hour, the screenplay has no choice but to be good. And Anthony McCarten, the guy behind The Theory of Everything, does a great job with what could have easily ended up a stuffy historical snoozefest. Apparently, Churchill had a sense of humor, and along with his resolve and leadership, that's what really stands out about the guy. There's drama throughout this as decisions are made that would determine whether or not England would survive have to be made, but there's just the right amount of humor peppered throughout as well. Along with a little bit of style (Joe Wright sure loves his overhead shots, doesn't he?), this is never boring.

Lots of credit has to go to Gary Oldman and his prosthetics and fat suit for creating a very human Churchill. This performance moves beyond the superficialities of a historical impression to really help an audience 70-some years later understand the internal struggles of this figure. I don't really know anything about Winston Churchill, other than about how sexy the guy was. Oldman and company do a terrific job making him into a man who steps up as a hero rather than making him a hero who just happens to find himself in a movie. Character nuances, a big cigar budget, an impossible amount of make-up, lots of mumbling and sputtering, both gesticulations and the lack of gesticulations. It's a performance that locks Oldman in as one of this generation's finest actors. 

The Post

2017 historical drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: The Washington Post tries to decide what to do with a bunch of top-secret files that prove the government had lied to the people about the Vietnam War.

This is almost exactly what you'd expect it to be, but despite this having star power, being directed by Spielberg, and being relevant to the current administration and their efforts to undermine the freedom of the press, that's not actually a good thing. The movie plays things very, very safe, and the paint-by-numbers approach spells things out for the audience as if nobody involved with The Post wanted the audience to figure anything out for themselves or come to their own conclusions.

This is one of those movies that is so overwritten. You get the sense that screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer wanted to out-Sorkin Aaron Sorkin, stopping after each line of dialogue and saying, "Now THAT is a well-written line!" and then vigorously patting themselves on the back. What makes it worse is that both Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks really squeeze the life out of these lines, each delivery itself seemingly trying to win its own award. I'm not sure if the acting is actually good or not, but what I do know is that it was impossible for me to watch this and see it as anything but acting. The lines these two spat at each other and the others felt like lead blocks being squeezed out of a sponge, and although individual moments might have seemed almost meaningful, almost nothing at all sticks. It's got the stink of Hollywood all over it, a glaze that likely makes it much more thrilling than how any of this actually went down, but it winds up being a little boring.

The context of our world of fake news and attacks on the 1st Amendment by a guy who 35% of the country still inexplicably supports makes this movie relevant. However, it's a movie that knows how relevant it is. It's self-important and not nearly as edgy as it probably thinks it is, like the guy who never shuts up at a meeting showing up one day in a leather jacket that he can't stop talking about. A lot of the time, a line would be delivered or a character would make a reference, and I could have sworn that everybody on screen turned toward the audience in the theater, breaking the fourth wall in order to wink ostentatiously and say, "You get what we're doing here, right? Does any of this seem familiar to you guys?"

It was nice to see Bob Odenkirk and David Cross together again, like a Mr. Show reunion. It wasn't nearly as funny though.

By far, my favorite part of this movie was watching the papers being printed. That was some cool machinery.

I reconsidered my original rating and bumped this up a point, really for no reason.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

2009 romantic musical

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A jazz trumpeter and his ex-girlfriend try to move on with their lives after a break-up.

After loving both Whiplash and La La Land, I figured I'd check out this first feature from Damien Chazelle that he made while he was still in school. Don't expect anything close to the fully-formed musical extravaganza of the big colorful musical or the jazz-fueled, tension-packed drama of Whiplash here, but what you do see is the potential of Chazelle. And it's fascinating. It's a strange movie anyway, one that doesn't quite seem sure about what it wants to be. It's like a mash-up of John Cassavetes or some other intense independent black and white filmmaker and big movie musical. It's got artistic close-ups, and it's got freakin' tap-dancing. Throughout, you can tell that the director has a deep love for music and the instruments that make it, shooting a trumpet like it's a naked woman and a jazz band like he's a voyeur at an orgy of gods and goddesses.

Stand-out scenes foreshadow Chazelle's later work. The first is a lovely scene of speechless flirting on a subway. It's sensual, filmed like an action scene, and has no music or chatter at all. Impressively-edited close-ups and very subtle body language. There are a pair of big tap dance numbers, one in a restaurant for no reason other than as an excuse to have a big tap dance number. It's very nice, the camera work so simple but very creative. There's also an all-female number in another restaurant, but I was confused because they didn't appear to be wearing shoes capable of making a tapping sound. I was suspicious and really paid attention to the sound, and there were times when I couldn't tell whether the taps matched the taps. Were they dubbed taps? If so, what the hell, Chazelle? I enjoyed the songs, especially one performed by Madeline as she walks around a fountain. I don't know what the song was called, but it a gorgeous, always slightly-shifting melody hooked me.

Not a lot happens here in the story, and the characters are pretty flat. But the clash of traditional 40's movie musical extravaganza and the cheaply-made minimalism of 70's independent movie makes this a very interesting debut feature. Check it out if you enjoy Chazelle's other work at all.

Crime Wave

1985 comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A little girl becomes fascinated by a "color crime movie" maker who moves into a room above her parents' garage. She befriends him and tries to help him work through writer's block.

John Paizs has only made one other feature film--something called Top of the Food Chain that came out 14 years after this one. This quirky, slightly-surreal dark absurdist comedy shows a director with a unique voice and potential that needed to be developed.

This is an unusual little, reminiscent of a less artistic David Lynch. Not that there isn't any style with Paizs' work. But when the style is recreating the tone of 50s/60s informational filmstrips with fervent narration provided by a little girl named Eva Kovacs. If I had to name this genre, I'd call it filmstrip noir as it's got some almost cartoonish homages to noir. Steven Penny, the "color crime movie" screenwriter who I don't believe utters a single line in this story, can only write beginnings and endings to his stories. There are loads of creative ideas in this as numerous examples of these--with recurring bad actors and parallel imagery--are shown. These are humorously clever movies-within-movies that add some unpredictability to the whole thing.

A recurring image of a streetlight coming to life is beautiful, but where it winds up is even more beautiful.

McDonald's and Kodak product placement, an optical illusion that really didn't work (at least for me) despite the harmonica accompaniment, and the bouncy repeated musical theme all contribute to the weird tone. Weirdest--and maybe most Lynchian--of all is a villain who pops in the final third of the movie. He's played by Neil Lawrie. He's wacky but great, but Lawrie's unfortunately only in two other movies. One of them is a Guy Maddin movie though.

Sophie's Place

1986 avant-garde animation

Rating: 14/20

Plot: I don't think there is one.

The name Lawrence Jordan intrigued me when I stumbled upon a cartoon called Circus Savage that clocked in at 643 minutes. I thought I'd tackle something a little shorter before taking on that "stream-of-conscious" epic. Sophia is a reference to an "embodiment of spiritual wisdom," but I'm not sure what this thing is about. 77 minutes of this narrative-free animation--hand-painted cut-up stuff that sometimes looks like the type of animation used in Monty Python and is frequently very beautiful--was a lot to take, and I ended up watching this in installments. I couldn't make much sense of it and felt better when reading that Jordan apparently doesn't know what any of the symbols mean either. He calls this an "alchemical autobiography," and that doesn't sound pretentious at all.

I can't tell you what's going on there.

Living in Oblivion

1995 comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: An independent director tries to make the film of his dreams.

That's a clever plot synopsis, but you'd have to see this Tom DiCillo film in order to understand why. Or maybe just keep reading because I'll spoil it for you and tell you.

Here's the spoiler--this film is a triptych of behind-the-scenes independent film-making stories, and two of those are the dreams of Steve Buscemi's director character and his lead actress and muse played by Catherine Keener. I have a crush on both of those people anyway, and my brother (who isn't speaking to me) and I are big fans of the only other DiCillo film I've seen--Johnny Suede. I'm not sure why I didn't bother looking for DiCillo's other movies. This was the follow-up to Johnny Suede and is apparently inspired by the process of making that movie.

I usually enjoy movies about making movies. This is a consistently clever and entertaining look at the plethora of things that can go wrong during the process of making a film. From technology issues and the ineptitude of the crew to personal drama, cast dynamics, and angry dwarfs, this is never boring, and that's despite a lot of the dialogue or action in the individual thirds being exactly the same. It's continually surprising, keeping it fun. The sequences, directly from the subconscious, are as believable as nightmares, sometimes bordering on the absurd, but they give the audience a peek behind the curtain as these characters struggle to film a simple movie scene.

Catherine Keener is fantastic, especially in the nuances she adds to these lines that she's required to deliver over and over again. Part of it might just be to keep her from being completely bored, but it really opens up the character quite a bit, too. Not the character that her character is playing--the character whom Cahterine Keener is playing. Her nipples also make an appearance. Buscemi's nipples are unfortunately nowhere to be seen, but he's also just as good as you'd expect him to be, always right on that edge of a nervous breakdown. And nothing personifies a nervous breakdown or minor existential crisis like Buscemi's eyeballs. Peter Dinklage, wearing a sexy turquoise (or powder blue?) top hat, is also in the third segment of this. It's his first role, and it might have been this role that typecast him as an angry little person, never quite shaking off lines like "One of these days I'm gonna punch somebody in the balls!" Or maybe that's just the intensity of his forehead.

A sweet and jazzy vibes-and-oboe score by Jim Farmer gives this a coolness that could have been lost with name-checks of Richard Gere, Winona Ryder, and Michelle Pfeiffer.

I'm going to have to see more Tom DiCillo movies. Anybody seen any of these? Delirious? I think I might have seen that one actually. Box of Moonlight? The Real Blonde? Double Whammy? At least two of those look promising.

Bad Movie Club: The King of the Kickboxers

1990 action movie

Bad Movie Rating: 3/5 (Josh: 4/5; Johnny: 4/5)

Rating: 9/20

Plot: A freewheeling undercover cop, one who would surely never tell anybody that he's working undercover, gets a chance to avenge the death of his older brother when he's sent to Thailand on an assignment. He also gets laid and meets a new friend who owns a monkey.

I'm not shitting you when I tell you that the monkey was the best actor in the film. It's a film inhabited by a lot of bad actors. The lead is played by Loren Avedon. He can kick and punch and hang upside-down from trees and sport a mean mullet, but he can't act much at all. The writer of this thing didn't help him out a lot, giving him a lot of lines that make him into this unlikable idiot who you really don't want to root for. Even worse is the main villain--the "boss" if this was a video game--played by Billy Blanks. He spends most of his scenes grunting, and when he does get lines, he delivers them slowly, like very deliberate speech is the kind of thing that can make a person sound extra tough. I'm not sure he needed to say anything at all since we get to see him kill the protagonist's brother very early and a few minutes later get to watch him kill a guy with a crowbar to the neck. Blanks can trade kicks and punches, too, and the scenes with him beating people up aren't bad little action scenes. The final scene with Blanks and Avedon is something that you could even say is thrilling. It's impossibly fast-paced, filled with dangerous stunts and never really looking like it's choreographed. Who knows? Maybe they were really just going at it. And this is the second time we Bad Movie Clubbers have seen Keith Cooke, the guy who played the reclusive kickboxing master who reluctantly decides to train Avedon by fracturing his skull with gigantic swinging logs like he's protecting Endor from the Empire or something or by suspending him upside from tree branches or by making him bust up gourds with his knees. Cooke was also in Mortal Kombat: Annihiliation, and I assume he wasn't very good at acting in that either.

Though this wouldn't be bad to throw on if you're just looking for a dumb action movie, nobody will accuse it of originality. You've got cliched characters (a cocky protagonist who's got a lot to learn, a gruff police chief, a love interest, a Yoda/Miyagi hybrid looking for some redemption) and a tired revenge-heavy plot that you've seen before. I mean, I'm not sure if "You killed my brother!" is actually spoken in the movie or not, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was. It really feels like it's a remake of another movie from the action-packed 80s or like the director took an outline of another movie written out on a napkin at a strip joint and made his own movie from it.

Our observations:

--An efficient use of one K for two on the title screen
--Not much actual kickboxing, so if you're going into this because you love the sport, you should probably find something else.
--How the hell can a guy's facial bones or skull exist when getting Ewokked between two swinging logs like that?
--It's easy to root for the logs in this movie.
--The director's friend had a flamboyant collection of shirts that made me a little envious.
--The main character seems to think everybody else is named Jackson. Ok, we exaggerated that a bit.
--Every time a knife came out, we knew we were getting some ridiculous swishing sound effects.
--A guy gets a space heater to the face, and that other guy got the crowbar to the neck. Most of the other violence involved kicking.
--The hero rocks a fanny pack when he first gets to Thailand. It doesn't matter how well you kick. That might disqualify you as an action superstar.
--"I must wash for you." If you're planning on having sex with somebody against their will while in Thailand, don't fall for that one.
--You never do get to find out what the sound of one hand clapping is from this movie. You're going to have to meditate on that one on your own.
--The lovely sound of the pan flute (or a synthesized version of one) finds its way into the end credits. So if that's something that might potentially bother you, you might want to shut this off right after the gigantic explosion.


2016 coming-of-age horror film

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A girl starts vet school a vegetarian, but after she tastes some meet, she winds up having uncontrollable cannibalistic impulses.

This one's a little frustrating because it just doesn't all add up. It leaves far more questions than it answers. If you take it as the protagonists transition into college life, it almost makes sense as a strange and very dark look at how awkward that can be--dealing with sexuality, experimenting with drugs, making new friends and fitting in. But then there's all this stuff with the sister and her family's background, and I just couldn't put all the pieces together. A handful of references to bulimia made it seem like that was important, too. 

Lots of this might be hard to watch for some people. I mean, most movies about cannibalism probably have certain scenes that would be difficult to watch. This one's got bucketfuls of blood, a really disgusting scene involving hair that more closely resembled ribbons from a clown's pocket, a shot of a character with her arm halfway up a cow, animal autopsies, a Brazilian wax job that results in an unexpected injury, and an old guy showing off his dentures. It seems like director Julia Ducournau is more interested in shocking the viewer more than in having any sort of clear message or telling a story that makes sense.

Throw this one in the "almost interesting" files.

Blue Is the Warmest Color

2013 romantic drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A young girl becomes smitten by an older girl with blue hair.

Even though this is critically acclaimed, I put off watching this because it's so long. If I knew that half of the three-hour running time was going to be taken up with fiery lesbian sex scenes, I probably would have watched it a lot earlier. Maybe even twice.

This film's praised for its realism, and it definitely has that. Director Abdellatif Kechiche reportedly ended up with over 800 hours of footage after filming was completed. Some scenes had an absurd amount of takes, including the scene where the two central characters first met which took a hundred takes. Kechiche was apparently so unpleasant to work with that both lead actresses say they'll never work with him again. Half of me wonders if the amount of footage got so out of hand because the guy just couldn't stop filming Adele Exarchopoulos's rear end or wanted hours of scenes with Exarchopoulos and future Bond girl Lea Seydoux getting it on for his spank bank. But you can't question that he did get that realism he was looking for. Exarchopoulos is in every single scene, and more often than not, she's shown in close-ups. So is Seydoux for that matter. It makes the whole thing intensely personal, almost like you're part of the air and about to be breathed into these characters' nostrils at any moment instead of just a guy watching this without pants in his house. You could argue that some of the scenes in this go on for too long, but you'd also then be forced to argue that some moments in your life probably go on for too long as well.

Surprisingly, I was really able to connect with this French girl in this coming-of-age genre. It's probably because we get to know her and her relationship and her rear end so intimately. In the closing credits, this was called a part (or chapter?) 1 and 2, maybe leading you to believe there would be future episodes in Adele's romantic escapades. That doesn't seem very likely unfortunately.

Oh, and kudos to the kid who's going to town in his nose during one scene. 800 hours of footage, Kechiche, and you have to use the one where the kid is vigorously picking his nose?

There was also a Louise Brooks spotting in this.

Lots of blue in this wasn't surprising at all. There's also a lot of food, including close-ups of people eating spaghetti in three different scenes, that made me wonder whether there was food symbolism here.


2017 comedy

Rating: 11/20

Plot: When a struggling actor's blind girlfriend decides to leave him, he tries to find a way to put his life back together.

This is more of an anti-comedy like what you'd expect from Quentin Dupieux, the sort of comedy that isn't written to make you laugh as much as it's written to make you really uncomfortable. This deals with sexuality, bodily functions, and race in ways that wouldn't be a problem at all if there was a point to it all, but I'm not totally sure there's a point to it all.

This was directed by Janicza Bravo and co-written by Bravo and the lead actor (and her husband) Brett Gelman. It might be sneakily self-referential as the latter half of the movie does deal with a relationship between a white guy and a black woman, and it really does seem to want to say something. I'm just not sure what that is. The narrative is jumpy, and although no director really has to explain the narrative structure of a movie, something that would be like explaining why a joke is funny, I really wanted somebody to explain why this story was told the way it was. I started wondering if a lot of these scenes could have been deleted from this already short movie without any loss, and then I decided that almost all of them could have.

It's not a complete waste of time. There are some humorous moments. Gelman's purposely flat performance is pretty good though his character is about as unlikable as a character can be. There's an awkward family musical moment when they sing exuberantly about matzo balls. The movie opens with the main character peeing himself and ends (well, near the end) with him nearly crapping his pants.

By the end, I was left looking for things that I liked about this movie in order for it not to be a complete waste of my time. And there was just one thing--Michael Cera's hair.

Michael Cera's hair is a force!


1986 Russian sci-fi comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Two Russian guys meet an alien trying to get coordinates to his planet, and after not believing him and pushing a button on the little device he's holding, find themselves on a desert planet. They enlist the help of a couple guys who may not be all that trustworthy.

"If a society doesn't have color differentiation of pants, it has no purpose!"

Highly-recommended Russian sci-fi absurdism, like a mash-up of Waiting for Godot and Mad Max. You never really know where this little adventure is going, mostly because it actually doesn't go anywhere. Filled with non-sequiturs, red herrings, and pointless gags and bits of absurdist dialogue, Kin-Dza-Dza also takes some jabs at capitalism and the West's tendencies to create hierarchies of human beings. It's exceptionally witty for being something that is so nonsensical.

Great performances with everybody taking this whole thing completely seriously, a fun exercise in linguistics until the producers of this thing got bored and went with telepathy instead, and creative visuals constructed from next-to-nothing or maybe some junkyard finds keep this thing effervescent and rewarding. I loved the spaceship, kind of resembling a giant metallic bucket, and there's a great shot of a city that consists of a few metal structures and a half-buried ferris wheel that I really liked.

There's even an actress credited as "A Fat Woman Settled Under the Ferris Wheel," something I'd hate to put on a resume.

Throw in some cute songs and dances and this quiet unpredictability, and you've got a Russian comedy from the tail-end of the Cold War that is funnier than you'd ever expect and never boring. It's great stuff!

Nicolas Cage Birthday Celebration: The Trust

2016 heist movie

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A corrupt cop and his mustache recruits a younger cop to help him break into a discovered vault.

"It's kind of wacky," says Cage's character at one point, wiggling his fingers while pointing at his own head. This movie is kind of wacky, an effort to blend the heist genre with some dark comedy and suspense. It winds up being not wacky enough, not comedic enough, and not suspenseful enough to completely work.

This is the directorial debut of the Brewer brothers, Alex and Benjamin, and it's an interesting one from a pair who might someday find a distinctive voice. This borrows a lot from a genre that has plenty to borrow from, throws a pinch of Coen in the pot, and struggles to maneuver through some twists and turns and lead to a satisfyingly coherent denouement.

Aside from the birthday boy, who I'll write about in a bit, this also has the always-likable Elijah Wood and Jerry Lewis. Well, at least Jerry Lewis for about a minute and thirty-seven seconds. I'm not sure why Jerry Lewis needed to play Nicolas Cage's dad because nothing to do with that character or their relationship has anything to do with the story or its themes. This movie opens with Wood in a sex scene where he looks bored out of his mind and is fixated on a mole. For the first third of the film, I was fooled into thinking he would be the wacky character. But no, Wood was more of a foil.

Cage was subdued for the most part although the character is quirky enough to let that Nic we all know and love shine through. Our introduction to him has him splashing too much aftershave or cologne on himself. From there, we see him doing both honest ("This is a very interesting ashtray.") and dishonest work. The character doesn't really grow all that much, more because of the script than the performance. There were times when it seemed like the lines were written for a cheesy motivational speaker instead of a cop turning into a criminal. In fact, I'd love to have recordings of these to play whenever I'm not feeling motivated:

"Stay positive, dude." (with a lowered voice...and I love when Cage uses words like "dude")
"That's the spirit! You are a badass!"
"You're a positive thinker, and I respect you. And I fucking dig you."
"Whoo! Give it the goods!"

Additionally, he eats a lemon with Tabasco for no good reason, countdowns spectacularly in a way I might have to steal ("On 3. 3, 2, 1, 3!"), starts scatting after being amused at a gun seller's name (Bobo), looks extremely cool carrying towels and even spilling a tray of hamburgers, does this silly punching dance thing to impress some co-workers, makes a joke and then tells Wood that "JK," and makes a drill pun that he laughs hysterically at. And there's one scene where he puts white stuff on his nose that left me baffled. I didn't know if it was lotion or glue because it was never addressed. So odd.

My favorite Nic Cage moment in The Trust? It's a tie between these two:

--While eating a sandwich, he wheezes twice, starts to complain about how the restaurant has changed the recipe, and then suddenly announces that he approves.
--He speaks German, I assume poorly.

The Brewers did some interesting things with music here. It starts and ends with some string-heavy faux-funk music, but there was also a random country song that accompanied some of Cage's character's shenanigans, a lovely folk song by a female vocalist I couldn't identify ("Cricket" by Collie Ryan), and some classical stuff. There was also a song featuring the vocal stylings of Rod Rogers (one of the pseudonyms of song-poem guy Rodd Keith) that put a smile on my face. If you don't know that guy's work, look him up. I'm not in the business of helping you be lazy.