Season of the Witch: This long-delayed medieval horror-adventure picture is the first of possibly as many as four Nicolas Cage movies coming our way in 2011, with at least one or two to follow in 2012. I know this, as well as future thrillers Drive Angry (from the director of My Bloody Valentine 3-D!), The Hungry Rabbit Jumps (from the director of The Bank Job!) and Trespass (with Nicole Kidman!) will be ascribed to his financial woes, and some of them may be related to that, but others were in the works for awhile, and any serious student of Cage knows that the man likes to work. Whether this has always been an attempt to keep his finances barely afloat or keep his mind off of those sorts of troubles or just a coincidence, his pace over the next few years will only turn out slightly faster than the entire past decade or so. Between the release of this movie and his earlier collaboration with director Dominic Sena back in the year 2000, the delicious fast-food meal of Gone in 60 Seconds, Cage has starred in eighteen movies (and that’s not counting voiceover work or cameos).
If you look at his recent filmography with one eye closed, you’d see something pretty normal, maybe even well above average, for an Oscar winner: Adaptation, Matchstick Men, Lord of War, The Weather Man, World Trade Center, Bad Lieutenant. That’s several great performances and a bunch of projects with, at least, good intentions or interesting directors. He used to balance that stuff out with harmless, often quite enjoyable Bruckheimer movies, but he’s also gotten a third career going as the star of unapologetic yet often very dull trash: Ghost Rider, Next, The Wicker Man, Bangkok Dangerous (I don’t know what to do with Knowing, a deeply goofy yet pretty interesting sci-fi end-of-days movie directed by Alex Proyas). I admit that these movies, especially strung together, really do look like paycheck city, yet I also appreciate the shameless pulpiness of his many bad choices. And so, I almost always see Nicolas Cage B-movies, hoping for something as inspired as his best work with Bruckheimer. Season of the Witch looks trashy, yes, but it apparently has witches and zombies and crazy medieval battles, which is at least a new milieu for Cage’s weirdo intensity. Even the next-up Drive Angry, awesome as it looks to me, recalls both Gone in 60 Seconds and Ghost Rider (and, in looking pretty low-rent, Next). Season of the Witch looks delightfully out of sync with other Cage movies except that, by virtue of starring Cage, it looks pretty bonkers. Also, it’s January, so I’m in the mood.
Country Strong: Further to the issue of when Nicolas Cage’s bankruptcy movies actually begin, I realize movies aren’t written, developed, and (if they’re lucky) produced in such a short period that it was really possible for Country Strong to have fancied itself a lady version of Crazy Heart from day one, even though Gwyneth Paltrow plays a boozy, aging former country star with one more chance to get back on top. If anything, that decision to emulate Crazy Heart has been made after the fact, in the movie’s marketing. But it’s difficult to avoid the parallels, right down to the it-turns-out-this-actor-can-also-sing factor (though actually, Paltrow showed off decent pipes years ago, stealthily concealed in Duets, a movie that few people saw, but I did! It was about karaoke, I think!). Though Crazy Heart was originally kicked around as a possible TV movie, it’s Country Strong that actually looks like one, down to the pretty upstart, glossy-looking climactic performance, and Faith Hill-ready ballads about being “country strong,” which I assume means “folksy, but still rich!” I’m interested in Gwyneth’s cheesy-looking powerhouse regardless (I’ve caught myself admiring her American accent in the trailers a few times before remembering, right, she’s not actually English), but it’s a shame she didn’t try to stay one step ahead/behind of Bridges and get a job with the Coen Brothers instead.