Nicolas Cage has made so many bad films that when he suddenly and inexplicably makes a good one, it’s something of a shock. For every Bangkok Dangerous or Knowing, there’s a Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans or 2014’s Joe, a backwoods drama from David Gordon Green that showcases the actor’s abilities to great effect. Cage plays Joe, a womanising, hard-living foreman of a group of men destroying unwanted trees. Joe has previous with the law, and with old grievances springing into violent reprisals, Joe reluctantly accepts a parental role for a teenage boy who looks up to him. Much like 2012’s Mud, Joe is a simple story, artfully told by Green and not holding back from the less than fragrant details of working life. For Cage, it’s a welcome reminder of the talent seen intermittently since Leaving Las Vegas.
A somewhat quirkier film than its reputation suggests, Norman Jewison’s 1987 vehicle for Cher is a classy slice of romance. She plays Loretta, a NYC book-keeper who is unlucky in love until she meets pizza-maker Ronny (Nicolas Cage). Unfortunately she’s already engaged to be married to Ronny’s brother Johnny (Danny Aiello), and she risks the disapproval of both her own and Ronny’s families. But true love, plus lashings of La Boheme on the soundtrack, eventually bring Loretta and Ronny together in style; Jewison gets uniformly strong performances from a diverse cast, and John Patrick Shanley’s script as plenty of authentic detail of NYC life, notably Loretta’s father endlessly listening to Vicky Carr’s It Must Be Him on record.
British director Alan Parker’s work has been critically neglected of late; his 1984 film Birdy shows him at the top of his game, directing Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine in a off-beat but moving drama about post-traumatic stress syndrome. Having been boyhood friends, Al (Cage) and Birdy (Modine) returns from Vietnam with emotional and physical scars that affect their relationship; Birdy is in hospital, and seems intent on realising his childhood dream to fly. Al is trying to bring his friend down to earth, but understands that Birdy’s dream of taking wing is potentially bad for his health. Adapted from a book by William Wharton, Birdy keeps the Vietnam flashbacks to the minimum, but focuses patiently on the friendship between the two men, topped of with a great final scene (and line) that wraps the story off with offhand aplomb.
Werner Herzog can be a frustrating director to follow; for every Grizzly Man triumph, there’s a tedious curiosity like The Wild Blue Yonder. That’s why its so surprising to find him in charge of a thriller Like Bad Lieutenant; Port of New Orleans, which updates the corrupt policeman of Abel Ferrara’s 1989 original for a fresh and admirably crazy reboot. Nicolas Cage is ideally cast as booze and drug-filled copper Terrence McDonagh, who traverses post Katrina New Orclean as part of a homicide investigation. McDonagh is an accident waiting to happen, but Herzog keeps the audience guessing as to how his problems will finally ensnare him. A fabulously random cast ranging from Val Kilmer to Fairuza Balk and Eva Mendes provide support, but Cage on form is something to behold, and he grounds Herzog’s offbeat policier with off-kilter charisma.
Even in the context of the seemingly endless canon of shonky Nicolas Cage vehicles, 2011’s Season of the Witch is an odd bird. A medieval buddy movie with a supernatural theme, Season of the Witch reunites cage with Dominic Sena, who helmed the awful Gone in 60 Seconds remake. Cage plays Behmen von Bleibruk, a conscientious objector to the crusades who knocks about the Holy Land with his pal Felson (Ron Perlman). They’re sent on a dangerous mission by plague-ravaged Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee); to transport a witch (Clair Foy) to a far-off monastery. Season of the Witch has a good premise; it’s kept in doubt what powers the witch has, if any, but it’s soon apparent that something is using the memories and the feat of Behmen’s troop against them. The climax is CGI-nonsense, but there’s plenty of weirdness to savour in this daft romp.