Kick-Ass theatrical release

Kick-Ass (2010)Lionsgate releases this foul-mouthed film, which mixes superhero antics and teen comedy. Aaron Johnson stars as a geeky high school kid who takes on a new persona as a masked superhero named Kick-Ass – despite his total lack of superpowers. Although his initial attemps fail, he becomes a cultural phenomenon, inspiring others to become costumed crime-fighters, including a father-daughter duo played by Chloe Moretz and Nicolas Cage. Matthew Vaugh directed from a script he co-wrote with Jane Goldman, based on Mark Millar’s comic book series. Jason Flemyng, Lyndsy Fonesca, and Yancy Butler round out the cast. Release date: April 16.
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Box Office: Knowing knows that way to #1

KNOWING is the new #1 film at the box office. The sci-fi fantasy – directed by Alex Proyas and starring Nicolas Cage – made its debut in 3,322 North American theatres, where it earned an estimated $24.8-million, easily surpassing the second place entry, I LOVE YOU MAN.
As for holdover sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films, last week’s #1 debut, RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN tumbled down the slopes to #4 in its sophomore session, earning $13-million, for a two-week total of $44.75-million.
WATCHMEN declined from second place to fifth. The $6.7-million weekend yielded a three-week total of $98.1-million.
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT closed its doors on $5.9-million for a sixth place finish, down three from its debut last week. After two weekends of release, the film has earned $24-million.
CORALINE moved #9 to #10, adding $2.1-million to its seven-week total of $72.8-million.

Read the complete Top Ten here.

Knowing – Science Fiction Film Review

Knowing (2009)After NEXT, Nicolas Cage fans must be wondering why the star opted to appear in another film about predicting the future. Presumably the actor was working on the theory that “if at first you don’t succeed, try again”; unfortunately, KNOWING shows little awareness of what went wrong before. Despite an intriguing premise and a handful of exciting special effects scenes, this science fiction thriller lumbers along like an overweight leviathan, unable to see much past its own nose – let alone into the future. The story-telling is sloppy and the characters are uninvolving, creating a distance between the audience and the on-screen events, so that when the third act builds toward its climax, the result feels overwrought and unconvincing; instead of excitement, audiences are likely to feel themselves giggling at the desperate attempt to amp up the shallow proceedings.  Even forgiving viewers, who might be sympathetic to the message, will be forced to note that said message has been bettere delivered in other films. 
The story has a grade school opening a time capsule filled with student predictions of the future from 50 years ago. Most consist of crayon drawings, but Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) receives a page consisting of an elaborate sequence of numbers. During a drunken bout of self-pity, Caleb’s widowed father John Koestler (Cage) examines the numbers and finds that they conform to the dates of major disasters. He is able to predict a couple of upcoming events, but whether he can do anything about them is unclear; in any case, it soon becomes clear that the last event on the list refers to the “End of Everything,” so human intervention seems to be a moot point. However, some other kind of intervention is lurking in the shadows, mysterious “men in black,” who seem to be observing Koestler and his son.
Early scenes suggest a pleasantly pseudo-scientific approach to the material. Cage plays an astronomer, and his discussions with a colleague hint that the film may actually grapple with the question of predicting the future, perhaps even offer a plausible theory. Unfortunately, this approach is abandoned as Koestler pursues the disasters, and the film eventually moves into a mystical approach. The enigmatic strangers (who seem to have wandered in from director Alex Proyas’s much better DARK CITY) may be time travellers, aliens, or angles (or all of the above), but in dramatic terms they are basically a deus ex machina that will resolve the plot.
Basically, the film turns into a rewrite of SIGNS. Like Mel Gibson’s character in the far superior M. Night Shymalan film, Koestler is a man who has fallen into despair since the death of his wife, believing that life is nothing but random, meaningless events; as before, the threat of global disaster forces him to reassess his cynicism and decide that there is a pattern or intelligence at work in the universe, guiding events toward some kind of meaningful goal. Sadly, this turn toward a pseudo-religious approach seems like a desperate attempt to write the script out of the corner into which it has written itself; unlike SIGNS, which was convincingly heartfelt even if you did not totally believe it, KNOWING feels insincere, as if merely offering a sop to audiences who want some kind of happy ending. The implications of this ending are ignored as the film opts instead for trite symbolism meant to gloss over the gaping holes in credibility.

John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) in the aftermath of a massive plane crash
John Koestler (Nicolas Cage) in the aftermath of a massive plane crash

The film only really comes to life during two disasters, one involving a plane and the other a train. These sequences are the highlight of the film; the absolutely stunning special effects are far more convincing than the characters and dialogue, and a long, continuous steadicam take of Koestler running amidst the plane wreackage is a tour de force almost worth the price of admission on its own.
Unfortunately, the impact of the trainwreck is marred by some script silliness, which has Koestler heading toward the predicted disaster, instead of avoiding it. The film vaguely suggests he hopes to accomplish something, but his actions are frankly stupid – the kind of thing that would get him arrested by suspicious cops rather than convincing anyone to help avoid disaster.  As if that were bad enough, Cage’s character receives a movie star exemption that allows him to survive the wreck without his foreknowledge in any noticeable way contributing to that survival; the result is so arbitrary that the lack of suspense on his behalf is truly amazing.
Cage offers up one of his standard-issue performances, hitting all the obvious marks without lending any kind of distinction to the role, which emerges as a generic father protecting his son. He is not helped by some stupid developments in the script. At least he comes across better than Rose Byrne as Diana Wayland, daughter of the woman who penned the mysterious string of numbers. The third act requires her to turn into such a nervous wreck, running around like a generic hysterical woman driven to panic in a disaster, that you are almost relieved when she meets her predicted fate.
Building a story around a premise that promises the end of the world is a tricky gambit, one that requires careful handing. Audiences may righttly wonder why they should invest emotionally in a story that seems to be heading toward the ultimate downer. The film can either end on a depressing note or cop out with a phony happy ending. KNOWING pulls off the incredible (though hardly worthy) achievement of doing both, but by the time it happens you won’t much care one way or the other.
If you want to see a film on this subject that achieves a truly cathartic heartache, watch MIRACLE MILE (1988) instead. KNOWING seems too self-obsessed with its own psuedo-mysticism to truly affect the audience on a similarly emotional level; its attempts in this direction seem feeble and half-hearted. It really is too bad. Director Alex Proyas scored strongly with his first two feature films, THE CROW (1994) and DARK CITY (1988). Back then, who could have seen into the future and known that he would end up directly soulless star vehicles like I, ROBOT and KNOWING? 
A spectacular plane crash - one of the films special effects highlights.
A spectacular plane crash - one of the film's special effects highlights.

KNOWING (2009). Directed by Alex Proyas. Screenpay by Ryne Douglas Pearson and Juliet Snowden & Stiles White and Stuart Hazeldine, adaptation by Alex Proyas, story by Ryne Douglas Pearson. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, D. G. maloney, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend, Alan Hopgood, Adrienne Pickering, Joshua Long, Danielle Carter, Alethea McGrath, David Lennie.

Proyas, Cage team for apocalyptic thriller

Variety reports that Nicolas Cage will star in KNOWING, a thriller directed by Alex Proyas (DARK CITY).

Cage will play a teacher who examines the contents of a time capsule unearthed at his son’s elementary school. Startling predictions in the time capsule that have already come true lead him to believe the world is going to end at the close of the week and that he and his son are somehow involved in the destruction.
[…] 
Escape Artists originated the project with novelist Ryne Pearson, who pitched it and wrote the first draft. “Knowing” has been rewritten by Stiles White and Juliet Snowden; Proyas and Stuart Hazeldine did the most recent draft.

Next (2007) – Film Review

This modestly entertaining film kicks off with a great premise: it’s the sort of intellectual concept ripe for a mind-bending examination of the intriguing possibilities; unfortunately, such introspection is out of bounds in a would-be action-thriller. Consequently, the concept remains unexplored, except in so far as it provides fodder for some marginally innovative action scenes.
Nicholas Cage plays Cris Johnson, who works a magic act in Vegas under the stage name Frank Cadillac. Johnson can see two-minutes into the future, but here’s the catch: in many cases, he doesn’t see the actual future, because his actions prevent his premonitions from coming to pass, thus creating a “new” future. This raises some interesting questions, such as: If Johnson is constantly creating a new future that he has not foreseen, how different is he, really, from the rest of us?
When you stop and think about it, all of us see into the immediate future to some degree – and act in ways that change that future into something else. (For example, if you are about to drop a heavy burden and realize it might land on your toe, you adjust your stance – injury averted.) To some extent, certain people even make a living at this, doing something more than a cheap mentalist act. Consider chess champions, whose excellence consists not only of seeing the board before them but of thinking ten or twenty moves ahead, visualizing an opponent’s potential actions and predicting how the possible permutations will work out.


NEXT never really considers any of these ideas. Instead, it relies on two elements to fuel the plot: a love story and a terrorist threat. In the first, Johnson sees – for the first time in his life – more than two seconds into the future, to a time when a Liz (Jessica Biel) walks into a coffee shop. In the second, Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) tries to forcibly recruit Johnson to help her track down some bad guys with a nuclear device up their sleeves. Johnson refuses to cooperate: he’s not going to let a little thing like a few million innocent lives lost interfere with his pursuit of his dream girl, but when the terrorists kidnap Liz he has a change of heart (nothing like a little personal rooting interest to inspire one’s sense of civic duty).
The film has a certain amount of fun playing with Johnson’s premonitions, allowing them to play out as if they were actually happening and then back-tracking to show that we are simply sharing John’s preview of the potential future. This results in some amusing sequences, as in the coffee shop when Liz finally arrive for real – and Johnson pre-visualizes a series of different opening lines, all of which meet with rejection.
This sequence contradicts the earlier suggestion that Johnson cannot see how the future will differ after he takes action. Are his powers developing? Is he learning to use them better? Or is there something magical about his connection with Liz (true love, perhaps?) that amplifies his precognition? In any case, the film elaborates this concept into a visually intriguing scene near the climax, when Johnson pauses in mediation, his body splitting into numerous phantom clones as he pre-visualizes every possible variation in the face-off with the terrorists.
It’s a great idea for a thrilling set piece, although the suspense is somewhat undermined by the fact that this strategy seems to make Johnson pretty much invulnerable. The film takes it as a given that he has the physical coordination, stamina, and skill to capitalize on his visions (even if that means something as difficult as dodging bullets and avalanches). And it never occurs to the screenwriters that there may be some situations for which there is simply no good alternative.
In a last-ditch attempt to offer up some kind of surprise (and also to satisfy the build-up that has us anticipating the detonation of a nuclear bomb), the film resorts to a lame plot twist at the conclusion. It takes the Brian DePalma “it’s only a dream” (or, in this case, premonition) conclusion to absurd lengths (something DePalma himself already achieved with FEMME FATALES, but at least that film offered lots of visual hints that set up the last-reel surprise). The absurdity of pulling the rug out from under the audience in this manner undermines whatever meager credibility the film had left, reducing its previous running time to nothing more than one long fake-out.
For those with low expectations who are easily satisfied, NEXT is a watchable popcorn movie until it falls apart near the end. One could forgive the filmmakers for abandoning the challenging potential inherent in their premise. But when they opt for the easy route, it is much harder to forgive them for failing to live up to their own considerably lowered standards. Nobody said this had to be great art, but why couldn’t it be a satisfying thrill machine?

Nicholas Cage and Jessica Biel

PLOT HOLES

Apparently in an attempt to avoid the stereotypical Hollywood approach, the terrorists are not from the Middle East but from Europe. They speak with French or German accents, but who they are is never explained, nor is their motivation for detonating the bomb. Also, it is not clear how they know that Cris Johnson can see the future and, therefore, possibly thwart their plans.
NEXT (2007). Directed by Lee Tamahori. Screenplay by Gary Goldman and Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum, screen story by Goldman, based on the story “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dic. Cast: Nicholas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Thomas Kretschman, Tory Kittles Jose Zuniga, Peter Falk.

Face/Off (1997) – Film Review

Face/OffHollywood finally let John Woo make a John Woo Film. This is both a good and a bad thing. The force of his talent is truly amazing to watch when allowed free reign, but the excess does eventually reach absurd levels. Thus, his previous two American films were something of a trade off – not as exciting as his Hong Kong work, but not as silly, either. Although both HARD TARGET and BROKEN ARROW showed signs of the talent that gave us HARD BOILED and THE KILLER, they were relatively restrained and depersonalized efforts that bore less resemblance to his hard-hitting Hong Kong flicks than did the work of some of his imitators (DESPERADO, ASSASSINS). Now, Woo comes out with both barrels blasting: all the stylistic excess is there, and the script even echoes the themes of his earlier work. Read More