18 Days of Paranoia #2: The Humanity Bureau (dir by Rob W. King)

Welcome to the future!  It sucks!

The 2017 film, The Humanity Bureau, takes place in a dystopian future where the government is not to be trusted and bureaucracy ruins everyone’s lives.  It’s kind of like the present except that it’s taking place in the future and Nicolas Cage works for the government.  (Of course, for all I know, Nicolas Cage might work for the government in the real world, as well.  I mean, it just kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?)

Anyway, the idea here is that, in the near future, America is out of resources.  Some of its due to climate change and some of its due to a war and apparently, there was a plague as well.  Because things got so bad, people gave up their personal freedom and basically decided to surrender control of their lives to the government.  The government responded by creating The Humanity Bureau.  The Humanity Bureau decides whether or not you’re a worthwhile part of society or if you’re just a drain on what little resources the nation has left.  If you’re not found to be an “efficient” human being, you’re deported to a city called New Eden where everyone assumes that you learn how to become more efficient or, at the very least, how to not be a burden on society.  The truth, of course, is far different.

Noah Kross (Nicolas Cage) is an agent of The Humanity Bureau.  His bosses worry that Noah might have too much real humanity to be an efficient agent.  After all, he drives an old car and he often talks about his childhood memories of going out to the lake and fishing.  Of course, when we first meet Noah, he’s busy gunning down an old alcoholic who refuses to go to New Eden so he seems pretty efficient to us.

When Noah is assigned to investigate a single mother named Rachel (Sarah Lind) and her son, Lukas (Jakob Davies), it becomes obvious that their case is personal to Noah.  Even though he’s supposed to immediately deport them, he allows them to have an extra day of freedom so that Lukas can sing Amazing Grace at a school recital.  (The kids perform in front of a gigantic American flag, just in case you’re missing the symbolism.)  When another agent (Hugh Dillon) shows up and demands to know what the hold up is, Noah, Rachel, and Lukas go on the run.  It turns out that both Noah and Rachel have a secret agenda of their own….

When you hear that a film takes place in a dystopia and that it stars Nicolas Cage, that probably creates a certain set of expectations in your head.  Unfortunately, Cage is oddly subdued for the majority of the film so those looking for a full scale Nic Cage freak-out are probably going to be disappointed.  While the film’s story has the potential to be interesting, the film never really take full advantage of just how weird things could potentially get.  This is one of those films where you know it’s the future because everyone’s in the desert.

That said, the idea of a major crisis leading to people voluntarily giving up their freedom to the state is not a particularly far-fetched one.  As I sit here writing this, a lot of people are using the panic over the coronavirus pandemic to promote their own totalitarian political vision and what’s sad is that a lot of frightened citizens are just scared enough to probably more receptive to all of that authoritarian BS than they would be under normal circumstances.  The Humanity Bureau takes place in a world where enough people have voluntarily surrendered their free will that the government can basically get away with punishing anyone who dares to think differently.  The Humanity Bureau is often an amateurish film but, when it comes to portraying how an authoritarian state could come to power and would that would mean for those who refuse to conform, it gets things exactly right.

Previous entries in the 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared


Horror Film Review: Vampire’s Kiss (dir by Robert Bierman)

Nicolas Cage plays the world’s biggest douchebag in the 1989 film Vampire’s Kiss.

Cage is playing Peter Loew, who is kind of like Patrick Bateman’s less successful cousin.  He’s got a nice apartment in New York City and he wears fairly nice clothes and he has this weird, stuffed-up way of speaking.  By night, Peter spends all of his time at the bars and the clubs, trying to get laid.  During the day, Peter goes to his job as a literary agent, where he sits around in his office and spends most of his time tormenting his secretary, Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso).

Peter has recently been tasked with finding the Heatherton Contract.  It’s a contract from 1963, one that was signed long before either Peter or Alva joined the company.  All Peter knows is that the contract is somewhere in a huge stack of files.  Harold Heatherton wants a copy of the contract so that he can frame it.  Peter wants the contract so that he can advance at his job and make even more money.  Alva just wants to be left alone.

“ALVA!” Peter spends his days yelling from the office.

“I hate my boss!” Alva says as she spend the morning crying in bed.

Yes, Peter is a jerk.  He maintains a toxic work environment.  He’s a misogynist.  He’s the type of asshole who screams at Alva to go find the Heatherton Contract and then stares at her backside as she walks back to her desk.  He’s a terrible human being and he’s steadily getting worse.  That’s because Peter is convinced that he’s turning into a vampire.  There’s even a lengthy scene where he stands in front of a bathroom mirror, moaning that he has no reflection.  Of course, we can see that he absolutely does have a reflection.

In his apartment and his office, he is often visited by Rachel (Jennifer Beals).  Rachel has fangs.  Rachel bites him in the neck.  Rachel sucks his blood.  But is Rachel there or is she a figment of his imagination?  Is he truly a vampire or is he like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho or the lead character in George Romero’s Martin?  He has become so consumed by his fantasies of being an all-powerful monster that he can no longer tell the difference between fantasy and reality?

Vampire’s Kiss is understandably best known for Cage’s demented performance.  Cage bulges his eyes, screams his lines, and spends a good deal of the film walking around with his shoulders hunched up.  This is the film for which Cage famously ate a live cockroach.  It’s undeniably watchable, though I think Cage made the mistake of playing Peter as being obviously unhinged even before he decided that he was a vampire.  The scenes where he obsesses over the Heatherton Contract start out as mildly amusing but become more disturbing as the film progresses and Peter grows more and more deranged.  From the moment that he started to chase the terrified Alva through the office, the film became so unpleasant that I just wanted it to hurry up and end.  On the plus side, Alva does get revenge though I think it would have been more effective (or maybe, just for me, more satisfying) if the film’s final action had been carried out by Alva herself.

Vampire’s Kiss is a film that has quite an enthusiastic cult following.  Having watched it, I can say that I’m not a member of that cult, though I can understand why Cage’s unhinged performance has fans.  The film is about 20 minutes too long and it reveals the truth about Cage’s “vampirism” far too early but, if nothing else, Cage really does throw himself into it.

Scenes That I Love: Nic Cage Meets The Bees in The Wicker Man Update

From the 2006 remake of The Wicker Man.

Actually, I don’t know if love is quite the right word.  I’m actually kind of annoyed that The Wicker Man has gone from being one of the best horror films of the 70s to being known for the remake’s bees scene.  That’s one reason why remakes, in general, are not a good thing.  That said, for the record, I don’t like bees either.

Horror Film Review: Mom and Dad (dir by Brian Taylor)

Mom and Dad, which was released earlier this year, is the story of many things.

It’s a story of the suburbs, the perfect place to buy a home and raise your family.  Nice lawns, big houses, friendly people, and plenty of buried resentment.  It’s a place that can either represent a new beginning or the death of all of your childhood dreams.  It all depends on how you look at it.  Mom and Dad opens with a suburban mom leaving her newborn in a car that has been strategically parked on the railroad tracks.

Mom and Dad is also the story of a family.  The Ryans may seem like they have it all but one only needs to look at their morning routine to see that things aren’t as perfect as they may appear.  Teenager daughter Carly (Anne Winters) is dating a guy who she knows her parents dislike.  Her younger brother, Josh (Zackary Arthur), is something of a brat.  Carly’s father, Brent (Nicolas Cage), is stuck in a monotonous job while her mother, Kendall (Selma Blair), had to give up her career to raise two children who don’t seem to appreciate her at all.  On top of all that, the grandparents (one of whom is Lance Henriksen) are coming over later for dinner.  The Ryans are a family who spend more time looking at their phones that actually talking to each other.

Mom and Dad is also the story of static.  It’s not just the metaphorical static that makes it difficult for the Carly to understand her parents.  It’s also a very real static, a hissing and popping noise that suddenly comes over radios, pa systems, and televisions and which, for reasons that are never really made clear, fills parents with rage.  When a parent hear the static, they suddenly become obsessed with killing their children.  Kendall’s sister attempts to smother her newborn while a group of new fathers gather in the hospital, shaking with rage as they stare at their babies.  Elsewhere, parents gather outside the high school, waiting for their kids to get out of school so that they can kill them.

As for Carly and Josh, they find themselves locked in their basement while, outside, Brent and Kendall plot their demise.  What makes all of this particularly disturbing (and, at times, darkly humorous) is that it’s not like the parents turn into glass-eyed zombies.  Instead, their personalities remain largely the same, except for the fact that they’re now obsessed with killing their children.  When Brent and Kendall discuss wanting to murder their children, they speak about everyday frustrations.  Brent wants to murder Carly because he caught her hanging out with her boyfriend.  Kendall wants to kill her son and her daughter because she feels like she’s had to give up her entire life just to be their mother.  The static didn’t drive Mom and Dad crazy.  Instead, it just really reminded them that sometimes, children can be a real pain in the ass to deal with.

When it was initially released, the film got a lot of attention for a scene in which an enraged Brent sledgehammers a pool table while singing The Hokey Pokey and yes, it is a classic Nicolas Cage scene.  That Cage goes totally and gloriously over-the-top as Brent shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.  (For the record, I always enjoy a good Nicolas Cage freakout.)  Even better though is Selma Blair, who is as subtle as Cage is wild.  When Kendall talks about everything that she’s sacrificed to be a stay-at-home mom, it’s a poignant moment.  She may be trying to kill her children but you still feel for her.  Cage is, as usual, entertainingly bizarre but Blair actually gives the film some unexpected depth.

It’s a wild and deeply subversive film and definitely not for everyone.  It also features a wonderful third act twist and one of my favorite endings of the year.  Mom and Dad has its flaws but, for those who like a little satire with their horror, it’s definitely worth seeing.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Beautiful Boy, Mile 22, Juliet Naked, The Equalizer 2, The House With A Clock In Its Walls, King of Thieves, Assassination Nation, Mandy

Lisa already wrote about the new trailers for The Predator and Zoe.  Here are some of the other trailers that were released last week.

First up, there’s Beautiful Boy.  Based on the memoirs of both David Sheff and his son, Nic, this movie is based on the true story of David’s struggle to understand and deal with his son’s drug addiction.  It stars Oscar nominees Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, and Amy Ryan.  It will be released on October 12th by Amazon Studios, who are hoping that they’ll have the same success with this film that they had with Manchester By The Sea.

And now, to quote the poet Python, for something completely different.  Mile 22 is the latest action film from star Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg.  Mile 22 is due to be released on August 17th.

Also due to be released on August 17th is Juliet, Naked.  This Nick Hornby adaptation is about a rock star (Ethan Hawke) and the couple (Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd) who are obsessed with his music.  We can expect this one to inspire many comparisons to High Fidelity.

On July 20th, Denzel Washington returns as retired CIA assassin Robert McCall in The Equalizer 2.  In the sequel, he’s investigating the death of a friend from the first film.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls is the latest fantasy film to be based on a children’s book.  It looks like a change of pace for director Eli Roth, if not star Jack Black, and is set to be released on September 21st.

Also based on a young adult novel is The Hate U Give.  Amanda Stenberg plays Starr, a young African-American woman who finds herself at the center of protest and controversy after she witnesses the fatal police shooting of her best friend.  The Hate U Give will be released on October 19th.

King of Thieves is the latest film from The Theory of Everything‘s director, James Marsh.  Michael Caine, Tom Courtenay, Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, and Ray Winstone are over-the-hill thieves.  (Didn’t Caine already do this in Going In Style?)  This British film does not yet have an American release date.

In Assassination Nation, the citizens of suburbia become outraged and violent when a data hack leads to all of their darkest secrets being exposed.  (This would never have happened if they had just taken part in the Annual Purge like they were supposed to.)  Assassination Nation will be released on September 21st.

Finally, in Mandy, Nicolas Cage plays a man who seeks revenge on the cultists and demons that killed the woman he loved.  Mandy will be released on September 14th.

New Orleans Film Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans (dir by Werner Herzog)

“Do you think fish dream?”

— Terrence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Happy Mardi Gras!

Since today is not only Fat Tuesday but also rapidly coming to a close, I think it’s time for me to share one final New Orleans film review.  Admittedly, though this film takes place and was filmed in New Orleans, it doesn’t feature any Mardi Gras scenes.  However, it does feature a lead performance that is perhaps as bizarre as anything that you’re likely to see in the French Quarter tonight.  Of course, I’m talking about Werner Herzog’s 2009 film, Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans.

Whenever I mention this movie to anyone, it only takes a few minutes before they get around to saying, “What was the deal with the iguanas?”  Everyone remembers the two iguanas who would randomly show up throughout the movie.  At one point, they were sitting in a coffee table while Lt. Terrence McDonagh (Nicholas Cage) and Sgt. Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer) were watching a house across the street.  When McDonagh demanded to know why the iguanas were on his coffee table, Pruit replied, “There ain’t no iguanas.”  McDonagh looked down at them and grinned.  This was followed by several hand-held close-ups of the iguanas, looking around inquisitively while McDonagh kept giving them the side eye.

The iguanas show up a second time, after McDonagh has tricked one gangster into killing another gangster.  “Shoot him again,” McDonagh demands, “his soul’s still dancing!”  Herzog pans over to show us that, indeed, the man’s soul is still dancing next to his corpse.  After the soul gets shot down, an iguana wanders across the floor.

What do the iguanas represent?  Some people think that they actually are meant to be hallucinations.  As the result of a back injury that he received saving a prisoner during Hurricane Katrina, McDonagh has permanent back problems and this has led to him getting hooked on drugs.  The perpetually high McDonagh sees and does a lot of bizarre things over the course of this movie.  Perhaps the iguanas are just a part of his addiction.

Myself, I think the iguanas represent the fact that, no matter what McDonagh and anyone else in New Orleans does over the course of the film, the randomness of nature is going win out in the end.  After all, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans opens with Katrina, which is perhaps the ultimate example of how helpless modern society is in the face of nature’s whims.  The film takes places in neighborhoods that have yet to recover from the flooding.  Every corner of the film is full of physical, emotional, and mental debris.  McDonagh pops pills and snorts cocaine in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control but ultimately, the iguanas are going to show up regardless of how much control he thinks he has.  Just as how Klaus Kinski, at the end of Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, couldn’t keep the monkeys off of his raft, Terrence McDonagh can’t keep the iguanas off of his coffee table.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans apparently started life as a reboot of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant.  The script (which was credited to William M. Finkelstein) is full of moments that mirror scenes from Ferrara’s film.  Once again, the protagonist is a corrupt police lieutenant who spends almost the entire film fucked up on drugs and whose only friend is a prostitute.  Again, there’s a disturbing scene in which the lieutenant harasses a young woman in a parking lot.  Again, the lieutenant has gambling debts and again, the lieutenant has to solve a horrifying crime.

While promoting his film, Herzog always said that 1) he had never seen Bad Lieutenant and 2) he didn’t even know who Abel Ferrara was.  Judging from the way Herzog directs the film, which is the complete opposite of the approach that Ferrara took to similar material, I’m inclined to believe Herzog.  Whereas Ferrara’s film was a grim and humorless plunge into the depths of Hell, Herzog takes an almost satirical approach to the story.  The running joke throughout Herzog’s film is that the bad lieutenant gets results precisely because he is so thoroughly messed up and incompetent.  The final part of Herzog’s film features so many sudden twists and turns that it’s hard not to conclude that Herzog is poking fun at how American crime films always have to wrap everything up within the final fifteen minutes, regardless of how messy or convoluted their plots may be.  Whereas Ferrara’s film featured Harvey Keitel naked and bellowing in soul-searing pain, Herzog gives us Nicolas Cage grinning, laughing, and apparently having a ball.

This has got to be one of Nicolas Cage’s wildest performances.  He yells.  He bulges his eyes.  He grins maniacally at the strangest moments.  He interrogates a suspect while taking hits off a joint.  Because his character has a bad back, Cage moves stiffly, carrying himself almost as if he were a living Golem.  McDonagh may have his demons but, at the same time, he also seems to be having a blast every time we see him.  Wisely, Herzog also allows the character some quieter moments.  When the lieutenant talks about how he used to imagine there was pirate treasure buried in his back yard or when he and an ex-con sit in front of a gigantic fish tank, Cage gets a chance to show that there actually is something going on underneath all of McDonagh’s bluster.  This not only one of Cage’s most over the top performances but also one of his best.

Herzog not only gets the best out of Cage but also the best out of New Orleans.  He may not make New Orleans look beautiful but he still captures the atmosphere that has made New Orleans one of the most legendary cities in the world.  Cage, Herzog, and New Orleans make for a great combination.

Scenes that I Love: The Iguanas On The Coffee Tables From Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

If you’re in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, please be sure to keep an eye out for the iguanas.

Ever since Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was first released, people have debated the symbolism of the iguanas on the coffee table.  Are they just a sign that Nicolas Cage’s bad lieutenant is totally high or do they have a deeper meaning?  Myself, I’m not even going to try to guess.  All I know is that the lieutenant eventually came to appreciate their presence.

Scenes That I Love: Celebrate Mardi Gras Weekend With Nicolas Cage and Judge Reinhold in Zandalee!

I’m pretty sure that I’ve shared this scene before but, since it’s Mardi Gras weekend, it feels like a good time to share it again!

In this scene from the 1991 New Orleans-set melodrama, Zandalee, Judge Reinhold and Nicolas Cage share a dance on a bayou dock.  Reinhold knows that Cage has been sleeping with his wife.  Cage knows that Reinhold knows.  So, they decided to have an impromptu dance-off.

It sounds like a good to idea to me and, with everyone flooding into Louisiana this weekend, it seems like a good pick for today’s scene that I love!


Insomnia File #31: Arsenal (dir by Steve C. Miller)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you were having trouble getting to sleep last night around midnight, you could have turned over to Showtime and watched Arsenal, a film that had a brief theatrical run in January and which has now made its way to cable.

Arsenal tells the story of two brothers.  When we first meet them, they’re kids and they’re living with their uncle.  But then their uncle kills himself and the two brothers find themselves going down very different paths.  JP (who is played, as an adult, by Adrian Grenier) turns a part-time job mowing lawns into a full-time job as the owner of a construction company.  Meanwhile, Mikey (played, as an adult, by Jonathon Schaech) stumbles across gangster Eddie King (Nicolas Cage) while Eddie is busy killing a man.  JP heads for a life of respectability.  Mikey heads for a life of crime.  Much like the Bulger brothers, they remain close despite their differing lifestyles.

But who cares about the brothers?  Adrian Grenier and Jonathon Schaech both do the best that they can with these two underwritten parts but ultimately, neither JP nor Mikey is that interesting.  If anything, they’re like the guys who you keep around as backups in case the guy you really like never works up the courage to talk to you.  Instead, let’s discuss about Eddie King.

As I said before, Eddie King is played by Nicolas Cage.  As you can probably guess, Cage does not exactly show anything resembling restraint when he plays King.  That may not be surprising but what is surprising that, after twenty years or going totally overboard in almost every role that he’s played, Cage can still surprise audiences by just how far he’s willing to go.  Every time that you think Cage’s performances can’t get any more bizarre, something like Arsenal comes out and proves you wrong.

There is so much to love about Cage’s batshit crazy performance as Eddie King.  For one thing, it makes absolutely no sense.  If you look at real-life mobsters, one thing that becomes clear very quickly is that the best ones may have been sadistic but they were usually smart enough to know when to lay low.  Eddie, on the other hand, never lays low.  He’s so crazy that he might as well be wearing a shirt that reads, “I kill people and then laugh about it.”  So, not only do you have Cage giving one of his most over-the-top performances but, for some reason, he’s also wearing this extremely fake nose and the movie doesn’t really make much of an effort to disguise the fact that it’s a fake nose.  I mean, you can literally see the glue that’s holding the fake nose over the old nose.  And then there’s Cage’s haircut, which would appear to suggest that Eddie King shares a barber with every pervy humorist who has ever had a job working for Minnesota public radio.  When we first see Eddie, he’s gruesomely killing a man and Cage gets so into it and there’s so much blood flying that I was half-expecting Eddie to then turn into Pennywise the clown.  Eddie gets another scene where he writes a letter to his dead brother.  Cage acted the Hell out of that scene.  It’s as if he was saying, “You thought my Left Behind performance was strange?  CHECK THIS OUT, DAMN YOU!”

Of course, Cage isn’t the only good actor acting weird in Arsenal.  John Cusack plays a cop.  He always wears sunglasses and a cap and he also keeps his shoulder slouched.  Was it a character thing or was Cusack sincerely hoping no one would recognize him in the movie?  I’m not really sure but it’s still fun to try to figure out.

Anyway, Arsenal is your typical low-budget gangster film, where there’s a lot of yelling and people getting shot and tortured and all the rest of the usual crap.  There are thousands of these films and they tend to blend together into one tedious mass of pointless mass of sadism.  One of the brothers gets kidnapped.  The other one has to shoot a lot of people.  Bleh.  Boring.  Outside of the people who need something to watch while at the Russian mafia sleepover, who cares?  WAKE ME WHEN THE BULLETS HAVE STOPPED FLYING AND IT’S ALL OVER!  But at least Cage and Cusack are around to keep things kind of interesting.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night