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The Buzz: Monsters, Animals and Nicolas Cage

Posted by Will Ashton on March 17, 2016 at 12:30 AM

It's fitting to see the topics for my third edition of The Buzz come together on their own, especially since the theme of this week’s column is all about the unexpected. In a time where we feel we need to know everything about anything from day one, sometimes it’s refreshing to not completely know what you’re going to expect. You know what I mean? Banana pickles.

Why do people hate surprises these days? I like surprises. Monkey hiccups. And I think if you give them an open-mind, you’d like them too. Watermelon kangaroos. C’mon now, what’s the worst that’ll happen? Oh, did you say a heart attack? Well, I guess you got me there. But still, it’s fun most of the time. And seriously, you should get your blood pressure checked out. It’s a quick procedure. Your blood stream isn’t going to balance itself out on its own, you know. I’ll even schedule an appointment for you. It won’t be a problem; I just want you to be healthy, that’s all. Milky way lemonade.

Medical emergencies aside, let’s relish a little bit in the unexpected. Star-crossed lasagna. Random question: am I the only one who’s hungry? I want to relish in the unexpected so much, I’m not even going to give you a hint about what the three topics will be this time. Anarchy, you say? It just might be. Living on the edge of danger, you feel? I’m a risk-taker by trade, baby. I need more productive activities in my life, you argue? Man, you’re really on top of it today. Maybe surprises aren’t meant for you for a reason. Hot dog fingers? Nevertheless, here an off-the-cuff article about some pieces of entertainment that left me guessing. Don’t expect too much. But give it a read anyway, won’t you? Pogo spaceships. Firefighter kittens. Nipple herpes.

Film: The idea that films come out of nowhere is an absolutely ridiculous notion these days. Movies, of course, take years upon years of planning, preparing, prepping, scheduling, managing, choreographing and promoting. They don’t just come out from thin air or anything. But with that said, 10 Cloverfield Lane — the “blood relative,” as it has been called, to 2008’s smash hit Cloverfield — did really feel like it came out of the blue. Hidden under the codename Valencia since 2014, it wasn’t until Michael Bay’s awful 13 Hours hit theaters two months ago that people got their first exposure to it via a surprise trailer. And it was a hell of a trailer too —much like the one that shocked audiences for the first Cloverfield back in 2007. But trailers are an art form of their own. They can please and deceive. So how does the final film hold up on its own?

All-in-all, pretty well. Although I have my gripes with how it was promoting itself one way when it directed public attention in a different light — as I stress upon in my review — it’s still a compelling, taunt, electrifyingly tense little bunker thriller-meets-sci-fi horror flick. Featuring incredible performances all around, especially from a menacing, against-the-grain John Goodman, not to mention a killer score, well-designed sound mixing, a smart, self-aware screenplay and a hell of a feature directorial debut from Dan Trachtenberg, it might not be what some fans were expecting, based on the title alone. But those who go in with an open mind with find a monster in their own right in 10 Cloverfield Lane

Television: I honestly had no idea what to expect when I dove into HBO’s Animals, the new animated series from creators Mike Luciano and Phil Matarese. In a time where BoJack Horseman and Zootopia make the prospect of another animated talking-animal piece of entertainment seem a little redundant, Luciano and Matarese produce a refreshingly vibrant television program that’s equal parts blisteringly original and hilarious familiar all-at-once. The NYC-centric show centers on a variety of different furry friends — domestic and otherwise — as they live their lives throughout the city, in ways both appropriately animalistic and unexpected human.

For instance, the first episode, “Rats,” centers on a sewer party housed by (you guessed it) rats, where one friend tries to get his less-experienced buddy to, ahem, “have babies” for the first time with any number of female rodents in attendance. Another sees a pair of macho father pigeons test their own masculinity and check their egos as they challenge one another to see who can fly to the “green lady with the ice cream cone” (a.k.a. the Statue of Liberty) first. The third episode, titled “Cats” (see the pattern here?) finds a pair of tight-knit cat brothers unwilling inviting a stray cat into their owner’s home — only to have the street cat realize he might not be ahead of the housecats after all. And it only gets more ballistic and inspired from there.

My buddy Dan and I binged through the five aired episodes like it was nobody’s business, and while we’ll be the first to admit Animals loses its novelty after a little while, it still remains as wackily charming and maddeningly creative as ever as it continues past the halfway point of its first season. And with a second season already on the docket, I can’t wait to see how the freshman sitcom improves upon its originality and cleverness in the episodes to come,. And in addition to Mike and Phil voicing a variety of characters all named, fittingly enough, Mike and Phil, the voice cast features a killer rotating line-up of who’s who comedic actors, including executive producer Mark Duplass, Jason Mantzoukas, Nathan Fielder, Scott Auckerman, Nick Kroll, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Ellie Kemper, Chelsea Peretti and Adam Scott, to name a few.

It might be a little hard to adjust to how the titular animals never move their mouths when they talk to one another, or some off-color jokes about everything from crabs to abusive relationships. But trust me: give this one a shot. Along the lines of The Life of Times of Tim by way of The League with a little Curb Your Enthusiasm to boot, Animals is — for the right audiences —something worth going wild for.

In the Loop: With nearly 100 distinct credits listed on his IMDb page, I think it’s safe to assume that, for better or worse, you’re familiar with Nicolas Cage, the actor. But the Academy-Award winner hasn’t nearly had as many titles to his name as a director: 2002’s ill-fated Sonny, lead by a young James Franco and serves as the 52-year-old’s sole effort calling the shots. But that’ll soon change later this year, a the man, the myth, the legend himself gets ready for his second go-around behind the director’s chair. And it sounds like a doozy: he’ll soon helm and frontline an adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ controversial 2003 novel Rape: A Love Story — which, by the time it hits theaters, will be retitled the more PR-friendly Vengeance: A Love Story.

The Playlist got the scoop on upcoming film, which will center on Niagara Falls Police Detective John Dromoor (Cage) as he’s flagged down by 12-year-old daughter Bethie Maguire on the 4th of July. Based on her testimony, the detective will try to protect her and her family after an unsettling turn-of-events where Teena Maguire, the mother of Bethie, was brutally raped by four meth heads, left for dead and nursed back-to-health by Agnes, Teena’s mother and Bethie’s grandmother. As the criminals are released from prison, John and Teena’s family work hard to put these men back in jail for a full life sentence. And though they have enough damning evidence to do so, the parents of the rapists have a dirty trick up their sleeve: they hire renowned criminal defense attorney Jay Kirkpatrick, who’ll try to shift everyone’s attention away from his clients and onto Teena, thereby challenging her reliability based on her sobriety and sexual promiscuity during the events-in-question.

It most certainly sounds like a chilling, powerful drama on paper, but does Cage have the sensitivity and diligence to make this story work on the big screen? Based on his previous directorial effort, not really. But that was over 14-years-ago, and if there’s one thing Cage is not, it’s predictable. So I want to give him the benefit of the doubt here. There’s the serious potential to have this become a haunting, timely piece, and if Cage lines up his cards right, he might be able to prove himself in another light. Speaking of cards, though, he’s off to a good start. He already got John Mankiewicz, a talented writer from Netflix’s House of Cards, on tap to adapt Oates’ words into the film’s screenplay. My biggest concern is whether or not Cage can direct himself. As he has demonstrated time and time again as an actor, he’s very depend on his directors. So by giving himself full control of his performance, especially with material as heavy as this, I’m worried Cage might not handle himself in the most appropriate manner. But I’ve been wrong before; it’s why I don’t gamble much. Hopefully great filmmakers he’s worked with in the past, including the likes of Martin Scorsese, Joel & Ethan Coen, David Gordon Green, Werner Herzog, Spike Jonze and David Lynch, to simply name a few, taught him a few tricks of the trade.

I promised myself long ago that I’d see Nicolas Cage in anything, and while Vengeance: A Love Story might be a difficult sit, I’ll be there regardless. Cameras roll on this one in Atlanta starting April 4. Expect a film festival run sometime after, maybe as early as this fall.

Categories: Entertainment: Film & Television

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