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|March 26-April 1, 2009
• Locked in the Cage
by Christopher Borrelli
• Man love
by Michael Phillips
Locked in the Cage
by Christopher Borrelli
A man is privy to the details of upcoming disasters — when, where and how many people will die. That man is Nicolas Cage. Knowing that, the moviegoer now makes certain calculations: Cage is not like other men. He is composed of 66 percent water, 21 percent forehead, 10 percent terrible movies and 3 percent movies that make you wonder why that other 10 percent has been so ridiculously high for so long.
And yet Knowing feels like an anomaly. It is something never offered by a Nicolas Cage movie. It manages to stand separate from the Nicolas Cage we’ve come to know while retaining that ol’ bat-poop crazy we’ve come to expect from Nicolas Cage. Indeed, it even suggests that the Cage oeuvre — one good film every four years, 17 bad ones — has not been the case of a great actor throwing talent into a wood-chipper but part of a grand plan. “Two disasters left!” he shouts, in the spirit of full disclosure.
Or possibly referring to the plot.
Knowing, which concerns a series of prophesies and horrific cataclysms, has the evangelical fervor of a movie that feels as if it were made during W’s first term. Which is to say, Knowing is as potent a slice of disaster porn as Left Behind. It dabbles in faith and doubt and has no patience for fence-sitters.
Until it jumps the tracks into self-righteousness, Knowing, directed by Alex Proyas, can be as unnerving as the best episodes of The Twilight Zone. The two big disasters in the film — a plane crash and a subway derailment — are intensely vivid, nightmarish enough to seem almost removed from the rest of the film. Cage plays a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who lost his wife in an accident and has to raise their son alone. They live in a dusty gothic mansion, its walls stripped of paint. Cage spends nights slouched in a chair swigging booze and questioning existence. Meanwhile, in class, he raises the difference between determinism (everything is by design) and randomness (everything means nothing).
During the opening of a time capsule, Cage’s spiritual crisis deepens when his son (Chandler Canterbury) receives a letter containing seemingly random numbers, which turn out to be not so random but rather the 50-year-old work of a disturbed young girl who heard voices. In a Richard Dreyfussian fit of Close Encounters of the Third Kind-like obsession, Cage gets all sweaty and begins to see patterns in the numbers — dates and casualty numbers, corresponding to every major disaster from the past 50 years.
What does it all mean? Well, if you believe in determinism, then we are cogs in an unraveling cosmic joke and those dates were handed down by a higher power as a warning. Or, you could believe that the young girl just guessed.
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by Michael Phillips
A minor but enjoyable entry in the boy-man comedy genre, I Love You, Man stars Paul Rudd as a guyless guy — a heterosexual L.A. real estate agent engaged to be married but short on straight-up male companionship in general and a best man for his wedding in particular. Rudd has worked wonders in all sorts of comedies, from Anchorman (no one could turn to the camera, suddenly, with more phony intensity) to The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. The reason Rudd wears so well has something to do with charm and, more important, spiking that charm with an unsettling dash of vinegar. He’s easy company, but that smile seems to be hiding something.
Stuck in a socially tense situation, Rudd’s character, Peter Klaven, relies on newly minted catchphrases that don’t quite catch. “I’ll see you there, or I’ll see you on the... other time,” he says at one point. Later, he takes to calling his newfound man-date pal Sydney “totes magotes,” a nickname with no known origin.
Such riffs provide the most interesting laughs in the film, which was co-written (with Larry Levin) and directed by John Hamburg. The movie is The Odd Couple with a looser vibe and more oral-sex references. Peter’s fiancé, a pleasant blank played by Rashida Jones of The Office, isn’t given much to do plotwise, so the runway’s cleared for Rudd and Jason Segel, who plays Sydney, a sometime investment whiz living the life of a Venice Beach slacker. How these two meet and bond leads to much engaging time-wasting. They’re both freaks for the band Rush, and they initiate a series of jam sessions at Sydney’s oceanfront “man-cave.” A few formulaic lessons in friendship and forgiveness are the price we pay for the fun.
This Judd Apatow-free but decidedly Apatow-inspired vehicle isn’t quite in the league of Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad or Segel’s starring vehicle, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Director Hamburg’s sensibility is more mainline and commercially calculated; he co-wrote Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, and directed another Ben Stiller humiliation outing, Along Came Polly. In I Love You, Man, when he’s required to deliver a projectile-vomiting sight gag, he does so in a strictly routine way, nothing off-center or unexpected about it.
What works best is whatever’s completely incidental to the story, such as the totes-magotes/slippy mcgippy jive talk. The script sets up Peter as a familial and social loner — Andy Samberg plays his gay younger brother; their relative closeness is never defined — yet on some level Rudd seems too much the lad (or nerd-lad) to be playing the fellow he’s playing. At the same time he’s the reason to see the film. Segel’s casual, genial belligerence (he refuses to pick up after his dog and gets rageful when confronted) contrasts wittily with Rudd’s depiction of a tightly wound fellow attempting to cut loose and discover the joys of the “man-date.”
Now: If one of these movies can get around to writing a really interesting female lead, we’ll be getting somewhere.
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