Joe on Netflix Instant or: The Beautiful Insanity of Letting Nicolas Cage Be Nicolas Cage

joe movie nicolas cage
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If you filled a speedball with a dose of Winter’s Bone, a dash of Eastbound & Down and a hefty pour of old-school Nicolas Cage, the result—once injected into celluloid—would be director David Gordon Green’s Joe.

In many ways, it’s the kind of film that Scorsese and Bob Rafelson and Sam Peckinpah were making in their heyday. I’m not saying that Joe is as good as Taxi Driver or Five Easy Pieces or Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, but for the most part, it’s got the type of filmmaking balls that those flicks had.

And much in the same way that badass character actors like De Niro, Nicholson and Warren Oates were given free reign to go apeshit in those flicks, Nicolas Cage gets the opportunity to show why there are still those among us with faith in a guy whose recent filmography has redefined Hollywood’s Mendoza Line.

Nicolas Cage Warren Oates Jack Nicholson Robert De Niro

What’s not to love about morally conflicted men with the weight of the world on their shoulders and a vicious mean streak?

But before I get too much into Cage, let’s get back to that idea of why Joe, for the most part, feels like a fitting accompaniment to that period of unbridled, freeform filmmaking that was so excellently captured in the nostalgic documentary A Decade Under the Influence.

On the surface, Joe opens as a film about a volatile but goodhearted ex-con who’s gone semi-straight and now runs a work crew that poisons trees at the behest of a big lumber company. Joe hires on a 15-year-old boy (Tye Sheridan, Mud) to help out, and the two develop a close bond. Problem is, boy has a drunken, money-grubbing pappy who’s meaner than the day is long. A scarfaced nemesis of Joe’s also helps set the stage for the film’s storyline.

But the storyline is by no means why I’m gushing about this film. Joe excels much more as a series of  dark, improvisational backwoods vignettes than it does as a traditional narrative. It’s got that raw edge of ’70s classics like Deliverance, wherein much of the film’s wit, hilarity and unease comes from real folks (and a few trained actors) engaging in loosely directed, improvisational scenes composed of regional dialect.

joe movie gary pouter brian mays

“You betta get yo ass up out my mothafuckin’ jaw… Ya country mothafucka!”

Essentially, Joe is a mood piece set to the tune of barking dogs, rain, booze, skid row slumming and cigarette smoke. But the film’s mood is also just a backdrop, or a platform for two of the most unforgettable performances from 2013.

One of these comes through the off-the-cuff acting of Gary Poulter, a real-life homeless drunken drifter who was tapped to play Tye Sheridan’s dad. Regardless of whether you decide to watch Joe, I highly recommend reading his tragic story.

In one of the most equally unsettling and poignant cinematic scenes I can think of, Poulter’s character Wade (AKA G-Daawg), stalks a man over a bottle of cheap wine. Without giving anything away, what plays out in this scene is what makes Poulter’s character mesmerizing throughout: the depiction of a man hellbent on ruin and greed who, at the same time, hangs on to the most utterly minuscule shred of humanity that could possibly exist within a person.

In that same scene, Poulter also delivers a line that could easily serve as an epitaph for the actor, who died by drunkenly drowning in a puddle of water before Joe was released…

g-daawg gary poulter

“A person just don’t know from one day to the next which one is going to be their last.” -Gary Poulter, 1959-2013

You can’t write a character like Wade, who goes on a lengthy diatribe about “popping and locking” and shows off his own dance moves in a scene that’s kind of like Napoleon Dynamite meets the knee-slapping redneck gas station attendant from Deliverance. The only way you can get a performance like his is to drag a quasi-genius hobo like Gary Poulter off the street, stick him into your movie, and see what happens. In Joe—as in those films of yore—the gamble pays off with an almost hyperreal effect.

deliverance You don't know nothin

“You don’t know nothin’.”

And now I think it’s about time we discuss Nicolas Cage.

Perhaps you watched Ghost Rider and its sequel and wanted to swallow a cyanide capsule. Perhaps you watched Bangkok Dangerous, Drive Angry or The Wicker Man remake (truly one of the worst movies ever made). Perhaps you’re just so let down that an actor with so much promise decided to go the De Niro route, spending the last 20 years involved mainly in a series of disastrous money grabs. Or maybe you’ve just had enough of this:

(I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did.) Moving on…

I will admit that what I’m writing about Joe is by far the most biased recommendation I’ve given on this blog. There was a point in my adolescence when I idolized Cage the way Johnny Depp did Hunter S. Thompson. I didn’t merely admire the man—I wanted to be him. I took this obsession so far as choosing Nicolas as my Christian name when I was confirmed at age 13.

After all, three of the greatest action movies ever made had just come out: Face/Off, The Rock and Con Air (yeah, Con Air is a classic in my book… hate all ya want). There was not a man in Hollywood with the swagger or ability to deliver a line like Cage.

Then came duds like Snake Eyes, 8MM and Bringing Out the Dead, and all of a sudden, the Michael Jordan of acting was gone in sixty seconds.

At that age, I was unaware of a little flick—sandwiched between those epic blockbusters—called Leaving Las Vegas (also on Netflix Instant). Cage proved there his acting chops were both something extraordinary and something of a uniquely inimitable brand that only one man possessed.

Since Joe‘s release, it’s been billed as Cage’s return to form, and his strongest work since Leaving Las Vegas. The latter is true, but for every 10 Season of the Witch’s, Cage has managed to slip a few great, overlooked performances into his repertoire. Chief among these was his work in the great Werner Herzog’s miserably titled Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. A lot of folks also liked Adaptation. (personally I could give two shits about the pretension of Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, but Cage was good in it). And Lord of War was a thoroughly enjoyable machismo rip-off of Goodfellas.

So what is so damn special about Cage’s performance in Joe? Well, not only is he given free reign to be himself, but he’s given free reign to be a vile, hilarious psychopath, which if we’re being honest, is exactly where Cage excels:

Cage goes rogue-Cage in this movie, and for anyone who’s ever been a fan of his, it’s one of the most glorious damn things in years. This said, I think it would be a mistake to heap all the praise solely on the man himself. Which is where David Gordon Green comes in.

Green has a resume that makes very little sense. In the early 2000s, he was doing touchy-feely indie flicks. Then he joined the Seth Rogen-Jonah Hill bandwagon and directed Your Highness and Pineapple Express. And then he made that pandering piece of indie laxative that you’ll see on every Gawker-y Netflix list called Prince Avalanche. However, he also directed 12 episodes of the sensational John Rocker-themed HBO series Eastbound & Down, starring Danny McBride as Kenny “La Flama Blanca” Powers.

Kenny Powers David Gordon Green Joe

Eastbound & Down: one of the best comedy series ever made. Period.

EB&D merits mention in this growing novella of a post for a few reasons. Namely, co-creators Jody Hill and Danny McBride were executive producers on Joe (and also because of Green’s connection)For those who can detect it, Joe is full of the exact same brand of black humor that EB&D made a killing on. And that—combined with the improvisational acting and bleakness of Winter’s Bone—is what makes Joe such a fascinating, eclectic anomaly of a film.

joe that dog is an asshole

Cage’s fixation with referring to canines as “assholes” provides for some of Joe‘s better laughs.

Not everyone is going to love this movie. And since its much more scattered and unhinged than your traditional Hollywood narrative, I’m sure a lot of folks will just wonder what the fuck is going on. Which is fair, because Joe has its share of flaws. (For example, the constant shrouded-in-menacing-mystery dialogue about who Joe really is is played up more than just a little heavy handedly.)

But if we’re calling Joe a flawed movie, I’d add that it’s hands-down one of the best flawed movies made in the last 40 years. Joe is country noir at its finest, and a prime example of a national treasure getting back to what he does best.

GRADE: A-
IMDb: 6.9

-Sam Adams

NOTE: I particularly recommend this flick to folks who liked Blue Ruin; Jeff Nichols movies like Shotgun Stories and Mud; and anyone who’s ever read a Daniel Woodrell novel.

The best of Netflix Instant if bleak, thrilling cinema is your ASMR: Part III

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For many Americans, 24-hour marathons of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story are the holiest of holiday traditions. That’s all fine and good, but some of us are more partial to the non-stop gore fests that populate channels like AMC and FX in the days leading up to Halloween. It’s a perfect time to kick back on the couch, inhale candy corn, and get bleary-eyed on pumpkin beer as you reacquaint yourself with the innumerable Michael Myers sequels and offshoots.

Alas, my days of paying for cable have ceased. And honestly, there are much better things to watch out there than the Busta-Rhymes-Tyra-Banks vehicle Halloween: Resurrection. Freddy Krueger brought nightmares to life. Halloween: Resurrection was a fucking nightmare in my life.

I got my fix this Halloween through some great Netflix Instant titles. And through this service, the soul-crushing depression that sets in when the 24-hour horror bloodbaths end on Nov. 1 can easily be bypassed.

Whether you be a fan of slashers or ghouls, there’s a bevy of great options to stream via Netflix. Here are a few recent personal favorites.

You’re Next

You're next

Requisite bloody-faced protagonist shot

For fans of modern horror, calling You’re Next a hidden gem is tantamount to saying, “They made a Texas Chainsaw movie before the Jessica Biel one?” If you’ve seen it, go ahead and skip to the next title (which you probably haven’t seen). However, if you haven’t seen this—or are just a fan of my wayward rants—keep reading, and consider it one of the top slasher films of the past decade, as well as a must-see for anyone with any interest in the genre.

You’re Next is a good, old-fashioned home-invasion gore fest. “Old-fashioned” is key here, because the film pays homage to a lot of ’80s and ’90s tropes (and yeah, that was a long fucking time ago in my book). The brilliant opening sequence starts in typical Scream fashion. A really hot chick (the underused Kate Lynn Sheil from House of Cards) and her scumbag boyfriend have a knifey, little run in with a masked man.

Kate Lyn Sheil

Kate Lyn Sheil, aka the indie fanboy’s new Zooey Deschanel

But before we get to the meat of the plot, something more needs to be said about this opening sequence. In particular, that Dwight Twilley song. My last post in this series included Blue Ruin, a film that paired a song and a scene in a way that I’d call among the year’s best audiovisual sequences.

Likewise, that opening sequence of You’re Next pulls an obscure pop hit and transforms it into one of the most tantalizing aspects of a great narrative. The song in question is Dwight Twilley’s “Looking for the Magic.” No, I had no idea who Dwight Twilley was before this movie. Yes, I’ve been getting weird looks the past few months while driving around town with this song playing on repeat. It’s infectious. It’s haunting. It’s usage embodies the mystique and grim humor that make You’re Next  a brilliantly chilling and morbidly comic slasher flick.

If you geek out on “The Magic,” check out this article about its origins in the film. I love the part where Twilley’s wife tells the director, “You want ‘Looking for the Magic,’ but you can’t afford the fuckin’ magic!”

It’s also priceless that the album it came off of was called Twilley Don’t Mind. If I recorded a coked-up, Donovan-meets-classic-pop-rock album it would certainly be called Adams Don’t Mind. Anyway, here’s an old recording of Jim Morrison lookalike Dwight Twilley (and yes, that’s a young Tom Petty rocking out on backup guitar).

But back to the murder at hand. A rich kid and his Aussie girlfriend (Sharni Vinson) road trip to spend a weekend with his family at their secluded mansion in the woods. It turns out that the beau’s family are a bunch of psychotic WASPs who generally hate each other. Then there’s a bloodbath wreaked by killers in cute animal masks.

Watching uppity WASPs get axed to bits by cutesy lamb-masked villains is holiday fun for the whole family—and the type you won’t find in It’s a Wonderful Life. Speaking of Jimmy Stewart, they should do a You’re Next-style remake of Harvey where the imaginary friend is a bunny who fucks shit up. Oh yeah, Donnie Darko…

Coming soon to a theater near you...

Coming soon to a theater near you…

We find out that the Aussie protagonist (and only likable person in the movie—outside of Kate Lyn Sheil, of course, who can do no wrong), also has a background as an Outback survivalist. This comes in handy.

You’re Next‘s only fault is that it enlists some noted mumblecore directors as actors. What is mumblecore, you ask? Unfortunately, it’s not the drunken cousin of a Harry Potter wizard. In my limited research, it seems to be a cinematic platform for hipsters to wallow in their hipsterishly hipster despair (see: previous scathing rant on Drinking Buddies, et al). Put bluntly, it’s one of the worst things since Cinema Verité and the French New Wave movement. As the great Werner Herzog put it, “By dint of declaration, the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.” In the same vein, mumblecore reaches a merely superficial truth—the truth that self-important, coffee shop filmmakers project as the truth.

Anyway, perhaps this isn’t much of a fault, because we get to see said mumblecore whiners brutally massacred. When the masks are off and the final axe is swung,You’re Next is a movie about a lot more than Dwight Twilley’s career revival and killing the shit out of hipsters and WASPs. But those reasons alone are good enough for me.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 6.5

The Taking of Deborah Logan
Full disclosure: Despite my love of horror films, I tend to steer clear of anything involving ghosts, exorcisms or paranormal activities. The reason being that these tales involve a suspension of disbelief tied to the plausibility of a supernatural realm. I do not believe in that realm. So asking me to sit through such a flick is kind of like taking an atheist to mass. Sure, the message will be conveyed loud and clear, but an inherent disbelief in the underpinnings of such a message will make every word ring hollow.

the descent

An army of blind, albino cave-dwelling evolutionary anomalies? Plausible. Ghosts? Not so much.

Point being, it takes a lot to get me interested in any of the 5,000 Exorcist rehashings that Hollywood spews forth every year. So essentially, me telling horror fans that they have to watch The Taking of Deborah Logan is like our atheist friend saying to his atheist bros, “You gotta check out that mass—it was unbelievable!”

The film begins with a camera crew attempting to document the mental decline of an Alzheimer’s patient. As the patient weakens, eerie shit starts happening. As we all know, demons from the depths of hell are prone to preying on the weak and old, so it’s only natural that they’d possess our titular character.

the taking of deborah logan

“Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.”

The Taking relies heavily on the found-footage / hidden camera blueprint of Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity. I’d argue that it supersedes both of these. For one, unlike Blair Witch, this film actually has an ending. It also has camerawork not done by someone with a bad case of the DTs. Furthermore, there’s a palatable depth to this story, thanks to some fine acting by Jill Larson and Anne Ramsay as the mother and daughter caught between a fatal disease and another form of hell on Earth.

And even for someone who’s all but sworn off supernatural flicks, this movie is downright, jump-out-your-seat scary as hell. In terms of this genre, I’d rank The Taking right alongside James Wan’s more mature efforts, like The Conjuring and Insidious (no, not Insidious: Chapter 2—that sucked. Bring me Insidious 3 and the return of the Darth Maul demon!).

insidious

The way Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” shall be remembered henceforth

Jill Larson’s transformation from Miss Daisy to a vessel of the eternally damned is pulled off with a subtly mounting air of terror, climaxing in a terrifying finish that includes one of the most magnificently unsettling images in recent cinema. This is probably one of the most underrated new titles on Netflix Instant. Don’t sleep on it, and once you’ve seen it, don’t expect any decent form of sleep.

GRADE: B+ / A-
IMDb: 6.5

Other must-watch BONUS PICKS to keep the Netflix Instant horror marathon raging: Stake Land, Trollhunter, Let The Right One In

Note on IMDb scores: For whatever reason, horror films typically rank much lower on IMDb than their equally good, non-horror counterparts. Consider anything above a 6.2 probably worth your time. (I’ll unveil my foolproof “IMDb credibility system” at a later date.)

-Sam Adams