5. Birdy – Ben’s Take

Birdy film poster

What you can’t see is the pile of human feces at the end of Matthew Modine’s bed

On it’s release in 1984, Birdy received a strong critical reception, currently standing at 88% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The New York Times review said of it ‘The most unusual thing about ”Birdy,”… is its lack of allegorical implications.” but that could not be more wrong. Most people might think that Birdy is a story of two men finding their way back from the trauma and tragedy of the Vietnam War, and one man’s strange lifelong obsession with birds, but Birdy is actually a shockingly visionary, forward-looking and prescient film. About the Internet. Well, more specifically, it’s about the ways that the Internet has given rise to a number of subcultures of mentally, emotionally and socially-stunted individuals who are wholly unprepared to deal with the rigors of everyday existence.

Our film begins with stark, white-on-black credits with the score in the background, before dialogue starts to gradually bleed in. This may be perhaps to highlight the music scored by Peter Gabriel, who receives a prominent place in the credits. The music during the film is a little strange and uneven at times, belying the work of someone unused to creating a consistent aural soundscape across 2 hours. The music playing over the credits is all menacing orchestral drone and discordant melodies. It sounds a little bit like a perfume advert in Silent Hill. In a pleasant change to the last few films, we get our quickest introduction to Cage yet, with the film opening to a shot of him being wheeled on a gurney so that we can appreciate the extent of the wounds his character, Al, has received in his time at Vietnam. After a couple of much more Cage-light films, it’s a refreshing change to have him placed front and centre throughout the whole film, forced to do much of the dramatic heavy-lifting as Matthew Modine spends much of his time squatting naked and staring at windows.

But I get ahead of myself, after we establish that Al needs to keep his facial bandages on for a few days, that he won’t know the extent of his facial scarring until they come off and that he’s travelling back home, we get the first of many flashbacks through which most of the story is told. This first is a scene of Nic Cage playing baseball with a number of small children. It’s an odd scene for a couple of reasons. The first is that the surroundings are a weird kind of blend of pastoral, idyllic, smalltown America and grimy depression-era decay. The back yards are covered with bare dirt and dead grass, everyone looks like they’ve been artfully rubbed down with dirt but it’s all presented as happy nostalgia funtime. The second reason is that, at this point, Cage would have been 20. Every one of the kids he is playing baseball with is aged 7 to 12. He looks like either someone’s hyper-competitive dad trying to make damn sure his kid’s team wins their Little League match or a pedophile content to play the long game. Regardless, through this game we receive our first introduction to the character played by Matthew Modine, Birdy, as he perches in a tree, watching the game disinterestedly.

In the next scene we see that, in keeping with previous films, Cage is a playa. He’s busy getting to solid second base with a young lady under the bleachers before one of the kids from earlier rather rudely interrupts and tells him that Birdy has his knife. One minor tussle and misunderstanding later and Birdy is winning over Al with the magical powers of pigeons. Once more we encounter what I’m going to term the Cage motif of main characters being lucky with women despite being terrible at them when Al sends away his girlfriend in a huff because he wants to stay and hear more about pigeons. One of the kids opines that he’d buy a carrier pigeon if he had the chance and Al decides the pigeons represent a valuable business opportunity (some people are not born entrepreneurs). We are then treated to a montage as Al and Birdy attempt to start their pigeon-raising business, with the both of them clambering around under bridges, building pigeon coops, Al yelling ‘Fuck you’ at a bird and Al screaming in triumph because they have trained a bird to fly back home from 10 feet away. At this point the music has changed tone dramatically from weird menacing orchestral stings and drone to meandering plinky-plonky piano music that sounds like it’s been miked up to an amplifier in a tin bathtub full of tinsel and aluminium foil. We can tell we have reached the climax of this portion of the film when the score changes up yet again to someone tunelessly noodling away on a flute over the top of what sounds like industrial threshing machines engaged in foreplay. It is at this point that Birdy crafts a pair of pigeon suits which he claims will help him and Al catch more pigeons. Wearing the suits, they break into a factory but Birdy has an accident and ends up dangling off the side of the building. He tells Al he’s going to fly and lets go of the building. Shockingly, his flight ends up somewhat vertical and luckily he falls into the nearest sandpile.

It is with the introduction of the pigeon suits that the nascent themes of the Internet first became apparent to me. By the standards of the time, Birdy might just be judged a weirdo. An odd fellow with an unusual prediliction for birds. In a modern context, however, we have another word for him: Otherkin. For those not familiar with the term, Otherkin are people who are convinced that they have the soul of another creature born into a human body by mistake. For a wonderfully concise summation of Otherkin, read this blog entry from a winning specimen of humanity who, so thoroughly unable to deal with even a single shift of actual work, starts ‘shifting’ into their wolf form, growling at customers, gets fired and cries oppression. Birdy is a prime candidate for Otherkin, he is obsessed with birds, feels an unusual kinship with them, wants to fuck them (more on that later I’m afraid) and, possibly the most important qualifier for being Otherkin, is a lonely, socially-inept person with few friends and fewer prospects.

But I digress, after Birdy’s inelegant swandive off a building we skip back to the ‘present’ for a while. Birdy’s doctor explains to Al that they brought him here in the hopes that it would prove good therapy for the both of them, and reveals that Birdy’s wounds when he was brought in were minor, but that he was MIA for a month. We also see that Al has some damage of his own, as he nervously jokes with the doctor about how he hoped the steel jaw they fit him with would make him a great boxer, but apparently one punch will send the pins into his brain and kill him and ha ha ha isn’t that funny? Cage sells this part well, his breathy, nervous laughter showing what a thin veneer he has over the mental scarring he’s carrying around inside. The role is a good fit for Cage, all the outward trappings of the smalltown manly war hero, all covering up a smouldering self-destructiveness and fear of the future.

At this point Al and Birdy have their first meeting in the present day. Al does all the talking, as Birdy just squats and glares nervously around the room, at least until a cute nurse enters the room to feed Birdy and Al proves that no matter what, Cage is still Cage by macking on her while both her and birdy are covered in what looks like mashed potatoes mixed with rubber cement and roofing tiles. You would think this an inelegant opportunity to make a move, but he does later on end up almost fucking her in a store cupboard before breaking down and crying. Yeah, I’m gonna chalk that one up to ‘unusually successful with women despite being terrible at them’.

We eventually find out that during Birdy’s stay at the hospital following his less-than-successful attempt at flight, his parents trashed their birdhouse, poisoned half the pigeons and had a local poultry butcher take away the rest. A somewhat reasonable reaction really considering that Birdy’s obsession led him to break into a factory and jump off it. Birdy, however, remains totally unconvinced, attempting to assure Al that ‘pigeons aren’t stupid’. This will, of course, come as a shock to those amongst you who have ever come across a pigeon, in the real world, ever. Again, Otherkin are notoriously prone to exaggerating and romanticising the characteristics of the animals they claim to be, claiming that wolves, for example, are kind and noble creatures as opposed to overgrown dogs. While Al is more grounded and accepts their pigeon-farming days are over, moving on to the next money-making project (fixing up an old car), Birdy descends further into his obsession. Evidently believing that the only thing stopping him from flying last time was not really knowing how to, he builds a giant birdcage in his bedroom and squats in it naked while monologuing that the birds must be as free as possible (not the smartest, this guy).

The guys eventually fix up the car and drive down to the ocean. Birdy is ecstatic, as there are so many exciting new experiences that can be related back to flying. Swimming! It’s like flying! Rollercoasters! They’re like flying! Al, meanwhile, has more prosaic concerns, and is more focused on meeting young women. Leading to a lovely freak-out moment where he stands there screaming ‘THAT’S FIFTEEN MISSISSIPI BIRDY!’ at a seemingly empty ocean. Birdy then goes on to demonstrate an almost aggressive cluelessness around women. While Al is busy screwing his young lady under the boardwalk, Birdy keeps his entertained by seeing how long he can hold his breath and inviting her to try. Al tries to talk some sense into him, giving him advice on talking to women, but Birdy is too busy running up and down the beach flapping his arms at the time. Hardy Internet veterans will recognise some of these characteristics: a cluelessness about sex that borders on intentional, an almost pathologic inability to empathise with others interests or conversations and a single-minded fixation on the object of obsession. Birdy is not just an Otherkin, he is starting to embody the very worst of all Internet subcultures. From Internet asexuals to fandom nerds to otherkin, he has become the platonic form of the Internet loser.

Birdy’s obsession only deepens as he switches the object of his affection from pigeons to a yellow songbird he purchases from an old woman. He sits naked in his cage with it, looks at it adoringly as it perches on his finger, has erotic dreams about it, at this point he has fully fallen down the rabbit hole as Al, born in an age without the Internet to consult, remains obliviousness to the extent of Birdy’s sickness and carries on attempting to lead a normal friendship with him. However, for someone so obsessed with birds, Birdy proves to be a truly shitty birdkeeper. First he lets a cat get into his room through his lack of attention and, although the yellow songbird is injured, he manages to save it from the cat. Secondly, however, he lets it out of the room to fly, forgetting that the window was partially open. The bird flies out of the window and Birdy is unable to fully open it in time before the bird flies smack into the window and dies. Despite profession to be some kind of expert on birds, Birdy doesn’t really seem to know fuck all (another sentiment common to Otherkin).

Eventually, after a strict training regimen (consisting of lots of flapping) and entirely too much indulgence from his genuinely kind, caring and loving father Birdy attempts to fly. He perches on the front of Al’s bicycle and is launched off a pile of garbage at the dump, flapping a pair of homemade wings. Despite his constant assurances that he need only truly need believe he can fly, Birdy ends up in a pond.

Things really continue on much the same trajectory, as we see how Birdy’s deepening obsession leads to him rejecting any chance of a normal life of actual worthwhile human interaction. A cute young girl takes a liking to him, asks him to the prom and gets topless in a car with him, for him to just sit there and stare at her rather lovely rack in a state of puzzlement. He screams at Al’s father like a petulant child for selling the car after they crash it (not to mention the fact that neither of them has a license or are old enough to drive). He has a naked makeout session with one of his birds. Meanwhile, in the present day, Al does his best to reach Birdy but his condition fails to improve and the situation looks dire, as if this therapy is not successful, Birdy will merely be left to exist in his catatonic state with no further attempts to bring him out of it. The film reaches its climax as we see what happened to him in Vietnam to bring about his trauma. He is left for dead after an ambush and comes to surrounded by the bodies of his fellow soldiers, and sees wings of birds take flight and fly away.

The film itself is actually a worthwhile piece of cinema. Sloppy and uneven score aside, the cinematography is good, including a gorgeous crane-shot sequence as Birdy imagines himself a bird (what else) flying over his neighbourhood, and we can become invested in the relationship between Al and Birdy. It is interesting that the film completely recontextualises itself in light of modern social developments on the Internet, becoming not a story about a young man’s trauma, but an elegy of a sad loner’s social disfunction, driving him away from the rest of society into the arms of his barely-understood obsession.

Birdy (1984) – Lauren’s take

Ok, I need to do this quickly as I’m drunk and my notes won’t make sense tomorrow.

We open in a hospital in the 1960s, and see a bandaged up Al (Cage) within the first few minutes, so already this is better than the previous films where Cage makes an appearance in the first 20 minutes if we’re lucky. He goes to visit Birdy (Matthew Modine), who is being kept in a psych hospital after going MIA for a month in Vietnam. Basically Birdy has had a psychotic break and thinks he’s a bird, and his doctor thinks Cage can break him out of it.

The story of Al & Birdy’s friendship is told in flashback, where Cage is the neighbourhood nice-but-tough school wrestling champ and Birdy is a weird guy who has a hard on for birds. Upon realising that Birdy’s plan to create carrier pigeons might be lucrative, Al decides to help him catch a bunch of pigeons. This involves the two guys wearing pigeon suits and Cage saying ‘fuck you’ to a pigeon, which is pretty funny. On a pigeon catching mission Birdy slips off a roof but manages to hold on, but doesn’t seem to be too bothered about it as he thinks he can fly. He ends up falling about four storeys into a pile of sand. Birdy doesn’t seem too freaked out by this, but Al is freaking out.

We start to see how socially inept Birdy is, when Cage bangs a chick on the beach and Birdy fails to carry a conversation with the girl’s friend not two metres from where Cage is nailing this chick. There’s a funny conversation about boobs then the boys are arrested for some reason that wasn’t entirely clear – something about their car being registered to Al’s dad or something.

We go back to the psych hospital intermittently, and see Cage trying to get through to Birdy in his catatonic state. It’s really sweet seeing Cage trying to pull his mate out of his stupor, especially when Cage gets upset and the nurse goes to comfort him and he grabs her boob. Cage, never change man.

So back in our flashback we see Cage helping Birdy to fly, by riding a bike through a rubbish dump with Birdy on the front of the bike wearing wings. Birdy flies for a few seconds and lands in a pond in the tip. The thing is, Birdy really thinks he can fly, and for a while Cage does pander to his fantasy.

birdy_le_ali_della_libert_matthew_modine_alan_parker_014_jpg_ckgk

Stuff happens:

  • The guys work out, we see how ripped Cage is
  • Cage has luscious hair
  • Birdy tries to speak canary
  • They help a dog catcher catch dogs, but when realising the dogs are going to the butchers, the boys set the dogs free
  • Birdy has bunk beds, but where the bottom bunk should be instead there’s an aviary
  • There are three kitties, one of which tries to eat Birdy’s canary, but Birdy saves the canary and it’s all happy and stuff
  • The boys go to the prom, and Birdy touches his date’s boobs but then she gets weird about it, and he goes home, strips off and makes out with his canary for a bit

After this bit there’s a lovely sequence using crane shots which represent a bird’s eye view, flying throughout town. It’s lovely and probably my favourite part of the film.

We go back to the present in the hospital, and Al has finally gotten through to Birdy, and brought him out of his bird delusion. Cage busts Birdy out of his room using his mad ninja skills and they try to escape. They flee to the roof and Birdy runs to the ledge and  makes like he’s going to jump off (not surprising at all, Cage probably should have thought of that).  He does jump, but when Cage runs over we see than he’s only jumped about two metres down to the next level and is like ‘what, bro?’. And that’s where it ends.

A few points:

  • Even though Cage had second billing, he really lead this movie.
  • Al is really sweet to Birdy
  • Things get a little sexual between Birdy and his canary, and that’s a bit weird.

Man, I do not advise doing this while drunk, it’s really hard. Sorry if things don’t make sense, you’re just going to have to live with it.

Fin.

4. The Cotton Club – Ben’s Take

The Cotton Club film posterForming the second film in the Nic Cage/Francis Ford Coppola Nepotism Trilogy, The Cotton Club was released in 1984 to generally positive critical reception. The film currently stands at 75% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The film, however, wasn’t without it’s production woes. Apparently Coppola and the film’s producer, Robert Evans, got along so badly that at one point Coppola banned Evans from set. Not only that but Evans raised funds for the film’s lavish production from Arab arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and vaudeville promoter Roy Radin who was later murdered and, although Evans was never accused of the crime, he was implicated as Radin was murdered by the woman who initially introduced the two, Karen Jacobs-Greenberger. With that kind of tempestuous background, it seems only fitting that The Cotton Club is a sumptuous period drama about the characters surrounding the famed Harlem jazz club of the same name. The film centres around two concurrent plotlines, Richard Gere plays jazz cornet player Dixie Dwyer who is drawn into a seedy world of organised crime after inadvertently saving mob boss Dutch Schultz’s life while Gregory Hines plays dancer Sandman Williams who, along with his brother Clay, get their big break when they’re hired to perform at the Cotton Club. The film opens on the first of many musical numbers, this time at seedy downtown jazz joint the Bamville Club, where Dixie is on stage playing a trumpet duel with another unidentified musician while Sandman struts drunkenly, beer in hand, back and forth across the stage in front of them. I can only assume it’s supposed to be some kind of dance move, as he does bust out some more moves later, but I remain unconvinced as to the impressiveness of the Jazz Strut. The film at this point takes great care to point out to us what hot shit Richard Gere is. Alone amongst the cast, the credits inform us that Gere played his own music and members of the audience comment on just how damn good he is, and that he plays pretty good for a white kid. Mob boss Dutch Schultz (played by the always fabulously-menacing James Remar) is in the audience and while his entourage are striking out with a group of girls at the next table, as soon as they invite Dixie to sit with them he woos them over by yelling, I kid you not, ‘yoo-hoo!’ at them. At this point I can only wish I had a major motion picture this dedicated to telling the world how awesome I am. Perhaps Coppola owed Richard Gere money, lord knows.

Soon after Dutch invites Dixie over to sit with him we see quite possibly the shittest, most half-hearted assasination attempt ever. A man masquerading as  police officer toses a lit stick of dynamite under Dutch’s table. However, Dixie spots it and pulls Dutch away as the dynamite goes off with approximately enough force to knock Dutch’s hat off if he’d had it in his mouth. I’ve taken post-vindaloo shits that were more explosive. The would-be assassin then shoots one of Dutch’s hoods and promptly fucks off. If he had a gun, then one has to wonder why not take the extra two seconds to put two in Dutch’s head before running away. At this point Dutch is lying prostrate on the floor, it wouldn’t be difficult. I can only surmise that the assassin was so embarassed by the utter failure of the dynamite to do more than knock over some drinks that he felt the need to flee before anyone recognised him and could tell the world what a shit hitman he is.

After saving Dutch’s life, Dixie escorts home one of the ladies he invited over to the table, Vera Cicero, played here by Diane Lane, who was nominated for a Razzie award for this performance. It’s not hard to see why, she decides to respond to the explosions and gunfire going off 4 feet away from her by cackling and giggling uncontrollably. It’s like a Mormon’s understanding of what it’s like to be drunk. Regardless, Dixie takes her home and proves his virtue by not having sex with a catastrophically drunk Vera who, at this point, is climbing around on the bed and complaining about her ringing ears (hey, it was the 1920’s, sexual politics set the bar a little lower back then).

The next day we get our first introduction to Nic Cage, who plays Dixie’s brother Vincent, as he sits with Dixie in a diner, recounting the events of the previous night which have made the papers. It’s a short scene, and we’re pretty much set on the fact that this is going to be another film that’s entirely too light on the Cage. Afterwards we’re itnroduced to the other main storyline running throughout the film, that of Sandman Williams and his brother Clay as they sit in their apartment eating breakfast with their family. It is at this point that I begin to doubt the ability of the wardrobe department as Clay is wearing his dressing gown with his fedora and I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do that. Breakfast soon turns into a brief impropmptu dance-off which will be a defining feature of the Sandman storyline. Sooner or later all social situations and problems will be solved by dance. It’s kind of like a racist version of the Second Law of Thermodynamics; rather than entropy, the amount of dancing in a closed system of black people can only increase.

After a brief interlude with a little more Cage, including the revelation that he has been recently married and has a permanent hanger-on called Sam who, for some reason, follows Cage and Gere into their parents house, we go back to Sandman Williams to find he and his brother’s audition for the famous Cotton Club has been successful. As they are leaving Sandman spots Lila, a biracial dancer at the Cotton Club who is able to pass for white. Instantly smitten, he continues the fine Cage movie tradiiton of being bad at courting women by telling her he’s having a heart attack, then following her to work before being thrown out by the club’s racist stage manager. And then we’re back to Dixie, as he plays a gig before being summoned by fantastically deadpan Sol Weinstein, telling him that Dutch wants him to play piano at a private party. The party turns out to be a mob meeting and while Dixie meets Vera again (the singer at the party and now Dutch’s girl) and starts to fall for her, no doubt thanks to her headwear that looks like what happens when a yarmulke fucks a beaded curtain in a rhinestone factory, Dutch meets with charming Cotton Club owner Owney Madden (played by Bob Hoskins), his faithful compatriot Frenchy (played by looming Herman Munster actor Fred Gwynne) and another mob boss whose name I can’t remember and frankly isn’t very important. This is because, minutes later, after the mob boss starts talking trash about Jews, Dutch stabs the fuck out of him and puts him through a table. Like you do.

After this the two storylines intersect, with Dixie taking his mother, Vincent and Vincent’s wife to the Cotton Club, which just so happens to be Sandman’s first performance. Dixie is formally introduced to Owney while Sandman experiences some rather perfunctory racism from the stage manager while Lila does a sexy dance onstage to a woman alternating between operatic high notes and ten thousand frogs on helium. Dutch is at the club with his wife so has entrusted his man Abbadabba to look after Vera. As a brief aside, the people in this film have the best names ever. Dixie Dwyer, Sandman Williams, Frenchy Demange, Abbadabba Berman, Bumpy Rhodes, you just don’t get that quality of nickname anymore. Abbadabba, however, does not live up to the quality of his nickname and demands that Vera roll her tongue for him, whereupon he bursts into uproarious laughter. I guess people were more easily amused before the Internet. Sandman and Clay have their big performance, and thankfully nobody seems to notice that they spend most of it off the beat. Sandman scores a date with Lila and Dixie is told by Dutch that he’s now under Dutch’s employ and that he’s to start taking Vera around and showing her a good time, and he doesn’t have a say in the matter. Which seems to me a kinda shitty way to treat a guy who saved your life.

Sandman’s date with Vera goes surprisingly well, considering that his opening gambit is to beg her to marry him (after probably having spent a total of approximately 30 minutes total in her company), dragging her out of the building and into a dingy backstreet club where once more he resolves a social situation through dance. Apparently you get enough 1930’s black people together in one place and they start solving all their problems with intricately choreographed soft-shoe routines. Y’know, even though the stage manager who doesn’t want Sandman seeing Lila is pretty racist, he kind of has a point. Sandman is impulsive, irrational and kind of bad with women. He’s probably just as worried that he’ll end up in a messy break-up where Lila has to file a restraining order.

Meanwhile Dixie is proving himself to be just as bad with women. After being instructed to escort Vera around town, he takes her dancing. First he tells her all about his past as a gigolo and then the two start slapping the shit out of each other on the dancefloor and throwing each other around. Wary that this sort of thing might find him getting more than a little stabbed up by Dutch, Dixie plays it off as a particularly aggressive tango and, rather than call the police, fellow dancers all start slapping each other like the Domestic Violence Two-Step is the latest craze. Impressed by his woman-slapping chutzpah, Vera goes home with Dutch and boinks him.

Thankfully Dixie is able to break free of Dutch as Owney has arranged for him to screen test for the movies. But as Dixie makes his break for the coast, Vincent becomes even more embroiled with Dutch, starting a war with the local black gangs over the numbers racket and shooting up the Bamville club. And so we see a montage of Nic Cage and his goons hatecriming the fuck out of some black people set to, you guesed it, another lush song and dance number. We also see Sandman pushed to the brink by the tacist stage manager, as he is forbidden from going up on the roof to talk to Lila because, I dunno, the roof is for white people only? After being threatened with a knife, he goes to local black gangster Bumpy Rhodes (played by the always awesome Laurence Fishburne) and demands that he kill him, but Bumpy says he’d never survive a gang war with Owney and advises him to, once again, solve all his problems with dance.

Vincent, on the other hand, might be wishing he could. Following an argument over payment with Dutch, Dutch sends one of his goons to kill Vincent’s right-hand man and perpetual hanger-on. Vincent responds by attempting a drive-by shooting on the goon but proves to be a poor people manager and all the people doing the shooting have such shitty aim that they gun down several innocent civilians. With a price on his head, Vincent decides to kidnap Owney’s compadre, Frenchy, to score some money to get out of town with. Meanwhile, Sandman and his brother Clay (whom Sandman earlier screwed over by striking out on his own) resolve their differences by sitting down and talking it ov-hahahaha, oh God, sorry, no, I can’t do it. They resolve their differences with another musical number. Seriously, by this point I’m starting to wonder if they have some kind of dance-focussed autism.

Back to Vincent and now Owney ropes Dixie into exchanging the money for Frenchy. The exchange goes smoothly and we’re treated to a genuinely touching, funny reunion where Frenchy smashes Owney’s watch to see if Owney cheaped on the ransom, then reveals he’s bought him an even better watch when he finds out he didn’t. Shortly after, Vincent is gunned down as he attempts to flee the city, marking Cage’s exit from the film and first ever on-screen death.

After that, things start to wrap up pretty quickly. Bumpy Rhodes and his boys solve racism by giving the racist stage manager a swirly, Owney and Frenchy decide Dutch is too unstable to have around and we see him whacked as Sandman and Dixie finish out the film with a big musical number together. Dixie and Vera share one last embrace before they never see each other again and the film is done.

Taken a a whole the film is possibly Cage’s first movie that stands up as a reasonably quality film. It doesn’t have Valley Girl’s ungainly, inhuman weirdness, Rumble Fish’s leaden heavy-handedness or Racing With The Moon’s stultifying small-town dullness. However it’s far from an excellent film. It’s an ungainly beast, it feels like someone stapled a Baz Lurhman production to a Mario Puzo script (Puzo was involved with the writing of the film). Half the film is lush, beautifully-shot musical numbers, the other half is trying to be gritty gangster drama, but when half the film’s problems are resolved through dance, it lacks narrative weight and feels as artificial as the mob films Dixie runs away to star in. Is it worth a look? Maybe. Not as an important film in Cage’s development, but as a way to spend a couple of hours, you could do worse, and the film is awfully pretty.

3. Racing With The Moon – Ben’s Take

Film poster for 'Racing With The Moon'
Another fine film poster from the ‘Fuck it, montage of floating heads’ school of thought

Christ. Ok, well, we knew when we started this that there were going to be some bad films, it’s pretty much a trademark of Nic Cage that he’s great in good movies, but he’s even better in bad ones. That said, I didn’t think there’d be any films so shockingly dull and charmless as this one. Racing With The Moon was released in 1984 to, well, not an awful lot of fanfare or reception of any significant kind whatsoever. One of the most positive audience reviews for the film on Rotten Tomatoes reads ‘A personal favorite. Now, this is a movie I don’t mind seeing every now and then.’ which is quite possibly the most wishy-washy recommendation I’ve seen since I put ‘unlikely to spontaneously combust’ on my online dating profile (you’d have thought I wouldn’t need to say it, but I’ve been burnt before).

The film stars Sean Penn as Henry ‘Hopper’ Nash. A teenager living in small-town America in 1942. He, along with his erstwhile buddy Nicky (played by Cage, naturally), live under the shadow of the war overseas as they go through the last six weeks before they are drafted into the Marines. Naturally, their thoughts turn to pussy, with Nicky romancing his girlfriend Sally while Hopper finds himself fascinated by new-in-town Caddie.

The film starts with a young Sean Penn, as yet unburdened by liberal angst, strolling nonchalantly along some railroad tracks. Curiously you see him spending more time walking along railroad tracks than pavements, which leads us to conclude that he either believes himself to be a steam train or the town planner was drunk. The film quickly establishes that Hopper is a play-by-his-own-rules, march-to-the-beat-of-a-different-drum kind of guy, as he smokes while glowering at children (I really, really hope this wasn’t an attempt to establish him as a badass, because it’s pretty pathetic if so) and disrupts his piano lesson by playing jazz (the devil’s music!). He then leaves for work and, on the way, becomes momentarily entranced by the sight of a young woman (Caddie, played by Elizabeth McGovern) dancing on some grass to the music in her head. These were more innocent times, so rather than think ‘Oh God, I bet she has a Tumblr where she constantly posts pictures of fairies eject EJECT’ he’s captivated.

After that brief interlude we are introduced to Cage’s character, Nicky, as Hopper goes off to his part-time job stacking pins at the nearby bowling alley. Much as in his previous two movies, Cage seems to have a lot of luck with the ladies, as Nicky is a horndog, determined to fill his last six weeks of civilian life with as much action as possible. In a move so brazen it has to be seen to be believed, after Hopper starts a fight with a local Gatsby Boy (slang for a rich boy, and played by Quentin Glover, no less), Nicky goes to mop the blood of the Gatsby Boy off his girlfriend’s blouse, before giving up to just grab her boob and then walk off. We had to rewind it to check that we really did just see what we thought we saw.

One of the most noticable things about Cage’s performance in this film is that his character clearly wishes he was in a much more exciting movie. He constantly attempts to derail the plot into wacky hijinx instead of the dull, meandering coming-of-age drivel we’re mired in, as if he can turn the film into American Pie through sheer force of will. It starts when he convinces Hopper to pretend to go on a double date with him with the local hooker, Annie, to convince his girlfriend’s father there won’t be any unsupervised funny business. There’s clear set-ups for some kind of wacky, high school gross-out comedy malarky but in a foreshadowing of later life, Po-Faced Fun Vacuum Sean Penn drags the whore out of there as fast as possible, before asking her if she wants to go for an ice-cream sundae and offering her a flower. Don’t fall in love with a hooker son, that’s just chump stuff.

Having been rejected by the hooker (although she offered him a free ride before he ships out, not a bad consolation prize) he goes to the movies and again spots Caddie, this time working in the ticket kiosk. Entranced, and clearly following Cage’s lead from Valley Girl, he decides to stalk her, starting by leaving the flower that Annie rejected on her kiosk (because nothing says romance like a daisy you tried to give to a hooker). He follows this up the next night with possibly one of the worst thought-out romantic advances since the Siege of Troy. He pays a small child to give her another ratty, just-picked daisy while he stares at her from a nearby diner. Then, when she comes into the diner to get something to eat, he vaults the counter and pretends to be staff. However, in a wacky! comedic! misunderstanding! he doesn’t know what he’s doing and describes the pie on offer as ‘brown pie’ before giving her the whole thing as cutting a slice of pie is a strange and otherworldly ritual that requires mechanical competence beyond the ken of most mortal men.

I think things like this are supposed to be jokes, but it’s genuinely hard to tell as they’re delivered like a brick through a glass window. No finesse, no charm, no warmth, just ugly shards of glass in your face and distant sounds of screaming as you look down to see your vital life’s blood pooling in your cupped hands. The terrible comedy stalking continues as he follows her into a library and knocks down a shelf of books and in another wacky! comedic! misunderstanding! gets himself invited on a double date before realising he’s supposed to be dating Caddie’s friend. Despite the date ending in more horrifingly zany antics at a roller rink, including Hopper grabbing a small child and careening his way out of the front door on rollerskates, Caddie is suitably impressed with him and allows Hopper to take him on a date. Hopper makes the most of this by taking her to a condemned, abandoned old bar in the middle of nowhere.

Ok, right, look. So far we’ve got terrible failed advances on hookers, stalking, not knowing how to cut a damned pie, accidental rollerskating child abduction and now he’s taking a girl to a remote locale that might as well have a sign hanging out front saying ‘Sean Penn’s Fancy Funtime Rape Palace’. SEAN PENN YOU ARE BAD AT WOMEN. Romantic leads being absolutely fucking terrible at courting a lady seems to be something of a theme running through the cage oeuvre so far, with Cage stalking his girlfriend in Valley Girl, Matt Dillon alienating and driving his girlfriend into Cage’s arms in Rumble Fish and now this. It’s definitely something to take note of in future Cage movies, I sense the beginnings of a motif.

Despite Hopper’s rather creepy romantic techniques, Caddie is soon infatuated to the point where she bones him in the middle of a lake. Once their relationship is established, the film is free to begin careening wildly between wacky comedy hijinx and plodding, heavy-handed melodrama, which it does so with gay abandon. It starts with Cage getting drunk, demanding that the only black man in the film give him a giant tattoo of an eagle on his chest to scare the ‘Japs’ and attempting to race a steam train before turning round and telling Hopper he got his girlfriend pregnant and now he needs $150 to get her an abortion. Wow. Sheesh. That, uhh… kind of came out of nowhere… awkward…

So following on from that, once more Cage does his goddamned best to drag us out of this suffocating, nostalgia-drenched shitstain of a movie into a more interesting one, leading to the best sequence of the movie, albeit one that has absolutely no meaning or effect on the plot whatsoever. Nicky convinces Hopper to help him raise the money for the abortion by hustling a bunch of Navy seaman (I’m sorry, but I will never not snigger at that) at pool. This leads to a genuinely fun and entertaining sequence as Hopper finds himself in an increasingly tense pool match with a Navy seaman (tee hee hee oh god im sorry im kind of drunk right now its the only way i could get through this) until he eventually loses and he and Nicky escape from the pool hall in the middle of a brawl. However, as this film is determined to shift tone faster than you can keep up with, this leads immediately into our poorly-thought-out second act roadblock to Hopper and Caddie’s relationship.

You see, Hopper thinks that Caddie is actually a Gatsby Girl (rich, if you remember from earlier) when she’s actually just friends with one. This leads to Hopper asking Caddie if they can borrow the money for an abortion. Despite not ever showing one single, microscopic iota of a fuck that he cares whether or not she’s a Gatsby Girl, Caddie is convinced that Hopper is only with her because he thinks she’s rich, so she attempts to rob her rich friend to raise the money. So now they finally have the money, they take Sally off for a nice, cozy, back-alley abortion in some guy’s trailer in a genuinely unpleasant sequence. Afterwards, on their way home, somehow the whole stupid ‘Hopper thinks Caddie is rich but she isn’t even though he doesn’t give a fuck either way’ issue manages to drive a wedge between the two of them, with Caddie revealing she’s not actually rich and storming off before Hopper gives Nicky an admittedly well-deserved dressing-down for his lack of responsibility.

So now we’ve brought the characters to their lowest point so that they can work their way out of this hole and earn their redemption, right? Nope! Turns out there’s only 10 minutes of the movie left, so rather than have the characters discover and learn about themselves to grow as people and learn to resolve their problems, Hopper has a 5-minute chat with his sage, grave-digger father. After some wise words of advice, Hopper rekindles his friendship with Nicky, because they’re bros, and gets back together with Caddie by, I dunno, giving her a map and sitting in a tree and waiting for her. It’s not the best plan, but considering the reasons they fought earlier didn’t even fucking matter in the first place it’ll do.

And just like that, the day of Hopper and Nicky’s conscription into the Marines has arrived. Cue tearful goodbye scene at the train station, Caddie gives Hopper a picture of her for his wallet, they are in love, etc etc etc. And so Hopper and Nicky depart the movie and make their way off to the most brutal, violent and devastating war recorded in modern history driven by prejudice and xenophobia by… chasing down the train, jumping on board and hanging off it grinning like goofballs while happy, jaunty jazz music plays and credits roll. A suitably tonally incongruous ending for the film.

I kind of front-loaded the review in this respect, but this is a crappy, crappy film. The jokes fall flat, if indeed they are jokes at all, the tensions and drama are either unconvincing and forced or heavy-handed melodrama coming at us out of fucking nowhere. Possibly the worst thing about this film is Sean Penn’s performance. Sean Penn is a fucking black hole of charisma. All around him that is good or interesting is sucked into him to be reduced to grey fucking crushing dullness. Cage tries, god help him he tries so hard. There’s barely-noticeable traces of the edgy, twitchy charisma he would exude in later movies and his character is constantly trying to jump-start the plot into some kind of pathetic semblance of life, but sooner or later it comes down to Sean Penn’s stupid fucking mopey face. The film is mired in nostalgia for some antiquated ideal of 40’s small-town America to the point where it feels as suffocating as it must have done to the young men and women living there, desperate to find some kind of life in the big city. Overall I just cannot recommend this to anyone. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

2. Rumble Fish – Ben’s Take

The movie poster for the film 'Rumble Fish'

Yes, hard as it is to believe, Matt Dillon was once considered a baby-faced prettyboy.

Next on our list is the 1983 film Rumble Fish. An adaptation of the novel by S. E. Hinton, and the first of three collaborations between Francis Ford Coppola and his nephew, Nicolas Cage. Opinion was mixed on the film at the time of its release, it currently stands at 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert said of the film “This is a movie you are likely to hate, unless you can love it for its crazy, feverish charm.” but then he said of Hellraiser 2 “It is simply a series of ugly and bloody episodes strung together one after another like a demo tape by a perverted special-effects man” like that was a bad thing so I suspect we shall not be film bros.

As mentioned already by my compatriot Lauren, the film itself concerns the life of one Rusty James, played by Matt Dillon. You’ll know he’s called Rusty James because his name is spoken by characters in excess of 50 times throughout the movie. That averages out to more that once every two minutes. I honestly don’t understand what the point of this was. It got to the point where I was beginning to wonder if perhaps a Rusty James is a name for some kind of deviant sex act and all of Rusty James’ friends are running a long con on him, telling him all about the ‘cool’ nickname they gave him and giggling behind his back. Rusty James is a ne’er-do-well, a minor teenaged hoodlum in an anonymous American town who lives under the shadow of his elder brother, The Motorcycle Boy (played by a pre-oh-god-what-happened-to-your-face Mickey Rourke). Rusty James drinks, smokes, fights and screws his way through his dysfunctional life while The Motorcycle Boy ponders the sheer futility of it all.

I’ve never read the book, so I can’t say for sure how faithful an adaptation of the source material it is. I can, however, confidently state with 100% certainty that the book is a flawless, near-perfect, completely accurate in pitch and tone adaptation of the feeling you get while studying a book for GCSE English. It’s all there. The film starts off with a hook, that little spark of excitement to make you think that this time, this time it’s going to be different goddammit, you’re going to enjoy this and not sit there sullenly, forcing your way through the book, passing each word like a kidney stone. It opens at Benny’s, a local Billiards hall where Rusty James and his gang spend most of their time, and Lawrence Fishburne (credited as Larry Fishburne) enters as Midget, a character I am convinced is merely a manifestation of Rusty James’ inner psychoses, as not a single other person acknowledges him throughout the course of the movie (of course, this is the fake 50’s, so they could just be some racist motherfuckers). Midget tells Rusty James that a rival gang leader wants to kill him and Rusty James announces his intentions to fight him. Great! Drama! Action! Fisticuffs! The fight itself doesn’t disappoint either. It’s set in some seedy underground tunnel with the two gangs approaching each other, exuding faux machismo like the music video for Bad.

Then the fight starts and it’s full of bizarre wacky acrobatics, like an amnesiac time-traveller from the future told them all about Parkour and they decided to try and re-invent it through sheer force of will. The rival gang leader cheap shots Rusty James with a shard of glass, putting a big gash across his chest. Then, in a burst of cool, the triumphant return of The Motorcycle Boy. The Motorcycle Boy’s introduction is beyond cool. Upon seeing his brother get shanked, he revs his bike and lets it go, sending it careening into the gang leader, running him down then fucking front-flipping through the air and landing back on its wheels. That’s the kind of shit John Woo looks at and goes ‘nah, I’m not doing that, that’s just plain silly. And sorely lacking in doves’.

Unfortunately, much like sitting down with, say, Romeo and Juliet, where your English teacher tries to trick you into taking interest by telling you it’s full of duels, hatred, murder and suicide (oh God fuck you so much Mrs. Edwards), after the initial spike of excitement, things soon slow right the fuck down. The film turns into a sequence of scenes that all feel strangely disconnected from each other, like you’re studying one chapter a week and by the time it’s next week, you’ve already forgotten the last. It certainly doesn’t help maintain the excitement levels that Mickey Rourke’s acting style could be described not so much ‘laconic’ as ‘monged out of his fucking gourd on horse pills’. He doesn’t even raise his voice when his brother gets stabbed. There hasn’t been a performance this one-note since the guitar solo in I Wanna Be Sedated.

You’ll probably have noticed that I haven’t said much about Nicolas Cage so far. That’s because, as Lauren mentioned, this film is disappointingly light in Cage. Playing Smokey, Rusty James’ second-in-command, his purpose seems to be little more than to be less fucked-up than Rusty James and to steal his girlfriend. As such I began to ponder if the film could have had any contributory effect on the Cage Method. Surely a film so early in his career, and with a collaborator as influential as Francis Ford Coppola would leave an impression, right?

I started with the off-kilter style of the film. The film is deliberately shot in an unusual black-and-white style, seeming to bring to mind the old German Expressionist silent films with it’s stark contrasts and its at-times unsettling soundtrack, all screechy strings, tinkly notes and odd organic, industrial noises, like Silent Hill having sex with a fairground carousel. It was an unusual choice and perhaps this left an impression on a young Cage, it’s stark contrasts providing a backdrop to Cage’s stark, bombastic acting choices. The film also brings its artifice to the forefront, daring you to peek behind the curtain, much like Cage’s over-the-top style threatens to expose the hollow shell of his character until you realise it’s crazy all the way down. For example, Coppolla choses to render the city as some kind of blasted wasteland. Possibly taking lead from The Great Gatsby and its rolling fields of ash, the streets of this nameless US city are permanently carpeted in rolling billows of smoke. However, in several scenes you can pinpoint the exact place where the smoke machine or bomb has been placed due to all the smoke emerging from it, thus making the scene look like the world’s most boring apocalypse, or perhaps the most poorly-attended riot.

The theory’s tempting, but it’s hard to throw weight behind it as the film eventually drowns in its own symbolism. Much like writing ANOTHER GODDAMNED ESSAY on all THE GODDAMN SYMBOLISM IN KING LEAR (I HATE YOU MRS. EDWARDS, I HATE YOU SO GODDAMNED MUCH) the film begins hammering you over the head with its own motifs. A clock is visible in every scene while an eternally-croaky Tom Waits gives a monologue about running out of time, the whole film is in black-and-white apart from two fighting fish that The Motorcycle Boy becomes obsessed with, longing to free them from their captivity. OK COPPOLA, WE GET IT, TIME IS FUCKING SACRED AND MATT DILLON IS A FISH.

All in all, it’s hard to recommend Rumble Fish to all except the most ardent Cage-watchers. It’s extremely Cage-light and not the most enjoyable of viewing experiences. While Valley Girl provides insights into the future of Cage, Rumble Fish inspires little more than confusion and slowly watching the clock. In every scene. Tick Tock.

Rumble Fish (1983) – Lauren’s take

Ok kids, our latest piece of Cage is Rumble Fish, directed by Cage’s Uncle Frank (Coppola, duh).

Rumble Fish follows Rusty James, a hoodlum in Anytown, USA. His brother, the Motorcycle Boy, split town a few months back, his dad is an alcoholic and his mum ran out on the family a long time ago. Rusty James tries to live up to his older brothers reputation as the preeminent gang leader in town by fighting another gang leader, violating the treaty his older brother set up against rumbling between the gangs. Big bro returns, looks all pensive with his face acting and not much else happens. Seriously, such a let down.

The film does have its redeeming features, namely the fucking incredible cast: Matt Dillon is the protagonist and Micky Rourke is the Motorcycle Boy, and they are supported by Dennis Hopper as the alcoholic dad, Diane Lane as Rusty James’ girlfriend, Sofia Coppola as her kid sister and Cage, Laurence Fishburne and Chris Penn as Rusty James’ fellow gang members. Tom Waits is even in it, which made Adam squee. However, this amazing cast could not save me from my boredom. The film definitely has its moments, for instance the gang fight at the beginning of the film plays exactly like the music video for Bad, with a little Footloose thrown in for good measure. There are two kitties in the film, which gave me the happies. We also see Cage in an orgy with at least four girls (although I’m sure this is pretty standard for Cage), but outside these moments the movie really drags. For some reason we’re treated to an overuse of smoke machines (seriously, do all the streets need to look like a war zone?) and Rusty James is so unlikeable that it makes the film a chore to watch. And there’s not enough Cage, but with the film being so early in his career we begrudgingly put up with it. He does steal Rusty James’ girlfriend, which to be fair I think we all know who we’d pick given the choice between Matt Dillon and Nicolas Cage. 

So to summarise, Cage has sex with a bunch of chicks, has awesome hair and steals Rusty James’ girlfriend, just because he can.

Verdict – don’t bother, there’s not enough Cage in it to justify sitting through the movie. 

Image

1. Valley Girl – Ben’s Take

Film Poster for the movie 'Valley Girl'

The alien, misshapen proportions of their faces are matched only by that of their acting

And so we start with this, Nicolas Cage’s first credited lead role in a theatrical movie (he had previously been in 1981 TV Pilot, The Best Of Times (also Crispin Glover’s first ever appearance), but we have been unable to track down a copy for love nor money, no matter who we try to pimp Adam out to.

Valley Girl is a 1983 romantic comedy starring Nicolas Cage and a whole host of people you will never hear from ever again. The film cut a more effective swathe through its young cast’s careers than Michael Myers. Although it enjoyed some measure of financial and critical success at the time of its release, it really can’t be called a ‘good’ film. That said, here at the Institute of Advanced Cage Studies (or, as our less charitable friends call it, the Nerdcave), we believe it is an incredibly important film in the Cage oeuvre. It is here that you can trace the very beginnings of the Cage method.

The film opens with a shaky aerial shot of our location, the San Fernando Valley and then a montage of our 4 main female characters on a shopping trip. It is at this point that the film is trying so hard to place itself at the centre of the early 80’s ‘Valley Girl’ phenomenon that it’s easy to imagine this film being dated within seconds of its release. Denim vests, jelly bracelets and sweaters with keyboard prints on them, it’s not so much a bouncy, fun montage of girls having fun as it is a jauntily edited highlight reel of a war crime. This film is almost aggressively 80’s.

After this we meet our four female leads, Julie, Loryn, Stacey and Samantha and it is here when the film hits one of its major snags. Every time the girls have a scene together, they become so subsumed in their Valley Girl accents that the dialogue becomes a raw, high-pitched burst of incomprehensible sound. I know they were speaking to each other, and they seemed to be able to communicate with each other, but it was a little like attempting to eavesdrop on a colony of highly evolved insects who rub their forelegs together. From what I can decipher, our shockingly unlikable female lead, Julie, is unhappy with her current boyfriend, much-beloved valley hunk Tommy, and decides to dump him, primarily because she’s bored of him. Luckily they run into him on the escalator and we are treated to quite possibly the world’s most unconvincing breakup scene.

It is here that one of the film’s most obvious and disconcerting characteristics makes itself obvious: This film feels like it was directed and performed by a group of people who have had the concept of human emotion explained to them via semaphore. At no point does anyone involved sound like an actual, real live person. If you were to show this film to Donald Sutherland he would begin screaming and start searching your back garden, shotgun in hand, for the pods these people no doubt emerged from. It would be easy to chalk this up to plain bad acting, but there’s just something about everyone’s performance that feels deliberate. Every moment someone is up on the screen, they’re committed. This is what they want to do and by God, this is the performance they wanted to turn in. The end result is disconcerting, like they’ve created some kind of superstructure built entirely from wooden acting across the whole film and are now operating at some higher frequency of reality. Much like Cage’s later performances would go on to do, this film causes us to redefine what is truly ‘real’ and ‘authentic’ by virtue of its strange leaden inauthenticity.

But I digress, the breakup scene itself starts promisingly, with some strange angles and wobbly camerawork that I at first thought were an attempt to introduce an element of Cinéma vérité to proceedings until I realised that no, it was just shitty camerawork. Julie complains that Tommy hasn’t called her in two days before informing him ‘It’s, like, I’m totally not in love with you anymore Tommy, I mean it’s so boring.’ (reminder, she is our heroine) and gives him back his ID bracelet, whereupon he responds ‘Not too cool Julie, like I won’t be bummed out’ (spoiler alert: he will be).

After a few brief scenes in which we’re introduced to Cage’s character, Randy and his cohort, Fred, as well as Julie’s unreasonably reasonable hippy parents, the film starts to fall into the familiar Romeo and Juliet tropes that it is trying so hard to ape. The two star-crossed lovers, Randy and Julie (subtle guys, subtle), first meet at a party at a friend of Julie’s. This party again takes the opportunity to hammer us over the head with how incredibly 80’s this whole film is, with partiers chowing down on sushi and fondue. The two of them meet eyes across a room, they talk, sparks begin to fly, yadda yadda yadda, then Julie’s now-ex Tommy assaults Randy and has them both thrown out of the party.

I wondered at first why there might be such friction between Randy and Fred and the rest of the Valley Girl clique they found themselves among, it seemed forced conflict at best, until I realised that I was looking at the film through contemporary eyes. You see, there is actually a marked difference: The partygoers wear pastel pinks and snowsuits, while Randy and Fred wear red shirts and vest. The partygoers enjoy dated, saccharine pop songs of the era, while Randy and Fred enjoy dated, saccharine power ballads. It’s like what happens when Klansmen fight pedophiles. There are subtle delineations at work, but to anyone not fully conversant with what’s happening, they just know it’s horrible and they want it off their TV screens.

So after much kerfuffle where Randy and Fred are thrown out of the party, Randy sneaks back in and hides in the shower while various people use the bathroom (most people would think this is not just weird and creepy, but an altogether inefficient way to meet girls. Personally though I see it as a reaffirmation of Cage’s outsider ethos). Eventually Randy and Julie reunite and Randy, Fred, Julie and her friend Stacey all ditch the party. Fred promises the girls that ‘you’ll see things you’ve only read in books’ which, bad phrasing aside, turns out to be neon signs and black people.

Yes, there are several ‘Julie is having her worldview expanded’ montages throughout the film and all of them involve them driving past neon signs while a power ballad plays in the background. During the montage Randy also displays his hood bona fides by yelling ‘DON’T WORRY BUB!’ at some police as they pass and knowing black people by name. He also frequently makes a noise that can only be described as a more jubilant version of the noise you make when stubbing your toe against a door frame at 3am.

After much driving around they eventually stop at what I can only assume passes as this film’s version of a rock club. They go in and, after passing a man who, mid-conversation, pours a drink over his own head as if it was the most natural thing in the world, Randy and Fred, in their matching outfits, sit down in front of the band, wearing matching outfits, and lecture Julie and Stacey on the soul-sucking emptiness of their conformity.

Amazingly, being told that you’re a terrible, soulless person seems to render Julie totally unable to resist Randy’s charms (in the world of Pickup Artistry, this is called a ‘neg’), and they quickly commence to smooching. Their passion proves so powerful that Fred and Stacey are caught up in their sexy, sexy wake and Fred gets a little tonsil action of his own after chasing Stacey round and round the car while she screams for him to stop (a lot of people didn’t really ‘get’ feminism in the 80’s).

And so Randy and Julie gradually fall in luuurrvvve via a series of montages of neon signs, and the two of them looking at, and pointing to, neon signs. I’m wondering if perhaps the two are bonding over a mutual appreciation of the fine quality craftsmanship of neon signs but, if so, this is a question best left to the sages as it is never actually addressed during the movie. All is not well in paradise, however, we’re fast reaching the end of the second act and the need to introduce some kind of hastily introduced and unconvincing speed bump to the relationship.

Tommy meets with Julie’s friends and convinces them that Randy is no good for Julie as he is secretly still in love with her and wants her back (we know this as he says ‘I still love her and I know what’s best for her’. We got a real cunning one here.) and, during a slumber party at Samantha’s house where they eat cookies and try on her mother’s slutty lingerie they stage possibly the worst intervention ever. They inform her that if she continues to date Randy, she won’t get to be CLASS REP! And won’t get invited to PARTIES! I guess that we must be at the equivalent point in Romeo and Juliet to where Tybalt kills Mercutio in a duel.

Shockingly, this convinces Julie that she should break up with Randy which leads to the best Cage freakout moment of the film. Having just been rather cruelly dumped he turns back whilst walking down the driveway to yell ‘Fuck off, for sure, like, totally!’. After this masterful balancing of emotion and equivocation, Randy dives head-first into cliché in order to show just how incredibly heartbroken he is. Within seconds he is drinking what seems to be a rather nice red wine from a brown paper bag, giggling, muttering and staggering his way back into the rock club from earlier in the film. It’s a little like seeing Rocky cut loose on an opponent after his big training montage, we are finally seeing Cage come into the full Cageness of his potential. Whilst in the club he hooks up with an ex-girlfriend and, within seconds, is being dragged into the club bathrooms for some illicit toilet sex.

Now I have to interject here, at this point the film would have us believe that both characters are at their lowest points, but I’m inclined to think this would make a much happier ending than what we get. Julie is essentially a horrible, selfish, cruel and vapid woman. She breaks up with two guys during the film for essentially shallow and self-serving reasons (one because she’s bored, the other because her friends won’t invite her to parties anymore) and, in both cases, picks apart perfectly innocent remarks and behaviour in order to justify her own actions to herself. She is now back with Tommy and, quite frankly, they deserve each other. Tommy was earlier seen borderline date-raping Julie’s friend Loryn before stopping and telling her that it’s her fault for taking advantage of him while he’s broken up over Julie. Randy, meanwhile, is well off out of it and is now hooking up with his ex (also called Samantha) who seems much more upfront and honest, more appreciative of his company and, to get coarse for a moment, is a lot hotter too. The film should end here and we’d be good.

But no, we need to get these two star-crossed lovers back together just in time for prom, so Randy’s friend Fred appears from nowhere to pull Randy out of his sudden depressive funk before he can get himself killed by starting a fight with some mexicans (much like its sexual politics, this film’s racial politics could use some work). In a scene that would prove to be incredibly prophetic of Cage’s entire body of work, Fred advises Randy that he needs to try ‘the wild and crazy stuff’ to win Julie back. Randy naturally interprets this to mean ‘Stalk the ever-loving shit out of Julie’ and begins dedicating songs to her on the radio, slipping photos of himself into her schoolbooks and following her and Tommy around town in a variety of disguises.

Shockingly, this fails to work so we’re left with one last, wild gamble at prom. Fred convinces Randy that he has a great idea for winning Julie back at the prom as well as exacting sweet revenge on Tommy. This plan turns out to be ‘turn up at prom and wing it from there’, the revelation of which exasperates Randy to the point where he feels the need to headbutt a curtain. However, he soon find’s a suitable replacement plan: ‘Wait until Julie and Tommy are announced Prom King and Queen, kick Tommy in the balls and take his place’. While you have to admire the stark simplicity of the plan, you have to wonder what would have happened if Julie and Tommy hadn’t been voted Prom King and Queen. Would he have leapt into the crowd to find Tommy and kick him in the balls? Or just stoved in the testes of whichever man was unfortunate enough to win? It’s a puzzler. This being a movie, however, it all works out fine, Randy and Julie flee off into the night, stealing Tommy’s rented limo and disappear off into the night, presumably in search of more neon signs.

I said earlier that I felt this was an important film in the progression of the Cage oeuvre and I stand by that assessment. You can see in this film much of the beginnings of Cage’s style of acting. Although he is much more laconic and relaxed than we usually see him, he occasionally breaks out into his trademark irrational emotional outbursts. I also believe the strange, alien acting style on display from basically every single member of the cast led to Cage developing his hyperreal style, immersing himself into his own interpretation of a character so fully that he transcends traditional notions of human behaviour. All in all I would recommend the film to all serious Cagewatchers as an important part in the evolution of Cage, although I cannot recommend it on its own merits.