REVIEW: “Joe”

Joe posterWhere on earth did Nicholas Cage’s career go? Cage’s early career was filled with good performances and good movies. He worked with top-notch directors such as the Coen Brothers and Spike Jonze and he even won an Academy Award. But movie fans know the story. His worldwide real estate spending spree led to financial woes and soon Cage was excepting any role he was given to help get out of his mess. There have been brief glimmers of the old Nick Cage but for the most part he has become so synonymous with crappy movies.

But Cage is still a likable guy which is why I’m so excited to talk about “Joe”. I’m not sure if I’m ready to say Nicholas Cage is back, but this is an eye-opening performance and a bold reminder of what he can do when given good material and a capable director to work with. David Gordon Green is a filmmaker who has had his share of misses especially when he jumped into the mainstream comedy arena. But he is also a smart and nuanced director who can draw so much out of his stories and characters. Last year’s “Prince Avalanche” was a great example of that and “Joe” makes him two-for-two.

The film is set in a low income, deep south community. Joe Ransom (Cage) is a timber worker who runs a hard working local crew. He has a good reputation among his men and some of the locals. He meets and befriends a 15-year old boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan). Gary has a tumultuous family life mainly due to his abusive and alcoholic father Wade (Gary Poulter). He finds an escape in Joe while also making some money to support his mother and sister.

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Early on Joe looks to be a good and stable mentor and father figure. He is a sharp antithesis to Gary’s real father who is despicable in ever regard. But perhaps the most compelling thing about the movie is how Joe’s character unfolds. Throughout the film one thin layer after another is peeled back revealing a deeply flawed man with an intensely troubled past. He is a tortured soul assaulted by demons that we don’t always fully meet. His inability to cope with them sometimes makes him his own worst enemy. This forms the central conflict which drives a lot of the story.

Cage absolutely owns this character. His performance is saturated with grit and authenticity. He is the centerpiece of the picture and for those not familiar with his once promising acting chops, this is a spectacular showcase. Tye Sheridan follows up his wonderful work in “Mud” with a darker and more mature performance. He handles the heavy and emotionally charged material with the skill of a veteran. His opening scene with Poulter is piercing and uncomfortable and it sets the table for the rest of the picture. Speaking of Poulter, the realism in his performance is surreal and effectively disturbing. Even more unnerving is Poulter’s real story. He was homeless and a terrible alcoholic when Green cast him. This undoubtedly fueled his performance with such honesty. Sadly Poulter was found dead on the streets of Austin, Texas shortly before the film was set to debut.

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Another key strength of the film is Green’s impeccable southern vision. The striking detail he puts in every little thing helps to create this otherworldly setting which is actually more real than many realize. The story flourishes in this sad and smothering environment and it just gets darker and darker as things progress. It could be said the film exploits southern stereotypes in order to create such a setting and sometimes the movie slips off the rails in its attempts. But ultimately it is a vivid and ferocious setting that never allows us to feel comfortable (and that is a good thing).

“Joe” isn’t an easy movie to digest. It is southern gothic to the core with an emphasis on the unpleasant and disturbing. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart. But it is an exciting return of sorts for Nicholas Cage and one can only hope it is a sign of things to come. “Joe” is uncomfortable and unflinching yet it is almost impossible to take your eyes off it. It may be a bit too abrasive, but the story at the heart of the film is what shines through in the end.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE FOOT CHASES

As an action movie fan I love a good chase regardless of the kind – motorcycle, car, or even on foot. It may surprise you just how many great foot chases there have been in movie history. And as technology has gotten better, particularly with new cameras and methods of shooting action scenes, movies have been able to create some incredible foot chases. So I decided to give some love to 5 great movie foot chases. I left out a few that certainly deserve mention, but these 5 were impossible for me to leave out. So, here they are. Now as usual, I wouldn’t dare call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 movie foot chases are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “FAST FIVE”

“Fast Five”

The “Fast and Furious” series has made it’s reputation on fast cars and some ridiculously wild car chases. Who would have thought that one of the coolest scenes in 2011’s “Fast Five” would have been a foot chase? After meeting back up at Dom’s safe house in Rio de Janeiro, Dom, Brian, and Mia find themselves boxed in by the armed thugs of a local crime lord on one side and Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and his men on the other. The three take off on a foot chase through the cramped, densely populated, hillside streets – running through tight alleys and jumping from rooftop to rooftop – with a host of pursuers hot on their tail. It’s a tremendous, high-octane sequence with some incredible camera work. I love this scene.

#4 – “POINT BREAK

“Point Break”

In what was one part free-spirited surfer movie and one part gritty heist film, “Point Break” was a popular action romp from director Kathryn Bigelow. Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) is the ring leader of a group of surfer bank robbers and FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) has infiltrated their ranks. As Utah gets closer to making the arrest, the “Ex-Presidents” – the name they go by due to the rubber masks of past presidents that they wear – pull off a heist. Utah arrives as they are leaving and bodhi is forced to take off on foot. Utah chases him into a neighborhood, over fences, through backyards and living rooms, and finally down a ravine where Utah hurts his knee and Bodhi gets away. It a furious chase with tight, close quarter camera work and even a touch of subtle humor. “Point Break” has a lot of memorable scenes, few better than the foot chase.

#3 – “THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM

“The Bourne Ultimatum”

The third film of the Jason Bourne series featured the same intense, spy thriller action and around the world globetrotting that the series is known for. One of my favorite sequences is the sequence in Morocco. Bourne (Matt Damon) and Nicky (Julia Stiles) are trying to get to a source who is coming clean about the CIA’s undercover project known as “Blackbriar”. But the organization has an asset on the ground to take him out before they get to him. After Bourne and Nicky split up, the asset turns to her with orders to kill on sight. Nicky takes off, the asset chasing her, and Bourne chasing the asset. The three run through the crowded streets of Tangier and finally through a series of close, cramped houses, before the scene ends with the best fight scene of the entire series so far. Director Paul Greengrass puts it all together perfectly with the perfect amount of tension and action. It’s an awesome scene.

#2 – “RAISING ARIZONA

“Raising Arizona”

Leave it to Joel and Ethen Coen to give us not only one of the best foot chases in movie history but by far the funniest. In 1987’s “Raising Arizona” Nicholas Cage plays H.I. McDunnough, a dimwit struggling with a most unusual addiction – robbing convenient stores. He’s stressed over some events at home, namely the kidnapping of one of the “Arizona Quints” – the children of unpainted furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona. While the story revolves around H.I. and his wife Ed’s lamebrain idea to solve her infertility by taking one of Arizona’s five babies, one of the funniest moments is when a stressed out H.I. gives into his addiction and holds up a convenient store with ED and Junior in the car outside. Once she realizes what he’s doing, she drives off leaving him behind. With the police arriving and the store clerk pulling out his Dirty Harry .44 magnum, H.I. takes off on foot. He’s chased by lunatic cops, dogs, and eventually Ed again. He runs through suburban backyards, living rooms, and supermarkets running into an assortment of funny characters and hilarious obstacles. It’s hard to beat.

#1 – “CASINO ROYALE”

“Casino Royale”

I’ve never been the biggest James Bond fan although I did enjoy some of the Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan films. But that changed dramatically with director Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” from 2006. Daniel Craig took over the role of 007 and brought a gritty more realistic Bond to the big screen. I absolutely loved it. It doesn’t take long for the action to fire up in “Casino Royale”. We see Bond in Madagascar where he has tracked down a wanted bomb manufacturer. When his partner botches the apprehension, the suspect takes off on foot with 007 right behind him. I recently rewatched this scene when preparing this list and it still blows my mind. The chase takes the two to a construction site where a high-rise in being built. They leap up scaffolding, run along steel girders, and fight on high altitude cranes. Then the chase takes them back to the ground and through the streets and finally through the Nabutu Embassy where it has an explosive ending. Even though it’s close to 10 minutes long, this chase keeps you glued to the screen, constantly draws “ooo’s” and “aah’s” from the audience. It’s beautifully shot, masterfully edited, and it serves as a wonderful introduction to this new era of Bond. I love the movie and I really love this scene.

There ya have it – my 5 Phenomenal Movie Foot Chases. See something I missed? Disagree with one of my choices? Please take time to share your favorite movie foot chase.