Monday, April 7, 2014

Ask Me A Question: Joe

This past weekend, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica hosted a three night tribute to one Nicolas Coppola aka Nicolas Cage, the eccentric dramatic and comedic Academy Award winning actor turned tentpole action movie star turned What Not To Do With Millions of Dollars example turned internet meme sensation.  Bad Lieutenant and Adaptation were the weekend's first programs with Cage and director Werner Herzog appearing after the former. Tonight was a preview of Joe, a Southern Gothic Western or whatever they're calling these, from director David Gordon Green based on a novel by Larry Brown and adapted by Gary Hawkins.  Cage plays Joe, a former convict trying to keep a low profile in rural Texas who runs a tree poisoning business for a lumber company.  One day, 15 year old Gary (Tye Sheridan) approaches Joe and asks for a job.  Gary is hard working and trying to provide for his burnt out mother and mute sister because his father is a drunk, abusive loser.  Both Joe and Gary have run afoul of crazed local loudmouth Willie (Ronnie Blevins) and after some gritty coming of age, whiskey and Coke, dog fighting, whore housing, cop fighting and GMC truck fueled shenanigans, Joe must decide if he's going to give up his relatively peaceful existence or risk it all to help Gary.

I was only familiar with director Green's work on comedic fare like Eastbound and Down, Pineapple Express and The Sitter.  But his resume includes many low budget thrillers which Joe is more akin.  While it's a slow paced serious drama, there's also room for many laughs to keep you from feeling pummeled by the country ass, redneck, sad vagrant setting and characters.  Cage's Joe is a guy just trying to get by but hates when people try to tell him what to do, especially cops, which of course gets him into trouble.  His performance is excellent as he plays strong and stoic just as well as he does nurturing with his trademark zaniness mixed in.  Tye Sheridan also acquits himself nicely as the uneducated but motivated Gary trying to protect his family.  Non-actor Gary Poulter is fantastic as Gary's pitiful piece of shit dad Wade aka G-Daawg.  Hopefully this marks a new era for Cage following his financial woes and he can remind the public of what a talented actor he is.  I always thought his performance in Face/Off was overlooked in 1997.  Sure the movie was a big hit but go back and watch Cage's bi-polar turn as a crazy, globe trotting terrorist and as a sensitive, brooding father.  He excels as both.

After the film, director Green and Cage took to the stage for a Q & A session moderated by former Maxim and current reporter/critic Peter Hammond.

Origins:  The novel was written by one of Green's former college professors.  Green sent the script along with a letter to Cage who loved it and came on board.

Performances:  Cage didn't mention his outright troubles of the last few years but said he had reached a point where he had gone through a western kabuki, baroque, Andy Warhol style of acting and wanted to start fresh with an honest performance with no baggage.  He doesn't believe in over the top, you tell him what the top is and he'll tell you where he is.

Cage was all you'd expect him to be:  thoughtful, funny, articulate, intense, weirdcool, etc.  Watching him even when he wasn't speaking was interesting.  You could tell things were running full speed in his brain and when he spoke, it was like the flood gates opened.

Actors:  Green filled the film with many non-actors.  Poulter was found at a bus stop on his way back to Texas after a stint in a traveling circus.  One guy owned a local BBQ joint in Austin, another was Green's neighbor who plain "talked cool" while many others were found at the local Day Labor office.

Setting:  Green is from the south and loves all the bullshitters and storytellers therein.

Fame:  Cage feels imitation is the highest form of flattery but laments that movie stars are people who make mistakes too and that Brando and Bogart didn't have to worry about someone in a coffee shop videotaping them making a mistake that then becomes world news.  He gave a very honest and interesting answer to the question and then referenced the YouTube videos of him going crazy and reciting the A-B-C's, which I had been talking about all week.

Of course more was talked about but hey, get yourself a membership to the American Cinematheque or live in Los Angeles.

Then, as an added bonus, we spotted Avatar and Sabotage's Sam Worthington with some suit clad agent types exiting the theater.  I quickly told him I had seen Sabotage twice that week and it was awesome as we shook hands.  He was chill and very svelte.

So there you have it, an overall great night and perfect ending to my 6 movie week.  High phalanges to Lionsgate, The Aero, Gordon and Cage.

Here's the duo making the festival circuit:

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