C4GED 4-EVER: The Alamo Drafthouse's Nicolas Cage Marathon
What is CAGED you might ask? Simply put, CAGED is a yearly movie marathon screened at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX, consisting of five Nicolas Cage films, most of them being 35MM prints, with trailers from his filmography attached. With each marathon, Alamo superman Greg MacLennan programs the festivities, and all films are a mystery. You show up as a rabid Nic Cage fan and leave an even bigger fan, due to the amazing film selection and the always stellar pre-show the Drafthouse is known for (trust me, show up early to ANY screening and you will not regret it). This incarnation is the fourth go-around, hence the number '4' substituting the letter 'A' in this year's moniker, titled C4GED 4-EVER. Having missed the previous three and hating life for it, I decided this year was my time to go, no matter what it took to get there. Thankfully, the stars aligned and I was there at the 10am start time, excited to watch movies amongst friends and rabid fans at my favorite theater, the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.
Greg opened our day by reading a poem in the actor’s honor and busting out a birthday cake with a number '4' candle placed on top. He very lovingly proceeded to thank us for supporting the amazing marathon and told us this might be the final one. Greg then asked us to sing “Happy Birthday” and the crowd was more than happy to comply. We made it to the second line of the song when the man himself walked in through a side door like a ninja. That’s right, Nicolas Cage, the hard-to-hold-down radical actor was in the damn building. We all collectively lost our damn minds as we shot to our feet and burst into applause.
Cage then walked over to Greg and gave him a hug, grabbed his own mic, and proceeded to read from a stack of papers like an open mic poet. Was this a prepared speech? A scene from a favorite film of his? We were not sure. I was still reeling from the fact that he was actually there! With manic energy, he began reading, getting more animated as the words left his mouth like bullets. I must confess, it took me a while to figure out what exactly he was reading, but then it dawned on me, he was reading Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart! It was, to put it mildly, quite unreal that he actually showed up to a marathon based entirely on him, and busted out some Poe with zero hesitation. The second he finished, we were on our feet again, screaming with joy. Before the first film was even projected, it was safe to say all of our coins were well spent.
We were then told that all five films this year were selected by Cage himself, making this an extra special CAGED. Showing nothing but class and gratitude for such an event in his honor, Cage said that he would stay for all five films and do a Q&A afterwards. Fact: we were all in the same room watching 10 hours plus of cinema with Nicolas Cage. That may or may not go on my tombstone, still kicking it around. Greg thanked us all again for coming out and he got the show on the road. C4GED 4-EVER began.
Film 1 - Bangkok Dangerous (2008)
Bangkok Dangerous is a remake of Bangkok Dangerous, each film directed by The Pang Brothers. How is that for a slice of crazy? Told in a dark muddled style that mirrors the tragic hitman character Cage plays, this film is definitely more style than substance, but most of that style tends to work in its favor. The stuff that does not work just misses the mark on what it’s trying to achieve. When I first saw this film, I did not like it at all. It felt like Cage was sleepwalking through this thing. Upon second viewing, however, I finally understood what Cage was doing with the part and I found a new respect for the film. A stone-cold hitman with a code that is inept at love played really damn well. Not highly recommended, but there is some cool stuff happening here, especially with elephants.
Film 2 - Joe (2013)
Director David Gordon Green has two masterpieces under his belt, George Washington and Joe. Both films are grounded in such realness that the drama shines through with tear-inducing clarity. In Joe, most of the cast are non-actors. Plucked locally from my hometown Austin, TX, and shot there as well, they bring a true quality that gives the main actors a ton of substance to bounce off of. Cage gives one of his finest performances here as a truly misunderstood ex-convict with a short fuse. This same short fuse that lands him in trouble with law enforcement and a local guy he has a combative history with. When a 15-year-old drifter enters his life, he becomes a father figure of sorts, hoping to guide the boy in somewhat of a right direction even when he himself is lost. This was my second time seeing Joe and it hit me very hard. I’ve eaten BBQ at one of the non-actor’s restaurants and I knew one of the main leads was homeless because I shooed him away from Vulcan Video after he was harassing my customers for money. Personal ties aside, I wept during the perfect finale and will always appreciate this Texas yarn.
Before the third film began, we were treated with another surprise: a marriage proposal! Thank goodness she said yes because that would have been awkward as Hell if she didn’t. I mean, we had three more damn films to go! The audience ate it up and cheered them on and Cage gave them some sweet words wishing them and their union tons of longevity. Cute stuff.
Film 3 - Bringing out the Dead (1999)
My personal favorite Scorsese film right here. Seeing this in 35MM on the big screen was a real miracle for me. I go bat for it here in my Vulcan Staff Picks column, so there is not much more to add only that I saw it with Nicolas Cage and you didn’t.
Film 4 - Army of One (2016)
Holy shit, this film is crazy. While we have seen better comedies from Larry Charles (Borat, episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm), I’m sure history will show that he extracted a fully committed performance out of Cage. From a rotten, nasal-driven voice (guys, that voice), to the long-white-hair-in-a-ponytail old stoner appearance, he goes all in on this story of a man who flew to Pakistan alone, to apprehend Osama bin Laden. You see, God, played by Russell Brand, told Gary to do this mission and he may not back out under any circumstance. So, armed with a samurai sword and a lot of heart, the gregarious chatter box Gary Faulkner sets out to achieve what the U.S. Military can’t seem to pull off. This film is not great, but Cage really shines as this motor-mouthed, know-it-all guy who should be slapped constantly for ranting and raving at a never-ending clip. By the way, this is a true story. Gary is real and Gary is bananas. It’s another what-the-Hell performance from Cage, but a mediocre film from Larry Charles. Would recommend renting it first over a blind buy with this one.
Film 5 - Lord of War (2005)
Lord of War opens with Yuri Orlov (Cage), a gun runner who wants to know how to arm the rest of the world with his weaponry. This bleeds directly into a wonderful opening credit sequence where we follow the path of a bullet, from that bullet’s birth in a factory, to being fired into a child soldier’s head in Africa. The brilliance of this lies in the film showing how horrible guns can be and the painful avenues it will soon take Yuri. In fact, none of the gunplay in this film is entertaining, it’s all horror. This a film that can be entertaining at times, but it’s more about telling it like it is. If you deal in guns, you can expect an avalanche of pain that will not only affect you, but will quite possible hit way too close to home. Families and marriages are constantly in harm’s way, and law enforcement can’t wait to topple you. Cage’s voice overstates very early in the film, “You don’t have to worry. I’m not gonna tell you a pack of lies to make me look good. I’m just gonna tell you what happened.” It sets a truthful tone for the rest piece. Cage is really damn good in this one. He never overplays a scene, and quite frankly is a monster who is also very aware that he is a monster. Based on true events, but we all know damn well there are plenty of Yuris out there profiting from war. I find director Andrew Niccol to be very hit or miss, trust me when I say this one is a hit.
I had seen all but Army of One already but I didn’t mind at all. In my experience repeat viewings of good-to-decent films will always unearth more things you need to fully grasp the film. This happened for me on both Bangkok Dangerous and Lord of War, and I am glad for it. Now it was Q&A time. While I won’t go into each question, I will say this: people were on their A Game with the questions, shockingly enough. We have all heard horror stories where Q&As go south because people get weird around celebrities. Thank goodness, this was not the case during C4GED. People were polite and courteous, never making it about themselves or getting stupid asking him for autographs or hugs. And even after sitting for 10 hours and change, watching himself on the silver screen, the man of the evening was so damn kind to all of us. He answered each and every question without hesitation and with a true sense of joy, showing no fatigue. He did a David Lynch impersonation when explaining a Wild at Heart moment and I was laughing so damn hard that it took me a while to recover. It was truly one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen him do on or off camera. After about a dozen and a half questions, we called it a night. Cage hugged Greg one final time and, like Elvis, left the building.
I cannot stress enough how much of a class act Nicolas Cage was in person. He was genuinely moved by Greg MacLennan’s hustle to make these marathons happen. Greg had tried to get him to attend each and every one of them, but Cage was hard to get a hold of. By the third marathon he was fully aware of its existence and was too busy. Hard work pays off it seems, because when he walked into that room for C4GED 4-EVER the energy was palpable. So, hats off to Greg and the Alamo staff for making a dream marathon come true and many, many thanks to Nicolas Cage for being too damn cool to us fans in attendance. I drove home in a daze, just flabbergasted that the Alamo Drafthouse gave me another magic moment for the record books. Nic Cage 4-Ever, guys.