Tag Archives: Tony

Summer of Cage

Dear readers, it’s time I did something for you. For a while now, I have often referred to the Thespian Nicolas Cage as my favorite actor. This is not in jest. You can ask me point blank, apropos of nothing, and this will be my answer. He’s in some of my favorite movies, and he’s in some of the worst (which are also my favorite). If you haven’t seen Nic Cage dressed in a bear suit running in slow motion, or about to get a face full of bees, then you don’t know how to be entertained and you’re watching movies wrong. This post, brought on by popular demand, is my explanation for why most every Nicolas Cage film is essential viewing.

image from telegraph.co.uk

Now, full disclosure, my friends. I tried, in summer’s past, a “Summer of Cage” in which I planned on watching every film in his filmography in order. This is no small feat, and I won’t lie to you, I did not make it very far. When the man can’t go a month without making a new movie, it’s hard to not see the horizon. This does not mean there is not enjoyment in watching the man perform, regardless of the film. He is guilty of overacting, something that I have seen my other favorites succumb to in time as well, but I forgive him. Enough talk. Let’s have a top five, shall we?

5. Bringing Out the Dead
Cage. Scorsese. Goodman. Ving Rhames. There is absolutely nothing to lose. Yet, this is a classically underrated movie, especially for Scorsese because when this didn’t perform at the box office the director was forced to sell out and make movies like The Departed and I could go on, but we’re talking about Cage here. He plays an exhausted and overwhelmed EMT working the graveyard shift, who is haunted by the ghosts of those he’s failed to save. Cage wears all of this wonderfully, and has never looked so broken down and defeated.

4. Kick-Ass

Too easy. In a movie designed to cater to the over-the-top, Cage pulls a reverse and plays calm. He is a father, a former cop, and even grows the ‘stache back in. He’s also a vigilante by the name of “Big Daddy” who has trained his 11 year old daughter to be a ruthless killing machine. Worth it alone for the scene in which testing out a new bullet-proof vest, he plugs her in the chest to make sure it works (“You’re gonna be fine, baby doll!”). When there’s no need to play it big, our man shows he can take a supporting role and make it just as memorable.

3. Adaptation
Cage was nominated for an Oscar for this one, which some may find surprising. What surprises people even more is that he won one already for Leaving Las Vegas. So why don’t the commercials ever say “Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage”? Seems unfair that Dame Judi Dench always gets the precursor, but I guess it’s just because Cage doesn’t need no introduction. In this one, Cage plays two characters –  two polar opposite brothers, yet both remarkably Cage. He’s terrific as the loner, but even more memorable as the outgoing and slow-witted counterpart.

2. Raising Arizona
The epitome of early Cage. The Coen Brothers tapped him to play a young outlaw who wants to go straight, marry a police officer, and raise a family. But Cage cannot be tamed so easily. This movie is him at his absolute likable best, equaled by what may be the finest Coen movie, featuring the coolest looking Nic Cage anyone has even seen. Wild hair, kept mustache, Hawaiian shirts and tight jeans. Basically, hipster start up kit.

1. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Cage. Kilmer. Herzog. Heaven. This movie features Nic Cage smoking crack cocaine, carrying the largest magnum pistol and aiming at whoever stands in his way, and a scene in which he yells at lizards on a crime scene table that only he can see (a scene in which Herzog instructed Cage to “turn the pig loose,” which is my favorite thing ever said). In other words, the perfect Herzog movie just got the perfect actor. Also, Xzibit is in it.

image from nytimes.com

I know, right. Only five when I could have gone on for at least fifteen. I could talk about which internet supercuts of his movies are the best. I could talk about how he got an autograph from J.D. Salinger as part of a “quest” to convince Patricia Arquette to marry him that took longer to complete than their marriage lasted. And I’d love to talk about his expenses (he owns a dinosaur skull), despite being almost entirely broke.  I have clearly left you wanting for more, dear readers. Let’s continue the discussion; post below for interactive fun!

– Tony

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The Completist

Dear readers, when I’m not busy being totally amped for the final season of the best thing I’ve ever seen on television (Breaking Bad),  or musing on how Louis C.K. is modeling himself as his generation’s Woody Allen, I’m generally thinking about the big issues. Like being a completist. (Full disclosure, I totally thought I was making up a word, but it’s real! Thanks, research databases.) Sounds fairly infinite and frightening, but I’m not referring to obsessive collection, instead the joy of comprehensiveness. I’m talking about books, friends. This post is about going the distance, in which your hero talks of completing an author’s entire bibliography.

That said, I don’t think there are not many authors for which I can claim this to be true, as the authors’ I enjoy most are prolific. I hadn’t even thought this concept as being possible until I picked up Glamorama, a seemingly random book by Bret Easton Ellis that I realized would complete my reading of him – he’s only written novels and been a prolific twitter presence, to my knowledge. Ellis is a strange author to be “complete” with, sometimes brilliant, sometimes grating, most times droll. What draws me back to him repeatedly is that his novels often exist within the same existing universe – jaded, desensitized, “LA” characters you can’t help but be fascinated by, if only for their removal from their surroundings. I never know if it’s satire or just how Ellis may really be, but it doesn’t stop me from turning the pages. Reading Glamorama did allow me to realize that keeping up with contemporary authors is easier than I had previously thought – with the days of letter writing unfortunately gone, the sheer amount available on authors has dwindled. I’m currently complete, and keeping up with the work of Franzen, Eugenides, Eggers, Hornby, Frey and Vlautin, to mention a few. As long as they don’t all drop books at the same time, I should be able to continue growing with them, without fear that they will start releasing their pen pal adventures, or too many collections of essays on birding (I’m looking at you, J Franz).

It’s the pesky older (i.e.: dead) authors that are difficult. How do Bukowski, Bolaño and Vonnegut keep releasing things from beyond the grave? My count is that I have read twenty-five by Buk (counting poetry collections and correspondences) and twenty by Kurt, and I don’t even know how many books keep getting found and translated by Bolaño in order to keep up. I have no sense of whether I am complete or not! Salinger, however, I have no qualms with. It’s easy when the guy stopped publishing for most of his life (on top of that I fully believe he did not leave anything behind – if there’s anyone who burned his work it’s him).  I will never be done reading Franny and Zooey, and revisiting the misadventures of the Glass family in any form. It feels complete.
So what say you, constant companion? Do you have any authors or artists you can’t get enough of? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Post below in comments for interactive fun!

– Tony

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There and Back Again

“Since I sleep in the shadow of my to-read pile, it would feel dangerously irresponsible to read the same book twice” – Joe Dunthorne

Dear readers, I’m sitting here reflecting on that quote (and also wondering who Joe Dunthorne is), and finding myself agreeing with its sentiment but totally ignoring it in execution. The act of a rereading can be conflicting to a reader, but it is one I consider greatly when stuck in the doldrums of a tedious “new” read. Why am I wasting my eye sockets on this bland original work when I know that I can pick up something tried and true just as easy. I suppose it’s for the same reason I don’t just watch Die Hard 3 endlessly (perhaps that’s a bad example because as I’m thinking about it that sounds like something I could totally do). I guess what I’m saying is that while perfection is a wonderful thing in a book, the search for it is better, and nothing will recapture that.

I’ve been thinking about this topic since I read this piece in the Guardian, which in turn reminded me about this being covered in the NY Times previously. Some of my favorite authors are guilty of being notorious rereaders, yet they view it as a means of discovery. I decided to dive back into a book I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Now I’m a big LOTR fan, but Tolkien’s “prequel” has never meant as much to me. I had hoped rereading would kindle my interest in the upcoming film, while also reaffirming my adoration for the author. I immediately remembered what a quick and enjoyable read Tolkien can be, but why I had not had the urge to pick the book up again – it’s so trivial in the scope of the expansive story, and it doesn’t help that J.R.R doesn’t seem to be taking the world he has created seriously just yet.

“I decide to reread something I read 20 years ago and then give up because the original experience, presumed forgotten, turns out to have been mysteriously preserved, like a leaf between the pages.” – Geoff Dyer

Geoff Dyer, ladies and gentleman. A smart man. I didn’t want to wait 20 years to pick up Roberto Bolaño‘s 2666 again, as it has been pestering me since I finished it soon after its release in late 2008, so I just went for it. Ask me to name a favorite author and Bolaño is almost certain to be named straightaway near the top of the list. His ability to draw out a story that is at once experimental and almost rambling (his run-on sentences are legendary and inspiring), yet compact, is consistently engaging. A giant work like 2666 is like counter to what I enjoyed most about him previously, but because the book is divided into five parts that casually intersect, it never feels daunting. I pressed on, with optimism similar to Dyer’s, and remembered some things that are absolutely flawless about this work (Book one: “The Part About the Critics”, is especially strong in my opinion, and most relative to Bolaño’s other great work, The Savage Detectives), I ultimately ended up simply skimming through the rest of the work – something was lost from that original experience that I couldn’t recapture.

“I reread in order to remind myself how good you have to be in order to be any good at all.” – Edmund White

Now dear readers, don’t get the impression that rereading has been a poor experience for me as a result of these two prior examples. I actually came here to praise its value (I just seem to be not very effective). My main case in point is Michael Chabon. I make a point of rereading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh every year at the beginning of the summer, and have reread Wonder Boys on more than one occasion. I just finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and plan on taking the time to go over it again in the near future. The reason is just as Mr. White explained above. Whether you are a writer or a reader, one that is fond of literature knows what their threshold for quality is, and occasionally we need that reminder. Chabon is my shining example. Sometimes we need to pick up those books we hold high in our canon – serves right that I have read Vonnegut over and over, that Hemingway and Bukowski lend themselves to regular visits, and that the mere mention of East of Eden will have me itching to pick it up yet again.

Yet all of this has still led me to reading something new – or more definitively, the new collection of short stories by Jon McGregor, an author who I would have forgotten about had I not reread If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things after seeing passages copied into journals of mine. So perhaps reflection is a means of discovery after all.

What do you think, friends? Are there some books you can’t shake and have to revisit? Post below into comments for interactive fun!

– Tony

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Recovery

Dear readers, is there anything quite like a debilitating sickness in which to get your priorities straight? This is the conclusion I am forced to reach after being absolutely crushed by the flu earlier this month, only to be rejuvenated by the prospects and possibilities that are “normalcy.”

When ill, the dilemma becomes what to do with the remaining hours of the day, exhausted despite your 14 hours of sleep a night. Not being able to do much other than lie around and wait to feel better, I did what any logical sick person does – I watched an entire season of a television series. And Mad Men is not messing around. Season 4 is the finest season to date, allowing for some major plot points and movement to occur in the slow burn that is Don Draper’s life. A new firm, new affairs, as well as a confrontation with his alcohol problem gives this season plenty of fuel, even to be enjoyed by those who are not delirious.

Properly nostalgic for an era I never knew, I decided to visit an old friend of a movie. The Boat That Rocked (Pirate Radio to you Yanks) is a perfectly cast British comedy about illegal rock stations that existed in the North Sea in the 1960s. It’s a charming movie that doesn’t drag on too long (huge plus for modern movie making), and it’s about the power and lasting impact of rock and roll. It features a great soundtrack, as it should, but the shining moment is the wordless perfection that is the Leonard Cohen scene, featuring “So Long, Marianne”. Watch it, love it, and report back to me with your thanks.

Five days of consuming nothing but water and watching television may sound like fun in hindsight, but it is books that I was forced to cast aside during my illness that I came back to with renewed vigor when finally healthy. David Mitchell has long been a fascination of mine, despite never really digging into the source material. He’s intelligent, well regarded, and stylistically challenging. Therefore, he is really intimidating. The best way to tackle him is head on, and Cloud Atlas is a testament to how rewarding that experience can be. With six narrations intertwining over centuries, all written in unique dialects and in unique settings, this book may leave you scratching your head at times, but the result is masterful.

Comedian Michael Ian Black presents a distinct challenge for me as well, as I think he is brilliantly funny and a vital cog in some of my favorite comedies of the past decade. However, I thought his first book was very sub par. So much so that even while waiting for my hold to come up for You’re Not Doing it Right, I considered calling the whole thing off. I’m glad I did not. Part memoir, part humor, this book of essays is a candid take on Black’s life and career, and is a huge step forward in his writing as well.

Finally, dear readers, as I don’t want you to think I am not a man of his word, I want to update you on my conquests in relation to my last post, in which I was stuck in the perils of non-reading and instead only further accumulating future books “to read.” Pulphead could possibly be the most enjoyable read (best said here) I’ve had in months, if it was not forced to live in the shadow of the major event that is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. A book, that caused me to remark to a friend, “It’s so good I would rather be reading it than doing anything else at the moment.” (Good thing to say to a friend in conversation, by the way, reminding them you’d rather be doing something else.)  I am devouring it, and therefore been plagued by the regret of not having read it sooner. Would the past me have enjoyed it quite so much for the same reasons? I am left with the comforting thought that I must not dwell on what is not being read, but only to enjoy what I am able to do now – which is read on.

– Tony

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On the Horizon

Dear readers, if it hasn’t been evident in the past, I like talking literature. Probably more so than any other topic in general, although currently it is competing with Evgeni Malkin (MVP!), Skyrim, and stout beer as conversational topics in which I will respond to positively. That said, I also like looking forward to what’s next. I believe that part of what makes me a reader is the anticipation of finding something great, and while I am always looking in the current work I’m reading, I like thinking about what’s on the horizon too.  This post highlights some of the randomness that is my to read list, and why I think they will be the next topic of conversation.

The Millions is one of my favorite spots for book recommendations (along with The New Yorker and NY Review of Books). It’s sophisticated but relaxed, and mostly, it wants me to be a better reader. It’s there I can build onto my ever expanding “to read” list without even intending to – it’s a lot like a library in that way – you walk in with one thing in mind and end up with an armful. Which is why an excellent article on Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser can not only convince me to pick up that book, but also The Book of Disquiet. Which somehow reminds me to bump Parallel Stories (which I read about here) up on my queue, but should I read that or (since we’re dealing with world fiction) We, The Drowned beforehand? See how the mind meanders? As it is, I haven’t picked up any just yet, aside from glancing at them admiringly on the shelves, but I hope to be able to speak about them in the past tense soon.

And lest we forget about some nonfiction titles that have caught my eye, John Jeremiah Sullivan compiles his major works into the aesthetically pleasing (cover of the year!) and perfectly titled Pulphead. Sullivan is destined to be the next David Grann for me, in that he is a journalist whose works I have long admired but never recognized the name. That is soon to change, and Pulphead is the reason why. The other title at the forefront is Scorecasting. Tim wrote a post about it and recommended it to me personally – I chose to wait a year and read it before baseball season officially begins. Because the only thing better than sports is following the statistics and reading about it. I mean that wholeheartedly. One more, Inside Scientology has been in my brain ever since I read the article the book stems from and it must be read to sate my curiosity.

Finally, a confession. Is this a safe place to admit I haven’t read two major works from two of my favorite authors? I have read most things Michael Chabon, and have professed to reading The Mysteries of Pittsburgh once a year. So why haven’t I finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay? My excuse is that I’m always lending it out, but truly, I have none. That is soon to change. The other is less embarrassing but stays with me because of the sense of completion I so desperately seek. Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis is the only work of his I have not read. And why? Because it’s slightly longer? Because it’s about celebrity? Dear readers, I am at a loss, and this needs to be remedied immediately so that I can continue to progress as a admiring fanboy.

Do you see a pattern into my wandering and curious mind? Do you have any suggestions of what should usurp my next choices and find its way into my hands now? Post below for interactive fun!

– Tony

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I’ll See You at the Movies

Dear readers, let’s talk the pictures. Looking at the Oscars top ten (I still can’t believe they pick ten!) nominations for Best Picture, I can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed. It’s a list where any of those movies could win and no debate would spark over it. Well I’m here to rile some up, friends. I had a great time at the movies this year, but barely any of the ones this so-called Academy came up with are on my lists! Without further adieu, here’s what the five (only five!) best movies of the year really look like:

To start off, I’m kind of a liar. I talk a big talk about how Oscar (I’m going to refer to the Academy as one single person named Oscar) couldn’t get any of the movies right, but he did. And that is Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris. “What a delight,” I exclaimed to whoever would listen as the credits rolled. This movie was a joy, and this is coming from someone less than thrilled with Allen’s latter day films. Owen Wilson nailed the Allen character, playing it true but also with his own sense of personality, not trying to match the tics and neurosis that make Woody who he is. Strolling through Paris at night and pining for a time and place that no longer exist, Gil Pender is magically transported to his Golden Era, 1920s Paris, where he can drink and ruminate with the likes of Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Dali (cameo of the year for Adrien Brody), and Ernest Hemingway (performance of the year for Corey Stoll, whoever that is). I may add that Woody still has an eye for the ladies: Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Carla Bruni (the President of France’s wife!), and Alison Pill (as a wonderful Zelda Fitzgerald)? Thank you.

The other movie Oscar got right? The Brad Pitt one. Except not the one with all the hype and has me anxious that it may actually take home Best Picture. Moneyball was a fine couple of scenes, and Aaron Sorkin probably already has the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his trade deadline deal scene alone, but that’s all the movie should win. I’m talking about The Tree of Life, the visual beauty from the reclusive genius Terence Malick. Poor guy gets labeled with the “reclusive” label because he takes a ton of time in between his movies and doesn’t live in Hollywood. Sounds like my type of guy, and if he keeps making movies like this (and his track record is also very good) then maybe we should just leave him be. Also, the aforementioned Pitt got nominated for the Best Actor in the wrong role. Seeing him as a commanding and feared father figure is more of a challenge artistically than getting to play your own likable self as General Manager Billy Beane. There, it’s been said. Jessica Chastain in like her third movie ever (possibly exaggerating) is also fantastic.

Now let’s go to the meat of the matter. The Oscar snubs. I should start by saying that Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion should at least be talked about. The guy simply keeps churning them out, making the films he wants to make, and is totally under-appreciated for it. He also managed to give Gwyneth Paltrow a fairly graphic brain autopsy within 20 minutes of being introduced to her character. That’s not a spoiler alert, she plays “Patient Zero,” aka she’s not going to make it through the film. That was a big digression in order to tell you I’m selecting Mike Mill’s Beginners as my third nominee instead. I just wanted to let you know it was a close one, but Beginners stuck with me longer because of the performances. Christopher Plummer gets Best Supporting this year because of his role as a father who declares and embraces his homosexuality, finally, at the age of 70. Ewan McGregor plays the son admirably well (as he always seems to do – deliver a good performance that somehow gets outshined), and Melanie Laurent from Inglorious Basterds had me wondering who she was for half the film, and why she wasn’t in all the movies for the second half.

Ok, top two, let’s talk about it. Runner-up (and I know Oscar doesn’t do runner-ups which is why my Miss America inspired selection is way superior – and funnier than modern day Billy Crystal) goes to Attack the Block. I knew it was going to be worthwhile when Edgar Wright produced it, because that man can do no wrong – he’s got a nearly perfect track record. I only said nearly perfect because if someone tries to prove me wrong I can still be right. Anyhow, this film is about a gang of teenagers in a low rent apartment block neighborhood that is forced to use unconventional methods to defend themselves against an alien attack. It’s tough to describe, but if District 9 (which was awesome) gets nominated for Best Picture, then this should too.

When it’s all said and done, it just comes down to the best film experience. The winner is Warrior, by a hair. Filmed in Pittsburgh (right hand up that it did not influence the vote), this film about a mixed martial arts fighting competition (I know, I know) that pins a brother versus a brother in competition rooted in a lot of familial baggage (a mother that passed to cancer, an alcoholic father portrayed by a Moby Dick audiobook listening Nick Nolte, who will only get passed over for the Best Supporting Oscar due to the aforementioned Plummer). Tom Hardy is spectacular as usual, if not frighteningly in shape (I’ve never seen neck muscles that size) – and director Gavin O’Conner is used to the underdog treatment with the way unappreciated Miracle – but he gets my award, which must feel pretty good for a feel-good movie.

What did I miss, dear readers? Should my list also go to ten? Am I being unfair to poor Oscar? Post below in comments for interactive fun!

– Tony

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If We Make It Through December

Dear readers, I don’t think I’m being revelatory when I tell you that December can be pretty rough in Pittsburgh. (Author’s note: I just looked up the dictionary definition of revelatory to ensure I was using it correctly: it’s “revealing something hitherto unknown.” I’m sharing because this is my nomination for best definition ever.) The weather fluctuates, we get colds and aches, the sun refuses to come out of hiding, but still we carry on in what can be one of the more stressful times of the year. Here’s how I’m making it through December.

1Q84 is a fascinating read that I’m still not entirely through, but am comfortable enough talking about. I’ll be honest, friends, it’s kind of driving me crazy. It’s outrageously long and detailed, which is not something I need from Murakami. He always has been the type to describe meals and characters changing features, but at times this feels like overkill. That said, it’s as engaging as ever, and the dual point of view narration he utilizes to have the “star-crossed” characters intertwine is worthwhile. I still have yet to decide whether I like it or hate it – I don’t love it, because love should never put you through this kind of confusion. Or maybe I don’t know what I talk about when I talk about love (author’s note: that’s a bad joke), which leads us to Raymond Carver.

Carver is my jam. I just tend to forget that sometimes. It had been a few years since I read him, and if there’s anything better about being older, it’s that I’m smarter and able to appreciate things more. I devoured some Carver stories and have been suggesting others read or reread him on their own ever since – it’s not often you get to rediscover and re-appreciate someone of this caliber. I may have to check out that biography that came out last year, even if it did make him out to be a bit of a jerk. Then I can see how he translates to cinema, in Altman’s Short Cuts or this year’s Everything Must Go.

Finally, dear readers, if there’s anything like a quiet night reading at home, it’s being at the movies. And while I like current cinema (cue my monthly Nic Cage namedrop), I sometimes prefer until things are out in other formats, so that I can watch comfortably from home with friends and make my various witticisms without ruining others’ theater experience. While it may not be the time of year for horror, Rec and Rec2 (as in “record” on a camera) should be watched immediately regardless of the time. This is the movie that JJ Abrams wanted to make when he made Cloverfield, and the movie that its American remake Quarantine wished it could be. The dialogue is in Spanish, but don’t let the subtitles distract you, they aren’t saying much other than your generic “We have to get out of here.” It is the images that will stick with you, and probably keep you up at night.

That’s it for now, dear readers. Tell me what you’ve been up to this December, or if you want to talk about anything I’ve mentioned here today. Post below for interactive fun!

– Tony

P.S. Today’s blog title was brought to you by Merle Haggard. That’s two points to whoever knew that before reading this sentence.

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