Saturday, April 13, 2024


Fewer Nicolas Cage movies than I thought have actually done the thing where local theaters play the trailer an awful lot but don't actually book the film of late, because the movies that got the most of that sort of exposure last year - The Kill Room and The Baker - don't actually have Cage (The Baker stars Ron Perlman as a retired assassin, and Perlman figures prominently in at least the trailer for Cage's retired-assassin movie The Retirement Plan, so maybe they blended together). That it did show up is kind of amusing because the trailer is actually not very good at all, offering the audience very little: It doesn't particularly promise that this could be one of those times when Cage gives you much more acting than you're paying for, and doesn't even show a glimpse of the monsters. The trailer, honestly, feels like it was made to fill in those 20 minute blocks AMC has before the show as opposed to an actual movie.

But it seemed to win a release date lottery, choosing a release date with relatively little big-name competition, nothing from China or Korea, last weeks indies (Dogman and Femme) failing to stick, and some things that had been playing a while starting to thin out. I do, occasionally, wonder if it's like when I worked at a movie theater in college, where the booking decisions are made in the home office and the local theater manager is deciding which trailers go on what, kind of trying to guess which of the non-blockbusters they'll get. I suspect it's more top-down these days, but actual booking decisions are operating on different schedules (getting stuff locked in early for presales but also being able to make changes quickly because you're not shipping film) and that's even without considering that sometimes we'd just get two trailers (or one!) for a four-plex, and were mixing and matching.

So - this showed up! It's okay! Unfortunately, I arrived late, so I didn't see if there was a trailer for A Quiet Place: Day One (which is another conversation - similar but enough to sabotage the feature or the exact right target audience?).


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 April 2024 in AMC Causeway #3 (first-run, DCP)

I wouldn't necessarily say Arcadian is good, per se, but it's the sort of movie you can imagine filling out the back half of a double feature at a drive-in or grindhouse and not upsetting the folks who stuck around: Inessential, but basically competent, and with just enough done well that one can see some promise. Maybe it earns an extra half-star or the like for having the one genuinely impressive bit that could spur more conversation the next day than the A-picture.

It's 15 years after the end of the world, and Paul (Nicolas Cage) has holed up in the countryside with the twins he found as abandoned babies when fleeing the city: Joseph (Jaeden Marell), a bookish kid who likes to see how things work and put them back together, and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins), bigger and more physically-inclined, spending a lot of time at the nearby Rose farm because of Charlotte (Sadie Soverall), certainly the prettiest if not the only girl their age in the valley. Paul is a stickler about getting inside and having the house locked down by darkness, when the monsters come out, but even with that, there's inevitably going to be one night when one of the boys doesn't make it home in time, and he's got to try and rescue his son while the other tries to defend the home.

It's probably fair warning that Nicolas Cage, despite being first-billed and front-and-center in the preview, is not exactly the star of the movie. It's not quite him figuring that his having a small part would boost the film produced by his company (and written/produced by his business associate) enough for him to spend a couple weeks on-set in Ireland, but it's also not exactly a part that gives him a chance to do the thing where his scenes are gloriously big and weird, either. He doesn't even get to turn in a surprisingly good conventional performance here, despite it not taking much effort to see that this could be about the father who is frightened enough of the world that he's holding his kids back writ large. That may seem like the natural theme of the movie, but there's just not enough Cage to do so.

The kids are all right, at least - Jaeden Martell and Maxwell Jenkins are quietly quite good at playing the twins who are opposites in a lot of way but also so casually connected that it can fall away, and you never look at how they play their parts and feel like they didn't grow up in a post-apocalyptic world. Sadie Soverall pairs nicely with Jenkins. It's kind of a relief that the film doesn't feel the need to make this a triangle situation or worry about also pairing Joseph off, although, as with Cage's character, it might be nice if there were more for them to sink their teeth into. The filmmakers have got a chance to use this environment to make the teenagers' big feelings even bigger or have their having to move on to something new be even more than it is, but just do the regular business.

Folks are there for the monster stuff, after all, even if this is clearly the sort of movie where it's clear that there isn't that much in the way of resources for action or effects. The first extended bit of monster emergence is the sort of slowly-drawn out shot that both builds some suspense about the kind of danger a character is in and just what the thing stalking him is like in its entirety, and good enough to stand up with some of the best scenes of its type. It's not exactly a disappointment that most of what comes after that isn't quite as good since it's so excellent, but it almost feels like the filmmakers don't trust their creature design, like if they shot them straight on without a lot of motion, audiences might laugh at the matted fur, unnervingly elongated necks and limbs, and other bits that might demand explanation, and laugh. They might; even though they are likely more digital than practical, these guys give off a vibe that is man-in-suit and/or puppet, and a lot of folks are trained to reject that out of hand, but there's also something about the whacked proportions and ill-fitting pieces that could make them kind of unnervingly monstrous given a clear shot.

Maybe that just wasn't something that could be done here. Or, more likely, it's a thing that would make the filmmakers more nervous: This film is, at its best, a throwback to tight 90-minute 1950s creature features made with a similar combination of commercial limitations and delight in the weird, but those movie could say a rubbery-looking alien was good enough because they didn't have to compete with big-studio productions doing the same thing the way this does. It's okay, but a movie with both Nicolas Cage and weird-looking monsters should perhaps embrace its weirdness more.

No comments: