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Nic Cage: Maverick

One of the must misunderstood geniuses of our time comes to Cinequest

Intro | Nic Cage | William H. Macy | Flin Flon | Christopher Coppola

Cinequest 2018 gives Nicolas Cage a hero's welcome, honoring him with one of this year's Maverick Awards.

No accounting for taste, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and all of that mouthwash, but if you think Nicolas Cage is over the top, you belong under the ground. You are the same person as your mother was, bursting into your bedroom, screaming that the music is too loud. No, it's not too loud, you're too weak to stand it!

Eye-popping, roaring and tirades are all part of an actor's toolbox, and if you flinch—congratulations for voting for beigeness. Appearing at Cinequest this year, this hardworking actor is bringing a VR addendum to his upcoming flat-screen movie, The Humanity Bureau. He has one remarkable career to discuss.

Cage can be what they call camp, and he can clown—one cherishes his cackling cameo as evil mastermind Fu Manchu in Grindhouse, as well as the implication that it was the immortal Fu behind those Nazis all along. Yes, Nicolas Cage has made movies that even Redbox machines spit out in disgust, but every actor has a patch in their career where they have to go where they're taken.

Watch the documentary on Tim Burton's failed Superman Lives—it explains the purpose of that Kryptonian disco-looking super suit that everyone keeps memeing. He would have slayed in that part, just as he was a terrific Elvis in 1993's True Romance. He would have been a convincing Jesus, too, if that had come to pass. Financial woes and divorces strike the best, especially when actors are the kind of lavish spenders who buy a German castle, accumulate $1.6 million worth of comic books and donate millions to charity.

Born Nicolas Coppola, he is the son of a San Francisco State English professor, and the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola. As an actor, he was electrified by James Dean. This comic book devotee (he later named his son Kal-El) took his working name from that hero for hire Luke Cage. He has worked for the best of their era, and ours—Brian de Palma (1998's amazing Snake Eyes), the Coen brothers (1987's Raising Arizona) and David Lynch (Wild at Heart, 1990). He's astonishing in Werner Herzog's 2008 film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. In Cage, Herzog had found an American analogue for his madman star Klaus Kinski.

When people gossiped that he had some molars pulled for a part to help him play a disfigured war vet, it was widely believed. Such is Cage's savage devotion to his craft. And to retell a tiresome story, he indeed ate a live hissing Madagascar cockroach for the part of Vampire's Kiss (1988). Cage was playing a vamp at the Renfield stage, that's why—and moreover, Vampire's Kiss is the movie your precious American Psycho (2000) was trying to be.

Cage has played maimed characters, such as an Italian baker with a wooden hand who's sweet on a mature customer in Moonstruck (1987). His portrayal of a jaunty alcoholic going on one last bender in Mike Figgis' Leaving Las Vegas (1995) got him the best actor Oscar—it's a highly romantic story of buried pain and shame, of manic highs and lows. His comedic turn as a pair of twins with screenplay aspirations in 2002's Adaptation is a film not to be missed by anyone trying to mill out a script.

He's been out in Silicon Valley before, for Alan Parker's 1984 movie Birdy. Cage played a South Philly war veteran with half his face blown off by a grenade—the source of the pulled-tooth story—trying to reach through to his buddy, a catatonic soldier (Matthew Modine). Location photography took place at Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara and at a trash mountain in Milpitas. Someone decided to end this tragedy upbeat, with a bouncy rendition of 'La Bamba' for the outro; this cravenness failed to sabotage the soulful Cage, who triumphed in that hard test for an actor, playing against someone who doesn't move or speak. Cage goes big, but Picasso's comment that 'good taste is the enemy of creativity' applies to what he does on screen. He's provided an element of surprise for decades, and merely contemplating the surprises he has in store is invigorating.

Maverick Spirit award: Nicolas Cage
Feb 28, 7:30pm, $15
California Theatre, San Jose

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