Reviews: Cage, Pascal shine in meta buddy comedy; The Northman administers vengeance, gore

Tiffany Haddish and Nicolas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent / Lionsgate”

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is an absurd, ridiculous movie that also happens to be the funniest and most entertaining buddy action-comedy I’ve seen in years.

The meta movie features Nicholas Cage playing a fictionalized version of himself at a crossroads in his life where his career is impinging on his personal life too much for his own good. His devotion to his craft and narcissistic ways push his daughter Libby (Lily Sheen) and ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) further and further away from him as he desperately grasps for his next role.

With the pressure of massive debt over his head colliding with being turned down for a desired part, Cage accepts an offer at the behest of his agent Richard (Neil Patrick Harris) to make a celebrity appearance at a private birthday party of a billionaire super fan named Javi (Pedro Pascal) in Mallorca for a cool $1 million.

Much to Cage’s surprise, he forms a true bond with Javi, who has written a script he wants Cage to star in and perhaps produce. They share a hilarious set of adventures together from cliff diving to target shooting, and a hilariously mad acid trip set against the breathtaking scenery of the Spanish coast. Javi also introduces Cage to the surprising greatness of the kids movie “Paddington 2.”

Director Tom Gormican, who co-wrote the script with Kevin Etten, finds the funny in its love for Cage, his films, and his eccentric ways, which are certainly exaggerated for effect, but at their core are somewhat grounded and believable, based on the actor’s actual reputation for extravagance and oddness. Besides, what successful person doesn’t struggle with the balance between family and work?

The script is near perfect in tone and style, going far enough askew to be hilarious, exciting, and even a bit exhilarating, but it never goes too far off the edge, at least for my taste. It also boasts a sweetness that most action films wouldn’t have bothered with, making this film all the more enjoyable.

Cage and Pascal aren’t necessarily known for their comedy work, but the two have fantastic chemistry together that was a joy to watch. Cage is the star, but Pascal’s performance is equally as deft. They truly enhanced each other’s performances. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing them work together again, not necessarily in a sequel but in just about any other scenario.

The action kicks in when CIA agents Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) cajole Cage into spying on Javi, who is known to be a drug kingpin and is suspected of kidnapping the teenage daughter of a political rival. Haddish and Barinholtz’ roles are smallish but effective.

The film is an absurd delight that works even with all its twists and turns. It’s a finely crafted comedy and was probably my most enjoyable trip to the cinema this year.

(R) 1 hr. 47 min.
Grade: A

The Northman

Alexander Skarsgård in “The Northman” / New Regency Productions

What do you get when you mix Robert E. Howard’s pulp character Conan the Barbarian with Shakespeare’s melancholy Dane, Hamlet?

Why, director Robert Eggers’ blood-soaked, testosterone-fueled Viking epic “The Northman,” of course.

The film is a bit more traditional than the auteur’s previous works “The Lighthouse” and “The Witch,” but not by much.

You may have read stories or seen plays or movies with similar plots to Eggers’ film, but you’ve probably not seen anything quite as grimy, violent, and bold as “The Northman,” and its mythic take on a Viking prince, portrayed with fire and fury by Alexander Skarsgard (“True Blood” and “The Legend of Tarzan” and “Big Little Lies”), who is seeking vengeance for himself and his family.

Skarsgard plays Amleth, who as a boy (Oscark Novak) witnesses the murder of his father King Aurvandill War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) by his uncle Fjoinir the Brotherless (Claes Bang of the Netflix “Dracula” mini series) and the brutal kidnapping of his mother Queen Gudrun (Nicole Kidman).

At that moment, Amleth vows vengeance on his uncle, and as an adult, he sells himself into bondage to get close enough to Fjoinir to attempt to carry it out.

On his quest, Amleth picks up an Arthurian-style sword that can only be unsheathed under a set of prophesied situations. He then forges a bond with Olga (“The Witch’s” breakout star, Anya Taylor-Joy). She tells him: “Your strength breaks men’s bones. I have the cunning to break their minds.” So they are indeed a formidable and attractive pair, despite being caked in mud and gunk for the bulk of the picture.

If you don’t mind the mud, gore, and requisite weirdness that comes with an Eggers’ project, “The Northman” is quite a creative piece of barbaric film making. Like most epics, it has points where it plods along, but the grand battles throughout the gruesomely violent movie almost make those slow points a welcomed respite.

The climactic showdown between Amleth and Fjoinir set against a lava flow is magnificently bold and brutal.

“The Northman” isn’t a film for everyone, but if you don’t mind a lot of mud, gore, and chaos with your revenge flicks, it’s a fantastic theatrical experience by a filmmaker whose work is always interesting even if you don’t quite get where he’s coming from.

(R) 2 hr. 17 min.
Grade: A-

  New in Local Theaters

The Bad Guys (watch trailer) / (PG) 1 hr. 40 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, 112 Drive In, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight

The Northman (watch trailer) / (R) 2 hr. 17 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (watch trailer) / (R) 1 hr. 47 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle, Skylight

Classic Corner – Gentleman Jim

Errol Flynn in “Gentleman Jim” / Warner Bros.

The dashing Hollywood rouge Errol Flynn has been Turner Classic Movies’ Star of the Month for April, and his catalog of films have been spotlighted on Monday nights through the wee hours of each Tuesday morning.

Flynn’s best-known films have played previously this month, but his career spanned three decades from the mid 1930s until his death in 1959. Known today primarily as a swashbuckler for his roles in classics such as “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938) and “Captain Blood” (1935), Flynn starred in more than 50 movies of all stripes — Westerns, historical dramas, comedy, suspense, and war films.

One of his best and personal favorite roles came in the 1942 biopic “Gentleman Jim,” which plays at 7 p.m. Tuesday on TCM. It’s based on boxer James J. Corbett’s autobiography “The Roar of the Crowd” and was smartly directed by Raul Walsh.

The movie is a fairly basic Hollywood sports romance about charming banker Corbett (Flynn), who has a knack for the pugilistic arts because of his speed and footwork. It takes him to the top of the boxing world with the help of his corner man Billy Delaney (William Frawley).

The climax of the movie features Flynn’s Corbett squaring off with world champion brawler John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond) for the title. Here, you can see the movie’s clear influence on Sylvester Stallone’s script for “Rocky” (1976). The major difference in the story arcs is that Stallone’s boxer comes from the streets, while Flynn’s Corbett was middle class.

The crux of the film, though, is Corbett’s romance with Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith), who at first is put off by Corbett’s arrogance and flamboyance, but whom ultimately falls for his rakish charms as she gets to know the man beneath the facade. This, of course, is a trope deployed in many of Flynn’s movies. It’s not original, but it works in this entertaining popcorn flick.