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Nic Cage and ‘The Northman’ – Play it again, Tim

Written by Tim Miller

You’ve gotta love Nic Cage.

He’s hilarious – even in dramas. He’s so over the top, so often, that you’d think he’d be a terrible actor. But, somehow, he makes it work.

Even his bad movies, and he’s made his share, are made weirdly compelling by his presence. And he’s certainly made his share of winners, whether the heart-wrenching tragedy “Leaving Las Vegas,” for which he won a well-deserved best-actor Oscar, or the light comedy “Guarding Tess,” in which he played a Secret Service agent opposite Shirley MacLaine.

Cage makes fun of his eccentric image – and himself – in the amusingly titled “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (R, 107 minutes, in theaters).

Nicolas Cage plays Nicolas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” (Lionsgate)

Here he plays an exaggerated version of actor Nicolas Cage – along with a younger, cockier version of himself who sometimes materializes to offer the older Cage questionable advice.

As the film begins, the current Cage is struggling with his career – except he says he has never thought of it as a “career” but his “work.” He’s accused of making too many movies – including too many substandard films – which is something the real Cage has been accused of. In this film, and, presumably, in real life, Cage argues that he’s not doing it for a buck, but for his love of his profession.

At the same time, though, the movie version of Cage struggles with debts, so he is a bit desperate. It reaches the point that he accepts a job, for $1 million, simply to attend a lavish private birthday party of a wealthy fan, Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal).

Meanwhile, thanks to his obsession with his career – um, work – and himself, Cage also has family problems. His ex-wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan), asks him to change for the sake of their 16-year-old daughter, Addy (Lily Sheen), who needs his attention. Cage thinks he is attentive – he shows Addy all of his favorite movies! But he’s frustrated that Addy shows her lack of interest by thinking “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is “The Island of Dr. Calamari” and that Humphey Bogart was a porn star.

So this is his life when he arrives at Javi’s waterfront villa on the island of Mallorca, Spain. Then things get even more complicated, turning his life into an action-packed spy movie.

Absurd? Absolutely. But it works, thanks to – you guessed it – Nic Cage. Directed and co-written by Tom Gormican (the abysmal 2014 sex comedy “That Awkward Moment”), the film amps up the silliness to the point that you just sit back and enjoy the actor be himself.

Or a variation of himself. Who knows how close to the real Cage we get? Regardless, if you’re a fan, this is one you can’t miss. ***½ (out of four)

When bad things happen to Vikings

Alexander Skarsgard brings out his inner beast in “The Northman.” (Focus Features)

In “The Northman” (R, 136 minutes, in theaters), a young Viking prince drops acid with his dad, the king, and, while tripping, the father tells the son, “You must avenge me or live in shame!”

OK, that’s not quite what happens, but it’s close. It’s 895 A.D. in the North Atlantic, and the prince, Amleth (played as a youth by Oscar Novak), does take part in a ritual that involves him and the king (Ethan Hawke) pretending they’re dogs and, on all fours, lapping up a liquid with psychedelic effects. During the experience, Amleth does get the “You must avenge me or live in shame!” message from his father.

It doesn’t take a soothsayer to guess what happens next. Dad’s days are clearly numbered – Why else all of this vengeance talk? – and you can easily predict who will be responsible and whether Amleth, played as an adult by Alexander Skarsgard, will avenge the king or live in shame.

It takes 136 minutes for all of this to play out, making for a drawn-out, predictable tale of revenge.

And yet, “The Northman” has enough virtues to make it worthwhile.

Director and co-writer Robert Eggers (“The Witch,” “The Lighthouse”), a critical darling whose work has left me cold, has a gift for enveloping audiences in the dark, disturbing environments he creates. Here it’s an ancient world of sorcery and primal reality, in which warriors aspire to act like beasts (bears, wolves) as they brutalize their opponents while seemingly leading predetermined lives shaped by supernatural forces.

Despite beheadings and other gruesome forms of bloodletting, Eggers doesn’t merely shock us with violence, he questions the nature of destiny, the struggle between love and hate, and whether one can survive a savage world without becoming savage oneself (the answer: not likely).

Skarsgard, first-rate as always, sports an imposing, Thor-like physique as Amleth, a killing machine who slaughters his way toward his goal of vengeance. Anya Taylor-Joy stands out among the supporting cast as Amleth’s love interest and co-conspirator, the slave Olga, whose passion, courage and keen intelligence make her a worthy partner for the story’s hero.

Nicole Kidman plays Amleth’s mother, a variation of “Hamlet”’s Gertrude, and Claes Bang (“The Square”) is Amleth’s ruthless nemesis. ***

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Play It Again, Tim

Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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