Category Archives: Travelogues

Nicolas Cage: Man of Mystery

So, Nicolas Cage. How to talk about Hollywood’s favourite nut job? I’ve never been on the Cage train myself, he always rubbed me the wrong way, like an overzealous hairy uncle that I just don’t trust. But it’s less fun to dislike him now that everyone else does too. The poor guy just unraveled. His movies all flopped at the same time, his money ran out, and it turns out that money and success really were the only things hiding his extremely bizarre personality from the rest of the world. He’s the kind of guy who, when his cat accidentally gets high on shrooms, does them too, to keep him company (yes, that really happened). When playing a traumatized vet in Birdy, he had a dentist pull teeth without anesthetic so he could “understand real pain” because a) dental procedures are comparable to the horrors of war and b) he’s such a bad actor that he couldn’t just pretend to be in pain. He diets according to sex, and not the way you’re thinking: he only eats animals whose mating he finds “dignified” like birds and fish. If he finds their sex to be unattractive, he can’t bear to eat their meat. He once woke up to discover a man, completely naked except for Cage’s leather jacket, sitting on the foot of his bed eating a Fudgesicle. And of course, he spends money like a legit crazy person. He owns or has owned: albino king cobras (yes, plural), a t-rex skull (he outbid Leo fair and square!), a pet octopus that helped him with his acting, a private island next door to Johnny Depp’s private island (sounds like a bad neighbourhood already), and the Shah of Iran’s Lamborghini.

But that’s not all. As you may have heard, Sean and I are in New Orleans this week and Nicolas Cage has some pretty infamous ties to the town. Of course, owing the IRS $6.6 million in back taxes meant some of his properties needed to be sold, and those included his New Orleans real estate. One of those houses was a murder mansion. It was once home to Madame LaLaurie, a wealthy socialite who tortured and 7adb4-cage_lalaurie_picsmurdered her household slaves in the 1800s. She was discovered in 1834 when rescuers responding to a fire at the home found bound slaves in the attic who showed marks of someone having been cruelly tortured over a long period of time – I’m talking people hanging by the neck, mutilated, limbs stretch or torn right off. The fire was later confessed to have been started by the cook, chained to the oven by a chain around her ankle, in a suicide attempt. Outraged, a New Orleans mob stormed the house but LaLaurie fled to the safety of France. If that sounds at all familiar, you may have seen Kathy Bates play a fictionalized version of her on American Horror Story. Unsurprisingly, the mansion is said to be haunted by the ghosts of the dead slaves, including a young girl who fell to her death fleeing LaLaurie’s whip and was buried in the back yard. It may not be a place you’d choose to lay your head for the night, but Nicolas Cage plunked down $3.45M for it.

The second home is much less spectacular in reputation but quite delightful for fa740-cage_prytania_picsliving in it, I would think. At 13 000 square feet in the prestigious garden district, it was once owned by the catholic church, who took to calling it the Our Mother of Perpetual Help Chapel. And then Anne Rice owned it. And then Nicolas Cage, possibly for the nights when sleeping in the blood-soaked house mentioned above got too intense. It’s nice to have an unhaunted backup house just in case. It was actually rumoured that he and his family actually lived in the house next door to this one, and thus owned three properties, because sometimes two is not enough. At any rate, “economic difficulties” led to their sale\foreclosure and now he owns no homes in New Orleans but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t own a place to rest his weary bones.

Just as his homes were being sold, he was busy purchasing a cemetery plot. And not just any cemetery, but New Orleans’ most famous one St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. It’s home to the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, who is said to haunt it. Because the water table is so high in New Orleans, the tombs are all above ground, and leave it to Nicolas Cage to take advantage: he’s built himself a pyramid tomb that reads Omni img_4195-nicholas-cage-tomb-omnia-ab-uno-everything-from-one-1024x768Ab Uno, Latin for Everything From One. Now, it’s entirely possible that the IRS just can’t foreclose on a tomb. And some New Orleans locals think it’s also possible that the pyramid is stuffed to the gills with cash. The rest of us just wonder whether the pyramid is a tribute to his role in National Treasure, whether the dollar bill has a secret map that would unlock its door, or whether he’s just mixed up in some Illuminati shit. And maybe, just maybe, his flamboyant, 9 foot tall pyramid mausoleum is where he’ll regenerate his immortal self. Some of the locals aren’t too crazy about this eye sore in their historic cemetery, but female tourists have embraced it – literally, leaving lipstick kisses on its walls. To find out if I’ll do the same, why not follow our travel adventures on Twitter – @assholemovies.

 

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button was born a little boy who looked like an old man; baby Benjamin suffered from old age ailments. He had a disease that made him age backwards. His mom dies in childbirth and his dad abandons him post haste, so little Benny Button is left on the stoop of a nursing home to be raised by the good-hearted Queenie. Benjamin first meets the love of his life, Daisy, when they are 7 years old. She’s a little ballerina, but he’s a wizened old man in a wheel chair. They’ll meet on and off again throughout all the years of his life, and make a little family when they overlap in middle age, but it doesn’t last long. So when Daisy’s on her death bed she tells this story in its entirety to her daughter Caroline, who learns for the first time who her father was.

MV5BMTI1MjY5MzY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1OTUxMg@@._V1_The film was among the first to film in New Orleans after Katrina, enticed by tax savings that made up a good chunk of their budget. Director David Fincher praised the city’s rehab efforts and filmed in both rural and urban settings. The film pays tribute to Katrina by having the flood threaten just as Daisy lays dying.

Someone’s been wanting to make some version of this film since before I was born. In the mid-80s, Frank Oz was sough to direct, with Martin Short as its possible star. Later, Spielberg was keen to direct, and Tom Cruise slated to star. Then Ron Howard thought he might have a go, with John Travolta in the lead. Can you picture any of those?

Brad Pitt could spend upwards of 5 hours a day in the makeup chair. Even so, they had to resort to hiring child actors to portray the younger-looking versions of Benjamin – not because the makeup and effects teams couldn’t handle it, but simply because the budget was totally depleted. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy and had some young actors to cover her character as a child as well – including a very young Elle Fanning. Julia Ormand plays their daughter Caroline, but her younger self is covered by none other than 2 year old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.

Since Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment, we may swing by the Nolan house at 2707 Coliseum St., where lots of the filming took place, in virtually every room of the house. With 6 bedrooms, it was home to 3 generations of Nolans, one of whom played a doctor in the film. Fincher knew he wanted this particular house, benjamin-button-house.jpgwhich would serve to ground the fantasy, but it wasn’t an easy get. The owner had evacuated for Katrina, and had refused every previous request by movie crews. She turned down Fincher too – twice. Fincher combed over 300 other locations and ruled out every one. Finally the owner relented, and she moved into a condo so her home could be made to fit the period. She never did move back in: she evacuated again when hurricane Gustav threatened, and while away she passed, without ever seeing the movie filmed in her home of over 60 years.

 

 

 

If you want to keep up with our New Orleans exploration, visit us on Twitter @assholemovies

A Streetcar Named Desire

How can we spend a week in New Orleans without mentioning this film? Well here’s how: though it’s set in New Orleans, it sure wasn’t filmed there! Well, okay, maybe for a tiny moment’s worth of movie at the train station, but the rest was all Hollywood studios, as was common back then. And the eponymous Desire streetcar line had been dissolved into buses, but the city was able to lend the production a car for the opening sequence when Blanche first arrives in New Orleans.

a-streetcar-named-desire-stellaShe’d been a school teacher back home but moves to New Orleans to move in with her sister Stella and brother-in-law Stanley when creditors take over the family home. She’s horrified to find them living in a grungy little apartment, and even more horrified to find that Stanley is no gentleman. They butt heads right away, and not only is their relationship antagonistic, but she destabilizes an already volatile situation between husband and wife.

Vivien Leigh (Blanche) and Marlon Brando (Stanley) are held tight by the camera, close shots that increase the claustrophobia – so too do the walls that are closing in, literally – the set was built so the little apartment’s dimensions could become littler over time. Their closing in reflect’s Blanche’s deteriorating mental state.

Based on the Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire was edited dramatically to pass the censor’s scruples. There may not be much authentic New 81Qk8T3NWHL._SY450_.jpgOrleans in the picture, but it does have a ground-breaking jazz sound track that gives us the city’s flavour and soul. Streetcar has become an important moment in American cinema, with great performances from iconic stars, and it’s given us more than one enduring catchphrase, although its most famous, simply “Stelllllla!” meets the bare minimum for a catchphrase – it’s really more about how Brando said it. Could say anything, really, and we’d pay attention.

Fun fact: Marlon Brando has appeared in our travel series before: he appeared in Last Tango in Paris, which we reviewed while in – that’s right – Paris.

Another fun fact: t-shirts didn’t come fitted like that back in the day. The wardrobe department shrunk it on purpose, and then stitched it up the back. 😉

The Princess and the Frog

As a young girl, Tiana loved making gumbo with her father, and the two dreamed of opening up a restaurant together. Even after he passes away, she keeps the dream alive, though she doesn’t have the means to make it come true. Meanwhile, Prince Naveen is in town, setting all young hearts aflutter. Unbeknownst to them, the prince is actually broke and needs to marry a wealthy socialite to keep up his lifestyle. Both of our leads are in desperate situations that cause them to act rashly. Naveen strikes a deal with a voodoo doctor, who transforms him into a frog, and thinking that her magical kiss will transform him back, Tiana does so – only it turns her into a frog as well!

Then the adventure really begins, and they traverse New Orleans, befriending MV5BMjE2OTg0NDk2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTUwMjIyNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1723,1000_AL_a trumpet-playing alligator and a Cajun firefly along the way. You may have heard that Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment and time will tell what sort of friends we’ll make – but you can keep in touch on Twitter – @assholemovies.

The Mama Odie character was inspired and by the famed New Orleans storyteller Coleen Salley, even down to her voice. Coleen consulted with the director several times, but never lived to see the completed movie. Her name is mentioned in the credits. Dr. Facilier, the bad voodoo doctor, also takes sinpiration from New Orleans trandition: he looks just like the voodoo god of magic, ancestor-worship, and death, Baron Samedi. The trumpet blowing alligator is named Louis in honour of – you guessed it – Louis Armstrong. Another alligator, a hungry one who tries to eat our heroes, is named Marlon, after Brando star of A Streetcar Named Desire. Marlon is voiced by New Orleans celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and even uses his signature catchphrase “Bam!”

Alicia Keys and Tyra Banks both lobbied personally for the part of Tiana. Beyonce was considered but refused to audition (I mean, really). Instead it went to Anika Noni Rose who was relatively unknown to those outside Broadway audiences. She was 41 when she gave voice a 19 year old.

Tiana was of course the first black Disney princess, and though it was about damn time, it wasn’t without controversy. First, Disney had to change the film’s title. Originally called The Frog Princess, the Internet informed them how terribly this sounded, and The Princess and The Frog was born. And Tiana too was renamed – originally she went by Maddy, which the peoples thought sounded too much like Mammy. Because of Disney’s history of being 99% white and 1% ugly stereotype, it’s only natural that this film was experienced under a microscope. And it’s kind of too bad that our first African-American princess spends most of the film as a frog instead of, you know, a black princess.

But it does get to splash the fun, colourful New Orleans as a background, from city scenes to the bayou. And directors Ron Clements and John Musker did some good while they were in town, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

If we’re in the neighbourhood, we may just pop into Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. Leah Chase is the inspiration for Tiana. Known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, she’s cooked for the likes of Quincy Jones, Jesse Jackson, Ray Charles, and Barack Obama. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was one of the only public places where mixed race 28-leah-chase-obama.w710.h473.2xgroups could meet, so it became home Civil Rights meetings, even though it was illegal.  Leah is also a patron of the arts, and her restaurant was once considered New Orleans’ best collection of African American art. Dooky”s reopened after Katrina but now operates under limited hours, a decision Leah’s family has made since the 94 year old woman still works as the head chef during its opening hours. Yes, you read that right. Forget Disney princesses: Leah is a formidable woman, and Tiana should be so lucky.

Interview with the Vampire

It’s that time of year again: Sean and I have fled cold, snowy Ottawa to celebrate his birthday in warmer or at least more exotic climes. Last year we were in Hawaii but this year we’ve set our sights on New Orleans, so you can count on the next several reviews carrying on in that theme.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles came out in 1994, which means it may be older than some of you. Based on the best selling novel by Anne Rice, herself a New Orleans native.

So the premise is this: a reporter (Christian Slater) is interviewing a 200 year old vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt). He was formerly a plantation owner who lost his wife in childbirth, which threw him into a depression. This is when he met a vampire named Lestat (Tom Cruise), who turned him and taught him vampire ways.

Tom Cruise was not supposed to have been cast; when Rice wrote it in 1976, she had  Rutger Hauer in mind. The book was optioned a few years later with John Travolta attached but a glut of other vampire movies (Dracula, Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Love at First Bite, all in 1979) put the project on pause. When the wheels started turning again, Travolta was deemed too old. Rice met with Tom Hanks instead, but interview-with-the-vampire-kirsten-dunst-brad-pitt-hughe turned it down for Forrest Gump. Daniel Day-Lewis was cast but then dropped out just weeks before filming. Then it was offered to Johnny Depp, who turned it down. And finally it went to Tom Cruise, which made Anne Rice livid, certain he could not handle the part. Of Cruise’s casting, she said “it’s so bizarre; it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work” and “the worst crime in the name of casting since The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Rice recused herself from the production but when she eventually forced herself to watch it, she was so impressed by Cruise’s performance that she wrote him a letter of apology.

Jeremy Irons had also turned down the part because he didn’t want to spend hours in the makeup chair again, and he wasn’t wrong. The vampire makeup took hours to do, in part because the actors were required to hang upside down for up to 30 minutes at a time, allowing the blood to rush into their faces, making veins bulge out. The makeup artists would then trace the veins to create the vampire’s look. But then the blood would disperse and the process would have to be repeated several times. To keep the vampire look secret, Tom Cruise ordered the set to be completely private, necessitating tunnels to be built to shuttle the stars to and from the set.

Makeup is not the only reason Brad Pitt was completely miserable on the set and tried his darndest to get out of the contract. He also hated his costumes and coloured contacts, but most of all he hated playing second fiddle to Tom Cruise – ahem – both on and off the set.

Christina Ricci, Julia Stiles, Evan Rachel Wood, and Natalie Portman all tried out for the part of Claudia but it was a young Kirsten Dunst who won the role. She had her first on-screen kiss in the film – her 12 year old self to Brad Pitt’s 30 years. She wasn’t even allowed to watch the film when it came out; it was R-rated, and her parents thought her too young.

Speaking of age discrepancies, there was also a height discrepancy, and it forced Tom Cruise to act atop crates to try to appear level with the other vampires. Cruise has said that he watched videos of lions eating zebras to prepare for the role. In unrelated news: Tom Cruise is a strange man.

Christian Slater took over the role of Malloy upon the death of River Phoenix. In his honour, Slater donated his salary to two of Phoenix’s favourite charities. The film has a dedication to him at the end of the credits.

Rice was originally worried that the movie would never get made because the novel contained allusions to a possible sexual relationship between Lestat and Louis. Not only was she prepared to write this out of the script completely, for a while she even turned the part of Louis into a woman, and had Cher in mind to play her. Ultimately the two roles remained male, and Cruise and Pitt earned a Razzie for worst screen couple. Conversely, the movie was also nominated for two Oscars, but lost those – Best Art/Set Direction went to The Madness of King George, and Best Original Score went to The Lion King. Cher had actually written a song for the movie, called Lovers Forever, but because of that dicey word Lovers, it was rejected – but eventually appeared on an album of hers in 2013!

The film supposedly inspired a real life crime shortly after the film’s release. On November 17, 1994, Daniel Sterling and his girlfriend Lisa Stellwagen watched the film together. The next day, Sterling stabbed Stellwagen seven times in her chest and back and sucked the blood from her wounds. Stellwagen survived the multiple stab wounds and Sterling was arrested. He claimed the film influenced his plan but the jury convicted him of attempted first-degree murder, among several other charges.

Lots of the 1700s vampire stuff was filmed in and around New Orleans. River scenes were fudged by removing modern items like the Greater New Orleans Bridge and surrounding radio towers in post-production. The Old Coliseum Theatre was used for on-location shooting but sadly burned down in 2006 so Sean and I won’t be able to visit. The city and the businesses were quite cooperative to the film crew – they agreed to turn out their lights for the duration of the filming to preserve the illusion of the film’s time period.

You may recall that the film ends up in San Francisco, where Malloy drives across the Golden Gate Bridge. Sean and I are not visiting that esteemed city this trip but we have before, and reviewed the movies to prove it. The crew received permission to shut down 2 lanes of traffic on that bridge, which is reportedly very hard to get.

 

Have you ever been to New Orleans? What are your favourite spots? Any favourite movies set in the city? Predictions as to what I’ll review next? Be sure to check our Twitter feed for updates from the city – @assholemovies

South By SouthWest

The SXSW Conference and Festivals is celebrating its 31st year – 24th year of film, which is our specialty of course – but South By Southwest also has really great music, comedy acts, art exhibits, speakers, and a whole lot more: it’s just a bunch of people who love the arts and want to celebrate them. For ten days (2017 dates: March 10-19), SXSW loads Austin, Texas with the coolest shit imaginable, and you can bend your brain out of shape trying to jam-pack the most into your schedule because YOU’LL WANT TO SEE EVERYTHING.

Check out their schedule for all the details, but here’s just a taste:

  • Joe Biden’s in the house! On Sunday March 12, he’ll be at the Austin Convention Center to talk about the Biden Cancer Initiative. SXSW’s social conscience is taking on cancer in a bid to make it history; they’re amassing entrepreneurs, innovators, industry executives, venture capitalists, celebrities, philanthropists and us regular folk to get together and make sense of this thing. If you can’t make it to the VP’s talk, SXSW will be generously posting it to their website at a later date.
  • Speaking of Veeps, the cast of Veep will be on hand. If you prefer your Vice Presidents to be fictional and funny as fuck, Selina Meyer has a thing or two to say about what happens when the real president out-buffoons the people meant to be satirizing him. The panel will look towards their 6th season, and feature writer/executive producer David Mandel, executive producer/star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and cast members Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Gary Cole, Tim Simons and Sam Richardson. Catch them on March 13.
  • Ramblin’ Freak, a documentary by an Austin film maker, will make its SXSW debut and challenge your notions of grieving, film making, and navel-gazing. A man sets out cross country to meet “the man whose arms exploded” and ends up making a completely different movie altogether. It’s raw and authentic. Its world premiere is March 13th at the Alamo Ritz with additional screenings March 16 & 18 at the Alamo Lamar.
  • Comedian Wyatt Cenac is hosting Night Train at Esther’s Follies on March 11, and will be joined by stand-up comedy greats like Tim Dillon, John Hodgman, Dulce Sloan, Joel Kim Booster, and Janeane Garofalo.
  • Austin-born Terrence Malick is opening the festival with his new film Song to Song on March 10.  The film is inspired by Austin’s awesome music scene and stars Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, and Michael Fassbender. Malick is pretty press-shy but we know Fassbender will be in town; he’s also promoting Alien: Covenant with a screening of Alien (1979) later that night, with Ridley Scott and Danny McBride.
  • Cindy Wilson (formerly of the B52s) is performing her new (and very different!) material at The Sidewinder March 13.
  • SXSW has a ‘Virtual Cinema’ with an impressive lineup of innovative, virtual-reality movies that run throughout the festival.
  • Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, is giving a talk and will likely cover topics ranging from #OscarsSoWhite to this year’s #EnvelopeGate.
  • Buzz Aldrin, NASA’s first astronaut with a doctorate, and constant advocate for human space exploration, will be in conversation with Time Magazine’s Jeff Kluger at the Austin Convention Center on March 14.
  • A visually stunning documentary called Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film mixes politics and art by following Native American artists as they put up an art installation along Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between USA & Mexico that instead seeks to unite the two countries and cultures. It screens at the Rollins Theatre March 11, and then again on March 13 & 17 at Alamo Lamar.
  • Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz is discussing the music of La La Land at a cocktail reception at Cedar St Courtyard on March 12.

Sean and I spent literally hours combing through the bountiful schedule and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. SXSW includes networking meetings, mentoring programs, and 263 films from new and emerging talent, including lots of female directors. We’re particularly excited to check out Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Free Fire, and so many indie movies our hearts will explode (if the delicious BBQ doesn’t get us first).

Texas here we come!

The Descendants

Matt King’s family has lived in Hawaii for generations. He and his numerous cousins own 25,000 acres of undeveloped land on Kauai held in trust, which ends seven years hence. It makes sense to most to just sell the land, speculation of which has featured prominently in island gossip – after all, to whom they sell could literally change the face of Kauai.

Matt (George Clooney) is a humble enough guy, choosing to live on his attorney’s salary rather than on the wealth that comes with being a land owner. However, his perfect Hawaiian life is a ruse. His rocky marriage is 2011_the_descendants_006surviving only because of his wife’s coma. His 17 year old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) has been sent off to boarding school due to bad behavior but she returns as her mother is declared brain dead to reveal the nature of the fight she’d had with her mother. It’s all a lot more than Matt feels he can handle, especially now that he’s effectively a single parent.

It’s a satisfying movie about the messiness of life, beautifully filmed on location around Hawaii.

In  1992, Hurricane Iniki tore apart many chicken coops on Kauai that housed birds used for cockfighting. By the time The Descendants went into production, there were thousands of feral chickens roaming the island. In the Kauai scenes, chickens are sometimes seen wandering through the shot. Sometimes the crew had to shoo chickens away before a take. Animators observed the same thing when they were working on Moana, which is why her sidekick is a rooster named Heihei.

Matt decides that he’d rather not sell the land.  “We didn’t do anything to own this land, it was entrusted to us,” and if they sell it, “something we were supposed to protect is gone.” Perhaps losing his wife reminds him of the importance of a family’s legacy. Certainly the film gently reminds us of the land’s fate should it be sold to a developer: contrasting the rolling green hills, we also see condos and golf courses and resorts-in-progress.

The movie fails to engage in a meaningful way about what it means that Matt’s family – “haole as shit” (a derogatory term for white immigrants) – owns so much Hawaiian land. It’s still not as bad as Aloha, a movie about Hawaii featuring an all-star cast of white people.

Sean and I are in Hawaii and on the lookout for feral chickens as we speak.