Howdy, y’all! McEric here back with this week’s installment of Nic Flicks! This week I present a double feature, and rather inadvertently, the first two features of this column that I hadn’t previously seen. One I just never got around to, and the other just came out this weekend! Let’s get right to it, shall we?
First up is a brand-new film, released February 12, 2021, called WILLY’S WONDERLAND. Check out the trailer:
As soon as I saw this trailer I rushed to add it to my list, which I made initially on January 4th for the whole year, thereby creating the necessity for a double feature. How could I not? It’s Cage v Chuck E Cheese! Who could say no to that?
Not this guy, that’s for sure. Directed by Kevin Lewis from a script by G.O. Parsons, the film is a blast to watch, and what surprised me most about it was its consistently conscious decision not to surprise me. This film knows exactly what it is, as well as exactly what its viewer expects it to be, and delivers just that. No less, and no more.
This film ticks all the boxes. Mysterious protagonist? Check. Ham-fisted backstory of serial murderers and satanic rituals to explain killer animatronic childrens’ characters? Check. Disposable cast of extras? You betcha. Everyone you think will die dies. Everyone you think will live lives. Everything you demand be explained will be, and anything that you don’t absolutely need illustrated will remain darkened. It’s a form of function as art that does not disappoint because it doesn’t color outside of the lines. It knows what you want to see and from the moment you press “play” it gives it to you, caring little about the intricacies of execution as it does achieving its singular goal. I noted a few film goofs during the runtime but reasoned by the time it was over that the filmmakers saw them, too, and deliberately chose not to correct them. Why? Because that’s not what this film is. It needs Cage v [non-licensed] Chuck E Cheese and nothing more. It’s not here to win an Academy-Award or launch a franchise; it’s here to do this one thing, for you, and then leave you alone. After 2020, isn’t that what we want from a movie every now and then? Sure, Nolan can pitch a tent in our brains and leave us scratching our heads for months with his latest bloated effort, but sometimes I just want to take a ride and then get back to work on Monday. I want to know that the stupid teens who run off to fuck in the next room are going to be brutally murdered because that’s what happens in these movies and I don’t need to learn to play the strings of gravitational time like a mandolin to explain why Matthew McConaughey is flat during the Super Bowl.
Cage is an absolute delight in this film. His protagonist is cocksure, competent, and unflappable. He’s the John McLane of Five Nights at Freddy’s. He takes to his assignment as the night Janitor with the same laser-focus as the filmmakers bringing us his adventure. He cleans, takes regular breaks to enjoy his Punch Pop - A Fistful of Caffeine to Your Kisser, then gets right back to cleaning. He doesn’t explain himself to anyone, on the screen or beyond, and we love him just the same for it. He’s utilitarian. He’s a dancer, a pinball wizard, and the only man for the job. He’s the Hero with a Thousand Faces and they’re all Nic Cage.
The film also features veteran character actress Beth Grant as Sheriff Lund, an exposition-machine of dubious morals whose actions guide the narrative of the overall story. WILLY’S WONDERLAND features clever photography and color palettes, sinister sound design, brilliant creature creations, and claustrophobic terror vignettes that will secure it as a midnight classic for generations to come. If the trailer sings to you, the film is the concept album, the Dark Side of the Moon, that will be your go-to horror comedy escape for many, many years.
WILLY’S WONDERLAND is available now for rent on most online retailers, such as FandangoNow, Vudu, and Amazon.
Before surreptitiously adding WILLY’S WONDERLAND, the original feature I had jotted down for this week was CITY OF ANGELS, but I swapped it out for a direct-to-streaming feature I had further down the list as I felt the former would be too heavy to share with a new release. Whether this is true or not we’ll discover later, but the film that slid into this slot was 2015’s OUTCAST, directed by Nicholas Powell (PRIMAL) from a script by James Dormer. Here’s the trailer, but read ahead before you decide if you want to view it:
OUTCAST is one of the movies that I arbitrarily added to my list based on little more than the name. I knew it was a period piece and co-starred STAR WARS’s Hayden Christensen but that was it. I hadn’t even seen a preview, and honestly after watching it I’m glad I hadn’t. Discovering the film in real time was a fine revelation, and overall I have to say that I enjoyed the viewing experience.
The trailer is… well, I guess it’s not misleading so much as it is purposefully pointed towards the eventual reveal, which I think strips the film from its narrative structure. The film opens in the Crusades but doesn’t stay there long, just one of many misdirections the picture employs.
I watched the movie thinking it was a Nic Cage movie but quickly learned it’s actually a Hayden Christensen movie. Which is fine. I don’t really have a problem with that. I didn’t watch EXECUTIVE DECISION for Steven Seagal or ALIEN for John Hurt so I’m not one to scoff at a misdirect, but Cage’s Gallain doesn’t sacrifice himself or die off early in the film; he just… disappears. From then, we follow Christensen’s Jacob as he bumbles through the Far East in an opium daze until he stumbles upon a redemptive mission worthy of his talents. The ensuing cinematic journey is actually a pretty good one, though not particularly inventive. The fight mechanics are good, though occasionally shot so claustrophobically tight as to be disorienting.
When Jacob does encounter Gallain again, the latter is very much a changed man. Cage’s Gallain is weary, yet spiritual; hardened by fighting but softened by love. What wisdom he demonstrated early in the film has crystalized into hard-fought experience and his cantankerous take on the de facto main characters of the film is refreshing. He seems to be echoing the sentiments of the viewing audience, bellowing against destiny in favor of pragmatism. His “accent” is a disaster, but that’s kind of his charm. He’s a wreck of a character much as that character would be a wreck of a man. What he’d seen, endured, the volatility of the climate around him; all of that would have pressed down on him to create this half-blind drunken amalgamation of rage and beauty and burlap philosophies that we meet in the film’s third act. It’s actually a really wonderful performance and I genuinely recommend it to fans of period action and drama. It plays almost like THE 13TH WARRIOR or Costner’s ROBIN HOOD. Not great movies by any stretch of the definition but certainly worth a watch.
OUTCAST was filmed in China on a $25M budget but due to its perception of white saviors over Chinese adversaries it was banned in that market, making only $5M over its “worldwide” release. Which is a shame because that production value really comes through in the large-scale action pieces early in the film and the more intimate fight sequences peppered throughout Jacob’s journey. Having also seen Powell’s PRIMAL, this is by far my favorite of the two.
Until next week, you all stay safe and stay sane out there (and if you’re in the path of this crazy winter storm, stay warm)!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-