By Alex McPherson

A creative, darkly comic story of self-destructive ego and fame’s dehumanizing effects, director Kristoffer Borgli’s “Dream Scenario” is never less than engaging — with an outstanding Nicolas Cage performance — but can’t meld its timely ideas into a fully cohesive whole.

Borgli’s film follows Paul Matthews (Cage), a tenured university professor teaching evolutionary biology to disinterested students — he’s unfulfilled professionally and seeking recognition in his field. Paul wants to publish a book on his research and fumes that a former colleague (that he hasn’t seen in 30 years) beats him to the punch, allegedly stealing his theory of “Ant-elligence” for her own writing venture. It’s a critical blow to his ego.

At home, Paul has a loving wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson), and two daughters, Sophie (Lily Bird) and Hannah (Jessica Clement). By most accounts, Paul has a pretty privileged life, but he seeks more — quietly experiencing a midlife crisis within his self-loathing headspace. His seemingly simple yearnings belie a misguided sense of entitlement and ungratefulness.

Out of the blue, Paul appears in Sophie’s dream: he casually observes as random objects crash onto their outdoor patio and Sophie is lifted into the sky, making no effort to rescue her. Randomly, old connections, students, and, eventually, people all over the country he’s never met start seeing Paul in their dreams as well. Just like with Sophie, Paul awkwardly (and humorously) observes in the background as the dreamer experiences some dramatic event — such as crocodile infestation, tooth extraction, or a not-so-friendly neighborhood demon.

Paul is initially thrilled by the attention, albeit disappointed at his “inadequacy” within the situations themselves. He’s on the news, students line up to take selfies with him, and his family sees him in a new light. Janet, especially, sees glimmers of the confident man she fell in love with, yet grows increasingly jealous, since Paul doesn’t appear in her own dreams.

Paul is even contacted by a PR group (called “Thoughts?”), led by Trent (Michael Cera), who wants Paul to sponsor big brands so he can “dreamfluence” people in their slumber. At the end of the day, all Paul wants to do is get a book published on his scholarship, which he hasn’t actually started writing yet, and maybe get invited to dinner by a wealthy colleague.

Before long, Paul’s narcissism grows. His dream-world persona suddenly takes on a more nefarious role in peoples’ sleep states; he’s now a monster haunting with gleefully violent abandon. Thus begins Paul’s descent into the throes of Cancel Culture, digging his own grave as society ostracizes him — initially for forces beyond his control — reckoning with celebrity and his own self-absorption as his previously stable lifestyle falls apart.

Indeed, “Dream Scenario” certainly has a lot on its mind. Although the film doesn’t hit bullseyes on all its targets, Borgli crafts a trenchant commentary on society’s mindlessness — oscillating between hilarity, horror, and pathos that keeps viewers on their toes. And there’s no more fitting person than Cage to lead the way, in a role that gives him space to showcase his considerable range as a performer.

Cage — himself a celebrity who’s been “memeified” by the masses as an over-the-top cartoon character — lends both humanity and zaniness to his portrayal. He renders Paul (balding, with a nasally whine of a voice) a character that’s easy to poke fun at, but also to empathize with. Cage successfully portrays Paul as an irritating, sympathetic, fragile person, going effectively bonkers in the frightening and at-times shockingly violent nightmares. Whether unhinged or grounded, Cage clearly relishes the role as an opportunity to reject being pigeonholed into one acting style. Borgli, too, refuses to paint Paul in black-and-white absolutes.

Borgli’s screenplay encourages viewers not to root for or against Paul as the collateral damage piles up. Nor does Borgli vilify the masses who launch Paul into stardom and, subsequently, the cultural garbage bin. Rather, “Dream Scenario” depicts a world that abuses the idea of celebrity, simultaneously punishing Paul’s dependence on being seen and admired without taking responsibility for his own happiness. 

It’s also quite funny, containing one of the best cinematic farts to ever grace the silver screen. This tonal imbalance can be distracting, for sure, though maybe that’s the point, reflecting Paul’s separation from his modest beginnings. Paul’s world is crumbling before his eyes — the public plays satirical whack-a-mole with his feelings. This brings comedy and tragedy to the table, making laughs catch in viewers’ throats.

Additionally, by matter-of-factly depicting the film’s nightmare sequences, “Dream Scenario” dares viewers to separate the monstrous incarnation of Paul from his true self. As viewers weave in and out of “lived experience” (jumping into victims’ dreams, which cinematographer Benjamin Loeb frames as slightly-heightened reality), perhaps, the film says, we cannot. 

Overall, “Dream Scenario” reveals itself as an absurdist take on human folly that shares similarities with director Ari Aster’s  “Beau is Afraid” in manifesting its protagonist’s worst fears (Aster’s a producer on “Dream Scenario”) and punishing them for their cowardice and lack of accountability. 

The film’s fatalism, however, is a double-edged sword. Borgli sends Paul down a path with no easy exit or opportunities for redemption (throwing in on-the-nose cultural references meant to provoke). To its credit, what plays out seems plausibly true-to-life in terms of Paul’s reactions and how society treats him. This predictability also breeds hopelessness and lack of resolution, becoming less involving due to its inevitabilities. Once Paul’s life has been suitably demolished, the film seems unsure what to do with him — reflecting Paul’s own sad aimlessness, yet remaining incomplete as a story. 

Besides Paul, supporting characters of varying complexity are brought to life by an ensemble committed to the craziness. Nicholson brings warmth, sass, and heartbreak to her role as Janet, dealing first-hand with the fallout of Paul’s declining mental state and selfishness. Cera is excellent at delivering his dryly comedic dialogue, as are Kate Berlant and an uncomfortably hilarious Dylan Gelula as his associates. Tim Meadows steals scenes as Paul’s department head reconciling his friendship with Paul with the pariah he becomes.

Altogether, “Dream Scenario” is a bizarre, unconventionally compelling watch — calling out people like Paul and our social-media-obsessed, consumerist society at large — content to unsettle and leave threads dangling. Third-act clunkiness notwithstanding, it’s a one-of-a-kind work difficult to forget.

“Dream Scenario” is a 2023 comedy written, directed and edited by Kristoffer Borgli and starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Tim Meadows, Michael Cera and Dylan Gelula. It is Rated R for language, violence and some sexual content. and its run time is1 hour, 43 minutes. It opens in theatres Dec. 1.Alex’s Grade: B+.

By Alex McPherson

Despite an entertainingly unhinged performance from Nicolas Cage and some impressive kills, director Chris McKay’s “Renfield” is a horror-action-comedy hybrid full of unexplored potential.

Positioned as a quasi-sequel to Tod Browning’s 1931 “Dracula,” “Renfield” begins with a black-and-white prologue introducing us to the story’s characters, creatively inserting Cage and Nicholas Hoult into footage from the original film.

In the present day, R. M. Renfield (Hoult) is caring for his decaying master, Dracula (Cage), in a creepy New Orleans hotel after skilled vampire hunters nearly kill him 90 years prior. Renfield, given powers through consuming insects instead of blood, is Dracula’s “familiar.”

This involves him looking after the Count and retrieving victims. Renfield’s not a monster, though — he targets “bad” folks to bring back — and attends a support group for people in codependent relationships to track down their tormentors for fresh blood. But Renfield’s quite unhappy, guilted and threatened into continued servitude by his narcissistic manipulator, who seeks world domination.

On one of his errands, Renfield has a run-in with Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), a chatterbox enforcer and member of the Lobo crime family, led by his mother Bella-Francesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo), which has ties all over New Orleans and immunity from local police.

Well, everyone except Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), an exasperated traffic cop whose father, also a policeman, was gunned down by the Lobos. She seeks justice and revenge, as coworkers and her FBI-agent sister, Kate (Camille Chen), do little to support her. Before long, Renfield and Rebecca cross paths, teaming up to take down the Lobos and Dracula — developing a will-they-won’t-they relationship as each gathers courage to confront their demons.

Fumbling opportunities to be a clever look at codependency and overcoming (literal and figurative) demons, “Renfield” ultimately needs more meat on its bones. The cast is game, the gore is flowing, but pacing is erratic, editing is imprecise, and the script (by Ryan Ridley, from an idea by Robert Kirkman) doesn’t have the guts to go all-in on the concept, leaving a more promising story tantalizingly out of reach.

That’s not to say there’s not fun to be had, particularly regarding Cage and Hoult’s performances. Cage was practically born to play Dracula, and he delivers, providing a satisfying mixture of his characteristic craziness with deadpan wit and, crucially, menace when proceedings call for it.

“Renfield” provides another vehicle for him to flex his chops — aided by masterfully gross makeup effects that at one point see him bully the titular lad while resembling a mangled sack of meat not unlike the Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” 

Hoult as Renfield is similarly well-cast, bringing an anxious, sad-sack energy to the film that’s simultaneously quite funny and, in some scenes, poignant, as we witness his (exceedingly rushed) arc towards empowerment. When he’s not engaging in splatterific brawls (one featuring newly removed arms being used as weapons), Hoult brings real pathos to scenes where Dracula berates and mistreats him.

In one memorable sequence, Renfield fruitlessly tries to stand up for himself while reciting lines from a self-help book. The Count laughs and dismisses his arguments with a mocking mean-spiritedness that feels oddly grounded in reality, posturing that “Renfield” aims to be higher-brow than it actually is.

Indeed, the film’s 93-minute runtime and tacked-on subplots limit the development of this central dynamic, which begins as the film’s main focus, but abandons any and all complexity by the finale.

Additionally, “Renfield” clearly tries to paint parallels between Renfield and Rebecca overcoming adversity, but neither are given enough time to leave an impact. Awkwafina is perfectly fine, having serviceable chemistry with Hoult, but she and the rest of the ensemble can only do so much with obvious, reference-heavy humor that lacks wit or surprise — with the exception of the support group, who provide most of the film’s twisted laughs.

The Rebecca/Lobo subplot does, at least, provide opportunities for over-the-top action sequences, which deliver amusing slapstick comedy. “Renfield” won’t disappoint gore-hounds with its abundance of decapitations, impalings, and other fateful excesses, accompanied by fountains of (fake-looking) blood.

If only the film’s cinematography and editing gave more clarity to the carnage; quick cuts and overuse of slow-motion distract from the choreography. More broadly, this imprecision extends to dialogue-heavy scenes, too. The rushed pacing leads to oddly cut sequences sans rhythm or flair — a disappointment, given the detailed production design and capable cast.

We’re left with a fun-enough, though unfortunately generic, experience that plays like an R-rated Saturday morning cartoon. Perhaps that’s acceptable, but “Renfield” dulls its promising conceit into something with considerably less bite.

“Renfield” is a 2023 horror comedy directed by Chris McKay and starring Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult, Ben Schwartz, Awkwafina, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Camille Chen. It is Rated R for bloody violence, some gore, language throughout and some drug use, and the runtime is 93 minutes. It opened in theatres April 14. Alex’s Grade: B-.   

By Stephe Raven

The Unbearable Weight of Being Nicolas Cage

To say that Nicolas Cage is a deep actor may be a stretch. I mean, he has actually won a few awards. To say that he is a versatile actor would be closer to the truth. Don’t get me wrong, he has made some great movies (“Raising Arizona” will always be one of my favs!). He is definitely an actor not afraid to take a chance on a role, and more importantly, to be able to laugh at himself. Being an actor who is known for his quirky characters, he really does know how to let us laugh along him on any crazy ride.

That being said, when you sit down to watch “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” you have no idea what you are in for, but I have to tell you, it’s a ride worth hanging on to. Cage plays a loose version of himself as a down-on-his -uck actor looking for that next film that will showcase his talent. 

His agent (a nice cameo of Neil Patrick Harris) gets him a gig being himself for a rich super fan, the job paying him a cool million just to appear at this guy’s birthday party and even reading a script that the guy wrote himself just for, yep you guessed it, Nic Cage. 

The fan is played quite charmingly by Pedro Pascal. He is such a fan that he has his own Nicolas Cage museum, which goes off the deep end but has to be experienced to see what an avid junkie he is. 

The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal Photo Credit: Karen Ballard/Lionsgate

They seem to be in such a sweet bromance that your teeth start to hurt and you are waiting for a big smooch…no but seriously, they seem to find this perfect comedic timing together and you want them to be best buds.

The antics with these two were fun to watch for sure.It doesn’t seem like it will work, but as the plot moves along it just does. You seriously think it’s a total cheese fest, but it works!

All that gets ruined for you when the CIA (hello Tiffany Haddish, you sure are busy this year!) decide they need need help taking down Nic’s new bestie, who appears to be an arms dealer. Every time you think it can’t get any more unbelievable, it does…but not in a bad way. 

Hilarity and LSD take us down the rabbit hole and actually all makes for a silly, but fun movie. And let me tell you, there are so many Nic Cage Easter eggs, you may have to see the movie a few times to catch them all!  Not gonna win any awards here, but it was a lot of fun seeing on the big screen. 

We all need some Nicolas Cage to get us out of the leftover pandemic fog we have been in. Go have some fun and get those laugh muscles back in shape!

Pedro Pascal as Javi and Nicolas Cage as Nic Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a 2022 comedy-action film directed by Tom Gormican and starring Nicolas Cage, Nicolas Kim Coppola, Pedro Pascal, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz, Lily Sheen and Sharon Horgan. It runs 1 hour and 47 minutes and is rated R for language throughout, some sexual references, drug use and violence. It opens in theaters on April 22.

By Lynn Venhaus

No matter what perception you might have about this film beforehand, “Pig” takes you on an unexpected journey.

Like a shabby hole-in-the-wall joint that surprises you with its elevated cuisine and depth of flavor, this unorthodox drama is a richly textured experience that comes together with tender loving care.

I will be talking about this earthy delight for the rest of the year, for as a debut narrative feature, writer-director Michael Sarnoski has crafted an absorbing original tale with impeccable detail.

Nicolas Cage plays a truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregon wilderness, and after his beloved pig is poached, returns to his past life in Portland to track down his beloved animal.

On the surface, it seems simple, but oh no – uncommon riches await, and Sarnoski ladles revelations out in due time. He doesn’t dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, expecting his audience to be smart enough to fill in the blanks.

With a minimalist approach, Sarnoski immerses us in pretense and profundity. A hard-to-get lunch reservation is an astute example of both, and a pivotal scene that you won’t soon forget.

Cage’s protagonist is a disheveled hermit known to truffle purveyor Amir (Alex Wolff) as strange anti-social Rob. But out of desperation, he gets the impatient lad to drive him around the cutthroat fine-dining brotherhood of Portland, that northwest hipster mecca. They are in search of the pig but come upon much more.

Amir will get the ride of his life, for he discovers the mysterious grizzly guy is a legendary chef, THE Robin Feld, whose very name invokes great reverence – and curiosity as to what happened to him. Feld knows people, that’s why he figures out where to look and who to talk to underground.

Fifteen years earlier, Feld left his celebrated career behind to live off the grid, his chef knives and cast-iron skillet in tow. We get morsels of information as to the why, and as we get in Robin’s head, we find out he has a philosopher’s intellect and a poet’s heart.

This is a rare and meaty role for Academy Award winner Cage, whose restraint here is admirable. He speaks in hushed tones instead of grander histrionics. No matter how you view his career detours, he subtly pulls off this reflective loner with definitive artistry. It is his best performance in years.

Cage has made so many off-the-wall action films during the past 20 years, a long way from his last Oscar nomination (“Adaptation” in 2002), that he is easy to dismiss, but do not count him out.

The principal cast is playing characters that seem easy to figure out, but again, nope. These well-drawn roles not only gave Cage an opportunity to convey layers of emotional consequences, but also Wolff and Arkin.

Wolff, notable in the 2018 horror film “Hereditary” as the son who unravels, makes the most of his character’s jodyssey. Next up is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old,” so he is having quite a summer.

Wolff’s sharply dressed brat comes across as this slick materialistic poser who is only looking out for himself, but he becomes as fascinated as we are by Robin’s backstory and sticks around.

Then, we find out about his unhappy upbringing with squabbling parents, a dad he is always trying to please but never quite measures up to, even though he emulated his career path – and a tragic mom story.

Amir is more than meets the eye, as is his self-important father, Darius, portrayed with the right amount of hubris by Arkin.

With a lush forest as backdrop, cinematographer Patrick Scola captures Feld’s tranquil existence, his pig his only companion. Sarnoski beautifully sets up their special relationship, not unlike the subjects and their dogs in the 2020 documentary “The Truffle Hunters.”

When the paid tweakers kidnap the pig, the well-choreographed attack is horrific, and leaves Robin in a bloody pool on his cabin floor.

One of the goofier aspects of the film is that Cage’s character, already unkempt, goes through nearly the entire film with his face pummeled into a swollen pulp, thanks to a “Fight Club” like scene in addition to the assault, blood streaked on his face and matted in his beard and hair. He couldn’t have taken a few minutes to clean up? However, he does wash his hands before he cooks.

The atmospheric story, by producer Vanessa Block and Sarnoski, touches on loss, love, passion, memory, and the quest for the meaning of life. Is it more important to be “somebody” or to achieve inner peace, and why should we crave approval?

Robin is a man of few words, but when he talks, people listen, and his wisdom is a special component of this moving story.

Robin tells someone: “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about in life.” And that resonates.

Sandwiched between the releases of two documentaries on renowned chefs, Wolfgang Puck and Anthony Bourdain (“Roadrunner”), this film should also appeal to foodies – as well as anyone who has spent time meditating during the pandemic.

At only 92 minutes, extra time could have provided more aspects, because I wanted to stay with these characters – but then again, it would likely be another movie, not this hypnotic trek.

“Pig” is a quiet little film with a big impact. The wrap-up may not be as satisfying as the pursuit of the truth, but overall, all the elements are impressive.

“Pig” is a 2021 drama, rated R for language and some violence. It is written and directed by Michael Sarnoski and stars Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin. Its run time is 1 hour, 32 minutes. It starts in theaters July 16. Lynn’s Grade: A-

Nicolas Cage in “Pig”