“Primal” begins the way that every movie should begin: With a bearded Nicolas Cage sitting in a tree somewhere deep in the Brazilian jungle while smoking a cigar, reading “Real Estate” magazine, and waiting for a rare white jaguar known as “El Fantasma Gato” “The Ghost Cat” to emerge from the trees and eat the goat carcass that's strung up on the ground below. Sadly — if inevitably — this schlocky genre mishmash is all downhill from there, as not even a fun premise and a talking parrot sidekick can save the movie from its low budget, general lethargy, and abject lack of craft.
The best thing that “Primal” has going for it beyond its truly incredible poster is a premise that harkens back to the glory days of dopey '90s action films — a beautiful time when B-movie directors were high out of their minds on the promise of CGI, and used such digital tools to add new dimensions to otherwise staid ideas. Stephen Sommers' “Deep Rising” is perhaps the most divine example: Just when you think you're watching a routine Treat Williams vehicle about a team of mercenaries who have to shoot their way out of a luxury cruise ship, a giant sea monster shows up to eat half the cast and put everyone on their heels.
“Primal” has a similar trick up its sleeve, but Richard Leder's script is too threadbare to conjure any of the same magic, and director Nick Powell — a longtime stunt coordinator stepping behind the camera for the first time — finds a way to sap the suspense out of every scene. Also, the CG is somehow even less convincing than it was 21 years ago, but at least there's a lot more of it. Cage exudes a palpable “Bogart on benzedrine” vibe as prickly loner Frank Walsh, a former zoo worker who became a freelance game hunter after being fired from eight jobs in 10 years. Say what you will about zoos, but that's still a mighty tumble down the moral ladder, and it's left Frank with a deep self-loathing that he's been trying to drink away ever since.
But things are looking up for our man: He's bagged The Ghost Cat, a mythic devil who's supposedly hungry for human blood, and a zoo outside of Madrid is willing to pay him $75,000 for it so long as he can deliver the animal to them in one piece. That will prove to be a lot harder than it sounds. Frank has the misfortune of loading his precious cargo which also includes a family of wooly spider monkeys, some exotic birds, and a few hyper-venomous snakes for good measure aboard an old tramp freighter called the Mimer, a dank floating warehouse that also happens to be ferrying the world's craziest assassin back to the United States so that he can stand trial for crimes against humanity. His name is Richard Loffler, he's played by Kevin Durand, and he's flamboyantly psychotic in a way that really wants to excuse the fact that he isn't anything else; there's some amusingly undercooked mishegoss about holding the American government accountable for Richard's actions, but that subplot is lost at sea along with the rest of this movie.
Anyway, Richard escapes from his cage in about 15 seconds using the oldest trick in the book apparently none of the Special Operations Group United States Marshals assigned to him have seen “Con Air”, and he frees all of the other animals on board as a distraction while he trees to reroute the ship and secure his escape. Just like that, the Mimer is turned into a floating menagerie of feral beasts; if they don't kill you, the machine gun-wielding sociopath probably will. And while the boat is full of disposable meatheads who Richard can murder every couple of minutes, Frank takes it upon himself to lead the hunt: He's finally found some prey that he can feel good about catching. Frank doesn't have to be a hero, he just has to be the second-worst person on this ship. Baby steps!
But “Primal” doesn't really care about any of that. The movie immediately devolves into a lifeless game of cat-and-mouse-and-jaguar, as Richard wreaks havoc around the boat while the rest of the cast stands around a series of jaundiced-looking rooms and yells at each other about what to do next. Powell made the admirable decision to shoot inside a real freighter, but verisimilitude only gets you so far in a location that only consists of blandly industrial spaces. And despite Powell's stunt background, the action is so bland and choppy that you desperately wish there'd be less of it; it's telling that the most exciting part of the entire movie comes when Richard chooses not to fight someone.
The calmer moments are somehow just as chaotic, albeit in a different way, as the ensemble cast — including “Deep Rising” star Famke Janssen as a military doctor, Michael Imperioli as a scummy lawyer, and Jeremy Nazario as a little kid whose only purpose is to be put in harm's way — all pop up without rhyme or reason, and cease to exist as soon as the camera cuts away. Cage's only meaningful human interaction in the entire film is with his parrot. And that only happens in the final seconds, by which point Frank has already perfectly described the experience of watching “Primal”: “I just spent 10 months in the jungle, and this all smells like cat shit to me.”
The star talked about taking inspiration from Humphrey Bogart's performance in 'African Queen' for Nick Powell's "wild" movie and how much he loves the "absurdist" aspects of genre films.
Nicolas Cage's prolific output in recent years has cemented his reputation as one of the busiest A-list actors with a bewildering number of projects either in development, in production or about to be released.
Interspersed between Hollywood movies like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and critically acclaimed indie hits like Mandy, the Oscar-winner has enthusiastically embraced genre fare such as hunting thriller Primal, which hits select theaters and is also available to stream on demand today.
Directed by Nick Powell, who worked with Cage on the 2014 period epic Outcast, Primal tells the story of a hunter named Frank Walsh who captures a rare white jaguar and in his attempts to transport the big cat to his buyers is trapped on a container ship with a prisoner who is being shipped by the NSA back to the U.S. The prisoner, who is a rogue assassin, manages to escape his cage and release the jaguar too, forcing Walsh to capture both man and beast before its too late. The filmalso stars Famke Janssen, Kevin Durand, LaMonica Garrett and Michael Imperioli.
Before Primal's release, Cage spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about working with Powell again, accessing his "inner jaguar" to take on the role, the influence of Humphrey Bogart on his performance and how he loves to lean into the "absurdist" aspects of the film.
I was lucky enough to see Primal and it is a lot of, well, wild fun. So I guess my first question is, what parts in particular did you really enjoy on this film? Because it looked like you enjoyed a lot of it.
Well, thank you. I haven't seen the movie myself yet, but I will say that I was thrilled to be reunited with Nick Powell. He's a director that I enjoyed working with on Outcast. Neither of us were too happy with the way that film [was supported.] So we were looking for an opportunity to collaborate again and when he brought me the script to Primal well, I thought this is perfect because it is really meant to be a wild ride, a lot of fun. I tried to embrace the title itself, in that here I am facing off against a white jaguar and facing off with a man twice my size. Trying to figure out how I can access my inner jaguar if you will to stay in the ring with them.
I was in good hands with Nick. He really knows how to [film] fight sequences. But he is also great with character and character development. We talked a lot about some of our favorite actors and performances, like [Humphrey] Bogart African Queen.
Was Bogart an influence?
Yeah. Not that I could ever be as great as Humphrey Bogart but [Powell and I] talked about how I could at least borrow and emulate that kind of energy and get the perfect character that Bogart would play, you know someone who is not a people person, he's an isolationist, he's alone in the jungle and he just wants to be with his animals. So I thought that the idea of having all these toxic animals and also the jaguar itself and then having to square off with somebody twice my size would be a wonderful absurd adventure and hopefully entertaining.
Given the premise of Primal,there are slightly absurdist elements, did you want to lean into that aspect? Did you think "let's go for it"?
Right, right absurdist. I think that's a great way [to describe it]. I love that. I love situations that are so unpredictable that you can find the comedy in it and you can also find the danger in it. I like being on that fine line of which way is this going to go and hopefully be a little unpredictable. In my own life I try to keep things calm and peaceful as I can, so when I get an opportunity to put something on camera that's hopefully dangerous, that's absurdist and wild, that's always a cathartic and enjoyable experience for me.
There are lots of great lines in the film, I especially liked the "regular Einstein!" line. Are these lines improvised or were they in the script?
A lot of them were improvised and that's one of the great pleasures of working with Nick. We stick to the blueprint, which is the script, but go off page when it's right. You know, [the line] "you kill my cat, I'll blow your head off!" that was a lot of fun to say. [The line] "great pandas in the San Diego zoo" all of that stuff comes out of the comfortable relationship I have Nick Powell.
Speaking of Nick, who you worked with before on Outcast, how does it compare working with him to say some other directors you've worked with recently like Panos [Cosmatos] and Dimitri [Logothetis]? How, was/is it different?
Nick, like [ Mandy director] Panos, is somebody who is not only terrific with choreography, he also is really keen on the character development. And I have wanted to work with him again after the experience on Outcast—I knew that we had more to say together. And I feel the same about Panos. I mean, I think that Panos and I got up to something pretty, pretty wonderful [on Mandy], that was all from Panos' imagination. And [ Primal] is from Nick's imagination, so I knew I was in good hands with both of them.
[ Jiu Jitsu director] Dimitri had the added factor of being an actor himself. So that was fun to work with him and I was delighted that we were going to do something that was really far out, combining martial arts with aliens. I like the idea of not repeating myself and putting myself in different situations in film and hopefully bring something a little bit unique. Dimitri was terrific with the character development as well and we talked a lot about that. Now, in Primal [as I said] I was playing someone inspired by Bogart in African Queen,But with Dimitri I was trying to channel a little Dennis Hopper. I love him so much in Apocalypse Now. It's always great to work with directors who allow you to celebrate your heroes.
Back to Primal, in the film you play a hunter or is it more accurate to say animal poacher? That's a really controversial profession, did that bother you at all?
I would say my character, he's not a desirable man. He's not a hunter in that he kills animals, he's taking them and selling them. I don't think he's a good guy, but he has to transform or learn a better way by the end movie. I love animals. But I liked it in the script that he was somebody that had a lot of edge, but he's not necessarily somebody I would want to spend time with. But he does go through a transformation by the end. The idea, ultimately, is that man is the problem and not the animals.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
'Severance' is the latest series to land at the newly launched streamer from Endeavor Content.
Add Adam Scott and Ben Stiller as the latest high-profile names to head to Apple TV+.
Scott has been tapped to star in the straight-to-series, 10-episode drama Severance, which is exec produced and directed by DGA winner Stiller Escape at Dannemora.
Severance is a workplace thriller that is set at Lumen Industries, a company looking to take work-life balance to a new level. Scott will star as Mark, an employeewith a dark past trying to put himself back together.
Dan Erickson created the series, and will pen the scripts and exec produce alongside Chris Black Outcast, Desperate Housewives. Stiller's Red Hour Productions' Nicky Weinstock and Jackie Cohn will also exec produce. Big Little Lies and Parks and Recreation grad Scott will also be credited as a producer.
This is Stiller's latest TV foray following Showtime's awards darling limited series Escape at Dannemora. He also exec produces The CW's sophomore drama In the Dark. He's repped by WME, Untitled and Gang Tyre. Scott, meanwhile, counts two seasons of HBO's Big Little Lies, Fox's Ghosted and NBC's The Good Place among his credits.He's with WME, Rise Management and Ziffren Brittenham. Erickson is with Heroes and Villains Entertainment and Wertheimer Austen.
Severance, which has been in the works for months, hails from Endeavor Content, the combined financing and sales efforts of WME and IMG. Endeavor Content also produces Apple TV+'s recently renewed Jason Momoa drama See and its upcoming Truth Be Told.
Apple TV+ launched Nov. 1 at a cost of $5 a month. The platform has been aggressively spending billions on scripted originals as it builds a roster of library content in a bid to provide additional value to Apple
T he Morning Watch is a recurring feature that highlights a handful of noteworthy videos from around the web. They could be video essays, fanmade productions, featurettes, short films, hilarious sketches, or just anything that has to do with our favorite movies and TV shows.
In this edition, a former jewel thief takes a look at heist movies like Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job to review them for their probability of success, craft, and execution. Plus, Adam Savage and his Tested crew takes a tour of the North Bergen High School stage production of Alien, and check out the only musical number worth watching from Disney’s weird Little Mermaid Live.
First up, Vanity Fair sat down with former jewel thief Larry Lawton and asked him to review scenes from famous heist movies like Ocean’s 11, The Italian Job, The Thomas Crown Affair, Snatch, and more. He takes a look at how probably it is the heist would work, the craft of the heist itself, and whether how its executed would really work.
Remember when North Bergen High School went viral for creating a stage adaptation of Alien with some extremely impressive homemade costumes, sets and props? Well, Adam Savage and his Tested crew went to New Jersey to take a look at the students’ hard work, not to mention some of their other cool builds of a life-size Incredible Hulk, the Iron Throne and a big Millennium Falcon model.
Finally, even though most of the production of Little Mermaid Live isn’t worth watching, you should definitely take your time to watch Queen Latifah as Ursula giving her incredible rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” If you dare, you can see some of the other live performances over on the ABC YouTube channel. Honestly, Shaggy’s version of “Under the Sea” isn’t bad either.
Billy McMillin looks at high-school football players continuing a decades-old rivalry in East L.A..
Taking an unexpected sports rivalry as an excuse to watch a handful of minority teens and coaches try to improve their lives amid anti-immigration rage, Billy McMillin's debut doc The All-Americans introduces us to two football teams in East Los Angeles whose annual showdowns draw an impressive crowd. Roosevelt and Garfield high schools have long faced off in a homecoming event known as The Classic, held almost every year for close to a century. Centering on subjects who are sympathetic but whose stories are much like others we've heard, the doc may not get as much box-office mileage out of its sports theme as it might've if presented in a more straightforward, ESPN-like way. Nevertheless, it will likely find some love in Latino communities.
After setting the scene with talk-radio clips spouting the usual anti-immigrant blather, McMillin gives a very brief history of the game that typically draws more than 20,000 avid fans, and that some in the community think about all year. In fact, we meet the teams nine months before game day — during February of the previous school year, when varsity tryouts are held.
Rather than focusing on the drama of those tryouts, McMillin gets right into introducing the characters who'll matter most in the big event: The coaches of both teams one of whom also holds down a job as a cop, their quarterbacks, and a couple of key players with lots going on off the field.
Joseph, for instance, is a sophomore who already has a daughter, and works as a baker to support her. His own mother isn't in the picture, and his father, a man with a checkered past, doesn't hesitate to admit what he wants to see when he goes to a game: He wants to see Joseph hurt people.
Mario, on the other hand, is a dedicated student and a former altar boy. Fourteen family members share three bedrooms in Mario's home some of them living in fear of immigration officials, and he intends to go to an Ivy League school to raise the family's standard of living. He's already getting letters from Harvard, Princeton and Yale. But even if he's accepted, paying for college will be daunting.
The outsider here is Stevie, a senior who's not a part of this community either racially he's black or geographically he lives in South Central. Stevie's mom didn't want him to go to school in his own neighborhood, and it seems that Garfield's coaches were happy to draw talent from other parts of the city. As opposed to Roosevelt coach Javier Cid, who makes it a point of pride that his players have all grown up together near the school. Some Garfield alums who remain invested in their team's performance resent Stevie's presence — especially those whose own sons compete for spots on the starting lineup.
Though it follows a familiar format, devoting its middle third to the games leading to Homecoming and the final act to the game itself, All-Americans doesn't really play like a sports drama; football is mostly an excuse to pay attention to these kids. But that focus is diluted by the number of people we're spending time with. If, for instance, Mario and Stevie got the lion's share of attention, we might learn enough about these likable young men to be more invested in the arc of their year.
As things stand here, we're certainly curious to see where each student winds up and, to a lesser extent, who wins the game. But we've hardly had an experience we can't get from a reasonably deep newspaper profile.
Production company: Delirio Films Distributor: Abramorama Director-Screenwriter: Billy McMillin Producers: Rafael Marmor, Christopher Leggett, Billy McMillin, Timm Oberwelland Executive producer: Becky G Director of photography: Ann Rosencrans Editors: Billy McMillin, Philip Thangsombat Composer: John Piscitello
On their first night out together after meeting on a dating site for widowed septuagenarians OK Boomer?, Roy Courtnay Ian McKellen and Betty McLeish Helen Mirren take in a screening of “Inglourious Basterds” at a London cinema. It's the summer of 2009, and neither of these characters knows what happens at the end of Quentin Tarantino's revisionist World War II extravaganza. Leaving the theater, Roy scoffs at what they've just watched: “Young people will think that's what actually happened.” Betty isn't so sure — she argues that the modern world has done more to clarify history than it has to obscure it.
More than just a crafty bit of foreshadowing the full mirth of which isn't clear until almost two hours later, this early scene appears to set up a pleasantly middle-brow thriller about our power to alter the past. If Bill Condon's “The Good Liar” never manages to follow through on that promise — despite gesturing broadly in that general direction from time to time — this old-fashioned snack of a movie is still rather satisfying in its way. Pleasant and preposterous in almost precisely equal measure, the film never offers anything less than two all-time British actors having the time of their lives, which makes it hard to get frustrated that it seldom offers anything more. As far as Condon/McKellen collaborations this is their fourth, it's manna from heaven compared to “Beauty and the Beast.”
When Roy first meets Betty over a spot of lunch, the two lonely hearts try to cut through the bullshit as fast as they can. They've only got so much time left on the clock, and so there's no use beating around the bush. Roy — a suspiciously affable old bloke who's prone to heavy breathing and warbling jowls — bemoans that online dating is “a system for matching the delusional with the hopeless.” Betty — a bottle of distant starlight who seems a mite too gullible and happy-go-lucky for a retired Oxford professor — doesn't ask which side of that coin she's meant to represent. They both admit that they lied about everything on their dating profiles, and resolve to be honest with each other. But the closer one gets, the more they lose perspective. And that cuts both ways, across delusional and hopeless alike.
It's obvious from the outset that Roy isn't the harmless fop he pretends to be. On the contrary, we learn almost immediately that he still works as a low-rent grifter who spends his free time hatching elaborate wire fraud schemes with his right-hand man “Downton Abbey” star Jim Carter and softening us up with cute slang like “tickety-boo.” And while it's hard to fathom what an aging grifter might want from a sweet lower-upper class grandma, it's clear that Roy's burgeoning companionship with Betty isn't on the up and up — even before he fakes a knee injury that leads him to move in with her.
Betty is a bit suspicious, herself. For one thing, her house feels as inert and unlived in as an Ikea showroom. For another, she tells Roy her net worth a cool €2.8 million as if she's never thought about it before. Last but not least — and even in her vulnerable state — she's just too damn smart to believe Roy when he tells her that combining their assets might reduce her financial exposure and lead to regular “windfalls” of new cash. And yet, to the horror of her peevish grandson Steven Russell Tovey, Betty falls for it head-first. They just have to kill some time while Roy moves everything into its right place. Perhaps a scenic trip to sunny Berlin will be in order? Surely there's not a twisty, Holocaust-adjacent backstory waiting in the wings of desire over there.
“The Good Liar”
Screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher doesn't always find the most elegant way of untangling this ridiculous web of deceit, nor does he arrive at a perfect workaround for the lengthy time period covered by Nicholas Searle's novel of the same name. Whereas the book was interspersed with flashbacks to Roy's time in the war, Hatcher's script collects them into two large chunks. And while the book took a similarly piecemeal approach to Roy's criminal history, Hatcher's script folds it into a present-tense storyline that runs parallel to the rest of the action. It's amazing how many laws a 79-year-old crook can break in a single afternoon! After a shockingly violent sequence in the bowels of the London Tube, it becomes impossible to tell if Roy is an artful codger or Professor Moriarty.
Then again, that's the idea; the central question of “The Good Liar” isn't whether Roy is decent or dishonest, but rather if he's too crooked to ever go straight. And the efficient shortcuts that Hatcher takes allow McKellen to toy with our sympathies like a cat with a bird carcass. Betty might be quick to absolve Roy by saying that his secrets are “between you, God, the Devil, and the dead,” but McKellen wrings a ton of fun from that tug-of-war. Watching his cheeks swell and crumple with every heartfelt twinge and half-truth is worth the price of admission unto itself, and Condon's clean direction makes sure that we never miss a single moment of empty bluster. Tobias A. Schliessler's cinematography leads McKellen into the darkness, as the film gets seduced by shadows as it careens towards the finish the final scenes are just evocative enough to make you wish that Condon had tipped the whole thing into full-blown chiaroscuro noir.
And yet, it's Mirren who's ultimately asked to carry this movie across the finish line, and she does so with oodles of her signature elan. It's a rare actor who can split the difference between an airport thriller and a historical reckoning — who's able to conflate the silly with the serious in a way that completely erases the difference — but Mirren is more than up to the challenge. The final stretches of Condon's film are so ludicrous that you almost feel swindled for caring about the movie until that point, but Mirren grounds one plot twist after another with the gravity of her conviction and a little help from Carter Burwell's lilting, uneasy, “Mr. Holmes”-esque score. “The Good Liar” may not have much to say about redemption, entrapment, or the fibs that can hold a friendship together, but the past is only so important to a wicked little thriller that delights in the moment at hand.
Warner Bros. will release “The Good Liar” in theaters on November 15.