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Sep 17, 2008

CAGEFEST: The Nic Cage Film Festival - City of Angels

CAGEFEST is ticked off at me. It's hungry and sick of the shade. For previous entries, click here.

From my chair, Nayana Anthony of The Center Seat really has only one big problem: not enough time to blog. Still, she graces us with her excellent wit and passion whenever she can, whether it's helping us help our friends avoid the crappiest of the crap or enlisting accompanying reviews or advice from her friend Pistola Whipped. She also earns my praise for being one of the best damn LAMBs out there, always doing her best to visit the new sites and welcome them to the fray. She does the impossible to heaping praise on one of Cage's most hated movies here (see polls to the right).

I've had a growing impatience lately with movies that depict love unrealistically. Like, most of them.

You know what I'm talking about: the couple sees each other, has a few furtive conversations, and suddenly they're "in love" and are willing to move heaven and earth for each other. That is SO NOT how it works. In real life, love is immensely complicated, hard to come by, and requires effort, time, and sacrifice.

So why do I love City of Angels so much, given that it's the textbook example of this "instant love" phenomenon? Easy. I don't accept love as the turning point of the story.

If you don't know the movie, here's a big fat SPOILER ALERT... and now I'll fill you in. The premise of City of Angels is that an angel (Nicolas Cage) falls so deeply in love with a surgeon (Meg Ryan) that he chooses to forsake his immortal life and become a human, just so that he can be with her.

It's a sweet idea, if that was what really happened in the movie. Oh, they definitely feel lust for one another. Longing, too. But I think the real draw for our angel is not love, but life.

Let me explain. There's a lot of imagery in City of Angels of the simple, sensual pleasures of being human: the way a pear tastes; sunlight filtering through trees; the bracing ecstasy of a really hot shower. I get that stuff completely, because as anybody who knows me well can tell you, Nayana is all about the sensual pleasures*. I find it really easy to lose myself in things like dazzling sunsets, light reflecting on water, kickass thunderstorms, cherry cheesecake... So if I were in Seth the angel's position, would I give up immortality and the ability to sit on overhead freeway signs in order to experience all these things? Hells yeah.

I guess my point is that the real romance of this movie is not the Nic Cage/Meg Ryan slobberfest, but the romance between a human being and life itself. Get it?

*OK, perv, that's not what I mean. Sensual. We could talk about the other thing too, but that's not the topic of the day.

In less than a year, MovieZeal has established itself as one of the "go to" places for cineasts on the web. With a group of intelligent writers, including the writer of the below essay - Luke Harrington - it's shown itself to be a full-service site, covering just about all of the latest releases to theaters and DVD, including audience favorite features like Coens Month and Noir Month along the way.

As heart surgeon Maggie Rice, Meg Ryan walks down the darkened hallway of her hospital, long after visiting hours have ended. Standing in a corner is a pale, badly shaven man who looks a lot like Nicolas Cage, dressed mainly in a black leather duster. He tells her nearly everything about her past few days—it’s like he’s been watching her all this time.

And she doesn’t call the cops.

Strangely, she actually seems comforted by the experience, and inexplicably, she even falls in love with the guy. (Yes, he turns out to be angel, but since she disavows any sort of belief in angels early on, that’s hardly relevant.) This is the sort of stuff you’ll have to swallow to appreciate Brad Silberling’s City of Angels, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. City of Angels is the sort of film that asks you to believe whatever it throws at you, without any respect to logic or narrative. Oh, and it sucks.

Typical of Hollywood, City of Angels is a mediocre remake of a great film that didn’t need to be remade—specifically, Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire, which used its angels as a metaphor for the yearning in the heart of Berlin at the end of the Cold War. Needless to say, City of Angels throws that depth out and replaces it with a generic love story. Here, if the angels are a metaphor for anything, it’s the crass commercialization of religion (hi-yo!). Nicolas Cage stars as Seth, an angel who falls for a female heart surgeon (in the original, she was a circus performer—go figure) and becomes human so he can be with her.

So yeah, it’s basically Superman II, minus Gene Hackman. Cage and Ryan seem more-or-less perfect for each other, since they both go through the whole movie with the same clueless, mouth-agape look; but beyond that, there’s not much here that’s believable. Characters are expected to know as much or as little as each scene wants them to. For instance, shortly after Seth becomes human, he tries hitchhiking by standing beside the road and holding out his thumb, but when a driver actually stops, he seems clueless as to what he’s supposed to do. Similarly, Maggie can’t accept the reality of angels, but seems to instinctively know that another character (who, by the way, played by Dennis Franz of NYPD Blue, who is one of the few bright spots of the film) is one, and asks him all sorts of incisive questions. It all makes for tense moments of drama, until you think about it for more than two seconds.

This is also true of the film’s portrayal of angels, which is just as offensively bland as anything else Hollywood has ever put together about religion. It’s not that I don’t understand—moviemaking is a business after all, and everyone’s beliefs about angels are different, and they want to maximize profit by offending no one (which they fail at—clearly, I’m offended by the badness of this film)—but really, do we actually need another movie that portrays angels as blandly nice guys? God is mentioned briefly (which puts this film slightly above cheesy New Age gurus on my personal scale of blandness), but only in the sense that he’s out there…somewhere (thank you, Bette Midler). Sure, this all may be what many people (certainly the more wishy-washy of us) might want to believe, but here’s a tip, Hollywood: piousness - conflict = dull and insulting.

Even stranger than all this is the number of angels who desperately want to be human. Things like “feeling the breeze on your face” (which angels can’t do in this movie, by the way) are some sort of Holy Grail to nearly every character in the movie. I’d say that the filmmakers here are shamelessly pandering to the human demographic, but that would just be weird. (Last I checked, the core audience for almost every film ever made consisted almost exclusively of humans. Go figure.) In any case, I’m done trying to make sense of this mess. Go watch The Preacher’s Wife (that other unnecessary remake of a love story about angels) instead.

9 people have chosen wisely: on "CAGEFEST: The Nic Cage Film Festival - City of Angels"

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

City of Angels is the movie that put the Goo Goo Dolls on the map, correct?

If so, thank you Nic Cage.

Reel Whore said...

City of Angels gave the world the Goo Goo Dolls' song Iris, springboarding them into mainstream suckitude.

I read Nayana's argument and it makes me want to see this from a new perspective, then Luke's reminded me why I will never, ever sit through this again (great point about Superman II).

I am up for watching Wings of Desire, though.

Sarah said...

Okay, okay, so maybe "City of Angels" does have its good points.

For the most part, however, I still find this sloppy romance starring Nic Cage and Meg Ryan to be corny, bland and boooring. It belongs in the whiny, preachy New Age category of Mr. Cage's career, somewhere between "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" and "World Trace Center."

I'd take "Face/Off" over "The Family Man" any day of the week.

Rick Olson said...

Reel Whore's got it right, I'm afraid. Watch "Wings of Desire" instead. I can only imagine what the pitch for "City of Angels" must have been.

And Brad Silberling? Please ... whoever thought it was a good idea to give another major motion picture -- even one as derivative and useless as this one -- to the director of "Casper?"

I guess it's not a horrible picture, it's just like, why? "Wings" is a darn near perfect flick. Why remake it? I know, I know ... money. Sigh.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

Thou shalt not speak ill of "Casper."

It had Cathy Moriarty insulting a Python, and a Ghostbuster.

Rick Olson said...

Cathy Moriarty is wonderful, all right ...

Fletch said...

I side with Wayne and Rick, too. I had the sever misfortune of seeing this puppy in the theater, though I've had the severe (?) fortune of not having seen a minute of it sense.

Also unfortunate? My hatred of it has squelched any desire I might have had to see the original. I know, I know...in time, perhaps.

whitney said...

What's so frustrating about this movie is that the source material is so dazzling/brilliant/spiritual/whatever. Wings of Desire is a must see and City of Angels is the devil's movie (in a bad way).

Nayana Anthony said...

I have to see Wings of Desire, I guess. Maybe the reason I can still really enjoy City is that I haven't seen its predecessor, so no nagging comparison in my mind.