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Uncaged - City of Angels (1998) & Snake Eyes (1998)

This year, I am going to try to get through the whole oeuvre of Nicolas Cage because my fascination with this man and his contradictions is endless. God help me.

City of Angels (1998)

When I was really young, I knew this as the movie that featured that inescapable Goo Goo Dolls song, Iris. When I became a more worldly cinephile, of course I knew it as a remake of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, but never bothered to watch it until this marathon. Now I know why this movie hasn’t lasted. It’s dull and overly sentimental, and it only suffers when compared to Wenders’ original movie, which explored the meaning of humanity and what makes it both so awful and so beautiful at the same time. I am surprised that the producers Charles Rovan and Dawn Steel tried so hard to get this made. Nothing about this really screams box-office smash (though it did fairly well financially). An angel basically stalks a beautiful woman (made into the more respected profession of surgeon in the remake) and wants to experience life as a human, or, more specifically, to bone Meg Ryan. I mean that is basically what this boils down to, crude as it is. The original film avoided making this premise super creepy by exploring what it means to be an angel and by spending a lot of time ruminating on the nature of humanity with many beautifully observed, small moments. This movie doesn’t do any of that, except for a few conversations Cage’s Seth has with another angel Cassiel (Andre Braugher), which are actually the better parts of this film. I didn’t really buy the romance of the two leads. I wasn’t exactly sure why Meg Ryan’s character fell for Seth and didn’t run screaming away from him since he clearly has...I don’t know...BEEN SPYING ON HER. This movie ultimately wasn’t a good use of anyone’s talents, and it’s a shame that the beautiful narrative of the original got the dreaded Hollywood taint on it.

Snake Eyes (1998)

I have always had a conflicted relationship with Brian De Palma. I think he can be a brilliant filmmaker, and some of his images are absolutely indelible. But he wears his influences so openly that it is hard to see past them and see him as an auteur in his own right. Movies like Dressed to Kill or Body Heat crib so much from Hitchcock that it is distracting. I tend to like the movies in which he isn’t cribbing so much from other directors, such as Phantom of the Paradise or Femme Fatale. I actually think Snake Eyes falls in the latter camp, even though obviously a lot of filmmakers have done similar tricks to what De Palma is doing here. The much-lauded long opening tracking shot is among the best examples of this very flashy technique. It does what the best of these types of shots does, it establishes characters, space, and sets the tone for a frankly much better film. Nicolas Cage is also an ideal actor for this kind of shot because the man has stamina. I have never seen Cage give a lazy performance. Bad ones, sure, but never lazy or completely uninteresting ones, and here, he is very recognizably an overly confident man who feels that he is untouchable and that his actions don’t have consequences. As for the rest of the movie, it loses a lot of tension when the villain is revealed quite early in the movie, though De Palma justifies by saying it’s not just about the twist, but the relationship between the flawed protagonist and the seemingly upright antagonist. But I think the rest of the movie hold up fine. De Palma really uses the vast hotel well, especially in a chase involving rooms and hallways. De Palma also has some great POV shots that enhance the voyeuristic aspect of the entire film. Overall, his style serves this narrative well, thin as this film is, and if he had somehow managed to make the rest of the film at the same level as the first 20 minutes, this would have been up there among the best films he has ever directed.

 

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