I’m taking a week to rest, see some new movies and regenerate, as we approach 2022’s mid-point. This week, I’m taking this space to recommend a new book, because I can’t write well unless I’m reading something. With the meta-reflexive comedy “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” still playing at Regal, it’s perfect timing for Keith Phipps’ new tome “Age of Cage,” taking in the entire four decades of film performances from the one and only Nicolas Cage.
Here's something interesting: I’d wanted to be an actor since I was a toddler, but until I read a “Rolling Stone” interview with Bill Murray when he was promoting “Ghostbusters” (1984), I’d never heard the acting term “choices.” Murray talked about John Belushi and how he made great choices onstage in Second City, the kind of choices that could solve a scene that might be listing. It was an epiphany to me: playing a role involves making choices. How would you play this part? Does the character have an accent? A limp? It’s all about choices, and it’s safe to say that Nicolas Cage makes some of the boldest choices imaginable, and he’s been doing it since the early days of his career.
But Phipps is after another goal here, breaking down the changes and trends in film since Cage’s first gig, a failed TV pilot, in 1981, So as Phipps is writing thoughtful critiques of Cage titles like “The Rock” (1996), “Vampire’s Kiss” (1989), “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995), “Willy’s Wonderland” (2019) and “Moonstruck” (1987), he’s also writing about the artistic gulf between the ‘90s Michael Bay action aesthetic versus the game-changing John Woo Hong Kong style, and David Caruso’s failed bid for movie stardom. Again and again, he finds ways of looking at Cage’s filmography through the lens of Hollywood history.
Phipps is only interested in biography as it relates to Cage’s career and performances choices — there’s that word again. Cage has been in the business long enough that he probably has entire generations of fans that don’t know he changed his name from Coppola to Cage when he auditioned for Martha Coolidge’s “Valley Girl” (1983). Phipps is able to boil his origin story down to just 11 pages, although he also makes room for mentions of his marriages, children and Cage’s extravagant spending habits which led to tax troubles in the 2010s: Cage’s “VOD” era.
There’s a sadness to this section, as Cage cranks out more movies than anyone wants to see, but Phipps is still able to shine a spotlight on several underrated Cage vehicles like “Joe” (2013), “Kick-Ass” (2010), “World Trade Center” (2006), “Pig” (2021), “Teen Titans Go to the Movies” (2019) and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018).
“Age of Cage” would be worth reading just for Phipps’ detailed history of Nicolas Cage memes, but there’s even more fun pop detritus to be discovered here. In 2014, an episode of “Community” featured a storyline where Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) takes a Nicolas Cage course at Greendale Community College, and plunges down a Cage rabbit hole of research and conspiracy theories. Just when I wondered if Phipps would mention this, he makes it a pivot point in one chapter.
And if Phipps did nothing but shine an appreciative light on Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation” (2002) and Ridley Scott’s “Matchstick Men” (2003), “Age of Cage” justifies its existence in examining the ripples of pop culture.
Recommended: “Petite Maman” at Cinemapolis
RIP: Fred Ward (“Tremors”, “The Right Stuff,” “Southern Comfort,” “The Player,” “Short Cuts”)
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