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NewCityNet Falling Sensation

Visit Nic Cage's "City of Angels."

By Ray Pride

APRIL 20, 1998:  Romances are neat. In real life, you seldom know why anyone truly fell in love with you. Stories have conventions, offer hope. But without the old movie rules, it's become harder and harder for love stories to get beyond their neat narrative contrivances. "Sleepless in Seattle" spends much of its length keeping its lovers apart; "Ghost" celebrates a dead man's ability to push a penny up a doorjamb. "City of Angels," an unlikely remake of Wim Wenders' oh-so-philosophical 1988 "Wings of Desire," manages to beat the odds, partly through two solid star performances.

Meg Ryan, aging into a sweet, mature raggedness, unkempt and poodle-tressed, is Maggie, a surgeon with vague dissatisfactions about her relationships, about her work, questions about the mortality of her patients whom she can never truly, permanently save. Nicolas Cage, pie-eyed and spaniel-mugged, plays Seth, an angel in awe of the slightest human gesture. As directed by Brad Silberling and lit by John Seale, "City of Angels" is also a portrait of the good side of Los Angeles, aglow with desert beauty, lush neon, diverse architecture. Dana Stevens' script is also a paean to the senses, with a fallen angel suddenly aswim in a sea of sensation, truly newborn. Even if all the struggle to make something so generously tender had not come off so well, you would still have to esteem a big-studio movie where an angel can ask, "Are you in despair?" Even if only within the parameters of a two-hour film, love is possible, goodness can flower, wisdom may be attained.

"The mindset of Seth was something that took a while to figure out," the soft-spoken Cage says. "It wasn't like I could just call up an angel and say, 'What's it like?' I read a bunch of books-or at least, I skimmed through books-to gather anything that could make sense to me."

While the 34-year-old actor is known for his love of research, he also found the role of Seth to be an extension of his basic goals as an actor. "One of the reasons I made the movie is that great acting exercise-what would it be like if you woke up and you were experiencing life for the first time? To get into looking at your own blood and feeling the pain but also feeling the joy of being able to touch, or smell, or being able to see colors. The childlike spirit of being bewildered by rain or what a pear tastes like. Seth was close to what I've always tried to convey with acting. How can I express the delight I felt when I was six years old and I discovered sparkles in the sidewalk? How can I convey that without seeming silly or goofy? How can I show the excitement of the simple things in life like the sunlight on my face?"

Seth also seems a return to some of the innocents and outsiders Cage has played in the past, a respite from action pictures. "I signed the contract for 'City of Angels' before doing 'Face/Off' and 'Con Air,'" he says. "All the time, I was looking forward to it. It's important to me to get back to a more personal kind of acting." But he's not ready to relinquish the big roles. " I love Sean Connery, Steve McQueen. But there was this challenge: can I be convincing in an action movie? Nobody thought I could. Action is pure cinema. You can't really paint action and get the same feeling you get from going to the movies. You can't write about it and get the same feeling. And really, the most important joy of it, is that, y'know, a 16-year-old boy will go see it and he's happy. He's excited, he's forgetting about his problems at home. I don't know what's happening in this kid's life, I don't know if he's being abused, I don't know anything but that when he saw 'Con Air,' he was happy. That was enough for me."

Cage has similarly paternal ideas about his role in "Superman Lives," to be directed by Tim Burton. "I've not made a movie yet that children can go see. I have certain feelings that I'd like to express to certain children, especially the ones that are teased at school, the ones that are called 'weirdo.'" Cage's large blue eyes go wide. "Superman was created by two young guys who were considered nerds, who wore glasses, were feeling oppressed. In those days, glasses were a big issue. And their character was a sensation because we all want to believe that we can become this other person, no matter what we are in life. I want to play up the idea of Superman feeling out of place, feeling different like an alien freak. If one kid goes and sees the movie after being teased all day at school, and he says, 'Well, Superman feels the same way I feel, maybe I'm Superman,' that's great. This little story has so much that hasn't been played up."

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