The movie about Nicolas Cage playing Nicolas Cage got bumped, so here’s three alternatives.
Another one of our most anticipated movies of early 2021 bites the dust. I was excited to see this comedy about a crazed drug lord played by Pedro Pascal hiring Nicolas Cage to essentially run through his greatest scenes…not suspecting that Cage is also getting a paycheck from the CIA to set him up. Well, it got its release cancelled this week, and no new date was set for the film. So I figured I could rustle up three other films about actors playing themselves in a movie.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (???)
A cash-strapped Nicolas Cage agrees to make a paid appearance at a billionaire super fan’s birthday party, but is really an informant for the CIA since the billionaire fan is a drug kingpin and gets cast in a Tarantino movie.
This movie continues to be an intriguing enigma. With few movies under his belt, it’s hard to say what tone and sensibility that director Tom Gormican is bringing to this piece. Pedro Pascal has been on a hot streak lately, and after Wonder Woman 1984 I really want to see him play more borderline villains. And finally, Nicolas Cage…who can even guess what he’s going to do next? It he going to put out a shockingly layered performance like he did in Color Out of Space? Is he going to lean hard into expectations that’s he’s just going to be bug-eyed crazy the whole time, like in Mandy? I don’t know, and that makes it so tantalizing. And so disappointing that it’s delayed indefinitely.
The Serious Pick: Cold Souls (2009)
Paul (Paul Giamatti), an actor, is having trouble preparing for the title role in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” A magazine article puts him in touch with Dr. Flintstein, who specializes in the extraction and exchange of souls. Paul receives the essence of a Russian poet and is a rousing success onstage, but offstage, his new soul is taking over his life. A black-market courier named Nina (Dina Korzun) joins forces with Paul on a journey to Russia to find his lost soul.
There aren’t a lot of “serious” films in this category. Most of them wind up being bizarre, metaphysical comedies or straight up wink-and-nod comedies. While Cold Souls certainly does have comedic elements, it’s very much a story in line with a Chekhov play: surreal, bitter-sweet, and melancholic. Paul Giamatti does an excellent job in a role that asks a lot out of him. He plays himself with a jaundiced eye towards his own imperfections. He also does a great job acting out his scenes in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya”. He wraps it all up with a heartfelt finish.
The Lighthearted Pick: My Name is Bruce (2007)
B-movie horror star Bruce Campbell (himself) spends most of his time wisecracking with his agent (Ted Raimi), drunk dialing his ex-wife (Ellen Sandweiss) or dealing with the occasional singing prostitute (Janelle Farber). But then he’s kidnapped by teenage fans in Oregon who think “Evil Dead” hero Campbell can help fight off a real-life monster. Campbell finds himself battling a dragon and trying to make a good impression on a teen’s pretty mother, not necessarily in that order.
Don’t get me wrong; this movie is trash…but it’s good trash. A C-Movie send up of B-Movie star Bruce Campbell, it goes out of its way to be sillier, cheaper, and more self-deprecating than the cheesiest of Campbell’s filmography. I mean, Bruce has to fight the soul of a Chinese emperor who is haunting an Oregon town due to a bad package of bean curds. If that sounds like your cup of tea, or you just inordinately enjoy Campbell’s unique brand of weirdness, fire this schlock-fest up.
The Weird-as-Hell Pick: Being John Malkovich (1999)
A puppeteer (John Cusack) stumbles upon a portal in an office building in New York City. The portal leads to the mind of John Malkovich, and whoever enters the portal can experience all the things that Malkovich is feeling.
Spike Jonze certainly has one weird career. He started off with mind-blowing stuff that got a tone of Academy Award nods like Adaptation and this film. Then he made a million jackass movies. Literally. All the “Jackass: the Movie” movies. Then he made Her and got nominated for an Oscar again. Wild.
It’s hard to say that Being John Malkovich is his weirdest film…but it’s also very hard to argue against it. It is, however, undeniably an unforgettable film and a real piece of art. Jonze got eye-opening performances out of John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, and John Malkovich, three actors who were to have very different career trajectories going forward. He also took an absolutely Kafkaesque story and did what Kafka did best: play the oddity to the hilt while also striking a deep chord about human nature.
In the years since it came out, it’s cult status has mostly overshadowed it’s actual quality in most people’s minds. It’s not just a crazy artifact memorable just for its craziness. It’s a legitimately great film.