“Please please please,” my mind whispered. “Please don’t disappoint me. The previews make this look so good. It would be so easy to screw this movie up.” Someone was listening.
I know a movie is good when I totally cease taking notes and then can find no adjectives to jot down. I was enthralled and yet not stupefied. My regular readers know how I love to spout off, and they may have even noticed the only movie I have really liked since 1998 began was The Wedding Singer. I don’t want to fall into the alarming trend of only liking squishy chick movies (which admittedly this one does resemble from the outside), so please, read on. Director Brad Silberling continues his afterlife trend after Casper The Friendly Ghost (which for the record was way better than it deserved to be) but he has got it down now!
If you don’t come out of the theatre wanting to make something out of clay or walk around barefoot or eat or have some sort of sensual experience, then you are dead. At the end of the first scene (I hate giving away plot and I especially feel strongly against doing so in this instance) I was already in love with the movie, and I can’t define why. It just felt right. City of Angels is an admitting remake of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, which I sort of saw once with an old boyfriend (a cosmic cat who I am sure would dig this flick) and I think City of Angels takes Wenders’ message about beauty and experience and realness and all that and makes it utterly accessible without making it retarded – this is a Hollywood miracle in and of itself.
John Seale’s camera swoops lovingly through the throngs of humanity, and we glimpse gently into their thoughts. They are all thoughts we have had before or will have later, yet instead of being familiar, the smoothly dollying camera makes us step back and get the outsiders’ perspective. Dana Stevens’ script is gentle and wise, even as I *knew* what someone was about to say, I still felt the emotional impact when they said it. Everything in the mortal world is shown with such attention to beauty that you can’t help but wonder at the beauty only the angels can see. It’s a sweetly empathetic movie but it is also very sensual. By sensual I don’t even mean sexual, it’s all about the basic five senses and how glorious it is to have them. I ran home and started typing on my PowerBook but I had already painted my bedroom in a fit of untapped energy and now I want to squish my toes in the mud or rub lotion on my skin or SOMETHING.
Nicholas Cage, previously a roach eating vampire, besotted alcoholic, and heroic parolee, has the perfect face for this role as the angel who aches to be mortal. No evangelism, no denominational anything – the angels in this movie have the purity that they should have on a planet with a thousand religions. As in Wings of Desire, Shay Cunliffe has dressed them in benignly understated overcoats, and their effect is…otherworldly yet accessible. And what better mortal to tempt an angel to fall than Meg Ryan, the Girl We Fall In Love With. Thankfully, she isn’t precious or giggly or any of the things she has been asked to be in the past – she is just…angelic. Ouch! No pun intended.
The two main supporting characters play tough guy cops for their day job – yet seem totally at home in a relatively touchy-feely angel flick – Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue) and Andre Braugher (Homicide). I don’t know how that works either, but it does!
Gabriel Yared (hmmmm yet there weren’t many horns…) composed a score that is pretty and simple but still seemed to imply levels I couldn’t hear. Maybe I am full of it but the movie was really that transporting for me. The songs scattered throughout, a deadly game to play normally, played gently and well.
I want to write about a scene that takes place in Tahoe but I can’t – but trust me, it was…very special. Ugh! I hate not having the words. I have some but they give away stuff. The third reel is why I go to the movies.
On an ironic? touching? note, one of the producers, Dawn Steel, died of cancer a couple of months ago, and the movie is dedicated to her (it just says To Dawn). After watching this film, I imagined how death came to her and how the other members of the production team must have been feeling. Oh just go see it – it’s elegant and great and moving and it just feels right.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/10/98
Time in minutes 114
Director Wim Wenders
Studio Warner Brothers