High Museum of Art: Films

Arrivederci to Leonardo’s Angels by Linda Dubler

As Leonardo‘s angels prepare to take flight (the exhibition ends on February 21), here are a couple of movies to fill the radiance gap.

Wings of Desire
(Linda Dubler)

There are some movies so precious to memory that they are best left there. That’s the way I feel about Wings of Desire, which I saw in a hormone-heightened state (I was pregnant at the time) upon its release in 1988. But just because I won’t go back again doesn’t mean you shouldn’t — and if you’ve never seen Wings Of Desire, what a gift awaits you!

The film opens with an extended, lyrical reverie, in which we are privy to the watchful existence of two angels who listen in on the thoughts and dreams of Berliners as though their combined consciousnesses were a really big party line. The mood of this sequence is tender and ruefull; the angels can tap in, but can’t change whatever sorrow or obstruction they might witness. In his review of the film , Rogert Ebert nails this sequence when he writes, “it moves slowly but you don’t grow impatient, because there is no plot to speak of, and so you don’t fret that it should move to its next predictable stage. It is about being, not doing.”

As I recall, the whole movie becomes more earthbound when one of the angels, played by Bruno Ganz, falls in love with an acrobat in a faded little circus, and trades his wings for human emotions. But even then director Wim Wenders suffuses his work with gentle humor and a sublime combination of appreciation and resignation over our species’ vulnerability and love’s transcendence.

Angels in America
(Linda Dubler)

If you haven’t seen Mike Nichols’s brilliant adaptation of Tony Kushner’s  epic, multi-award winning play, add it right now to the top of your Netflix queue or make it your next selection at the video store.  A sprawling, furious, inspired epic that opens in October, 1985,  the six hour, two-part drama, in the words of Variety’s Todd McCarthy, ” retains all the immediacy of Kushner’s passionate foot-stomping about AIDS, the Reagan years, political and personal hypocrisy, compassion, the Mormons, spirituality and so much more.”

If it now seems like a period piece, it still carries an enormous emotional charge, thanks to the prodigious acting by a cast that includes Al Pacino (and not a scene-hogging, grandstanding Al Pacino either), Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Jeffrey Wright, and Mary-Louise Parker among others.  Make sure you clear your calendar because once you start watching you won’t be able to turn away from the screen.

(Eleanor Ringel Cater)

Legion s an agreeably cheesy celestial smack-down currently in movie theaters (for now!) Paul Bettany (best known as Russell Crowe’s’s doctor pal in Master and Commander and soon to be seen as Charles Darwin in Creation stars as Michael, a now-fallen angel trying to keep a disgruntled God from having His latest command carried out. Namely, to destroy Mankind!

Michael ends up watching over what may be the new Messiah; that is,  defending a pregnant woman and various, um, characters at a remote diner. A lot of it is along the lines of, “This Time, It’s Personal!!!,” but as I said, sometimes that’s what you’re in the mood for: Wrestlemania with wings — and guns.  At its best it recalls the cult classic Tremors.

(Eleanor Ringel Cater)

You couldn’t really call Michael a winged victory, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. It’s only when Nora Ephron let’s her fantasy-romance get predictable (and a tad soggy) that the movie errs. But for the most part it holds up just fine.

John Travolta in Michael

Michael, the angel John Travolta plays in the movie, isn’t exactly the type who makes little bells tinkle (a la It’s a Wonderful Life.) Less heavenly host than slovenly guest, he’s a beer-swilling chain-smoker with a middle-age gut and two-day beard. Michael first appears to an addled Iowa motel owner (perfectly played by Jean Stapleton, who proved on All in the Family she does addled as well as anyone in the business). But the real miracle-working Michael intends involves a couple of tabloid journalists (Andie McDowell and William Hurt) dispatched by their egomaniacal boss (Bob Hoskins) to cook up a good story. Imagine their surprise when Michael turns out to be the real thing.
It’s an odd little picture, the sort that confounds expectations. Just when you’ve given up on it, it takes a turn for the better (and, alas, vice versa). Still, who could completely resist a movie that ends with Vinnie Barbarino and Edith Bunker dancing together in the streets of Chicago?
John Travolta in Michael

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