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Angels in America

A movie directed by Mike Nichols

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A Panopoly of Talent

  • Mar 27, 2004
Tony Kushner's ANGELS IN AMERICA created a major sensation when it was produced in the mid 1980s in New York and Los Angeles (and subsequently in theaters across the country). Not only is this a magnificently written drama whose seed lies in the agar plate of America in the time of Reagan, AIDS, post-Vietnam trauma, and general angst, it is presented in a long, two part production that demands much of the audience - not only in physical endurance, but in emotional vulnerability. That Kushner succeeded in making his points is evident in the continuing productions of his bipartite play. And now HBO has granted Director Mike Nichols a huge budget, his choice of the finest actors available, and an uncut presentation of this historically important work for television audiences. Yes, the experience is different when the play is transformed to film, but this transformation was with the complete blessing of Kushner so we must accept that this version is on target with Kushner's concepts.
The story is so well known that it need not be summarized, other that it is a series of messages about mortality, moral decline, the exigencies of dealing with AIDS as a paradigm for the possible extinction of the human race, or more poetically - the millennium, and the importance of connection between souls in a time of terror. The cast is superb - yes, different from the stage production with the exception of the brilliant Jeffrey Wright - and Mike Nichols draws performances from such luminaries as Meryl Streep (a rabbi, as mother of the main character, Ethel Rosenberg), Emma Thompson (a street bum, the nurse, and the Angel Messenger), Al Pacino (in an inordinately affecting portrayal of the usually despicable Roy Cohn), Mary Louise Parker in her finest acting performance to date, and Justin Kirk as the lead. All of the "minor" roles (such as the uncredited Michael Gambon, Patrick Wilson, etc) are played to perfection, the appearance of delusional characters is splendid in a surreal, theatrical fashion, and the visual effects are compelling.
After this satisfying Part One THE MILLENNIUM APPROACHES it is with great anticipation that we await Part Two PERESTROIKA. The play/film deals with challenging ideas and it is to the audience's credit that the work is being so well accepted. But enough said. The true brilliance is in the poetic writing of Tony Kushner who deserves every kudo and award available for this daring and provocative and wholly poignant masterwork.
Part Two of Tony Kushner's brilliant adaptation of his own play ANGELS IN AMERICA is in many ways more compelling than Part One, due in part to the stunning visual effects afforded film vs stage, but also because of the heightened writing level for his characters. The actors continue to create wholly three dimensional characters, each surpassing their own high standards. The lines are delivered in a near
Shakespearean manner - but then the lines are WRITTEN with a near Shakespearean quality! (...) three hours of an extended tale requires more room than this space allows. But the message is clear: ANGELS IN AMERICA is the most important work to appear on television. Mike Nichols direction, Thomas Newman's musical score (rapturously orchestrated by Thomas Pasatieri), and all the creators of the special effects and cinematography deserve Emmy Awards and more. This is simply brilliant theater and it will be available on DVD soon.

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More Angels in America reviews
review by . July 01, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: outstanding cast, brilliant performances, wonderful visuals     Cons: none     The Bottom Line: "the angels they burn inside for us   are we ever   are we ever gonna learn to fly"   ~ DISHWALLA     This was a surreal and visual experience that crossed between the apocalypse and total redemption. The one point I must make, first thing, is this: if you’ve never colored outside the lines and your outlook …
review by . November 29, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Mainly acting, there were no weak characters. Remains relevant despite new AIDS treatments.      Cons: For some the NYC focus and open Republican hatred may be problematic.      The Bottom Line: Thirty words cannot cover a 6 hour event so packed with talent.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.      I am writing an academic article on the film version of Angels …
review by . January 09, 2005
I honestly didn't know if I wanted to see the quintessential AIDS movie. It seems that so much of the already-scant gay movie/theater aresenal from the 90's focused relentlessly on AIDS and its impact on the community. I needed to grow up.    In the gay community, there are many different forms of 'haves' and 'have-nots' but none more palpable than those living with or without AIDS in their lives. This absolutely beautiful series did what so many others have failed to do - put …
review by . September 21, 2004
posted in Pass The Remote!
It turns out that while my wife and I watched "Angels in America" on DVD, it was winning a huge pile of Emmy awards. Frankly, it doesn't take watching the award show to see why it got so much notice this year, and I'd rather watch the series itself than the Emmy Award show any day of the week.    "Angels in America" is by turns funny, touching, whimsical, serious, and most of all surprising. I wasn't too surprised to learn that it was adapted from a stage play, as it has the …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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Tony Kushner's prize-winningplayAngels in Americabecame the defining theatrical event of the 1990s, an astonishing mix of philosophy, politics, and vibrant gay soap opera that summed up the Reagan era for an entire generation of theater-goers. Post-9/11 would seem to be too late for a film version--philosophy and politics don't always age well--but this 2003 HBO adaptation, ably directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate), provides a time capsule of the '80s and reveals the deep emotional subcurrents that will give the play lasting power.

The story centers around Prior Walter (Justin Kirk) and Louis Ironson (Ben Shenkman), a gay couple that falls apart when Prior grows ill as a result of AIDS. But cancer is not the only thing invading Prior's life: He begins to have religious visions of an angel (Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility) announcing that he is a prophet. Louis, who doesn't cope well with disease and suggestions of mortality, leaves and starts a relationship with Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson), a closeted Mormon who works for Roy Cohn (Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon)--the real-life right-wing lawyer, notorious for his ruthless behind-the-scenes machinations. Add in Joe's depressed and hallucinating wife Harper (Mary Louise Parker, Fried Green Tomatoes), his determined but open-minded mother Hannah (Meryl Streep, Adaptation), a fierce drag queen/nurse named Belize (Jeffrey Wright, Basquiat, reprising his celebrated performance from the Broadway ...

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Director: Mike Nichols
Genre: Drama
Release Date: 2003
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Screen Writer: Tony Kushner
DVD Release Date: September 14, 2004
Runtime: 5hr 52min
Studio: Hbo Home Video
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"A Panopoly of Talent"
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