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It seems to me that to be able to experience the full depth of this
production, you need to meet a few requirements. First, you need to
know that this is a PLAY. Like in any play, texts are delivered that
you will not easily hear in everyday life (nobody makes up 'Antebellum
Insufficiently Developed Sexorgans' as an alternative interpretation of
AIDS during a split second in mid-conversation). Shakespeare isn't
realistic in that way, Oscar Wilde isn't, Ibsen isn't, and nor is Tony
Kushner. All of them are however extremely realistic in that they
highlight essential aspects of the human condition in ways no other
medium can achieve. Second, you need an ability to look beyond the
surface. Reading reviews of AinA I'm stunned at how simplistically
literal some people take it (maybe that explains why you've got Bush
for president over there?). This play isn't about gays, it isn't about
AIDS, it isn't about Jews and it isn't about Mormons. Its theme is the
necessity for people to change, the scariness of change, while most of
us would prefer to just let things stay as they are. That's what Louis
Ironson wants and makes him run away from his sick lover (consider
that: the superficially leftist intellectual is in fact a thorough
conservative, more so than the apparently conservative Joe Pitt).
That's what the angels want: unchangeable status quo; all the human
history making tempted their god to leave heaven, and they want him
back. This is the crux of AinA's undeniable political agenda: it sets
out to show how conservatism of necessity thwarts and corrupts human
nature. Oh yes, that's a third requirement: you really shouldn't belong
to that curious group of people who consider the bible a god-given
record of factual happenings rather than a piece of ancient mythology:
you are likely to be shocked. Kushner's fantasies on biblical themes
are very original indeed, and fit into a long tradition of
reinterpreting ancient mythology in contemporary contexts. The church
could learn a thing or two from him.
Personally, I was very deeply moved by the experience of watching this (as I was by the play nearly ten years ago). I'm sure that, unlike some people seem to think, you don't need to be like the gay men portrayed in AinA to be able to stand it, let alone like it (a ridiculous notion anyway: as a gay man I constantly watch movies about heterosexuals, and am often touched by them). I'm a Dutchman, I know New York only from a few brief visits, and though I'm gay my lifestyle has very little in common with that of the men in AinA; none of that prevented me from being deeply engrossed in this story. Its themes, as said, are universal (if you doubt that this play is essentially about YOU, the closing scene ought to convince you otherwise; if that scene makes you cringe, as I saw somebody complain, you've not really been watching). Its texts are wonderfully written, unafraid of pathos, farce and intellectualism alike, and fiercely direct in their expression. The acting of the whole cast is formidable. Pacino may be redoing previous roles (Devil's Advocate sprang to mind), but boy, does this Roy Cohn have clout, and in the end, how peculiarly difficult it is to really hate him Patrick Wilson is the perfect pretty boy with a dark secret, and knows how to bring his torment across. Marie-Louise Parker at times has you wondering if she's really been taking pills (and I mean that as a compliment). There simply can't be another Louis than Ben Shenkman (that role was seriously miscast in the Dutch theater production I saw in '95), and Justin Kirk plays his taxing role with utter conviction. Jeffrey Wright goes all out on his ex-drag-queen-with-an-attitude character, and yet succeeds to remain believable as a person. Streep and Thompson are no less great, but I really feel the laurels in the end belong with Parker, Shenkman, Kirk and Wilson. To top it all off, the imagery is beautiful and full of fantasy, without going overboard on bloodless digital effects (it is still a play, remember). The atmosphere is often subtly and hauntingly unreal. And Thomas Newman's score well, like any truly good music, words cannot do it justice.
I am by far the youngest to submit a comment about "Angels in America"
and I must say that all the negative comments are ridiculous. I have
never been so moved by a film since I watched "David and Lisa." The
acting was superb and the script was beyond beautiful. I can not for
the LIFE of me understand why people would be offended by the film.
With all the homosexuality aside, the direction, cinematography, and
writing has been the best that I have seen to EVER come out of HBO let
alone a Miniseries. Why can't any of you who hated the movie so much
step back and appreciate it for what it really is, a great piece of
"Angels in America" was inspiring, touching, and beautiful and I wish they made it longer!
Set in 1980s New York and subtitled "A Gay Fantasia on National
Themes," the six-hour ANGELS IN America concerns a group of largely gay
men who find themselves caught up in series of disasters that range
from love to religion and from politics to philosophy--and most
specifically caught between the rising tide of AIDS and a generally
In the midst of this, AIDS patient Prior Walter begins to have a series of visions, which may be fever dreams, medicine-induced hallucinations... or, most unnerving of all, real. His long dead ancestors rise to speak to him, the floor cracks open to reveal a burning book--and at the conclusion of the play's first half a beautiful woman with majestic wings crashes through his roof. She is the Angel of America. He is, she tells him, a prophet, and she has come to bring him a message for mankind.
Intertwined with Prior's other-earthly experiences are oddly parallel lives. Joe and Harper Pitt are a deeply dysfunctional couple doubting their faith in the Mormon Church, Joe a closeted homosexual, Harper a Valium-addicted and mildly psychotic woman given to visions as strange as those of Prior Walter's. And as further counterpoint historical figure Roy Cohn (1927-1986), among the most sinister figures of 20th Century America, finds himself taunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg as he drifts toward his own AIDS-induced death. The characters swirl in and out of each other's lives and dreams, playing to stereotypes and yet defying them, arguing politics and philosophy and love and death--and it is fascinating stuff.
Although the play stunned 1990s audiences, most considered it utterly unfilmable due to both length and content. But this HBO-produced, Mike Nichols-directed version not only captures the power of the original, in some ways it improves upon it. Playwright Tony Kushner has adapted his work to the screen, rearranging certain problematic scenes and bits of dialogue to better effect, and certainly no one could argue with the cast, which is absolutely stunning in a series of multiple roles.
With a mad swirl of irony, intense drama, outrageous humor, and unexpected twists and turns, ANGELS IN America is almost sure to hold your attention--particularly if you recall the Ronald Reagan years well enough to recognize the truly bitter allegory the film offers on what many consider his largely absentee second term. Truly a must have, multi-layered, bearing repeated viewings, beautifully directed, performed, and filmed.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
It saddens me to read some of the negative reviews of this film
adaptation of Kushner's brilliant Pulitzer and Tony-winning play. I
guess some people simply can't see past their bigotry. (I find it
revealing that most of the negative reviews appear to be written by
people who clearly have no idea that Roy Cohn was a real person, and I
bet they never heard of the Rosenberg's either.)
I was lucky enough to see the Broadway production of Angels with the original cast, and it was without question the highlight of my 25 years of theatre-going. While I prefer the stage version over the film (I usually do), Nichol's film does an outstanding job of capturing the brilliance of Kushner's script.
Personally, I believe that Pacino gives the performance of his career, and Streep is amazing in her three roles. The other performances are quite solid as well.
This film not only won a record 11 Emmys, taking the award for Outstanding Miniseries and all four acting trophies, it also won those same awards at the Golden Globe presentations plus four SAG acting awards. In short, it won practically every award it possibly could.
I often have my Theatre 101 students read this play. I now look forward to being able to show scenes from the film version as well.
Obviously, I recommend this film highly.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A cocktail of jolts, emotional and cinematic, on television. Can you believe that? First time in my life I've been glued to the TV (I grew up in Spain) I was amazed, compelled, moved and ultimately so happy. Things that used to happen to me but in a movie theater. Extraordinary performances a masterful direction and some glorious writing made it one of the most rewarding film experiences I've ever had, and I was at home. I don't want to get repetitious about the matter but I'm sure it influenced the effect it had on me. I could cry loud without refrain, I could laugh as hard as I wanted. The allegorical truth of the Angels in America were allowing my truth, the truth of my feelings, to come out. It allowed me to "see" my own feelings. Meryl Streep disappears behind each character in such a riveting way that I completely forgot that it was her, the mother, the ghost, the rabbi. Cohn's death in the hands, mind and heart of Al Pacino is absolutely shattering. He clings onto his life without being able to admit it. I've never seen anything like it. Mary Louis Parker, Justin Kirk, Jeffry Wright and the rest of the cast are just sublime. I will wait a couple of months and then I'm going to see it again. What about you?
Being a citizen of the UK, I was (thanks to my own rabid impatience, and the
extreme generosity of an American gentleman/IMDB user!) granted an advance
screening of this television miracle.
Ignore ANY of the ignorant reviews on here. Close your mind off to them! This work is nothing short of miraculous. The complexity of it is mind blowing. The acting is earth shatteringly compelling. The direction is mesmerising. The intelligence, profundity and eloquence of this absolute masterpiece simply cannot be denied by anyone! It is on the level of Shakespeare! Astonishing ... I have never seen anything like it.
It's a mere ten minutes since I finished watching the second part, and I remain consumed by the images and words of what I have just seen and so it shall remain for days. Works like these are few and far between and I am not exaggerating when I say that viewing ANGELS was such an intense experience, I felt almost embarrassed by the privilege.
Overall, ANGELS is (thematically and in a plot sense) endlessly complex. As a 22 year old English girl, I wouldn't even pretend to grasp the subtlties of the entire piece, and admit to ignorance regarding much of its political/social context. But none of these factors prevented me engaging with a HUMAN drama that spoke directly to me even when I wasn't sure what it was saying! This is not a work to be seen only by gay audiences, only by religious people ... it is to be seen by EVERYONE. ANGELS is, to me, solid proof of my belief that art can explain, enrich, open up and change the world. And it brings people together. I know this may sound hopelessly utopian, but ANGELS really does cast such a spell on one!
I write this review out of intense gratitude and admiration for every single person involved in bringing this masterpiece to the screen. I feel that my life has been enriched by seeing and it and I shall now be passing on the tape to every person I know ... this is life changing stuff and I know I shall take the eloquence of ANGELS with me wherever I go in life. It really is that amazing! To watch this was a privilege, to have been involved with it must be unthinkably wonderful.
ANGELS beats any film ever to win a Best Picture Oscar into a corner. If this were released in cinemas the world would not know what had hit it! I will conclude by saying it again ... this is once-in-a-lifetime viewing. Just see it and make up your own mind. And if you find yourself hating it... you need to ask yourself why, because that says more about you than it does about this!
Simply the best piece of American Cinema/Television I have ever seen!!
Superb acting by the entire cast, fantastic and clever script,
magnificently filmed, a pure joy from start to finish.
I am amazed how well such an excellent stage presentation has translated to film. This will become a classic. All of the awards that it has received are fully deserved.
It has captured the essence of what being gay was in the 80's with all its fears, problems and excitements. But it is more than just a gay document, it speaks of life generally in the 80's, of everyones fears and hopes in such an affluent time. The depiction so real (even in the surreal sequences) so insightful of that period.
Angels in America is definitely one of my favorites. I was a loyal viewer when it was on HBO, and rushed out to buy the DVD when it was released. I think this miniseries was very tastefully done. I was delighted to see such diversity in the movie. It was very refreshing to see Jews, Mormons, Protestants, Homosexuals, Heterosexuals, Republicans, and Democrats together. I think this movie was very real in it's portrayal of AIDS, and it really raised awareness for me, because it showed AIDS as a real disease, not just something we hear about on the news. I was very excited to see minorities presented like average, real people. I didn't see the play, so i can't compare. but i was thoroughly pleased with Mike Nichols direction, i think the cast was incredible, and brought life to each character in the best way possible. i think Mary-Louise Parker especially brought with her character, Harper Pitt, something to the play that was very difficult to do. Harper, other than her marriage to Joe, was irrelevant to the story; Parker was able to take the character, though, and make Harper one of the most insightful and endearing characters in the show. I especially like Justin Kirk in this movie. He did not have a particularly challenging part, but he really grabbed my heart in a subtle way. I have heard much criticism directed toward Al Pacino. However, i think Pacino did very well as is character. I have little knowledge of the real Cohn, but Pacinio was able to give Cohn an evil personality, while still keeping the audience aware of how human Cohn really is. It was very interesting. I was also very pleased with the characters of Belize and Mother Pitt. I found Angels in America very inspiring, and after seeing it for the first time, I seemed to see the world in a whole new light. I know that sounds cheesy, but it is true. For someone very passionate about equal rights, like me, this movie seemed to relay exactly what I stand for. If you are an easily offended Conservative, this movie may not be for you, but I recommend this to anyone with an open mind.
Angels in America is an incredible example on how to adapt a play for the screen. Nothing is left behind and director Mike Nichols makes sure to get the best from each department. His great knowledge of cinema helped him to take advantage of all the qualities of this beautiful play. The way the story is told, the way characters are portrayed, the stunning editing just make this mini series a must see, something you cannot miss out. Moreover it is better than an acting class watching Maryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Mary Louise Parker give life to more than one character each, changing their voices, posture, actions in a way a few actors can do. They are so well directed they just follow their actions and reveal the fantastic side of the play, where the imaginary world mixes with hard reality. There is no objective explanation for the angels coming to the earth, the audience has to find a reason, in the heart. As actors, filmmakers, director of photography you'll simply find this movie a great example on how to work properly, and that assuming that tvmovies are always bad is simply a commonplace, it's just a matter of doing your job well.
There was a statement that was going through my head while watching
"Angels in America": I know what art is when I see it. Just like art,
this ambitious miniseries dares the viewer to have an opinion on the
various subjects brought up by screenwriter/playwright Tony Kuchner.
I saw the miniseries one chapter at a time, which may or may not have been a good idea to get the full impact of the point. At least it did motivate me to read both of Kuchner's "Angels" plays.
I found it to be both a frustrating and challenging miniseries. There were the great performances by Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Justin Kirk, and Jeffrey Wright and the good performances by Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker, Patrick Wright and, in a small role, James Cromwell.
I find it rather humorous that some people thought Al Pacino was miscast as Roy Cohn. Though this is Kuchner's fictional view of Cohn and having seen the real Roy Cohn in television interviews, I though Pacino was not too far from the essence of who Cohn was: an ambitious but very bitter gay man in denial who helped his notable clients but was always out for himself. Cohn was rabid dog without a leash. This was Pacino's first television role and I though he did a great job. (Correction: Pacino's only television acting role prior to "Angels in America" and not including the edited version of "The Godfather Saga" was the short-lived but critically-acclaimed ABC drama "N.Y.P.D." (1967-69).
I did have a few problems with the mini-series. The role played by Ben Shenkman (Louis) was incredibly annoying. I heard that role is Tony Kuchner's alter ego. Louis redeems himself at the end but I found him to be a whiny, cowardly man who had difficulty counting his blessings. I loved it when after Louis' typically long diatribes, Belize (Jeffrey Wright) verbally put him down with a just a few words.
In both plays, many of the actors played multiple roles. It seems more of a gimmick on the small screen, though I think Streep and Wright fared best.
The always dependable Thomas Newman has fashioned a haunting musical score. It was minimalistic and very memorable. The theme has been on my mind ever since I first heard the theme when the miniseries won various awards at the Golden Globes. (Update: The miniseries received 21 Emmy nominations and won a record (for miniseries) 11 Emmys. For some mysterious reason, Newman's brilliant score was overlooked.)
I don't see this play adapted for the big screen without chopping a lot of things out. Congratulations to Mike Nichols and the cast and crew for taking a chance adapting "Angels in America" to television.
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