Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"City Of Angels" on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 1998 Brad Silberling Movie Now Reissued On BLU RAY In 2014 In The USA

"…None Of This is In My Hands…" – City Of Angels On BLU RAY (2014)

As she reads 105 degrees on the thermometer she’s just taken out of her six-year old daughter’s mouth – we hear Mum’s panicking thoughts - pleading for help from a higher power. "I don't really pray…but if you could help out here…" she says in escalating dread. Yet her child Susan doesn’t seem fazed – staring instead at a man in a long black coat with a peaceful face on the other side of the room that Mummy doesn’t seem able to see.

His name is Seth - and next thing he’s walking alongside Susan who’s lying in her pyjamas on a hospital gurney looking up at him as a group of doctors and surgeons try to get her to the operating room on time. Moments later Seth and tiny Susan are looking in at the medical commotion through the glass outside – holding hands as they watch an unresponsive child’s body and a mother breaking down in agony. Susan looks up and asks Seth - "She won't understand?" He calmly replies - "She will…someday…"

Inside hot cars motionless on a log-jammed freeway - we see the citizens of LA and hear their thoughts about doomed love affairs ("he's never gonna leave her…"), work worries and how everything takes twenty minutes in Los Angeles. We then witness more angels in human form at work – one listening to the thoughts of a mother proud that her daughter has had a 6lb 4oz baby and become a parent too - helping an air-traffic controller concentrate when his debt problems almost distract him from Flight Federal 595 - and two working a kid and a scared liquor store owner on opposite sides of the counter – urging them both to 'stay cool' as the jumpy young man nervously robs his till with a gun.

These angels aren’t flashy – they don’t have wings nor halos - they don’t stop bullets or avert car crashes – they remain invisible to the human world and only lay on hands to help and sooth. They ponder what their charges say about life – usually from a height - dangling their legs over skyscraper girders, aeroplane wings, 100-foot high cowboy adverts for cigarettes and the Hollywood Sign. They also gather on the beach each morning (without leaving footprints in the sand) to witness the sunrise and hear the music of possibility…as a new day begins...

As you can imagine a reworking of Wim Wender's beloved 1987 classic movie "Wings Of Desire" by Hollywood types was always going to be open to ridicule and charges of crass commercialism – but 1998's "City Of Angels" pulled off the transition with a genuine deftness of touch – producing a film that moved many movie-goers far more than they thought it would. The brilliant Dana Stevens adapted screenplay smartly keeps it about people – about finding humanity – the joy in everyday occurrences – and knowing there is always love in your life in one form or another.

Principal in pulling this off is the spot-on casting of Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan. Cage plays Seth – an Angel who is more than curious about what it would be like to actually 'feel' let alone be human - while the talented Meg Ryan plays Doctor Maggie Race – a Thoracic Surgeon in L.A.’s Mission Hospital who is having a crisis of faith after losing a 50-year old patient called Tom Bradford on her table in what was a routine bypass.

Dr. Maggie suddenly feels no longer in control and can’t shake off the stricken reaction of Bradford’s family as she broke the news to them. She did it with a little too much of that scalpel-like precision and detachment that works so well in the operating theatre but not in the real world - cockily playing Jimi Hendrix as she dabbles with someone else’s heart. It was a textbook operation - yet it went wrong - her patient’s fading arrhythmia literally in her hands – powerless to stop him from dying (dialogue above). But her partner and fellow surgeon Jordan Ferris (a suave Colm Feore) thinks that Maggie is not out of sorts nor crazy nor chemically imbalanced – just tired - and with a little rest - she should just "come back to work on Monday and get back on the saddle". But Maggie doesn’t seem able to get that confidence nor that belief back.

Then one night – tired and still trying to figure out why an abandoned male infant on the 4th floor keeps crying all the time (her Doctor friend Anne is played by the lovely Robin Bartlett) – Maggie exits the lift at the 6th floor by mistake and sees a man standing outside a ward bedroom. He turns around and it’s the beautiful Seth.  They engage in small talk about the benefits of visiting hours and being in despair on the stairwell  – and a flame of attraction is lit between them. His eyes haunt her and she wonders how he knew her first name when her ID tag only displays the initial 'M'?

They meet again in the heavenly upward concrete circles of the city library as she returns a book - Hemmingway's "A Moveable Feast – Sketches On The Author’s Life In Paris In the Twenties". More feelings grow as Seth sexily explains about the great American author’s skill at describing the senses of taste and touch (things he can’t experience himself but longs to). At this point Maggie thinks Seth’s a bit weird - with his cryptic replies and always wearing the same clothes whilst saying he’s not a bike courier but a Messenger of God. But something inside her aches for him – like a lost Soul moving towards its mate.

Seth tries to discuss his growing feelings with another celestial body - Cassiel (the wonderful Andre Braugher) but Cassiel seems sceptical. Then one afternoon Seth meets the rotund hedonist Nathaniel Messinger (superb casting in Dennis Franz) in the heart ward munching down on yet another tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Nathaniel can hear and feel Seth’s presence - and Seth soon works out that Nathaniel was once an angel too – but one who fell in love with a woman on Earth and 'chose' to fall to be with her (nice work from Joanna Merlin). Over more food Nathaniel explains that he gave up his power to travel at the speed of thought - never grow old and never feel any pain – for love – and hasn’t regretted a day since.

And on it goes to Maggie working out why the child keeps crying and what her strange man in black really is (from a photo) and finally to a decision that Seth must make of his own 'free will'…

Director Brad Silberling’s movie cleverly avoids any flashy 'ghost' or 'angel' tricks and allied with Gabriel Yared’s truly gorgeous film score (the acoustic "The Unfeeling Kiss" used during the market scene as they shop for fruit is particularly stunning) and other clever song choices by Peter Gabriel, Paula Cole, Alanis Morissette and Sarah McLachlan – gives his angelic messengers a calming presence – benevolent beings watching over us all but not interfering nor judging.

The February 2014 AMERICAN BLU RAY I bought on Barcode 883929374298 is REGION FREE so there are no compatibility problems for UK or European buyers. The picture is defaulted to 2.4:1 Aspect Ratio so there's bars top and bottom - but even stretched to Full Screen - the print quality is lovely throughout. You wouldn’t say it was exceptional by any means – but I feel its an improvement over the DVD I had  – never overly glossy – classy in its presentation. Eyes are blue – sunsets are multi-coloured and his sweat and blood when he falls onto a steel platform look real. Meg Ryan has probably never looked more beautiful or assured while Cage brings an other-worldliness to his character than few actors could achieve. The behind-the-scenes documentaries feature fun talks with the cast both in studio and on location (skyscraper shots that terrified both Cage and Franz because they are real – short on girders way up there).

Audio is DTS-HD Master Audio English 5.1, Dolby Digital French 5.1, Spanish Castilian 5.1 and Spanish Latin 2.0. Subtitles include English SDH, French and Spanish. 

Maggie says to Seth about her lost patient – "I wanted him to live…" And Seth replies, "He is living…just not in the way you think…"

Ever wonder what your invisible guardian looks like? Convert to "City Of Angels" and find out…

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