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Festivale online magazine, May-June issue
City of Angels movie review
City of Angels

Wim Wenders’ 1988 film Wings of Desire was a brilliant and poetic examination of the human heart – taken from the perspective of angels who roam the earth. It enchanted us into feeling, understanding and almost believing these MIB look-a-likes through the way Wenders avoided common cliché’s and Hollywood surroundings. Now, the 90s update version City of Angels is based on the former film in basic themes only. And although this new rendition has lost most of the power of Wings of Desire, it surprising contains a lot of its emotional impact.

With other angels, Seth (Nicholas Cage) roams the streets of the city of angels, Los Angeles. He can only see in black and white, cannot feel pain or hunger, and has a useful skill of reading peoples thoughts.

Movie Still, City of Angels, Festivale movie review

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While Seth is welcoming a hospital patient to the after life, he notices the beautiful doctor Maggie (Meg Ryan) desperately trying to save the mans life. He soon becomes infatuated with her, and eventually comes to her, appearing as a clueless civilian.

Maggie’s fascination with Seth grows until she begins to sense something abnormal, something unique about him. She consults a close friend: “I got this jolt that... something bigger is out there. Something bigger than me, bigger than you. Does that sound crazy?”

Seth feels that he is doomed to remain at arms length to Maggie for the rest of her life, but former-angel hospital patient (Dennis Franz, in a role very similar to one played by Columbo’s Peter Falk in Wings of Desire), who explains to him how to “delve” into a human form. So (as the film is keen for us to believe) the relationship between this couple depends on one question: is Seth willing to sacrifice eternal life for a mere mortal?

The answer to that question is, naturally, no mystery. But it doesn’t have to be – with quotes like "I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss from her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it," City of Angels is a tear jerking "chick flick" that gives a powerful, lasting impact.

But surprisingly, the most impressive aspect of director Brad Silberling’s (who has only Casper under his belt) creation is not its writing nor acting, but rather the stunning cinematography by Australian John Seale (The English Patient, Rain Man). The visual impact of City of Angels is so dazzling that it gives the big screen an angelic, gorgeous radiance that no amount of Mr. Sheen’s could possibly deliver.

Don’t get me wrong: the dialogue is sumptuously gentle to inhale, and the sweetened performances from Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan are a triumph in themselves. But boiled down, City of Angels is sometimes just good-looking Hollywood claptrap – and that is why it doesn’t convincingly impersonate Wings of Desire. But it does, as I mentioned before, have an emotional depth that gets through to the viewer on multiple levels.

I would have loved to see this film more tightly based on Wim Wenders’ and Peter Handke’s original screenplay for Wings of Desire. Although this obviously did not happen, City of Angels is far from a slip-up, and Wenders himself was pleased with the final result. He was quoted in the film’s promotional material, saying: “It was moving, beautifully crafted, there was some amazing imagery and an astonishing story. I had never seen anything like it, well, except for that one German film maybe, with the subtitles. What’s its name again?

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mallReview © copyright Luke Buckmaster

From 0 stars (bomb), to 5 stars (a masterpiece): 3 and a half stars

See also: Ali's view

Nicholas Cage also appears in Con Air, Face/Off

Meg Ryan also appears in Addicted to Love
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Just the facts:

Title: City of Angels (1998)
Written by: Wim Wenders & Peter Handke (screenplay Der Himmel ueber Berlin); Dana Stevens  
Directed by: Brad Silberling  
Produced by: Robert Cavallo (executive); Alan Glazer   (associate); Jeff Levine (associate); Arnon Milchan (executive); Charles Newirth (executive); Charles Roven; Douglas Segal (co-producer); Kelley Smith-Wait (co-producer); Dawn Steel  
Edited by: Lynzee Klingman  
Director of Photography: John Seale

The Players: Meg Ryan, Nicholas Cage, Dennis Franz
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ISSN 1328-8008
Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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