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City of Angels Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 September 1998

City Of Angels

Warner Home Video
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Nicolas Cage, Meg Ryan, Dennis Franz, Andre Braugher
release year: 1998
film rating: Three and a half stars
sound/picture: Three and a half stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

‘City of Angels’ is a gentle-souled, thoughtful romantic fantasy that has unexpected rhythms and grace notes. Some of its deviations from the traditional routes of big-budget love stories don’t quite work (the ending is arguably unpredictable but tremendously wrong-headed). However, in adapting Wim Wenders film ‘Wings of Desire’ for an English-language version set (where else?) in Los Angeles, director Brad Silberling and screenwriter Dana Stevens create moments of magic.

The title of ‘City of Angels’ is to be taken literally. This Los Angeles is a city full of black-coated angels who go unseen by all mortals except the very young, the delirious and the dying. The angels sympathetically watch over human affairs, occasionally whispering words of encouragement into unknowing but receptive ears; they also escort the souls of the dead to Heaven. What angels do not do is experience touch or taste, much less become involved with mortal affairs. Enter Seth (Nicolas Cage), an angel who falls in love with Maggie Rice (Meg Ryan), a heart surgeon who is in despair over a failed operation. She responds on a primal level to the mysterious stranger, but can’t help wondering about oddities in Seth’s behavior and background.

‘City of Angels’ doesn’t have a great deal in the way of cause-and-effect linear plot. Instead, it is mostly a viewer-friendly meditation on the meaning of life and love and the value of freedom vs. experience. The courtship of Seth and Maggie is appealing and affecting, earning laughs with intelligent quips that we don’t see coming. It also serves as a framework for exploring romantic issues not usually found in this genre.

Cage is so ardent as Seth that there is something appropriately unworldly and unnerving in the extent of his fixation on Maggie, even though we realize he means no harm. Ryan has a somewhat ethereal persona here that makes her Maggie seem a natural mate for an angel. She and Cage achieve a rapport that has wonderful enigmas, nuances and spark to it, giving the film’s musings on love a solid base. Dennis Franz and Andre Braugher provide charming, skillful support.

The concluding section does not feel congruent with what has preceded it; even the filmmakers’ explanations of their choices on the plentiful audio commentary tracks don’t make the detour seem appreciably smoother. Likewise, some of the sentiment is painted so large that there are moments where overstatement threatens. However, the filmmakers believe so much in the characters and their quest that, by the end, viewers will be either entirely caught up in the quiet, intense universe created here, with its enormous reservoirs of joy and pain, or thoroughly lost.

The DVD transfer is in beautiful widescreen, with brilliant, rich hues in the many "magic hour" dawn and twilight sequences. A slow-motion fall in Chapter 28, contrasting color action with black-and-white flashbacks, is a visual standout. Chapter 32 introduces the original, growly acoustic version of the Goo Goo Dolls’ "Iris," which has received frequent radio airplay in much louder, orchestrated form. One complaint: some of the supplemental material advertised on the DVD is unfindable in an initial search – anybody who can locate the interviews with Alanis Morrissette and Peter Gabriel and/or the music videos by Goo Goo Dolls and U2, please write to Audio Revolution and tell us where to find these elements.

For those willing to go along with it, ‘City of Angels’ is wistfully sweet and moving; others may find it a journey to a destination they did not wish to reach

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Surround 5.1; French Dolby Surround Stereo
aspect ratio(s):
Original Widescreen Ratio (exact ratio not given)
special features: Making-Of Documentary; Visual Effects Documentary; Deleted Scenes with Audio Commentary; Selected Scenes Commentaries; Alternate Music-Only Audio Track with Commentary; Feature-Length Audio Commentary; Music Videos; English Closed-Captioning; French Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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