Angels & Demons, director Ron Howard's sequel/prequel to The Da Vinci Code, is less about actual angels than it's about Action Tom Hanks running, jumping, and climbing trees to solve a city-wide Sudoku puzzle and save the world from the Illuminati. At least that's what I think it's about from watching the trailer, and from the five pages of Dan Brown's book that I read before I gave up and threw it across the room.
But it did get me thinking about angels in movies, and what a fascinating subject they are -- even when they're mishandled. Here's a few favorite movie seraphim:
1. All That Jazz - Bob Fosse's wickedly raw, musical autobio offered a luminous Jessica Lange, who appears to Roy Scheider's Fosse as a sexy angel of death, flirting and cajoling him into finally going towards the light. As the embodiment of all that Fosse found seductive in his self-destruction, Lange was a heavenly body, indeed.
2. Dogma -- Kevin Smith's irreverent examination of faith and religion cast Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as two laid-off angels headed for New Jersey, hoping to find a loophole that'll put them back in God's graces. Along the messy, uneven way, Smith gives his characters some wonderful lines -- like when the angel Metatron (Alan Rickman) explains, "Human beings have neither the aural nor the psychological capacity to withstand the awesome power of God's true voice. Were you to hear it, your mind would cave in and your heart would explode within your chest. We went through five Adams before we figured that one out."
3. Wings of Desire -- Wim Wenders' 1987 fantasy about an unhappy angel (Bruno Ganz) who longs to be human is a slow, seductive dream of a movie, full of sadness and beauty. Henri Alekan, the cinematographer who shot Jean Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast, came out of retirement to make this film, and it's a masterpiece. Plus, it's got Peter Falk, and an amazing performance by Nick Cave:
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4. Michael -- A terrible movie from the pen of Nora Ephron, which sadly misuses a really great angel: A smoking, drinking, horndog Archangel Michael (John Travolta) who agrees to do a story with a pair of tabloid journalists (William Hurt, Andie MacDowell). Travolta is deliciously seedy in an abysmal effort that Emmanual Levy of Variety called "slapdash and unevenly directed ... basically a collection of episodes tied together with a flimsy string."
5. Constantine -- The adaptation of the DC/Vertigo comic was disappointing, but offered a fascinating performance by an androgynous Tilda Swinton as the angel Gabriel, who wrassles with Keanu Reeves' supernatural detective:
6. Charlie's Angels -- Sure, maybe this one's cheating a bit. But the first of McG's Angels movies is a sheer delight ... and any time I can mention that Drew Barrymore does wire-fu, well, that's a bonus.
7. The Prophecy -- Perhaps the best (or baddest) angel ever, Chistopher Walken's Gabriel brings the battle for Heaven to Earth, looking to retrieve the blackest of souls, hidden by the angel Simon (Eric Stolze, also superb), to lead his army against God. Walken has a number of scene-stealing moments, but this may be the best, when he explains (sort of), just what angels do: