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Wednesday, March 8, 2017 issue
HBO's 'Angels' sure to win Emmy

"Angels in America" (click for larger version)
HBO has long been a front runner in original programming. Series like Six Feet Under, Sex in the City and The Sopranos have made HBO an Emmy favorite over the years. Original films have also been a mainstay on the network. Films like My House in Umbria and Live From Baghdad have cemented the networks reputation for innovative and wholly entertaining films.

Angels in America continues that tradition. The screenplay was written by the same man, Tony Kushner, who wrote the play and the book of the same title. Directed by Mike Nichols, the film has an interesting movement through the lives of its main characters giving us a taste of their world and explaining why the appearance of an angel was necessary.

As the movie opens, it’s 1985 and Prior Walter, played by Justin Kirk, is attending the funeral of the grandmother of his boyfriend, Louis Ironson, played by Ben Shenkman. The Rabbi Chemelwitz tells the story of the grandmother, named Sarah and how she and other Jewish immigrants made a crossing to America from Lithuania and Russia. The Rabbi informs the gathering that the crossing was Sarah’s and that the family would never know what that crossing meant. He says the family will have their own travels, but none like the one Sarah and her peers endured.

After the funeral, Prior tells Louis he has contracted AIDS. Louis, naturally is horrified and, later, asks Prior if he would hate him forever if he left. When Prior tells him yes, Louis drops the subject.

We are then taken to the next set of characters. We meet Joe Pitt, played by Patrick Wilson, and his wife Harper, played by Mary Louise Parker. Joe is a Republican and a Mormon whose conservative viewpoint contradicts his actual feelings. Joe is a latent homosexual and the tension caused by those feelings affects his marriage. Joe is friends with Roy Cohn, played by Al Pacino. Roy is a closeted homosexual whose only goal in life is the acquisition of power. Roy is told he, too, has AIDS, but he refuses to accept that judgement because “only homosexuals get AIDS.” His philosophy is that he is a heterosexual who sometimes sleeps with men. He is pushing for Joe to join the Federal Justice Department so that Roy will have a friend in that cabinet. It seems Roy might be disbarred because he took money from a client and he hopes that Joe will help him keep his license. Joe is shocked that Roy would ask him to do something so unethical. He turns Roy down, but Roy still pushes him to take the position.

Harper is a valium addict who has agoraphobia, the fear of being in an embarrassing situation, characterized by an avoidance of open and public places. Her “travel agent” is Mr. Lies, who is a figment of Harper’s imagination. Mr. Lies “takes” Harper away from her troubles. She tells Joe she “goes out” all the time, but, in reality, she never leaves her house.

As Prior gets sicker, Louis begins to pull away from him. Louis tells Belize, played by Jeffrey Wright, that he wasn’t able to handle his grandmother’s sickness and had pretended that she was dead before she actually died. Belize, a flamboyant drag queen, is shocked that Louis can be so cruel and tells him so.

In a rather poignant scene, Prior takes his AIDS medication, Harper takes her valium and the two meet in a drug induced world. Prior is dressed as a drag queen and Harper is her “normal” self. They discuss their lives and Harper tells Prior she can “see” his sickness. Prior informs Harper her husband is a homosexual. Even though she, at first, denies it, Harper realizes this just might be the truth.

Back in the real world, Harper confronts Joe and asks him to tell her the truth. He dances around the subject, but Harper knows the truth.

Prior becomes very ill and Louis takes him to the hospital. It is at this time that Louis decides to leave Prior and moves his things out. Louis and Joe work in the same building and begin to talk to each other. At the end of the first half of the miniseries, Louis and Joe go home together.

Prior wakes up in the hospital hearing a voice. According to the voice, “the messenger” is coming to “the prophet.” Prior tells Belize, who wants to tell the doctors, but Prior asks him not to because there is something special happening.

When Prior goes home, he continues to hear the voice. Finally, he sees the ceiling of his apartment fall upward and then back into the room. From out of the dust, a light appears and an angel, played by Emma Thompson, descends with a message. The prophet, who is now identified as Prior, and the messenger, The Angel of America, will bring the message to the world.

The interesting thing about the first part of the miniseries is that each character is well-defined and perfectly acted. With such wonderful actors as Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson, Angels in America had to be a good film. However, the subject matter, which might offend some people, is the backdrop for the true message. All of us are human, and all need other people. The characters of Joe and Harper are perfect examples of two people who have married because they feel this is what they must do, but don’t really love each other. Try as they may, they can’t make the relationship work because it isn’t based on a solid foundation. Louis and Prior are the same in that they might love each other, but their relationship is tenuous at best. They can’t survive a disease because one member of the union is unable to handle that kind of situation. Roy can’t feel anything for anyone because he is so determined to gain more wealth and more power. His need for power is so great that any feelings for other people he might have had have been crushed by the juggernaut of power.

Kushner and Nichols have created a masterpiece of drama. Although, at times, the film seems to drift, we realize by the end of the first part of the miniseries the drifting is not really drifting at all. All the pieces form a cohesive unit that is a story driven by man’s inability to be human to each other. With good acting and excellent story, Angels is bound to win at least one Emmy.

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