Angels in America: “Messenger”

DATELINE: Ghost of Ethel Meets Ghoul of Cohn 

 Streep & Pacino

The third episode of the miniseries Angels in America takes us to the hallucinogenic, paranormal world where Louis (Ben Shenkman) insists in his liberal way that there are no angels in America.

On the other hand, the evil Roy Cohn is the devil in America, dying of AIDS like the saintly Prior whose survival seems preordained by some supernatural force. He is to “Prepare” for an event of monumental proportions:  this is foreshadowed when two ancestor ghosts show up in his bedroom to give him a Dickensian warning.

Emma Thompson is his down to earth nurse, but she speaks in tongues (only to the ears of Prior (Justin Kirk). He is also seeing Talmudic eruptions of Torah as he prepares for the descent (or is it an ascent?).

If you have held on to this point, you will be hooked by the mixed metaphors of paranormal and political messages in crossover.

The episode builds to one of the most astounding special effects dramas and ghost stories in American literature. And, however uncomfortable the sexual situations are, they are part of the political whirlwind of America. Roy Cohn was a hypocritical gay man who worked with Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, associated with Edgar Hoover socially, and was responsible for the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg…

With Prior Walter ghosts from the Mayflower setting the stage, we are also about to see an Angel in America. Yet, for our money, the highlight of any film has to be a confrontation between Pacino’s Cohn and Streep’s Ethel Rosenberg. It is hilarious and horrifying—as ghost and her ghoul banter nastily. An extraordinary moment in movie history.

  Angels in America: “In Vitro”

DATELINE:  American Supernatural Powers 

 Pacino’s Satanic Roy Cohn!

The second episode of the mini-series Angels in America again uses some clever cross-cutting from director Mike Nichols to counter-point the two young relationships on the rocks: the gay couple (Jewish boy & Mayflower Prior) and the heterosexual Mormons (calling each other inexplicably ‘buddy’).

The connections between Louis and Joe as lawyers puts them together on occasion. Joe’s pill-popping wife refuses to come to grips with her husband’s latent sexual interests. All in all, the two couples seem ready to do battle in what may be a ridiculous waste of energy.

If Louis has a friend (in the person of a flamboyant black nurse—Jeffrey Wright), then Joe (Patrick Wilson) relies on the back-rubbing seduction of Roy Cohn (in the person of Al Pacino).

Pacino has one satanic scene in this episode, but he is so dominant and frightful that he is unforgettable, even citing Mafia words like “familiglia” as his favorite. And, Meryl Streep makes her first of two role appearances at the mother of Mormon Joe. The best is yet to come.

Again, it is the political element from a drama twenty years old that resonates today: Cohn wants protection from being disbarred. He will place cute Joe into the Reagan Administration to give him an insider cover.

The talk is putting crypto-Nazi political plans of Cohn into place to last generations. It is sentient almost to a terrifying degree—as it predates Cohn’s protégé Donald Trump putting these plans into fruition.

So, the predictive nature of this LGQBT play-unto-movie from 2003 may be the most-telling soothsaying bit of political spin out of the 20thcentury. The story is set in 1985 when AIDS was the virulent killer with no cure in sight. Cohn is laying groundwork to control the presidency and Supreme Court with his kind of American well into the 21st century–and far beyond the grave.

Brideshead Remade & Revisited

DATELINE: Movies Over TV

Brideshead 2008

Sebastian and Charles in Happier Days.

Back in the early 1980s, one of the grandest early miniseries was that of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It made stars out of Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews as the stylish Oxford boys of the 1920s.

It’s been re-made, of course, now a regular size movie, not a 14-hour epic. It is digestible, though the character of Charles is not palatable.

This time Ben Whishaw is the foppish noble Sebastian of Brideshead, and his friend is Charles (Matthew Goode) who has affairs with both brother and sister along his calculating life.

An abridged version still manages to capture all the salient details and key scenes, especially in the idyllic and romantic early days with Sebastian. Young Lord Flyte tries to keep Charles from his family, whom he knows will devastate their relationship. He never counted on the fact that Charles brought his own wrecking ball.

Whishaw seemed to have cornered the market on slightly epicene young men for a time, and Matthew Goode has made a career of elevating every movie and series he joins. He even showed up at Downton Abbey.

Emma Thompson is along as the devout Catholic mother of Sebastian, but it is Julia (played by Hayley Atwell) who is a lynchpin of the lynch mob. Nearly every character blames Charles for being a rapacious game player, though he is at a loss to understand the attacks.

The breaking point is Michael Gambon’s effective work as the family patriarch when Charles tries to prevent a priest from giving last rites to the man.

Part of the drama is the lead-up to his denial of self-knowledge that causes him to lose everything of meaning. Sebastian’s friend Antony scathingly notes he thought at first that Charles was a lamb, but later saw he was the true predator.

It may be news for the oblivious in the audience too.

The condensed movie of the longer miniseries is still effective and powerful. Fans of the 1980s version will recognize that one constant came back to replay its role.

Castle Howard once again stands in for Brideshead, and it is still undiminished in its majesty.