The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, July 21, 2012


There are some things you just don't make fun of, and for many people, that's religion or anything even remotely similar. Me on the other hand, I eat that stuff up. I'm not talking about mocking Jesus or the saints, or ripping something that people hold dear to them. What about just having a little fun with preconceived notions, things you to a point take for granted? That's part of the fun of 1996's Michael.

Working for the National Mirror -- a sensationalist tabloid magazine -- in Chicago, reporter Frank Quinlan (William Hurt) has fallen on some tough times after losing his job with the Chicago Tribune. Now, he finds himself tracking down one ridiculous angle after another, including his latest, a true whopper. A woman in Iowa (Jean Stapleton) claims to be housing an angel named Michael (John Travolta), wings and all. With some company from another down luckless writer, Huey (Robert Pastorelli), and a supposed company stooge, Dorothy (Andie MacDowell), Quinlan heads to Iowa to see if the woman's claim could actually be true. It couldn't, could it?

So what do you think an angel would look like should you stumble across one? I go two ways here. One, a blonde child with pale skin so a cherub basically.  Two, a full-grown man in his 20s or so, an impressive physical specimen who is strong and capable, able to fight for and represent some sort of god. And how about this 1996 movie's portrayal from director Nora Ephron? This angel is a middle-aged, overweight man with long, messy hair and stubble on his face at all times. The script certainly has some fun with that premise, playing on those notions you had coming in of what an angel is. The same goes for what an angel would/should act like. Travolta certainly doesn't go for typical here, and that ends up being the best thing about the movie.

Following his return to mainstream Hollywood with his part in Pulp Fiction, Travolta went through a stretch of some really good movies and some truly bad ones. While 'Michael' on the whole isn't a great movie, it is worth recommending because of Travolta's scene-stealing part in the lead as the archangel Michael.  It is a fun character, and one Travolta clearly has some fun developing and playing against type. Michael has an overpowering charm on women wherever he goes, some magnetic power that goes unexplained. Travolta gets to ham it up a bit, improvise a dance scene in a packed country bar (watch it HERE), and ends up being the heart of the movie. A surprising revelation comes out late about his character's revelations, providing a good twist that provides a very moving ending as well. From start to finish, it's Travolta's movie.

And then there's the rest of the cast in Hurt, MacDowell and Pastorelli. All three are talented actors/actresses, but their characters here held little interest for me other than as foils to Michael's antics. Travolta's part is obviously the showy one, and in comparison the other parts pale. Hurt and MacDowell falling for each other? Aw, that's sweet, but boring. Pastorelli caring for a little dog? Yeah, necessary for the story, but getting there isn't too interesting. Oh, and MacDowell is an aspiring country singer? Can't wait for that story to develop. Bob Hoskins has a small part as the screaming managing editor of the Mirror, yelling at his employees to break more stories, with Joey Lauren Adams and Carla Gugino having small supporting parts. As Michael's first encounter, Stapleton is a bright spot too, making the most of a quick appearance.

Movies about religion, God, angels and faith can be tricky. They can be overbearing and obnoxious in a lot of different directions or they can be too afraid to actually say anything meaningful. 'Michael' isn't trying to deliver any profound message. A story of an angel making a visit to Earth and experiencing all the little things we might take for granted on a daily basis provides some heartfelt, moving and funny moments. It is at its best when its focusing on Travolta's Michael, and for his performance alone, this is a movie worth checking out.

Michael <---Youtube clip/Michael's appearance (1996): ** 1/2 /****

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