Tuesday, February 15, 2011

MOONSTRUCK: Blu-ray (Orion 1987) MGM/Fox Home Video

Legendary filmmaker, Norman Jewison delivers the romantic goods with Moonstruck (1987); a fairytale – Italian style. No small feat, considering that neither Jewison nor the film’s screenwriter, John Patrick Shanley are derived from that Mediterranean ilk. Nevertheless, the story is populated by emblematic Italian/American performances – the stand out being Cher’s Oscar winning turn as Loretta Casterini; a level-headed bookkeeper who finds true love the second time around under the most unlikely of circumstances.

That Moonstruck should have been made at all is a minor miracle of good timing and even greater good luck. Jewison’s long time collaborator Pat Palmer absolutely hated the screenplay at first glance. Between Shanley and Jewison, one mutual change was agreed upon from the start; the working title The Bride and the Wolf was out. Jewison thought it made the property sound like a horror movie and Shanley agreed, offering ten replacement titles for consideration; one of which was Moonstruck.

Reportedly, both Cher and Olympia Dukakis were not certain they wanted to do the film. Each had misgivings about sounding authentic. Their worries were quelled by Jewison and later, with on the set dialect coaching from Julia Bovasso (an acting teacher who also played Loretta’s aunt Rita Cappomaggi in the film).

This enchanting tale opens with Loretta doing the books for her aunt Rita. From here, the narrative quickly migrates to a popular New York Italian eatery in Brooklyn where Loretta’s fiancé, Johnny Cammerari (Danny Aiello) awkwardly proposes marriage. Johnny is hardly a romantic. Worse, he requires the blessing of his dying mother in Sicily before he can actually commit to the woman he supposedly loves.

Making haste for the old country, Johnny asks Loretta at the airport to go and patch a long-suffering family rift for him by inviting his estranged brother, Ronny (Nicholas Cage) to their wedding. Loretta agrees, then quietly goes home to be with her mother, Rose (Olympia Dukakis) and father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia).

Loretta confides in her mother that although she likes Johnny well enough and has agreed to marry him she does not love him. Rose tells her daughter that love may not be everything and perhaps not even enough to sustain a marriage. You see, she suspects Cosmo is having an affair. Although Loretta quells her mother's insecurities before going to bed she does not believe for a moment that her father is the philandering kind.

The next day, Loretta faithfully keeps her promise to Johnny by visiting Ronny at his place of employ - a sweaty basement beneath a small bakery where he toils to keep the furnaces lit. Regrettably, Loretta discovers a bitter, somewhat hostile, but ultimately panged and incurable romantic in Ronny.

Ronny holds Johnny accountable for losing his hand in an industrial bread slicer - a strained reason for all the bad blood between them. However, after an afternoon of passion Loretta reawakens her own desires for grand amour. Ronny is a fiery sort. He introduces Loretta to the opera by taking her to the Met – a fortuitous occasion where she discovers that her mother’s suspicions about her father’s philandering are true.

In the meantime, Rose has taken herself out to dinner where she meets Perry (John Mahoney); an over-the-hill playboy whose latest underage fling has just dumped him. The two share a platonic tete a tete about why men cheat, before accidentally running into Rose’s father-in-law (Feodor Chaliapin) – who naturally frowns upon his discovery.

The next day as the family awaits Johnny's return and prepares to break bread together, Loretta grapples with her decision to announce that she has decided to marry Ronny instead. Realizing what a fool he has been, Cosmo reconciles with Rose and Loretta informs Johnny - who has just come home without his mother's blessing - that he needn't have bothered.

A new rift between the brothers develops but no one seems to mind - least of all Loretta, who at long last has found true love over a plate of spaghetti. Unable to quantify any of the extraordinary events that have just taken place, Cosmo's father begins to cry, declaring sombrely "I'm confused."

Thus ends Moonstruck, on a scene stealing note of loveable regret made more poignant by the fact that, as an audience, we are equally perplexed yet pleased by how perfectly all the pieces of this fractured fairytale have somehow and quite suddenly come together.

Reportedly, at the age of 91, Feodor Chaliapin was both hard of hearing and seeing – squinting to read actor’s lips in order to know when it was his turn to speak his lines. Initially, the brass at Orion Pictures rejected Jewison’s choice of Nicholas Cage (much younger than Cher) for the part of Ronny. The actor had been introduced to Jewison by Cher but was a virtual unknown in films. Nevertheless, Cage’s fiery disposition created on screen sparks and chemistry with his co-star.

Moonstruck is one of those great ensemble movies from the 1980s that teams with iconic performances; each one a perfect little gem. Cher - who justly won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance - is, I believe, one of the most underrated talents from the last 40 years. Despite her constant ability to morph between the worlds of pop music and movies - often with convincing clarity and very competent performances in both mediums, the mere utterance of her name leads to crass cliché rather than references to her as a true pop icon.

Fair enough, the actress has often undercut her own importance and celebrity with self-deprecating one liners, as when she arrived to accept her Oscar wearing a bizarre, mid rift exposing black feathered Bob Macke creation and began her acceptance speech with "As you can see, I received my Academy handbook on how to dress like a serious actress!"

Yet, critics have been remiss to examine if such perceived 'errors in judgment' are accidental or quite deliberate. I believe the latter and Cher remains, at least in this critic's esteem, a much maligned talent of considerable quality. For a time, she competed with Hollywood's most gifted actresses and held her own in films like Silkwood (1983), Mask (1985), Suspect (1987), The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Tea with Mussolini (1999). Moonstruck, however, remains Cher's best effort yet to be seen on screen.

In the final analysis, Moonstruck was an enormous hit with audiences and critics. In addition to Cher's Oscar worthy performance, Olympia Dukakis won for Best Supporting Actress and John Patrick Shanley took Best Original Screenplay honours.

MGM/Fox’s Blu-Ray refines the efforts put forth on MGM's previously issued Deluxe Edition DVD through Sony. Visually, colours are more robust on the Blu-ray than on the DVD. There is a richness to David Watkin's cinematography not seen anywhere since the film's theatrical release. Flesh tones are nicely realized. Contrast levels are occasionally just a tad weaker than expected with black levels appearing just slightly gray. This isn't as bad as it sounds and for the most part no one will mind. Film grain looks like grain for the first time in this 1080p rendering, resulting in an image that faithfully reproduces the theatrical experience for home viewing.

The audio is a lossless DTS repurposing of the 5.1 Dolby Digital. It sounds considerably crisper to the ear than the DVD audio from a few years back. This is a dialogue driven movie so don't expect any major workout for your speakers. Still, the audio has a nice '80s dated quality that will evoke a simpler time when movie–making wasn't quite so slickly packaged, and yet managed that minor coup so few today do - to completely entertain us and warm the heart. Extras are all direct imports from the DVD and include three brief featurettes, an audio commentary by Jewison and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)






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