Saturday, February 26, 2011

DYNASTY: Season 1 (Spelling 1981) Fox Home Video


If TV's Dallas (1978-91) was responsible for putting Texas on the television radar, then Dynasty (1981-1989) most certainly gave Denver, Colorado its glam-bam pizzazz. Originally named 'Oil' by creators Richard and Esther Shapiro, Dynasty was dubbed the Dallas 'wannabe' by critics; even following Dallas’ tried and true formula of premiering first as a three part mini-series. However, producer Aaron Spelling's golden touch and heavy revisionist undertaking to rid the series of its middle-class subplot, made the eventually rechristened 'Dynasty' a megawatt television smash that set fashion and hairstyle trends on fire the world over.
Part of the enduring success of Dynasty goes to fashion designer Nolan Miller - whose weekly clothing allowance for the series was enough to produce an entire episode of Dallas. In Miller's mélange of haute couture the characters sport a cavalcade of stunning - occasionally bizarre - outfits that nevertheless became iconic in the 1980s. Who today can forget the endless parade of turbans that Alexis (Joan Collins) wore or Krystal's (Linda Evans) power-brokering shoulder pads that grew exponentially as her character became less demure and more assertive. Dynasty became popular because it struck a chord in the go-go eighties; daring to be ultra-glamorous and, in retrospect, typify the bawdy/gaudy excesses of a generation.
Viewing Dynasty Season One today, one is dumbstruck by how stilted the whole enterprise seems, both in its storytelling and character development. The series opens with a union; the newly married Krystal Jennings to Blake Carrington (John Forsythe in a role originally slated for George Peppard) and Krystal's awkward assimilation from working-class secretary to elegant matron of one of Denver's most affluent and influential families. It seems that everyone from the Carrington's Major Domo, Joseph Andres (Lee Bergere) to Blake's daughter, Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) treat Krystal as though she were a poor relation rather than the new mistress of the house. Of course, it does not help matters that - at least in the early episodes - Krystal is a placid doormat who allows everyone to dump on her. The one accepting heart belongs to Blake's son, Steven (Al Corley); a closeted homosexual reunited with his former New York lover, Ted Dinard (Mark Withers) much to Blake's chagrin.
Ironically, it's Steven's sexuality that will dominate much of the plot development in Season One. Clearly concerned with introducing a gay character into prime time television circa 1981, the Shapiro's temper and diffuse Ted and Steven's relationship throughout most of the season. As for Blake, he refuses to accept Steven's lifestyle, creating constant friction that eventually forces Steven to move out on his own. Meanwhile, across town, Blake's overseer, Matthew Blaisdel (Bo Hopkins) has returned home with his wife, Claudia (Pamela Bellwood) after her lengthy stay at a retreat to recover from a nervous breakdown. Although there is little doubt that Matthew loves his wife, he deliberately leaves out the fact that during Claudia's absence he was having an affair with Krystal before she married Blake. The final lover's triangle that rounds out Season One belongs to Blake's daughter, Fallon, her new husband Jeff (John James) and his uncle, Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner). After dalliances with the family's chauffeur, Michael (Wayne Northrop), the rebellious Fallon makes a failed play for Cecil before agreeing to marry his nephew.
In all these relationships Fallon is the malignant fraud (in retrospect, the Shapiro's first failed attempt at crafting the viper - a role eventually assumed to perfection by Joan Collin's uber-bitch Alexis), yet, there is nothing to match Fallon's genuine love for her father. Blake repeatedly placates his daughter's interests in assuming a stake in the family business. As Season One draws to a close, Fallon makes it clear to Jeff that she does not love him - driving a wedge in their marriage that Jeff never quite recovers from. Matthew attempts to seduce Krystal while Fallon quietly falls in love with him. Having renounced Ted, Steven has a brief sexual affair with Claudia, whose mental condition begins to deteriorate.
Discovering Ted Dinard in Steven's room, Blake assumes the two are lovers once again. Blake flies into a rage and pushes Ted who falls, striking his head on the fireplace grate. In the resulting murder trial, Claudia confesses to her affair with Steven, leaving Matthew jilted at the courthouse. Meanwhile, Claudia's failed attempt to steal Lindsay - their daughter - away from Matthew turns tragic when the two are involved in a near-fatal car wreck. Back in court, a star witness with damning testimony for the prosecution emerges to round out the first of many season cliff hangers - Blake's first wife; Alexis Colby. In a fascinating footnote, the woman seen confidently strolling into the courtroom moments before the freeze frame finale in a chic black and white ensemble, hat seductively cocked so as not to reveal her face, is not Joan Collins. The role had not been cast yet and Collins was hardly the first choice of executives. Credit must therefore go to Aaron Spelling for casting Collins in Season Two, and also to the unnamed bit player who managed to convince us all in Season One that she was Alexis a la Collins.
Dynasty Season One is, at least in retrospect, a somewhat lackluster and shockingly dull melodrama with no hint of the narrative excitement to follow. Season One's pitfalls are glaringly obvious. The Shapiro's valiant - though inept - struggle to balance the worlds of Carrington wealth and prestige alongside the Blaisdel's middle class and (even further down the food chain) with a honky-tonk back story involving Matthew and his wildcatter friend, Walter Lankershim (Dale Robertson): all fail to gel into one cohesive narrative. As such, those who recall Dynasty from its heady days of glitz and glam may wish to skip Season One. In many ways it plays like an entirely different series than the one most fondly remembered by fans.
Fox Home Video's DVD release of Season One leaves something to be desired. The image exhibits dated colors and a barrage of age related artifacts. Colors are muted at best with the palette primarily adopting a greenish, bluish tint. Flesh tones are a pasty pink. Contrast levels appear a tad weaker than expected. Edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details plague many episodes. The audio is mono as originally aired and adequate for this primarily dialogue driven series. Extras include two brief reflections by co-stars Pamela Sue Martin and Al Corley on the dramatic course of their characters as well as audio commentaries on select episodes.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2
VIDEO/AUDIO
2.5
EXTRAS
1

DYNASTY: Season 2 (Spelling 1982) Paramount/CBS Home Video


The Carringtons and the Colbys: ah, me. For nine years these two feuding families dominated prime time Wednesdays with their inimitable blend of venomous spite, intrigue and sinfully laisse faire sexuality. Such was the implausible world of television's night time soap operas in the 1980s; a glittery playground of tangible perversities made somewhat wholesome by the latest fashion. However, none matched Dynasty (1981-89) for ultra-glitz, glam and gaudy excess. Season One's cliff hanger, the debut of Alexis Carrington (Joan Collins) begins Season Two on a high octane note of conniving intrigue. In fact, it is in Season Two that Dynasty really hits its stride and developed its staying power as a pop icon. The story lines crafted by Richard and Esther Shapiro seem tighter; character development more linear and engaging. Just as Dallas eventually proved to be Larry Hagman's gig as the unscrupulous J.R. Ewing, Dynasty quickly evolved into Alexis' grandstand.
In Season One, the Shapiro's attempt at grafting the role of viper/vixen onto Blake Carrington's (John Forsythe) daughter Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) proved an ill fit for both the character and the actress. After all, how could television's original Nancy Drew willfully hurt anyone? But it's a role Joan Collins - with all her class, culture and exacting precision as a seasoned performer - was born to play. Alexis begins her tirade on Season Two by lying on the witness stand at Blake's murder trial - claiming that he was a violent spouse who threatened physical harm if she ever came back to Denver to see her children. This slander is partly responsible for Blake's conviction of Ted Dinard's murder. However, the verdict is distilled into a suspended sentence, affording Blake the opportunity to move on with his professional oil dealings.
Unfortunately, for Blake, his home front is anything but a calming influence. Blake's refusal to accept Steven's (Al Corley) homosexual lifestyle only serves to widen the rift between father and son. Meanwhile, Fallon and Jeff's (John James) marital relations continue to disintegrate, especially after Fallon begins to flirt with the family's personal psychiatric physician - Nick Toscanni (James Farantino). Nick harbors deep, though as yet hidden resentment toward Blake after he discovers that his brother was murdered while overseeing oil fields in the Middle East for Denver Carrington.
As for Claudia, (Pamela Bellwood); she attempts suicide before mobilizing her efforts to learn where Matthew has taken their daughter, Lindsay. Blake gives Claudia a job at Denver Carrington; a move that Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner) takes advantage of when he lies to Claudia about knowing the whereabouts of Matthew and Lindsay but refuses to tell her unless she spies on Blake's oil dealings first for him. Alexis moves onto the Carrington estate and into the artist's cottage, originally a wedding present from Blake to her and for which she currently holds the deed. Alexis' presence causes constant friction between Krystal (Linda Evans) and Blake. After learning that Krystal is pregnant Alexis ratchets up her desire to destroy their happy home by firing a gunshot into the air while Krystal is riding her horse. The animal is spooked, throws its rider to the ground, and Krystal later loses the baby.
Enter Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear), Krystal's scheming, poor niece who immediately sets her sights on becoming a Carrington to inherit her piece of the pie. Sammy Jo seduces and then marries Steven; much to Alexis' chagrin. However, realizing that Steven has no tangible wealth other than what his father provides, the greedy Sammy Jo quickly loses interest in her new husband and runs off to Hollywood to seek her own fame and fortune. Meanwhile Blake is taunted by an omnipotent oil tsar named Logan Rhinewood (actually Cecil Colby) who threatens to take over Denver Carrington by buying up its stock. After a car bomb set by Rhinewood's henchmen temporarily blinds Blake he shuns Krystal and the rest of his family - relying almost exclusively on Joseph (Lee Bergere) to guide him through his daily routine.
The last third of Season Two escalates into a powerhouse of dramatic tension. Fallon learns she is pregnant with Jeff's baby and eventually gives birth to a son they name Blake Jr. After spying for Cecil and even sleeping with Jeff in order to steal his keys to Denver Carrington's secret files, Claudia learns that Cecil has been lying to her about Matthew and Lindsay's whereabouts. Already mentally unhinged, Claudia plans to shoot Cecil. But Krystal discovers the gun first. The two women struggle and Claudia is wounded in the head. On the eve that Alexis is set to marry Cecil Colby (Lloyd Bochner) on the Carrington estate, he suffers a massive heart attack and has to be hospitalized. Blake Jr. is kidnapped and Claudia, having once more lost her grip on reality, disappears into the night without a trace, thus becoming the prime suspect.
Unfortunately, Blake's time with Nick Toscanni has run out. In the first of Dynasty's many memorable season cliff hangers, Nick unsuccessfully attempts to seduce Krystal - then decides to go after Blake at the mountaintop retreat where he and Krystal are vacationing. Nick confronts Blake on horseback. Blake is thrown down a steep ravine and left for dead just as a violent storm approaches. Thus ends, Dynasty Season Two with just about all the high stakes drama one could hope for in a ‘prime time’ soap. In hindsight, the season's strengths are decidedly its more tightly crafted interwoven narratives, the shifting of bitchiness from Fallon to the scheming Alexis and the introduction of James Farantino to the cast. It is a genuine pity the latter was written out of the series, because Farantino manages to convey great menace throughout Season Two
Paramount/CBS Home Video assumes the distribution rights for Season Two of Dynasty - the last season to be released in its entirety as a single package. Image quality is vastly improved over the Fox presentation of Season One (though still not the best it could be) with superior color fidelity and contrast levels. Flesh tones are quite naturally realized and there is a considerable amount of fine detail evident throughout.
Edge enhancement is practically non-existent, but the image is marred by a considerable amount of age related dirt and scratches. Also, various dupes within several episodes appear to have been sourced from less than original negatives - resulting in a few brief but distracting and very grainy inserts. The audio is mono as originally recorded but adequate for this presentation. The one extra feature that Paramount deems to bestow on us is a pathetic 'interactive' family tree that provides a sort of 'six degrees' of separation who's/ who, but with very sketchy details. Otherwise, Season Two comes recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
4
VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5
EXTRAS
1

DYNASTY: Season 3 Volume 1 (Spelling 1984) Paramount/CBS Home Video

Dynasty Season Three - Volume One: represents something of a step backwards, as it were, in plot construction. This narrative awkwardness begins with the very first episode and the complete obliteration of the Nick Toscanni (James Farantino) character, who vanishes all too conveniently without a trace and to parts unknown - never to be heard or seen again. Realizing that something is desperately wrong in Blake's (John Forsythe) failure to return to the mountain cabin, Krystal (Linda Evans) trudges on horseback through a perilous storm to rescue her husband.

Meanwhile, Claudia is tracked down by the police, Jeff (John James), Krystal and Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) to a high roof top, clutching what appears to be baby Blake. Tossing the bundle over the side of the skyscraper, it is revealed that Claudia actually had a doll in her arms - not Blake Jr. Frantic, Jeff suddenly recalls that a groundskeeper he casually met only once while visiting his father's grave, exhibited a curious fascination with his son. Together with Blake, the two successfully hunt this man down and recover Blake Jr. (Just a little bit too convenient for me!)

In Billings Montana an old woman dies, but not before revealing to her adult son, Michael (Gordon Thomson) that she was responsible long ago for stealing a baby from its crib in Denver to claim as her own. That child was Adam Carrington - the youngest heir to Blake (John Forsythe) and Alexis (Joan Collins). The woman now confesses to Michael that he is Adam.

After the funeral, Adam is determined to return to Denver to claim his birthright. Family friend, Dr. Jonas Edwards (Robert Symonds) makes a feeble attempt to discourage Adam from pursuing his destiny, revealing to Adam that the psychedelic drugs he experimented with in his youth might have permanently impeded his better judgment. Nevertheless, Adam arrives in Denver and after some initial apprehension, is accepted into the Colby fold by Alexis (Joan Collins).

After marrying Alexis, Cecil Colby (Lee Bochner) dies, leaving her a very rich heiress, whose controlling interest in Colby Co. Oil places Alexis in direct opposition to Blake's Denver Carrington empire. At the reading of the will, Jeff also inherits half of Colby Co., forcing him to quit Denver Carrington and go to work for Alexis. But Adam has other plans. He redecorates Jeff's office - presumably as a gesture of goodwill - but with paint tainted in mercurochrome oxide. The hallucinogenic properties of this compound eventually begin to weigh heavily on Jeff's ability to reason or even function properly.

Meanwhile, Joseph's (Lee Bergere) daughter, Kirby (Kathleen Beller) returns from her schooling in France to renew a childhood infatuation with Jeff. Unfortunately, Adam also takes an interest in Kirby, one that eventually leads to rape and a pregnancy.

The ever-scheming Alexis learns that Krystal's divorce from her first husband, tennis pro Mark Jennings (Geoffrey Scott) was never finalized in Mexico, thus rendering her present marriage to Blake null and void. Fallon, who has encouraged Blake to let her become the owner of one of his less popular hotels, La Mirage, now finds herself Alexis' unwitting accomplice when she hires Mark to be the new tennis pro at La Mirage. Shortly thereafter, Fallon falls in love with Mark but not before Alexis also seduces Mark with plans to use him to destroy Krystal's love for Blake once and for all.

Steven, who has departed Denver to work on an off shore oil rig is presumed dead after a deadly explosion. Although Krystal and Blake pursue leads in Indonesia, they are unable to locate Steven - forcing an extremely reluctant Blake to accept that his son is dead. After an absence of some length, Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear) arrives at Steven's memorial service, carrying Danny - Steven's son; an arrival met with mixed feelings and more than an ounce of scepticism. Thus, ends Dynasty Season Three - Vol. One.

Although Paramount Home Video remains in control of distributing Dynasty on Home Video, the exemplary results achieved on Season Two are slightly less so on Season Three - Vol. One with a considerable amount of edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details being the greatest distraction. Color fidelity is still excellent, as are contrast levels. However, background detail is a mess of digital distractions - not on all episodes - but enough to render the image quality inconsistent at best. The audio is mono as originally recorded and adequate for this presentation. There are NO extra features.

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

4

VIDEO/AUDIO

3

EXTRAS

0

DYNASTY: Season 3 Volume 2 (Spelling 1984) Paramount/CBS Home Video

Before delving into the various machinations of plot in Dynasty Season Three - Volume Two: I would like to stress the pointlessness of studio greed that chops television seasons into two volumes, simply to take advantage of the consumer and charge more money for their product. Television shows come to us in full seasons during their original aired broadcasts. Hence, there is little to encourage this continuation of giving us only half a year's worth of that experience - particularly when we are dealing with soap operas that build their story lines to a crescendo throughout a single season. Enough said.
It can safely be said that in the last half of Season Three, Dynasty makes a modest comeback to the intense melodrama exhibited throughout Season Two; unique enough not to be considered a 'Dallas' wannabe. Fashion designer, Nolan Miller's glam-bam is on full display with Joan Collins and Linda Evans wearing some of the most extravagant and expensive ensembles ever assembled for a television series. But the fashion pales to the scintillating performances and story lines that take center stage in this compendium of episodes.
Having become sufficiently disorientated with the mercurochrome oxide paint in his office, Jeff (John James) agrees to sign over all of his Colby Co. shares to Alexis (Joan Collins) by Adam (Gordon Thomson), who is now focusing on implicating Jeff in the Logan Rhinewood scandal. Meanwhile, Alexis learns a scandalous truth about Kirby's (Kathleen Beller) mother and threatens Joseph (Lee Bergere) with the details. Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear) returns to Denver and attempts to sell Blake Jr. to Krystal (Linda Evans) and Blake (John Forsythe) so that she can move on with both her shallow life and equally shallow career as a New York fashion model. Blake refuses to buy the child from her but agrees to a possible adoption.
Alexis pursues her devious takeover campaign of Denver Carrington by forcing the banks to call in Blake's loans prematurely. She further attempts to blackmail Blake's Washington politico, Congressman Neal McVane (Paul Burke) by threatening to reveal his extramarital affairs to his wife and the press. Next, Alexis forces Blake's Board of Directors to side with her for a merger, lest they be destroyed by her need for revenge. Having broken ties with Alexis earlier, Adam turns to Blake, quietly attempting to frame Alexis for Jeff's mercurochrome oxide poisoning.
On the other side of the world an unconscious body of the sole survivor from the oil rig explosion is pulled to safety. The mysterious stranger is sent to recuperate inside a hospital in Singapore. Knowingly assuming the identity of his dead rig co-worker after having had major reconstructive surgery, Steven (played for the first time by Jack Coleman) is confronted by Blake in Singapore and told that Sammy Jo has given him a son.
Reluctantly, Steven returns to Denver and is welcomed by the entire family who briefly rejoice. Meanwhile, Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) pursues a romance with La Mirage's tennis pro Mark Jennings (Geoffrey Scott) until Alexis thwarts their seduction by sneaking into Mark's room just as he has stepped into the shower - pretending to have slept with him by crawling into his bed moments before Fallon arrives. Back at the Carrington mansion, Kirby becomes jealous of Jeff's friendly relations with Fallon.
In the scorching season finale, Alexis lures Krystal to Steven's remote cabin to confront her with news that her marriage to Mark Jennings has never been annulled - offering Krystal a cool million if she will leave Blake for good. Insulted, Krystal attempts to leave the cabin, only to discover that someone has locked both she and Alexis in. The mysterious stranger now douses the cabin in kerosene, setting it ablaze. In the ensuing firestorm a beam comes loose from the ceiling, knocking Alexis unconscious and leaving Krystal alone and surrounded by deadly flames. Whatever will she do?
Paramount Home Video's Season Three Vol. II continues to suffer from edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details. Overall, color fidelity is solid, as are contrast levels. However, background detail suffers from digital distractions - not on all episodes - but on enough to render the image quality inconsistent at best. The audio is mono as originally recorded and adequate for this presentation.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS
0

DYNASTY: Season 4 Volume 1 (Spelling 1985) Paramount/CBS Home Video


Before delving into the various machinations of plot in Dynasty Season Four - Volume One: I would like to stress the pointlessness of studio greed that chops television seasons into two volumes, simply to take advantage of the consumer and charge more money for their product. Television shows come to us in full seasons during their original aired broadcasts. Hence, there is little to encourage this continuation of giving us only half a year's worth of that experience - particularly when we are dealing with soap operas that build their story lines to a crescendo throughout a single season. Enough said.
Season Four: Volume One picks up exactly where Season Three Volume Two ended: inside Steven's (Jack Coleman) cabin, aflame with Krystal (Linda Evans) and Alexis (Joan Collins) trapped inside. Unfortunately for the show's creators Richard and Esther Shapiro, Season Four begins on a rather sour note - fundamentally flawed with too many all too convenient narrative tie ins that, in hindsight, do not make very much practical sense.
We begin with screams for help. Krystal's cries are heard by Mark Jennings (Geoffrey Scott), who somehow just happens to be nearby and breaks down the door, allowing Krystal to pass, while carrying the unconscious Alexis to safety. Mark's arrival is never entirely explained. What was he doing at the cabin? How did he know anyone was inside it to even attempt a rescue? Unhappy circumstance for Mark that he doesn't seem to know these answers either and thus becomes the police's prime suspect for setting the cabin on fire in the first place.
Meanwhile, the usually stable Joseph (Lee Bergere) loses his grip on reality - a plot entanglement even more feeble than Mark's presence at the cabin. In previous seasons, Joseph is the peerless Major Domo of the Carrington mansion, equally adept at managing the estate staff as he is at drawing subtle innuendo out of Alexis. Presumably, because he could not bear to have Kirby (Kathleen Beller) learn the truth about her mother from Alexis, Joseph confesses to having set the blaze that trapped both she and Krystal, before taking his own life with a pistol.
Meanwhile, Blake (John Forsythe) tries to gain custody of Blake Jr., using Steven's homosexuality as the chief reason for his being unfit to raise the boy himself. Sammy Jo (Heather Locklear) lies on the witness stand to further ruin Steven's chances of keeping Blake Jr. But Claudia (Pamela Bellwood) proposes that she and Steven wed in Reno - having once had a brief affair with Steven before she entered the sanatorium. Steven agrees and the judge declares the couple as Blake Jr.'s rightful parents. Adam (Gordon Thomson) switches the original purchase sheets for the mercurochrome oxide with copies he has fooled Alexis into signing. Next, Adam confronts Blake with the forged copies and Blake, in turn, uses these to blackmail Alexis into giving Jeff (John James) back his shares of Colby Co. stock. He also foils the merger between Colby Co. and Denver Carrington.
In an attempt to break out of the insular Carrington/Colby world, three new and devious, though largely forgettable faces join the cast of Season Four; Deborah Adair as scheming Denver Carrington P.R. maven, Tracy Kendall; Helmut Berger as unscrupulous playboy/drug smuggler, Peter De Vilbis and Michael Nader as wealthy rival businessman, Farnsworth 'Dex' Dexter. Only the latter will have any staying power beyond this season.
After Blake appoints Krystal the head of Denver Carrington's public relations Tracy works to submarine Krystal's chances for success while gaining access to Denver Carrington's top secret files. Krystal agrees to marry Blake for a second time. At a horse race, Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) meets the arrogant Peter De Vilbis; the bad girl within her instantly becoming smitten. Peter introduces Fallon to the drug culture and then feebly plots to blackmail Blake by having one of his own prized race horses stolen from Blake’s stables. Neither narrative thread has any real staying power. Both quickly fizzle in due course before the cliff hanger.
Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger taunts Claudia by telephone with recordings of her late husband Matthew - nearly pushing Claudia over the edge of her already fragile mental state. Blake learns that Adam raped Kirby (Kathleen Beller) and that it is his child - not Jeff's - she is carrying. Separated from Jeff, Kirby agrees to Adam's rather sincere marriage proposal, though shortly thereafter her health takes a turn for the worst.
Season Four is a mess of plot entanglements, none of which seem to gel for more than two or three episodes at a time. Secondary characters come and go, having little or no impact on the existing Carrington/Colby clan or any hope of establishing their own longevity within this claptrap of implausible narrative threads. After the exhilarating intrigues of Season Two and Three, Season Four Part One is decidedly a letdown.
Paramount Home Video's transfers are an improvement over their work on Season Three. Edge enhancement still exists, but it has been greatly reduced for an image that is overall smooth and satisfying. Color fidelity remains solid. However, colors seem less vibrant than on previous seasons. Contrast levels also seem slightly softer than before. The audio is mono as originally recorded and adequate for this presentation.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
2.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
3
EXTRAS
0

DYNASTY: Season 4 Volume 2 (Spelling 1985) Paramount/CBS Home Video


Before delving into the various machinations of plot in Dynasty Season Four - Volume Two: I would like to stress the pointlessness of studio greed that chops television seasons into two volumes, simply to take advantage of the consumer and charge more money for their product. Television shows come to us in full seasons during their original aired broadcasts. Hence, there is little to encourage this continuation of giving us only half a year's worth of that experience - particularly when we are dealing with soap operas that build their story lines to a crescendo throughout a single season – enough said!
In Season Four, Volume 2, Peter DeVilbis (Helmut Berger) is exposed as a fraud. Claudia (Pamela Bellwood) reveals to Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin) that Peter has been making sexual advances to her for some time. Blake (John Forsythe) learns that Peter is behind the kidnapping of his horse and Peter digs his own grave by being apprehended at the airport with drugs in his possession. Thus ends Fallon's brief infatuation with him. Inconsolable, she throws herself in front of a moving truck; a suicide attempt that leaves her briefly paralyzed.
Meanwhile, Krystal (Linda Evans) learns she is pregnant once more, precluding her from attending a Hong Kong summit with Blake (John Forsythe) as his PR representative. Instead, Tracy (Deborah Adair) goes along. However, on the first night of their stay, Tracy attempts to seduce Blake in his hotel room. Tactfully thwarting her advances, Blake has Tracy investigated, and learns that she has been spying on his dealings for opposing interests. Tracy is promptly fired from Denver Carrington but quickly finds work at Colby Co. digging up dirt for Alexis (Joan Collins). Pushed to the brink of sanity by mysterious phone calls that sound like her late husband, Claudia flies to Peru in search of Matthew and Lindsay. Steven (Jack Coleman) tails his wife and together they discover the truth - that both Matthew and Lindsay were killed in a horrific wreck in the jungle; their bodies presumably carted off and eaten by hungry wild animals.
Blake brokers a deal with wily Arab millionaire Rashid Amed (John Saxon) to drill for oil in the South China Seas. Instead, at Alexis' behest, Amed turns around and releases news to the press that the one hundred million dollar payoff from Denver Carrington is to be used to launch a private war in the Middle East. The revelation rocks Denver Carrington to its core. Banks responsible for the loan suddenly force Blake into receivership just as Jeff (John James) and Fallon announce that they are going to remarry.
Learning that it was Alexis who drove her father to suicide, Kirby (Kathleen Beller) twice attempts unsuccessfully to murder her. Meanwhile, Dex (Michael Nader) infuriates Blake with threats of launching his own takeover of Denver Carrington, before beginning a torrid liaison with Alexis that goes nowhere fast. A new stranger arrives in town, the elegant Dominique Devereux (Diahann Caroll); flaunting her wealth and taunting Alexis with hints of their paths having crossed long ago in Europe. Despite the very real threat that he is about to lose his empire, Blake vows to give Fallon and Jeff a lavish Carrington wedding. Unfortunately, the headaches that Fallon has been suffering from since her attempted suicide are now driving her to distraction. On the eve of her wedding Fallon suffers a breakdown just as a terrible rainstorm descends on the Carrington mansion.
Police arrive to confront Alexis with the news that Mark Jennings (Geoffrey Scott) has fallen to his death from her penthouse balcony. Alexis is arrested and taken to prison under suspicion of murder. Ditching her wedding dress moments before the big moment, Fallon slips out the back way and jumps into her car. Jeff is derailed in his pursuit of Fallon by road construction and a cement truck. On a hairpin turn a little further up the road, Fallon loses control of her vehicle, disappearing over a steep precipice.
In hindsight, Fallon's wreck is an obvious way to rewrite the character - either off the show or as an entirely different actress (the latter occurring when Emma Samms took over the role late in Season Five). Yet, in general, Dynasty Season Four already seems like a show on the verge of cancellation; the comings and goings of the Carringtons and Colbys covering territory that is too familiar in all too familiar ways. It would take a new writer, Camille Marchetta to concoct what is now regarded as the best Season in the entire series - the, as yet, unreleased Season Five.
Paramount Home Video's transfers are an improvement over their work on Season Three. Edge enhancement has been greatly minimized for an overall smooth and satisfying image. Color fidelity remains solid. However, colors seem less vibrant than on previous seasons. Contrast levels also seem slightly softer than before. The audio is mono as originally recorded and adequate for this presentation.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3
VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5
EXTRAS
0

Thursday, February 24, 2011

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES: Blu-Ray (Miramax 1999) Alliance Home Video

A movie that is nothing like the novel it derives from, Lasse Hallstrom's The Cider House Rules (1999) is a bittersweet, often poetic, visually captivating slice of Americana; a beautifully re-conceived 'coming of age' story that remains as charming as it proves meaningful. The novel is much darker in tone and narrative, containing subplots of physical abuse, marital infidelity, homosexuality and incest. Only the latter transgression survives translation from page to screen and even then with limited reveal.

The film stars Toby McGuire as orphan Homer Wells and Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch, a physician who begins his career at a secluded orphanage in Maine, presumably with thoughts of medical heroics. Larch gradually realizes that he has inadvertently been made the custodian of the abandoned, the unwanted and the unloved rather than their saviour. Although occasionally bitter, Larch accepts his calling with a dedication and gentle understanding towards the orphans. He takes particular interest in Homer who has been twice adopted and twice returned by his foster parents.

Larch recognizes an extraordinary and acute sense of propriety in the young man, however, and with guidance and gentle teaching he transforms Homer into a obstetrics apprentice who daily assists him in the delivery of babies and - on occasion - performing of abortions. The latter procedure is, of course, illegal and performed in secrecy; a decision that Homer finds particularly distasteful, despite Larch's explanation that refusal to perform the proper medical procedure would only result in more casualties from botched 'backroom' abortions performed elsewhere.

Despite never having even attended high school, Homer is a success at his career. Moreover, he has the respect of both the staff and the children at the orphanage - particularly Buster (Kieran Culkin). Still, something is missing from Homer's life. Thus, when Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) and her flyer/boyfriend Wally Worthington (Paul Rudd) arrive at the orphanage in Wally's flashy car to have an abortion, Homer is captivated by thoughts of life in the outside world. Immediately befriended by both Wally and Candy, Homer decides to leave the orphanage, much to the dismay of Dr. Larch. Nevertheless, Homer is taken to Wally's family apple orchard where he becomes a picker under Arthur Rose's (Delroy Lindo) guidance.

Wally is sent off to war, flying dangerous missions over Burma. In his absence, Candy and Homer begin a friendship that quickly blossoms into romance. Candy introduces Homer to a whole new world of experiences. Their nights are spent spooning at an abandoned drive-in; their days, mostly at her father Ray's (J.K. Simmons) lobster shack. Meanwhile on the farm, Mr. Rose's daughter, Rose (Erykah Badu) becomes pregnant by her father, a situation that repulses Candy and infuriates Homer.

Dr. Larch, who has been trying to woo Homer back to the orphanage as his eventual replacement, has begun to forge Homer's medical degrees in order to secure his placement and pedigree as the legitimate heir with the board of governors. He even mails Homer a doctor's kit to the orchard that comes in handy when Rose decides to have an abortion.

News arrives that Wally has been shot down over Burma. Though he has survived the crash, Wally is paralyzed from the waist down. Candy, who has, until that moment, enjoyed a playfully passionate romance with Homer on the farm, suddenly realizes that her loyalty is to Wally. Meanwhile, Dr. Larch - who frequently relieved his daily stresses by indulging in the recreational use of Chloroform has inadvertently taken an overdose of the drug and died. His death is conveyed to Homer by a letter from Nurse Angela (Kathy Baker) - Dr. Larch's mistress in long standing.

It is mostly in the last act of John Irving's screenplay (based on his own novel) that the book and the movie differ. In the novel, Candy's sense of duty compels her to marry Wally. However, their life together is complicated by the fact that Homer and Candy continue to meet in secret rendezvous that eventually results in Candy becoming pregnant with Homer's child. Later, the child from that union - Angel - becomes involved in an interracial romance with Arthur's daughter, Rose.

The movie jettisons virtually all of these plot entanglements in favour of a much more straight forward dénouement. As the family awaits Wally's return from the hospital, tragedy strikes. Arthur Rose is knifed by his daughter as revenge for her pregnancy. Rose escapes into the night, presumably to start her life anew somewhere else.

After a bittersweet breakup, Candy willingly comes to Wally's aid as his dutiful wife. Homer decides to leave the orchard and return to the orphanage as Dr. Larch's replacement. In the final moments of the film, Homer is seen reading a bedtime story to the orphans, ending with "Goodnight you princes of Maine, you kings of New England;" a declaration that Dr. Larch nightly instilled in his unfortunates as both a sense of personal pride and a note of hopeful optimism that their futures will rise above their present circumstances.

As a film, The Cider House Rules is an emotionally uplifting and ultimately satisfying triumph of the human spirit. Author/screenwriter John Irving has previously defended his right to change the last act of his novel for the film, arguing that his excision of several characters central to the novel resulted in a tighter film narrative that in due course did his story justice. This critic wholeheartedly agrees and apparently so did Academy voting members who awarded Irving the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Michael Caine's subtly nuanced performance justly won Best Supporting Actor.

If the film does have a flaw, it arguably remains in the rather pedestrian acting from both Toby McGuire and Charlize Theron. McGuire, who has made his career out of playing basically the same clean cut character - perennially prepubescent and worldly naive - is competent in handling the first act of the story when everything, including human sexuality, is new to Homer. However, the romance that eventually blossoms between Homer and Candy - charged with passionate eroticism in the novel that is briskly attempted, then jettisoned from the film, is wholly unremarkable and rather unbelievable.

Theron's performance is somewhat stilted throughout. Neither she nor McGuire gives it their all, and it is saying much of Oliver Stapleton's cinematography that it manages to convey both a sensual quality as well as establish a distinct period feel even when the characters set before it seem more at home in a contemporary setting. Rachel Portman's tender and evocative score (currently used as background for the Pure Michigan TV and radio ads) elevates the visuals to another artistic plain. In the final analysis, The Cider House Rules is a great story told with expert craftsmanship behind the camera. More often than not, it is that craftsmanship that is the film's salvation.

Alliance Home Video's Blu-ray is most welcome, though not flawless. The 1080p image is crisp and mostly clean with rich, fully saturated colours. Flesh tones are quite natural. Fine details are nicely realized. The image pops quite nicely with richly saturated greens, blues and reds. There are several brief occasions where the image appears a tad digitized, but otherwise this is a satisfying, film like presentation with no real complaints.

The audio is represented in DTS and 5.1 Dolby Digital. The DTS exhibits obvious sonic clarity over the 5.1 mix. There are no extras. One note of descention: like most Alliance releases - this one comes with a seemingly endless barrage of trailers that one must toggle through before the feature begins. Also, there is NO way to access chapters or even a main page of options.

* Come on, Alliance - we're not in the infancy of DVD/Blu-ray authoring any more. Basic functions MUST BE provided for on ALL Blu-ray releases!

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

3.5

VIDEO/AUDIO

4

EXTRAS

0

Friday, February 18, 2011

ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (WB 1976) Warner Home Video

The presidency of Richard M. Nixon has been the subject of endless debate - most of it filtered negatively through a very liberal bias in the press that chooses to disregard virtually all of the advanced political strategizing and diplomacies that preceded the Watergate scandal. True enough, no account of the Nixon presidency ought to exclude Watergate from the record. It is a shameless and shabby epitaph.

However, Watergate should not negate the good that preceded it; Nixon's decisive attacks on Cambodia that ended the Vietnam conflict and his ending of military conscription.

Many today forget that it was Nixon who green lit NASA's space shuttle program. It was Nixon's peace talks that opened China to foreign investment opportunities. These are major and enduring accomplishments in the evolution of America that have all but been forgotten by the political layman. In the final analysis, the best that can be said of Richard Nixon is that he held dear to the ideal of aggressive leadership as its own reward - a mantra that unfortunately became his own undoing.

In a long line of film fodder attempting to deconstruct the entirety of the Nixon presidency based on its flawed last act, Alan J. Pakula's All The President's Men (1976) gets Cub Scout honours for being the first, and arguably, the best critique of Watergate, told from the ultimate insider's perspective. In this case, that perspective derives from months of in-depth investigative research conducted by Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

Woodward and Bernstein's book 'All The President's Men' (published in 1974) was a project long overdue. In fact, the two had toyed with the idea repeatedly but always from the perspective of writing an autonomous 'tell all' rather than an investigative 'how to'. It was actor Robert Redford's inquiry into their project that eventually prompted the book's final approach. Redford saw the story, not as an exposé on the Nixon White House but as a finely wrought deconstruction of the methods by which Woodward and Bernstein came to their own revelations.

In retrospect, Woodward and Bernstein are responsible for the toppling of Richard Nixon - their weekly columns on Watergate in The Post gradually eroding the premise of 'national security' by uncovering the seedy details to reveal corruption at the highest levels of office. The book and the film that followed it two years later are fairly straight forward accounts of that historical record and it is saying much of Redford, Pakula and their cast, that in making the movie they eschewed traditional Hollywood clichés that might have otherwise transformed the film into just another puffed up and blown out thriller with a political underbelly.

The initial rights to the property were purchased by Redford. But the original script by William Goldman was considered a mess. Bernstein, along with screenwriter Nora Ephron made their own attempts, but these veered too far from the tone of realism that Redford wanted for the film.

Meanwhile, Post Editor in Chief Ben Bradlee (played in the film by Jason Robards) contacted Redford to offer his own support behind the film, provided it gingerly tread on 'freedom of the press' and put newspaper reporting in a positive light. Eventually, Pakula and Redford went back to the Goldman script, rewriting portions to remain more faithful to Woodward and Bernstein's original text.

The film begins with the June 1972 break in inside the Democratic National Committee's offices of the Watergate Building. The burglars are first spotted by security guard Frank Wills (playing himself) and promptly arrested. At the Washington Post, editor Harry Rosenfeld (Jack Warden) assigns inexperienced reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) to cover what is first perceived to be an insignificant story. Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) is hungry for the story even though he is on the verge of being fired for lack on initiative. Working independently from Woodward at first, Bernstein eventually shares his investigative research and together the two set about to uncover more leads.

Woodward begins his rather clumsy approach to research by telephoning one dead end lead after the next - most refusing to offer him anything of printable value. Eventually, he stumbles across five Cuban Americans from Miami and James W. McCord (Richard Herd) - who have hired a high powered attorney to defend them in court. During these proceedings McCord identifies himself as having recently left the CIA. This morsel of information proves to be the flashpoint for Woodward's investigation. He connects the burglars to Howard Hunt - a former CIA agent working for Nixon under Special Counsel Charles Colson.

Although Woodward and Bernstein's investigation has uncovered sufficient evidence of a cover up, The Post's executive editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) is not yet entirely convinced their work is ready for the front page. His concerns are not unwarranted and this leads Woodward to his contact with Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook); an anonymous senior government official who contacts him through copies of The Times and a red flag planted in a flowerpot on Woodward's apartment balcony. The two repeatedly meet in secret inside a dimly lit underground parking garage. Although Deep Throat speaks mostly in platitudes and metaphors, he is constantly encouraging Woodward to 'follow the money'.

Fearing reprisals, Bradlee dislikes Woodward and Bernstein's reliance on this anonymous source to write their copy. Bradlee encourages his reporters to find more people willing to come forward in the scandal. Through CRP treasurer Hugh W. Sloan Jr. (Stephen Collins), the duo reveal a secret slush fund controlled by Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. As the White House issues more and more non-denial denials of the Post's copy, Bradlee begins to suspect that the narrative Woodward and Bernstein are writing may just become the most earth-shattering political story of the 20th century.

During their last secretive meeting, Deep Throat warns Woodward that the cover up has not been to conceal the identity of the burglars, but rather the covert operations of the entire intelligence community. Deep Throat's ominous warning - that all of their lives are in danger - sets up a final note of extreme paranoia. The film concludes with a blitz of Telex headlines revealing the rapid escalation of conspiracies inside the White House that are stripped bare by Woodward and Bernstein's stellar reporting.

As a semi-biographical account of that pivotal moment in American history, All The President's Men admirably succeeds. It is a time capsule of a very unflattering moment in the political fabric of the United States. As pure entertainment, however, the film does tend to lag. Its revelations are rather emotionlessly revealed. This, of course, is to the point of Redford and Pakula's desire to deliver an honest 'fact based' account of the story as it happened. However, in doing so, the director and its star have largely forgotten that what is gripping in print is rarely as compelling on the screen; the two mediums irreconcilable while problematically coming together herein.

This oversight would be permissible if the on screen chemistry between Redford and Hoffman had clicked. Mostly, however, it does not, with Hoffman clearly proving to be the superior actor in the film even though he is given less to do than Redford. As such, we are left with rather wooden performances from both actors without standout moments of brilliance by either. The supporting cast are all highly proficient in their craft, but again, none seem to step from the shadows long enough to make any sort of major contribution to the overall arch of the story. At best then, All The President's Men is a moving tableau that plays as almost literal translation of the Woodward/Bernstein book.

Warner Home Video's new Blu-ray is housed in a digi-book with 40 glossy pages of superficial snippets about the film. The transfer however, is less than impressive. Although the image is a quantum improvement over previously issued DVD incarnations, the image still looks very 'clumpy' with a thickness that seems unnatural. Blu-Ray colors are bolder but also much more garish and equally unnatural in appearance.

Exterior scenes exhibit cartoonish 'greens' in grass and trees. Flesh tones throughout are very ruddy. Robert Redford's blonde hair is, at times, a dirty cornflower yellow while Hoffman's brown locks mostly register as jet black.

This isn't a transfer to marvel at the refinement of fine details either. The image throughout is mostly flat, pasty and lacking in spatiality. There is an abundant amount of film grain that has arguably been naturally reproduced. Age related blemishes evident in earlier incarnations of the film are absent on the Blu-ray. The audio has been faithfully reproduced in mono.

Extras are direct imports from Warner's previously issued 2 disc SE DVD and are presented in standard def. These include an informative, though occasionally meandering audio track from Robert Redford. There's also several featurettes on the making of the film, Woodward and Bernstein, the real life events that led to the investigation, Deep Throat's involvement, a vintage interview with Jason Robards on the Dinah Shore Show and the film's theatrical trailer.

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

3

VIDEO/AUDIO

3

EXTRAS

3

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

NETWORK: Blu-ray (MGM 1976) Warner Home Video

Darkly comedic and ominously clairvoyant, Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976) is a scathing indictment on the television age. In tagline terms, it's the film that gave us, “mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore!” But from the fertile imagination of screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky, these ironic reflections about the debasement of network news into pop-u-tainment (manufactured and mass-marketed) that seemed like hyper-sensitive satire then have since remarkably and most regrettably come to pass.

Shortly after the film’s release, Chayefsky went on record with his notion that as a medium, television ought never to be taken at face value as either “a truth, aesthetic or value.” These were startling claims that had many a grand old man of the news up in arms. Network was outwardly and disarmingly dismissed in the press and utterly misread by the critics as mere outrageous black comedy. But that didn't stop audiences from embracing it.

In retrospect, Network now plays more like a crystal ball glimpse into the staggering quagmire of pre-digested sound bytes that currently are regularly billed as solid information and even more readily accepted by the mass public as pure fact; our media saturation with contemporary culture being guided by invisible corporate interests that arguably do not serve the general public good.

The film begins in earnest with trusted cultural mandarin and news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) delivering his nightly broadcast. Told earlier that he is to be fired for poor ratings, Howard informs his listeners that he will end his tenure and his life on air with a public execution. The stunt garners Howard a lot of publicity from rival stations. It also incurs the wrath of high strung network front man, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall) who promptly has Howard and his boss, News Coordinator Max Schumacher (William Holden) fired.

Meanwhile in another office, sexual neurotic Entertainment Programmer, Dianne Christianson (Faye Dunaway) has ulterior motives about putting Howard back on the air as “the mad angry prophet, denouncing the hypocrisies of our time” particularly when she sees that his on air suicide announcement made the all mighty Nielson ratings jump to the best market share UBS has had in a long while.

After her cronies fail to come up with one hit show for the pending fall line up, Dianna decides to take matters into her own hands by establishing a direct link with Laureen Hobbs (Marlene Warfield); the right hand of a Marxist terrorism unit helmed by the Great Ahmed Kahn (Arthur Burghardt). The deal struck between Dianna and Laureen boils down to having the terrorists film themselves as they commit acts of terrorism with the authentic footage then sold to Dianna who will build a series around it.

Meanwhile, Max is reassigned by Hackett to helm the network news division with Howard spewing his mad ranting at whim and will. Shifting the focus from hard news to factoid entertainment, the new Howard Beale Show is an instant hit with viewers, though Max quickly realizes that his old friend and colleague is actually in the midst of a very real nervous breakdown.

Determined to protect Howard from UBS’s greed, Max is instead seduced by Dianna who steals the corporate rug right out from under his feet, then proceeds to wreck his marriage. An impassioned split from Max’s wife, Louise (Beatrice Straight) follows. Eventually, all of this ‘gutter depravity’ comes to a fateful, unglamorous end with Max recognizing Dianna as a humanoid product of pure corporate greed – a creature so emotionally void and wounded by her dedication to her profession that the only place she can survive is in television.

Casting is inspired; beginning with Peter Finch’s Oscar-winning central performance. Tragically, Finch suffered a fatal heart attack before the ceremonies. He was awarded the Oscar posthumously. Holden is utterly superb as the ‘craggy middle aged executive’ indulging the last vestiges of his failed mid-life crisis with a woman incapable of offering him anything but fleeting pity. Dunaway tears up the screen with neurotic energies so hotwired and self destructive that she easily dominates the film as its most contemptible yet tragic vixen.

Robert Duvall delivers a diabolical performance as evil incarnate with a peptic ulcer – as utterly unscrupulous as he is insincerely funny. The as yet unmentioned, Ned Beatty is magnificent as God-like company president Arthur Jenkens. In an all too brief, though nevertheless poignant performance, the late and very great Beatrice Straight overwhelms – her heartbreaking reveal after the fallout of ‘winter passion’ between she and Max absolutely Oscar-worthy.

The eerie clairvoyance with which Chayefsky predicts the sad demise of our televised pop culture makes Network one of the truly outstanding American films not only of the 1970s, but for all time. A must see media event!

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray refines the image quality of its 2 disc DVD release from several years ago. Network looks sharp, crisp and finely detailed. Flesh tones occasionally look a tad too orange, but otherwise, colour fidelity is appropriately dated to a patina befitting the 1970s. Age related artefacts have been eradicated.


The image is smooth but with a distinct patina of film grain that at long last looks like grain rather than digitized grit. Fine details take a quantum leap forward on the Blu-ray. Contrast levels are more naturally realized. In a word, this disc looks wonderful.

The audio remains a disappointment. The mono mix is unbelievably strident. Network is a film where characters shout - a lot! During normal conversation the audio is dated but acceptable. However, at higher decibel levels, raised voices are grating on the ears and occasionally break apart with a crackle. I don't know if anything could have been done to refine this audio recording, but I definitely think some alternatives ought to have been attempted.

Extras are all direct imports from the 2 disc DVD and include screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky’s fascinating interview on The Dinah Shore Show, as well as several lengthy featurettes that together make an almost hour and a half long documentary on the making of the film and its success. Highly recommended!

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

5

VIDEO/AUDIO

4

EXTRAS

3

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)

4

VIDEO/AUDIO

4

EXTRAS

2