Saturday, February 26, 2011
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)
Thursday, February 24, 2011
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)
Friday, February 18, 2011
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)
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
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)