Saturday, September 2, 2017

MY BLUE HEAVEN: Blu-ray (Warner Bros. 1990) Warner Archive

There certainly has been no shortage of late in quality Blu-ray releases of some very welcomed and highly anticipated deep catalog titles. Of the lesser known, though arguably no less enjoyable is director, Herbert Ross’ My Blue Heaven (1990); a big hit with audiences then that generally garnered a lot of negative reviews from the critics at the time. Perhaps the critics were less inclined to overlook the movie’s many shortcomings, given the talent both in front of and behind the camera; apart from Ross, Nora Ephron to write it, and Steve Martin (Vinnie Antonelli), Rick Moranis (Barney Coopersmith) and Joan Cusack (Hannah Stubbs) to appear to pleasurable effect in it, if never to strain the full breadth of their artistic muscle. I had sincerely forgotten two aspects about My Blue Heaven; not having seen it since 1990, but somehow retaining whole scenes fondly locked away in my memory; everything from Steve Martin’s crass query regarding the difference between a pregnant woman and a light bulb (for the record, you can unscrew a light bulb) to Ira Newborn’s jaunty little composition – the Meringue – intermittently danced by Martin, Moranis, Cusack and a rubber-legged Bill Irwin as Kirby, Barney’s FBI field agent with delusions of going undercover. Originally, Steve Martin had accepted the role of Coopersmith opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger as Antonelli; fantastical casting to say the least. When Schwarzenegger opted instead for the lead in Kindergarten Cop, Martin jumped at the opportunity to play this prickly-haired Mafioso; producers turning to noted comedian, Rick Moranis to fill the bottom half of the double bill. It is, in fact, refreshing to see Moranis playing something better than the proverbial nerd. His Coopersmith is empathetic, kind-hearted and thoroughly enjoyable as a counterpoint to Martin’s ridiculously sly and self-professed stud on the lam.
The second aspect about My Blue Heaven I had quite mislaid all these years later is its glacial pace. I am old enough to recall a time in American cinema when movies were not quite so rudimentary or transparent in their objectives; today, more oft’ than not, rather clumsily detonating the scenery with a mind-numbing action sequence or spewing forth a three minute thumbnail that basically gives away the entire plot ahead of the main titles, simply because ‘clever’ marketing has suggested to the higher ups ‘no one’ has the attention span of a gnat. Hello, folks: I’m someone – and I do! I am also of the opinion our present depreciation into Judd Apatow ‘crotch-grabbing’ humor has decidedly run its course. For those educated on something better than an air hose and inner tube, the absence of a Woody Allen, Gary Marshall, Norman Lear or Rob Reiner toiling in the rom/com today has created a dearth, anesthetizing to our intellect. A good comedy tickles the funny bone. But a truly great one as effectively touches our hearts. Ephron’s screenplay is slow-moving in a genteel/raunchy sort of way. She finds comedy in Vinnie’s fish-out-of-water circumstances; ordering ‘Italian’ food in a seedy motel, as example, and being offered Italian ‘salad dressing’ and ‘macaroni and cheese’ as the options. Or Vinnie’s first introduction to ‘Cream-Cheese U.S.A.’ (a.k.a. – Fryberg: suburbia on steroids): antiseptically friendly and populated by corn-fed numbskulls who, with Stepford Wives-precision, robotically greet him at every corner with a smile and “good morning” to which this street-savvy wise guy belligerently replies, “Fuck you!” 
My Blue Heaven was shot in and around San Luis Obispo, Atascadero and Paso Robles; sold to the general public living outside southern California as San Diego. As a point of interest, a few brief scenes were actually shot in San Diego. The plot is programmer silly to a fault; mob snitch, Vinnie Antonelli and his chain-smoking ‘Married With Children-esque’ wife, Linda (Deborah Rush) arrive at their new home in the tiny hamlet of Fryberg; given new identities -Todd and Terry – by dull-as-paint FBI field agent, Barney Coopersmith. Barney is barely out the door when Linda announces she isn’t coming along for the ride. “The next time I see you you’ll be eating white bread,” she suggests, “You’ll even like it.” Adjusting to his new surroundings isn’t easy. Indeed, old habits die hard and before long Vinnie is nabbed for driving a stolen car by overzealous Assistant D.A., Hannah Stubbs whose bailiff, Crystal Raybek (Melanie Mayron) has a weak spot for dangerous men. Barney informs Hannah she cannot touch Vinnie for these petty crimes. He is in the witness protection program, agreed to testify in a murder trial involving a high-ranking Mafia chieftain. Barney makes rather a bad enemy of Hannah. In the meantime, Barney arrives back home to discover his sports psychologist wife, Dr. Margaret Snow (Colleen Camp) having an affair with pro baseball player, Wally Bunting (Gordon Currie). As Wally has only just been traded to Wichita, Maggie is packed up to follow him there.
In the meantime, Vinnie makes a general nuisance of himself in Fryberg, following Hannah around town – presumably to ingratiate himself into her good graces. Hannah, a mother of two young sons, Jamie (Jesse Bradford) and Tommie (Corey Carrier) finds Vinnie irritating. Alas, she is also biased toward men in general; an opinion suffered in marriage (and now the quiet desperation in divorce) with her ex, Will (Daniel Stern), who absolutely refuses to step back and give Hannah her space. By accident, Hannah has flushed the family pet – a turtle – down the garbage disposal and is now anxiously in search of its replacement, once again tailed by Vinnie. Vinnie lies to Hannah about the Feds not allowing him to keep his dog. “What was his name?” she tenderly inquires. “Fungool!” replies Vinnie. Alas, fate intervenes when Vinnie and the shopkeeper of the local pet emporium, Billy Sparrow (William Hickey) regard one another from happier days. It seems the town is a hotbed for relocated mafia stoolies and very soon Billy reacquaints Vinnie with a rogue’s gallery from his past. Informed at a luncheon that the federal stipend Vinnie is presently collecting will expire once he has given his full testimony at trial, Vinnie decides to organize his old buddies into a crime wave; responsible for hijackings and peddling black market stolen goods. It isn’t long before the police apprehend Vinnie again. Hannah is livid. Is there nothing she can do to get her crack at prosecuting Vinnie for his crimes? Apparently not, as Barney once again whisks Vinnie back to relative safety, imploring him to be more reticent in his actions.
Barney and Vinnie fly to Manhattan for the first of two trials. Alas, Vinnie cannot resist sneaking out by staging a faux ‘family reunion’ at the airport. Vinnie introduces Barney to his cousin, Filomena (Carol Ann Susi), presumably as a romantic interest, and his mother (Julie Bovasso) – both in on the fix. Vinnie’s escape is short-lived. Barney tails him to his tailor, Gaetano (Frank Gio) and together they embark on giving Barney a complete wardrobe makeover. Reluctantly, Barney acquiesces and is pleasantly surprised with the results. Now, Vinnie takes Barney for a night on the town, showing his cohort the tricks of the trade for picking up hot women in a nightclub. The boys indulge their new dance partners in the merengue; their revelry interrupted by a pair of hitmen taking potshots at Vinnie. Barney foils their crime. Afterward, Vinnie suggests Barney ought to pursue Hannah socially. At first, Barney resists. Hannah hates him. Besides, he is not all that keen on her either. Still, Vinnie persists. At trial, Vinnie’s testimony is quite convincing. Afterward, Vinnie wastes no time settling in to pen his memoirs. He also sets up a date between Barney and Hannah, inviting Hannah and her boys to a baseball game where their ‘cute meet’ can occur. Barney sheepishly suggests Hannah accompany him to the FBI’s yearly mixer and she coyly agrees to be his date. Shortly thereafter, the two discover they have a lot in common. Moreover, they are very much in love. Hannah invites Barney to spend the night. He does, and, in the morning, makes an example of Will by tossing the arrogant piece of work out on his fanny for having the audacity to simply barge in uninvited. Hannah is definitely impressed.
Vinnie and his cohorts’ crime spree takes an unexpected turn when their latest hijacking yields empty Culligan water containers. Vinnie recalls Tommie and Jamie told him about their need for a new Little League baseball diamond. So Vinnie establishes a charity to collect money all over town – presumably for the cause. He also finds time to sneak off to Vegas and marry Shaldeen (Carol Kane); a real bimbette he met in the frozen food section of his local grocery store. Barney’s boss, Underwood (Ed Lauter) approaches him and Kirby with what they have been waiting for; an undercover assignment – posing as a couple of rubes from Vancouver, out to buy stolen goods. Unaware, they are plants for Vinnie and his boys, Barney and Kirby hold up in an out-of-the-way motel. As fate would have it, Vinnie is nabbed by the police yet again and this time he offers to give up his ‘contacts’ if Hannah will agree to drop all charges. Hannah agrees. Now, Vincent leads Hannah to the very same motel where Barney and Kirby are hiding. As the police burst in, a bemused Vinnie swears he knew nothing about their sting operation. For once, he is being honest. Too bad for Vinnie, Hannah has had quite enough. She orders Vinnie arrested and informs Barney she will be indicting him under his real name.
At the preliminary hearing, Hannah attempts to reason with the Judge (Arthur Brauss). After all, the prospect of Mafia assassins come to Fryberg to kill the accused is fanciful to nil at best. Just then, the same hitmen from New York burst into court, riddling the room in bullets. In the ensuing struggle to keep Vinnie out of harm’s way, Crystal agrees to lead Vinnie to safety, offering him the keys to her car and her heart as the pair drives off from the courthouse. We speed ahead to a vacant spot of land where Vinnie is, in fact, building the Little Leaguer’s baseball diamond and stadium. The hitmen resurface, but are quickly apprehended by the police. Elated to have narrowly averted death, Vinnie regales Hannah with a story of familial loss to smooth the rougher edges in their tenuous relationship and declare a d├ętente once and for all. Hannah agrees. It’s for the best. We move to opening day; the Fryberg Turtles, decked in mafia-esque uniforms, proudly scurrying to their positions on the field to play ball. We also discover Crystal and Vinnie have since tied the knot and had a child together; Vinnie’s ex’s – Linda and Shaldeen share stories, each now engaged to the rehabilitated hitmen who tried to assassinate Vinnie earlier. Hannah announces Fryberg’s city council has declared Vincent Antonelli their ‘man of the year’. The band strikes up the merengue as the umpire shouts “Play ball.”
The finale to My Blue Heaven is too conveniently resolved; too cloying and silly for its own good. But hey – we are situated in pure rom/com territory; adults behaving like children, bumping into the furniture and each other until the anticipated sparks of sexual chemistry strike the necessary flint between them. This movie is never meant to be taken seriously; about as close to veering into farce without ever actually transgressing across that invisible line. Steve Martin and Rick Moranis have a wonderfully antagonistic/bromantic chemistry; by far, the most palpable ‘relationship’ in the movie. Barney cannot help but be exacerbated by Vinnie’s cheek. Nevertheless, he is also exceptionally grateful to the man who dragged him, kicking and screaming, out of boring beige businessman’s professional into the real world where, ironically enough, everyone’s dreams really do come true. Joan Cusack marginally overplays her hand here. Her Hannah is awkwardly stiff at the outset. Gradually, she finds her character. But it takes time and, during the interim, her ungainliness is not altogether deserving of our affections. The rest of the cast are cardboard cutouts at best. Miraculously, none of it seem to matter as, I suspect, My Blue Heaven’s strength is neither situated firmly in its storytelling nor its characterizations, but in that queer and imaginary realm where the most implausible circumstances can mysteriously conspire to successfully suspend our disbelief. This is a happy movie with a happy outcome. We need more of these populating our movie-land landscape today.
The Warner Archive (WAC) has rectified many a sin with this Blu-ray release of My Blue Heaven. Back in 1997, My Blue Heaven was one of Warner Home Video’s first DVD releases. The results were anything but impressive. Sourced from a cropped ‘pan and scan’ version of the movie, not only was the aspect ratio wrong, but so too the color balancing. Colors then were wan and the transfer marred by artificial edge enhancement; transforming the image into a gritty and pale mess. But now we have the Blu-ray: in a word – gorgeous. Restoring the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for starters, WAC has done an outstanding job sourcing this disc from a new 2K scan of the IP. Colors are robust. Contrast is solid and fine detail really pops. John Bailey’s cinematography is softly focused and so is its translation to 1080p. Occasionally, the image can appear slightly soft. This is a very minor quibbling almost unworthy of mention. The 5.1 DTS audio is very solid; Ira Newborn’s underscore, married to 50’s/60’s pop tunes, sounding pronounced, yet extremely well placed. One regret: save a theatrical trailer – no extras. Oh well, I suppose the movie doesn’t warrant any. Bottom line: My Blue Heaven is a movie you watch when you are feeling down or the dreaded winter blahs set in. So set aside your expectations for a story – good, bad or indifferent – and you will be pleasantly amazed at how much fun there is to be gleaned from this nimble-headed comedy with a soft center. Recommended!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)
3.5
VIDEO/AUDIO
4
EXTRAS

1 

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