April 1, 2011

Fox catalog dump! Rain Man, Moonstruck and Last Tango in Paris are an eclectic mix of Award winners and nominees, and all could be considered either classics or “classics.”Such is the fickle nature of award winning – you never know if a film is going to stand the test of time and if winning an award will help or hurt that legacy. But now they’re all in Blu-ray, with some of the least polished 1080 transfers in a while. My review of Rain Man, Moonstruck and Last Tango in Paris follow after the jump.

1988’s Rain Man is probably the stodgiest, perhaps because it’s a best picture winner. The film stars Tom Cruise as Charlie Babbit, a selfish European car dealer who’s caught in a shit-storm because he’s been finagling and lying to keep his business afloat. He thinks he’s lucked into something when his father passes away. The two were estranged, and he seems to be the only living relative. But he gets nothing, and uses his limited detective skills to find out who’s getting the money. There he discovers Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman), his older brother, who’s a high-functioning autistic. To get part of the estate, he kidnaps his brother for a road movie.

It’s amazing that twenty plus years on, the culture still knows Rain Man well enough for Todd Phillips to reference it in The Hangover. But that’s the cultural impact a film could have back then, and Rain Man was a cause celeb Oscar winner that shown light on a disease that affects many but is little talked about. And taken in that light it’s a very good to great film. Director Barry Levinson has a very nuanced approach, and he lets scenes breathe in what amounts to a formula picture, and gets what may yet still be Tom Cruise’s best performance on screen.

But if I say it’s a little bullshitty, it tries to recognize that Hoffman’s Autism won’t go away and that he lives in patterns, but also have a happy ending. It’s the problem with a lot of disease films. Remember when Shine was nominated for a bunch of Oscars and they brought out the real guy to be on the show, and he tried to perform and it was deeply uncomfortable? That’s the truth of many of these diseases and disabilities, and I can’t blame Hollywood for making it an easier pill to swallow, but as it’s so respected and whatnot, it’s also hard not to note that it’s a little bit of a cheater. And to be fair, the film plays, with two great performances, and Cruise is note perfect in a role that seems written for him.

Fox/MGM’s Blu-ray is okay, but the image quality is lightly lacking. This could be due to age, or slight DNR, but it looks of period. The film is presented widescreen (1.85.1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround which gives most play to Hans Zimmer’s score. Extras are a carryover from the DVD, and it’s a plug and play release. It comes with three commentaries one with Director Barry Levinson one with Co-Writer Barry Morrow and one with Co-Writer Ronald Bass. It would have been nice to have on track, but everyone has something interesting to say.  There’s also a reflective making of called “The Journey of Rain Man” (22 min.) and the related featurette “Lifting the Fog: A look at The Mysteries of Autism” (20 min.) There’s a deleted scene (2 min.) and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Writer John Patrick Shanley announced himself with Moonstruck, and such led to his underrated classic Joe Versus the Volcano, which led to him leaving Hollywood for years. More’s the shame. But that’s what happens when you win an academy award that early in your career. Moonstruck’s a charmer, put together by Norman Jewison as a pleasingly adult romantic comedy.

Cher stars as Loretta Castorini, a widowed Brooklyn woman who is about to get married to Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) on two conditions. He has to go back and tell his mother about it (in Italy), and she has to convince his brother that he should come to the wedding. The brother is Ronny (Nicholas Cage), and he tells her how he can’t forgive his brother for the loss of his fiancée and most of his hand. Loretta begs, and the two end up sleeping together – for her as an act to get his forgiveness. But they have sex under a beautiful moon, and love blossoms. She’s also got family drama as both her and her mother (Olympia Dukakis) becomes aware that her husband (Vincent Gardenia) is having an affair.

Whimsy is such a hard mood to capture, and Jewison’s film hits the right notes. The film is well written and cast, but – man – Nicholas Cage is such dynamite in the film. At the time he was in his own universe as an actor, and though his Hollywoodization has led to his gift for the odd to slacken, he’s still killing it in this early role. And with his big eyes and outstretched would be Brando-isms, he hits the right oddball notes in the film. It’s also refreshing to see a movie like this about slightly older characters finding love. The film moves to a grand climax where everything is resolved in the most delightful of ways. The film is simple, but its charms are undeniable.

Fox/MGM’s Blu-ray here is also a slight upgrade from the original DVD release. The film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround that mostly highlights the soundtrack. Extras include a great commentary by Cher, director Norman Jewison, and writer John Patrick Shanley. Cher mostly makes small appearances, but the other two are great talkers, so who cares? Then there’s the featurettes “Moonstruck: At the Heart of an Italian Family” (25 min.)  which gets Jewison, Shanley Dukakis, and Aiello and others involved with the film to talk about it, and Italian-Americans to talk about the film. Padded. Then there’s “Pastas to Pastries: The Art of Fine Italian Food” (30 min.) which highlights Italian cuisine, and offers recipes, while “Music of Moonstruck” (6 min.) allows composer Dick Hyman to talk about his work on the film, and how crucial the opening use of Dean Martin’s That’s Amore was to the film’s success.

Bernardo Bertolucci’s masterpiece of sex Last Tango in Paris is rough, but when Marlon Brando’s on screen, the world stops. This may be his finest performance, he’s raw, unguarded perfect. If Cage was trying to get there, he may have gotten close, but he feels like the Disney version when these two are viewed in close proximity (then again, the tone of Moonstruck is such that it would ruin the film if he were to go this far).

Marlon Brando’s Paul meets Maria Schieder’s character Jeanne as they both are looking for an apartment. Without really knowing each other, they enter into a relationship based around sex, and without knowing the other’s name or outside life. Eventually that must crumble. For her it’s easy as she’s got a man who wants to marry her (Jean-Pierre Léaud) who’s also a filmmaker. If those sequences feel removed, it’s partly because they cannot compete. Paul is dealing with the suicide of his wife, and sees his life crumbling around him.

Pauline Kael launched this film into the stratosphere by calling it a cinematic revolution. Few have so daringly portrayed sex, and as such it’s easier to suggest the limitations of the film in the context of how so few have pushed as hard. And that’s also the fun of this. Brando is playing to a period concern with sex, and masculinity, and the film explores it for all it’s worth. The film is indelible, and Brando’s performance is stratospheric. Everyone else is fine, and the ending’s a corker.

MGM’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.75:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. I think the problem is that these don’t appear to be struck from the original negatives, but older compressions done for 1080P. This looks fine, it’s easily the best home video iteration, but it doesn’t have that Criterion-level pop. The only extra is the film’s theatrical trailer.

[Screencaptures courtesy of DVDBeaver]

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