Monday, March 7, 2011

Moonstruck Blu-ray Review

Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck paved the way for other culturally focused comedies like My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the story revolves around a large family who loves, fights, and eats together.  In this case, the movie is about the Castorini family, an Italian brood that sticks together despite some problems which include infidelity, curses, and more.  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards and won three for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and
Best Original Screenplay.

Film (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Cher stars as Loretta Castorini, who is a middle-aged woman who has given up any hope for true love and accepts her boyfriend Johnny’s (Danny Aiello) marriage proposal even though she doesn’t love him.  Loretta’s pragmatism doesn’t please her parents as her father (Vincent Gardenia) believes she is cursed when it comes to marriage, and her mother (Olympia Dukakis) isn’t thrilled either.  Johnny however, is ecstatic even though he had to ruin a good suit when Loretta made him get on his knees to propose to her.  When he gets word that his mother is deathly ill, Johnny travels to Sicily to see his mother and asks Loretta to call his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to invite him to the wedding.
Loretta wasn’t even aware that Johnny had a brother but she soon learns that the reason they aren’t talking is because Johnny (being as dimwitted as he is) accidentally caused Ronny’s hand to get mutilated by a grinder which left him with a partially wooden hand.  Ronny’s fiancee at the time couldn’t deal with the artificial hand and left him which enraged him so much that he now hates his brother and nurses his anger daily.  When confronted by Loretta and the news that Johnny and her are about to get married, it sets Ronny off on a tirade and wants nothing to do with his brother’s wedding after he ruined Ronny’s chance for marriage.
Intrigued by Ronny’s passion in spite of herself, Loretta takes him home and makes him a meal and things quickly begin to warm up between them and in a very uncharacteristic display of passion, Loretta sleeps with him and they being an affair.  Loretta is not the only one in the family having an affair, as her father is having a secret affair of his own of which no one but his wife Rose  suspects.  Rose gets her own chance to have an affair with a charming cad named Perry (John Mahoney) when they meet in a restaurant and end up sharing a table together.
With tales around the dinner table of a legendary moon that brings about love and passion, it’s only a matter of time before that giant moon appears and begins to work its magic upon the family.  With Johnny due to return home, and Ronny proclaiming his love for her, Loretta will soon have to decide whether to play it safe with the established older brother in a loveless marriage, or take a chance on the young, impetuous Ronny who makes her feel young and carefree again.
I can see why this movie appealed to some people, but I do not believe it deserved six Academy Award nominations.  It’s a very formulaic romantic comedy.  Cher is excellent as the no nonsense Loretta and gives a nicely layered performance.  Nicolas Cage does the best he can with some ridiculous lines but not even he can save the role.  The rest of the family all gave good performances, but the melodrama sucked a lot of the enjoyment out of the movie for me.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

The 1080p (1.85:1) transfer is pretty good but not perfect.   Colors are muted for the most part, but detail is fairly good especially in close up shots which fare better than the wide shots.  Black levels are solid and the contrast is excellent.  Flesh tones are natural and consistent and there is some light grain present but overall this is a nice image.  This is an improvement over the previous release.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

Dialogue in this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is clear but uneven when combined with the score of the movie.  I constantly had to adjust the volume as the either the music or the dialogue would suddenly get substantially louder then die back down.  As this is a dialogue heavy movie that gets old quick, but the rest of the mix is better with some light atmosphere spread across the channels which give the movie a more immediate presence.  Just keep your hand on the remote!

Special Features (3 out of 5 stars) 

  • Audio Commentary – A commentary with director Norman Jewison, Cher and writer John Patrick Shanley.  Dry but informative as they discuss the process of putting the movie together and their experience working on it.  A lot of this commentary is repeated in the Heart of an Italian Family featurette.
  • Moonstruck: At the Heart of an Italian Family – A thirty minute retrospective featurette that combines interviews done while the cast was filming this and new interviews with Norman Jewison, Danny Aiello, John Patrick Shanley, and the producers.  This should be enough for most people that are interested in hearing about the movie but it’s too bad that there are no new interviews with Cher or Nicolas Cage.  For some reason, they’ve interspersed some real life Italian couple to offer their views on marriage and love which really just amounts to filler.
  • Pastas to Pastries: The Art of Fine Italian Food – A tour of some Italian restaurants and businesses on Mulberry Street in New York City.  Some recipes are also provided for some of the dishes that are shown during the segment.
  • Music of Moonstruck – A conversation with Dick Hyman who talks about creating themes from the opera La Boheme to tie it into the movie.  Jewison also points out that each role was actually representative of the opera as well.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

The movie captures honest family dynamics and experiences (love, yelling, florid gestures, eating together, demands, etc.) but a little of that goes a long way with me.   This is a very slight movie and after watching it in 2010, I wonder what it’s competition was back in 1987 that allowed it to do as well as it did.  That’s not to smear this movie, but this movie wouldn’t do half as well as it did if it was released today.   The movie’s mixed bag of performances (some loose, some natural, and some way over the top) make this movie feel a little wobbly and it just didn’t work for me like it did for a lot of others.
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