Heaven Can Wait
From the 20s through the 40s, Ernst Lubitsch was a brand-name director whose signature approach was called the Lubitsch touch.
It meant an urbane approach to love and morality, a warm-hearted cynicism that valued playful sexuality, graceful behaviour and human foibles. The Lubitsch touch was light, employing sharp dialogue with few obvious witticisms and jokes, and precise comic reactions with no overt slapstick. A style unlike any other, it resulted in some of the best high comedy ever put on film.
The Lubitsch touch is amply on display in this seemingly trivial tale of an inconsequential playboy who, after death, duly presents himself in hell and explains his wasted life.
Don Ameche is perfect as the playboy, all surface charm and soft triviality, so much an American Marcello Mastroianni that you wonder what would have happened if the the Italian star and Lubitsch had worked together.
Scholars Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell thoroughly explore the comedy and underlying quiet meditation on aging and loss in a lively, extended conversation, while other supplements reveal the enormous contributions of renowned screenwriter Samson Rafaelson.
Though Lubitsch's best movie might be To Be Or Not To Be (1942) or The Shop Around The Corner (1940), the director here is at the peak of his powers, and Heaven Can Wait is eminently watchable - and re-watchable.
EXTRAS Sarris/Haskell conversation, TV portrait of Raphaelson, Raphaelson and critic Richard Corliss audio seminar, Lubitsch home recordings and photo gallery, press book, trailer. Digital transfer, theatrical frame. English with English subtitles.
(Columbia, 2005) D: Andy Tennant, w/ Will Smith, Eva Mendes. Rating: NNN
They forgot to write a character for Will Smith. He's the date doctor, who knows how women think and coaches men on how to get and get through the first date. But Alex Hitchens (Hitch) is a nobody. There's not a trace of feeling, fear or quirk under the bland professional surface until we're into the third act, and then it's too little too late. Besides, we guessed it in the first 10 minutes.
A lot of the time this doesn't interfere with the mild fun. Female lead Eva Mendes, the reluctant object of Hitch's own personal attentions, has character to spare and sparkles in every scene she has. Smith wakes right up when he's with her, and their dates-from-hell are comic highlights.
But without her, Smith goes back to being an alert blank. Which almost leaves Kevin James, the second male lead, as the fat nerd in love with a socialite, acting in a vacuum. He brings a likeable warmth to a role that's usually just an invitation to scorn, but that white-men-can't-dance shtick's grown pretty threadbare over 30 years. A little character-specific reaction from Smith could've lifted some of their scenes into the stratosphere.
Despite this, and a tissue-thin, perfectly predictable plot, there's lots of verbal humour - the whole cast has great comic timing - and some okay slapstick. Director Andy Tennant moves things along smoothly and, as he tells us on the electronic press kit they're passing off as a making-of doc, he's made a point of finding some lovely never-before-seen New York locations.
EXTRAS Making-of doc, blooper reel, deleted scenes, music video. Full-screen. English, French. English, French subtitles.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Wes Craven, w/ Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg. Rating: NNN
Unless you're a solid gore-hound, you won't gain much from picking up the uncensored version of Cursed. At 98 minutes, it runs a mere one minute longer than the PG-13 theatrical release. That extra minute gives you a longer look at some moments of graphic violence, which improves the rhythm a trifle, but don't look for anything spectacular that didn't make it to the big screen.
In fact, don't look for anything spectacular at all. Wes Craven, who's made some genuinely chilling movies over the years, notably Nightmare On Elm Street, and writer Kevin Williamson (Scream) are coasting here. They're out to nail the standard werewolf with the standard weaponry: shocks, set-pieces, gore, gags and effects.
They fulfill this modest ambition perfectly and amusingly, with a fair degree of imagination and unforced humour. But they come up empty on metaphor, satire or the kind of terror that stays with you after the lights go up.
And they waste the delicious potential of everybody's favourite bobble-head goth doll, Christina Ricci. She doubts, suffers and fights effectively as the good girl, but, given her image, she could've been way more fun as someone who really wants to be a werewolf.
The effects are generally good and well covered in the extras and selected-scenes commentary track, where makeup ace Greg Nicotero and actor Derek Mears go into detail on the creation and playing of a werewolf.
EXTRAS Selected scenes commentary, three making-of docs. Wide-screen. English, French. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2005) D: Florent Siri, w/ Bruce Willis, Kevin Pollak. Rating: NN in classical drama, the tragedy of good intentions requires that the protagonist realize how horribly he's screwed up. Florent Siri displays no such awareness.
Siri, a French filmmaker who studied under Eric Rohmer at the Sorbonne, had one feature under his belt when he was summoned by Bruce Willis to helm Hostage. He clearly went in with high hopes and thinks he fulfilled them. He talks of loving film noir and westerns and giving Willis something a bit different to play. He proudly points out bits of coolness in the film.
On the screen, though, it's nothing more than the standard Willis actioner, already moribund thanks to the 10,000 Die Hard clones. A contrived script with implausible twists, underdeveloped characters, so-so action and occasional moments of unintentional hilarity further sound the genre's death knell.
Willis has played a closed-down hero before. (Remember Unbreakable?) This time he's a small-town police chief wracked by guilt. The punks invading the rich folks' home and the subsequent cat-and-mouse game were done recently in Panic Room. The inside-outside team device has been used repeatedly since Die Hard. Here, Willis is outside as a seven-year-old boy creeps around inside.
We haven't seen the midpoint plot twist before, but we knew Willis would respond as always, by turning into Action Man. Sadly, none of the action is up to the standards of Willis's best.
EXTRAS Director commentary, deleted scenes, extended scenes. Wide-screen. English, French. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, June 28
(Disney, 2005) Vin Diesel proves once again that he's the man who would be Arnold.
The Iron Man
(Tartan Asia, 1988) One of the first and strangest of the new Japanese horrors.
(Paramount, 2004) How well does topical humour stand up when the occasion is over?
(New Yorker, 1967) Jean-Luc Godard's move into radical filmmaking and politics.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb