Old-style Romance is Alive on Blu-ray disc

By Jim Bray

In today's Hollywood, it seems almost as if most romances aren't complete without crudeness, whether it be via profanity, nudity, sexual content or merely the coarseness that seems to have taken over western society in the past couple of decades.

That may be why I enjoyed watching a couple of light and romantic Blu-rays recently that aren't "in-your-face" and are suitable for audiences of all ages.

Okay, it may not be fair to paint all of today's "romantic movies" with the same brush, and there is still the occasional flick that hearkens back to "days of old", but the fact that "Roxanne" and "It Could Happen To You" stood out shows they may be the exceptions that prove the rule these days. And as such, if you're yearning for a couple of hours in the home theater that may make you feel good and won't require you to shower afterward, these are a couple of good choices.

They aren't the best example of the Blu-ray format, unfortunately.

Steve Martin wrote and starred in "Roxanne", his update of the Cyrano de Bergerac story, and it's a fine romantic comedy that eschews Martin's "Wild and Crazy Guy" shtick in favor of a smart and mostly restrained performance.

Oh, you can see the "WACG" there, but you can also see Martin's growing maturity as a performer. Though off the wall, he's never over the top and though he spends the entire movie wearing a particularly long face his character is happy and, for the most part, comfortable in his skin.

Martin is C.D. Bales, chief of the volunteer fire department of a small town called Nelson, which coincidentally is the name of the small city in British Columbia where the bulk of the movie's exteriors were filmed. And Nelson looks great here in all its Kootenay glory.

The movie isn't about Nelson, of course; it's about C.D. and Roxanne – and Chris, the big lunk of well-meaning fireman who wants a relationship with the lovely Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) but is too inarticulate to impress the cerebral lady.

Enter C.D., who also has a thing for Roxanne but is such a great guy that – when Roxanne confides to him that she has the hots for Chris – he works behind the scenes to help the lunkhead get the girl.

From there, much hilarity ensues.

Roxanne is an excellent film, a truly romantic comedy. The characters, other than perhaps the deliberately cartoonish firemen, are reasonable and believable. Martin and the cast – with Shelley Duvall in fine form – turn in wonderful performances. Director Fred Schepsi handles Martin's script just right, neither beating us over the head with the slapstick components nor allowing the film to get drowned in mush.

The Blu-ray release is good but not great. The movie has a natural look with good detail and some, though not a lot of, depth. Colors are reasonable, with good blacks and the picture is clean overall.

Audio is offered in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround, but it isn't a great example of the species. Expect few surround effects other than some welcome ambience, though the dialogue comes through clearly and that's the most important thing.

So while this is far from a reference Blu-ray, it's enjoyable.

Alas, there are no extras other than the disc being "BD Live-enabled", which is something I can take or leave (and usually leave, as I did in this case).

It Could Happen To You

Neither is "It Could Happen To You" a reference disc if you're fixing to show off your high definition home theater. But it is a popular fantasy: winning the lottery and being faced with the delightful task of deciding what to do with the money. It's apparently based on a true story, too.

Nicolas Cage is Charlie Lang, a dedicated and kindhearted New York cop. He's in what's basically a loveless marriage, though we get the impression this isn't Charlie's choice – that he yearns for the better days. He's at heart selfless while Muriel (Rosie Perez, in a performance you love to hate) is the exact opposite and she's pursuing her own agenda.

One day Charlie is a little short of pocket change and, rather than stiff the waitress at a café when he's called back to work, he promises to split any winnings from his lottery ticket with her. Waitress Yvonne (Bridget Fonda, who positively lights up the screen) doesn't believe him for a minute and in the meantime is under the gun financially in her own corner of the world.

Naturally, the ticket wins – not the huge jackpot you might think, but enough to allow Charlie, Muriel and Yvonne to write their own tickets (no apology for the "traffic meter cop" pun) from then on.

But Muriel is furious about Charlie's spur-of-the-moment offer and, to be fair, she's not completely out of line. Plus, Yvonne expected nothing and Charlie would be perfectly within his rights to either "forget" his offer or to offer her much less than half their winnings. Charlie, however, is a man of his word and this begins the budding romance with the charming Yvonne and the continued deterioration of his marriage to Muriel.

It's all pretty predictable, and I never expected I'd end up rooting for a marriage to fail, but overall the movie works.

An interesting gimmick is the use of Isaac Hayes as a kind of narrator who pops up periodically and who by movie's end turns out to be more than he let on.

It's cotton candy rather than prime rib – an interesting counterpoint to the more "meaty" Roxanne, but still very enjoyable.

The Blu-ray disc's 1080p picture isn't as good as Roxanne's, but it's still better than a DVD. There's some noise and grain that tends to affect the overall sharpness, and some dirt also appears on the picture. Blacks could be blacker and there isn't a lot of that great depth you can get with a Blu-ray that makes the picture almost seem as if you could reach into it. 

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio is okay. As with Roxanne, the surrounds are discernable mostly for providing some atmosphere but the dialogue comes through well.

Once again, there's little here for fans of extra material.

Still, I'd rather see a disc come with only the movie than with a bunch of lame extras, which happens sometimes, so I'm not too sad at the omission. I'd like to have seen more attention paid to the audio and video quality to make these worthwhile romances leap off the screen, but they're probably good enough for movies that, despite their attributes, are unlikely to go down in history as the spiritual successors to "Casablanca".

Copyright 2009 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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