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View From The Couch: Jaws, Coyote Ugly, more

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Robert Shaw in Jaws
  • Robert Shaw in Jaws

COYOTE UGLY (2000). Providing eye candy for teenage boys, a plucky heroine for teenage girls, and relatively little for adult moviegoers, Coyote Ugly is basically Cocktail with a gender switch (i.e., more emphasis on "tail" than "cock"). Instead of Tom Cruise, we get Piper Perabo, cast as a small-town Jersey girl who heads to New York City with dreams of becoming a successful songwriter. Unbelievably naïve in the ways of the world, she nevertheless has no trouble landing both a sensitive boyfriend (Adam Garcia) and a job as a bartender-dancer at the rowdy title club. Not as campy as Cocktail or as overbearingly earnest as the similar Flashdance (which, like Coyote Ugly, was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer), this slick flick is easy to take and even easier to forget, with an attractive young cast doing its best to punch across a hopeless screenplay. The picture's strongest asset is its rockin' soundtrack - any movie that prominently features Blondie's "One Way Or Another" can't be all bad - but then again, that's what CD stores are for, right?

Already available on DVD, this has just been re-released in an Unrated Extended Cut; beyond additional scenes, other extras include audio commentary by Bruckheimer, a LeAnn Rimes music video, and a nonsensical "Action Overload" reel featuring random snippets from the film. No great shakes, but you could do worse: You could be watching the new Special Edition DVD of another Bruckheimer assault on the senses, the dopey car heist flick Gone In 60 Seconds.
Movie: **

HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943). Not related in any way to Warren Beatty's popular 1978 fantasy of the same name (itself a remake of 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan), this Heaven Can Wait is director Ernst Lubitsch's haunting study of a man so convinced he belongs in Hell that he doesn't even apply for admission at the Pearly Gates. Relating his life story to a clearly amused Satan (Laird Cregar), lifelong slacker Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche) offers specific details on how he's spent an entire lifetime romancing women, even when it put his marriage to a perfect wife (Gene Tierney) at risk. What begins as a sprightly comedy eventually turns into an affecting look at loneliness, ageism and mortality. One of Lubitsch's biggest commercial successes, this earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director and Color Cinematography; however, the memorable sets by James Basevi and Leland Fuller, most notably the urbane depiction of Hell's waiting room, somehow failed to snag a nod. (The wonderful Charles Coburn, who appears as Ameche's wisecracking grandfather, nabbed the year's Best Supporting Actor Oscar for an even better performance in The More the Merrier.)

DVD extras include a video conversation about the film between critics Andrew Sarris and Molly Haskell, a Bill Moyers TV piece on the career of the film's screenwriter Samson Raphaelson, and photos of Lubitsch's home life accompanied by his piano recordings.
Movie: ***1/2

HITCH (2005). A warm and witty comedy that unfortunately runs itself into the ground during its final act, the year's most successful pre-summer release benefits immeasurably from the presence of Will Smith, who may or may not be a great actor but who is most assuredly a great movie star. There's something to be said for effortless magnetism, and in that respect, Smith has more in common with the sophisticated screwball comedians of the past than the coarse jokesters of today. He's at turns sly, suave and sexy as Alex "Hitch" Hitchens, a "Date Doctor" who makes a living by advising other men how to land the woman of their dreams. He meets his biggest challenge in the form of a clumsy, overweight accountant (Kevin James) under the spell of a super-model (Amber Valletta). As a gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) who snags Hitch's own affections, Eva Mendes initially has trouble keeping pace with a leading man as pretty as she is, but she ends up holding her own. James enjoys an easy rapport with Smith, and there's also an undeniable sweetness to the scenes in which he haltingly attempts to woo the mega-watt model (Valletta does a good job of humanizing this character). But rather than allow these appealing relationships to play out naturally, Hitch suddenly reverts to rigid formula in its final half-hour, unfolding no differently than any other modern rom-com. Like How to Lose a Guy In 10 Days, Maid In Manhattan, Two Weeks Notice - you name it - the simple thrill of watching people connect with each other gets tossed aside in favor of predictable misunderstandings followed by long-winded declarations of love that come off as a screenwriter's contrivance.

DVD extras include a blooper reel, a couple of deleted sequences, five behind-the-scenes featurettes and a baker's dozen of trailers.
Movie: **1/2

JAWS (1975). In the summer of 2000, Universal's DVD division released the Jaws 25th Anniversary Collector's Edition. Not one to put a cash cow out to pasture, the studio has now seen fit to offer the Jaws 30th Anniversary Edition. Watching this masterpiece for the umpteenth time, it's easy to see why it struck (and continues to strike) such an emotional response: In much the same manner as those "giant insect" sci-fi yarns from the 1950s, it offers a frightening picture of nature gone wild, specifically the deadly "what if" ramifications of a world in which another species manages to get the upper hand on us hapless humans. It also taps into that primal fear of being afraid of the dark - in this case, the dark being represented by a churning mass of murky liquid in which it's impossible to see the (very real) boogeyman until it's too late. It's expected for filmmakers to mature over the course of a lengthy career, but I'd be hard-pressed to find any subsequent Steven Spielberg flick (with the possible exception of Saving Private Ryan) that's as expertly directed as this one. Spielberg was working with extremely thin material (Peter Benchley's source novel is pretty lousy), and the potential for disaster was enormous (more so since the mechanical shark didn't work most of the time). But the director, drawing from a screenplay that improved upon the book, in the end fashioned a superb motion picture whose success owes as much to three knockout performances (by Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss) as to the substantial jolts.

Extras in this two-disc DVD set include a 60-page commemorative booklet, a two-hour documentary, deleted sequences and a rarely seen archival interview with Spielberg conducted from the Jaws set. On the down side, this release has dropped some of the enjoyable extras from the 25th Anniversary Edition - why not offer viewers more value?
Movie: ****

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