Tuesday, 13 May 2014

"As Good As It Gets" on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 1997 James L. Brook’s Movie Now Reissued Onto BLU RAY In 2013...

"…A Better Person…" – As Good As It Gets on BLU RAY

Melvin is a bit of a boor. And that’s not even taking into account that he’s full of crap too. Ensconced in his plush 5th Avenue apartment  – famous and wealthy author Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) sits in front of his beautifully lit computer. Speaking softly and eloquently to himself as he composes the revelatory ending of his 62nd book - he types warm words about love and deep relationships. The only problem is that in the real world Melvin sucks at both with the ferocity of a gummy budgie on several uppers.

Then there’s the compulsive behaviour he indulges in privately and publicly because he’s a bank account that afford it – foil-wrapped bars of soap he uses only once (tapping the cabinet mirror each time he opens a new one) and leather gloves he bins after one outing. Mountains of expensive LPs all lined up in perfect alphabetical order - luxurious foot platters in the fridge in shrinkwrap that he won’t eat. In fact compulsion dominates his every action – locks on his door that have to be turned back and forth five times followed by the light switches. He can’t cross cracks in paving stones when he’s out on the New York streets and can’t abide anyone touching him ("get a life" one pedestrian cries). He carries plastic knives and forks with him in sealed bags because eating off immaculate silverware is a "judgement call". But these rituals are small beer to his motor mouth - that more often than not - would make an open drain seem fragrant.

"I've got Jews on my table!" Melvin protests when a man and a woman are found sitting where he always sits (early roles for Peter Jacobson and Lisa Edelstein – Dr. Taub and Dr. Cuddy in Hugh Laurie's "House"). He calls gay men "fudge-packers" while a coloured Art Agent has an "accent thick with molasses…" "Sell crazy some place else!" he tells the cleaning lady who wishes him God in his life. He calls an overweight waitress "elephant girl" and screams "Now!" at her to get his food - finally getting himself barred for life from his favourite eating hole to the applause of every single patron. But worse than his uncontrollable verbal diarrhoea is his persistent obnoxious behaviour – acts so unfeeling – they’d make The Hitler Youth tremble with pride.

There’s his gay neighbour Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear) – an idealistic painter who obsessively worships his small fluffy dog Verdell – so Melvin chucks the tiny Brussels Griffin down the garbage chute for urinating on the hall radiator ("wizzed for the last time you dirty dog!"). On a visit to his publisher a worshiping secretary foolishly asks, "How do you write women so well?" Unable to resist Melvin replies, "I think of a man – and take away all reason and accountability…" Even the warm-hearted waitress Carol Connolly (Helen Hunt) who works at CAFÉ (the only restaurant he’ll use in Manhattan) - the one person in the whole wide world who will put up with his God awful mannerisms and impatience - is having a hard time not poking his eyes with a red hot poker after a staggeringly offhand and cold remark about her sick Asthmatic son.

Both Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt won the Oscar for 1997’s "As Good As It Gets" – and not without reason. They’re simply fabulous in their roles as polar opposite people – weary souls who long for release from their respective personal prisons. But for my money the writing of Mark Andrus and Director James L. Brooks should have pulled a statue too. The movie has a ballbreakingly funny script that relishes in the attack - but also knows when to turn on the heart. Melvin shouts as a cackle of school kids on the sidewalk - "Children Stop!" - and all do in abject terror. When Dr. Bettes (the wonderful Harold Ramis) tells working-mum Carol that her sick son Spencer will now suffer less from his breathing problems and allergies because Melvin has stumped up $61,000 in medical bills to get her back to work and waiting on him – it’s funny, moving and beautiful. It drew tears in our house.

The CAFÉ scene where Carol tries to explain her gratitude for the miracle of life Melvin has given her son - is tender and awkward and genuinely touching – and his response of "lovely" when he just wants her to stop is so utterly on the money for his character’s inner demons. When they do finally have dinner together on a car trip to Baltimore to raise cash from Simon’s rich parents (he’s broke and needs to keep his apartment) – Melvin pays Carol a real compliment for the first time (dialogue above) and a softer better person emerges.

Even as a seasoned watcher - you forget just how good Jack Nicholson really is. In full flight – he’s an awesome thing to see and his character’s awfulness towards all of humanity is a wonder to behold. And yet you love him – monumental prick that he is – he gives his Melvin a beating heart. Not to be outdone on the robbed-of-an-Oscar front – I’d also state that another statue should have been handed out to Greg Kinnear as sensitive Simon in what has to be a career-best performance from him. Having been beaten to a facial pulp by a model that cased his soft touch place for a robbery (Skeet Ulrich) – the scene where he’s out of hospital and breaks down in front of Nicholson in his apartment is stupendous - and was shown at the Oscar ceremonies. It took real boots to go up against a consummate scene-stealer like JN and our Greg pulled it off convincingly. Look closely too and you’ll catch a few lines by the author of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (and the new one too), Raiders Of The Lost Ark and The Big Chill - Lawrence Kasdan - making an appearance as Dr. Green in Melvin’s Fifth Avenue Psychiatric Group.

Defaulted to Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 – the picture fills the entire screen and is gorgeous throughout. Only on a very few occasions do faces go slightly out of focus – mostly it just looks like quality all the way.
I bought the German Region B version (Besser Geht’s Nicht on Barcode 4030521707481) that has the Region ABC Logo on the rear - meaning it’s all regions or region free. A very real let down however is the complete absence of any Extras – not even a Trailer for God’s sake. I say this because I’ve long raved about the commentary that accompanies the whole film on the DVD release where Nicholson gives it some seriously informative and funny raconteur throughout "I'm upstaged by a fucking dog!" What a shame it isn’t on here. Subtitles are extensive too (details available from Amazon).

There are some Directors I will seek out – Terry Gilliam, Wes Anderson, Nadine Labaki, Peter Howitt, John Borman, Peter Chelsom, Mira Nair, Paul Haggis, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Paul Greengrass, Nadine Lahti and James L. Brooks are among them. They produce movies of depth, wit and hope – and the brill "As Good As It Gets" is right up there.

"You make me want to be a better person…" Melvin says to Carol in a rare moment of genuine breakthrough.

Make your home a sweeter place too by adding this dysfunctional nugget of love to your shopping basket…

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