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Nicholson commentary enriches DVD

Stewart Oksenhorn

In the films of Aspen director Bob Rafelson, Jack Nicholson has been a ubiquitous presence. Nicholson was the thorny vagabond Robert Dupea, who memorably dressed down a waitress over a chicken-salad sandwich in 1970’s “Five Easy Pieces.” He was the unlikely voice of reason in the Atlantic City character study “The King of Marvin Gardens”; another seedy drifter in the intensely sexual remake of “The Postman Always Rings Twice”; a guard-dog trainer in the romantic comedy “Man Trouble”; and a sleazy, crooked wine merchant in “Blood and Wine,” the 1997 film that seems to have concluded the on-screen collaboration between director and actor.One role that filmgoers are not accustomed to seeing Nicholson take on is Nicholson himself. Perhaps that is why the sight of Nicholson, the Lakers fan, causes such fascination, because it is about the only opportunity we get to see Nicholson not in character. Sure, he’s generally hiding behind sunglasses, and we don’t hear him speak, but we do get some bit of a candid glimpse of perhaps the biggest movie star of his generation, a guy who doesn’t do TV, magazines and the like.So the chance to experience Nicholson as Nicholson is a rare one. And the fact that on the DVD version of “Blood and Wine” Nicholson is talking, with humor and insight about his co-star Jennifer Lopez’s butt, makes it a worthwhile one. Nicholson’s voice-over appearance as himself is brief; on the DVD’s special features, he analyzes three of the film’s scenes. But just to hear Nicholson out of character gives a hint of the intelligence and diligence behind his on-screen persona. It becomes way out of the character we think we know when Nicholson reveals that it was his idea not to do a sex scene with Lopez. Not wanting to be another old guy lying down with a young hottie on-screen, Nicholson suggested to Rafelson that, instead of a sex scene, the two perform a dance scene. Nicholson’s mother, it turns out, was a dancer herself, and Nicholson notes that “for some crazy reason Bob liked my dancing.” Impure thoughts aren’t completely banished from Nicholson’s mind. He says he knew even then, in Lopez’s second big-screen role and well before she was J-Lo, that Lopez’s bottom was going to become the biggest thing in Hollywood.Also adding commentary is Michael Caine, whose words gain added meaning by virtue of his emerging from a short, self-imposed retirement from acting. Caine, says that one positive thing to came out of his screen hiatus was giving up cigarettes – an achievement that was blown to bits in “Blood and Wine” when he played Vic Spansky, a nasty, chain-smoking brute who coughs up blood from his emphysema. Looking back over his physically bloated character, Caine promises that he must never give up acting again; the retirement added 25 pounds to his frame.Nicholson and Caine agree that the reason for the poor commercial performance of “Blood and Wine” is that nobody in the film is likable, a sure path to box-office death. It is, in fact, hard to root for anyone here. Caine is pure evil, a crook who assures Nicholson’s Alex that the phrase “honor among thieves” is a bunch of baloney. By comparison, Alex is a gentlemen, though when it comes to choosing which to rescue from a bad car crash – his pitiful wife (Judy Davis) or a million-dollar diamond necklace – he goes for the loot. Alex’s stepson, Jason (Stephen Dorff) is a hothead and a slacker. And Lopez’s Gabby struts her stuff for both father and stepson.All of which makes for a rich film noir. Nicholson is outstanding, his face betraying the pangs of conscience that exist even as he steals, cheats and beats. Even better are Nicholson and Caine together, two exceptional actors weaving a textured relationship. When Vic spits up blood, Alex approaches him with a damp towel – and the viewer isn’t sure whether he intends to use it for comfort or further mayhem.”Blood and Wine” was released on DVD this week.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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