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Volume 1, Number 44

The Cider House Rules

(Dir: Lasse Hallström, Starring Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine, Charlize Theron, Delroy Lindo, Erykah Badu, Paul Rudd, Jane Alexander, Kathy Baker, Kieran Culkin, Spencer Diamond, Erik Sullivan, Kate Nelligan, Heavy D, K. Todd Freeman, and Paz de la Huerta)



There is a tremendous amount of potential behind The Cider House Rules.  It is directed by one of the most underrated directors of all time (Hallström of My Life as a Dog fame) and written by a writer that made one of the best moves he could make last year (John Irving disowned the tepid Simon Birch, the adaptation of his own A Prayer for Owen Meany, even making them change the character's name).  Then throw in the fact that it stars Tobey Maguire, the underappreciated young actor that I bring up in more reviews than any other actor, and Michael Caine, one of the best of the elder actors still working, and The Cider House Rules looks like a probable top ten list film. Unfortunately it is not.

The direction is able, with Hallström showing off his knowledge every once and a while, and the script is one of the year's best (John Irving adapted from his own novel).  All the actors do really good jobs and the setting is perfect.  So what is the problem with The Cider House Rules?  It's story is rather weak.  As much as I hate to say it, there is way too much sappiness in this film.  The musical cues from Rachel Portman only further push the sappiness level, and Hallström does not try too hard to stop it from coming. Sure it is not as bad, or as omnipresent as October Sky, but it is there.

The film is about Homer Wells (Maguire), a young man that has grown up in a orphanage in the care of a Dr. Larch (Caine).  When it looks like Homer is destined to go without being adopted, Dr. Larch decides to teach Homer how to deliver babies and give abortions in the orphanage's adjacent clinic.  He becomes like a child to Dr. Larch and also becomes an established surgeon. Homer and Larch keep a keen eye on the children of the orphanage and everything seems well.

Then Wells has an opening to leave the orphanage.  When a young couple comes in for an abortion, Homer talks the man, Wally Worthington (Rudd), into taking him away from the orphanage to a place where he can get a job.  After Wally agrees, they take a car ride where Wally and fiancé Candy Kendall (Theron) begin to adore Homer. With that they get Homer a position at the Worthington family apple orchard.  Homer stays in the cider house with other hired apple pickers, led by Mr. Rose (Lindo) and his daughter Rose Rose (Badu).  When Wally is sent off to war, Homer finds himself in a torrid romance with Candy, while worrying about the relationship between Mr. Rose and his daughter.  Meanwhile, Dr. Larch tries to convince Homer to return and keep his job at the same time.

I adored all the actors, with Maguire, Caine, Badu, Lindo, and Theron giving some of their best performances.  Michael Caine received a Golden Globe for his Little Voice performance last year, a performance that is nothing compared to this one.  This year is filled with many great supporting male performances, and Caine is one of the best.  I somewhat doubt his Oscar nomination chances, but I can always hope (at least he did receive a Golden Globe nomination).

I found Maguire to be enchanting as Homer, one of the roles that was made for him.  I did not think that he did as great a job as the one he did with The Ice Storm, but it was still a highly able performance.  Theron is also rather good.  I did not care for her in The Astronaut's Wife, but I have liked her in everything else.  The only real problem in the actors is Rudd, who I have never really liked with the exception of his turn in Clueless.

The Cider House Rules is one of those films that I would love to like a little more, but there just isn't enough there.  It has a nice quaint story, but the ending and a handful of other scenes are just too sappy.


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Mansfield Park

(Dir: Patricia Rozema, Starring Frances O'Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola, Embeth Davidtz, Harold Pinter, Lindsay Duncan, Victoria Hamilton, James Purefoy, Justine Waddell, Hugh Bonneville, Sheila Gish, Sophia Myles, and Hannah Taylor-Gordon)



Mansfield Park is one of those costume dramas that just do not work.  Sure costume dramas have a certain knack for being good, probably because almost all of them are from classic pieces of literature, but every once and a while, a bad one will jump up.  The reason that some do not work is usually not because of a poor story, but because of an inability of the screenwriter and director to make the material flow.

The best men to make costume dramas seem to be Ishmael Merchant and James Ivory, the fellows that brought us Room with a View, Howard's End, and Remains of the Day.  What they do with costume dramas is incredible.  I think that most critics would agree that they made the best costume dramas of the eighties and nineties (though their last film, a non-costume drama named A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, failed to turn heads).

If Merchant-Ivory have the costume drama production taken, it is Jane Austen who seems to have the adaptation taken.  In recent years, her works have been hot property for costume dramas.  In the last twenty years, Pride and Prejudice has been made twice, Sense and Sensibility made twice, Mansfield Park made twice, Northanger Abbey made twice, and Emma made thrice (one of which being the Emma set in modern-day Clueless).  The most recent is that second Mansfield Park.

Though considered by Austen to be her finest work, it is generally considered by her fans to be her biggest disappointment.  I'll come out and admit that I had never become acquainted with the work, not surprising considering that I have actually never read an Austen novel.

The film adaptation (which also used Austen's personal letters as a jumping point) is about Fanny Price (O'Connor), a young lady that has grown up with a noble rich family though she herself is poor.  Her mother and father send her off to an aunt since they think that she will be raised well in the Bertram household.  There she finds herself adored by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram (Pinter and Duncan), as well as the youngest son Edmund (Miller).  She and Edmund pretty much grow up together, and they seem like the perfect couple to get married, but both are blind to this.  When Henry and Mary Crawford (Nivola and Davidtz), a well to do brother-sister pair, come to the Bertram household, each one takes to liking Fanny and Edmund, which is great news for Mr. Bertram, whose eldest daughter Maria (Hamilton) had just married a rogue (Bonneville).  The Crawfords both set out to get the hands of Edmund and Fanny, who are fine with each of their suitors at first.

The film is overlong and boring.  There are moments in which the fanciful and rather enjoyable direction save it, but that is too much of a rarity.  I had liked Frances O'Connor in the Australian heist film Kiss or Kill, but I did not see the same ability in this performance.  Nivola and Miller both seem to be falling over their parts, pretty sad considering that they both have shown much better work (Nivola:  Face/Off; Miller: Trainspotting).  The actors that came off the best were Davidtz and Pinter, who successfully evoke a raw appeal that none of the other cast contain.  The story is nice, not the greatest thing in the world, but still enjoyable.

In fact the film is not that bad, if not for the fact that the bad acting and the excessive length (I always get raised eyebrows when I refer to a film being overlong when it is only about ninety minutes, but this could have been done in much less time) I might have given it a recommendation.  But as it is, long and flawed, Mansfield Park is no Emma, Sense and Sensibility, or even Clueless.


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Blatant Opinion:

The Year of Living Dangerously (and Not Even a Peter Weir Film All Year)

As many of you already know, this is the final report in the form that it has been known.  The entire run of it has been with the understanding that I see and review everything that opened in Nashville, that was a task I decided to take on for this year, and only this year.

I succeeded in this task, I didn't miss a single film.  The closest thing was The Dreamlife of Angels, which I drove four hours to catch up with after missing its Nashville bow.  Compared to last year, there were very few rereleases seen, which can be blamed on (1) the closing of the Belcourt, the Nashville repertory theatre, and (2) the large amount of first run films to see each week.  The only rereleases I caught were The Godfather and Stop Making Sense, a far cry from the large Warner Bros., Alfred Hitchcock, and Catherine Deneuve film festivals I saw last year.

Do I miss seeing such in the theatre?  Without a doubt.  But I have come to terms with it, I'm not going to see the amount of rereleases without a large repertory theatre like Nashville's The Belcourt and Boston's The Brattle. Hopefully in this new year of lessened film reviews, I will be able to catch a few rereleases that are in Nashville every once in a while.

And what is the future of this site?  It is still unknown, initially I had thought I would close it up in Summer 2000 when I would officially run out of time to catch so many movies, but it has become too popular to simply throw it off so easily.  I am a major poster on a film reviews message board, I have been working with an Academy Awards message board, the web site is more popular than ever, and the subscriber list has gone into quadruple digits on five different listings.  I think that there is no way I can just abandon this so quickly and easily.  What it looks like is that I shall continue this with a periodical (maybe monthly) lineup of reviews and essays.

This decision was actually brought on by a colleague of mine, Mike D'Angelo. He has run a film review web site for a few years now and has become a critic for Entertainment Weekly's video section.  After seeing the film Fight Club, he was spurned on to quit the reviewing business to look more towards screenwriting, something he has wanted to do for a long time.

I seem to be in the same boat, I have and still would rather direct a film than criticize it.  I know that I'll keep reviewing films whenever possible, but I'm now going to push my work towards film direction beginning this Summer (though knowing me, this deadline could be very tentative).

Enough about the next year in this site, how about this year.  I have literally been taken as far as I can with some aspects of this film period. When critics like Roger Ebert were skipping films like The Omega Code and Light It Up, knowing how bad they would be, I was painfully sitting through them.  I'm quite happy that this year will be free from such painful occurrences -- if I have no feeling of wanting to see the film, I'm going to skip it.

And there is no genre that makes me happier to skip than the gay comedies that I have been forced to sit through this year.  I'm incredibly happy that I will not have to see anything like Better Than Chocolate, trick, or Edge of Seventeen -- those were the worst parts of the year.

As much as I complain about seeing everything, there were some good parts. I did actually give recommendations to some films that I would have otherwise skipped:  The Iron Giant, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Goodbye Lover, Dick, Idle Hands.  I will miss some good films with horrible ad campaigns, hopefully I shall catch them on video.

But of course, how many did I see that I would have and should have skipped: Universal Soldier:  The Return, The Omega Code, trick, The Love Letter, The Black Mask, Edge of Seventeen, Foolish, Trippin', Better Than Chocolate, The 24 Hour Woman, Crazy in Alabama, Deuce Bigalow:  Male Gigolo, Mickey Blue Eyes, Plunkett & Macleane, Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back, A Dog of Flanders, The Deep End of the Ocean, Dog Park, Muppets from Space, Jakob the Liar, The Mod Squad, My Favorite Martian, 200 Cigarettes, Relax ... It's Just Sex, Doug's 1st Movie, The King and I, Love Stinks, Superstar, Baby Geniuses, Detroit Rock City, Lost & Found, Wing Commander, Southern Heart, Grizzly Falls, and Hunter's Moon.

The latter three of that listing are partly to blame for my disgust for the overviewing I did this year.  They were regional films that had no use being made.  I promise that I will never see anything like Southern Heart again (unless I'm paid for it).

But here I am complaining nonstop, when there were many great moments this year.  I had the chance to see a Kubrick film in first run, I saw four A+ grade films, and I have been part of a revolution of film viewers that I take great pride in.  I saw American Beauty this year, there is little else that matters in my mind.

So all in all, if my psyche could handle it, I would do this again.

Postscript: will continue as if there has not been anything different at the change of the year.  Each week, he will also point out the films that open in Nashville that he skips (if any).

Reviews by:
David Perry