The Cider House Rules – Review

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Michael Caine in a scene from “The Cider House Rules”.
3Star
by Ken B.

From its opening moments when sappy piano music drifted through the speakers, I had a pretty good idea of what The Cider House Rules was going to feel like. And I was right. While this 125 minute drama doesn’t reach over the bounds of enjoyability, it does fairly loudly voice the cries of “Give us an award!” Based on the 1985 John Irving novel of the same name, this film is set in 1943, at an orphanage in Maine. It is run by Wilbur Larch (MICHAEL CAINE). He and his staff work to take great care of the orphans, some who remain for years. Dr. Larch also uses rooms in the building to deliver babies and perform abortions on request, which were illegal at the time. He explains that he does this to prevent women from undergoing an unsanitary and dangerous form of the procedure performed by untrained people in back alleys, which for some could be their only alternative.

He is training a 21 year old man named Homer Wells (TOBEY MAGUIRE) to work with patients and assist him in the orphanage’s day to day operations. Homer was born at the orphanage, and while coming close, never found an adoptive family. Dr. Larch sees Homer as being competent and gifted as a doctor. However, when a couple (PAUL RUDD and CHARLIZE THERON) stop by the orphanage to have an abortion, Homer leaves with them. As they drive away in a shiny red convertible, with all the nurses and orphans waving Homer goodbye, Larch refuses to even watch this occur, sorely disappointed by his apprentice’s exit.

Homer ends up at an apple farm, owned by Wally (Rudd’s character)’s family. While Homer learns to pick apples with the migrant workers, headed up by Mr. Rose (DELROY LINDO), Wally is away at war. As this orphan’s life grows and his experiences blossom to new proportions, he also falls in love with Candy (Theron’s character).

You’d be hard pressed to say that this movie isn’t good. Everything is lit warmly, with an emphasis on wooden colors and hues. The script, written by Irving, moves at an even pace, never feeling too slow or too fast. The acting is variable, but never intolerable. The best here is Caine, who uses a perfect New England accent, and playing his character with experience and emotion. This would go on to win him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (he had won before in 1987, but he wasn’t at the ceremony because he was busy filming Jaws 4, of all movies). Anyway, back with the acting. Maguire, with a steady combination of handsomeness and civility, is good, but not memorable. The same goes with Theron, whose wonderful hair and makeup styling is similar to the Hollywood starlets of the era. It’s strange – I’ve seen both in far more memorable performacnes. They do have the talent. Lindo’s incredible performance went strangely unnoticed accolades-wise, and the character’s tormented daughter, Rose Rose (that’s not a typo), is played very well by Erykah Badu.

But there’s something missing. I don’t know if missing is the right word, but at times, The Cider House Rules has all of its components, and doesn’t really click. Is it Rachel Portman’s melodramatic score? Perhaps. Is it the fact that despite the otherwise innocent production design is mixed with dialogue and themes of the always controversial abortion, alongside mention of the terrible crimes of rape and incest? Perhaps. Or maybe, it’s all of these things and something else. Or maybe it’s none of these things and something else. It’s just that in the end, there was something unappealing about this movie that kept me from awarding it a higher mark.

I end with a light recommendation for The Cider House Rules. This isn’t a movie worth seeking out, but if it’s on TV, go for it. There’s a lot here to admire, but if you see it, you may not help but feel there were things holding it back.

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Jesus’ Son – Review

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3Star
by Bret W.

In this dark and seedy vision of drug abuse in the Seventies, director Alison Maclean shows us a glimpse into one man’s life. It’s a life of turmoil, chaos and shadows, and one which even the cleanest of us can identify with in some twisted sort of way.

Billy Crudup portrays the young man who is referred to only as FH (initials for a very discouraging name…the second word is “Head”). His life mirrors the moniker he has earned for himself. He drifts along with no direction, one petty crime following another, feeding his increasing hunger for drugs and alcohol. The cast of characters his life touches is as undesirable as he is. Michelle is the woman he seems to fall in love with. Wayne is a friend he helps to vandalize his own home for the copper wiring so that they can buy the drugs that will kill Wayne. Georgie is the orderly at the hospital where FH works, who steals prescription drugs to feed his own habit. When an overwhelming tragedy hits FH’s life, he begins to turn his life around, first by getting clean, and later by finding redemption in the compassion he finds in himself for others that he once shunned. FH’s life, once a descent into despair and death, in the end becomes his own rebirth into another more promising one.

While the film remains dark throughout, and while Maclean paints a disturbing picture of this young man’s life, Jesus’ Son is beautiful in its brutal frankness. The images are not pretty, and the situations the characters get themselves into make our skin crawl. Yet there is always the promise of something better, and the hope that we feel that this person will someday come into his own is rewarded in the end as he walks proudly and happily into the sunset, a poetic end to a circular story. It’s a fascinating tale, filled with dark humor and brimming with sardonic angst. The acting, while mechanical at times, was also shot throughout with flashes of brilliance. Billy Crudup gives his all to the part of FH, and the supporting cast is also quite good, with standout cameo’s from Dennis Leary, Holly Hunter, and Dennis Hopper. I enjoyed the film thoroughly.

Now, all that having been said, let me tell you a little story.

I came home from work one day in the fall of 1998, and there’s this squirly little guy with a megaphone telling me I can’t park my car on the street in front of my apartment. Now, I’m thinking, who the heck is this guy? So I called the police. They verified that they had every right, because they were filming a movie in our little town of Pitman, NJ. I got very excited, and I moved my car. They kept us up until at least 4:00 AM with their lights and loud bustle, but we didn’t care. Our town was going to be in a movie! Later we found out that this film was called Jesus’ Son, and that Dennis Hopper and Holly Hunter were in it. Even more exciting! They only filmed the one night, but we waited with baited anticipation until the film was released. Then we watched it very carefully, thinking one night of filming was probably only going to equate to a minute or two on the screen. We watched. We scrutinized. Then the credits started rolling, and it hit us.

Pitman ended up on the cutting room floor.

The World is Not Enough – Review

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2Star

by Ken B.

The World is not Enough almost feels like a slew of ideas for action scenes and one-liners were thrown together, and then a connecting plot was picked out of a hat. We expect the James Bond movies to be better than other action films, and when it’s not, that’s all the more of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Due to the excessive action sequences, it would be a crime if the special effects weren’t amazing, which they are, and the performances are very good for an action movie, ranging from the straight-edged M (JUDI DENCH) to the comic relief, “R” (JOHN CLEESE, who is one of the few people you can say to be hired to do comic relief in a movie and could pull it off every time, regardless of the surrounding script), who works with “Q” (the final performance of DESMOND LLEWELYN), and of course, Bond (PIERCE BROSNAN) himself.

The plot here concerns the assassination of Sir Robert King (DAVID CALDER), a tycoon whose money was just retrieved from a Swiss bank. The trail of clues leads to a series of Russian terrorists, including Renard (ROBERT CARLYLE), who literally can’t feel pain. The plan here is to create a nuclear meltdown to ruffle the petroleum prices.

Interesting, right? Kind of? Sort of? Well, the plot did not seem of upright concern for this one, which is kind of disappointing, considering that this is a 007 movie. I can’t reiterate this enough, it appears that the ratio of action scenes to plot was somewhere around 9 to 1. It starts all well and good. The speedboat chase at the beginning of the movie is wonderful to look at. And then, things slowly descend into a confusing mess.  Around the climax of the film, which contains so many gun flashes, sparks, and downright old fashioned gasoline powered explosions I had to shield my eyes a couple of times. I don’t think I’ve ever had to do that before. But oh – when you can see the explosions and flashes, they are truly magnificent.

I found the title song by the band Garbage to be oddly mesmerizing, accompanied by the title sequence which does not disappoint in looking like a David Lynch fever dream, as modern Bond sequences happen to do. Speaking of Lynch, the song sometimes did sort of have a dream pop undertone, kind of like Julee Cruise could in her work for Twin Peaks. Never mind. Making comparisons between these two sides of cinema is a futile effort. (I couldn’t keep going, anyway – Twin Peaks is as far as my personal knowledge of Lynch’s filmography goes after stumbling across it on Netflix.)

When compared to the lexicon of the James Bond franchise, The World is Not Enough just doesn’t stand up. It’s like a just-above-mediocre general action movie was ported into this series, established for longevity and quality. It has all the classic elements; exotic locations, Bond girls sure to intrigue half of the population, and a lot of explosions. The problem is, when The World is not Enough combines these things together, it doesn’t work nearly as well as we know the series can. In the middle, this 128 minute movie strays towards boring (except when a giant helicopter with steel jigsaw blades cuts buildings and bridges in half. Otherwise, the action becomes kind of repetitive). What I’m getting to is saying that The World is Not Enough is not a very welcome addition into the James Bond family. This is a completely passive, largely unsatisfying event.

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