Skip to main content

You don't find it depressing that Homer Wells is picking apples?

The Cider House Rules
(1999)

(SPOILERS) Miramax’s big Oscar contender of 1999 made its finalist appearance largely by default, after hopes for The Talented Mr Ripley bottomed out. The studio had gone great guns during the previous few years, taking both The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love to the top prize and even securing Roberto Benigni Best Actor, but suddenly things didn’t look so bright, and the result was this: a film that put a whole new spin on the – to all intents and purposes – inconsequential nominee vying for the main award. The studio would repeat the trick to almost exactly the same effect with the same director a year later in the form of Chocolat.

Indeed, when that picture was duly considered, The Wall Street Journal wondered aloud that, in the wake of Cider House, Chocolat might merit “the much-coveted Oscar for… mediocrity”, noting how the adaptation of the John Irving novel – a “tepid adaptation” as Peter Biskind characterised it in Down and Dirty Pictures – by Irving himself, no less, “was a movie that people thought was nice, but nobody thought it was a riveting, ground-breaking picture”. Biskind’s “tepid” sums it up, with even the more daring, “button pushing” content (Michael Caine’s kindly doctor performs illegal abortions, Delroy Lindo’s apple orchard foreman – its bunkhouse provides the title – is engaged in an incestuous relationship with his daughter Erykah Badu) shrouded beneath a veneer of ineffectual charm.

This is an utterly inconsequential film, from an author whose work has rarely translated well to the big screen. The elements to get behind, such as Caine’s ether-addicted, orphan-raising Dr Larch coming on like a sub-par Robin Williams, complete with winning catchphrase (“Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England”) come across more like cynical soundbites in an Oscar campaign than anything actually affecting. Consequently, it’s even more astonishing now than it was then that this managed to get Sir Michael his second Oscar, as it’s a long way from one of his great performances (reputedly his chances for Little Voice had been confounded by his desire to be put forward in the lead category – now that film provides a great Caine role), as if his somewhat bereft attempts at an accent took so much effort, they robbed Larch of all vitality and personality.

Lindo is very good (and was reputedly miffed to have been passed over for Oscar attention), Paul Rudd and Charlize Theron make attractive wallpaper (the latter has a particular tasteful bottom-espousing tableau), while Tobey Maguire… It’s interesting to note he got the role of Larch's reluctant protégée Homer Wells after “Pussy Posse” best buddy DiCaprio passed, as you can imagine the different effect Leo might have had on the picture’s energy levels. There’s something inherently passive about Maguire, meaning there’s something inherently passive about The Cider House Rules, compounded by Lasse Hallström’s taste for making inherently passive films. In Irving’s screenplay, we’re ninety minutes in before there’s anything remotely resembling a dramatic subplot (the aforementioned incest), and the need for Maguire to get his medical bag out to perform an abortion is the picture’s equivalent of a slumming it superhero forced to return to the fray once more.

Biskind records of the picture’s Oscar campaign that Miramax marketeers said “We left no stone unturned so that Harvey would be totally proud of us and that we could get as many Academy nominations as we possibly could. We worked like dogs”. This, knowing it wasn’t all that, and downplaying the abortion and drugs and up-playing the warmth – although, one suspects that wouldn’t have been too hard since a good eighty percent of the picture is “warm and cuddly images”. Apparently – hard to countenance I know, given his current state of ignominy – in gratitude for their hard labour, Harvey shat all over the campaign, believing they wouldn’t muster any nominations (Cider House received seven and won two, including, ironically, for Irving’s antiseptic screenplay).

Biskind records how 1999 represented a replay of the previous year’s Miramax vs DreamWorks, but with the result going in the latter’s favour this time. You might suggest Harvey had the last laugh, given how American Beauty has undergone a fairly unswerving critical backlash in subsequent years, whereas The Cider House Rules remains as irrelevant as ever it was. Still, at least it isn’t The Shipping News.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

Why don't we go on a picnic, up the hill?

Invaders from Mars (1986) (SPOILERS) One can wax thematical over the number of remakes of ’50s movies in the ’80s – and ’50s SF movies in particular – and of how they represent ever-present Cold War and nuclear threats, and steadily increasing social and familial paranoias and disintegrating values. Really, though, it’s mostly down to the nostalgia of filmmakers for whom such pictures were formative influences (and studios hoping to make an easy buck on a library property). Tobe Hooper’s version of nostalgia, however, is not so readily discernible as a John Carpenter or a David Cronenberg (not that Cronenberg could foment such vibes, any more than a trip to the dental hygienist). Because his directorial qualities are not so readily discernible. Tobe Hooper movies tend to be a bit shit. Which makes it unsurprising that Invaders from Mars is a bit shit.

Who’s got the Figgy Port?

Loki (2021) (SPOILERS) Can something be of redeemable value and shot through with woke? The two attributes certainly sound essentially irreconcilable, and Loki ’s tendencies – obviously, with new improved super-progressive Kevin Feige touting Disney’s uber-agenda – undeniably get in the way of what might have been a top-tier MCU entry from realising its full potential. But there are nevertheless solid bursts of highly engaging storytelling in the mix here, for all its less cherishable motivations. It also boasts an effortlessly commanding lead performance from Tom Hiddleston; that alone puts Loki head and shoulders above the other limited series thus far.