The Cider House Rules:
Lasse Hallstrom, director; Screenplay, John Irving; Miramax Collector’s Series; Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorophic; Dolby Digital 5.0 English, French Dolby 2.0, Spanish Subtitles; 125 Minutes
Love And Basketball:
Gina Prince-Bythewood, director & Writer; New line Home Video; Widescreen 1.85:1 (16 X 9) Anamorphic; Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 English, English Subtitles & Closed Captions; 127 Minutes
I guess I’ve grouped these two films because they have a lot in common, including length, romanticism, and the struggles of young people and black people. The Cider House Rules is a simplified version of John Irving’s novel, for which he wrote the script, and won an Oscar for it. Also so honoured was Michael Caine’s wonderful portrayal of Dr. Larch, who runs an orphanage and abortion clinic, and teaches his medical skills to young Homer Wells, played by Tobey Maguire. Everything about this film is sentimental, from the director’s flow, to the weepingly intrusive orchestral score, to the sweeping cinematography, with its lush colour palette. That is not to say that it isn’t enjoyable and beautiful, the latter trait carried through the film by Homer’s love interest, Candy, played by the stunning Cherize Theron. But stuff a few Kleenexes in your pocket before putting this DVD on.
The Cider House Rules are a set of behaviour instructions on the wall of the barn where the apple pickers, all black except for Homer, live. They have never adhered to them, in fact they’ve never read (or heard) them until Homer reads them aloud, to their great amusement. It never occurred to them to not smoke in bed, or go up on the roof on a hot summer night.
I won’t give away the rest of the plot, but it’s a great story shaped for the screen by a great storyteller, and a film well paced and directed, a particular strength the performances of the child actors in the orphanage scenes. The one jarring note to me was the constant use of the current “Hey…” greeting in a film set in the midst of the 2nd World War. Surely John Irving should have known better than to indulge in this kind of verbal anachronism; it’s sort of like having the black characters wearing Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls T-shirts along with their period clothes. Remember the kidding about Calvin Klein in Back To The Future?
Among Irving novels translated to the screen Rules is one of the best since The Hotel New Hampshire, which was carried by Jody Foster’s superb performance. The World According To Garp was a silly shadow of the immense novel, and like many films since, was largely ruined by the presence of Robin Williams, who, like Jim Carrey, turns every film he’s in into a caricature. Imagine either in Forrest Gump instead of Tom Hanks.
Perhaps as sentimental as The Cider House Rules, Love & Basketball also succeeds on its performances, and has a much softer edge than many previous films with the hand of Spike Lee (as producer) on them. Thus, it’s not so much about black culture as sports culture, and a relationship that survives and transcends both. Well written and directed, the film follows Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) from childhood through high school and college, both basketball stars, and one of them turns pro. Part of the fun of watching this tartly scripted film is its pace (of course, it’s divided into quarters): sometimes it’s a fast break, sometimes a zone trap, sometimes a give-and-go, and sometimes an overload offence.
I enjoyed it, but then I enjoy basketball. All the years I played, through Midget SOSSA to the All-Ontario finals, to a year of college ball, I never had a girlfriend who also played, and so, wondered at the plausibility of the situation. But both love and basketball are dealt with realistically, and the sub-plot about Quincy’s philandering ex-NBA-star father gives some resonance to his quest for sports glory and the pressures that feed it. However, it is the smart, focused, and optimistic character of Monica, with her faith in her own talent, that carries the film, and the performance of Sanaa Lathan, that most makes the film interesting. Love And Basketball is not necessarily for basketball fans only, and requires fewer hankies than The Cider House Rules (but more dribbles).
Special Features: Cider House Rules There’s a Making Of documentary that starts rather like a trailer with its announcer hype, but then settles into a good look at how the film came together, with some excellent comments from director Lasse Hallstrom, who’s also praised for his restraint and insight by Michael Caine. After all, he did allow Caine to steal the movie and win an Oscar. “Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England!” Other cast members also say valuable things about the core of The Cider House Rules, underlining its theme of the rules one finds everywhere, some imposed, and some self-chosen.
The deleted scenes provided here are mostly alternate takes, and are run in a continuous stream. There are also cast and crew bios, a theatrical trailer, and TV spots.
Love And Basketball - There are quite a few extras with this film, though not many of great interest. Here again the deleted scenes move smoothly from one to the next, with a quick return to the menu in between, and can be watched with or without commentary. I felt most were good cuts, and an additional Blooper Reel is not all that funny. A documentary called Breaking The Glass Ceiling, about women and competitive sports, I found very boring. As Nike says, “Just do it! Boing!”