Thursday, February 23, 2006

Movie musings

I watched The Cider House Rules again tonight. The Newport Public Library has a copy of the DVD; I had taken it out about a month ago and really liked the movie, so when I saw it back on the shelf again today, I decided I needed to see it again.

Why do I like this movie? Hmmmm... Well, it's exactly the kind of thing I like best - intimate, personal, and poignant. I like John Irving's writing, and not only is his original novel a great book, but his own screen adaptation is just as brilliant. And of course what makes the movie intimate and personal is director Lasse Hellström, who has made a career out of that kind of movie. Hellström is also brilliant at casting, and the actors in this case fit Irving's characters like old, comfortable and well-used flannel shirts. I'd read the book years ago, and on watching the movie I just couldn't imagine any other actors fitting those roles. Michael Caine - well, what can you say about Michael Caine! When he says "Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England", you believe him. And Tobey Maguire's wide-eyed wonder as Homer Wells is just perfect. I hated him as Peter Parker/Spiderman, but he was born to play Homer Wells. Charlize Theron is also perfect as Candy, the girl who just isn't any good at being alone. And Delroy Lindo as Arthur Rose - that man is just so good! Remember him as West Indian Archie in Malcolm X? A brilliant actor.

But most of all this movie is good because of Lasse Hellström. I've gotten to be a real fan of his stuff - My Life As a Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Shipping News, and An Unfinished Life (I haven't seen Casanova yet - I saw the trailers and a film clip; I suspect that like Chocolat this is going to be one of the few Hellström films I really don't like). Shipping News is my favorite, although I saw an Unfinished Life and am waiting for the DVD to come out so I can watch it a few more times and settle into it. What he and Morgan Freeman and Robert Redford did to create the relationship between those two old ranchers was probably the best work the three of them have created (although Freeman's role as Red in Shawshank Redemption with Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne and directed by Frank Darabont is pretty close to being just as close-knit, natural, and elegant).

But what Hellström did with Annie Proulx's novel The Shipping News, and especially the job he did with Kevin Spacey to create a character totally unlike anything Spacey has ever done before... I didn't like Cate Blanchette in that one, but then again her character was unsympathetic anyhow, so I guess she did a good job. But the real working ensemble was the Newfoundland cast, with Spacey and Julianne Moore and Judi Dench, and the job Hellström did with them to create three damaged characters healing and becoming whole was some of the most beautiful acting and filmmaking I've ever seen. Again, the man is brilliant at casting. Who would ever have seen Quoyle, the ultimate personality-less nebbish, in the acting Spacey had done to create his characteristic rash, devil-may-care characters? Moore and Dench had already created roles similar to the ones they played in Shipping News, but Kevin Spacey was a pleasant surprise. And Julianne Moore seems to be making a habit of playing serious, truly great theatrical roles. Remember her as Laura Brown in The Hours? Ahhhhhh! But that's Lasse Hellström's genius - he chooses just the right actors to fit the roles and creates the cinematic atmosphere in which they do their best work.

Oh, and one hilarious irony in Shipping News: I cracked up seeing both Cate Blanchette and Judi Dench in the cast; they both had played Queen Elizabeth I - Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love (1998) and Cate Blanchette in Elizabeth (also in 1998).

And that's my musing for today. Be sure to check back here tomorrow night - I'm putting together a photo essay on my spiritual home. Until then, sleep well, live a good life, and enjoy every moment.

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