Drama

Miramax Triple Feature Classics: Music of the Heart / Marvin’s Room / Shipping News (2011)

0 Comments 12 May 2013

Music of the Heart CoverStudio: Echo Bridge Entertainment

Theatrical Release: 1996, 1999, and 2001

DVD Release: June 28, 2011

Director(s): Wes Craven, Lasse Hallstrom, Jerry Zaks

PG / PG-13 / R

Review by Richard Rey

Marvin’s Room

Few movies leave a lasting impression on me, but this film easily makes the list. I was raised by my grandparents during the most critical periods of my life – as an infant and a teenager. While I don’t remember much about my diaper years, what I have been left with are very fond memories of my adolescence, the senior couple teaching me and loving me in an attempt to get my life back on track. That said, it comes as little surprise that this well-acted dysfunctional family drama, Marvin’s Room, packs such a personal emotional wallop for me as an adult, even if it does occasionally slip into Hallmark channel melodrama a time or two.

Bessie (Diane Keaton) and her sister Lee (Meryl Streep) had a falling out two decades ago when their father Marvin (Hume Cronyn) had a stroke and was permanently bedridden. The conservatively square-toed Bessie chose to stay by her father’s side while the granular Lee had her own problems to tend to. Since then, neither has spoken to each other, but that’s all about to change when Bessie is diagnosed with cancer and calls upon her estranged sister to be tested for a bone-marrow transplant that could potentially save her life. With Lee’s outlandishly rebellious seventeen-year-old son Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio), who has recently set their house ablaze, and her introverted ten-year-old boy Charlie, she sets out to Florida to face what she’s been trying to avoid for the past twenty years of her life – family.

Director Jerry Zaks hits the jackpot in his screen adaptation of playwright Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room in two respects: top-tier actors and a well-crafted script brimming with opportunities. Truly, the movie is an actor’s paradise, drawing Oscar-worthy turns from Streep, Keaton, and young DiCaprio. A scene where Hank takes a potato chip from a bowl on Bessie’s coffee table without permission is particularly true-to-life. But, as in all films, there is an enemy on the loose, this time rearing its ugly head in the form of sappy music. If the nuanced performances give life to the film, then the melodramatic soundtrack of Rachel Portman is the Grim Reaper, sucking the well of palpable emotion dry in Hoover-like fashion.

Even if the movie does have the trademark of a heartstring-tug flick, the camerawork and performances are strong enough that we don’t care about the target audience. The central message of Marvin’s Room applies to parties of every clime: selfishness breaks while selflessness binds.  Nearly every character in the film is emotionally broken; Hank rebels and lies to avoid the reality that his father is gone, Bessie is unwilling to budge from the routine monotony of her life, Lee fails to acknowledge her failures as a mother whose world is ever spinning out of control, and Marvin is almost completely out of touch with reality due to illness. No one seems to see things the way they truly are. But, given the right light and a little courage, life proffers them a second chance at change for the better.

My grandmother was to me what Bessie was to Hank, an iron-willed woman that went to great lengths to save the life of a lost young boy who, like most teenagers, thought he knew something of adults and life when, in retrospect, he knew nothing at all.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Music of the Heart

Within the first ten seconds of the film, director Wes Craven manages to spell out in spectacularly melodramatic fashion the exact type of picture that’s in store, and for most of us, it’s one we’ve seen before: white female teacher goes to inner-city school to help kids and great change is wrought in both parties involved. The movie’s saving grace from its cliché, based-on-a-true-story source material? The marvelously unique acting choices from Meryl Streep as Roberta Guaspari that garnered her yet another Oscar-nomination. Equally as praiseworthy is screenwriter Pamela Gray’s first-rate dialogue for Roberta which successfully brings the severity of her true character to the classroom; she is at once the strict disciplinarian you loved to hate most in school,  and likely the one that had the most profound impact on you.

When Navy wife Roberta Guaspari’s (Streep) philandering husband abandons her and their two boys for her best friend, she’s left to tread the weighty turf of a broken single-mother. With the acting chops of a screen gargantuan, Streep plays the victim lucidly, fully committing to the repercussions of the crisis that has just hit home. At the request of her mother, Assunta (Cloris Leachman), she successfully seeks out a job at a local retail store, but soon finds herself in East Harlem at an alternative public school, interviewing for a position as a violin teacher. The school’s hard-nose principal (Angela Bassett) turns her down due to lack of experience and certification, but is soon won over through a showcasing of her talent as a musician-instructor. Over the course of ten years, the violin program thrives behind Roberta’s blunt no pain, no gain classroom dictatorship eventually spreading to three inner-city schools. Not surprisingly, school district budgets are cut and the arts are the first to go – beginning with the violin program that’s touched the lives of more than one thousand students since its inception. But the district picked a fight with the schoolyard’s strongest chin – a fiercely passionate teacher willing to go toe to toe to save the program and her students’ bright future in the form of a fundraising concert at Carnegie Hall.

Admittedly, Music of the Heart begs its audience to open their hearts to its Lifetime Movie Network mood – it is Sister Act where the vocally gifted ghetto grade-schoolers are violently shushed and have violins shoved in their hands. As a whole, it will likely only penetrate the hearts of teachers and forgiving audience members willing to overlook, or bear with, its heavy-handed, desperate entreaties. If not for an electric performance from Streep, this would’ve been nothing more than the same old underdog story; and while the venerable actress does great work, no amount of thespianism can save this sensationalized film from its own predictable self.

The Echo Bridge Entertainment/Miramax Triple Feature DVD of Music of the Heart has a surprisingly clean look with its 1.85:1 aspect ratio and its Dolby Digital sound, formatted with a crisp and vibrant blend of SDDS/DTS. The quality of sound is especially penetrating during the concert finale set in Carnegie Hall. The DVD features no bonus material and offers little more than a chapter selection on the menu.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

The Shipping News

Kevin Spacey’s introvert-recluse Quoyle in The Shipping News is precisely what his father cursed him to be: a failure. We painfully trudge alongside Spacey’s quirky well-to-do protagonist who is ever-followed by a hovering black cloud. Whether it was Spacey’s cold acting choices or Robert Nelson Jacobs’ icy screenwriting that’s to blame for the film’s nearly frozen pacing, the result is the same: a cinematic blizzard of bland. After all, boring is as boring does.

Quoyle is a drab ink setter in New York whose invisible existence is unacknowledged by the world around him. When he meets the wildly slutty Petal (Cate Blanchett), he feels alive for the first time, looking at the overly made up tramp and sincerely confessing, ‘I love you.’ Petal’s fast-paced escapades never skip a beat, even after she gives birth to their daughter Bunny. Tragedy strikes when Quoyle’s love-at-first-sight nosedives in a car off a bridge into a river below, killing her on impact.

It is here the movie is supposed to pick up – but, alas, it doesn’t. Instead Quoyle’s unquenchable sense of melancholy grows into the worst type of self-deprecation – one without any humor. This sense of cumbersome sadness is effectively carried by the steady cinematic hand of director Lasse Hallstrom.

When Quoyle’s Aunt Agnis (Judi Dench) appears out of the New York smog, she suggests the three of them head back to their ancestral home in Newfoundland, asking, ‘What place on earth can be better than the place your people came from?’

There is no resistance from Quoyle, though a running theme in the film is his hydrophobia  which began as a child when his dad kicked him into a river to learn to swim. Quoyle’s journey is depicted time and again by this image of drowning – and, regrettably, we are there to witness the scene struggle that ensues.

Quoyle takes a liking to his disturbed daughter’s daycare provider in Julianne Moore (as Wavey), though the chemistry is lacking. And with a protagonist whose most exciting feat is publishing an article that contradicts the wishes of his arrogant editor, this movie makes for one sluggish journey to a man’s great awakening that, ‘If the legends are real, a broken man can heal.’

Hallstrom’s attempts to bring a mystical Brigadoon to the screen through the Newfoundies of the Northern Sea seems half-committed and too obvious, relying on voiceovers and speechifying exposition from various characters of the small fishing village in which Quoyle and family now reside. Sure, the aerial shots of the snow-covered landscape and the rickety ancestral home evoke some sense of romanticism, but, in general, Hallstrom’s insistence of Northern magic escapes the lens.

Echo Bridge Entertainment’s DVD Triple Pack Feature offers a nice clear picture (especially in capturing the mystic landscapes surrounding Newfoundland), accentuated by a delightful Northern soundtrack .

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

 

 

 

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