NEXT STOP WONDERLAND
(A-4, R) is one of those starless little films you're lucky to wander
into and find your faith in movies restored. Set in Boston (the title
refers to a beach resort subway stop), it's a poignant comedy/satire
about the singles scene, mostly from the female point of view, often
cynical but never quite bitter. It's also a charming love story a
touch less Hollywood than Sleepless in Seattle.
It begins when 30-ish
nurse Erin (Hope Davis, attractive and a likely future star) is abandoned
by her live-in boyfriend. Her mom puts an unwanted ad for her in the
personals. This results in Erin, bemused and bewildered, sorting through
tons of suitors.
Most of the guys are
comic jerks obsessed with themselves. The film is a funny/sad compilation
of the lines and subterfuges men use on women. But writer-director
Brad Anderson offers hope by intercutting Erin's adventures with those
of Mr. RightAlan (Alan Gelfant), a plumber whose path keeps
crossing hers. He wants to "change his destiny" and is working through
school to become a marine biologist.
Since the question
is never whether they'll meet and match but how, the movie ultimately
takes its stand with romance. Somehow, it suggests, fate (or some
higher power?) always gives us a chance to find our soulmatesclassified
ads are not required.
shot in 22 days, demonstrates you don't need a kazillion bucks to
make screen magic. A few subplots are strained, but the main characters
are delightful. Anderson, 33, offers his follow-your-dream optimism
as his response to "the glib, cynical attitude of today's youth culture."
His many deft touches
include Erin's compassion for the other lonely people around her,
the light and lovely bossa-nova themes, and the fresh dialogue. Some
talented minds at work here; tasteful handling of material; recommended
for mature youth and adults.
AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY
EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA
STORY (A-2, PG-13): The ultimate Mr. Right story, of course, is Cinderella,
in which a dashing prince (and a fairy godmother) rescue a pathetic
girl from a life of poverty and abuse. A lot is changed but the charm
definitely remains in this 1990's feminist (and much more realistic)
version. It is set in an artfully re-created Renaissance France, in
Cinderella battles to control her own destiny. The prince is cute
but no brain surgeon, and the godmother role is undertaken by Leonardo
da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey), who happens to be passing through.
The main point of this
lush production (including some eye-pleasing use of medieval chateaus
and a monastery) is to take the legend to some credible historic roots
for a skeptical modern audience. As played by impressive Drew Barrymore,
the Cinderella character, Danielle, is admirable. She's a role model
of a loving, dutiful daughter, deeply attached to her dead parents
and her father's last gift to her (a copy of Thomas More's Utopia).
She yearns for the love of stepmother Rodmilla (deliciously played
by Anjelica Huston) who rejects her time after time.
at the palace is not self-indulgence but part of a plan to save the
life of a beloved family servant. The lost shoe becomes a symbol rather
than a literal search for a dainty foot. Danielle is a clever and
athletic country girl who gets herself out of tight jams and rescues
the virile but dim-bulb prince (Dougray Scott).
The romance is largely
preserved, along with humor that decently avoids destroying the mystique.
Thus, Rodmilla and pretty blonde daughter Marguerite (Megan Dodds)
are transparently greedy and selfish, the royal parents are typically
frustrated by their nonconformist son, the inventive da Vinci is always
This is director and
cowriter Andy Tennant's first big-budget effort (he and Barrymore
collaborated on TV's Amy Fisher Story) and it's class all the
way. Even the punishment devised for the gold-digging step-ladies
seems fair and just. My guess is that young women will love this
film, as well as just about everyone else.
SIMON BIRCH (A-2, PG)
is a sentimental but charming religious fable, set in 1960's New Hampshire,
about an endearing 12-year-old dwarf who believes he's been given
a heroic destiny by God. A kind of miracle and a source of grace,
Simon is rejected by his icy parents and mocked by the other kids.
But he proves a savior to the community and brings profound changes
to the life of his best friend, Joe, whose unmarried mom is the best
Christian in town.
Based loosely on John
Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, the film gently argues that
God's mysterious ways always have a purpose. Much of the plot action,
serious and comic, involves the local minister and Sunday school.
Both the script and bright child actor Ian Michael Smith expand our
awareness and compassion, and Ashley Judd is virtually luminescent
as the generous young mother. Somewhat disappointing but an entertaining
family film with theological elements to chew on; satisfactory for
youth and adults.
PAX TV sounds Catholic
and Latin, but it gets its name from wealthy backer Lloyd "Bud" Paxson,
Florida-based cofounder of the Home Shopping Network and devout born-again
Christian. Its September debut as the seventh networkthis one operating
daily around-the-clockadds a new twist to the continuing development
of religiously-inspired options to the traditional, secular big-TV
Pax apparently intends
to be religious in the Touched By an Angel sensefeel-good,
general, very secure. The central product so far is Angel itself,
slickly produced 1940's type of fantasy sassed up with 1990's conservative
Protestant family values and get-your-act together moralizing. Pax
has exclusive rerun rights to this series and strips it in prime time
every weekday. Other reruns include: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,
Diagnosis Murder, Father Dowling, Life Goes On.
Watching Pax exclusively
might be cocoon-like, but it could be a reliable place to escape to
if you can find it: Pax has over-the-air outlets in 20 top markets
but almost all are low-powered UHF operations. It claims it can reach
75 percent of all TV homes with some help from cable and dish feeds.
On Sundays, Pax's best
reincarnated show, I'll Fly Away, leads into its hourlong original
series, It's a Miracle, hosted by popular country singer Billy
Dean. Miracle offers stories of "miraculous events that show
the power of faith."
On weekdays, Pax promises
a couple of upbeat talk shows, Woman's Day and Great Day
America, trying to wring inspirational anecdotes from celebrities
while anchoring a lineup of infomercials and classic family sitcoms.
Pax is costing Paxson
big bucks ($244 million pledged just for programming). With minimal
original production, it needs only small ratings to survive. Off-hour
infomercials will help get rid of the red ink.
The religion is intermittent
and soft-sell, compared to its more committedly religious (and deeper
and more incisive) cable network competition (Odyssey, EWTN). Also
on cable, Fox Family offers The 700 Club plus the oldies-as-safe-haven
programming philosophy. Pax's real rival (for viewers with cable)
is Nickelodeon, with kids' shows daytime and classic series nighttime,
and no fundamentalist spin.
Networks like Pax are
based on the idea that "feel-goodness" is good business. But they're
also escapist, retreating from realities that are often ugly and from
the controversies of now to a then that was not so scary. It amounts
to psychological time travel. (Pax doesn't have a news division, which
insulates it even more.) There was nothing especially holy about TV
when we were watching it in the 1970's and 1980's. Still, these "safe
haven" options are occasionally nice to have. They can work for us
at the times we really need them.
to bringing "values" to television are well represented by John Wells,
whose creative connection to ER has made him very wealthy,
and William Baker, president and CEO of New York's WNET, a top producer
of public-minded social and cultural programming. Both of these men
have made television better, not just safer and more comforting.
This season Wells,
the son of an Episcopal priest, is creator of Trinity (NBC,
Fridays), about five adult children (the eldest a priest) in a New
York Irish-Catholic family. Baker recently received the 1998 Gabriel
Personal Achievement award, the top honor of Unda-USA, the National
Catholic Association of Communicators, for his lifetime contributions
to quality television.
CRYING IN BASEBALL
NO CRYING IN BASEBALL:
Tom Hanks's famous rule (A League of Their Own) was broken.
What did it was Mark McGwire's remarkable home-run recordplus
the chemistry of McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the fans in every city, the
hugs of (and by) the late former record-holder Roger Maris's adult
children, even the TV saturation coverage. All contributed to one
of the year's splendid TV moments. Generosity, joy, sportsmanship
were all back, until the next big negative story. Yeah, thank heaven