HTF REVIEW: "White Oleander" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Mar 2, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    White Oleander

    Studio: Warner Bros.
    Year: 2002
    Rated: PG-13
    Film Length: 109 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English, French and Spanish

    Where does a mother end and a daughter begin?

    As you browse through the shelves of your local
    video store you might easily pass by White
    without giving it a second thought.
    The cover art is sort of bland -- certainly not
    something that reaches out to you and says "rent
    me!" Of course, as always, I find out it is these
    very type of titles that I enjoy the most.


    Based on the best-selling novel by Janet Fitch,
    White Oleander is a memorable story of a
    young woman's journey through hardship and loss
    to maturity, happiness and true independence. The
    entire film is carried on the shoulders of its
    talented star, Alison Lohman who plays Astrid, a
    12-year-old girl who lives alone with her single
    Mother Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), a brilliant,
    beautiful, cold, and manipulative woman who has
    just been jailed for killing her boyfriend. This
    is an event that is about to change both their
    lives forever.


    Astril finds herself being shuttled through a
    series of foster homes. Her first foster Mother,
    Starr (Robin Wright Penn) is a bible-thumping
    former stripper with an alcoholic past who lives
    with her boyfriend, "Uncle Ray" (Cole Hauser).
    When things suddenly go sour, Astrid finds herself
    moving into the home of Claire (Renee Zellweger),
    a lonely actress who lives in a lovely Malibu
    home near the ocean with her husband (Noah Wylie).
    While Claire and Astrid form a sisterly bond between
    them, their happiness will soon be shattered as the
    relationship becomes suddenly sabotaged by Ingrid
    who continues to exert power over her daughter
    even from prison.

    There is so much I am leaving out of my synopsis,
    and that's because this is a long hard journey with
    occurrences that are painful and truthful. It's a
    very powerful film that can often be depressing. But
    while the revelations are often hard to swallow,
    the movie comes across as totally believable. I am
    so extremely impressed with the performances of all
    these actresses -- especially Michelle Pfeiffer who
    deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her
    role. By the way, it was a nice surprise to see
    the appearance of Patrick Fugit, the kid from
    Almost Famous, who plays the role of Astrid's
    comic-collecting boyfriend.

    How is the transfer?

    This is another one of those consistently top-rate
    transfers from the folks at Warner Bros. In fact,
    looking at my notes, I had very little to say about
    the overall transfer quality of this film - and that's
    a good thing. Everything looks wonderful here from
    colors that are perfectly balanced to a print that
    looks immaculate without any background distraction.


    The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track is tastefully
    done. Thomas Newman's prototypical piano score comes
    across the front channels with distinct clarity. The
    rears provide just enough activity to give the film
    its needed ambience. No complaints here.

    Special Features


    Though I heard only bits and pieces of the full-length
    audio commentary, I found it to be highly
    intelligent discussion. The commentary features
    Director Peter Kosminsky, Producer John Wells and
    original novel author Janet Fitch. Thanks to the
    fact that you have the author here in addition to
    the principal filmmakers, we really get some in-depth
    discussion about how the characters were transformed
    from book to screen. There's a lot of discussion
    about character development (including the suitcases
    we see at the beginning of the film), and some of the
    tooling that had to be done after the film was shown
    to test audiences. Kosminsky was very careful to
    keep the performances in this film very low-key in
    order for the audience to totally believe in Astrid's
    journey. The director totally dominates this
    commentary -- which is a good thing -- as he keeps
    the information flowing with very little pause. I
    think many of you will find this commentary to be
    as deep as the film itself -- perhaps deeper.

    For those that enjoyed the film, The journey
    of White Oleander
    becomes quite an interesting
    featurette for the fact that it manages to provide
    some interesting background on the story's journey
    book to film. We begin with author Janet Fitch who
    never imagined her book would be made to film. You
    can give much of the thanks to producer John Wells
    who read the book under the insistence of Warner
    Bros., and immediately snatched up the film rights.
    The producers had always had Michelle Pfeiffer in
    mind to play the manipulative Mother, but had a
    tough time searching for an actress who was able to
    play the part of a girl that ages from 12-20 during
    the course of the film. Alison Lohman was just
    perfect -- not just for her acting abilities -- but
    the fact that she looked like she could be Pfeiffer's
    daughter. There are interviews here with all the
    cast members who tell the story of their individual
    characters, as well as an interview with director
    Peter Kosminisky.
    (length: approx. 13 minutes)

    The making of White Oleander is another one
    of those promotional featurettes that gives us
    interviews with the cast and film team while quickly
    glossing over the film's content. Here again we
    mostly have Lohman, Pfeiffer, Zellweger and Penn
    talking about their individual characters while we
    get a few glimpses of them from behind-the-camera.
    It was also interesting to find out that the
    success of Finch's book was mostly due to Oprah who
    brought it to the public's attention through her
    renowned book club.
    (length: approx. 11 minutes)

    There are 5 minutes worth of deleted scenes
    presented here, and it's really sad that this material
    had to be cut because it manages to expand a little
    further Astrid's relationship between her first two
    foster Mothers, Starr and Claire. Good stuff here!

    In addition to a HIGHLIGHTED cast and crew
    filmography (they don't even list CHICAGO in
    Zellweger's credits), the film's original theatrical
    is included.

    Final Thoughts


    White Oleander is a film is loaded with good
    performances, and though this film filled with
    dysfunctional relationships may not be everyone's
    cup of tea, I found it to be a very powerful and
    often moving film. It is worth watching just for
    the performance of the film's top-billed star,
    23-year-old actress Alison Lohman.

    Definitely worth a rental!

    Release Date: March 11, 2003

    All screen captures have been further compressed.
    They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
    represent actual picture quality
  2. Leif Wall

    Leif Wall Second Unit

    May 4, 2000
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    That cover says "don't rent me"?! j/k

    Haven't seen this movie yet, but it sounds like the type of movie I like, so I'll be picking it up for sure.

    Alison Lohman is 23 and playing a 12 y/o in the movie? I find that almost disturbing.
  3. Yumbo

    Yumbo Cinematographer

    Sep 13, 1999
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    a suggestion.
    please include sound format in your tech summary box up top.
    this data is what most people look for initially.

  4. Martin Fontaine

    Martin Fontaine Supporting Actor

    Aug 15, 2001
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    Another suggestion, at the top, when you state the aspect ratio, can you also mention if there is a Foolscreen version also available? As a "Buyers Beware" or warning that you "Can't rent this if your rental place is run by assholes"
  5. Tom Foley

    Tom Foley Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 24, 2001
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    Ron, I don't want to dilute the effect that a high recommendation has here by giving it to too many DVDs. But I'm surprised you didn't highly recommend this DVD as well, especially because beyond its technical achievements, you seemed to have enjoyed the movie as much as I did.

    The cover don't just say "Don't rent me," it also screams something even worse - "CHICK FLICK!" In fact, all of the marketing for this movie seemed to go for that angle, which is a real disappointment. This movie is intelligent, moving, and does not waste one line of dialogue. I left the theater thinking that rarely had I seen a movie that had such powerful female characters, who also completely drove the story, without trying to hit you over the head with pointless sentimentalism. Michelle Pfieffer's character is so disturbing and she gave the best performance of her career.

    I think the fact that this movie was not released at the end of the year did little to help it come Oscar time (like Road to Perdition), but that it got no nominations at all, at the very least for Alison Lohman, is such a shame. Don't let that sway anybody's decision to at least rent this one.
  6. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Ronald Epstein

    I really wanted to make this a HIGHLY
    RECOMMENDED title. Problem is, as good as this
    movie is, I suppose I fear the repercussion from
    members here who may find it too depressing.

    I'll think about "upping" the status of this film.
  7. ThomasC

    ThomasC Lead Actor

    Dec 15, 2001
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    How does a depressing movie make itself bad? There are many films that have depressed me to no end, but yet I put them in high regard because they obviously got to me emotionally and otherwise.

    If it weren't for Thomas Newman's score, I think I would've liked this movie a lot better.
  8. Nate Anderson

    Nate Anderson Screenwriter

    Jan 18, 2001
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    I wanted to see this one in the theater, but some of the mixed reviews kept me away, but I will be sure to rent it!
  9. LaMarcus

    LaMarcus Screenwriter

    Mar 7, 2002
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    I viewed the trailer for this film in the theater and thought it would be very good. I forgot all about it this movie, thanks for the review, because now I will remember what it is when I see at blockbuster and won't be thrown off by the cover art, because it does suggests it's a "chick-flick".
  10. SteveGon

    SteveGon Executive Producer

    Dec 11, 2000
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  11. Dave_P.

    Dave_P. Supporting Actor

    May 20, 1999
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    Well, I had instantly dismissed this film as chick flick back when it was in the theaters, but after seeing the "highly recommended" tag on this, I checked out Ron's review and now it sounds like something I would be very interested in seeing. I actually like depressing films (throws in a welcome reality check for all the happy films out there) so I'll pick this up for $15 at Best Buy tomorrow.
  12. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

    Feb 24, 1999
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    I love films that are often considered "dark" (my word I prefer to use as "depressing" doesn't always convey the depth, power, and dignity that a "dark" film can engender).

    No problem with a highly-recommended status over here!

    -dave [​IMG]
  13. Armand G

    Armand G Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 18, 2000
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    Just saw the film. It was very powerful indeed. The acting performances were very solid. The story is a bit depressing but I don't need a happy story or a story with a happy ending to enjoy it. And about being a chick flick. I am one of those men that actually don't care about other people's opinions.

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