Movies I’ve seen in the last month or so:
Intolerable Cruelty: I knew from the trailer that I wanted to see Intolerable Cruelty. After all, the film was made by one of my favorite creative teams (the Coen Brothers), stars one of my favorite actors (George Clooney), and features one of my favorite people to look at (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Admittedly, the preview looked a little zanier than I might have preferred, but my mind was already made up. Besides, I knew this was the Coen Brother’s first film with a mainstream producer, and I figured the marketing guys probably just zany-uped the trailer to make it more appealing to average moviegoer.
Nope. Intolerable Cruelty was every bit as wacky as it seemed in the ads — perhaps even more so. But I probably laughed more during this movie than I had during any other film this year.
The plot is pure screwball-comedy. George Clooney plays a divorce lawyer so renowned that there’s a prenuptial agreement named after him. He meets his match in Zeta-Jones, a crafty gold-digger and the (soon-to-be-ex) wife of Clooney’s current client. Clooney (a) becomes smitten with Zeta-Jones and (b) takes to the cleaners nonetheless. From that point on the movie becomes a contest of wills, with the two shysters maneuvering and counter-maneuvering as they struggle to either destroy one another or fall in love — even they don’t seem to know which one they’re working towards.
I’ve always been a little out of sync with other Coen Brothers fans: where most put Fargo or The Great Lewbowski at the top of their lists, my favorite has always been Barton Fink. (This is, of course, excluding Raising Arizona, which is obviously #1 for everyone.) And while a lot of Coen Brothers’ aficionados didn’t much care for The Hudsucker Proxy, I thought is was hilarious. And I liked Intolerable Cruelty quite a bit, despite its lukewarm reception by the Coen Brothers faithful. In fact, I think Hudsucker serves as a pretty good litmus test for Intolerable: as both are over-the-top genre pieces, if you liked one you’ll probably like the other.
School of Rock: While I knew immediately that wanted to see Intolerable, I didn’t realize that I wanted to see School of Rock until I was actually sitting in the theater, watching the opening credits.
When it was released, all I knew about it was that it starred Jack Black, an actor I only find moderately funny. Then I started hearing rumors that SoR was “a great, family film” — my secret weakness. (Much as I like the Kill Bills and the Y Tu Mama Tambiens, I’m always gratified to see good, clean fun in the form of a Galaxy Quest or Finding Nemo. ) Then I discovered the film was penned by Mike White, who’s written several of my favorite movies (Chuck & Buck, The Good Girl). By the time I found out who the director was (Richard Linklater), I was sold. Still, it wasn’t until I saw Sarah Silverman’s name in the opening credits that I really started to get excited about this film.
So let me start with the bad news: Sarah Silverman is not a reason to see this film — she is cast against type and pretty much completely wasted. (Note: I don’t mean “wasted” in the sense of “drunk and offensive,” — which would be closer to the Silverman I enjoy — I mean the role she inhabits could have been played by anyone.) Plus, she’s wearing makeup! What kind of idiot puts makeup on Sarah Silverman? It’s like putting toothpaste on a Picasso.
Furthermore, School of Rock — let’s be honest, here — is Dead Poets Society. Seriously, plotwise it the same flick: inspiring teacher rallies students to fight against conformity through art. I’m not saying Dead Poets was a landmark of originality, either, but that’s the version of the story I was raised on, and SoR is its soul brother.
But SoR has a huge advantage over Dead Poets: it doesn’t take itself seriously. While Robin Williams was expanding his pupils’ minds with Latin phrases and Keatings, Jack Black forces his twerps to listen to Metallica and The Who. Nobody breaks down in tears in School of Rock, and nobody commits suicide. The message here less “rebel against conformity because it’s philosophical imperative that you do so” and more “dude: rockin’ out kicks ass!!!” And while I found Black’s mugging to be a little tiresome, but there’s no disputing that he makes the movie work.
Overall, I agree this a nifty family film: clean enough to bring the kids, adult enough to keep the parent entertained, and subversive enough to put it a notch or two above the typical PG fare.
Mystic River: I knew I had three movies to review in this post, but I couldn’t remember the third for the life of me. Finally I asked The Queen. “It was that movie we saw in Texas,” she said. “What was it?” After a few minutes’ thought she said “Oh, it was Mystic River. No wonder you forgot it.”
Oh, yeah. Mystic River is not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, its parts are really quite excellent: great acting by Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins, crisp direction, beautiful cinematography, and script chock full o’ plot. But the sum of those parts just didn’t do it for me. For one thing, Mystic River is primarily a character study, and I never really cared much for the characters. Worse, nothing in the film struck me as particularly novel. In fact, I was constantly reminded of the 1993 movie Sleepers, which also starred Kevin Bacon and dealt with child abuse at the hands of clergy. Sean Penn, meanwhile, plays his “mobster tough guy” role well, but I feel like I’ve seen it a dozen times before.
Mystic River is getting rave reviews and, honestly, it seems like one of those movies you should review well because so much of it is superb. But, overall, the movie struck me as not particularly compelling. And, frankly, forgettable.