Movies: Intolerable Cruelty, School of Rock, and Mystic River

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.

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24 comments.

  1. I agree completely with your assessment of “School of Rock.” It was good and enjoyable but also fairly forgettable. Nothing really inspired but a better than average PG-13 comedy. That actually means a lot since 80% of the comedies that are rleased are not even remotely interesting or even amusing.

    BTW, the best, ever Coen brothers movie is Big Lebowski.

    You wanna a toe? I’ll get you a toe….

  2. OK…this comment is really not about movies at all.
    Today I encountered two, very rude, teenage turblitzen.
    I don’t think they knew what I was laughing at as I exited the elevator.
    “turblitzen! Ha ha ha!!”

  3. Big Lebowski is indeed fantastic, much like the acting of Tim Robbins in Hudsucker.

  4. Well I liked Intolerable Cruelty, though clearly not as much as you. It didn’t seem all that “zany” to me though. My lovely wife hated it, (though not as much as we both hated the most-detestible and pointlessly irritating Barton Fink, but I digress), saying it was waaaay too predictable. Of course she always figures out the films ahead of time, (she had The Sixth Sense figured out after the first scene).

  5. The Big Lebowski and Hudsucker Proxy are the Coens’ best, whereas I cannot stand Raising Arizona.
    I’ve tried to watch it many times – no dice.
    I just do not find it funny.

  6. thankyou thankyou thankyou!

    I love Hudsucker and Arizona (Cage’s hair! need I say more?) and I was SO worried about intollerable, cuz my grandma hated it. I never know whether to trust what she says.

    Now I guess I’m going to see it.

  7. I clicked on “FORGET PERSONAL INFORMATION” below, now I don’t know who I am.

  8. While I have not yet seen the film version of _Mystic River,_ I did recently read the book. I have to wonder if you might have enjoyed the movie more had you read the book first. The novel (obviously) goes into much more detail than a film can, and I think that detail adds a whole other dimension to the story that the movie–based on your review–seems to be missing.

  9. Keatings?

  10. I thought Intolerable Cruelty was a bore. I am most annoyed that it was sold as a ‘Screwball Comedy.’ Anyone who’s seen Bringing Up Baby, Adam’s Rib, His Girl Friday or any of the movies that define the Genre should notice how flat the script is in this flick. It’s ponderous and surprisingly unfunny. The characters are lukewarm and the whole thing lacks charm. It’s a dog.

  11. Miller’s Crossing.

  12. If Miller’s Crossing was catholic, I’d make it the pope.

    Um…yeah.

  13. Agree with you on all 3. Like all C-Bros. movies–IC had some great little ‘in jokes.’ The first scene of the guy driving up the street singing along to Simon and Garfinkel was the funniest first scene I can remember.

    We also went to see another Yeti-recommend this weekend at the discount cinema–Kill Bill. I love martial arts movies and I thought this was nothing more than an excellent martial arts movies with cooler shots and set design. But I’m glad I saw it.

    (Blood Simple and Miller’s Crossing are also great.)

  14. Keating! So easily confused with Tennyson. Keating, who famously said, “But only in their dreams can man be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”
    I am very pleased to have found this site. Thank you.

  15. Ugh. Raising Arizona is not the best Coen brothers film. Of those I’ve seen (and I’m missing a few), it is easily my least favorite. It’s painful to watch. Now, The Big Lebowski, on the other hand, is brilliant stuff. I’ll go to my crave clutching my Lebowski DVD…

  16. Plus, “Mystic River” has a mystic ending. Didn’t get it.

  17. I couldn’t stand Intolerable Cruelty. Yeah, there were a couple funny bits, but the whole thing was blandly forgettable. The strategic combat could have been done much better, and the Hollywood ending…lame.

    The idea was good, it had good actors, it was in focus…but the magic just didn’t happen.

  18. I thought mystic river was the follow up to Mystic Pizza, Wow talk about going into a moive with the wrong mindset.

    :)

  19. Blood Simple is my favorite movie, period. It’s funny – if I don’t like a Coen Bros. film on first viewing (like Fargo and Barton Fink), I have to see it again and again until I figure it out.

  20. The only reason I haven’t dragged myself to see Intolerable Cruelty yet is because those venerable Coen’s didn’t write it themselves, which is also a first for them.

  21. “Mystic River” just made me want to slit my wrists. Someone get Clint some Prozac, please…

  22. freak firday (the remake :) is “a great, family film!” i saw it on the airplane on the way back from seattle :D but then i think any movie shown on an airplane is great!

    am looking forward to the missing :D oh and the last samurai!

  23. Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona and Fargo are my favourites. I think Gabriel Byrne should win some kind of honourary Oscar for Most Beaten On in 90 Minutes.

    But nobody’s mentioned The Man Who Wasn’t There. Nobody. And it’s so… um… Shaloubalicious?

    The Big Lebowski was okay, but it didn’t give me that Barton Fink feeling.

  24. Not to impugn Dirk’s taste, but isn’t looking forward to The Missing and The Last Samurai a bit like looking forward to being roused at midnight, strung up by one leg and hit in the stomach with a stick? Isn’t it just a bit like looking forward to having Tom Cruise and Ron Howard kick you in the nape of your neck for four hours and then take your wallet? Just a little bit?