Intolerable Cruelty (Universal, 2003) D: Joel Coen, w/ George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Rating: NNN
the spirit of preston sturges is never far below the surface of the Coens' crazy constructions. Gangster pic Miller's Crossing sometimes seems entirely populated by a Sturges gallery of comic grotesques, and Ethan Coen, the more literary of the brothers, shares with Sturges a fondness for characters who talk above their station. Intolerable Cruelty is the Coens' first romantic comedy, and it plays at times like a cross between two of Sturges's greatest films, The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story.
George Clooney plays a shark-like divorce lawyer who runs straight into Catherine Zeta-Jones's mercenary divorcee; both stars have the necessary skills to bring off the resulting rapid-fire repartee. Joel Coen and cinematographer Roger Deakins made an odd decision to film everyone in a light that varies from golden glow to jaundiced. None of the film's characters is particularly likeable, aside from Billy Bob Thornton as an apparent oil millionaire. One truly Coenesque gag involves an asthmatic hit man with an inhaler in one hand and a gun in the other.
Short making-of documentary, wardrobe featurette, outtake reel. Spanish and French subtitles.
American Splendor (HBO/Warner, 2003) D: Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman, w/ Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis. Rating: NNN
american splendor adapts Harvey Pekar's real-life comics, which since 1975 or so have documented his life as a cranky file clerk in Cleveland. Starring Paul Giamatti (Private Parts, Duets) as Pekar and Hope Davis as his wife, Joyce Brabner, Splendor works as both biography and Modernist game, with comic frames, voice-over narration and occasional appearances by Pekar as himself commenting on the action.
It's a remarkably offbeat film for HBO, and won both the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the FIPRESCI prize for its section at Cannes (so, with Elephant, HBO managed to win the top prizes at Sundance and Cannes in 2003). The DVD presentation doesn't quite measure up. The commentary, shared by the directors, the Pekars, Giamatti and others, isn't nearly as much fun - or as informative - as I'd have liked. Makes an interesting double bill with either Crumb or Ghost World.
Gang commentary; The Road To Splendor, with Pekar at Cannes; Web links; Our Movie Year comic book insert; theatrical trailer; Easter eggs. English, French and Spanish titles.
In The Cut (Columbia/TriStar, 2003) D: Jane Campion w/ Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo. Rating: NNN
If in the cut starred Jennifer Jason Leigh, we wouldn't spend the first half of the film thinking, "Damn, that's Meg Ryan in the middle of that dank, underlit vision of hell." Ryan's like Michael Palin's Monty Python sketch about the accountant who wants to take up lion-taming. Working from Susanna Moore's novel about an English teacher who gets involved with a cop (Mark Ruffalo) who may be a serial killer, Jane Campion and cinematographer Dion Beebe create a uniquely paranoid vision of New York City. Every location looks like a crime scene, and every shot might have been photographed by a stalker.
Once you get over the shock of seeing Ryan do rather explicit sex scenes (the DVD is the unrated director's cut), she's quite good, as is Leigh, who plays her younger sister, a kamikaze dater. The film's problems come in the third act, which sinks into conventional serial killer games. There's also the fact that Campion is essentially humourless, and it really shows here.
She does give an excellent commentary, though.
Speaking of Leigh, MGM has just released Flesh & Blood, Paul Verhoeven's first American film (it comes between The Fourth Man and RoboCop in his filmography), a medieval drama with Leigh as a young noblewoman kidnapped by Rutger Hauer. It's incredibly violent, features a nasty rape scene, and Leigh's performance is astonishing. If this had actually been released in 1985, no one would have been shocked by Basic Instinct.
Director/producer commentary, making-of featurette, theatrical trailers. English and French versions and subtitles.
Under The Tuscan Sun (Touchstone, 2003) D: Audrey Wells, w/ Diane Lane, Sandra Oh. Rating: NNNN
libby gelman-waxner (aka screen writer Paul Rudnick), reviewer for Premiere, called Under The Tuscan Sun a princess fantasy, but it's actually something much rarer: a fairy godmother fantasy. In a heavily fictionalized version of writer Frances Mayes's experience, Diane Lane moves into a Tuscan villa (surely one of the all-time great impulse buys), renos it to perfection, helps the neighbours and oversees the birth of her lesbian pal's baby. In other words, she goes to Italy to solve everyone else's problems.
With Lane and Tuscany on hand, this is certainly a film that offers a variety of scenic pleasures, and director Wells (Guinevere) takes full advantage. Her commentary track reveals that they shot between thunderstorms and she began to fear she'd become famous as the person who made "the ugly Tuscany movie." Terrific Sandra Oh performance as the aforementioned pregnant lesbian, but I think Wells overdoes the Fellini references, which feel pasted on.
Director commentary, making-of featurette, deleted scenes. English and French versions, Spanish subtitles.
Bergman Recall the mgm ingmar bergman box set has been recalled and will not be in the stores until May. Because somebody at MGM was asleep at the switch, Shame and Hour Of The Wolf were in the wrong aspect ratios, cropped to 1.66:1 rather than 1.33:1. Persona was also in a slightly cropped image. Hopefully, this will be repaired. What's interesting about the recall is that after MGM got the review copies out, the more serious DVD sites like www.dvdbeaver.com and www.mastersofcinema.com launched a campaign against the box. Just check the uniformly negative comments on amazon.com.
If only someone had done the same before Columbia released that horrible set of Ray's Apu trilogy last fall.
Coming Tuesday, February 19
Pick Up On South Street (Criterion/Morningstar) Sam Fuller's classic New York noir with Richard Widmark as a pickpocket who inadvertently lifts some top-secret microfilm.
The Damned/Death In Venice/Blowup (Warner) Big international art cinema, 1967-1971. Death In Venice may be the greatest movie ever made in which absolutely nothing happens for two hours.
Runaway Jury (20th Century Fox) John Cusack and Rachel Weisz star in a John Grisham adaptation. Marks the first onscreen pairing of Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman.
Roswell: Season 1 (20th Century Fox) Teenagers from outer space!
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb