May divorce be with you
As Miles Massey, divorce lawyer extraordinaire in the Coen
Brothers' offbeat comedy "Intolerable Cruelty," George Clooney's lips
never seem to stop moving. Even in the dentist office - where we're first
introduced to him - he's on his cell phone barking orders despite the
fact that his mouth is propped open and his gleaming white teeth are
bathed in ultra-violet light.
Known for his iron-clad document, the Massey prenup ("It has never
been penetrated"), the fast-talking, emotionally cool attorney soon
meets his match in the delicious Marilyn (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who has
the goods on her adulterous and very rich husband Rex Rexroth (Edward
Herrmann). When Massey is hired by Rex to defend him, he finds himself
smitten with Marilyn. But being the shark that he is, he still deviously
manages to win the case as he pursues her. Marilyn, however, stymies him
by immediately finding another rich husband, who, being the shark that
she is, she intends to take to the cleaners.
"Intolerable Cruelty" has all the earmarks of a classic screwball
comedy, with its witty dialogue and fast pace. But it's filtered through
the Coens' unapologetic love of characters who will stumble through life
until they fall flat own their faces - undone by their own greed or
laziness or some other failing.
Like their other films - "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski," "O Brother,
Where Art Thou?" - "Intolerable Cruelty" has a heightened, stylized
tone, but it's often right on target, a funny valentine to those who have
misplaced their hearts.
Cruelty" (Universal; $26.98) includes a making-of featurette, wardrobe
featurette and outtakes.
You wonder if the story of porn star John "Wad" Holmes and his
involvement in the brutal murder of four people in 1981 needed to be told
on screen. Ably and at times inventively directed by James Cox,
"Wonderland" never tries to understand or illuminate its unseemly
subject matter. Instead it relies upon a fascination with the perverse
scene of drug dealers, porn stars and grisly killings.
And on that level it succeeds, mostly because of the excellent cast
and the "Rashomon"-style storytelling that Cox utilizes. The details of
the crime in which five people were viciously attacked with lead pipes in
a house in Laurel Canyon (one survived) has never been agreed on. Both
Holmes and a nightclub owner, Eddie Nash, were acquitted of the crime,
although Nash later (2000) pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count. Holmes
(played by Val Kilmer) says he was coerced into helping Nash and his
cohorts gain entrance to the Wonderland Avenue residence. But Holmes was
a notorious liar and had a cocaine habit.
Some of Holmes' bizarre life is woven into the narrative. For one
thing, the porn king, who in the '70s had become well-known beyond the
adult entertainment industry, had never divorced his estranged wife,
Sharon (effectively played by Lisa Kudrow), even while living with his
underage girlfriend, Dawn (Kate Bosworth). If you're really interested,
there is a documentary, "Wad," that's part of a special-edition DVD of
In one scene, Sharon tells John that their life together ended when he
decided to go into porn. Yet she never could divorce him or cut him off
from her life. She says she never understood why, which she confirmed in
the documentary. Viewers of "Wonderland" may not understand why they
are watching it.
(Lions Gate; $26.99 for the regular edition) includes commentary by James
Cox, deleted scenes, LAPD crime-scene video and the autopsy report.
Jane Campion's "In the Cut" has a number of disquieting moments, from
its graphic sexual depictions to its graphic crime scenes and grotesque
Sex and violence are so intertwined in "In the Cut" - the story of
Frannie (Meg Ryan), a New York City writer and teacher, while a serial
killer is on the prowl - that the film plays out like a twisted
hallucination. Some of the images will get under your skin, but many of
them are repellent.
It's hard to know what Campion ("The Piano") is aiming for here.
"In the Cut" is populated with a collection of walking psych cases: the
hard-boiled and hard-to-figure-out detective who is investigating the
case and who Frannie is attracted to (Mark Ruffalo), her ex-boyfriend and
sometimes stalker (Kevin Bacon), her crazed hot-to-trot student
(Sharrieff Pugh) who does his term paper on serial killer John Wayne
Gacy, and her dysfunctional half-sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who lives
above a strip club.
For Frannie, only words and poetry seem to excite her, though she's in
danger and claims to be looking for love. Despite the ample amount of
sex, there is nothing erotic about the film. Despite the violence, there
is nothing to put you on the edge of your seat. There is something
unresolved and distant about the storytelling. It reminds you at times of
the bored men in the strip club. You wonder why they are so fixated yet
look so dead.
One note: I watched the director's uncut version of the film, so I
can't compared it with the theatrical version.
"In the Cut"
(Sony; $26.98) includes commentary by Campion and producer Laurie Parker,
the "Frannie Avery's Slang Dictionary" featurette and a
What rhymes with death?
According to literary critic A. Alvarez in his book "The Savage
God," poet Sylvia Plath may have been playing a form of Russian roulette
in her suicide. In 1963, Plath killed herself by sealing off the kitchen
and turning on the gas on the stove.
Alvarez notes that according to what he knows, had Plath's nanny shown
up in time, she might have been able to save the poet. Had Plath decided
to leave her fate in God's or her nanny's hands or even to the whims of
London traffic, we'll never know. But in Christine Jeffs' "Sylvia," the
poet's life is presented with that inevitability of death.
"Dying is an art," Gwyneth Paltrow as Sylvia solemnly intones from
Plath's poem "Lady Lazarus," as the film begins. Plath after her death
became something of a feminist martyr, some seeing her marriage to the
more established and highly regarded poet Ted Hughes (Daniel Craig) as a
cage that imprisoned her and led to her suicide. But "Sylvia" takes a
more balanced approach, where Plath's manic, jealous behavior is as much
to blame as Hughes' philandering.
Trying to dramatize the Plath-Hughes relationship was a difficult
enough challenge, but trying to dramatize their creative impulses is a
next-to-impossible task. Paltrow's strong performance breathes life into
Plath, who comes across with a fierceness that is found in her poetry.
There is no easy way to convey the poet's troubled psyche, but Jeffs and
her cinematographer, John Toon, give the film a dark, foreboding look.
Interestingly, Alvarez is a character here. Played by Jared Harris,
he is a sympathetic ear for Plath. A poet himself, Alvarez admits no one
understands why someone commits suicide. "Sylvia" presents a complex
portrait of a complex writer. Check out the movie, then the poetry.
A worthy 'Lion King'
Disney has come up with a clever follow-up to the "Lion King." "Lion
King 1 1/2" - which brings back much of the same talent as in the
original - tells the story from the perspective of Timon the meerkat
(voiced by Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa the warthog (Ernie Sabella) - sort of
like history told from the spear carriers' point of view.
There are a few new songs from the pens of Tim Rice and Elton John and
a few new characters, but Disney has kept the same high quality of the
feature, even though this is straight to video. The two-disc DVD is also
aimed at kids, with plenty of games and extra features.
"Lion King 1
1/2" (Disney; $29.99). Disc 1 includes the movie, deleted scenes and a
treasure-hunt game. Disc 2 includes a trivia game, a virtual safari, a
making-of featurette, a music video and other games.
Rob Lowman, (818) 713-3687 firstname.lastname@example.org