DVD Review HTF Review: Intolerable Cruelty

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Feb 3, 2004.

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  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    [​IMG]



    Intolerable Cruelty




    Studio: Universal
    Year: 2003
    Rated: PG-13
    Film Length: 100 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
    Audio: English – DTS 5.1; English, Spanish and French – Dolby Digital 5.1






    What gives? Is Intolerable Cruelty the first “commercial” film from the talented filmmaking siblings Ethan and Joel Coen? Well, not entirely, but it is still quite a departure from the unconventional duo’s previous work, in that they have taken on the task of re-drafting a script originally written by others (Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone). That being said, the Coens still infused the script with some of their own brand of offbeat humor, and assembled a superb cast, featuring George Clooney as a slick divorce lawyer, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who plays an alluring gold-digger who marries rich men and then quickly divorces them to sustain her lavish lifestyle.

    In addition to the superb cast, the Coen brothers also bring extremely talented cinematographer Roger Deakins back into the fold, to give Intolerable Cruelty a distinctive look, as he has done for some of their past films, including Fargo. So far it sounds like all the ingredients for a smashingly funny dark comedy have been placed into the proverbial casserole dish, right? Well, on the surface one would think so, but despite a bevy of “A-list” talent, the Coens’ twisted take on the present-day romantic comedy runs out of gas just before reaching its final destination.

    In Intolerable Cruelty, we meet hotshot attorney Miles Massey (Clooney), a conniving slime-ball who also happens to be one of the best divorce lawyers in Los Angeles. It seems that Miles is renown for having created the famous "Massey pre-nup", which is so iron-clad it has never been broken in court. What is really fascinating about Miles, though, is his preference for taking on divorce cases that seem impossible to “win” (is there a real winner in a divorce case, besides the attorneys?). More specifically, he selects cases that he probably should not win, to push him to the limits of his abilities as an attorney. Plain and simple, above all else, Miles likes the thrill of victory.

    When we are introduced to Miles, his latest challenging case involves the dissolution of a marriage between Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann), a real estate mogul caught cheating, and his wife Marylin (Zeta-Jones). It turns out that the crafty Marylin retained a PI named Gus (Cedric “The Entertainer”) to follow her philandering spouse, and the loud-mouthed gumshoe subsequently provided videotaped proof of his adulterous behavior. Fortunately for Rex, even though he is caught red-handed, he has Miles Massey on his payroll, so he is able to slither out of court on the sunny side of a settlement.

    Now, this is where things get really interesting! Given Miles’ line of work, you would think the guy would know better, but when Massey meets the stunningly beautiful, and equally conniving, Marylin Rexroth across the table in a negotiating session, he is instantly smitten. Of course, when he later expresses interest in her, Marylin cannot help but remember how Miles cost her a bundle in the just resolved divorce case. Given that she is equally determined to achieve victory in her chosen “profession”, she has a few surprises in store for our man Miles.

    It comes as an extreme surprise, and somewhat of a disappointment, that the Coen brothers fail to take advantage of the potential this budding relationship presents for sharp-witted verbal interplay between these characters. Instead, Marylin ends up systematically pushing Miles’ buttons; all while the viewer is led to believe she is growing to love him. Further, although Mr. Massey seems to sense the kind of woman he is becoming involved with, he never really does anything to protect himself from the inevitable fall. As a result, some aspects of this story just do not ring true. It almost seems as if the film's mainstream sensibilities, which the Coens are unaccustomed to, rob Intolerable Cruelty of some of the bizarre slices of life that have made previous Coen Brothers comedies so endearing and memorable.

    Granted, it is probably true that a “merely decent” Coen brothers movie is better than a large percentage of films perceived to be “good”, but I have come to expect so much from these fellows that I still could not help but be a little disappointed with how straight-forward Intolerable Cruelty plays. Specifically, the lead characters toy with each other via a series of light-hearted games, which ultimately culminate in a rather predictable and unsatisfying conclusion.

    Unfortunately, although this absurdity is a bit of fun, the writing lacks the Coens’ usual razor sharp wit, and ends up coming off as a somewhat frivolous, half-hearted attempt to appeal to both the masses and the art-house crowd. Clearly, one cannot expect the Coens to color squarely within the lines of any particular genre, but despite the quirks of several minor characters and plot points that defy convention, the film surprises, in that it does not veer off of from the already well-worn path traveled by many romantic comedies.

    In my opinion, just about perfect casting by the Coens is the main reason this was not their first truly mediocre film in ten tries. To me, the characters are just not as fully realized as they are in the brothers’ previous films, yet George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are still able to make them more interesting and fun to watch than they should be. Indeed, I cannot conceive of anyone other than Clooney as the smooth, self-absorbed Miles Massey. Simply put, he is a riveting presence on-screen, and has a remarkable gift for doing screwball comedy, but this character is just too loose, impulsive, and goofy to be completely credible as a top-flight lawyer.

    By the same token, Massey seems far too in love with himself to fall as fast and hard as he does for Marylin in this film. Even more shockingly, for a lawyer so adept at drawing up pre-nuptial agreements covering every angle, and digging up dirt to use against his opponents in court, Miles is totally reckless in racing headlong into a relationship with a woman capable of eating most any man that is not extremely careful for lunch.

    Likewise, Catherine Zeta-Jones was a very good choice for the role of Marylin, as she is not only radiantly beautiful, but also possesses the acting chops needed to pull off everything demanded of her by this role. Just as importantly, Zeta-Jones and Clooney also generate a believable chemistry for most of the film, but some of their scenes late in the game put a little water on their fire, as they are more inhumane than the material we have been conditioned to expect from a romantic comedy.

    At the end of the day, despite being one of my least favorite of the Coen brothers’ films, Intolerable Cruelty Zeta-Jones and Clooney are as good as they have ever been, and the movie still serves as good light entertainment. Unfortunately, the disappointingly thin characters and uneven story arc make this film play as something that is entertaining enough but should have been great. If only George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones had been given more lively verbal confrontations, Intolerable Cruelty probably would have been one of the more memorable romantic comedies in recent years.

    Perhaps the Coens would be better served by focusing on writing their own material in the future, as opposed to doctoring up the work of other writers. It is not that the film is devoid of inspiring moments; it is that those moments are few and far between. Still, Intolerable Cruelty is probably worth a rental despite its faults, particularly if you are a fan of superstars Clooney and Zeta-Jones, although hardcore fans of the Coens’ previous efforts will probably be a little disappointed.





    SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
    Intolerable Cruelty is presented by Universal via a slick, glossy-looking (for the most part) anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. Color rendering is handled adeptly overall, with the deep, cool blues, clean whites, and rich earth tones in the film displayed faithfully. Flesh tones are also quite accurate, presenting Zeta-Jones in all of her olive-skinned radiance, while also making the queens of plastic surgery at the opening of Chapter 6 look somewhat pasty and artificial.

    Blacks are also fairly deep and well defined, leading to plenty of detail in shadow and dimly lit environments, except during a few shots in the aged senior partner’s office, which appear to be a little too dark. Unfortunately, bright reds exhibit some serious dot crawl, the most offending example being the lovely dress being worn by the equally lovely Catherine Zeta-Jones during the opening of Chapter 13. Another minor problem is fine detail, which is slightly obscured throughout the film. However, as one would expect from a recent production, the image is spectacularly clean, although a touch of video noise is sometimes visible against backgrounds (i.e. walls) comprised of a single color.

    All things considered, this is a very pleasing visual presentation of Intolerable Cruelty, although it contains just enough in the way of minor distractions to fall short of excellence.




    WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
    Intolerable Cruelty features no less than four 5.1 tracks, including both DTS and Dolby Digital for English speakers. For the purposes of this review, I selected the DTS track, which does a fine job of reproducing the film’s audio information. In particular, this DTS track’s spacious, engaging soundstage, and smooth, natural panning impressed me, and the score and sourced music are reproduced in a satisfying manner.

    In terms of LFE information, the film does not contain a wealth of it, but the bottom end is powerful and well defined when the source material requires it to be. To be more specific, gunshots and some of the music in the film will help your subwoofer break a little sweat on occasion. In like fashion, the rear channels are not used extensively, but do fill in the soundstage during music reproduction, present ambient noises, or add some emphasis to certain effects. Still, the mix is smoothly executed, so the rears add to the viewing experience nicely, instead of presenting audio information in a gimmicky or unnatural manner.

    Perhaps most importantly, dialogue is also easily discernable and largely free of any disturbing abnormalities, although I did notice a touch of distortion a couple of times when Gus Petch, “ass-nailer” extraordinaire, spoke at higher volumes, and once again at the very end of the film (Chapter 20) during a loud passage in the score. However, the DTS encoded audio on this disc is well-executed overall, and leaves very little to grumble about.




    EXTRAS, EXTRAS!!!


    A Look Inside Intolerable Cruelty
    This featurette, which is as straightforward as the film, uses behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the Coens, George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Brian Grazer, and others to give viewers a glimpse inside the process of making Intolerable Cruelty. Sadly, this featurette is quite “fluffy”, and filled with typical “it was so great to work with this person because” commentary.

    This is unfortunate, because it would have been interesting to learn a little more about how Joel and Ethan Coen eventually wound up directing, or how they felt about re-imagining someone else’s work for a change. If you are a fan of the Coens, George Clooney, or Catherine Zeta-Jones, you should still check this featurette out, even though it certainly doesn’t warrant repeat viewings. As long as you don’t expect to take away anything substantial from it, you shouldn’t be terribly disappointed.


    The Wardrobe
    This brief featurette starts with a montage of scenes from the film, which show off the various ensembles used to adorn up the characters in the film. Immediately thereafter, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and costume designer Mary Zophres briefly discuss how the use of tasteful clothing plays an important role in Intolerable Cruelty. Like the “A Look Inside” piece, this featurette offers very little that is memorable, and is over almost before you know it. Overall, it is a disappointment, offering only a minute amount of insight into the inspiration behind the look of characters Miles Massey and Marylin Rexroth.


    Filmmaker Approved & Assembled Outtakes

    --- “Paul Adelstein in Eveybody Eats Berries”
    Repetitive and grating, this outtake features Paul Adelstein repeating the same line over and over again, with slightly varied reactions from George Clooney.

    --- “Ladies and Gentlemen, George Clooney”
    Easily the best portion of the outtakes, this is a brief, but amusing, montage of George Clooney clowning around and flubbing lines.

    --- “Ladies and Gentlemen, Catherine Zeta-Jones”
    A very short excerpt from a scene with Catherine and George Clooney, where she just can’t seem to get her lines right.

    --- “Rex Rexroth’s Home Movie”
    Damaged, looped black-and-white footage of an old train.


    Cast & Crew: Bios and Film Highlights
    Brief biographies and film highlights are provided for the following individuals:

    --- CAST:
    George Clooney (Miles Massey)
    Catherine Zeta-Jones (Marylin Rexroth)
    Billy Bob Thornton (Howard Doyle)
    Edward Herrmann (Rex Rexroth)
    Cedric the Entertainer (Gus Petch)
    Geoffrey Rush (Donovan Donaly)
    Richard Jenkins (Freddie Bender)
    Paul Adelstein (Wrigley)

    --- CREW:
    Ethan Coen (Writer/Director)
    Joel Coen (Writer/Director)
    Brian Grazer (Producer)
    James Jacks (Executive Producer)
    Sean Daniel (Executive Producer)
    Robert Ramsey (Screenwriter/Story By)
    Matthew Stone (Screenwriter/Story By)
    John Romano (Story By)



    SCORE CARD

    (on a five-point scale)
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    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Extras: [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    THE LAST WORD
    Intolerable Cruelty, the first film directed by the immensely talented Coen brothers that they did not write by themselves, is a decent but ultimately unsatisfying film. That being said, it would not make a bad rental, especially if you are a fan of George Clooney or Catherine Zeta-Jones, because both are wonderful in this film. On the other hand, if you are on the prowl for a smart, funny film by Joel and Ethan Coen, you should probably reach into your DVD collection (or head to the video store) and revisit one of their earlier comedies.

    In terms of presentation, Intolerable Cruelty features a variety of audio options, and the DTS track is a pleasant representation of the source material. The visual quality of the film is also quite nice, and shows of the stars and their stylish wardrobes nicely. On the other hand, the extras, which can be breezed through in about a half-hour, were quite disappointing! I know that judgments about these things will vary between people, but I found the most worthwhile extra on this disc to be the biographies/film highlights for the cast and crew. That is not a good thing when there are two featurettes included!!!!


    Stay tuned…



    Release Date:
    February 10th, 2004
     
  2. Magnus T

    Magnus T Supporting Actor

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    I thought Intolerable Cruelty was wonderful! Very, very funny overall with a perfect cast. Also, there's a moment at the end where I swear the audience were laughing for 5 minutes (myself included, of course).

    Highly recommended (by me)!! [​IMG]
     
  3. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    Wasn't this rated PG-13? It's a little racy, but not THAT racy.
     
  4. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

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    Stephen,

    So noted (and changed). Sorry for the screw-up, this film is most certainly not rated R! Thanks for calling my attention to this! [​IMG]

    Magnus,

    I am glad you enjoyed the film! As they say, different strokes for different folks. It is not that I do not think that there were some humerous moments in the film, but on the whole, I just did not find it to be all that special. If you pick up the DVD, I hope you enjoy it!!!

    Regards,

    Jason
     
  5. Magnus T

    Magnus T Supporting Actor

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    Allready ordered and sent! [​IMG]
     
  6. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    Nice review. [​IMG] This was a nice surprise last fall. Cute & funny.
     
  7. Rob Willey

    Rob Willey Screenwriter

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    Nice review, Jason. I agree completely this is one of the Coen's least inspired efforts and that they might do better to write their own material in the future.

    I recommend a rental to those who haven't seen it already.

    Rob
     
  8. Bill GrandPre

    Bill GrandPre Cinematographer

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    The weren't the original writers of "Intolerable Cruelty" but they did collaborate with Sam Raimi on "The Hudsucker Proxy" (and "Crimewave" but Raimi directed that).
     
  9. R. Kay

    R. Kay Second Unit

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    That Zeta-Jones is hot. Worth purchasing for her alone.

    [​IMG]
     
  10. Paul Chi

    Paul Chi Stunt Coordinator

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    Looking forward to renting this dvd. Thanks for the review.
     
  11. Brent Hutto

    Brent Hutto Supporting Actor

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    Whatever its flaws (at least to Cohen Bros. purists) there's one thing that Intolerable Cruelty has going for it...Wheezy Joe!
     
  12. AaronMK

    AaronMK Supporting Actor

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    Just Curious....

    Universal hasn't tried to shove trailers down your throat at the beginning of this DVD by disbeling every player fuction on this one like they did for Bruce Almighty.

    That would definetly affect my rent/purchase decision on this (the only reason I have Bruce Almighty is I got it as a gift).
     
  13. Marc Colella

    Marc Colella Cinematographer

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    While it's not a bad film and I give it a marginal thumbs-up, I definitely think this is the Coen's worst effort.

    It just doesn't feel like a Coen Brother's film (with the exception of a few scenes). It wasn't nearly as quirky as their films usually are, the dialog didn't have the snap and bite that I'm use to, and for the most part it wasn't very funny.

    Roger Deakin's cinematography (although not up to his usual standards) is still quite nice.

    After Intolerable Cruelty and the upcoming remake of The Ladykillers - I'm a little concerned of where the Coen Brothers are headed.

    I think they'd do best to handle all the writing themselves and (even though I don't know how The Ladykillers will turn out) create their own original works.

    This if the first Coen Brother's DVD I'm passing on.
     
  14. Richard Kim

    Richard Kim Producer

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    Just bought it today at Circuit City. I noticed that the case has the same two tabs on the side, just like Lost In Translation. Also, mine didn't come with an insert. Anyone else get an insert with theirs?
     
  15. Bill GrandPre

    Bill GrandPre Cinematographer

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    It's a Universal title, so no.
     
  16. John Geelan

    John Geelan Screenwriter

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    Saw it tonight. Funny and has some wonderful dialogue. Worth a rental, falls short of being a must buy.
     
  17. BarryS

    BarryS Second Unit

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    I love the Coen Brothers and I thought Intolerable Cruelty was a very funny film. Far from being a Coen Bros. masterpiece, but it was quite enjoyable. Some of the humor reminded me of The Big Lebowski a bit.
     
  18. Mark Cappelletty

    Mark Cappelletty Cinematographer

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    Loved the movie. The only "forced" trailer is a very small promo for Focus Features (much shorter than the one in front of Lost in Translation). Extras kind of bite, though, particularly in contrast to the loaded Man Who Wasn't There disc (which has a hilarious commentary).
     
  19. ClaytonMG

    ClaytonMG Stunt Coordinator

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    I just finished watching it and I liked it overall, some of the dialogue wasn't great (like Clooney saying, "darling, you're exposed!") but other than that I really liked it. I noticed on the box it says PG-13 (which is the real rating) but on the disc it says PG which is kind of an odd mistake. Overall I agree with Jason, I just happened to enjoy it more than him. I say check it out, it's deffinately entertaining.

    Clayton
     
  20. Nate Anderson

    Nate Anderson Screenwriter

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    I also agree that the movie was delightfully over the top, with George Clooney having all kinds of fun. Made me want to go back and watch "O Brother Where Art Thou?" again.

    Anybody else find the magazine Living Without Intestines
    he was reading while waiting to see the senior partner absolutely hysterical?
     

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