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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Intolerable Cruelty is the latest film from the Coen brothers, purveyors of such offbeat and quirky works as Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Their most mainstream work to date, Intolerable Cruelty is a viciously delightful parable for those who have dared to love and lost everything… in court.

Modern Love

Clooney is spot-on and Zeta-Jones sizzles
Clooney is spot-on and Zeta-Jones sizzles

Miles Massey (George Clooney, Out of Sight) is a highly successful and hopelessly romantic divorce attorney who is absolutely bored with his life. He’s bored with his house, his Vail ranch, his jet; he’s bored with his success and the whole divorce court scene so much so that he takes some scandalous risks simply to keep things interesting.

In the film’s early proceedings, Massey is hired to protect the assets of Rex Rexroth (Edward Herrmann, The Cat’s Meow), a millionaire with childish sexual fantasies. Massey pulls out all the stops and uses some unconventional tactics to expose the gold-digging intentions of Rex’s one-time wife, Marylin (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Chicago).

While Marylin comes out on the losing end of the case, she is so impressed with Massey she hires him to assist her in the prenuptials for her next marriage, this time to Howard Doyle (Billy Bob Thornton, Bandits), a wealthy hick with a heart of gold. She wants her new marriage venture to be genuine and covered by the Massey Prenup, a prenuptial agreement that is the stuff of legend, studied at Harvard, and, once signed, never penetrated by opposing attorneys.

Marylin is a vixen, a dyed-in-the-wool man killer – and the perfect antidote for Massey’s boredom. With the motivations behind Marylin’s latest joint venture showing through, Massey pounces on his prey in what becomes a vicious cat-and-mouse game of love and money.

All I Want Is You

Clooney is spot-on as the high profile attorney looking for love in all the wrong places. Massey is a man driven by a good old-fashioned sense of romance in a world that has no room for true love. Whether on the brink of insanity with nightmares about billable hours or left broken-hearted by love turned sour, Massey is a great, conflicted character brought to life by Clooney’s finely nuanced performance.

As for the object of his affection, Zeta-Jones sizzles with classic sex appeal. Massey rightly notes that obscene wealth becomes her.

True to form, the Coens populate Massey’s world with some of the most over-the-top folks outside of Fargo. This time, names like the Baron Krauss von Espy and Wheezy Joe pepper the landscape. Also on hand are Geoffrey Rush (Frida) as Donovan Donaly, a Hollywood producer who catches his wife in bed with a pool supply salesman (unfortunately, their house has no pool), and Cedric the Entertainer (The Original Kings of Comedy) as Gus Petch, a two-bit undercover investigator who takes the tact out of tactician.

As the tales of this ensemble weave together, they not only skewer the Hollywood marriage, they also tickle the ugly underbelly of American culture, from the voyeuristic leanings of reality TV to the accumulation of material wealth at the expense of personal sanity.

Where Is The Love?

Intolerable Cruelty starts off on shaky ground with Donaly intruding on his wife’s infidelity, falters a bit more with the sexual politics of a staple manufacturer, then slowly builds up a head of steam as the menagerie of characters begin to interact and the film’s true character is revealed.

There are some smart, yet wicked, observations made along the way, including the musings of one of Marylin’s “successfully divorced” friends who regrets the path her life has taken; she only has a peptic ulcer to keep her warm at night after taking everything from her ex-husband. Her life is meaningless and empty, but at least she has a huge house all to herself.

It’s a credit to the Coens and their team of writers, with backgrounds that include the films Big Trouble and Life and TV’s ALF, that Intolerable Cruelty actually displays considerable heart by the film’s end.

In one of the film’s many turning points, a disheveled and love-struck Massey addresses the redundantly named National Organization of Matrimonial Attorneys, Nationwide (NOMAN), and makes the shockingly simple observation that “Love is good.”

Oddly enough, in Massey and his desire to settle down, this satire manages to find more genuine character and romance than the latest rash of stale romantic comedies, including such run-of-the-mill fare as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Life or Something Like It.