Daily Archives: May 18, 2017

Teenage Wasteland [CRUEL INTENTIONS]

From the Chicago Reader (March 5, 1999). — J.R.

Cruel Intentions

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Roger Kumble

With Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, Selma Blair, Christine Baranski, Sean Patrick Thomas, Louise Fletcher, and Swoosie Kurtz.

Cruel Intentions is the fourth movie adaptation I’ve seen of Choderlos de Laclos’ Les liaisons dangereuses, possibly the best French novel of the 18th century. It’s also the third version in English — though the first to reconfigure the plot as a contemporary teenage sex comedy. Will it be the last? Considering how serviceable the story is, it’s easy to imagine it being dusted off every decade or so for use in that dubious genre. The substitution of teen yuppies for 18th-century aristocrats isn’t a precise match — as some awkward carryovers of characters’ names makes clear — yet surprisingly, writer-director Roger Kumble comes close to pulling this off. (A writer on such comedies as Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and National Lampoon’s Senior Trip, Kumble’s art-movie profile appears to be nonexistent.) He sets the story in and around Manhattan, Sin City itself, and makes the scheming protagonists, Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe), stepsiblings enrolled at an exclusive prep school just outside the city.… Read more »

Hollywood Strikes Out (The Best Movies of 1995)

From the Chicago Reader (January 5, 1996). — J.R.

I can’t recall a worse year for Hollywood than 1995. This suggests that either my memory or the studio system is disintegrating. My guess is it’s the latter. I don’t mean to say the business is coming apart; sadly, Hollywood has often found it easy to make money with junk, especially if the public is willing — as it still apparently is — to go along with the film industry’s manipulations. (However, given the scant means available to most people to make themselves heard on such matters in this “free” society, I don’t want to jump to too many conclusions about this.) Rather I believe that what’s coming apart is the social contract between the industry and filmgoers, which allows some form of customer satisfaction that isn’t predicated on deception and a fundamental contempt for the audience.

A symptom of the problem could be found in an article by Peter Bart in Variety late last October bemoaning the poor box-office returns for “such pricy projects” as Jade, The Scarlet Letter, Strange Days, and Assassins. “Rubbing salt into the wound,” added Bart, “is a new Yankelovich opinion survey…which indicates that 43 percent of filmgoers interviewed say they would attend more films all year round if a ‘better selection’ of movies were available.… Read more »

SAFE and Sorry

A kind of ten-best meditation for Artforum, December 1995 (vol. 34, issue 4), that anticipates some of my arguments in my subsequent book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See. Incidentally, I’ve since then come to value Showgirls (and, more generally, Paul Verhoeven) far more than I did 15 years ago, politically and otherwise. — J.R.

In October I compiled three lists for my own schizoid edification. The first consisted of the 50 best films I had seen this year at festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, and Toronto and as a member of the New York Film Festival selection committee (which entailed a screening of 100 more films in August). The second was my impression of what comprised the 50 most discussed films released in the United States this year; my third list was a selection of what I considered the 20 most important releases, whether they were widely discussed or not. Only one feature appears on all three lists — Todd Haynes’ Safe.

One reason for the lack of overlap between my three lists is that, unless it’s a big-studio product, a film usually takes at least a year to open commercially in the United States after its premiere at festivals, ensuring that we remain something of a last-stop backwater when it comes to most non-Hollywood movies.… Read more »