Friday, December 31, 2010

Intolerable Cruelty

Cruelty has a reputation as one of the Coen brothers' weaker films, and the early scenes seemed to signal that, with a generally unfunny and too-silly opening scene featuring Geoffrey Rush as a cuckolded TV producer. Luckily things got better once the lead characters played by George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones are introduced, and while it is one of my least favorite movies by the Coens, that's only because their catalogue as a whole is so damn good, while Cruelty is merely mostly enjoyable. It's also the last movie of theirs I haven't seen, and it was nice to finally plug up all those gaps.

So the movie is a romantic comedy, but it definitely doesn't play like a romantic comedy of the era. It's more of a classic screwball comedy that's been run through a Coen filter, and while it results in a movie with a low bar to jump, they vault it with a fair amount of grace and style. In some ways it's a very typical movie with obvious and less-than-inspired romantic story beats, but I think it's intentional how standard those scenes are, as they're included merely to acknowledge the fact that that's the kind of movie they're making. It's one of only two films where they shared screenwriting credit with others and was followed by their only direct remake, which leads me to believe it was maybe something of a slow period for them creatively. While the work isn't their most original, it's still distinctly theirs with things like the brief snippets with the head of Clooney's firm and the Wheezy Joe character that you would never see if one of the other directors who was previously attached to the story had ended up making it.

So while it is something of a cliche story, it still works because the Coens have such a distinct style and the cast is pretty outstanding. George Clooney manages to make an asshole divorce lawyer into a charming protagonist, and Zeta-Jones is alluring and likable despite her motivations for most of the movie. Billy Bob Thornton pops in in a great dual role that he knocks out of the park, Cedric the Entertainer is amusing with somewhat limited material, and Freddy might be the best character Richard Jenkins ever played in a Coen movie. The dialogue is sharp and rapid-fire in that old style, and the way the movie blends that classic kind of comedy with more modern developments like pre-nup agreement shenanigans just worked for me. When the movie actually wants the sentimental side to work it does, and before that there's a great tension when you know things aren't going the way they should and you're just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not everything worked out, but I had a good time watching it. And the music choices were good too. Not a bad movie at all.

It's the last day of the year, so here's some housekeeping work I have to do:

In case you haven't noticed, I've started writing for a website called Player Affinity. I am in charge of the PS3 section and I also contribute to the TV side, and here's the reviews and features I wrote or contributed to that I haven't already linked to here:

The PS3 Awards
The Other Games of 2010
This Year's Best PS3 Games So Far
The PS3 Team's Favorite Controversial Games
The PS3 Team's Favorite Horror Games
Is It Okay to Play as the Taliban in Medal of Honor?
Why I Like Single Player Games

The Office episode reviews
Costume Contest
Viewing Party
Classy Christmas

Also, along with the responsibilities, I've actually just started a new full time job that actually makes me money, so I simply don't have the time anymore to post on this blog as often as I have this year. I'm not going to stop, but I'm doing a few things to limit the workload. The first is probably no more baseball posts. When I first started the blog, I intended to use this section more, but the truth is I don't have that much to add to the discussion with all of the great dedicated sites and blogs there are out there, and it's fairly incongruous to talk about sports like once a month when this is otherwise basically all entertainment reviews. Another thing is no more music reviews. I actually expect the amount of music I listen to to increase with a hopefully stable income, but the fact is I've never gotten comfortable writing about the subject. I just don't know how to say what I like or don't like about songs the way other people do, and I don't enjoy having to do it. I'll still make lists, but I doubt there will be anymore full reviews.

When it comes to TV and comics, I'm going to stop posting about individual seasons or trade paperbacks of older titles. If they're still running, I'll write a single post about what was already released after I've caught up, and if they ended before I got to them, I'll sum up the whole thing in one go. Posts about current things will continue as usual. I'll see how this all goes at first, but hopefully cutting out some of the stuff that I've traditionally done as filler will help out a lot. Before the blog was almost a job, but going forward it will be more of a hobby. Who knows, maybe the writing will be better when I don't try to make myself do it every day.

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