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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Alice in Wonderland (2010) - Tim Burton Creates a Magical Fairy Tale Alll His Own

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Director Tim Burton is most famous for his stop-motion animation films such as "The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Corpse Bride," but Tim Burton's "Batman" and "Edward Scissorhands" show that Tim Burton is a master of live action, too. Basically, Tim Burton can do it all (when he wants to). With his Walt Disney Pictures "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), Tim Burton has managed to take a "it's been done" classic fairy tale by and turn it into a Disney movie smash box-office hit. Tim Burton did it by contrasting vibrant color schemes with devastation, pairing top Hollywood stars such as Johnny Depp and Anne Hathaway with a complete unknown female lead, and altering human characters with unique Disney movie animation methods to create startling and almost transcendent imagery. Oh, and don't forget to check out Johnny Depp's famous Futterwacken Dance on my other site.

Bulgarian DVD cover front and back Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
It's interesting how this "Alice in Wonderland" is marketed overseas - at least they actually show Alice.

This is Tim Burton's original take on the traditional fairy tale "Alice in Wonderland," and he plays it straight, faithful to the original. Teenager Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is confronted with a sudden marriage proposal from a rich, titled and effete wanker at a garden party. Conflicted about it, she wanders out and sees an odd rabbit in a blue waistcoat rush by. Following it, she falls down a large rabbit hole into a strange new world Alice dubs "Wonderland" but is actually "Underland," though the name hardly makes a difference, and we shall stick to "Wonderland" because the name of the film is "Alice in Wonderland."


Alice in Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Alice in Wonderland, in a strange new place and looking a little anachronistic.

Alice, in Wonderland, soon meets friendly but unusual characters the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the murderous Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), the Dodo (Michael Gough), and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas). These "Alice in Wonderland" characters greet her as a potential savior of Wonderland who will slay the Red Queen's (Helena Bonham Carter) Jabberwocky (Christopher Lee) and restore the flaky but unthreatening White Queen (Anne Hathaway) to the Wonderland throne.

Red Queen Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
The Red Queen of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," looking very Cyndi Lauper-ish.

The Bandersnatch and some soldiers under the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover) then surprises the group and steal the Oraculum - a scroll of prophecies - for the Red Queen. Alice and the Tweedle brothers escape into the woods. Upon hearing the news of Alice's arrival in Wonderland, the Red Queen orders out her soldiers again led by Bayard the Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) to find and capture Alice.

White rabbit Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
So much to do, and so little time in "Alice in Wonderland."

Alice meets the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), who introduces her to the March Hare (Paul Whitehouse) and the Hatter (Depp). They all head for the White Queen's castle, but the soldiers appear and Hatter has to allow himself to be captured to save Alice. Bayard the Bloodhound finds her anyway, but changes sides (nobody ever does what the villainess orders in a Disney movie, especially in "Alice in Wonderland"!), offering to help her get to the White Queen's castle. Alice insists that they first rescue the Hatter, so they head for the Red Queen's castle.

Red Queen Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
I bet nobody called the Red Queen "big head" to her (enormous)  face in "Alice in Wonderland."

The Red Queen treats Alice kindly, unaware of who she is (though, if in fact her previous appearance was like that in the original Disney movie "Alice in Wonderland," it is hard to see how she would mistake her, and she already had been alerted to Alice's Wonderland return). Alice quickly learns that the Vorpal Sword that is the only weapon capable of killing the Jabberwocky is locked away inside the Bandersnatch's den. Alice charms the Bandersnatch and obtains the sword, but the Knave sees her with it and chases her until Alice flees on the back of the Bandersnatch. Alice then presents the Vorpal sword to the White Queen.

White Queen Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Anne Hathaway doing a Jack Sparrow imitation in "Alice in Wonderland."

The Cheshire Cat prevents the Hatter's execution, and the Hatter then tries to stir up a rebellion. It is prevented by the Jubjub bird. Hatter and his allies then flee to the White Queen's castle and prepare for battle, but Alice is not sure what everyone expects her to do (just as she was indecisive about the marriage proposal). Absolem the Caterpillar (Alan Rickman) then tells Alice that he remembers her from her previous visit thirteen years earlier and that she is perfectly capable of defeating the Jabberwocky.

White rabbit Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
What time is it? It's time for you to make a ton of money, "Alice in Wonderland"!

The Frabjous (battle) Day arrives, and the armies of Wonderland prepare to have it out. Alice, clad in armor, fights the Jabberwocky on a chessboard battlefield and kills the beast. The White Queen takes over and banishes the Red Queen. The Queen also gives Alice a vial of the Jabberwocky's blood, and Alice pledges to someday return to Wonderland again. Alice then leaves Wonderland and returns home, where she is a new and independent person.

Johnny Depp Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Welcome to Wonderland, Alice. Would you like some tea?

Almost all the characters of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" are digitally manipulated almost beyond recognition in this Disney movie, with often only the fairy tale characters' heads being recognizably human. Several of the Tim Burton "Alice in Wonderland" fairy tale characters, in fact, are completely animated, such as Absolem the Caterpillar. This lends this Tim Burton Disney movie an air of extreme fantasy which jars with new plot twists involving uprisings and battles. This Tim Burton Disney fairy tale movie's story is hugely altered from the original Lewis Carroll source material ("Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass") to make the Tim Burton Disney movie conform to various modern tropes (strong, assertive female, rebellious rather than simply crazy Hatter, etc.). Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland comes across as a feminist heroine who threatens to make a few changes in the real world once she returns there.

Cheshire Cat Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Very nice - but the disappearing animated Chesire Cat in the original Disney animated feature film  "Alice in Wonderland" was cooler.

Tim Burton had to overcome several obstacles in getting this Disney movie into theaters. Directing "Alice in Wonderland" was his first time using green screens, and because of technical issues Tim Burton made the difficult decision to film in 2D and later convert it to a 3D, partly animated, fantasy. Production by Tim Burton of this Disney movie "Alice in Wonderland" took longer than expected, and finally was complete a year late. When the Tim Burton Disney movie was released, several theater chains staged a boycott because of issues relating to a planned quick release of the "Alice in Wonderland" DVD. Fortunately for everyone, the theater chains ultimately relented and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" enjoyed a wide release.

Alice Hatter Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Ready for battle at the climax of "Alice in Wonderland."

The problems Tim Burton overcame with "Alice in Wonderland" were worth it. "Alice in Wonderland" earned over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, and later sold over $76 million worth of DVDs. With Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" English setting, emphasis on exotic locations and animated characters, it did not intimidate foreign theatre-goers.  Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" did better overseas than it did domestically, and ranks as the third highest-grossing Disney movie ever.

Alice in armor Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
"I'm grimacing because, well, I'm constipated and this suit is Hell to get off. And I am hating this damn rabbit."

In many ways, Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is a fun Disney movie, full of delight, humor, charmingly odd characters and witty updates of the classic Lewis Carroll fairy tale. Unfortunately, "Alice in Wonderland"  also can be annoying, pointless and meandering. The visuals of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" are stunning compared to 60 years ago and so stand up well against the animated 1951 Disney movie "Alice in Wonderland." The technology now is there to combine human and animated forms, and this gives 2010's "Alice in Wonderland" a distinct look. Even with all that, though, it takes Johnny Depp's performance as the Hatter truly to sell this "Alice in Wonderland."

Queen Hearts castle movieloversreview.filminspector.com
Queen of Heart's Castle  in "Alice in Wonderland" - admit it, it looks like fun!

A lot depends on how you feel about Johnny Depp and his unique acting style and randomly disappearing Scot accent. Depp is all style and mannerisms, but some may think that elevating a minor character to carry a film about major fairy tale character Alice is disrespectful to the source material and a wee bit strained (like the mice taking over the story in "Cinderella II: Dreams Come True"). From this Tim Burton Disney movie's marketing and plot, one might think it was the Mad Hatter who fell down the rabbit hole, and not some vacant girl named Alice, in Wonderland. Reliable Danny Elfman wrote a nice but unmemorable score, replete with mediocre singles later released by Avril Lavigne, 3OH!3 and Kerli.

Absolem Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Absolem the Caterpillar, voiced by Alan Rickman. It just looks too much like a ... Oh, never mind.

So, Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is far from perfect, and that is an understatement. The problems with his "Alice in Wonderland" start from the very concept. Tim Burton apparently envisaged this "Alice in Wonderland" as a cross between a re-telling and a sequel of Lewis Carroll's fairy tale, with a supposed earlier visit (the one in Lewis Carroll?) that is suggested. However, dialogue, scenes and general plot are all lifted from the original. Why they can't just do a straightforward adaptation of such a charming fairy tale is an open question which "it's been done" doesn't address - they re-do "Madame Bovary" every couple of years and nobody seems to mind. While many of these alterations to Lewis Carroll's fairy tale "Alice in Wonderland" are quite clever in an academic sense and make the story more understandable for modern audiences, they also undermine the high-concept conceit. The decision to man-handle a whimsical fantasy into a quasi-realistic veiled polemic on gender relations and looming adulthood was done for modern sensibilities, but jars when grafted onto a 19th Century fairy tale that was solely intended to please children without any angry political messages.

White Queen castle movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
The White Queen's crib  in "Alice in Wonderland" - perhaps the most color-coordinated castle ever

Rather than an ordinary but bored schoolgirl, our heroine becomes an ageing (not married by 19 in Victorian England? Good luck) proto-feminist with modern sensibilities (which. of course, completely elude her poor clod suitor) trying to figure out a "problem that has no name," as Germaine Greer might put it. This leads to ridiculous excesses, such as having stone-faced lightweight Mia Wasikowska putting on shining armor and defeating the supposedly fearful Jabberwocky. Then, in a stupefyingly misguided and completely unnecessary coda, she is seen to compound this foolishness and go on to subjugate China (one wonders how the Chinese felt about that part, and besides, China was already rebelling against Western influences at that time with the Boxer Rebellion). Indeed, there is much which will make you scratch your head in befuddlement at the choices made by the screenwriter Linda Woolverton in drafting this version of "Alice in Wonderland" for Tim Burton. Apparently, she thought (wrongly) that the power-girl theme hadn't been roared loudly enough in Tim Burton's take on the classic fairy tale "Alice in Wonderland."

Green screen Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Behind the scenes of "Alice in Wonderland," which looks similar to how ABC does the shooting "Once Upon a Time."

In fact, it is fair to say that Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" starts out with a terrific premise and entrancing execution that, after the mid-way point, becomes weighed down with a rather hokey "uprising" and a ridiculous battle confrontation. The 3D is good but not that visually exciting for a contemporary Disney movie, and in fact the giant heads and so forth become distracting and pointless (and perhaps disturbing for small children). The stoic, unknown female lead (and whose name somewhat pointedly is not mentioned by Disney's marketing people anywhere in places such as the Disney movie trailer), despite all attempts to make her into some kind of action hero, is basically a cipher upon whom to dump the weirdness of those around her. If Tim Burton's idea merely was to provide a blank slate for the viewers to fill in themselves, and thus experience the pyrotechnics from a central viewpoint, the casting was a slyly ingenious choice, but it also kills the dramatic tension. This "Alice in Wonderland" also is part of a strange trend of recent Disney movies attacking arranged marriages (see "Brave," which, strangely enough, also has Scottish overtones), as if that were a plague upon modern society that must be stamped out right this minute, rather than something that ended in most places well before the time in which this film was set.

Anne Hathaway White Queen Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
The real star of the show, Anne Hathaway, who should have been the star of "Alice in Wonderland."

The bizarre portrayal at the end of "Alice in Wonderland" of the heroine as some kind of world-beater (this is a girl who couldn't even figure out if she wanted to get married!) who has to keep repeating how much she's "found" herself (writers should show and not have their characters tell things like that, Linda) destroys much of the sympathy for the (dare I say it, relatively homely) Alice that this Disney movie had spent well over an hour trying to manufacture. That brings me to my ultimate verdict: this "Alice in Wonderland" suffers most because of Alice herself. Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" would have worked much better with a recognizable lead who was more expressive and sympathetic and, quite frankly, a better actress (and they didn't have to look that far away, with Anne Hathaway handy, though it is said that she turned the part down). I will give an example: when Johnny Depp does his "Futterwacken" dance at the end, both Alice and the White Queen watch, and Hathaway creates an impression of her own with little peculiar gestures while Mia basically just... watches. Hathaway is the best thing about this "Alice in Wonderland" by far, playing the White Queen as a sort of dilettante poof whose act, combined with the all-white look, is probably a subversive parody of Snow White and her hyper-girlishness and wonderfulness. Anne plays it almost like a faux drag queen impersonation, subtly mocking the femininity of the character, and it is spot on. I am not an Anne Hathaway fan, but credit where credit is due, Anne Hathaway steals this "Alice in Wonderland."

Tim Burton and Alice Alice in Wonderland 2010 animatedfilmreviews.filminspector.com
Tim Burton directing "Alice in Wonderland" with the star, Mia Wasikowska.

Still, Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is a satisfying Disney movie despite its flaws, as long as you like excessive use of  CGI. In that case, "Alice in Wonderland"  is a treat for the eyes, and only becomes a waste of time if you are a hard-core Lewis Carroll fan or unduly picky. If you are a traditionalist and want the truest rendition of the "Alice in Wonderland" fairy tale, seek out the classic 1951 animated Disney movie "Alice in Wonderland," which, all else aside, clearly has better songs. On the other hand, definitely try this "Alice in Wonderland" if you are a huge Johnny Depp or Tim Burton fan (which accounts for most modern film-goers) or hunger for a girl-power reconstruction of an innocent children's fairy tale (maybe next they can make Winnie the Pooh fight for proper enforcement of Title IX, that hasn't been done yet, either).

Alice Through the Looking Glass movieloversreviews.filminspector.com movie poster
"Alice Through the Looking Glass" showed that the producer (Tim Burton) recognized that Johnny Depp was the series' true selling point. Notice who isn't shown or referenced at all despite being the title character?

A sequel to this "Alice in Wonderland" and Broadway musical of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," again written by

Below is the original 2010 trailer for Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." Basically, while this version made a ton of money, I still prefer the 1951 "Alice in Wonderland," but you may love this version either just as much or more. Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" is a worthy effort.





2017

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Tall Man (2012) - Jessica Biel Takes Over

Film poster The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
"The Tall Man" (2012).

Well, it has Jessica Biel on the cover, so let's watch, she's usually fun to watch even in her lesser efforts. Jessica Biel stars in "The Tall Man" (2012), a French/Canadian/American production from Cold Rock Productions BC directed and written by little-known Pascal Laugier ("Martyrs"). This crime/mystery/thriller seems to provoke strong reactions in its audiences, though not always what the filmmakers intended. may have quite a future in the business, but he struggles to show it with this muddled production. There are some positives, to be sure, such as an interesting premise but the execution becomes annoying at every possible opportunity.

Jessica  "The Tall Man" 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Promotional photo for "The Tall Man" - Jessica doesn't look this good in the actual film, unfortunately.

The small town of Cold Rock, British Columbia (apparently - though some thing suggest it may be in the States) used to be a thriving mining town, but the mines closed down and the local economy died. There still are miles of abandoned tunnels underneath the town and nearby mountains, but nobody goes in them any longer unless they are up to no good. There is a local legend of a "Tall Man" who abducts children, though nobody has ever gotten a good look at him. He may or may not exist, but kids are definitely disappearing at a steady pace.

Jessica Biel with broken glass The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Broken glass abounds in "The Tall Man."

Julia Denning (Jessica Biel) is the wealthy young widow of the town doctor. She shares her home with young David (Jakob Davies) and his nanny. Her mother lives with an abusive boyfriend who got Julia's sister Carol (Katherine Ramdeen) pregnant, so she left town.


Jessica Biel being questioned The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Jessica Biel with cut face in "The Tall Man."

One night, Julia puts David to bed and goes to sleep downstairs on the couch. When a noise awakens her, she finds the nanny tied and gagged and David missing. She rushes out into the night and spies somebody - perhaps the fabled Tall Man - taking David. She pursues them into the woods and on to a speeding truck, eventually losing track of them and getting herself injured in the process.

Jessica Biel The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Jessica Biel hunting for the real killers in "The Tall Man."

It turns out that David isn't actually Julia's son at all, but rather a boy whose real mother was the one who came to Julia's house and took him. Julia herself kidnapped the boy, and he was just being rescued in a secretive manner because his real mother, a homeless woman without any influence, accidentally found out where he was and didn't trust the police to help her.

Jessica Biel The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Jessica Biel close-up in "The Tall Man."

Julia pursues the pair to an abandoned hospital where the woman lives. Julia manages to recapture David and  takes him back to her house. Her young friend Jenny (Jodelle Ferland), who assists her, and who comes from an abusive home and is mute, tells her in writing to "Let the Tall Man take him, too." Julia doesn't want to do  that at first, but ultimately agrees it is the right thing. She takes David down into the tunnels and leaves him there.

Stephen McHattie as Lt. Dodd The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Stephen McHattie as Lt. Dodd in "The Tall Man."

The entire town now believes that Julia is the one responsible for the disappearance of all the children. They believe that Julia is a mass murderer of kids. Lt. Dodd (Stephen McHattie) questions Julia, and she admits to taking the children. She refuses, though, to say where they are or what exactly happened to them. Julia is retained in custody, unlikely ever to be released.

Jessica Biel The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Jessica tracking down David in "The Tall Man."

Julia, we find out, did not kill any of the children, and her husband is not dead. They have kidnapped the kids to give them to wealthy people who want to adopt them and give them a better life, sort of like a modern-day Robin Hood. Jenny herself goes off into a field and find Julia's husband there waiting for her - he is the "Tall Man." He takes Jenny to a nearby city, where she is given to a new family to begin her life anew with a civilized, wealthy family. Jenny becomes a wealthy woman's daughter, now named Vera. She recovers the ability to speak and adjusts to her new life, although with difficulty. She still thinks about her birth family, bad as it was, and wonders if leaving them was a good idea after all.

Jodelle Ferland The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Jenny in "The Tall Man."

"The Tall Man" is deeply philosophical about many things, and that will intrigue some viewers. Some might even call it political. However, "The Tall Man" does not present itself as a philosophical or political meditation. Instead, it masquerades as a horror film along the lines of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" or "The Hills Have Eyes." Since many people are interested in horror films, and fewer in philosophical meditations, it is understandable why the film-makers hide the film's true nature at every possible opportunity. The usual horror film tricks are used - sudden noises, mysterious half-seen figures, unexplained disappearances and the like - to create an aura of something that just isn't there. It is the old bait-and-switch, where the viewer is left with something for which they did not bargain. While the film makes sense in hindsight, it is only in hindsight that such is the case. While watching it fresh, the plot is an incoherent, chaotic mess that purposefully misleads and uses horror-film tricks when no horror awaits.

Jenny and David The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Jenny and David in "The Tall Man."

The only reason "The Tall Man" was made, one suspects, was because A-list star Jessica Biel felt like making it. She has the clout, and - who knows? - maybe this topic holds some kind of personal fascination. Or, perhaps she wanted to burnish her dramatic credentials, or have a rare chance to play a dominant lead, or perhaps the controversial philosophy of the plot appealed to her. More likely, Jessica was forced to do it to fulfill some kind of contractual obligation. Whatever the reason, Jessica does all right and, as usual, is worth watching, but she (and the film itself) hardly is spectacular. Jessica wears no makeup, presumably to give her that "local" look even though she supposedly is the wealthiest woman in town, and spends most of the film mute. After a while, one is tempted to question whether her character is supposed to have some problem speaking, but that turns out not to be the case. When she does speak, she makes little sense, but that is more a script issue than anything to do with her. She struggles to show raw emotion, and appears to think that simply moving slowly is enough to suggest deeper pain and suffering. Her face is mostly blank, with a pout added for emphasis, and it isn't clear at any point that the character has anything going on upstairs.

The police The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
The police outside the abandoned mine in "The Tall Man."

Anyone looking for the "I'm too pretty to get good roles" Jessica will be disappointed, as she is plain and reduced to painting a morose expression on her face throughout. She also wears heavy coats, so the viewer can't even see her spectacular body for whatever solace that might bring. Nobody else in the film, character, actor, whatever, is remotely interesting, though some have done better work elsewhere (Ferland, for instance, was in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse). Many plot points make absolutely no sense: a woman abducts her own kid back rather than going to the police, none of the abducted kids runs away and back to their natural families and spills the beans, etc.  If you want an idea of how you may feel after viewing this, imagine one of those satires of horror films, where they use every horror film tricks - extreme closeups, sudden noises that make the character sharply turn his/her head in shock, abrupt door openings, people who illogically avoid the authorities and take matters into their own hands - and it all just turns out to be some poor schnook going shopping or whatever. Or perhaps you went to see a science fiction film, and to your shock it turned out to be an extended advertisement for some religion or cult that funded it. That's "The Tall Man," except it is all done for real, not for laughs.

Jessica Biel The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Jessica fighting the person who took her son in "The Tall Man."

One odd note about this film is that one of the popular web review sites appears to have been manipulated with positive reviews of this decidedly mediocre drama. Just goes to show you the importance of having independent voices in the blogosphere. Films like "The Tall Man," which attempt to make people think they are something they are not and manufacture cheap, tortuous thrills without satisfactory pay-offs, are a blight on the film industry.

Biel, Ferland, Davies The Tall Man 2012 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
They look like regular folks having fun! Looks can be deceiving.

If you are in the mood for a thought-provoking non-thriller which pretends to be a thriller, or have to see every single film featuring Jessica Biel, "The Tall Man" is a good place to start. All others, beware.


2017

Cruel Intentions (1999) - Cruel Intentions 1 is Sexy!

Blue ray cover Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
"Cruel Intentions" (1999).

"Cruel Intentions" (1999), directed and written by Roger Kumble for Columbia Pictures and known popularly as "Cruel Intentions 1" because of all the sequels, is a sordid tale of skulduggery and bitchery that flows from the more high-brow Dangerous Liaisons, which itself was based on a 1782 French play by .

Reese Witherspoon Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com


When a film traces its roots back to the time of the French Revolution, you know the story must be evocative of something to have lasted this long. In this case, "Cruel Intentions" resonates with all sorts of nasty emotions.

Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Phillippe, Gellar, Witherspoon, Blair - poor Selma always gets cut out of this shot in the promotional material for "Cruel Intentions."

The Cruel Intentions plot is complex. Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") is young, popular and rich. Basically, she is the Queen Bee at her school.


Sarah Michelle Gellar Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com


Kathryn is not one to take disrespect lightly. She feels wronged by her former boyfriend Court Reynolds (Charlie O'Connell), who left her and now is dating the cute and naive Cecile (Selma Blair). Naturally, this upsets Kathryn, particularly because Cecile is a dim bulb. Court, incidentally, is absent throughout just like in the original French stageplay.


Reese Witherspoon Ryan Phillippe Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) working on Cecile (Reese Witherspoon).

Not having a way to hurt Court directly, she asks her step-brother Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) to compromise her in order to wreck Court's relationship with Cecile (but also simply to wreak vengeance on this girl that stole her man).


Roger Kumble with Gellar and Phillppe Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Director Kumble with the stars of "Cruel Intentions."

Sebastian, though, has other plans. His eyes are set on the virginal Annette Hargrove (Reese Witherspoon), whom he also wants to ruin socially just because he can. Kathryn and Sebastian make a wager as to whether Sebastian can seduce Annette, the stakes being Sebastian's roadster versus sex "anywhere" with Kathryn.

Selma Blair leaning in for a kiss Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Selma Blair is a riot as Cecile in "Cruel Intentions."

Annette is staying temporarily with Sebastian's aunt Helen Rosemond (Louise Fletcher). Sebastian tries to win Annette over, but she is warned off by annoying Mrs. Caldwell (Christine Baranski), who happens to be Cecile's mother. This makes Sebastian so upset that he decides to seduce Cecile, which is made easier by the fact that Kathryn has become Cecile's informal social adviser.

Sebastian Annette swimming Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Sebastian seducing Annette in "Cruel Intentions."

Cecile, meanwhile, is now seeing Ronald Clifford (Sean Patrick Thomas), her music teacher. Kathryn mentions this to Cecile's mother, and Mrs. Caldwell obligingly does what she can to disrupt that affair. Sebastian then blackmails Cecile and seduces her. Kathryn, advising Cecile, tells her that this is a great opportunity to learn about love from Sebastian so that she can better please Ronald, so she should go "all the way" with Sebastian while she has the chance.

Selma Blair as Cecile in bed Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Cecile thinking hard about love in "Cruel Intentions."

Sebastian, though, isn't really interested in Cecile at all once he has gotten his revenge. Instead, he still wants to seduce Annette, who likes him, but not enough to sleep with him. Finally, he changes her mind, but then he spurns her out of sheer spite. Annette, distraught, retreats to a friend's mansion, where Sebastian finds her and, changing his mind again, successfully seduces her. Having lost the bet, Kathryn offers herself to Sebastian, but now he is only interested in Annette. Hurt at being rejected so off-handedly, Kathryn threatens to ruin Annette if Sebastian won't be with her, so Sebastian puts aside his feelings and breaks up with his true love, Annette, so that Kathryn won't have any reason to hurt her.

Gellar Blair kiss Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
The notorious kiss in "Cruel Intentions."

Kathryn now reveals that she knew all along that Sebastian was in love with Annette. She takes perverse delight in the fact that she ruined his relationship with Annette. To further inflict hurt, she tells Ronald that Sebastian seduced Cecile, causing Ronald to seek out and fight Sebastian. Annette, frightened for Sebastian, rushes out to assist him, but is so excited that she runs in the path of a car. Sebastian pushes her out of the way, but is himself hit and killed.

Sebastian and Cecile in bed Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
He hooked her, now wants to lose her in "Cruel Intentions."

Cecile has a copy of Sebastian's journal, in which he detailed all of Kathryn's romantic maneuvers. She sets out to ruin Kathryn any way that she can, which is the final twist in the Cruel Intentions plot.

Sarah Michelle Gellar Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Let me tell you how it will be....

The plot of "Cruel Intentions 1" is intricate, like that of the play. The seemingly endless loop of seductions and double-crosses, though, touches a chord in many viewers and engrosses them. The careless and savage way in which Kathryn manipulates and ruins blameless people simply to satisfy her own hurts and slights shows the abuse to which power of a different form than usual may be employed. Just like a gun, affairs of the heart can be deadly when misused.

Gellar Blair kissing Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Selma and Sarah with a lame re-enactment of their scene in "Cruel Intentions."

Here, the power is not that of money, or fame, or occupation - it is that of raw attractiveness and cunning. Many people wonder what it would be like to be able to manipulate others because of blindingly good looks and the sheer absence of scruples, and "Cruel Intentions 1" delivers one set of answers to that question.

Sarah Michelle Gellar Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Kathryn and her secret habit in "Cruel Intentions."

The actors are very attractive and motivated, but overall the performances are less than stellar. All of the leads have a few quirky scenes which they play for the maximum titillating effect, and that works up to a point, but it is all sizzle, no steak. For the Cruel Intentions plot to work, though, Kathryn (and, to a lesser extent as a "great lover," Sebastian) has to be convincing as being utterly ruthless and insanely desirable. Not everybody will find her (or him) to be "all that," at least not to the extent of being able to make people dance like puppets on the way to their downfall.


Sarah Michelle Gellar Reese Witherspoon Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Kathryn does not look impressed by Annette's perkiness in "Cruel Intentions."

"Cruel Intentions" has developed a cult following because it has a few scenes that are so notorious that they have become almost iconic. Sebastian's seduction of Cecile is one, but the true champion is a totally unnecessary, but gratuitously essential, "tutorial" by Kathryn for Cecile on how to kiss properly.


Selma Blair Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com


Cecile, of course, plays a completely clueless naif who doesn't grasp basic concepts very well, a bit of a female schlub. Kathryn's tutorial on kissing entails the two girls kissing, with Kathryn only pretending that it is genuine while feeling nothing, while Cecile enjoys it just a little bit too much, to the viewer's voyeuristic delight. It is quite possibly the best-known movie kiss of all time, which is quite an achievement for a film that otherwise is fairly glitzy but pedestrian, all hat and no cattle.

Animated kiss Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
This Cruel Intentions gif gives a taste of the kissing scene in "Cruel Intentions."

Reese Witherspoon was excellent playing the only noble character in "Cruel Intentions 1," and there may have been some real romance on the set, as she later married her co-star Phillippe and gave him two children. Selma Blair made the seduction scenes (particularly the climactic kissing scene with Gellar) work. Gellar is the real weak link aside from the kiss she doesn't come across as a scheming dragon lady, but more like a girl playing dress-up and trying ferociously hard to act like she thinks a dragon lady should act.

Sarah Michelle Gellar Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com


The ending of "Cruel Intentions" is a bit of a let-down, because you know that in real life, the Kathryns of the world usually get away with their contemptible machinations. But Sarah Michelle Gellar gets in so many catty asides and caustic comebacks that the ending really isn't the point of the film. In any event, the ending of "Cruel Intentions" is left ambiguous enough that Kathryn could conceivably turn her supposed downfall into another means of revenge against her enemies - that's how it would resolve in real life, most likely.

Sebastian's 1956 Jaguar XK140 car Cruel Intentions 1999
Besides the kiss, all anyone wants to see in "Cruel Intentions" is Sebastian's car....

The final scene is enhanced by The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony," and there are some excellent shots of New York City throughout. The famous Cruel Intentions car, which to some people is the real star of the film, the one that Kathryn and Sebastian bet against, is a Jaguar XK140 roadster. Personally, I'd prefer the car....

Kathryn and Cecile kiss Cruel Intentions 1999 movieloversreviews.filminspector.com
Close up of the famous kiss in "Cruel Intentions." Massage those gums!

Place this one in the "guilty pleasure" category, along with films like "Xanadu" and "Barbarella." The Cruel Intentions plot is all style, all flash, without an ounce of substance and coming complete with a melodramatic ending. That, however, is enough to entertain. You may not find the story very uplifting, but you also may not be able to turn your eyes away from it.



2017