From the Chicago Reader (March 5, 1999). — J.R.
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
Written for the Chicago Film Festival and the Gene Siskel Film Center’s week-long streaming of this masterpiece (April 24-30). — J.R.
It isn’t necessary to have seen anything by Portuguese master Pedro Costa before encountering the title heroine here, but if you saw his previous feature, Horse Money, you’ve already met her—a striking, angry middle-aged woman from Cape Verde who finally found the money to fly to Lisbon to join her long-absent husband, only to discover that she just missed his funeral. Settling into his rickety, crumbling house and trying to come to terms with her grief, keeping company mainly with a semi-mad priest (Costa regular Ventura), she’s precisely the kind of person that the world and movies tend to ignore but Costa’s epic portraiture, so beautifully lit and framed that it becomes jaw-dropping, builds an exalted altar to her, inviting us to luxuriate in her hushed presence. Audiences tend to have an easier time with this dark reverie than critics because it takes us somewhere very special and respects us far too much to tell us why. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
From the Chicago Reader (July 11, 1995). — J.R.
If you gave up on writer-director Amy Heckerling after Look Who’s Talking and its sequel, this 1995 comedy — improbably but cleverly adapted by Heckerling from Jane Austen’s Emma — might get you interested again. As in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, her first feature, Heckerling displays a nice feeling for teenagers — teenage girls especially — and some flair for witty dialogue. Here she’s concentrating on the travails of a wealthy but good-hearted Beverly Hills consumer (Alicia Silverstone) as she tries to establish a romance between two of her teachers (Wallace Shawn and associate producer Twink Caplan), make over a new transfer student (Brittany Murphy) with the help of her best friend (Stacey Dash), pass a driving test, and lose her virginity. Though this drifts at times as storytelling, it’s mainly lightweight but personable fun. With Paul Rudd, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan, Jeremy Sisto, Julie Brown, and Dan Hedaya. 97 min. (JR)