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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.27%
Average: 16.51%
Pretty Bad: 12.84%
Total Crap: 3.67%

10 reviews, 49 user ratings

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by Greg Muskewitz

"It begins as a quirky curio, but completely falls apart at the end."
2 stars

"Quills" begins with images of bondage. It looks like the woman is enjoying it, but as the camera slowly draws back, the free spirited woman is not so comfortable as the reality becomes clear. The executioner sets her up, and drops the guillotine. We are then forwarded to Charenton Asylum. The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) is believed to be a nut with a penchant for pornographic writing. ("My dainty morsel, get on your back and try it dorsal") As we become accustomed to life around Charenton, director Philip Kaufman presents the story in a very quirky way, almost like a novelty. The dialogue, some of which is the actual writing of de Sade ("He placed the communion on her twitching orifice"), but much of which is instead the work of Doug Wright adapting his own play. Once the element of campiness is introduced and employed at a constant rate, it isn’t so bad. But come the last third of the movie, "Quills" becomes an annihilating mess that it is impossible to recover from –not that it tried.

Kate Winslet is Madeleine, a puerile laundress who retrieves manuscripts from de Sade. She delivers them to a mysterious man on a horse, and he takes them to be published. When Napoleon (a funny composition: his feet, too short to reach the ground, dangle as he sits from his throne) is read some of the erotic literature from "Juliette" (lovely images such as "flaxen quim" or "As pink as a cherry, as slick as an eel," etc.), he orders for a disciplinarian, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to oversee some treatment for de Sade. ("No one can fuck Napoleon for bringing him to his senses.")

The arrival is not pleasant, and de Sade’s main caretaker, Priest Abbé Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) is threatened by Royer-Collard’s presence. Royer-Collard’s method is mostly torture (the chair that flips backwards into cold water with the patient strapped in is his most used), and makes the asylum miserable, all the while getting into his own goo. He meets up with some nuns and is given Simone (Amelia Warner), a young orphaned girl. He is to marry her, and shortly thereafter begins using her as his sexual outlet. ("Maybe you haven’t been briefed on the duties of a wife.") Scandal and gossip is immediately transmitted ("He’s old enough to have fathered her twice," or to him: "You have a lovely daughter"), all the way to the Marquis, who makes a satiric play out of it.

As Coulmier wants to handle it his way, Royer-Collard forces his dominance on the issue. Prevent him from writing, or else. Videlicet, it becomes a struggle for the Marquis to continue writing, or else the asylum will be shut down. ("Our fate lies within the stroke of your pen"/ "Mightier than the sword, indeed.")

So far, throughout, as corny and ridiculous as the narrative has been presented (yes, the story is true, but the presentation takes itself much too lightly) amusingly. This obviously is not award-worthy material here, more of a dirty, porny joke, but it never fails to go too far –until the whole last segment. Once Kaufman begins trying to convince us that de Sade really is nuts, and the removal of his privileges, "Quills" plummets, dive-bombs into the solid concrete below. He writes with a wishbone and wine on his sheet when his quills are taken away. He writes with his blood and shards of a mirror onto his close when his food is deboned and served only water. He writes on the wall with his defecation when his clothing is taken. Blah, blah, blah. "Quills" becomes outright ridiculous, silly, and stupid. Orgies randomly burst out, characters suffer from sudden, unexplained and undeveloped revulsions. It becomes a colossal mess. By the time we are supposed to believe Coulmier has gone insane too, it is just too unbelievable and absurd to go along with. It was as if Kaufman and Wright became totally bored with their respective jobs on the movie, and just let it explode all over. Forget that they are trying to convince us of anything.

To start with, the story is pretty vapid, and uncompelling. When there are patches that grab the interest, "Quills" remedies a quick and extreme money shot, and shoots it to hell; not to be seen again. Sure, we understand that this is pornographic in motif, but it makes it the main focus instead of part of the story. In a week where I’ve seen a 3-D vintage porn revival of "The Disco Dolls in Hot Skin" and "The Lollipop Girls in Hard Candy," at least I could not be disappointed by the preposterousness of the sex and absent-mindedness of the plot and characters. But coming from such a reputable crew, both in front and behind the camera, was a monstrous disgrace.

Like "Disco Dolls" and "Lollipop Girls," Kaufman’s direction was limp and pretentiously kitschy. When we are thrown into a necrophiliac dream, not only is it the character who’s dreaming, but Kaufman is as well. It’s laughable because it becomes too egregious. His sexual style can continue to obfuscate along with "Rising Sun" and "The Unbearable Lightness of Being."

Until he fictitiously goes crazy, Rush is pretty decent, although completely over the top and theatrical. However, the degradation and humiliation that Kaufman puts him through is largely noticeable, and creates a wide open hole. Winslet does some really nice work –not as good as "Holy Smoke!," but still ascending from "Hideous Kinky" and "Heavenly Creatures." Phoenix, a non-favorite of mine, is not as stiff and phony as he was earlier this year in "Gladiator," as he appeared to be reading his lines from a distance, but any time Phoenix must work up an emotion, he loses himself in trite histrionics, and dull ones at that. His physiognomy of surprise looks like that of a man suffering from unexpected pre-ejaculation. Caine is also frightfully bad as well. This movie is a huge embarrassment for all, including Winslet, who’s discarded to help juice the third act.

"Quills" is definitely one of the year’s worst movies. We did not need all this mumbo-jumbo, chaos to understand de Sade’s disposition. The whole allusion, or theme (however unexplored) of censorship and freedom of rights, is superficially footnoted, and skimmed over –not even thoroughly like a Cliffs’ Notes version would have delivered.

The gray-matte finish by DP Rogier Stoffers is as ugly and drearily dull as the cinematography in "Angela’s Ashes."

Final Verdict: D.

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originally posted: 12/17/00 19:34:02
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User Comments

9/09/08 Arcane An original story - though a bit boring. Phoenix is excellent as usual. 3 stars
3/11/07 Roy F. Moore The Marquis DeSade as the good guy? Are they nuts? Flee this drivel. 1 stars
2/02/04 Gabriela Great movie. Amazing cast. 5 stars
10/02/03 Mopsa Funny and heartbreaking and incredibly brave. Terrific cast 5 stars
9/16/03 Pinkline Jones The user woke me up 2 stars
8/04/03 punjab pure aldrated horseshit! 1 stars
5/18/03 Ventana Racy and Raunchy, but a lot of FUN. Acting is superb! 5 stars
4/08/03 Mystique Very good acting! 5 stars
2/22/03 Blabity blah complete drivel. Misuse of talented actors. Crap Script. 1 stars
1/01/03 Jack Sommersby A simplistic dumbing-down of a controversial topic by a myopic Lefty. 1 stars
12/28/02 grardo just great 5 stars
7/27/02 AgentDS What a delictable morsel of decadently delicious cinema! 5 stars
4/26/02 Charles Tatum Rush is great and Winslet is sexy 5 stars
4/24/02 Danielle Ophelia Both delicious and disturbing--haunting, multidimensional, witty and acerbic. 5 stars
2/08/02 John Linton Roberson Lovely(both set & Winslet)but ultimately too cutesy. 3 stars
1/17/02 Piz an acting clinic for the ages thats strange, funny, and engaging 4 stars
1/02/02 Duke Disturbing yet brilliant....the dvd writer's commentary is necessary to understand the film 5 stars
12/15/01 Butterbean A disturbing picture with an ending that would piss you off 4 stars
12/13/01 Dominik Duprelle Intelligent, caustic black comedy/drama with a wicked sense of fun-enjoy it! 5 stars
11/27/01 Hum interesting 4 stars
10/22/01 Tam Beautiful and haunting. Dark and witty by turns, with superb performances. 5 stars
6/17/01 artpaws An artist for today! unsavory, anti-social, of abysmal quality: spokesman for free speech 4 stars
6/13/01 Jennifer I was speechless 4 stars
6/11/01 Matt M Disturbing but ravishing 4 stars
6/09/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) Wow... 5 stars
6/04/01 Basil Excellent movie. 5 stars
5/26/01 nanci Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely spell-binding; a masterpiece 5 stars
5/15/01 The Bomb 69 not your typical hollywood ending, I loved it!!! 5 stars
5/15/01 othree I actually enjoyed it, had heard horrific comments, Rush, Marquis De Sade was wonderful 4 stars
5/07/01 Mitja Podgajski I love this movie.. 4 stars
4/19/01 Tam Disturbing and beautiful. No cliches. Rush should have won that Best Actor Oscar. 5 stars
3/28/01 viking Overlong and sordid 3 stars
3/21/01 Great movie about freedom of expression! 5 stars
3/15/01 Lady Disdain Strong and Entertaining; Winslet and Phoenix are phenomenal 5 stars
3/04/01 matthew smith Geoffrey rush is superb 5 stars
2/21/01 Rocket Boy Less than some of Kaufman's other works, but Rush was wonderful. 3 stars
2/13/01 LAZY Simplistic, inaccurate, disgusting. Does historical context matter to anyone? 3 stars
2/08/01 Johnny Figaro Caine was better in Muppet XMas Carol. Overwrought and overrated 2 stars
2/06/01 Matthew Bartley Terrific.Kind of a medevial One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest 5 stars
1/16/01 bats beautiful and disturbing like a train can't stop watching. 4 stars
1/12/01 Lisa P I loved the chances this movie took...the content was and still is highly controversial. 5 stars
1/07/01 bison it was great. 5 stars
1/03/01 insectk kicks boocoo ass 5 stars
1/02/01 Jennifer Phelps Incredible movie! 5 stars
12/24/00 Jenny-My-Fur incredible, possibly one of the best movies of the year, fan-fucking-tastic 5 stars
12/18/00 tnt great performances......but a sleeper nonetheless 3 stars
12/08/00 Boy In The Designer Bubble Man, those wig wearing brothers could cop the honies. 5 stars
12/05/00 Artist Freak Un freaking real. My favorite movie in a long, long time. 5 stars
11/29/00 Heather One of the year's best, great acting, thought provoking re: hypocrisy & free speech 5 stars
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  25-Dec-2000 (R)
  DVD: 08-May-2001


  01-Mar-2001 (M)

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