Life During Wartime

I had this Netflix DVD sitting on my living room table for about 3 or 4 days before I got the courage up to watch it. That’s how Todd Solondz’s films affect me, on the whole. I finally watched it last night, and I was surprised at how “light” it was, compared to Storytelling and Palindromes and of course the magnificent Happiness. Yes, this seemed to be “Solondz lite,” even though the film picks up where Happiness, which I think everyone here would agree is a brutally and relentlessly discomforting film, left off. Having said that, I still enjoyed the film. It’s not without its uncomfortable moments; there are a few conversations between Timmy and his mother (the excellent Allison Janney) that are reminiscent of that final, painful conversation between Billy and his pedophile dad at the end of Happiness. Continue reading Life During Wartime

Surely they aren’t going to remake that?

I was in an airport bookstore browsing for something to read while I waited to get re-routed around the hurricane, and I saw a new edition of Tinker, Tailer, Soldier Spy, It had the tag: “Soon to be a major motion picture.” And sure enough, on the back there was a cast list including Gary Oldman and Colin Firth. Really? Wasn’t the Alec Guinness TV mini-series version about as good as television got in the 1970s? I still have tremendous affection for the mini-series, and I can’t think of George Smiley except as Alec Guinness. And the book has so many moving parts that I doubt it can be compressed into a couple of hours without doing serious damage.

Short Films

Help. I’m looking for a hand full of well-made short films for a class I’m teaching. It’s a three-hour, once a week class which is a new format for me (well, I did it last spring and I don’t think I managed the hours as well as my students might have liked). I need a bag of tricks (any creative exercises you might want to share would also be appreciated).
Continue reading Short Films

Crazy, Stupid, Love

CSL‘s title has commas to spare, suggestive of a zaniness the film circles ’round but generally doesn’t care so much about. It’s missing a key modifier central to its impact: sad, painful, lonely.

And that is determinedly NOT a complaint. First, sure, yes: this is a really well-crafted romantic comedy, with much care and attention given to the plot structure (a few moments inflate with the giddy helium of farcical perfection, and only one or two fall deflated to the ground), to the complexity and thoughtfulness of its characters. Carell’s Cal Weaver is a man suddenly, surprisingly dislocated from his life; Julianne Moore’s wife Emily is no less surprised and confounded about her own indiscretion and where it leads the couple. The film’s packed with interesting, knotty characters–who start as the cartoonish Types of a raunchy comedy but, with a smart line, excellent direction, and pitch-perfect performances, attain a gravity that heightens both the comedy and the compassion.

I haven’t a lot to say. It does occasionally enthusiastically embrace convention, and there’s (as with much farce) the occasional strained suturing of plot strands. (There are also, though, some genuine surprises and delights.)

But I wanted to throw out to Brunsy, in particular, a question about its comic force. Where so much comedy derives from roots in rage- and shame-inflected desire, Crazy is resolutely concerned with sadness. The characters collide–and occasionally fight–but even these conflicts are inflected by a compassionate attention to the pain motivating them. What makes the film more than just a reasonably-smart comic romance is this deep wellspring of hurt — and I have been trying to think if there was another comic actor who could do this as well as Carell, or a film so attuned to same, particularly in this era of the never-wanna-grow-up character-driven comedy.


James Gunn’s version of the superheroes-are-really-pathetic-losers film didn’t, on paper, seem to cry out for my attention. People said it was a lot more Travis Bickle than Kick-Ass, which was less deconstructive than delirious about the silliness of certain genre set-ups. And while most of its cast made my eyebrows go up (Andre Royo! Michael Rooker! Nathan Fillion! Kevin Bacon as the baddie? Ellen Page as a lunatic sidekick?) I was a little nervous about star Rainn Wilson. It is hard to displace Dwight Schrute’s high cheekbones and fake hard smile. But Super, while hitting a lot of familiar notes, also hits them with a wrench, repeatedly and confidently bashing expectations, shifting tones.

It manages a level of emotional engagement and complexity that is impressive, largely because of Wilson and Page, who are each excellent at turning from outsized insanity and mayhem to a pervasive sadness; their actions almost seem a continual surprise to themselves, and at heart the film isn’t troping the creaky superhero trope about good and evil (and the thin line, ye innocents!, between the twain); Super (like Taxi Driver) is about alienation and loneliness.

Which makes it sound grim, when it is often quite funny; bloody in a manner that teases a Troma-like eccentricity but also critiques the comic-book indifference to consequence; cautiously hopeful despite its dark worldview. I thought it was really pretty darn good.

Don’t squeeze the chairma…. ah, hell.

That a mysterious spiderlike executive called the Chairman circles around behind the scenes, spinning (and respinning) the Plan, while minions dressed like castaway extras from The Thin Man run around, turning peoples’ phones off like so many stiff-shouldered well-coiffed gremlins, should not put you off this film. Nor should the fact that the Chairman is not, as I had begun to hope, Frank Sinatra. Nor the relentless humbuggery of its metaphysics.*

For 3/4 of its running time, who cares? Continue reading Don’t squeeze the chairma…. ah, hell.