Rewind Review: Life During Wartime


As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Life During Wartime

Life During Wartime by noted and polemical independent writer/director Todd Solondz is an interesting piece indeed. Its synopsis describes it quite astutely as “Part Sequel/Part Variation” on Happiness, his 1998 film of quite some acclaim. The assessment is quite accurate as this film does manage to stand apart from the previous title as things eventually do all fit in this particular installment but the first act could be somewhat illuminated by having seen the prior, however, seeing Happiness is not necessary to enjoy this film.

This is all a credit to Solondz as basically he has created a work, in which despite the fact that these characters have prior celluloid history this tale manages to be self-contained and is not entirely dependent on the audience’s existing knowledge of the players in the drama.

What is also very interesting is that you have a cast put in a position where they must be very familiar with their previous moment, backstory or perhaps, in a few cases, react to a revelation not made on screen. There are quite a few examples, the first scene of the film between Joy (Shirley Henderson) and Allen (Michael K. Williams) is one that is in medias res in terms of the flow of the conversation. Immediately, we feel there is baggage there, they both come to tears in the discussion but we know not exactly what the baggage is right of the bat but it gets filled in later.
Similarly, Joy and her ex, Andy (Paul Reubens), have an odd late night encounter in a restaurant and nearly the whole scene plays out before our suspicions that Paul is no longer living are confirmed. All the scenes which Henderson and Reubens share are absolutely electric and the height of drama and if it was a two character film it would’ve worked just fine.


Not that moving out of this odd series of visions that Joy has harms the film necessarily. You also have in his own thread Bill (Ciarán Hinds), who in his own way is also a ghost, in as much as he has been considered dead by his ex-wife and she said as much to her children. It is a very Ibsenesque/Bergmanesque touch to have ghosts in this tale both literally and figuratively. What we don’t necessarily know up front, if we are only seeing this film, is what Bill’s crime is for which he is being released from jail and how he connects to the rest of the characters but sure enough the answers all fall into place, the haziness dissipates and things come into focus.

Then there is the family that Bill left behind lead by a matriarch Trish (Allison Janney) and this thread focuses mostly on how she is not only dealing with her impending marriage to Harvey (Michael Lerner) but also her struggles with her son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) who is about to have his Bar Mitzvah. The path they both take is ultimately the central focus as it closes out the film. The truth is disseminated by Trish but sanitized to an extent and causes some confusion. It throws the ultimate monkeywrench into Timmy’s life as he was almost certain of what it takes to be and means to be a man. The nucleus also contains some of the most compelling performances of the film, Allison Janney is once again brilliant and newcomer Dylan Riley Snyder excels dealing with very difficult material and conveying, depending upon the situation, a different level of understanding of the given circumstances.

Much of the discussion with this film deals with the acting because it is a very character-driven piece, which also manages not to be dialogue-driven, again to its benefit. Ultimately, in nearly every scene we know the subtext or at least that there is a subtext being played. One particular example is Bill’s reunion with his older son, Billy, (Chris Marquette) who knew his father wasn’t dead and what he had done. There is palpable tension but there is also restraint and we can fill in the blanks of what they mean to be saying but are not. Even though Bill eventually reveals what he is trying to ascertain by his questions we know there is more to it.


The kudos for the cast could continue to include Helen (Ally Sheedy), the third sister in this tale, with whom Joy seeks a respite from her life. This is the kind of film that is most likely to grow upon second viewing as the first time around you are digging for answers if you don’t know them already but you are definitely focusing on what these characters are and are not saying to each other. It is a film with a social and political message to convey here and there but allows you to take it or leave it if you should so choose. It’s not an indoctrinating vehicle in the end but just a story about its people.

Todd Solondz’s latest is definitely a film worth seeing, if not once, then twice.


Rewind Review: The Nutcracker in 3D

The Nutcracker in 3D as conceptualized by Andrey Konchaloskiy is a rather strange beast indeed. It’s the kind of film that is impossible to stop watching because despite all that you might have to say against it there is some element of charm, ambition, and brashness that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Perhaps it is a symptom of the era of filmmaking we are currently living in, there are far too many “play it safe” moves made in film today from sequels, to remakes and generic storytelling. Now granted The Nutcracker has been told over and over again, however, none of them ever quite like this and that’s what you end up taking away from this film, like it or not, is a bold attempt at doing something truly unique and different.

What makes this story, or this retelling thereof, so unique? It is the spin placed on everything in this tale. It becomes a historical mishmash in which suddenly Albert Einstein is the children’s uncle, there is talk of Freudian psychology and of course the Rat King and his Kingdom are none other than the Nazis. Yet flying in this face of this seemingly are exotic flying machines and other-worldly motorcycles. Just to have the audacity to go and mix things that ought not necessarily mix is one thing but it goes further.

To use Tchaikovsky’s music extensively is to be expected and nearly mandatory. Whether or not your interpretation involves any form of dance or not his music has become much more synonymous with this story than E.T.A. Hoffman’s writing ever was. However, to add lyrics to his music is a decision that is dubious at best. Hearing that it is Tim Rice writing those lyrics gives you some hope but sadly they are some of the poorest most trite I’ve heard him compose and furthermore they rarely really work. It’s difficult to shoehorn lyrics into a symphonic score and this proves it. What makes the musical experience of this film even more frustrating is that there are parts in which you see songs that do kind of work and you wonder why all can’t but what makes it more frustrating is it needn’t be. There’s just something about this story, told as it is, that doesn’t make it conducive to music.


The performances show the kind of inconsistency that marks this film. There are those who leave you scratching your head and those that make it worth it. Amongst the head-scratchers is Nathan Lane. Why he was needed to barely sing in in one of the worst accents I’ve ever heard is beyond me. In the middle of the road is Frances de la Tour as the Rat Queen, her over-the-top insanity does grow on you as the tone of this film makes itself known. Making the film stay afloat are Elle Fanning as Mary and Charlie Rowe as The Prince, who is all too frequently absent because as the Nutcracker he is replaced by the voice of Shirley Henderson, who is incapable of sounding like anything other than Moaning Myrtle frrom the Harry Potter films. Her inability to mimic a boy’s voice not only brings this casting decision in question but made those portions of the film hard to bear.

What must be pointed out is that in terms of practicality this film is fantastic meaning in as many places where it could get shot practically it is. The rat-people wore prosthetics, there were many sets built and extras. The only things which were computer generated was what absolutely had to be which was nice to see.
The CGI when used is very effective because it is given more of chance to thrive by being surrounded by mostly real elements, making blending easier. To continue the art direction theme the costuming was also great at being both historically accurate but creative where they were allowed to be which is a nice and rare mix.


It is not only the technical that works in this film, that is merely the most consistent element. As odd as the story is, even being rife with Nazi-symbolism, it does find an odd consistency in symbols and narrative flow such that production concerns and decisions in casting can be temporarily ignored and the story can hit you.

Perhaps the best example of this a scene where Max (Aaron Michael Drozin), the younger brother, discovers that despite being recruited by the Rat King (John  Turturro) he doesn’t want to destroy toys anymore. He lets out one of the better and realistic cries you’re likely to hear. It’s like something out of Disney’s Robin Hood in its authenticity.

As for the 3D it falls this far down in the pecking order because it truly is one of the more ineffectual jobs I’ve seen since it came back in vogue. There is little to no value added due to the fact that it’s in 3D. The image is clearer and sharper than many but the trade off is that there isn’t a tremendous amount of depth outward or inward added.


It’s a film that always has a sense of humor about it despite that you can call some of its decisions into question. It is a film that absolutely screams to be seen because it refuses to conform and it is likely to leave very few on the fence and that’s the most we can ask for, and the best kind of movie whether you like it or not, and for that I thank the makers of The Nutcracker in 3D.