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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Ask Todd, an audio Q&A with director Todd Solondz in which he responds to viewers' questions
  • Making "Life During Wartime," a new documentary featuring interviews with actors Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Paul Reubens, Ally Sheedy, and Michael Kenneth Williams, and on-set footage of the actors and crew
  • New video piece in which Lachman discusses his work on the film
  • Original theatrical trailer

Life During Wartime

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Todd Solondz
Starring: Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds, Gaby Hoffman, Allison Janney, Michael Lerner, Chris Marquette, Rich Pecci, Charlotte Rampling, Paul Reubens, Ally Sheedy, Dylan Riley Snyder, , Michael Kenneth Williams
2010 | 97 Minutes | Licensor: IFC Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #574
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: July 26, 2011
Review Date: July 28, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

In Life During Wartime, independent filmmaker Todd Solondz explores contemporary American existence and the nature of forgiveness with his customary dry humor and queasy precision. The film functions as a distorted mirror image of Solondz's acclaimed 1998 dark comedy Happiness, its emotionally stunted characters now groping for the possibility of change in a post-9/11 world. Happiness's grim New Jersey setting is transposed to sunny Florida, but the biggest twist is that new actors fill the roles originated in the earlier film-including Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, and Ally Sheedy as alarmingly dissimilar sisters, and CiarŠn Hinds hauntingly embodying a reformed pedophile. Shot in expressionistic tones by cinematographer extraordinaire Ed Lachman, Solondz's film finds the humor in the tragic and the tragic in the everyday.

Forum members rate this film 7/10

 

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PICTURE

Continuing with their deal with IFC to release some of their recent films Criterion brings Todd Solondzís Life During Wartime, a quasi-sequel to Happiness with the characters all recast, to Blu-ray in the directorís preferred aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on this dual-layer disc.

The film was shot using the RED camera so it should come as no surprise that the 1080p/24hz digital transfer is just about reference quality. I havenít seen all of Solondzís films so I could be incorrect in this observation but this is probably the directorís most visually stylized film and he and cinematographer Ed Lachman have created a fairly stunning looking picture. There are a lot of greens and yellows throughout, and Lachman has a real fondness for contrasting colours (blues and oranges, greens and reds.) Colours do look oversaturated but this was purposely done and gives the film a very distinct look. Things can also appear to be blown out, like sunlight coming through a window, but this was all purposely done and is part of the filmís intended look.

Blacks are a little problematic despite how inky they are theyíre just so deep they seem to destroy some details (though this could be related to the fact that the picture is blown out a bit.) But past that thereís really nothing at fault. There are no digital artifacts, the image is crisp and clean, sharpness and details are exceptional, and it really comes about as perfect as one could expect. It looks great.

9/10

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AUDIO

The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track does an incredible service to the film. Itís not heavy or overly active but it subtly presents the music and some ambient effects, both of which creep around to the rear speakers to fill the environment. Sound quality is exceptional, dialogue come off clear and distinct but remains pretty much localized to the center speaker.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Coming to these IFC titles I usually donít hold out much hope: the films are really too new so analytical material is almost out of the question, and other than a couple of releases the supplements usually always feel slight. Looking at Life During Wartime I wasnít holding out much hope but after going through them Iím actually quite impressed: this is actually one of the cases where I found myself liking the film substantially more after going through everything.

What may help is it looks like all of these features are Criterion produced and arenít ports from other editions. The first feature continues on a rather cool idea Criterion has used for a couple of Jim Jarmuschís films (Night on Earth and Mystery Train) with Criterion asking fans to e-mail in questions for director Todd Solondz and then record his answers of the selected few chosen for this edition. 26 questions have been included here and the feature spans over 45-minutes. The questions focus mostly on this film in particular (the casting seems to be of the most interest) but do expand over his career as a whole (the controversies around his films or why he seems so intrigued by certain subject matter.) I was disappointed initially that a commentary wasnít included but this really makes up for it. The questions are, for the most part, quite intelligent so they get quite a bit of information from the director about the genesis of this film, his reasoning for completely changing the casting of the characters previously portrayed in Happiness, and whether he purposely brought along the ďbaggageĒ of certain actors in filling the roles (like Paul Reubenís past criminal run-ins or Michael Kenneth Williamsí character of Omar from The Wire. Solondz admits he didnít know who Omar was, and in another feature on this disc Williams suggests that Solondz really thought he was wrong for the role initially.) He also talks a little about the RED camera and why he used it. The filmís themes on forgiveness are obvious, and the questions Solondz raises in the film are good ones, but for some reason it wasnít until I listened to Solondz talk about it more here, mentioning how 9/11 influenced the film, and expand more on the recasting that occurred in this film, where the film finally really clicked for me, in turn causing me to immediately go back to it. Itís an excellent feature and the strongest one on here, despite Solondzís rather flat speaking voice.

Actorsí Reflections presents 30-minutes worth of interviews with actors Michael Kenneth Williams, Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds, Allison Janney, Paul Reubens, Michael Lerner, and Ally Sheedy. The seven all talk about working with Solondz (I was amused by the fact Williams had never heard of him before) and how they enjoyed being able to put their own imprint on these characters. Williams probably offers the liveliest conversation, specifically because he admits he probably tried everything that Solondz hated, specifically improvisation and adlibbing. But all of the participants offer up intriguing observations and comments about the director, the film, and its characters, making a very breezy half hour.

Finally there is a section dedicated to director of photography Ed Lachman. First thereís an 11-minute interview with him talking about working with Solondz, where he admits he was initially hesitant because Solondz wasnít a very visual filmmaker, but was happy to find the director was more open to allow the visuals to help the story this time around, allowing him to go for a ďvisual lyricismĒ in presenting the characters. He also goes into great detail about the RED camera, which does become incredibly technical but no less intriguing, where he even gets down to comparing the digital camera to regular 35mm film going over the pros and cons. Just for this aspect I found the interview great.

He also offers a select-scene commentary over six scenes in the film for a total of 10-minutes. This is a little disappointing if only because Lachman pretty much goes on about the colours in the film for most of the 10-minutes, but I liked his comments on the first scene in the film, which is recreation of the opening scene in Happiness, and especially liked his breaking down of the Williams/Henderson restroom scene near the end of the film. Otherwise itís skippable.

Then finally we get an extended portion of the initial interview, presented here as five questions for him. Here he talks about how he got into the field, initially being interested in painting, his favourite cinematographers, strong contemporary cinematographers, films that have influenced him, and yet more on his use of colour. Itís a short 7-minutes and brisk, filled with some excellent material.

The disc then closes with the IFC theatrical trailer. The booklet then includes a short but decent essay by David Sterritt.

No, there isnít a lot, and I wish Criterion could have maybe fit some material on here about Happiness, even though Solondz says it isnít necessary to see that film and the film does work on its own (in all honesty I would have loved material on that film if only because Iím positive Criterion will never be able to get their hands on it and Lionsgate will never see fit in giving it the attention it deserves.) But still, the supplements did whatís most important to me, and thatís to give me a new found appreciation for a film I was initially lukewarm to and has caused me to not stop thinking about it since I saw it.

8/10

CLOSING

I was a little disappointed with the film initially, probably because I was expecting an initial impact similar to what I got from Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness when I saw them way back when. And yes, I would have probably preferred if Criterion could have offered loaded special editions for either of those films. But Criterion managed to bring me around in the 100+ minutes worth of material here and the film has actually grown on me quite a bit. The questions about forgiveness and whether people can change are good and complex but listening to Solondz and others talk about the filmís themes on this disc actually made the film resonate more for me, which is something I was really surprised about, making this an exceptional edition for me.

Plus it doesnít hurt that the audio/video presentation is top notch, with the video presentation just about reference quality. Itís a strong release and possibly the biggest surprise Iíve had. It comes highly recommended.


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