Amazon.com: Customer Reviews: Life During Wartime (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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on October 5, 2011
A few years ago I watched this film at a local art house. A few days ago I was making coffee and it must have been the swirling motion in my cup (as I stirred in the cream and sugar) that hypnotized me, causing the resurfacing of a few repressed memories - namely from this film.

As I recall, there were about seven or eight other people in the theater, most of whom were sitting by themselves and probably not mentally prepared for the hour and a half long ride of horrifying abnormality and sheer discomfort that is typical of director Todd Solondz's films, which according to Wikipedia are inspired by his experiences growing up in New Jersey - and I BELIEVE IT, wholeheartedly. So, why did I give five stars to this film? Mainly because of the circumstances under which I watched it. As I mentioned, Solondz's films are abnormal and discomforting, which made watching this film amongst complete strangers in a dark theater and from the back row quite amusing. Like in true horror movie fashion it was not uncommon to see people sinking down into their chairs, letting out sharp gasps and sighs, covering their faces, and turning their heads disapprovingly from side to side. As for myself, I too was taken by surprise, especially when the young boy (Timmy) cries out "I hope I NEVER get molested!" At that point I pretty much lost control and had to gag myself with my coat because I didn't want to appear rude and insensitive towards the subject matter or attract the glaring faces of the combined seven or eight people in the audience. I think this movie really got the better of some people.

Without question, this is the work of Todd Solondz.
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Without a doubt, Todd Solondz's creepy, disturbing, and subversively hilarious masterpiece "Happiness" was my favorite film of 1998. Savage, but divisive, I've discovered through the years that the film tends to engender strong feelings of either hatred or of adoration with little middle ground. To be fair, with its mature themes and aggressive frankness, it may be one of the most squirm inducing comedies of all time. And yet this tale of three sisters and their immediate family also resonates with a certain amount of truth. The world is how we construct it but, often times, that construction is nothing more than an illusion. And those closest to us are either complicit in that deceit or are the only ones who can see through the cracks. A skewering of middle class ideals and insecurities, "Happiness" was a pitch perfect blend of the outrageous and the macabre.

When I heard that Solondz intended to revisit this masterpiece, casting new actors, it seemed like an inspired addition to his increasingly non-conformist resume. Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney and Ally Sheedy now inhabit the roles originated by Jane Adams, Cynthia Stevenson, and Lara Flynn Boyle respectively. All three do an excellent job of recapturing the essence of their character's neuroses--Sheedy, unfortunately, has more of a cameo but her scenes are dead-on hilarious. The film begins with an absolutely perfect scene between Henderson and her husband that mirrors the first scene from "Happiness" in a sublimely funny way. When we move on to Janney, a control freak desperately looking for love, I knew that Solondz had done it again. The primary plot points involve Henderson dealing with a past lover's suicide (Jon Lovitz's ghost interpreted by Paul Reubens--inspired!), Janney's ex-husband (Ciaran Hinds) being released from prison, and Janney's son dealing with some pretty adult concepts.

However, as the film progresses, the very funny bits become overshadowed by bigger issues. Redemption and mortality end up being central themes--which I think is fantastic--but the blend between comedy and significance falls short of the delicately balanced "Happiness." The film loses a bit of its subversive edge and tone and by the end, I felt a little short-changed by the abrupt finale. I loved the actors--Janney and Henderson do most of the heavy lifting and are terrific. Young Dylan Riley Snyder, as Janney's son Timmy, carries much of the film and is an intriguing combination of creepy and sympathetic. I adored the first half of "Life During Wartime," but having a fresh viewing of "Happiness" under your belt will help you appreciate how great it really is. Ultimately, the second half wasn't as effective for me and I was left a little cold. About 3 1/2 stars overall, I'm rounding up for ambition. Go watch "Happiness!" KGHarris, 8/10.

DVD/Blu-ray specs:

New digital transfer, supervised and approved by director of photography Ed Lachman, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
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
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by film critic David Sterritt
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VINE VOICEon August 10, 2011
Todd Solondz' "Happiness" is one of the most disturbing films I'd ever seen. It's also excellent. It explores the ickiest, most pathetic and repulsive parts of modern human life, and deftly combines tragedy with pitch-black humor. Over a decade later, Solondz clearly felt the need to revisit the characters from that film, hence this sequel "Life During Wartime". Instead of trying to recruit the original actors to reprise their roles, Solondz chose to completely recast them, allowing a new cast to breath life into these characters.

As much as I wanted to love this film, throughout it I couldn't shake the feeling of it being a somewhat unnecessary sequel. The plot of "Happiness" loosely revolved around the stories of three sisters, and despite the years that have gone by, the characters haven't really changed much. Joy is still wimpy, optimistic, and drawn to self-destructive, damaged men. Helen is still arrogant and entitled. The only character who seems at least somewhat different is Trish. In the first film, before discovering her husband's pedophilia, she was a smug control freak. Years later, the character reeks of desperation while trying to recreate the "normal" life for herself that she thought she once had.

The themes of "Life During Wartime" are also mostly the same as those of "Happiness": trauma, shame, guilt, disappointment, and the part family plays in all of these things. The new film differs only slightly from its predecessor by also exploring the theme (or maybe just the possibility) of redemption. This exploration is apparent in the storyline of Bill Maplewood, Trish's ex-husband, just released from prison. Free, yet dazed and aimless, he wanders through the film like a ghost, having a strange dalliance with a nihilistic woman he meets at a bar (played by the always compelling Charlotte Rampling) and tracking his son down at College. Joy's character also seems to be looking for redemption; despite the fact that, unlike Bill, her guilt is completely unjustified, and she bears no real responsibility for those she feels she failed (two self-destructive, and ultimately suicidal, boyfriends).

Mostly, what saves the film from redundancy are the performers, and some of the casting choices are truly inspired. Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney, and Ally Sheedy all do well inhabiting, and breathing some fresh life into, the characters originally played by Jane Adams, Cynthia Stevenson, and Lara Flynn Boyle. And some of the choices made for the supporting cast are phenomenal ... one example being Paul Reuben's ghostly re-interpretation of the character originally played by Jon Lovitz.

Overall, I think Todd Solondz would have been better off exploring some new characters. But by bringing a fresh cast to the table, and at least trying to expand their horizons thematically, "Life During Wartime" manages to come across more as an interesting experiment by a talented director than a redundant rehash.
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on April 22, 2013
I like movies that standout and this one is different for sure. It picks up where happiness left off. It is a movie of people and their flaws and those who associate with them and even loved them despite the err of their ways. We as individuals do not know who is watching us or the effect we have on each other. It is a little slow but sticks with you after viewing.
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on July 28, 2011
Todd Solondz is one of the more notable independent film makers. You can pick his work out of the crowd. "Life During Wartime" is no exception. It's pretty much an extension of his earlier "Happiness" both in style and content.

Here's the scoop. You meet a group of individuals who are all related by either blood or circumstance. Each has a story (two involving sexual perversion) that colors the way they view life and interact with others. One wife has a husband who is in prison on a pedophile conviction. She's told their children that their dad has died. Her sister is married to a guy who has some unspecified sexual quirks. She needs to take a break from him to see how she feels. These are just a sampling.

This is a slice of lifer that is all writing and acting. Nothing is set up, plot-wise, in the beginning that has to be resolved by the end. Things do happen. Things do change. But these people's lives will go on in one way or the other. One of the repeating themes is forgiveness. What do you do when someone you love does something you simply cannot get past? Can you forgive and forget? Can you forgive but not forget. Can you forget but not forgive? These permutations arise repeatedly throughout the movie.

There is no razzle dazzle here. The camera is quiet. It doesn't move a lot but allows things to happen within the frame. The color schemes are interesting and help hold the viewer's attention. The acting is very good. It's peppered with a lot of veterans that have a ton of years and projects under their belts.

This is a good movie, but not necessarily for everyone's taste. Some of the subject matter and dialogue might make more sensitive viewers squirm, but if you like independent film making this is a must see.

The
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Without a doubt, Todd Solondz's creepy, disturbing, and subversively hilarious masterpiece "Happiness" was my favorite film of 1998. Savage, but divisive, I've discovered through the years that the film tends to engender strong feelings of either hatred or of adoration with little middle ground. To be fair, with its mature themes and aggressive frankness, it may be one of the most squirm inducing comedies of all time. And yet this tale of three sisters and their immediate family also resonates with a certain amount of truth. The world is how we construct it but, often times, that construction is nothing more than an illusion. And those closest to us are either complicit in that deceit or are the only ones who can see through the cracks. A skewering of middle class ideals and insecurities, "Happiness" was a pitch perfect blend of the outrageous and the macabre.

When I heard that Solondz intended to revisit this masterpiece, casting new actors, it seemed like an inspired addition to his increasingly non-conformist resume. Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney and Ally Sheedy now inhabit the roles originated by Jane Adams, Cynthia Stevenson, and Lara Flynn Boyle respectively. All three do an excellent job of recapturing the essence of their character's neuroses--Sheedy, unfortunately, has more of a cameo but her scenes are dead-on hilarious. The film begins with an absolutely perfect scene between Henderson and her husband that mirrors the first scene from "Happiness" in a sublimely funny way. When we move on to Janney, a control freak desperately looking for love, I knew that Solondz had done it again. The primary plot points involve Henderson dealing with a past lover's suicide (Jon Lovitz's ghost interpreted by Paul Reubens--inspired!), Janney's ex-husband (Ciaran Hinds) being released from prison, and Janney's son dealing with some pretty adult concepts.

However, as the film progresses, the very funny bits become overshadowed by bigger issues. Redemption and mortality end up being central themes--which I think is fantastic--but the blend between comedy and significance falls short of the delicately balanced "Happiness." The film loses a bit of its subversive edge and tone and by the end, I felt a little short-changed by the abrupt finale. I loved the actors--Janney and Henderson do most of the heavy lifting and are terrific. Young Dylan Riley Snyder, as Janney's son Timmy, carries much of the film and is an intriguing combination of creepy and sympathetic. I adored the first half of "Life During Wartime," but having a fresh viewing of "Happiness" under your belt will help you appreciate how great it really is. Ultimately, the second half wasn't as effective for me and I was left a little cold. About 3 1/2 stars overall, I'm rounding up for ambition. Go watch "Happiness!" KGHarris, 8/10.
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on August 25, 2011
A more adult sequel to Happiness with a new cast reinterpreting the characters. Brings a new reevaluation of how we perceive them them and layers of complexity, especially with the actors baggage. Paul Reubens, Michael Kenneth Williams, Shirley Henderson & Ally Sheedy stand out.
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on July 30, 2011
At first glance, LIFE DURING WARTIME seems not so much a sequel to his lauded 1998 film HAPPINESS as a reimagining of it. The themes remain similar, but the cast is entirely different. The characters are the same, but the tone seems to have shifted from pitch-black comedy to a sadder, more soulful feel. While all this is true, LIFE DURING WARTIME picks up ten years after HAPPINESS left off, and focuses almost exclusively on how a family beseeched with sadness, insanity and perversion tries to move on in the face of decades of accumulated resentment. Forgiveness is a key component of whether or not they fail or succeed, and Solondz spends most of the films' 98 minute running time quietly ruminating on whether or not you can truly "forgive the unforgivable."

The cast may be different, but the performances are yet again uniformly excellent, with the strongest coming from young Dylan Riley Snider as the soul-searching 13 year old Timmy Maplewood, Alison Janney as his impenetrably chipper mom, Trish and Michael Kenneth Williams as the recovering-pervert husband of Trish's sister Joy.

While not for everyone, Solondz asks difficult questions in his films. He doesn't provide easy answers, nor does he preach to the audience or mock his characters. He treats them deftly and with sensitivity and this, in the end, adds a weightier subtext to what, in lesser hands, could be seen as a mere freakshow.
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on February 17, 2014
The acting was really good as always and it makes you feel uncomfortable, as always. But there was nothing new or horribly risky. I still think it's worth watching, especially if you enjoyed Solondz's earlier films.
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on August 22, 2014
this film is good. a break up scene at the beginning makes everyone laugh uproariously. is the man dead or alive. is the father real or imagined.
the film begins where they end it.
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