Top One Movie of the Week: Life During Wartime, Countdown to Zero, Salt, and Valhalla Rising

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Our critics choose between Life During Wartime, Countdown to Zero, Salt, and Valhalla Rising.

Michael K. Williams in Life During Wartime

Life During Wartime

SCOTT: This week is a little different than most, in that I will actually be in your town this weekend (you are picking me up at the airport, right?), so we could conceivably see a movie together. I just hope it’s not this one. Don’t get me wrong, I am sort of curious about the latest from auteur-of-ickiness Todd Solondz, which is being billed as a quasi-sequel to Happiness, although it features an entirely different cast playing some of the same roles (most hilariously, The Wire‘s fearsome Omar, Michael K. Williams, as "Allen," the part originated by the decidedly non-fearsome Philip Seymour Hoffman). That’s an intriguing concept, to be sure, but let’s not sugarcoat this: I can’t stand Todd Solondz. Happiness might be my least-favorite widely acclaimed indie in recent memory, with the possible exception of Requiem for a Dream. Where others saw a fearless exploration of loneliness and sexual deviance, I saw two hours worth of Solondz shoveling shit on characters he held in contempt. So I’m not especially anxious to spend any of my precious vacation time seeing two more hours of the same, even if Life During Wartime represents the best possible comeback opportunity for both Paul Reubens and Ally Sheedy. Care to try and talk me into it?

ANDREW: Yes, but only for entertainment purposes, since we have other movies to debate and I’m guessing I won’t be able to change your mind in the space allotted. But while the two of us are bar golfing this weekend, I would be curious to hear why Solondz’s misanthropy in particular gets under your skin, considering that we’ve both enjoyed the squirmy worldview of some pretty anti-social writers, directors and fictional characters over the years, from the Coen Brothers and Stanley Kubrick (directors habitually accused of hating their characters) to the real and fictional Larry David and malcontents like Frank Booth and Travis Bickle. Not that Solondz is in the same league with the aforementioned, but to me, his acidic take on nerd persecution in Welcome to the Dollhouse felt cathartic and lived-in rather than merely gratuitous. His depiction of the root of all evil (in the form of a horrid upper-middle-class brat) in Storytelling was dead-on and downright chilling. And I’ll take the gallows humor of Happiness over the humorless, self-important sadism of any given Lars Von Trier joint (or, for that matter, Requiem for a Dream, which, as you know, I detest even more than you do). But in any event, it sounds like I’ll be going to see Life During Wartime alone, so perhaps I can interest you in a little world-ending horror instead?

Countdown to Zero

SCOTT: Just in case we didn’t have enough to worry about, what with terrorism, environmental catastrophes, corporate malfeasance, and the million other portents of the apocalypse we have to deal with these days, filmmaker Lucy Walker (The Devil’s Playground) is here to remind us that all the nuclear weapons didn’t magically go away when the Cold War ended. Having grown up in the Reagan era assuming that the world could end via atomic holocaust at any moment, I’ll admit to a twinge of nostalgia while watching the ominous trailer for Countdown to Zero, but although I’ll probably get around to seeing it eventually, I’m not sure this "doomsday doc" would set the appropriate tone for our weekend of hijinks.

ANDREW: Well, it would be sobering, and God knows we’ll probably need a little of that at some point. And, really, in this carefree, happy-go-lucky era, shouldn’t we take a moment to worry about world problems every now and then? You know, besides the economy, the Gulf spill, the terrorist jihad, global warming, the impending 2012 apocalypse and… oh, yeah, that’s right, I forgot. Everything is dreadful, and for some reason all the depressing-documentary-watching I’ve done in the past few years has done very little to improve the situation, so maybe I could give this one a pass. Plus, I really don’t want to start reliving my scariest recurring childhood nightmare — the one with the big white flash over the treeline in the middle of the night. If only there were a hot, ass-kicking secret agent to keep us safe from all this retro Cold War redux!


ANDREW: Oh, that’s right, I almost forgot! SALT! Salt will save us! Or will she? It’s hard to say, given that Sony’s marketing department keeps taunting us with the question "Who is Salt?" — an ad campaign that falls somewhere between "Got Milk?" and "Who Cares?" But, okay, I’ll bite. Who is Salt? Well, she’s either a falsely accused CIA agent or a Russkie spy (like those villainous soccer moms and PTA members the FBI recently deported — I mean, seriously, what happened to all the scary babushkas with the cool Rosa Klebb shoe blades)? Anyway, the other thing I know about Salt is that she’s played by Angelina Jolie, once again starring in a summer blockbuster that is not Wonder Woman (I mean, seriously, Hollywood, you did big-budget versions of Ghost Rider and Jonah Hex before Wonder Woman?) At any rate, reliable meat-and-potatoes action director Phillip Noyce is at the helm, so perhaps Salt would be our best option for soaking up a little mid-afternoon air conditioning as we kill time until cocktail hour?

SCOTT: I might be able to work up some enthusiasm for Salt if the trailers hadn’t given away the entire movie… or I might not, as this looks like your basic by-the-numbers summer action flick.  The air conditioning seems like the main selling point here, so let’s quickly move on to…

Valhalla Rising

SCOTT: We’re running long this week, so I’ll cut to the chase: Bronson director Nicolas Winding Refn presents gory, bizarre action movie about a Viking named One Eye. Critics are calling it "hallucinatory," "trippy," and "deranged"… at least, those critics who aren’t calling it "maddeningly ponderous" and "interminable." It’s a risky gamble, but I’m putting all my chips on Valhalla Rising.

ANDREW: Uh… hmm! Well, any movie with disembodied heads in the trailer is bound to be some kind of experience — although given the Blighty accents and mud-and-blood mise-en-scène, I half expected Graham Chapman to show up and hack the arms and legs off the Black Knight in the midst of all the grunting and oathing. Still, if we’re gonna drink like Vikings this weekend, a matinee of Valhalla Rising might be a good place to start. But if you happen to pass out for about ninety-eight minutes or so at some point, I’ll probably sneak off for a little quality time with my man Todd, since Life During Wartime is still my Top One Movie of the Week.

Scott’s Top One Movie of the Week: Valhalla Rising

Andrew’s Top One Movie of the Week: Life During Wartime