Punch-Drunk Love (Criterion)
For a while, it seemed like it would be easy to guess what was coming next from Paul Thomas Anderson. The director’s first three films — Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia — saw the director synthesizing his influences, most prominently Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman, into new configurations. Each film is remarkable in its own way but, frogs falling from the sky and all, Anderson seemed to have run out of surprises by the end of Magnolia‘s three-hour running time. Then came Punch Drunk Love, a curveball starring Adam Sandler as a put-upon toilet plunger retailer who falls in love with his sister’s friend (Emily Watson), then struggles not to screw it up.
As stylistically bold as anything Anderson had made to that point, or since, part of the brilliance of the film comes from the way Anderson plunges into the tortured psyches of the anger-prone arrested development types Sandler was already famous for playing in 2002, finding a damaged person who wants what everyone else wants but keeps finding ways to sabotage his own happiness. Anderson fills the film with whimsical touches — a sub-plot involving a loophole in a pudding promotion, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a villainous extortionist — but it’s also a portrait of a fragile person on the verge of tumbling into the abyss. This Blu-ray edition, which contains some nice supplements including a look at Jon Brion’s remarkable score, shines a nice spotlight on a stand-out film that helped point its director in a new direction.
Morris From America (Lionsgate)
One of the year’s most charming films, Morris From America wowed Sundance audiences but then kind of just came and went through theaters a couple of months ago. It’s very much worth catching up with, however. In a warm performance of the sort he’s never had a chance to give before, Craig Robinson plays a widowed soccer coach working in Germany attempting to guide his 13-year-old son Morris (Markees Christmas, a talent to watch) through the growing pains of adolescence and the culture shock of being so far from home. Director Chad Hartigan rarely strays from Morris’ side, letting him be funny, frustrating, misguided, and romantic. In other words, a typical teen who’s being challenged by some unusual circumstances.