Armchair Cinephile 

A LITTLE BIT ... OFF Happy Accidents (MGM) Lovely and Amazing (Lions Gate) Six Feet Under (HBO)

I was so smitten with Brad Anderson's Happy Accidents (MGM) the first time I saw it that I didn't quite trust myself. It was right after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and here was a movie that saw New York as not only lively, but magical. It had good, meaty roles for two excellent actors who needed them - Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'Onofrio - and more importantly, you couldn't tell what sort of film it was in the first 10 minutes. Or the first 40, for that matter.

Nobody seemed to see it when it was in theaters, but lately I've been passing the DVD around to friends, and everybody has the same reaction: This is a little treasure, a charming puzzle of a film which insists that you enjoy the confusion instead of feeling spellbound by it. It's impossible to talk much about the story without killing some of that pleasure, but it's fair to say that there is a love affair, and there are laughs, but this isn't a romantic comedy in any sense currently understood by Hollywood.

 
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The same thing could be said about Lovely and Amazing (Lions Gate), but the films couldn't be farther apart in the effect they have on you. Every other scene in Lovely captures some bit of emotional ugliness so raw and true to life that you might recoil physically. It's like one of those desperately unhappy love affairs that refuse to die; you see what's going wrong, it upsets you, but you can't bring yourself to turn it off. The three women at the heart of the story are so unhappy and so incapable of making smart decisions for themselves that it's a little hard to buy the way the movie turns sweet and healing at the end. After the thrill ride through dysfunction you've been on, though, you're unlikely to complain.

 
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You can't spell "dysfunction" without the letters s, f, and u - and those stand for Six Feet Under (HBO), which takes family horror into whole new realms. Created by American Beauty screenwriter Alan Ball, the series centers on a family-run funeral home in Los Angeles. The patriarch dies in the first episode, and he's the lucky one; his family is so overwrought, bitchy, whiny, selfish, clueless, and generally unpleasant that they would all be better off inside a $9000 Titan casket. Naturally, they're not this hateful all the time, and after the first two or three episodes (HBO's new DVD set contains the first season) we start to see how they got so screwed up, and start to root for some (if not necessarily all) of them. After spending 13 hours at Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, no self-respecting viewer would want to trade places with anyone in the series - but it's surprising how affecting their tribulations can be. •


More by John DeFore

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