The Films of Terry Zwigoff
Crumb (April 23/06)
Sporadically intriguing but ultimately overrated, Crumb features a look at the life and career of renowned fringe artist Robert Crumb. Crumb, an unabashedly eccentric figure, achieved fame thanks to the creation of a few pivotal pop-culture items (including Fritz the Cat and the Keep on Truckin' guy), though his refusal to "sell out" has allowed him to keep a fairly low profile. Filmmaker Terry Zwigoff offers up a brief history of Crumb's artistic highlights, while also emphasizing Crumb's admittedly bonkers family (dysfunctional doesn't even begin to describe his mother and two brothers). As interesting as some of Crumb's exploits are, Zwigoff's decision to stress the more salacious aspects of his subject's existence ultimately lends the proceedings a vibe of almost relentless unpleasantness. The overlong running time and repetitive structure only adds to this feeling, and although there's no denying that Crumb's lived a fascinating life, the lack of focus and rambling tone ultimately transforms Crumb into an uneven piece of work that's never quite as compelling as one might've liked.
Bad Santa (October 16/06)
The third version of the film to hit DVD since its 2003 release (following the theatrical cut and Badder Santa), Bad Santa: Director's Cut is actually shorter than either of those incarnations and generally comes off as a slightly more effective, distinctly streamlined piece of work. Billy Bob Thornton's uncompromising work as the title character remains the highlight here, with stellar supporting performances by Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, and even Bernie Mac cementing the Bad Santa's status as a bona fide cult classic. Director Terry Zwigoff - working from Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's screenplay - does a nice job of blending the film's distinctly caustic elements with intermittent instances of sentiment, though this new cut ensures that such moments remain extremely intermittent. The uneven tone - which is particularly noticeable during the movie's uneventful second act - somehow doesn't seem as problematic this time around, and one can't help but resist the emphasis on Thornton's relationship with the film's various characters (especially Kelly's sweet, inquisitive Thurman Merman). In the end, there's little doubt that Bad Santa deserves a place among treasured Christmas pictures - as it certainly provides a welcome respite from the relentless holiday cheer that generally accompanies such films.
Art School Confidential
Based on the strength of filmmaker Terry Zwigoff's first collaboration with writer Daniel Clowes, 2001's Ghost World, Art School Confidential generally comes off as nothing less than a substantial disappointment. This is despite an opening hour that's surprisingly effective, as Zwigoff offers up an authentic, distinctly off-kilter look at Jerome Platz's (played by Max Minghella) trials and tribulations within a seemingly typical art school. But there comes a point at which Zwigoff - working from Clowes' screenplay - drops the loose, free-wheeling tone and instead places the emphasis on a silly subplot involving a serial killer, undercover cops, and Jerome's bizarre downward spiral. Clowes' efforts to infuse the story with elements of satire come off as forced and heavy-handed, with the astoundingly misguided conclusion the most overt and obvious example of this. The smug tone - coupled with the inclusion of a strangely conventional subplot involving Jerome's efforts to woo a fellow student - ultimately transforms Art School Confidential into a woefully uneven piece of work, though the whole thing never quite sinks into complete tedium (something that's due mostly to the uniformly stellar performances).