Showing posts with label robert altman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label robert altman. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession




Directed by Xan Cassavetes, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is the story about the seminal cable channel that showed eclectic movies ranging from art films, mainstreams films, silent films, and B-movies as it was programmed by the obsessive film buff Jerry Harvey. The documentary is an exploration into the cable channel that founded in 1974 that was present solely in Los Angeles and nearby towns as it would end in 1989 just one year after Harvey killed himself and his second wife Deri Rudolph in a murder-suicide. It was a channel that broke a lot of ground and exposed people who loved films the chance to see films uncut, uncensored, and letterboxed whenever possible. The result is a very fascinating and engrossing documentary from Xan Cassavetes.

Before HBO, Showtime, Starz, Turner Classic Movies, and other cable channels that showed films without commercial interruption, there was a groundbreaking channel based solely in areas around Los Angeles which showcased films uncut, uncensored, and without commercials. In the late 1970s, a man named Jerry Harvey became its programmer as he would showcase a plethora of films ranging form B-movies, westerns, silent films, European art-house cinema, Italian softcore porn films, commercial fare, and all sorts of things. With the help of a few other programmers in Andrea Grossman and Tim Ryerson as well as a local critic in F.X. Feeney who would write reviews for the channel magazine, Harvey would create a programming that was beyond the idea of what can be shown.

What director Xan Cassavetes does is showcase not just the channel’s impact and contribution to the world of cinema but also how it can give films that were either lost or re-cut by studio politics the chance to be seen in a new light. Especially as it relates to films like Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America which were shown in their director’s cut version to great acclaim after being re-cut and botched by studios. All of which through the desire of Jerry Harvey who wanted to show these films to an audience and give them a fairer judgment. Harvey would also expose obscure directors like Stuart Cooper through Z Channel as it became a platform to showcase films that most channels would never show.

The narrative would move back-and-forth not just in Z Channel’s impact but also Harvey’s personal life that was often turbulent from the suicides of his sisters as well as his relationships with women including his first wife Vera Anderson which ended in divorce in 1984 as he would marry his landlord Deri Rudolph some time later. Feeney and friends of Harvey would talk about his eccentric behavior as well as his obsession towards cinema and showing all sorts of films as he was a workaholic. While emerging channels like HBO and Showtime would do very well nationally, they would have a hard time competing with Z Channel in Los Angeles as subscribers would stick to the channel instead of what HBO and Showtime were offering at the time. Yet, HBO and Showtime would eventually do whatever to buy whatever rights to what they can show as it would lead to the channel’s demise in the late 80s as well as all sorts of business things and some setbacks that would eventually contribute to Harvey’s death and the death of the channel.

Among the filmmakers such as Cooper who are interviewed for the documentary are Henry Jaglom, Alan Rudolph, Robert Altman, Paul Verhoeven, Penelope Spheeris, Jim Jarmusch, Quentin Tarantino, and Alexander Payne who would wear his old Z Channel shirt for the doc. Altman, Verhoeven, Rudolph, Spheeris, and Jaglom talk about Harvey’s contributions into raising their profile while Jarmusch, Payne, and Tarantino were among the filmmakers who were avid watchers of the channel as they talked about the films they saw. Actors like James Woods, Jacqueline Bisset, and Theresa Russell also take part in the interview as they reveal what the channel did for them while cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond praises Harvey for showing the reconstructed version of Heaven’s Gate following the critical scorn the film had received.

With the help of cinematographer John Pirozzi, editor Iain Kennedy, and sound editor Frank Gaeta, Cassavetes would show various film clips of the kind of films that were shown by the channel as well as use super-8 footage of Los Angeles to display a moment in time when the channel was in its prime with an audio recording of the words of Jerry Harvey. The film’s music by Steven Hufsteter is only presented minimally in the opening and closing credits as it is this soft, electronic-based score to play into the impact of the channel.

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is a phenomenal film from Xan Cassavetes. It’s a documentary that explored not just the channel’s influence as well as the impact that Jerry Harvey did for cinema. It’s also a film that showcased what a channel can be under the control of a film-loving programmer that would exposes all kinds of films that will probably make an impact on someone. In the end, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession is an incredible film from Xan Cassavetes.

© thevoid99 2014

Saturday, February 16, 2013

California Split




Directed by Robert Altman and written by Joseph Walsh, California Split is the story of two gamblers who become friends over their love of gambling as they go to casinos in order to have a major score. The film is an exploration into the world of gambling and the effects it has on the people who are entranced by that world. Starring Elliott Gould and George Segal. California Split is an extraordinary film from Robert Altman.

In the world of gambling, one has to figure out how to score and win big so that person can have money and spend. In this film, it’s about these two different men who love gambling as they team up together for one big score after they had been mugged by a gambler who felt ripped off by the two men. Along the way, they do things that will help them win money and have a good time but the lifestyle starts to take its toll on one of the men in Bill Denny (George Segal) as he finds himself in debt. When he decides to go Reno to gamble with the more experienced Charlie Walters (Elliott Gould), something happens to Bill at Reno where Charlie has to sit back and watch while the aftermath would have some profound effect for these two men.

Joseph Walsh’s screenplay explore the world of gambling where it is about playing cards the right way or trying to shoot at a craps table or picking the right horse to win at the racetrack. Still, it is about these two different men who have an interest in gambling. In Charlie Walters, here’s a guy who is very experienced in that world and is very obsessed about what to do and knowing what to pick where he will even throw someone off their game so he can win. In Bill Denny, here’s a man with a job as a magazine writer who is fascinated by gambling and has won a few games here and there but has no experience in winning big.

The two team up together in order to make big money together as Walters is a more compulsive gambler who knows the lifestyle that includes drinks and women while it is still new to Bill. For Bill, he goes deep into this world where he wins but then loses as he finds himself in trouble. There, he goes into a major character development in which he realizes what he has to do to be a full-time gambler that requires a lot of sacrifices. Seeing how Charlie is able to deal with it makes Bill uneasy where he will take a risk to go to Reno for one big score where it wouldn’t see how far Bill will go to win but will also test his friendship with Charlie.

Robert Altman’s direction is quite straightforward for the most part though he does manage to pull in some interesting framing devices for the film. Yet, he keeps the camera in tact to uncover this world of casinos and racetracks to explore a world that is quite chaotic in some aspects but also very organized. For the scenes outside of those environments such as Charlie’s home or the place where Bill works. The direction is very different as it’s tighter and more focused to see how these two men live outside of the gambling world where Bill maybe uneasy about it but has accepted it. For Charlie, he feels more out of place as he longs to make money through gambling. While a lot of the film takes place in California, it’s climax is in the more colder environment of Reno, Nevada where things are a bit different except in the casinos.

Still, there is tension in the direction that occurs where Bill is eager to make his score where he could succeed and fail. The aftermath is the most interesting moment because of where these two men have come to as well as the result of what it takes to gamble. There’s an ambiguity to that world where it can be great when someone wins but also very terrifying when someone loses. Overall, Altman creates a truly mesmerizing yet entertaining film about the world of gambling.

Cinematographer Paul Lohmann does excellent work with the photography from some of the low-key lighting in some of the bars and casinos to the more vibrant look of the Californian exterior settings. Editors Lou Lombardo and O. Nicholas Brown do terrific work with the editing to capture the energy of the casinos and racetracks as well as more methodical moments in the non-gambling scenes. Art director Leon Ericksen and set decorator Sam J. Jones do nice work with the look of Charlie‘s home and the office that Bill works as well as a few touches for the casinos they attend.

Sound editor Kay Rose does wonderful work with the sound to capture the craziness in the race tracks and the casinos to showcase the world of gambling. The music soundtrack consists of an array of music that plays to the world of casino life courtesy of Phyllis Shotwell who provides some funny renditions of standards.

The casting by Scott Bushnell is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features appearances from Jeff Goldblum as one of Bill’s editors, Bert Remsen as a drag queen Bill and Charlie meets, Edward Walsh as a gambler who mugs Bill and Charlie early in the film, and screenwriter Joseph Walsh as Bill’s bookie. In a couple of wonderful performances, there’s Gwen Welles and Ann Prentiss as a couple of lady friends of Charlie who hang out with him and Bill as they also encounter their world of gambling.

Finally, there’s the duo of Elliott Gould and George Segal in fantastic performances in their respective roles of Charlie Walters and Bill Denny. Gould brings a lot of humor as the fast-talking Charlie who always hustle in order to make his living as he’s also a man that knows what to do. Segal also brings humor to his role but also a sense of dramatic weight to his character who finds himself in trouble over his gambling losses. The two together make a great duo in the way they interact with each other as they’re a major highlight of the film.

California Split is a marvelous film from Robert Altman that features incredible performances from Elliott Gould and George Segal. Thanks to its intriguing approach to explore the world of gambling, it’s a film that is very funny but also very compelling that explores the world of gamblers and what they have to do to win. For fans of Altman, this film is definitely one of his key works in the 1970s as well as one of his finest films of his career. In the end, California Split is a superb film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie's Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Company (2003 film)




Directed by Robert Altman and screenplay by Barbara Turner from a story by Turner and Neve Campbell, The Company is the story about the Joffrey Ballet company as they prepare and perform for various projects. The film is based on Campbell’s own experience as a ballerina as she stars in the film along with James Franco and Malcolm McDowell along with real-life people from the actual Joffrey Ballet company based in Chicago. The result is a fascinating yet wonderfully exquisite film from Robert Altman.

The film is about the year of the Joffrey Ballet Company of Chicago as they’re setting up for many shows of the year led by its artistic director Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell) that will include an elaborate show to start at the beginning of the new year. Throughout the entirety of the film, the story is about an entire company as they all deal with the expectations of their performances as well as other things while one of the dancers in Ry (Neve Campbell) is becoming a lead dancer just as she’s starting a relationship with a sous chef in Josh (James Franco). While there’s artistic disputes and other issues that occur in the company, it all comes down to the shows that is in display that leads to the climatic show for the start of the new year.

Barbara Turner’s screenplay doesn’t carry any kind of traditional plot as it explores what goes on behind the scenes where ballets, production designers, choreographers, and many other people do their hardest to put on a good show. Yet, there will be moments when something goes wrong as some feel that Antonelli is a bit of taskmaster while other dancers get injured in the process forcing their understudies to step in as they have to prepared for something like this to happen. For Ry, she goes from understudy to lead dancer by chance where she knows she has to prove herself to Antonelli and her peers. Yet, she succeeds while taking the time to be a waitress at a nightclub and have this relationship with a chef who is fascinated by her world.

The direction of Robert Altman is very engaging for the way he doesn’t just present the scenes in the rehearsal rooms, the studios, and other places but also what goes on when the performance is happening onstage. While Altman uses a lot of elaborate shooting styles in steadicam tracking shots, dollies, and crane shots to help display what goes on and off the stage. Altman is also fascinated by the dancing where he knows where to put the camera so it wouldn’t intrude into the dancing while using wide shots to help capture the presentation of the dance and the stage setting in those shows. The camera is always focused on the dancer and the movements to play out the sense of rhythm and beauty that occurs in the film. With the help of many choreographers, the dances are truly intricate in its sense of rhythm as well as the emotions that are displayed as Altman always has the camera showing what is on display in the dance. While there’s a few moments in the film where it lags a bit, Altman does create a truly mesmerizing film about the world of ballet.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn does excellent work with the film‘s photography from the lovely exterior looks of the locations in Chicago as well as the lighting for the scenes in the studio as well as the beautiful scenery in the stage with help from lighting designer Kevin Dreyer. Editor Geraldine Peroni does brilliant work with the editing to capture the rhythm of the dancing with methodical cuts along with some stylistic ones for the rehearsals and dramatic scenes. Production designer Gary Baugh, with set decorator Karen Bruck and art director Craig Jackson, does amazing work with some of the set pieces inside the studio as well as the more elaborate staging for some of the shows that are on display including the film’s climatic show.

Costume designer Susan Kaufmann does terrific work with the costumes as a lot of it is casual for the most part while they are much more lavish and stylish in the ballet performances. Sound editor Eliza Paley does nice work with the sound to capture the intimacy of the dancing as well as some of the raucous moments in the parties and other location-based scenes. The film’s music by Van Dyke Parks is wonderful for its mixture of electronic-based music for some of the ballet music background while a lot of the film’s soundtrack consists of classical music for most of the ballet scenes as well as some other types of music outside of ballet like industrial at the club Ry works as well as many renditions of the song My Funny Valentine including a rendition by Elvis Costello.

The casting by Pam Dixon is superb for the ensemble that is created as it mostly features real dancers and people from the Joffrey Ballet Company of Chicago as it adds to the realism that is in display in the film. James Franco is terrific as the sous chef Josh that Ry starts a relationship with as he is intrigued by the world ballet. Malcolm McDowell is marvelous as the company’s artistic director Angelo Antonelli who is making sure things go right while being bit of a taskmaster as he also wants the dancers to be more enthralling and less pretty. Finally, there’s Neve Campbell in a remarkable performance as Ry as this young woman who gets a chance to be a top dancer for the company as she also finds something good in personal life as Campbell also reveals to be a very accomplished dancer as it’s definitely one of her finest performances of her career.

The Company is an incredibly rich film from Robert Altman about the world of ballet. Featuring splendid performances from Neve Campbell and Malcolm McDowell, it’s a film that showcases a lot of what goes on in the world of ballet without using any dramatic tropes or focusing on one character but rather the company as a whole. In the end, The Company is a superb film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie's Fortune - Dr. T and the Women - Gosford Park - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dr. T and the Women




Directed by Robert Altman and written by Anne Rapp, Dr. T and the Women is the story about the life of a Texan gynecologist whose life begins to fall apart after his wife’s mental breakdown as he finds himself seeking companionship in the form of a golf instructor in the wake of his daughter’s upcoming wedding. The film is an exploration into the life of a man and the women he’s surrounded by as he tries to deal with the changes in his life. Starring Richard Gere, Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Shelley Long, Kate Hudson, Tara Reid, Liv Tyler, and Andy Richter. Dr. T and the Women is a witty yet sensational comedy from Robert Altman.

The film is about the tumultuous life of a renowned Texan gynecologist who is beloved by the rich women of the state as things around him starts to fall apart. His wife has a mental breakdown that has her regressing to a childlike state while his sister-in-law has moved in to his house as they’re all getting ready for the wedding of his eldest daughter who is carrying a secret of her own. Meanwhile, a former golf pro has arrived into his golf club as he forges a relationship with her to escape from his chaotic life until some big news about his daughter and his wife come ahead as well as an overloaded schedule that finally culminates into his daughter’s wedding. For this man known as Dr. Sullivan Travis aka Dr. T (Richard Gere), it’s a world that he lives in surrounded by all of these women where he does find time to hang out with the guys. Yet, he remains devoted to the women in his life no matter how crazy they are.

Anne Rapp’s screenplay is quite loose in its premise though it does take time to explore the other characters such as the eldest daughter Dee Dee (Kate Hudson) and her younger sister Connie (Tara Reid) where the latter is a conspiracy theorist. Along with his loopy sister-in-law Peggy (Laura Dern) and his wife Kate (Farrah Fawcett), the film explores this unique family life that Dr. T has where he does love them no matter how screwed up they are. Yet, Kate’s mental breakdown and regression into a childlike state has the family, with the exception of Connie, going into all sorts of trouble where Peggy drinks and stumbles into situations while Dee Dee is being secretive underneath her posh exterior as it concerns her maid of honor Marilyn (Liv Tyler). For Dr. T, all of these revelations and troubles has him going to this former golf pro in Bree (Helen Hunt) who offers him an escape from his troubles while she becomes aware of the crazy world he live in.

Robert Altman’s direction is fascinating for the way he explores the life of this gynecologist who lives in Dallas, Texas. Particularly in a posh setting where many of Dr. T’s clients are these rich women who adore him and some try to flirt with him. Still, there is that element of chaos in Altman’s direction in the way he presents the waiting room where there’s a lot of women chattering or talking to the reception for an appointment or scenes in the mall where Kate would have her breakdown. While a lot of the framing is straightforward as Altman shoots on location in Dallas and other nearby locations. The film’s climax near the end that involves something that Connie feared but it would be in a bigger context that relates to the chaos that Dr. T had been through. While the presentation of that scene is imperfect, it does make sense of what Altman was trying to say. Overall, Altman creates a delightful yet whirlwind film that explores the world of a doctor and the women in his life.

Cinematographer Jan Kiesser does excellent work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography to capture the beauty of Dallas in its exteriors as well as some of the scenes in the film‘s interior settings. Editor Geraldine Peroni does wonderful work with the editing to capture the chaos in the waiting room as well as some of the film‘s comical moments like Kate‘s breakdown in the mall. Production designer Stephen Altman, with set decorator Chris L. Spellman and art director John Bucklin, does nice work with the look of Dr. T‘s office and his waiting room as well as Bree‘s apartment and the home that Dr. T lives in.

Costume designer Dona Granata does terrific work with the costumes to display the world of posh Texas without any cowboy gear as well as the camouflage clothes that Dr. T and his male friends wear on their hunting trips. Visual effects supervisor Charles Gibson does some good work with the film‘s lone visual effects sequence although it doesn‘t look realistic. Sound editor Frederick Howard does some fine work with the sound to capture the chaos of the waiting room with its overlapping dialogue as well as the scenes involving the rain. The film’s music by Lyle Lovett is amazing as it is mostly a playful take on country with bits of jazz and blues to complement the world that is Texas.

The casting by Pam Dixon is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Robert Hays, Matt Malloy, and Andy Richter as Dr. T’s hunting buddies, Lee Grant as Kate’s examiner Dr. Harper, and Janine Turner as a flirtatious patient who keeps insisting that there’s something wrong with her. Tara Reid is pretty good as the conspiracy-obsessed Connie who is suspicious about her sister’s possible secret while Kate Hudson is OK in a somewhat underwritten role as the older sister Dee Dee who aspires to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader while carrying a secret as she’s set to get married. Liv Tyler is terrific as Dee Dee’s friend Marilyn who also knows about Dee Dee’s secret as her meeting with Dr. T ends up being very awkward. Laura Dern is very funny as Dr. T’s sister-in-law Peggy who always stumble around certain things as she definitely has a drinking problem.

Shelley Long is wonderful as Dr. T’s loyal assistant Carolyn who helps him deal with the chaos while keeping a secret of her own towards that revolves around Dr. T. Farrah Fawcett is superb as the troubled Kate who regresses into a childlike state where Fawcett brings a lovely sense of humor to her role. Helen Hunt is excellent as Bree Davis who befriends Dr. T as she represents the one woman whose life isn’t filled with lots of complications as she sympathizes with Dr. T. Finally, there’s Richard Gere in a marvelous performance as Dr. T as he is this very kind man that finds his life falling apart as he is desperate to hold on to whatever he has left only to nearly fall prey to the chaos of his life.

Dr. T and the Women is a remarkable film from Robert Altman that features a superb leading performance from Richard Gere. The film is an interesting view into the life of a man who surrounds himself with the women in his life while dealing with all of the turmoil that occurs as things start to fall apart around him. It’s also a film that showcases the world of women and they seek the help from a man in order to help them find themselves. In the end, Dr. T and the Women is an extraordinary film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie‘s Fortune - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Cookie's Fortune




Directed by Robert Altman and written by Anne Rapp, Cookie’s Fortune is the story about a small town in Mississippi where relatives of a wealthy dowager try to cover up her suicide as murder. The film is an exploration into small town life as well as a group of people coming together to help out. Starring Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler, Chris O’Donnell, Charles S. Dutton, and Patricia Neal. Cookie’s Fortune is a strange yet whimsical film from Robert Altman.

The film revolves around a group of people who deal with the death of a wealthy widow who kills herself in order to reunite with her late husband. When one of her nieces decides to cover up the woman’s death as a murder in hopes to attain the woman’s home, things get crazy as a caretaker is accused of murder only for the woman’s granddaughter coming to his aid to help him. Things eventually get complicated though some of the cops believe that the caretaker didn’t do anything as questions are raised into what really happened.

Screenwriter Anne Rapp creates a film that is about a collection of oddballs that live in this small Mississippi town where they all know each other. When this wealthy woman known as Cookie (Patricia Neal) dies and suspicion of murder arises, a lot of questions are raised as it would take an outsider to finally piece everything together. Though the plot schematics does have an air of predictability, there are moments that does make up for it due to the characters that are created for this film.

Robert Altman’s direction is quite straightforward in terms of the way he presents life in a small town in Mississippi by actually shooting on location in that town. Yet, he does maintain that improvisational style that he’s known for in the way he approaches the characters. Notably as it includes a lot of mystery into not just all of these entanglements involving the relatives of this old woman but also her caretaker Willis Richland (Charles S. Dutton) who many people knew as this very kind man who always helped Cookie out. Still, there’s people like Cookie’s niece Camille (Glenn Close) who is intent on getting her house believing that she earned it and such. Altman does make sure that it’s about the characters and the way they interact as he’s able to do things to make up for some of the screenplay’s shortcomings. Overall, Altman creates a very engaging yet offbeat comedy-mystery about a group of oddballs in a small Mississippi town.

Cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita does excellent work with the film‘s very colorful photography to capture the beauty of small town Southern life with its natural lighting schemes along with more stylish work for scenes at night. Editor Abraham Lim does nice work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward while utilizing a few rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s comical moments. Production designer Stephen Altman, along with set decorator Susan Emshwiller and art director Richard L. Johnson, does wonderful work with the set pieces from the staging of Camille‘s play to the home of Cookie.

Costume supervisor Susan Kaufmann does terrific work with the costumes to capture the more casual look of the characters as well as the more stylish clothes of Camille along with the costumes for the Salome play. Sound editor Frederick Howard does wonderful work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of church rehearsals to the intimacy of the bar. The film’s music by David A. Stewart is a real delight at it’s mostly blues-based music to play out the world that is the American South.

The casting by Pam Dixon is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features notable small roles from Niecey Nash as a deputy, Rufus Thomas as a bar owner, Lyle Lovett as a catfish salesman, Donald Moffat as the town’s local attorney, Matt Malloy as a forensics expert, and Courtney B. Vance as an out-of-town investigator who tries to piece everything that’s happened. Ned Beatty is very funny in a small yet wonderful role as deputy Lester Boyle who believes that Willis is innocent while Patricia Neal is superb as the aging widow Cookie who longs to reunite with her late husband Buck. Chris O’Donnell is very good as the young deputy Jason Brown who tries to help out everyone as well as deal with his feelings for Emma. Liv Tyler is amazing as Emma Duvall as she is the granddaughter of Cookie as she returns to her small town to try and start over while helping out Cookie’s old caretaker Willis.

Charles S. Dutton is great as the kind caretaker Willis who is a very close friend of Cookie as he deals with loss as well as being accused of killing her as he and many know that he didn’t do it as it’s a very low-key yet charming performance from the actor. Julianne Moore is excellent as the very shy and childlike Cora who is often under Camille’s control while also carries a sense of ambiguity as she might know a lot more than Camille believes. Finally, there’s Glenn Close in a superb performance as Camille who tries to change the fate over Cookie’s death in order to gain Cookie’s home as she thinks she’s doing it for the greater good.

Cookie’s Fortune is a stellar yet entertaining film from Robert Altman. Featuring an amazing ensemble cast and an intriguing look into small town life in the American South. The film offers something that is unique while carrying that spirit of looseness that Altman is known for. In the end, Cookie’s Fortune is a very good film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013

Friday, February 08, 2013

Pret-a-Porter




Directed by Robert Altman and written by Altman and Barbara Shulgasser, PrĂȘt-a-Porter is the story about a group of very different people who attend Fashion Week in Paris as some are reporting the events while some are just attending to see what is out there. The film is an exploration into the world of fashion that involves many people in the course of a week. Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren, Julia Roberts, Tim Robbins, Kim Basinger, Lili Taylor, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Chiara Mastroianni, Linda Hunt, Sally Kellerman, Stephen Rea, Anouk Aimee, Tracey Ullman, Rossy de Palma, Forest Whitaker, Rupert Everett, Lyle Lovett, and Lauren Bacall. Pret-a-Porter is a witty yet chaotic comedy from Robert Altman.

The film is about many different groups of people attending Fashion Week in Paris where a lot is happening while a prestigious fashion president had died believing that he had been murder. In the course of the film, a lot happens as a fashion TV reporter covers the events that is happening while lots of affairs between fashion designers are happening. Two American journalists are forced to share the same hotel room while covering what is happening and a fashion designer is dealing with possible bankruptcy. Fashion magazine editors spar with each other to go get a prestigious photographer while a woman goes on a shopping spree around the city. All in the course of an entire week as it leads to a climatic fashion show where a designer presents the ultimate show in grand style.

The screenplay by Robert Altman and Barbara Shulgasser doesn’t really have any kind of singular plot as it’s all about the chaos of Fashion Week. Notably as there’s journalists trying to cover the event and make sense of it as it involves a New York Times photographer (Lili Taylor) and a fashion TV reporter named Kitty Porter (Kim Basinger). Yet, there’s also this story about this French fashion president in Olivier de la Fontaine (Jean-Pierre Cassel) who meets a mysterious man named Sergei (Marcello Mastroianni) where something happens leading to de la Fontaine’s death as his wife Isabella (Sophia Loren) seems relieved though is lover in fashion designer Simone Lowenthal (Anouk Aimee) is saddened as she is dealing with losing her business where her son Jack (Rupert Everett) does something that will save her business but with some reservations. Things get crazier as two different American journalists in Anne Eisenhower (Julia Roberts) and Joe Flynn (Tim Robbins) are forced to share a hotel to cover what’s been happening.

Altman’s direction is definitely engaging for the way he explores the world of fashion and what goes on in Fashion Week. Taking on a style similar to cinema verite, Altman captures all of the craziness that occurs while going inside into what goes in the world of fashion as shows are being prepared and such. Notably as the film features cameos from celebrities, models, and fashion designers as they’re part of this crazy yet fascinating world. The direction is also intimate and straightforward for scenes inside the hotel rooms and offices where many people work out as well as some moments in the fashion runway. It is still about the show and the world that is happening which also includes Sergei trying to contact Isabella as they’re revealed to be former lovers. Their scenes together is essentially an ode to their appearance in Vittorio de Sica’s 1963 film Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. While it’s a film that can be described as a rambling mess due to the many storylines that happens. It is still a very enjoyable and very exhilarating film from Robert Altman.

Cinematographers Jean Lepine and Pierre Mignot do excellent work with the look of Paris during Fashion Week with its many landmarks as well as the scenes inside the fashion shows and some of the film‘s interior settings. Editors Geraldine Peroni and Suzy Elmiger do wonderful work with the editing to capture the sense of chaos that occurs in the world of fashion as well as more straightforward moments in the intimate scenes. Production Stephen Altman, with set decorator Francoise Dupertuis and art director William Abello, does nice work with the looks of the hotels and the runway shows that occur including the very street-based show one of the designers at a metro.

Costume designer Catherine Leterrier does terrific work with the non-designer clothes some of the characters wear to maintain their lack of style while most of the characters wear clothes that display their unique personalities. Sound editor Skip Lievsay does superb work with the sound to capture the atmosphere of the runway shows to the chaos in some of the parties. The film’s music by Michel Legrand is delightful for its playful piano pieces and other cuts to play out the humor. Music supervisor Allan F. Nichols creates a fantastic soundtrack that features music from Massive Attack, Bjork, U2, Ini Kamoze, Salt-N-Pepa, the Rolling Stones, M People, Janet Jackson, the Cranberries, Pizzicato Five, Robert Palmer, Grace Jones, and many others to capture the spirit of the fashion world.

Finally, there’s the film’s amazing ensemble cast as it features cameo appearances from Bjork, Harry Belafonte, Cher, and David Copperfield along with supermodels like Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Carla Bruni, and Christy Turlington, and fashion designers like Jean-Paul Gaultier, Sonia Rykiel, Issey Miyake, Christian Lacroix, and Gianfranco Ferre for Christian Dior as themselves. In small but notable roles, there’s Alexandra Vandernoot as a TV reporter, Jean Rochefort and Michel Blanc as police investigators, Teri Garr as an obsessed shopper, Danny Aiello as the shopper’s husband, Rossy de Palma as Simone’s assistant Pilar, Chiara Mastroianni as Kitty Porter’s aide Sophie Choiset, Ute Lemper as the pregnant model Albertine, Kasia Figura as the dim-witted assistant of magazine editor Sissy, and Jean-Pierre Cassel as the Fashion Week president Olivier de la Fontaine.

Sally Kellerman, Linda Hunt, and Tracey Ullman are great in their respective rules as the dueling magazine editors Sissy Wannamaker, Regina Krumm, and Nina Scant who all try to nab Stephen Rea’s very devious photographer Milo O’Brannigan who would provide a prank of his own all three where Rea is very funny. Lauren Bacall is wonderful as the colorblind fashionista Slim Chrysler while Lyle Lovett is terrific as the cowboy boots designer Clint Lammereaux. Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins are excellent as the dueling journalists Anne Eisenhower and Joe Flynn where they eventually fall for each other as they share a hotel room together. Lili Taylor is superb as the NY Times photojournalist Fiona Ulrich while Kim Basinger is hilarious as the somewhat dim fashion TV reporter Kitty Porter. Forest Whitaker and Richard E. Grant are fantastic in their respective roles as fashion designers in the street-wise Cy Bianco and the snobbish Cort Romney.

Rupert Everett is pretty good as the slimy Jack Lowenthal who does something without his mother’s consent while Anouk Aimee is phenomenal as the respected fashion designer Simone Lowenthal who deals with Olivier’s death as well as the prospect of losing her business. Finally, there’s Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren in marvelous performances in their respective roles as Sergio/Sergei and Isabella where they play former lovers who finally meet after many years where Mastroianni brings a lot of humor with Loren bringing an element of class to her role as well as a sexiness that is still captivating.

Pret-a-Porter is an excellent film from Robert Altman. Featuring a wild ensemble cast full of actors, models, fashion designers, and all sorts of people. It’s a film that captures the craziness that is Fashion Week while taking time to inject humor into that world. While the film is a bit of a mess, it is still enjoyable for the way Altman explores a world that is fascinating. In the end, Pret-a-Porter is a remarkable film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie’s Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Popeye




Based on E.C. Segar’s comic strip, Popeye is the story about a sailor with big forearms who fights off against foes while helping a skinny woman known as Olive Oyl. Directed by Robert Altman and screenplay by Jules Feiffer from a screen story by Altman, the film is a live-action take on the famed comic strip character that was later popularized as a cartoon as Robin Williams plays the titular role. Also starring Shelley Duvall, Ray Walston, Paul L. Smith, Paul Dooley, and Richard Libertini. Popeye is a funny yet whimsical comedy-musical from Robert Altman.

The film is the story about a sailor named Popeye with big forearms who arrives to the port city of Sweethaven looking for his father. There, he befriends a young skinny woman known as Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall) who was supposed to be engaged to a bullish captain named Bluto (Paul L. Smith) who runs the town in the name of the mysterious commodore. When he and Olive find an abandoned baby they name Swee’Pea (Wesley Ivan Hurt), their love for another starts to grow much to Bluto’s dismay until he learns that Swee’Pea can predict the future in the hopes to get a mysterious treasure and rule the town. It’s a premise that is simple yet the presentation in its screenplay by Jules Feiffer is anything but due to the fact that a lot happens in the story.

The screenplay is an origin story of sorts of how Popeye meets Olive Oyl and becomes a local hero in Sweethaven as he arrives as an outsider. Popeye becomes the one guy who can not only stand up for the people but also Bluto who has taken control of the town. Bluto is a brutish individual who is very mean and destructive as he feels like he can do whatever he wants while he watches the whole town from his boat. In Popeye, Bluto realizes there is someone who can be a challenge as they also fight for the heart of Olive Oyl. Olive is someone who wants to have a good life as she thinks marrying Bluto would do that. Once Popeye arrives, she realizes here is someone who can offer her something more and with a child in tow. Even as Popeye hopes to do right for this baby as he is still looking for his father that he hadn’t seen since the age of 2.

Robert Altman’s direction is definitely full of amazing imagery from the way he presents the port town of Sweethaven with wide camera shots to some of the intimate moments that occurs throughout the film. Yet, it is filled with lots of improvisation that he is known for as it is a huge ensemble piece with lots of overlapping dialogue. The sense of improvisation does create a looseness in the film in terms of the comedy that happens where there is a lot going on in the background. Even as it involves some of the film’s minor characters who often look around or are part of the scene.

Since the film is also a musical, it’s an element where Altman seems to have a bit of difficulty in finding that looseness in the musical performances. Though there are a few moments where Altman can get something special there, it does put the film into some silly places. Notably in the film’s climax in the final confrontation between Popeye and Bluto that would involve an octopus that looks very fake. Despite the flaws that it has, the film is still an engaging and entertaining film from Robert Altman.

Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno does excellent work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography to capture the beauty of Sweethaven for many of its day and nighttime exterior scenes. Editors John W. Holmes and David A. Simmons do nice work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward in its presentation to play out the humor and musical numbers. Production designer Wolf Kroeger and set decorator Jack Stephens do amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the Sweethaven town to the floating boxing ring and boats in the film.

Costume designer Scott Bushnell does terrific work with the costumes from the sailor uniform of Popeye to the clothes that Olive Oyl wears. Sound editor Sam Gemette does wonderful work with the sound to capture the overlapping dialogue and raucous atmosphere of the big crowd scenes. The film’s music by Harry Nilsson, with additional work by Tom Pierson, is a major highlight of the film for the songs that are used to convey the sense of adventure and atmosphere of the film that includes a major highlight in the upbeat ballad He Needs Me that Olive Oyl sings.

The film’s ensemble cast is incredible as it features some notable small appearances from Klaus Voorman as a band leader, Van Dykes Park as the band pianist, Bill Irwin as the eccentric Ham Gravy, Dennis Franz as a bully Popeye beats up, Peter Bray as the boxer Oxblood Oxheart, Linda Hunt as Oxblood’s mother, and Donald Moffat as the taxman who annoys the town by making them pay taxes every minute. Other memorable small roles include Wesley Ivan Hurt as the baby Swee’Pea, Richard Libertini as the Oyl family friend George W. Geezil, MacIntyre Dixon and Roberta Maxwell as Olive’s parents, and Donovan Scott as Olive Oyl’s brother Castor. Paul Dooley is very funny as the burger-loving Wimpy who is willing to do anything to get a burger. Ray Walston is excellent as the mysterious Poopdeck Pappy who shares the same characteristics as Popeye.

Paul L. Smith is terrific as Bluto who is the big bully of Sweethaven who hopes to strike it rich and gain total control while being threatened by Popeye. Shelley Duvall is great as Olive Oyl as she not only captures her strange physicality but also her unique personality as she also has wonderful chemistry with the lead in Robin Williams. Williams is wonderful in his first leading role as Popeye the Sailor Man where Williams get to display a lot of charisma into the role in which he is funny but also energetic though it doesn’t reach the heights of his other great performances in the years to come.

While it is kind of a mess of a film, Popeye is still a fun film to watch from Robert Altman thanks to the leading performances of Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall as well as Harry Nilsson’s music. While it’s a film that is considered to be minor Altman, it still has some of the elements that he’s known for that does make the film a bit above most ensemble-based pieces. Fans of the Popeye cartoons and comic strip will see this film as a faithful piece to the story despite flaws it has. In the end, Popeye is a very good film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (The James Dean Story) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple (HealtH) - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie’s Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Gosford Park


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/30/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.



Based on an original idea from Robert Altman and Bob Balaban, Gosford Park is a murder mystery set in the British countryside in the course of a weekend involving a group of wealthy people and their servants as a conflict emerges between the two parties. Directed by Robert Altman and screenplay by Julian Fellowes, the film is a take on the whodunit mystery as it's set in the 1930s that is a mixture of comedy, drama, and suspense. With an all-star cast that includes Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Stephen Fry, Kelly MacDonald, Jeremy Northam, Kristin Scott Thomas, Bob Balaban, Ryan Phillippe, Alan Bates, Richard E. Grant, Camila Rutherford, Emily Watson, Eileen Atkins, Clive Owen, Tom Hollander, Charles Dance, Derek Jacobi, and Geraldine Somerville. Gosford Park is a witty yet delightful whodunit from the brilliant Robert Altman.

A weekend gathering at the British gathering is happening as a group of rich socialites and many others arrive at the home of Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and Lady Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas). Among those arriving are the Countess of Trentham (Maggie Smith) with her maid Mary MacEachern (Kelly Macdonald), Lord and Lady Stockbridge (Charles Dance and Geraldine Sommerville) with their servant Robert Parks (Clive Owen), Freddie and Mabel Nesbitt (James Wilby and Claudie Blakely), Lt. Commander Anthony and Lady Lavinia Meredith (Tom Hollander and Natasha Wightman), Ivor Novello (Jeremy Northam), and American producer Morris Weissman (Bob Balaban) with his servant Henry Denton (Ryan Phillippe). The servants are accompanied by the head butler Jennings (Alan Bates) along with housekeeper Mrs. Wilson (Helen Mirren), head maid Elsie (Emily Watson), jewels security chief George (Richard E. Grant), and the chef Mrs. Croft (Eileen Atkins). Immediately, conversations occur throughout the house as Denton tells Wilson and Croft that his boss is a vegetarian as he observes the place much to the annoyance of his fellow maids and servants. Meanwhile at the house, a lot is happening where the Nesbitts are having marital issues where Freddie seeks to have an affair with Sir McCordle's daughter Isobel (Camilla Rutherford) and Lt. Commander Meredith is seeking to have a business deal with Sir McCordle.

While dinner is happening both up and downstairs, Denton continues to ask questions to the maids and servants where Parks reveals himself to be an orphan where a couple of late arrivals happen in Lord Rupert Standish (Laurence Fox) and his friend Jeremy Blond (Trent Ford). Mary does some last minute work as she tries to figure out how to work in a big house without bothering anyone. On the next day during pheasants hunting with Sir McCordle, things don't go well during the hunt while Anthony Meredith and Freddie Nesbitt are both eager to talk to him. Instead, things don't go well as everyone starts to get testy with one another leading to a tense dinner where a comment by Lady Sylvia has Elsie finally speaking out in defense of Sir McCordle. Elsie leaves due to her behavior as Ivor Novello decides to change the mood by entertaining the guests while Weissman is waiting for a phone call. Later that night, Lady Stockbridge makes a shocking discovery where Inspector Thomas (Stephen Fry) and Constable Dexter (Ron Webster arrive to the house to investigate. With Thompson amazed by the home, he talks to all of the servants including Probert (Derek Jacobi) as well as the guest about their connections to McCordle.

Still, revelations are unveiled into why Henry Denton had been so snoopy as many of the guests and servants who killed McCordle and why. Mary makes a discovery about Parks in relation to McCordle as does Dexter. Once the investigation winds down, Mary receives a final lesson from Mrs. Wilson about servitude.

While the movie is a classic whodunit where everyone is a suspect, Robert Altman takes the genre off its feet and makes it into something where it becomes more about the people behind the homes and how they run the place. Yet, it's not surprising that the servants, butlers, cooks, and valets are far more interesting than the people above the basements who spend their time talking about things common people can't relate to. That doesn't mean the posh aren't uninteresting, there's moments when they can be interesting. Yet, they are out of touch somewhat with the real world when Weissman talks about a movie he plans to make yet, most of the people he is surrounded by aren't interested or intend to watch his films. Really, the film is about a murder and how people react to it while living their own idea of life.

Screenwriter Julian Fellowes does an amazing job in taking the structure of making the story feel like a theatrical play of sorts. There's the first act where the story introduces the characters, the second act about the murder and the investigation, and the third is the aftermath. It's all told in a simple way while it's all helmed by the brilliance of Robert Altman. Taking an almost, entirely British cast whom all seem to have some kind of theater background. The film does feel like a theater play where all the actors have their place and their own take on the character.

Yet, Altman deconstructs all of that to the point where the actors feel a bit loose, improvise, and enjoy themselves. Including a very comedic scene where Maggie Smith is seen laughing as if she's having a hell of a time. The camera rarely stands still as it's constantly moving to observe a conversation, a moment where people are having fun or something else. It's all part of the Altman style of improvisation, overlapping dialogue, and something that feels natural for the audience to relate to. Yet, it still works to the point where though at times, it's hard to follow, it's a lot of fun to watch.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn does great work in capturing the atmosphere and difference of the two cultures with very dark, intimate lighting schemes on the basements to more showy lights on the upstairs part. Production designer Stephen Altman and art director Sarah Hauldren do amazing work in playing to the film's authenticity of 1930s cars, objects, and such with costume designer Jenny Beavan creating wonderfully lavish clothing for the upper class people.

Editor Tim Squyres adds to the film's energetic, improvisational style with some wonderful cutting and tension to build the momentum for the suspense. Sound editor Nigel Mills also adds to the film's atmosphere with a great sequence where Ivor Novello sings and how the people downstairs react to his music playing in the background. The music of Novello is heard as is a wonderfully melodic, suspenseful score from Patrick Doyle whose piano flourishes and orchestral arrangements adds to the film's unique energy.

Then there's the film's amazing cast in which, there isn't a single bad performance. To the smallest of performances to the most well-known cast member. Yet, it's a bit hard at times to remember everyone involved. Small performances from Trent Ford, Laurence Fox, Teresa Churcher as cook Bertha, Jeremy Swift as the gay butler Arthur, and Ron Webster as Constable Dexter are memorable. Sophie Thompson is great as the ever-loyal Dorothy who seems willing to do anything for Mr. Jennings. Charles Dance and Geraldine are wonderful as Stockbridges with Clive Owen giving a fantastic role as the shady Robert Parks.

Derek Jacobi is wonderful as Mr. McCordle's personal butler with Richard E. Grant as the snotty George. Ryan Phillippe is very good as the shady Henry Denton who gets more than he bargains for when he plays both sides only to be humiliated in front of both. Bob Balaban is excellent as the consumed American producer Weissman who carries his own secret that only Denton knows. Jeremy Northam is wonderful as the entertaining Ivor Novello.

Maggie Smith is wonderfully funny as the spoiled Constance who enjoys her own lifestyle though not fully aware of the real world. Tom Hollander is good as the desperate businessman Meredith with James Wilby as another desperate man in Freddie Nesbitt. Natasha Wightman and Claudie Blakley are excellent as their respective wives to portray the contrast of their own love life with Blakley being more dramatic. Stephen Fry is charming as the inept, distracted Inspector Thompson, who never gets to say his name entirely while Emily Watson is amazing as the Cockney-accent Elsie whose experience and care for McCordle makes her a very complex character. Camila Rutherford is excellent as the suffering Isobel who is often pursued by Freddie with Kristin-Scott Thomas as her mother Sylvia, who is a divine as the bitchy, bored wife of McCordle.

Sir Michael Gambon is excellent as this awful yet mean man who has become more distracted by money and riches as he opposes all sorts of old businesses and such. Eileen Atkins and Helen Mirren are great as feuding members of the staff who don't like each other with Mirren giving an amazing performance as the perfect servant, Mrs. Wilson. The late Alan Bates is great as the head butler Mr. Jennings who have his own secrets while managing the house while Kelly MacDonald is great as the naive yet observant Mary MacEachern who learns what it takes to be a great servant.

Gosford Park is an incredible film from Robert Altman that features an amazing ensemble cast. The film is definitely among of Altman's great films for its take on the whodunit mysteries as well as utilizing his mastery of finding life in an ensemble piece. Notably as it explores the world of class and servitude and the roles that these people play in this way of life. In the end, Gosford Park is an extraordinarily rich film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple) - (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie’s Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013

Friday, February 01, 2013

Short Cuts


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/23/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.



Based on the nine short stories and a poem by Raymond Carver, Short Cuts is a multi-layered story involving 22 characters dealing with their lives in the course of a few days in California. Directed by Robert Altman and screenplay by Altman and Frank Barhydt, the film is an ensemble piece that explores the lives of various people some of whom are connected and those that aren't. With an all-star cast that includes Lily Tomlin, Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, Buck Henry, Peter Gallagher, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Chris Penn, Robert Downey Jr., Huey Lewis, Jack Lemmon, Lyle Lovett, Andie MacDowell, Madeleine Stowe, Bruce Davison, Frances McDormand, Tom Waits, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Lili Taylor, Dirk Blocker, Zane Cassidy, and Jarrett Lennon. Short Cuts is a sprawling yet exuberant film from Robert Altman.

Stormy Weathers (Peter Gallagher) is a helicopter pilot who is dropping off pesticides all over the suburban home and valleys in California while Dr. Ralph Wyman (Matthew Modine) and his wife/artist Marian (Julianne Moore) are watching a string quartet that features the cellist Zoe (Lori Singer) with their friends Stuart (Fred Ward) and Claire Kane (Anne Archer). Zoe's mother Tess Trainer (Annie Ross) is a nightclub jazz singer where Bill (Robert Downey Jr.) and Honey Bush (Lili Taylor) are watching the show. Honey's mother Doreen (Lily Tomlin) is a diner waitress who gets a visit from her limo driver husband Earl (Tom Waits) while Howard Finnigan (Bruce Davison) is making a report about the pesticide drops while his wife Ann (Andie MacDowell) and their son Casey (Zane Cassidy) watch him on TV. Meanwhile, an angry cop named Gene Shepard (Tim Robbins) leaves his wife Sherri (Madeleine Stowe) claiming he's going to a meeting when he's really having an affair with a realtor named Betty (Frances McDormand) whose ex-husband is Stormy who had just called their son Chad (Jarrett Lennon) about Betty's birthday.

With Finnigans planning a birthday party for Casey, a pool cleaner named Jerry Kaiser (Chris Penn) arrives to clean the pool while getting a call to clean Tess' pool. Stuart goes on a fishing trip with Vern Miller (Huey Lewis) and Gordon Johnson (Buck Henry) where they make a chilling discovery at the river where they're fishing at. Tired by Earl's drunk appearances, Doreen leaves in a huff where she accidentally hits Casey with her car only for Casey to recover quickly where he walks back home. After returning home from the bakery, Ann finds her son in a state of shock unaware of what's happened to him as she takes him to the hospital where Dr. Wyman checks up on him. With Howard also at the hospital to hear about Casey, he gets an unexpected visit from his estranged father Paul (Jack Lemmon) who makes a startling confession about his own infidelities. Earl goes to the jazz club to see Tess singing as she is dealing with her own issues with Zoe who is in a state of depression.

Jerry and his wife Lois (Jennifer Jason Leigh) goes on a trip with Bill and Honey as Jerry is having issues with Lois while Sherri visits her sister Marian where they talk about infidelity where Sherri learns about Marian and Ralph's marital problems. After a tense visit from Stormy, Betty tells Gene that she's going out for the weekend with her son though Gene thinks she's lying where he later spies on her. On the day of the Wymans' barbeque party where Stuart and Claire attend unaware of Ralph and Marian's issues. With everyone upset and unhappy about their lives, everyone would come together in a moment of clarity as well as deal with tragedy.

Whereas most ensemble features, especially as ambitious as this one, tend to connect characters with one another and at times, tend to be contrived. For this film, Altman chooses to throw away the idea of a plot and just let a story or some scene tell itself. Definitely inspired by the works of Raymond Carver, Short Cuts is a film that doesn't have a lot of themes or any sense of morality or judgement. The whole film is really about people, ordinary people living their life through the disappointments, the daily struggles, and frustrations of what goes on. The characters are people that audiences can relate to in every way and form. It's the many characters that drive the film's stories and how each group of characters relate to another group. It's all done in the Altman spirit of improvisation, overlapping dialogue, and intertwining moments that allows the audience to get to know the characters and the situations.

While some audiences might find some of the stories and characters' situation hard to follow, the payoff over what happens is fulfilling. From the story of Jerry being neglected by his wife to the story of a disgruntled baker being left with an expensive cake. Neglect is a small theme from a booze-drinking jazz singer who is unaware of her daughter's depression to a phone-sex operator not wanting to talk dirty to her husband. The characters of Tess and Lois aren't totally bad since Lois is trying to make money for her family while Tess is just depressed over environment. Infidelity is another issue whether it's Marian and Ralph in a very high-octane emotional scene, Gene's cheating and his awful lies that often entertain his wife, and the heartbreaking confession from Paul Finnigan telling his son what happened. All of these scenes through the script that Altman co-wrote and his direction is very observant. Even in some of the film's intense, emotional moments where Altman moves his camera to convey something that is powerful and not taking it too close to capture this emotional moment.

Cinematographer Walt Lloyd does an excellent job in capturing Los Angeles with his intimate, sprawling photography while making several scenes in the film's interior settings to be intimate and observant. Altman's late editor Geraldine Peroni does an amazing job in shifting the differing stories from one to another and connecting characters to another without making it too confusing. It's also very rhythmic to the energy and style of the film. Production designer Stephen Altman and art director Jerry Fleming do an excellent job in creating the look of the homes of the different characters and the personalities to represent each group. Costume designer John Hay also plays to the different atmosphere of the characters in the costumes from the hippie-like clothing of Honey Bush to the posh look that Marian wears. Sound editor Eliza Paley also goes for atmosphere in the film's opening sequences the sounds of helicopters flying over Los Angeles and in the places where people get together. Music composer Mark Isham brings a melodic, jazz driven score to play to the character of Tess while also doing some subtle, orchestral score work to convey the film's drama.

Finally, there's the film's huge ensemble cast. Included in the cast are some small yet memorable performances from comedian Charles Rocket, Michael Beach and Andi Chapman as a couple who asks Honey Bush to watch over her house, Susie Cusack and Deborah Falconer as a couple of bicyclists, Margery Bond, and Nashville actor Robert DoQui. Jarrett Lennon is excellent as the Captain Planet-obsessed Chad Weathers and Zane Cassidy is great as Casey Finnigan. Lyle Lovett is wonderful as the disgruntled baker Bitkower while 80s pop singer Huey Lewis and writer Buck Henry are great as the fishing buddies Vern and Gordon, respectively.

Robert Downey Jr. is funny as the quirky, horny Bill Bush with Lily Taylor as the eccentric yet concerned Honey, who seems troubled by her own relationship towards her stepfather. Jennifer Jason Leigh is excellent as the phone-sex operator Lois who tries to maintain her family's security with the late Chris Penn giving a great performance as the neglected, sexually-frustrated Jerry.

Penn's Footloose co-star Lori Singer is great as the depressed, neglected Zoe who channels all of her emotions through her cello playing. Annie Ross is wonderful as the drunk jazz singer whose drinking is caused by her hatred for her dead husband while being unkind towards her daughter. Andie MacDowell is excellent in her role as Ann Finnigan whose life is in chaos over her son's life hanging by a thread and the strange phone calls she's getting. Bruce Davison is also excellent as Howard Finnigan whose misguided anger over his son's accident leads him into trouble while having to face his own demons.

The late yet legendary Jack Lemmon gives an amazing, scene-stealing performance as Paul Finnigan with a heartbreaking performance in which he tells his son about his infidelity and the anticipation of meeting his grandson for the first time. Anne Archer is wonderful as the loving wife Claire who is in shock over her husband's reaction towards a dead body while Fred Ward is great as Stuart who is unsure of what to do in seeing a dead body. Matthew Modine is excellent as the conservative yet consumed Dr. Ralph Wyman whose work and home life has been in conflict.

Julianne Moore delivers a knock-out performance as Marian Wyman who is forced to reveal her own dark secret to her husband in a very powerful scene that also required her to do it in very naked way. It's a great performance from Moore. Madeleine Stowe is funny as Marian's sister Sherri who is amused by her husband's lies and awareness that he cheats on her knowing it'll get the best of him. Tim Robbins is excellent as the mean, cheating Gene Shepard who is forced to question his own infidelity which starts to go nowhere.

Frances McDormand gives a fine yet angst-ridden performance as a woman whose affairs start to crumble with the appearance of her ex-husband as McDormand shows the kind of selfishness and loneliness her character brings. Peter Gallagher is very funny as Stormy Weathers who learns of his ex-wife's affairs and decides to take some funny actions towards it. Singer Tom Waits is wonderfully touching as the verbally-abusive alcoholic Earl whose own life has taken a turn while trying to deal with his marriage. Lily Tomlin is great as Doreen whose own life is in a change of direction after an incident that forces her to re-examine things while dealing with her own tumultuous life with Earl.

Short Cuts is a magnificent film from Robert Altman. Armed with a spectacular array of actors and ideas about family and doing what is right. While it's a big film with lots of characters and storylines, it's a film that does lose itself int he sense of chaos that is prevalent in the film while it is also a showcase for the actors. In the end, Short Cuts is a towering achievement from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple) - (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - The Player - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie’s Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Player


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/17/07 w/ Additional Edits.



Directed by Robert Altman and written by Michael Tolkin that was based on his novel, The Player is about a Hollywood executive who thinks he's being blackmailed by a screenwriter over a rejected script as he accidentally kills the man leading to all sorts of trouble. The film explores the world of Hollywood and the film industry itself about how they run things. With a cast that included 60 cameos, the film stars Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Whoopi Goldberg, Lyle Lovett, Cynthia Stevenson, Richard E. Grant, Fred Ward, Peter Gallagher, Brion James, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Sydney Pollock. Plus, appearances by many, many, many, many actors, writers, producers, and directors. The Player is a witty yet entertaining satire Robert Altman.

Working as a studio exec, Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is a mover and shaker who hears writers and directors making pitch after pitch. Among them is director Alan Rudolph and another is writer Buck Henry who is pitching an idea for a sequel to The Graduate that he wrote. Surrounded by the likes of people including his girlfriend and story editor Bonnie (Cynthia Stevenson), Griffin seems to be the man in line to replace his boss Joel Levison (Brion James) as the studio head. Then came Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) who has left Fox to join the studio and is now becoming the likely replacement. Mill's mentor Dick Mellon (Sydney Pollack) suggest to try and make moves and get Levy as an ally. Making things worse for Mill is a series of mysterious postcards he's been getting from a disgruntled writer whose screenplay he has rejected. Talking with his head of security in Walter Stuckel (Fred Ward), he finds the name of a writer he rejected named David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio).

Going to his address home, he finds a Icelandic woman named June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi) painting the house where he calls her from his mobile phone where they have a conversation and Kahane's whereabouts. He finds Kahane at a screening for Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thief where the two have a conversation about endings and the script that Mill rejected about Kahane's life as a student in Japan. After an argument in a parking lot, the two have a fight where Mill accidentally kills Kahane. The next day, the news of Kahane's murder is all over Hollywood as Stuckel interrogates Mill about what had happened. After attending a funeral for Kahane, Mill meets June who finds herself out of place in the funeral as Mill learns he is being followed by a man named DeLongpre (Lyle Lovett). Mill is then investigated by a detective from Pasadena named Susan Avery (Whoopi Goldberg) who is charmed by Mill and his knowledge of film.

After getting away from an investigation, Mill receives another letter where he realizes that he killed the wrong man. The letters continue where Mill receives comfort from June as he decides to meet the man who sent him the letters. Unfortunately, he never meets him and instead, meets a British director named Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant) and his co-writer Andy Civella (Dean Stockwell) about a film called Habeas Corpus. The pitch is successful despite the fact that it's against everything that Hollywood has been known for. Mill takes Oakley's pitch to Levy who decides to make it into his project despite the fact that they're not going into the traditional Hollywood format. After going into another investigation with Avery and meets DeLongpre, Mill learns that he's a suspect and he's being ridiculed after DeLongpre mentions Tod Browning's Freaks. Hoping to make an escape from everything, Mill takes a vacation to Mexico with June as he awaits his own fate.

While Hollywood is looked at as a place where risk isn't worth taking, Robert Altman is aware of how cruel the film industry can be. Despite Altman's cynicism, he choose to make Hollywood's slick world and turn it upside down to see how it works and how absurd it is. Altman and writer Michael Tolkin aren't making fun of it but reveal how the industry had changed from the Golden Age of Hollywood and the 1970s to the more commercial, blockbuster-driven 1980s and early 1990s. There's moments where Walter Stuckel talks about how the MTV-editing style has really ruined films while talking about Touch of Evil by Orson Welles where it had an opening, one-take, eight-minute sequence. Altman does the same thing to convey that style while he also reveals Hollywood's cynicism about reality and their idea for the happy ending which is totally Hollywood.

The film is really about this individual who is a mover-and-shaker of Hollywood who is confronted by a mysterious writer who is angry over rejection. When he meets Kahane, they discuss about the endings of Hollywood and art films. Griffin Mill is the protagonist but a villain as well. Yet, Mill is a character audience is supposed to hate because he hates writers for their demand to have control. Still, Mill is a character whose charm and personality is so winning, it's hard to hate a guy like that. While Altman chose to focus on this shady character like Mill, he makes Mill the driving force of this story about Hollywood and how they work.

Then comes the ending which is both ambiguous and ironic. Particularly on what the whole conflict of what is discussed during the movie. Altman makes the ending work for its humor as well as his approach by adding the same Altman-esque sense of improvisation and overlapping dialogue where the cameo appearances from actors have their moment expressing their frustration and excitements over films. The result is truly an entertaining and witty film from the late, great Robert Altman.

Cinematographer Jean Lepine does some excellent camerawork that's mostly done in a documentary-like style with no flashy photography or anything stylish. Altman's son and longtime production designer Stephen Altman and art director Jerry Fleming do amazing work in capturing the posh, slick look of Hollywood and the arty home of June. Costume designer Alexander Julian also does excellent work in creating the suits and clothing of the studio executives as well as the flowing clothes of June. Altman's longtime editor, the late Geraldine Peroni along with Maysie Hoy does excellent work in the editing to shift sequence to sequence while going into perspective cuts to convey the sense of atmosphere in the studios as well as that one-take opening sequence. Sound editor Michael P. Redbourn does some fine work in the film's sound to reveal the sense of tension of some of the film's suspenseful sequences. Music composer Thomas Newman brings a wonderfully melodic and suspenseful score to some of the film's suspense while adding a lot of playful melodies for the rest of the film.

Then there's the cast that is filled with many cameos that it's really up to the viewer to see who is there and such. Smaller performances from Gina Gershon, Jeremy Piven, and Randall Batinkoff as the young executives are wonderful with Dina Merrill as head assistant Celia and Angela Hall as Mill's secretary Jan. The late Brion James is excellent as the old yet wise Joel Levison while Peter Gallagher is great as the smarmy, slick Larry Levy. Lyle Lovett is great as the mysterious DeLongpre whose mysterious presence and motives only reveal the humor in the film Freaks.

Whoopi Goldberg is great as the detective Susan Avery who is charmed by Mill but also counters his charm in wanting to close a case while has a great line during a witness scene. Sydney Pollock is excellent in a small role as Mill's longtime advisor who cautions him on what to do with his career and how to deal with everything else that could affect it. Fred Ward is wonderfully funny as the security chief who loves the old film noir and detective stories of the 1940s and 1950s while revealing his disgust towards the films of the 1980s.

Dean Stockwell and Richard E. Grant are wonderfully funny as the writers of a film with Grant as the director who reveal their intentions while having a funny scene of telling Andie MacDowell not to go to Montana in reference to the film Heaven's Gate. Cynthia Stevenson is great as the moralistic girlfriend of Mill in Bonnie, who seems like the only person in the film that tries to do the right thing. Especially in the film's ending when she's forced to see a film that's changed and doesn't fit in with what Hollywood wants.

Vincent D'Onofrio is great as the frustrated yet brilliant David Kahane whose hatred for studios and Hollywood reveal the talents and how Hollywood has little time for talent and more for marketing and money. Greta Scacchi is excellent as the arty yet sweet June who doesn't understand anything about David and feels more in line in what Mill wants as Scacchi is the perfect leading lady for Mill. Finally, there's Tim Robbins in one of his great performances as the sleazy yet charming Griffin Mill. Though Robbins is playing a very devious villain, he manages to make the character likeable enough without a lot of emotions as he's just an asshole who just wants to make money and be a player. It's a great performance from Tim Robbins.

The Player is a fantastic film from Robert Altman that features a marvelous performance from Tim Robbins. The film isn't just a very funny take on the world of Hollywood but also in the way it shows a world as cruel as Hollywood. It's also a very rich ensemble piece that features a lot of funny references to the world of film. In the end, The Player is a brilliant film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - (The Long Goodbye) - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple) - (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - (Fool for Love) - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie’s Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

© thevoid99 2013