Thursday, March 09, 2006

Netflixin' Robert Altman

by Jackrabbit Slim
Previously on Hollywood Elsewhere I wrote about my self-created Robert Altman film festival on Netflix, and got some response about McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Now I have seen The Long Goodbye. It's an interesting, somewhat entertaining film that updates Raymond Chandler into the druggy, hedonistic seventies. Elliot Gould, who perhaps more than any other actor typifies the swingin' seventies, is perfect in the role of Philip Marlowe, who now lives in an L.A. apartment across the way from a gaggle of nudist, yoga-practicing hippies. Altman was clearly setting about redefining genres, as he did with the war film (M*A*S*H) and the western (McCabe). The noir private-eye film was an interesting genre for him to tackle, as he has repeatedly said he is not interested in story, and noir films, though atmospheric, usually have a strong story as a basis. Altman also uses a technique he would later use in Gosford Park--the camera is always moving. Also, typical of Altman, there is a lot of improvisation. The screenplay is by Leigh Brackett, who also wrote The Big Sleep (and wrote an orginal draft of The Empire Strikes Back (!) before dying.

Altman does not provide commentary on this disc but there is a good featurette with him discussing the film. Gould appears as well, talking about how at one time he was on the cover of Time magazine, but by the time The Long Goodbye came his way he had been unemployed for a year and a half.


Blogger Chris said...

I've got Nashville on the way, Netflix should have it over by this weekend. I need to queue up The Long Goodbye, it sounds like my kind of flick.

We need to get some promotional money from Netflix for all the pimping we've done on this blog. Netflix, it's a movie buff's best friend!

3/09/2006 09:41:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Nashville is in my queue, but Altman's Oscar must have increased interest, because it now has a long wait! Same for Short Cuts!

I've got The Company and California Split in hand, with 3 Women and Buffalo Bill and the Indians also in queue.

I heart Netflix, though I went through a disturbing period last month when they weren't getting my returns and suspended me. I think somebody in the distribution center was too a little too much weed, but things seem to be back to normal.

3/09/2006 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

A word of warning to those wanting to check out Altman's "O.C. and Stiggs." It's horrible. Here's my review:

Meanwhile, for those of you looking forward to "A Prarie Home Companion," I think Altman's previous effort that hems the closest to that is 1999's "Cookie's Fortune." It was sort of lost in the great year that was 1999, but I actually had it in my top 10. In my book, it features one of Julianne Moore's best turns (and much better than her work in 1999's "Magnolia.").

I've seen the film a few times, and I'm still not sure whether her character is an act or not (it's probably best for you to see for yourself what I'm talking about).

Anyway, in a way it's sort of "Gosford Park" set in middle American, except better.

3/09/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

California Split was delivered to my home a few days ago. Hopefully they have more than one copy because I won't be watching it until the weekend.
In the old days you all would have had to suffer while I had it! WIELDING the power of Netflix!!!!
Currently at home:
California Split
The Island
Lion King 1 1/2

Any suggestions as to what to watch first.

3/09/2006 06:36:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

I'm watching The Company tomorrow, California Split on Sunday.

I have The Island deep in my queue. I probably will want to watch it when I'm in a silly mood, or when I have a hankering for looking at Scarlett J.

I also have North Country at home. I have a weird compulsion about having to see all the Oscar nominations. I'm kind of dreading watching it, because it looks like one of those awful, overly sincere TV movies. And though I would love to lick every inch of Charlize Theron's body, there's something about her persona that bugs me.

3/10/2006 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Colin said...

"I'm kind of dreading watching it, because it looks like one of those awful, overly sincere TV movies."

That nails it exactly. The courtroom stuff is among the worst I've ever seen in a movie. It's funny how in the special features the people involved reveal how simple the film is compared to what actually happened. Caro and company took a really interesting, complex case and dumbed it down for the audience. After "Whale Rider," I was very disappointed.

I usually love McDormand, but this is one of her lesser roles. I bet that Maria Bello is asking herself what she has to do to get nominated by the Academy in the future.

3/10/2006 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Bello getting snubbed was a fucking disgrace.

3/10/2006 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Over the weekend I viewed California Split and The Company. California Split began in a very entertaining fashion, as fellow gamblers Elliot Gould and George Segal meet at a smoky poker room. They later get drunk together at a strip joint and there is some hilarious improvisation regarding an attempt to name the seven dwarves. Later, though, the comedy is interwoven with a dark look at degenerate gambling. The Company really isn't a narrative film, it's more of a fictionlized documenatry. It takes a look at the rehearsals and performances of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Neve Campbell stars as one of the dancers. There really isn't any conflict. If you enjoy ballet you might like it, but otherwise there's not a lot to recommend to it.

3/13/2006 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

I just saw California Split and was completely underwhelmed. I thought it started out entertaining as well, but really went nowhere. I don't get it. They get robbed a couple of times, pull off some Vice Squad schtick, win some money. It seemed all over the place. It wasn't as funny as I thought it would be. And though they're supposed to be broke or running from the loan sharks, I never really felt the desperation. The dark look seemed more about the merry-go-round of prostitution than degenerate gambling.
It did succeed in making me feel "icky" about the whole thing (Why would anyone want to live like this?)...much like boogie nights.

3/13/2006 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

I don't think our opinions are too far apart, but I really got the sense of Segal's despair. They're both guys who will be on anything, including the ability to name the seven dwarves, but in the end it leaves them completely empty inside. I think the seedy look was intentional, and I don't think anyone would want to live like that, which was part of the point.

3/13/2006 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

The Altman Netflix festival continues. This weekend I saw 3 Women and Nashville.

3 Women, which Altman says was inspired by a dream, certainly looks like it. A meditation on identity and duality, it calls to mind Bergman's Persona. Sissy Spacek is engagingly spooky, and Shelley Duvall quirkily chipper, but I found the pacing glacial. Not my kind of movie.

Nashville is an incredibly cynical film, and probably couldn't be made today. Centered around a political campaign, it seems to be set in Nashville because the filmmakers have decided that that city is the epicenter of American bad taste. Altman seems to know nothing about country music--he declares in the commentary that most of it bad*, and all the music has been written by the cast. That makes for some ear-splitting passages. Yes, Keith Carradine wrote a nice ditty that he won an Oscar for, and Ronee Blakley gives an ethereal performance as a fragile country music diva (whatever happened to her?) but overall, this film is depressing. It's not boring, I thought the 160 minutes winged by, but let's face it, having a film end with an assassination attempt, followed by a rousing chorus of a song called "It Don't Worry Me" isn't going to make you feel good. Nashville is a relic of the seventies, and will probably be viewed as such someday in the way we look at cave paintings now.

*I don't like country music, either, at least not the Nashville kind, but then again I'm not compelled to make a film about it.

3/20/2006 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I watched Nashville last night. I thought a couple of the songs were pretty good, although you could really tell that they were written by actors who weren't familiar with the Nashville sound. The performances were all good, but I don't think I have much else nice to say about the film.

I really don't like Altman's approach in this film. Half the dialogue is indecipherable because the characters are constantly talking over each other. I don't find anything particularly amazing about hearing two or three conversations going on at once, it is simply a mess. I really "felt" the improv in a few scenes, and I've always believed that in this situation it is the director's job to say "improv isn't working" and come up with something for the actors to say. The movie wasn't very interesting visually, but it wasn't difficult to watch or ugly either.

There is little explanation for why these characters are always showing up at the same place. There is no plot, just a bunch of random scenes that hardly come together in the end. No justification is given for why the killer wants to kill Barbara Jean. There were too many unnecessary characters (Jeff Goldblum, the english reporter lady, the killer's landlord's daughter, the hippie country singer guy who was sleeping with all the girls, Karne Black's character).

I appreciate the film's energy and (failed) attempt at realism. This movie was just such a mess, structurally, that it killed any good will I was willing to give it for these factors.

I disagree about the pace. The lack of plot really slowed things down for me. I had a hard time staying awake for the first 2/3 of the film, although it did pickup a bit towards the end.

There was a little to like, I don't view it as a complete waste of time, but it didn't really alter my negative perception of Altman's films.

3/20/2006 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Professor Wagstaff said...

I saw 'The Long Goodbye' around 12 months ago - it was interesting and had some nicely observed moments but overall, I was disappointed.


And the ending would've been a lot more effective without 'Horray for Hollywood' (iirc) playing at the end of it. That touch just didn't work for me.

Do people think Altman's 'MASH' stands up after 35 years? I've read some reviews and comments that seem to think it hasn't aged that well but personally, I think it's a highly enjoyable experience. It would've seemed like a breath of fresh air back in 1970. I agree with one review though that one weakness of the film is Hotlips' puzzling transformation over the course of the film from an uptight, by the book army person to a bimobesque cheerleader at the football game. Makes no sense at all.

3/21/2006 05:27:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

I just watched MASH again on Thursday (it's in my collection). It's one of my favorite all-time films, and I think it holds up. A lot of people point out the slippery ethics (drugging opposing football players, for example) but I think at that time anything anti-authoritarian went. I also learned, from the DVD extras, that it was the first R-rated film to use the word "fuck." Quite a distinction!

As for Hot Lips transformation, she changes after Burns is packed off to the nut house. She starts messing around with Duke, so I guess she just becomes one of the boys. Note that when Duke is told he's going home, there's a quick shot of her anguished face.

Another notable anecdote about the filming of MASH was that Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland tried to get Altman fired. Gould went on to make many more films with Altman, but I get the sense that Sutherland and Altman never quite buried the hatchet, as Sutherland never seems to participate in any MASH related celebrations.

And Altman hated the TV series.

3/21/2006 07:08:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

The first time I saw M*A*S*H (after having seen the TV series for years), I was really excited by it--yeah, this was so much more down-and-dirty, and the characters were all more extreme than their TV show versions, etc.

But then there was the ending. With that stupid football game.

Altman totally lost me there, and it doesn't get any better for me on repeat viewings. I love the rest of the movie, but that ending....

I also finally saw The Long Goodbye for the first time in the past year (thanks to Sundance Channel after I kept putting off renting or buying the DVD), and I was slightly disappointed. It wasn't like I imagined it would be, but it was still good.

I'm not sure what my favorite Altman film is. There are several I would like to see again. I've seen McCabe & Mrs. Miller twice and didn't like it, but I think I might like it more now. (I think that's the thing about Altman, I keep going along with repeat viewings of his films that I don't like!) I saw his TV remake of The Caine Mutiny once and thought it was a great remake. It's probably down to either Short Cuts or Gosford Park. Ooh, but I'm forgetting Secret Honor....

3/21/2006 07:52:00 AM  

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