Ongoing Adventures In Altman Appraisal

Seeing all of the films that iconic director Robert Altman made in his half century career can be quite a task these days.


Several titles have never been released on DVD (including BREWSTER McCLOUD, HealH, and COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN) and one of his first features, COUNTDOWN, is only available as part of Warner Archives Collection’s “Burn On Demand” series so you can’t get it from Netflix.


Recently, inspired by reading the excellent “Robert Altman: The Oral Biography” by Mitchell Zuckoff, I’ve been catching up with the handful of movies of Altman’s movies that I haven’t yet seen. These 3 films are easily available but still fairly obscure – here are my thoughts:


THE JAMES DEAN STORY (1957)


The opening titles of this – one of the very first bio-docs ever – declare that this is “a different kind of motion picture.” They go on to explain: “The presence of the leading character in this film has been made possible by the use of existing motion picture material, tape recordings of his voice, and by means of a new technique – dynamic exploration of the still photograph.”


If that sounds pretentious well you haven’t heard anything yet. Orson Welles-ish sounding narrator Martin Gabel reads from a script over the hundreds of photos and footage such overwrought lines as:


“He looked at the ocean, and was envious of its power.”


“He kept a revolver – which made him feel safe… but they found it and took it away.” (No more explanation is given to this)


“He tried to believe it when they said they liked him.”


“Success was nothing more than the concealing leaf which covered the tree of his loneliness, and after every job the tree was bare.”


If you can get past such irritating pretension, and the fact that this was an exploitation film rushed into production after Dean’s tragic death, there is much here to enjoy. Such a wealth of black and white photographs, whether they are dynamically explored or not, is displayed – many of which I’d not seen before. I’m sure there is most likely some coffee table book out there that contains them, but this is a well edited collage worth seeking out. Perhaps one should just turn the sound down and put on some music while watching.


Another notable aspect is that Altman re-created Dean’s fatal car accident for the documentary. Producer George W. George described the incident in Zuckoff’s book as “pure Bob.” He elaborates:


“Well, son of a bitch, he goes and figures it out by lashing a camera onto the end of a long piece of wood and putting it on the bumper of his car. And driving down the road that Jimmy Dean had taken that day! It looked like Bob was going to have a crash, but son of a bitch; he missed crashing by about two feet. He was driving the car!”


By no means an essential piece of Altman’s canon, THE JAMES DEAN STORY is still an interesting curio.


QUINTET (1979) I purchased this film as part of an odd Altman boxset – the other films were M*A*S*H, A WEDDING, and A PERFECT COUPLE which I had all seen before. QUINTET is a real oddity in his filmography: a sci fi tale set in a future ice age. Paul Newman, in his second starring role for Altman (the first was BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS) plays a stoic seal hunter named Essex who finds himself in the middle of the deadly game of the title.


The movie drags quite a bit with sequences that just sit there. If tightened up considerably it could make for a gripping short film, but you really have to be an Altman fanboy to get through it as it is. I had the close captioning on when I watched it and was amused at how many times the word “groans” was used in the descriptions of sound effects i.e. “the water groans”, “the ice groans”, “the wind groans”, etc. At one point I joked: “the audience groans”. I know I did.


O.C. AND STIGGS (1985) Although this is considered Altman’s “least successful film” I was looking forward to watching it mainly because of Nathan Rabin’s “My Year Of Flops Case File #54” entry at the A.V. Club in which he concluded that it was a “secret success”. That’s much more favorable a response than what I experienced. The premise of a 80’s teen comedy with a “slobs versus the snobs” scenario isn’t a good match for Altman even if he claims it was supposed to be a satire of the genre.


Very little satire is actually present in this tale of 2 hipsters (Daniel Jenkins and Neill Barry) who come off as a poor man’s pair of Ferris Buellers. They torment a insurance mogul (Altman regular Paul Dooley) who lives in a garish house with destructive shenanigans, none of which is even remotely amusing. Altman’s patented style can still be identified – overlapping dialogue and slow panning long shots – but no unity to this material can be sensed.


It’s also sad to see cheap shots such as riffs on “The Pink Panther Theme” and the Doors “The End” intro when Dennis Hopper, who appears in his APOCALYPSE NOW get up, enters a scene. Of the supporting cast which includes Jane Curtin, Jon Cryer, Cynthia Nixon, and Ray Walston, only Martin Mull appears to be having a good time, but, even then, he looks like he’s just bidding time until the wrap party after shooting is finished.


The only bonus feature on the DVD is an 8 minute interview entitled “Altman On O.C. And Stiggs” that should’ve been called “Altman Defends O.C. And Stiggs”. Altman: “There was a time when these teenage films were kind of in mode. And I hated them…I just hated them. And I thought here’s a chance to do satire on something I feel strongly about.” The problem is that his strong hatred of the genre shows in every frame of this film more than any notion of satire. Still, as much as I disliked it, it’s not my least favorite Altman film – that would be DR. T AND THE WOMEN (2000).

Okay! That’s enough Altman for now. Just a few more titles to go to finish his canon – and then there’s his television work (episodes of Combat!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Bonanza, and many others) to consider so look forward to more adventures in Altman appraisal somewhere down the line.

More later…

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Soundtrack September Selection #5: POPEYE (1980)

This Soundtrack September selection comes from a movie that many would like to forget – even (or especially) Robin Williams for who this was his film debut:

POPEYE (1980)

In the planning stages a conventional (and more importantly commercial) comic book movie was envisioned but a few factors rendered far different results. The first was the signing of maverick Robert Altman to direct, then there’s that cantankerous cartoonist (and screenwriter of such incompatible works as LITTLE MURDERS and CARNAL KNOWLEDGE) Jules Feiffer was commissioned to write the screenplay, but the adding to the mix of Harry Nilsson to write the soundtrack has to be the oddest choice of them all.

Hardly an obvious choice to write songs for a live action family comedy, Nilsson nevertheless handed in a collection of demos that, while weird, fit Altman’s re-imagining of E.C. Segar’s salty sailor seaworld. From the opening song sung by all the townsfolk: “Sweethaven” to the character defining “I Yam What I Yam” straight through to the gruff “Kids” spoke-sung by Ray Walston (a notable non-singer in a cast of non-singers), Nilsson matches Altman’s overlapping dialogue and scewed sense of narrative with a just as scewed and overlapping soundtrack.

In 2002 one of the songs was granted new life: “He Needs Me” sung by Olive Oil (Shelly Duvall) appeared in Paul Thomas Anderson’s PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. As it stands it’s the only song from the POPEYE soundtrack that is currently available on CD.

Though long out of print, the original 1980 soundtrack can be found online as can Nilsson’s deliciously demented demos. They are definitely worth hunting for, if only to hear one of the oddest collection of songs composed for a feature intended for kids.

More later…

Another Round Of Great DVD Commentaries

Several years back I posted about great DVD commentaries with a top ten list of my favorites (“Let Them All Talk” Sept. 29th, 2005). Since then I’ve been collecting notes every time a new (or new to me) commentary was particularly interesting. I’d thought I’d share them in yet another patented Film Babble Blog list. Now, I know a lot of folks don’t listen to commentaries but I thought talking about some really notable ones would encourage folks to give them a try and turn that track on – if only just to sample. So, here goes:


10 More Great DVD Commentaries

1. THE PASSENGER (Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) A rare feature-length solo commentary track by Jack Nicholson puts this at the top of the list especially as he declares: “This picture, ‘The Passenger’, was probably the biggest adventure in filming I ever had in my life.” His involving comments are helpful because without them the film can be a long haul. Most compellingly is Nicholson’s breakdown of how the final sequence was filmed (contains Spoilers!):

Nicholson: “Now, that shot was the reason they built the hotel. The hotel, in order that the camera be able to dolly out through those bars and out the window…why I hope Michelangelo doesn’t mind my revealing of the magic of his work…was that the entire hotel could be mounted on a crane and broken in half so that they could go out into the courtyard, shoot film back towards the hotel, after they exited, with the hotel having been pushed back together again and reconstructed for the remainder of the shot.”

Whew! Hope Jack sees fit to do other commentaries ’cause that one’s a keeper.

2. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986)

This customer review on Amazon says it best:

“Film buffs, DVD collectors, and John Hughes fans beware! The “Bueller…Bueller…” edition DVD does not include the commentary track by writer/producer/director John Hughes which was included on the original 1999/2000 DVD release. It is a great commentary and is sorely missed from this edition.”

That’s right, even the new Blu ray of this 80’s teen classic is sans Hughes commentary and the DVD I was recently sent from Netflix was the “Bueller…Bueller…” edition. The Hughes track on the 1999 edition is well worth seeking out because it truly is one of the most insightful listens all the way through. Some sample quotes:

Hughes: “After the film wrapped, Mr. and Mr. Bueller (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), in real life, got married. At the time we were shooting this, Jennifer Grey and Matthew (Broderick) were dating. It was kind of a strange situation because everybody in
this scene is in love.”

And my favorite bit is the art gallery scene:

Hughes: “And then this picture, which I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie. A pointillist style, which at very very close to it, you don’t have any idea what you’ve made until you step back from it.

I used it in this context to see that he’s (Alan Ruck) looking at that little girl. Again, it’s a mother and child. The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees. Of course, with this style of painting. Or any style of painting really.

But the more he looks at, there’s nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn’t anything there. That’s him.” Watch the scene sans commentary here.

Used copies can be found fairly easily of the 1999 version with the commentary as its only special feature (what more do you need?). Just look for the one with the cover pictured to the left.

3. TOUCH OF EVIL: THE 50 ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dir. Orson Welles, 1958) The packaging is mistaken when it lists the “Preview Version feature commentary” to be Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin. It’s the 1998 “Restored Version” that contains their commentaries. The other versions – the theatrical and preview cuts have fine bonus audio tracks with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feenet and historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, but it’s the Heston/Leigh/Schmidlin track on the first disc of the wonderful 50th Anniversary Edition that I strongly recommend.

Wonderful moments abound: Schmidlin pointing out: “When you see Joseph Cotton listen to the voice but it’s not Cotton…” Heston: “It’s not Cotton?” Schmidlin: “It’s, uh, Orson’s voice.” Heston: “For Heaven’s sake.” Leigh: “Orson did Joe’s voice?” Also its amusing to hear Schmidlin call out which shots are Welles’s from which are Harry Keller’s later inserts to the repeated rekindling of Heston’s and Leigh’s memories. “You’ve really done your homework” Heston remarks with a slight chuckle in this charming and essential commentary.

4. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dir. Joe Coen, 1984) This beyond odd track features audio commentary by “Kenneth Loring”, the “artistic director” of “Forever Young Films” (a fictional gig – but whatever). Maybe the most surreal listen on this list.

5. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

As 5 time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus in a tense moment making a Vietnam War movie, in black-face mind you, Robert Downey Jr. declares: “I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary!” You know what? Like a real method actor, he keeps his word.

In this free form three way between Downey Jr., Stiller, and Jack Black, the snark level is high which is way apt considering the over the top tangents of said film. One such sample bit during the opening mock trailers – specifically “Satan’s Alley” with Downey Jr. and Tobey Macquire as tortured homosexual monks:

Stiller: “Sort of an alternate universe for Spiderman and Iron Man.”
Downey Jr.: “I was trying to ride Tobey when we was shooting this thing but he wouldn’t have none of it. Talkin’ ’bout happily married.”

6. I’M NOT THERE (Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) Haynes’ odd yet transfixing meditation on “the many lives of Bob Dylan” (one of my top 5 films of 2007) confused a lot of people, particularly those unfamiliar with the troubled troubadour’s background. Haynes delivers a commentary that should clear up that huge cloud of confusion as he sites references and breaks down various inspirations for every detail in every scene. Some sample quotage:

Haynes: “This is the entrance of Cate Blanchett in the film. The role of Jude was something that I’d always planned, from the very first concept of the film that I gave to Dylan in 2000, that it would be portrayed by an actress. And the reason for this was really for me to try to get to the core of what this next change really looked like and felt like to audiences at the time. How he became this sort of feline character offstage and this sort of bouncing marionette onstage. Full of all these extravagant androgynous gestures that we’d never seen before and we’d never see again after.

The commentary is filled with so many more elaborate descriptions, or justifications, for every aspect of Haynes’ challenging anti-biopic.


7. SUPERBAD: UNRATED EXTENDED EDITION (Dir. Greg Mottola, 2007)

Every Judd Apatow production’s DVD commentary is entertaining, from Freaks ‘N Geeks to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this group cast track with director Mottola, screenwriter Evan Goldberg, actors Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and producer Apatow is IMHO the best of the bunch. Largely because Apatow brought along his nine-year-old daughter Maude. Apatow tries to get the guys to keep it clean but it doesn’t last long. A sample exchange:

Hill: “This scene is fuckin’ hilarious, man.”
Apatow: “Jonah, Jonah…”
Hill: “Yeah?

Apatow: “Maude’s over there.”
Rogen: “You keep swearing, stop swearing Jonah!”

Hill: “Dude, what is this, bring your daughter to work day? I mean…”
Apatow: “Just be cool man, be cool! This is the only way I could do it…I don’t have a
babysitter, I’m in New York City here to do Conan and Colbert by the way…I don’t have a babysitter so what am I gonna do? Leave her like, uh, with the concierge?”
Hill: “I dunno, dude I’m not…”

Cera: “Like “Home Alone 2!”
Hill: “It’s “Superbad”! I curse the whole movie…the commentary, I mean, it’s like…whatever.”
Apatow: “You know, I’m not trying to ruin it…I’m not trying to ruin it…”
Hill: “Let’s just go back to the movie; let’s just go back to talking about the movie…”
Rogen: “It’s kinda ruining the commentary Judd, if Jonah can’t say
what the fuck he wants to say.
Hill: “Yeah! I can’t curse, why don’t you just…”
Apatow: “You know what? I’m not 15 years old and don’t have a kid – I’m an adult like Greg, I have a child. This is my reality.”
Hill: “If I had a kid I wouldn’t bring it to work with me.”

Whoa – some actual drama there mixed with the laughs. Let’s minus the laughs for this next one:

8. TAXI DRIVER (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)

Writer Paul Schrader sounds a bit hesitant upon first opening up (“whatever comments I have…are really not from inside the director’s vision”) about the film and his screenplay’s seminal 70’s statement about urban alienation but once he gets going it’s quite a cutting companion piece. Sample quotage:

Schrader: “What happens at the end happens at the beginning.”

“When Marty first told me that he cast Albert (Brooks) I was sort of surprised because, you know, it was a nothing character. Well, that’s the secret: cast the comic in a nothing character and you get somebody interesting.”

“I don’t believe the script should have any references to camera angles whatsoever. There’s only one camera angle in the script, and that’s the tracking shot at the very end, and I put that one in there because I thought that it was important we see this crime scene from the eye of God. And the only way we could make that point is if we put the camera on the ceiling and track.”

9. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Dir. Lou Adler, 1982) In the interest of space I’ll refer you back to this post (“Talking ‘Bout A Generation Gap” Oct. 3rd, 2008) in which I first babbled ’bout Diane Lane and Laura Dern’s very funny commentary.

10. NASHVILLE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1975)

Luckily before beloved “New Hollywood” auteur Altman died he recorded a number of worthwhile commentaries but this one is absolutely essential for his magnum opus. As rambunctious as Altman was infamous for being, his gruff ingratiating commentary makes you feel like you’re sitting on the couch with him as he rambles. Some random rambles:

“When this film first came out, they hated the music. They said this wasn’t real country music. But I wasn’t looking for good music, not that they make a lot of it there…”

“We cast these cars as carefully as we did the people who drove them.”

“Since we knew that I had no way I could control the palette of this film, the color of this film, because I knew I was going to be dealing in real situation for we were just invading an event. Even though if we created it, we had to deal with…we weren’t paying these people as extras we just had to go where they were.”

Special TV Series DVD Set Honorable Mention: Spaced (Dir. Edgar Wright, 1999-2001) This short lived but brilliant BBC series is outfitted in a nice 3 DVD set with multiple commentary tracks featuring guests like Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Patton Oswalt, Bill Hader, Matt Stone, and Quentin Tarantino sparring with Wright and various cast members including, of course, Simon Pegg and Jessica Haynes. Great stuff.

Okay! I hope that’ll point out some good commentaries out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts on essential bonus audio tracks so please send ’em on. You know where to find me.

More later…

WHAT JUST HAPPENED & 10 Better Inside Hollywood Homages

Just released on DVD:

WHAT JUST HAPPENED
(Dir. Barry Levinson, 2008)

“Hunter S. Thompson once said to me ‘Bruce, my boy, the movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.’ Then he added, ‘there’s also a negative side.’” – Bruce Willis written by Art Linson in this damn movie.


The above quote is rejiggered from a line attributed to Thompson which has been often alternately applied to the TV, radio, music business and the corporate communications world. That this misguided movie would have Willis (playing himself) claim it was spoken directly to him is one of the many things wrong with this rightly ignored project. The title is apt for such a film with a stellar cast that appeared and disappeared in an instant last fall. For most film folks this would be a dream A-list line-up – Robert De Niro as the lead with John Turturo, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci and Robin Penn Wright then throw in Bruce Willis and Sean Penn playing themselves and you’ve struck gold, right? Not with such dreary uninvolving material mostly concerning cutting a dog getting shot in the head out of a prestige picture and 40 minutes fighting over whether Bruce Willis will shave his bushy beard before a new production.



No doubt similar dire situations in Hollywoodland happened and still happen all the time but it hardly makes for compelling cinema. A little of a gruff De Niro as a once powerful producer plagued with these problems going back and forth from one uneasy conflict to another goes a long way. The intertwined subplot about his ex-wife (Penn Wright) sleeping with Tucci tries as it might but comes nowhere near making an emotional dent. Better is Michael Wincott as the strung out British director of the Sean Penn project who gripes about his artistic integrity being compromised when the cold calculating Keener threatens to take his movie and cut it herself. Willis profanely blares about artistic integrity too, but in a more destructive manner by throwing things and berating people on the set. ‘Oh, those inflated egos’ we’re supposed to think but instead I found myself looking at my watch.


Based on Art Linson’s book of the same name (with the sub-title “Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line”) and marking a return to a smaller independent style production for Barry Levinson, WHAT JUST HAPPENED is nowhere near the great insider movies of years past (see below) unless anybody considers AN ALLAN SMITHEE FILM: BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN a classic and nobody does. It’s a shame to see De Niro and fellow ace actors tread water in a sea of industry indifference. Just like its IMDb entry, there are no memorable quotes or new lessons learned, just a lot of unpleasant exchanges between unlikable people making for a film with a charcoal soul. What just happened? Nothing worthwhile that I can think of.


As for better films about the same subject, that is movies about making movies, here are:


10 Essential Hollywood Insider Homages (Or Scathing Satires Of The Business We Call Show)


1. SUNSET BOULEVARD (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1950) Classics 101. Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond is truly one of the greatest screen characters of all time but with over a half a century of accolades and greatest films ever lists you don’t need me to tell you that. A film that set the precedent for dropping real names and featuring film folks play themselves (Cecil B. Demille, Buster Keaton, H.L. Warner, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper among them). The movie plays on TCM regularly so if you haven’t seen Swanson declare “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” you’re sure to get your chance soon.


2. THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1991) No less than 60

Hollywood names play themselves in this excellent satire of the state of the film industry in the early 90’s. As Griffin Mill, an executive who murders a writer he believes is harassing him, Tim Robbins nails it when he suggests: “I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”


3. A STAR IS BORN (Dir. George Cukor, 1954) Actually the second remake of a 1937 film (skip the third one with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), this is the ultimate ‘you meet the same people on the way up as on the way down’ morality play. Judy Garland’s career is taking off as husband James Mason finds himself on the outs turning to alcoholism and then to suicide (if thats a Spoiler! you really ought to tend to your Netflix queue or consult the TCM schedule). A still blinding spotlight on the fickleness of fame.


4. BARTON FINK (Dir. Joel Coen, 1991) A tour de force for John Turturo as a New York playwright struggling to write a wrestling B-movie script in 1940’s Hollywood. He fancies himself an intellectual who speaks for the common man, but he ignores an actual common man – his hotel neighbor played with gusto by John Goodman who could sure tell you some stories. Written by the Coen brothers as they themselves were struggling with writer’s block on what turned out to be the masterful MILLER’S CROSSING, the feel of spiritual distraction that all writers suffer from has never been so perfectly portrayed. Well, until #5 on this list that is.

5. ADAPTATION (Dir. Spike Jonez, 2002)


“To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.” A peek into the writing process of Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicholas Cage) who has to adapt the book “The Orchid Thief” and ends up writing himself into his screenplay. Catherine Keener, John Cusack, and John Malkovich play themselves (from the set of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) while we get an abstract window into the world of a sought after screenwriter looking for more than just love from the business.


6. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008) Over the top and in your face with a fast pace and a loving embrace of literally explosive satire, Stiller put himself back on top of the comedy heap here. With one of the best ensemble casts a comedy has ever had including Jack Black, the Oscar nominated Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Matthew McConaughey and (say what?) Tom Cruise as a crude bald pudgy hip hop dancing movie executive, we’ve got a crew well versed in tweaking the business that broke them. There are hundreds of zingers in this mad making of a film within a film but maybe Danny McBride as an explosive engineer spouting off as he rigs a bridge in the jungle is one of the best: “That’s it! Im going into catering after this!”

7. POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1990) Another tale of a career in movies that has hit the skids, but given a hip post modern cynical spin by Carrie Fisher who adapted her semi-autobiographical book. Not soon after leaving rehab Meryl Streep as actress Suzanne Vale exclaims “Thanks GOD I got sober now so I can be hyper-conscious for this series of humiliations!” This is after finding out a new beau (Dennis Quaid) is cheating on her, which is on top of over hearing people on the set talking about how much weight she’s gained. These worries pale compared to having to live with mother Shirley MacLaine (also a former actress based on Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds). MacLaine asks her daughter: “I was such an awful mother… what if you had a mother like Joan Crawford or Lana Turner?” Streep deadpans: “These are the options? You, Joan or Lana?” The funny side to growing up famous with a song sung by Streep to boot (“I’m Checkin Out” by Shel Silverstein).


8. THE BIG PICTURE (Dir. Christopher Guest, 1989) The forgotten Christopher Guest film. Pity too, because there’s a lot of wit to spare in this send up featuring Kevin Bacon as a fresh out of film school director whose first film gets compromised at every turn. A crack cast surrounds Bacon including frequent Guest collaborator Michael McKean (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Terri Hatcher, and the late great J.T. Walsh as stoic but still sleazy studio head Alan Habel. Best though is Martin Short as Bacon’s slimy permed agent Neil Sussman: “I don’t know you. I don’t know your work. But I think you are a genius. And I am never wrong about that.” Look for cameos by Elliot Gould, John Cleese, and Eddie Albert as well as a Spinal Tap-ish song by a band named Pez People (“The Whites of Their Eyes” written and performed by Guest/McKean).


9. S.O.B. (Dir. Blake Edwards, 1981)


Despite trying to peddle ersatz post Sellers expiration date Pink Panther movies at the time, Edwards showed he still had some bite left in a few juicy farces – 10, VICTOR VICTORIA and this vulgar but saucy satire. The later concerns a film within the film that flops so film maker Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) decides to re-shoot the family film as a R-rated romp with wife Julie Andrews (Edwards’ real life wife) going topless. A lot of this comical exposé of desperate sordid behavior in the movie business went over my head when I saw it as a kid but a recent viewing got me up to speed. Another fine ensemble cast alongside Mulligan and Andrews – Robert Vaughn, Larry Hagman, Robert Loggia, Robert Webber, Robert Preston (lots of Roberts!), and it was William Holden’s last film (shout out to #1 on this list).


10. BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999) Many folks despise this campy comic caper of a film maker and his crew making a film (another film within a film plot) with an action star who doesn’t know he’s in the movie but I think it’s Steve Martin’s last great movie. Eddie Murphy’s too if you don’t count his extended glorified cameo in DREAMGIRLS. As Robert K. Bowfinger, Martin channels his old wild and crazy guy persona into a snake oil salesman of a wannabe movie mogul. Heather Graham (playing an aspiring sleeping her way to the top starlet that many thought was based on one time Martin flame Anne Heche), Robert Downey Jr., Christine Baranski, and Terrance Stamp are all along for the ride.


Okay! I was purposely skipping biopics or other movies that are based on true stories so don’t be complaining about ED WOOD or CHAPLIN not making the cut. There were a few close calls – LIVING IN OBLIVION and MOVERS & SHAKERS among them. Are there any other Hollywood insider movies that I forgot? Please let me know.


More later…

Politics Schmolotics: A Droll CHARLIE WILSON & A Serious BREACH

Alan Rudolph: “Does Political scare you?”
Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins): “Political doesn’t scare me. Radical political scares me. Political political scares me.
Alan Rudolph: “This is politiely politically radical, but it’s funny.”
THE PLAYER
(Dir. Robert Altman, 1991)

Politics doesn’t play well at the multiplex. If you don’t believe me just ask the makers of LIONS FOR LAMBS. Despite critical acclaim people have stayed away in droves from just about every Iraq-related drama and especially documentary fare like NO END IN SIGHT as well so it appears that these days – political scares moviegoers. Keeping this in mind I made it out to the Lumina Theatre last week to see the Mike Nichols/Tom Hanks comic drama CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (which actually at #6 on the box office charts is doing pretty well) and I cozied up to the warm DVD player to watch BREACH so consider me unafraid of political. Or at least political pop pieces like these:

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (Dir. Mike Nichols, 2007)

The charismatic senator famed for funding arms for Afghanistan against Soviet occupation is a tailor made role for Tom Hanks. He’s a charmer with a bevy of buxom secretaries, always a stiff drink in hand, and a penchant for punchy one-liners like “You know you’ve reached rock bottom when you’re told you have character flaws by a man who hanged his predecessor in a military coup”. Unfortunately the film is as glib as his character. Hanks glides through many West Wing-esque walk and talks (with the Aaron Sorkin scripting that’s got to be a given) and his scenes with Julia Roberts (as Texas socialite and activist Joanne Herring) with such a winking detachment that we never really feel invited in to his story – as fascinating on the surface as it is.

It starts out so promising – for instance Phillip Seymour Hoffman has a show-stopping shouting intro but then even he falls back into a laconic gruff presence. At one point, as if to borrow the gravitas from a far better satirical standard barer, Ned Beatty shows up to give a speech which helps the proceedings a little but NETWORK this ain’t. With the A-list gloss stripped away Wilson’s war story would be better told as a History Channel documentary. Sure, it sucks that people opt for fake history bullshit like NATIONAL TREASURE over films based on such juicy real events but when it’s the too smug for fun CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR – moviegoers might be better off with cinematic junk food.

BREACH (Dir. Billy Ray, 2007) “He was trying to commit the intelligence equivalent of the perfect crime” says Paul Moore of his former collegue Robert Hanssen (from a MSNBC report enititled “Mole” included as a bonus feature on the just released DVD). Hanssen, who sold military secrets to Russia during the height of the cold war, has had his story told before (the 2002 TV movie MASTER SPY: THE ROBERT HANSSEN STORY starring William Hurt) but this time the perspective is through the eyes of an upstart FBI agent wannabe Eric O’Neill (a stoic but moody Ryan Philleppe).

As Hanssen, Chris Cooper, in a career best performance, is suspicious but mostly oblivious to the scrutiny his position and power was undergoing. O’Neill is kept in the dark too at first – thinking that he’s assigned to Hanssen because as he is told by a handler (Laura Linney) that he is a sexual deviant. Despite this he builds a grudging respect for the man and even believes that his superiors have no case. This naive view shatters as the world of Hanssen’s making becomes mindblowingly clear. Some liberties were taken with the story – in actuality O’Neil knew going in what they were after Hanssen for – and a number of dramatic liberties are taken but the essence of the story remains sharply intact. Like Billy Ray’s previous film – the excellent SHATTERED GLASS the tension has a palpable edge missing in a lot of current thrillers. BREACH is a quietly absorbing tightly told tale of homegrown espionage and one that never forgets or lets us forget how high the stakes are.

More later…

Post GRADUATE Studies

This Friday director Mike Nichols’ latest film CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is getting a full release but it’s another Nichols’ movie released 40 years ago to the day (Dec. 21st, 1967) that I’m blogging about here – THE GRADUATE. That’s right, the much beloved classic that featured a young Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock – a college graduate who’s worried about his future. His affair with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), his courtship of her daughter Elaine (Katherine Ross), and the famous wedding crashing climax are all the stuff of legend so Film Babble is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the film this time out.

There are spoliers in this post so if you have not seen THE GRADUATE go immediately get a copy and watch it then get back to me. Everybody else should know the cast, the plot, and remember its widely quoted dialogue (even the now playing I’M NOT THERE quotes the “good evening Mr. Gladstone” line) as well as the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack but here’s 5 things you may not know:

5 Fun Facts About THE GRADUATE

1. Paul Simon’s soundtrack submission was originally called “Mrs. Roosevelt” – According to Wikipedia Simon played the director a bit of a new composition and said “‘It’s a song about times past — about Mrs. Roosevelt and Joe DiMaggio and stuff.’ Nichols advised Simon, ‘It’s now about Mrs. Robinson, not Mrs. Roosevelt.'”

2. It was Richard Dreyfus’s first movie – Albeit a brief appearance but he’s visible over landlord Norman Fell’s (yep, he was also the landlord on Three’s Company) shoulder in the boarding house scene. Dreyfus’s only line: “Shall I call the cops? I’ll call the cops.”

3. The could have beens – Imagine alternate universe versions in which Benjamin is played by either Robert Redford, Charles Grodin (who both tested for the part) or Warren Beatty (who did BONNIE AND CLYDE instead) with Natalie Wood or Sally Field in the role of Elaine. Pretty much impossible to picture, huh? Also consider that Marilyn Monroe was originally slated to play Mrs. Robinson and that the part was also offered to Doris Day and you really get a Bizarro world thing going. Thank goodness the stars aligned casting-wise because if it went any of those directions I don’t think I would be blogging about it today.

4. The leg in the poster isn’t Anne Bancroft’s – it’s Linda Gray’s. Gray, the Dallas TV star, later played Mrs. Robinson on stage in the West End and Broadway play adaptations.

5. Benjamin is driving in the wrong direction – In Dustin Hoffman’s DVD commentary * he says “I remember after the film opening, for years, people coming up and saying ‘you know you’re going the wrong way?’ ” It’s true Benjamin is driving his Alfa Romeo west on the upper deck of the San Francisco Bay Bridge though he’s supposed to be on his way to Berkeley, which is to the east. On a separate commentary track Nichols tells Steven Soderbergh: “If you went to Berkeley you wouldn’t be visible to a helicopter – you’d be on the lower level – I said screw it, you know? What are they going to do to us?”.

* The new 40th anniversary DVD set has a recently recorded and very entertaining commentary with Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross. Hoffman does most of the talking – even when he confesses to Ross that he had a crush on her back in the day she has little to say.

I recently re-read the 1962 Charles Webb novel of THE GRADUATE (that’s my own personal yellowed beat-up paperback pictured on the left) and was surprised at how close an adaptation the movie was. Only a few notable differences – Benjamin shortly after coming home to Pasenda takes a hitchhiking trip for a few weeks and claims to his father upon his return that he helped fight a large forest fire, washed dishes, and spent time with prostitutes. Since Benjamin twists the truth throughout the whole story we are not sure whether to believe him but it’s a telling footnote. Also the iconic line “plastics” is not in the original text. However, “Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me” is.

There has been much talk of a sequel – Buck Henry’s (playing himself – he was the original co-screenwriter of THE GRADUATE) pitch to studio exec. Tim Robbins in THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1992) of course comes to mind: ‘‘Okay, here it is: The Graduate, Part II! Ben and Elaine are married still, living in a big old spooky house in Northern California somewhere. Mrs. Robinson, her aging mother, lives with them. She’s had a stroke. And they’ve got a daughter in college — Julia Roberts, maybe. It’ll be dark and weird and funny — with a stroke.’’

In 2004 Nikki Finke in LA Weekly resonded angrily when she came upon a report of a sequel being produced with Kevin Costner, Jennifer Aniston, and Shirley MacLaine. The resulting film RUMOR HAS IT… (Dir. Rob Reiner, 2005) turned out not to be a sequel but a regular ole rom com with the premise that a woman (Aniston) with the same Pasenda background discovers that her family was the inspiration for the characters in the book and movie. Costner plays Beau Burroughs (get it?) and MacLlaine is the boozy cynical Mrs. Richelieu (of course you get it) and the whole affair is lame and badly written (they should’ve gotten Buck Henry to do a re-write) adding nothing to THE GRADUATE legacy. Looks like it has finally quashed the possibility of a sequel and uh, that the fact that one of the pivotal principles is no longer with us – the late great Anne Bancroft (1931-2005).

Okay! So once more Happy Birthday THE GRADUATE! Yet again, Benjamin and Elaine board the bus that drives off into the sunset and we all sigh.

More later…

10 Rarely Seen Deleted Scenes Not On DVD

If this was a movie, you’d be on the cutting room floor”
– Second Hood (Jon Polito) THE SINGING DETECTIVE (Dir. Keith Gordon, 2003)

Nearly every DVD has some deleted scenes on the special features menu. Most of the time with few exceptions we can see that they were deleted for a good reason. But what about those scenes we hear talk of and maybe see a random clip or photo of here or there but are currently unavailable on DVD? The ones that have some cache of history or interest that may actually make them worth seeing? Well I decided to round up some of the most interesting cinematic suspects right here:

1. The Infamous War-room Pie-Fight Extracted From DR. STRANGELOVE (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1964) “Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!” General Turgidson (George C. Scott) exclaims after President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) gets hit in the face by a pie. This moment occurring in the pie-fight that was originally intended to end DR. STRANGELOVE was thought to be potentially offensive to the Kennedy family for obvious reasons. The original test screening of the film was slated for November 22, 1963 and had to be re-scheduled, again for obvious reasons but that wasn’t the only problem : Kubrick said that the scene was “not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film” and others thought that the actors covered in cream pie were indistinguishable – therefore ineffective. The pie-fight, which would be replaced by a stock film sequence of nuclear explosions, is well known to fans and film buffs because photographs of it have shown in the bonus features of nearly every edition of the DVD but the scene itself remains missing in action.

Wikipedia reports that “the only known public showing of the footage was in the 1999 screening at the National Film Theatre in London following Kubrick’s death” but then there’s that telling [citation needed] notation. So will this scene that Kubrick once called “a disaster of Homeric proportions” ever see the light of a DVD player’s laser? Probably not any time soon though I think when they’re preparing the 50th Anniversary edition on whatever format will be popular at the time – it’ll be a prized bell and whistle selling-point.


2. Luke Bonding with Long-time Buddy Biggs Edited Out Of STAR WARS (Dir. George Lucas, 1977) When I was a kid I was perplexed by the pictures (including the one above) in THE STAR WARS STORYBOOK (Scholastic 1978) – which I still have by the way – of 2 scenes that weren’t in the movie I saw many times at the theater. The stills were of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) viewing the space battle the movie opens with on his binocs and his chat with Biggs Darklighter (Garrick Hagon) that helped inspire his adventuresome spirit. Lucas has said that he cut the scene because he wanted the film to center on the droids’ mission from their point of view so we as an audience wouldn’t meet Luke until the droids met Luke. It would be nice to have the full sequence of Luke on Tatooine pre-C3PO & R2-D2 as a bonus on a non-special edition 1977 theatrical cut of STAR WARS (not calling it A NEW HOPE damnit!). This would be great because apart from Biggs we would all get to see some of Luke’s other friends – Deak, Camie and Fixer. Camie, incidentally was played by Koo Stark – later a British soft-porn actress who dated Prince Andrew.

The footage known as “the Anchorhead scene” (because it took place at the Toshi power station in Anchorhead – got it?) was screened for the first time at the San Diego Comic Con in 1998 and released at the same time on a CD-ROM “Behind The Magic”. Now it can be found in many different cuts on YouTube – I would link it here but Lucasfilm constantly cracks down on copyright violations so it probably wouldn’t last long. Just type in “Luke and Biggs” in the YouTube search engine and you’re bound to find it. Just why this isn’t available on any of the many editions of STAR WARS is unknown. When the bank calls and tells Lucas they’ve located another vault in which he can store more money – he may consider its release.

3. Steve McQueen As Sam Spade On The Cutting Room FloorTHE LONG GOODBYE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1973) In the short documentary “Rip Van Marlowe” on the DVD for this Altman should-be classic the words “deleted scene” flash on black and white production stills of McQueen, Elliot Gould, and Altman while Gould reminisces :

“The first day when I walk in to see what was going on – I think Sam Spade was going up in an elevator and I think some of this may have been edited…”

Wait Elliot, sorry Mr. Gould – are you saying McQueen had a cameo as Sam Spade?!!? Are you kidding? No research on the internets will confirm or deny this and I doubt this scene will ever surface because it’s most likely destroyed like much Altman footage of that era so I can only sigh.

4. The Original Audrey II Eats Everybody Ending From LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Dir. Frank Oz, 1986) Many demographic-tested endings have been changed through the years but none more notorious than this one. It is the definitive “alternate ending” – a 23 minute sequence which cost 5 million and was true to the stage production’s narrative – Seymour (Rick Moranis) is defeated by the ever-growing plant and even feeds Audrey II the dead Audrey (Ellen Greene) before getting eaten himself. Audrey II and its many clones take over the planet as the song “Don’t Feed The Plants” serenades or better yet – warns the audience. This sequence was actually released in black and white without sound or special effects on a Warner Bros. Special Edition in 1998 but yanked off the market by producer mogul David Geffen. Early this year according to Wikipedia – “Warner Bros. hinted that a DVD re-issue featuring the original ending may be on its way” so it looks like we may be able to finally see the mean green mother from outer space in all its destructive glory at some point on the horizon.

5. Kevin Costner As The Dead Guy In THE BIG CHILL
(Dir. Lawrence Kasdan, 1983)
– The most significant character in this baby boomer cinema standard we never see. Well, we see parts of his body as it is being dressed for the funeral but never his face. So what was to be Costner’s big break turned out to be extra-work as a corpse. He was cast as Alex – the charismatic college glue that all the other characters (including William Hurt, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berrenger, and Jo Beth Williams) are forever stuck to. He was supposed to be seen in flashbacks but those were cut and despite much protest were not included in the 10 minutes of deleted scenes on the 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD. Even if you hate Costner, and I know that many of you do, I think it would be interesting to see how he relates to that particular ensemble cast. Maybe he didn’t live up to his character’s implied charm and his deletion helped better ground the movie – I dunno. 25th anniversary maybe? Post-note : Kasdan cast Costner in his next film SILVERADO to make up for the Alex omission.

6. Halloran’s Death Done Differently Deleted From THE SHINING (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980) According to the IMDb :

“Halloran’s (Scatman Crothers) death scene as filmed is not the one we actually see. The one filmed depicts a much longer, much more graphic death. In its entirety, the scene lasts almost seventy seconds, and is full of gore. Rather then just run up and hit him as seen in the released version, Jack (Jack Nicholson) runs up, hits him in the back of the head. Halloran screams. Jack pulls the ax back, and then slams the spike on the back of the ax into the base of Halloran’s spine. Halloran screams and recoils, and then Jack slams the ax into his back and he falls down. Halloran rolls onto his back and is looking up, and Jack starts to beat him with the ax before he “hears” something and leaves.”

This is a scene I believe we will be soon able to appraise because the 2 disc Special Edition DVD will be released October 23rd this year. With hope we will also be able to see the scene that was originally at the end where Wendy (Shelly Duvall) is told her husband’s body was never found. This scene actually appeared when the film was first released but cut by Kubrick a week later.

7. Odd Promotional Photo Indicates Odd Outtake From ANNIE HALL (Dir. Woody Allen, 1977) None of Allen’s movies on DVD have any extras other than a trailer so the prospect of ever seeing anything resembling a deleted scene is pretty slim. Too bad because this photo issued as a publicity still to promote ANNIE HALL implies some juicy cut material. No dialogue is known but it looks like it takes place during Alvy and Annie’s first break-up when Alvy is randomly questioning people on the street about their love lives and they all have great one-liner answers. Can’t imagine what this guy’s was. Funny how a shot from a scene unused in the movie makes the rounds as advertising but even funnier that 30 years later a blogger like me would assign such significance to it. Another sigh.

8. Alternate Jim Garrison Wins The Clay Shaw Trial Ending JFK (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) According to Robert Sam Anson in Esquire Magazine (November 1991) as “a joke” Oliver Stone filmed “a not-to-be used scene showing Shaw’s (Tommy Lee Jones) jury bringing in a guilty verdict.” In complete contrast to Woody Allen, Stone has had his DVDs loaded with extras – director’s cuts, commentaries, documentaries, and scores of deleted scenes so where is this gem? It would be rather amusing to see Garrison (Costner *) triumphant from the victory of being the first person to bring a trial in the murder of John Kennedy. With all the special editions of the film we’ve seen so far it’s pretty likely that we will one day see this “joke.”

* Funny how somebody whose average movie is 3 hours long still makes me want to see more footage! Long live Costner!

9. Enid Sleeps With Josh – No Film At 11:00! GHOST WORLD (Dir. Terry Zwiggof, 2001) This scene, which comes directly from the Daniel Clowes graphic novel the film was based on, takes place in the third act according to the published screenplay after Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and Rebecca (Scarlet Johanssen) shun Enid’s (Thora Birch) company one sad day. She shows up at Josh’s (Brad Renfro) meager hotel room/apartment and shyly but slyly seduces him. It seems this was omitted because we would have even less sympathy for Enid as she goes on to sleep with Seymour causing a harmful ripple effect. Still since the GHOST WORLD DVD has such inessential deleted scenes involving incidental characters it would be nice to see such an actual major discarded plot point. The movie has never been re-released in any form so its official appearance it still a possibility but I’m not holding my breath.

10. Myrtle and Beryl – The Spiderwomen Removed From TIME BANDITS (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1981) There was a lot in the published screenplay – evidenced in Gilliam’s doodles, production stills, and full pages of dialogue that were not used in TIME BANDITS. This is typical of his work – all the published Python scripts are the same way (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL has page after page crossed off in crayon) so this is no surprise but where is the actual footage? Especially of the scene from the Time of Legends sequence in which the time travelling dwarfs encounter 2 spinster spider-women (Myrtle and Beryl *) who knit webs in which to catch passing knights. Gilliam recalls:

“That was another desperate moment, mainly because that sequence was an afterthought. Mike Palin and I had originally written another whole sequence about two spider women who ensnare some of the bandits in their web. We actually filmed this – and it was marvellous. But it now required a scene on either side to get us from the giant to the fortress, and we had run out of money.”

Fairly certain this bit will show up – Gilliam never seems to throw away footage (or any idea) and the many formats in the years to come will have special feature capabilities beyond our wildest dreams (or at least beyond mine) so I bet this will someday make the cut.

* The spider-women are named Myrtle and Beryl according to many sources but only Myrtle Devenish as Beryl is credited on the IMDb which makes me think that this is incorrect info. Devenish plays a game show contestant on the game show satire “Your Money Or Your Life” seen early in the film on a background television. It’s conceivable she also played one of the spider-women but the names seem off. Anybody know the deal here?

I know this is only scratching the rarely seen scenes surface so please leave your comments below or email:

boopbloop7@gmail.com

This post is dedicated to Merv Griffin Merv as a broadcaster wore many hats – game show host, talk show host, real-estate magnate, pop-crooner, etc. and while he did relatively little film work Film Babble would like to highlight his clever cameo as himself (billed as the Elevator killer) in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1983). Dr. Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) confronts him right after a killing and asks “why?” Merv’s answer:

“I don’t know. I’ve always just loved to kill. I really enjoyed it. But then I got famous, and – it’s just too hard for me. And so many witnesses. I mean, everybody recognized me. I couldn’t even lurk anymore. I’d hear, “Who’s that lurking over there? Isn’t that Merv Griffin?” So I came to Europe to kill. And it’s really worked out very well for me.”

Merv Griffin (1925-2007) R.I.P.

More later…

10 Definitive Films-Within-Films

We’re talking meta-movies here this time out! In particular – movies that contain sometimes just an inkling, sometimes an almost fully formed movie of its own inside their film framework. Fictitious films abound through cinema history – a fake title mentioned here, a fabricated clip seen in passing there but these examples cited below are unique in that their film within a film is practically their sole reason for being.

1. “Mant” in MATINEE (Dir. Joe Dante, 1993) A comic valentine to the end of the 50’s sci-fi B-movie era MATINEE is set in Key West, Florida, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. This is the perfect setting for schlock meister showman Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) to unveil “Mant” billed as “Half Man…Half Ant…All Terror!” and presented in Atomo-Vision and Rumble-Rama. Woolsey (who was supposedely based on like-wise schock -meister William Castle but his silhouette and appearance in his trailers are pure Hitchcock) gets his girlfriend played by Cathy Moriarty to dress as a nurse to get patrons to sign “medical consent forms” in the theater lobby, rigs the seats with electric buzzers, and even hires a guy to dress up as a giant ant and appear at a pivotal moment to scare the audience. All these gimmicks are employed to enhance the experience that is “Mant” – a black and white spoof of vintage monster movies in which a man mutates into a giant ant.

Appearances from veteran actors Kevin McCarthy (the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), Robert Cornthwaite (the original WAR OF THE WORLDS, the original THE THING) and William Shallert (CRY TERROR! – ’58) give it creature feature cred while Moriarty does double duty as the actress playing the Mant’s distressed wife. As the high price on the Amazon ad to the right indicates MATINEE is sadly out of print but it must be noted that the original widescreen version laserdisc (circa ’94) has a stand-alone extra of the entire “Mant!” movie, running about 20 min. With hope a DVD re-release with this bonus will arrive some day and give this under-rated gem its deserved due.

2. A Fistful Of Yen in THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (Dir. John Landis, 1977) At just over 30 minutes this is the longest film within a film on this list. Sandwiched inside a hodge-podge of TV commercial parodies, movie trailer send-ups, and other media mocking mayhem, “A Fistful Of Yen” is a savage satire of 70’s Kung fu cinema in general but mostly it takes on the seminal Bruce Lee vehicle ENTER THE DRAGON (Dir. Robert Clouse, 1973). As KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE was the first feature by sketch comedy trio the Zucker bros. (David and Jerry) and Jim Abrahams, this extended piece was essentially a warm-up piece to AIRPLANE! and a introduction to their joke-a-second sight gag style. Evan C. Kim plays the Lee stand-in who accepts an assignment by the Government (U.S.? British? Does it matter?) to infiltrate Dr. Klahn’s (Master Bong Soo Han) island fortress of extraordinary magnitude, foil his destructive master plan and “kill fifty, maybe sixty people”.

3. Habeas Corpusin THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1991)Major Spoiler! Andy Civella (Dean Stockwell) and Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant) pitch a premise to slick but sleazy studio exec.Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) – a dark thriller about an innocent woman sentenced to death. Oakley insists that the project be done with no stars and no happy ending – “she’s dead because that’s the reality – the innocent die” and “when I think about this – this isn’t even an American film” he stresses. When “Habeas Corpus” emerges a year later we see its final scenes in a studio screening room as the creators and execs look on. It’s now completely populated by stars (Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Peter Falk, Louise Fletcher, Ray Walston, etc) and has a contrived feel-good one-liner ending – “traffic was a bitch” Willis retorts after rescuing Roberts from the gas chamber. Why was this vision so disgustingly comprised? With dollar signs in his eyes Oakley responds “what about the way the old ending tested in Canoga Park? Everybody hated it, we reshot it now everybody loves it – that’s reality!” SNAP!


4.Je Vous Presente, Pamela (Meet Pamela) in DAY FOR NIGHT (NUIT AMERICAINE (Dir. Francois Truffaut, 1974) The making of “Meet Pamela” is the entire premise of the Oscar Award winning DAY FOR NIGHT. Truffaut plays a director much like himself who is consumed with every detail of his latest production. His cast and crew, all seemingly playing versions of themselves toil and plod through the never ending chaotic shooting schedule. The beautiful American actress Jacqueline Biset (who is one of the only actors that has a few lines in English) plays Pamela who in the mist of movie passion gets caught up in a romance with Jean Peirre Leaud (Truffaut regular and alter ego in the ANTOINE DOINEL series) who continually asks everyone he meets “are women magic?”

The first scene shows a busy Parisian street with dozens of people walking, children playing, a bus passing, and a man (Leaud) walking up the stairs from a subway tunnel to confront another man on the sidewalk then slap him. The director yells “cut!” and we have a unit director through a bullhorn – “the bus was 2 seconds late, the background activity was late too!” We are immediately inside both the film being made and the outer film about making it. And so it goes throughout the whole picture – we get a sense that “Meet Pamela” is a cliched melodrama far less interesting than what goes on behind the camera – which of course is in front of the camera in this film but before I blow my meta-mind out I digress…

5.Chubby Rain” in BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999) Another movie about the making of a fictional movie but this one is so uniquely American in its con-artistry. BOWFINGER has many detractors but I consider it the best Steve Martin movie of the last 10 years. Granted that’s not saying much – I mean CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE, PINK PANTHER – uh, anybody? The movie being made was chosen by Martin’s not so wild but at times completely crazy small-time movie-maker wannabe Bobby Bowfinger character from a sci-fi script by his accountant (Adam Alexi-Malle) about aliens who come down in the raindrops hence “Chubby Rain”. After a cursory script skimming by slimey studio exec Robert Downey Jr. Bowfinger finds that his project would get greenlit if he gets self proclaimed “biggest black action star in the world” Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy). So when Ramsey is uninterested in the doing the film, especially after meeting Bowfinger – the cast and crew (including Heather Graham, Jamie Kennedy, and Christine Baranski) stalk him shooting film of him without his knowledge to star in “Chubby Rain.”

The hoax works for a bit but Ramsey being extremely paranoid and a pawn of a Scientology-like organization called Mindhead goes ballistic at the movie manipulations surrounding him. In the end though a deal is struck and the completed “Chubby Rain” is a pure crowd pleaser from the unknowing participation from Ramsey and the knowing participation from his geeky twin brother Jiff who serves as his double (of course also played by Murphy). A glimpse at another ficticious film “Fake Purse Ninjas” starring Bowfinger and Jiff is seen at the end. Sure “Chubby Rain” as a film within a film is silly beyond belief but even in its fake truncated form when we see a montage of scenes from it at its premiere it looks more valid and a more solid credible film than say DADDY DAY CARE, I SPY, HAUNTED MANSION, or even NORBIT for Christ’s sake!

6. The Purple Rose Of Cairo in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO
(Dir. Woody Allen, 1985)
Since the Woodman is a fully functioning film historian himself, the idea that he would construct a completely realized movie to be watched and worshipped during the depression especially by domestically abused Celcelia (Mia Farrow) is not far fetched at all – in retrospect it seems natural as all get out. It’s just harmless escapism involving dapper dressed witty socialites on a Egyptian expedition before enjoying “a madcap Manhattan weekend” until protagonist pith-helmet wearing explorer Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) walks offscreen into Farrow’s life and a world of trouble. Then the actor playing the character – Gil Shepherd (also Daniels) has to appear to talk his alter-ego back onto the screen so the movie can play out.

The other characters in “
The Purple Rose Of Cairo” remain on the screen squabbling about their predicament and sometimes ridicule the few audience members while Cecelia is torn between the two men – “I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything..” One of Allen’s greatest lines ever in his entire cinematic canon is spoken by an extra – credited as “Moviegoer” an irrate old lady (too lazy to do the full research on this one – several women are listed as “Moviegoer” on IMDb) complains at the box office – “I want what happened in the movie last week to happen this week; otherwise, what’s life all about anyway?”

7.Codename Dragonfly in CQ (Dir. Roman Coppola, 2001)

So the story goes, this movie about a movie is a pastiche of the movies
BARBARELLA (Dir. Roger Vadim, 1968) and DANGER: DIABOLIK (Dir. Mario Bava, 1968) – that is it’s a nod to Italian knock-off spy thriller/cheap “it came from outer space” spoofs. Jeremy Davis plays an idealistic 60’s film-maker in Paris in 1969 whose ego gets in the way of his artistic ambition when he works as an editor on “Codename Dragonfly“. In the commentary cinematographer Bob Yeoman says “it’s actually 3 movies within a movie” – the first being the black and white documentary that Davis’s Paul character is self indulgentely making, the second – the sexy sci-fi “Dragonfly” project, and the third being I guess the entire CQ (“seek you”) project surrounding it – I think that’s it – maybe I need to watch it with commentary again. Anyway “Codename Dragonfly” is available as an extra on the CQ DVD in 2 different versions each running roughly over 10 min. – one is Paul’s (Davis) the other director Andrezej’s (Gerald Depardieu) compromised cut with fake “scene missing” bits and incomplete matte paintings.

8.Home For Purim (later changed to “Home For Thanksgiving”) in FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (Dir. Christopher Guest, 2006)


As one of Guest’s lesser ensemble comedy works the film within a film here is actually pretty funny. The plot of the movie being made is about a daughter’s confession of her lesbianism to her ailing mother upon coming home for a traditional holiday. Such issue driven content must be Oscar rewarded, right? So goes the premise here – funny in spurts – some of which spurts have studio exec Martin Gibb (Ricky Gervais) suggesting that they should “tone down the Jewishness” – hence the title and holiday change. Insinuated online Oscar buzz goes to the heads of the cast of Home For Thanksgiving” particularly to unfortunately and cruelly named Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) and pretentious veteran actor Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer). From the evidenced quality (or lack of) in said film within film we can see way in advance how their fortunes (or lack of) will turn out.

9.The Orchid Thief in ADAPTATION (Dir. Spike Jonze, 2002)

It could be argued that this entire movie is a movie within a movie here – it is hard to see where the screenplay Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) is writing ends and his brother Donald’s (also Cage) begin. Hired to adapt Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) bestselling “The Orchid Thief” Kaufman sweats bullets on how exactly to make a story out of a story-less book. He declares “I don’t want to cram in sex or guns or car chases or characters learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end.” His brother Donald is working on a populist thriller called “The 3“. When Charlie realizes that Donald may have the accessible keys to making his work adaptable they collaborate and the movie concludes with sex, guns, a car chase, characters growing, coming to like each other, learning profound life lessons, and overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end.

Charlie: “I’ve written myself into my screenplay.”
Donald: “That’s kind of weird, huh?”

10. The Mutants of 2051 AD in STRANGE BREW (Dirs. Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas, 1983) SCTV‘s beloved beer-swilling Canadian spokesmen Doug and Bob McKenzie introduce their new movie at the beginning of STRANGE BREW. It’s a cheapie sci-fi epic set in the future after a worldwide holocaust. We see Bob (Moranis) drive their beat-up van suspended on very visible wires through what he calls “the forbidden zone” – “I was kinda like a one man force, eh? Like Charlton Heston in OMEGA MAN. Did you see it? It was beauty.” The film breaks down, the audience revolts wanting their money back and STRANGE BREW regresses to a regular comedy setting. Too bad – if they kept the non-existant budget sci-fi thing going through the whole movie we might have really had a classic here.

Honorable Mention :

The Dueling Cavalier” (later changed to “The Dancing Cavalier” in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Dirs. Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly) We see little of this film within a film but its production meeting brainstorming makes the concept take on a life of its own. Especially as Wikipedia notes – “The film “The Dueling Cavalier” is probably a reference to THE CAVALIER (Dir. Irvin Willat, 1928) a largely silent picture notable only for its poorly dubbed songs that were thrown in when it became clear talkies were popular”.

American Scooby” in STORYTELLING (Dir. Todd Solondz, 2001) The second half of STORYTELLING entitled “Non-fiction” details documentary film-maker Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti) filming Scooby (Mark Webber) – a high school student and his family (including father John Goodman * and mother Julie Hagerty) through the college application process. The film that results – “American Scooby” with its title, identical soundtrack and right on down to the “straw wrapper blowing in the wind” (a substitute for that plastic bag of course) is obviously a huge dig at AMERICAN BEAUTY. Apparently this is because Director Sam Mendes put down Solondz’s work so file this under pay-back time.

* Goodman, again. He is surely the meta-man to go to for fictional film appearances!

Stab” in SCREAM 2 (Dir. Wes Craven, 1997) Robert Rodriguez filmed the film-within-a-film here that dramatized the events of the first SCREAM. Also it should be noted that SCREAM 3 which was the series concluder also featured the fictional series concluder “Stab 3 : Return to Woodsboro“.

Tristram Shandy” in TRISTHAM SHANDY : A COCK AND BULL STORY
(Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2005)

Raving Beauty” in CECIL B. DEMENTED (Dir. John Waters, 2001)

Dishonorable Mention :

S1m0ne (Dir. Andrew Niccol, 2002) Computer generated actress Simone (Rachel Roberts) created by washed-out film maker Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) stars in 3 fictional films – “I Am Pig“, “Sunrise Sunset“, and “Eternity Forever“. What we see of them is just as unconvincing as she is.

Jack Slater IV” in LAST ACTION HERO (Dir. John McTiernan, 1993) The less said about this Schwarzenegger dud the better. Don’t know why I even brought it up.

Time Over Time” in AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (Dir. Joe Roth, 2001) Diddo.

Send your favorite film-within-a-film to

boopbloop7@gmail.com

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DVD Babble Blurb Bash-tacular!

I have seen a lot of recent DVDs over the last few months that I haven’t been blogged about so I thought it would be good to take a break from the summer sequel season and round up a handful and square them off. I tried to keep it in a brief blurb format but since this is film BABBLE the reviews of course wind on and on. Let’s start with –

New Release DVD Recommendations :

LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (Dir. Clint Eastwood, 2006) Word was that this was vastly superior to FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS but this politically correct companion piece is roughly the same quality in my estimation. Told from the Japanese point of view entirely in their language with sub-titles LETTERS has the same sense of earnest honor and the same grey overcast tint. The standout characters are General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) the young Saigo (Kazunari Ninomira) who run into each other more than once in the tunnels between Mount Saribachi and the north side of the island as bombing and ground attacks by the American troops rage above. The melodrama involving the sympathy that emerges is handled deftly by Eastwood while the sentiment – such as the sunny Speilbergisms that sadly have defined the modern era war-film is kept in check. It may be too much to watch both FLAGS and LETTERS in one sitting or some double feature setting but both even with their glorified old-school faults (most likely from the screenplay written by CRASH * director Paul Hack-ish, oh – I mean Haggis) should not be missed.

* Incidentely my least favorite Best Picture Academy Award winning film ever!


49 UP (Dir. Michael Apted, 2005) The 7th in the excellent documentary series that began in 1964 with the bold statement – “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” and followed 14 British children catching up with them every (yep) 7 years. Since most people I know haven’t seen any of these movies I’d highly recommend the Up Series box-set which has the previous 6 films but honestly that’s not absolutely necessary to enjoy this movie. Plenty of clips from all the films inform and enhance the new material and don’t come off as redundant for those who have kept up. It would be too much for me to recount all the names, stories, and economic backgrounds so check out this Wikipedia entry if you are curious. Seeing this group of real people at the various stages of their lives through turmoil and peace makes for extremely satisfying viewing. Bring on 56 UP!

ROCKY BALBOA
(Dir. Sylvester Stallone, 2006)

It’s hard for me to believe this is making my recommendations list. I mean as a kid I hated the ROCKY movies, ridiculed them with other snotty pimpled faced friends, and grew up to believe them to be populist Narcissistic America at its most lame brained epic-wannabes. At some point when I got older I caught the original Best Picture winning ROCKY and found myself liking it. It came from my favorite era of cinema (the 70’s dummy!) and it was grittily touching in its portrayal of the boxing underdog making a name for himself. Then sequel-itis set in and the character became a machine who could never lose in glitzy gimmicky match-ups with Mr. T (III) and that evil Russian powerhouse played by Dolph Lundgren (IV) – yes that’s right – Rocky was going to win the Cold War! I never even saw ROCKY V (1990) – so why do I like and recommend ROCKY BALBOA? Because we have Stallone at his most likable – an aging humble simpleton running a restaurant named after his deceased wife Adrian (Talia Shire – who is not deceased; she just didn’t return to the series), telling the same fight stories, and brushing off daily indignities. It seems oddly necessary for Stallone to return to his Rocky roots – this is his best and most definable character and even with the contrived ‘inspired by a video game simulation Rocky gets an exhibition match with the current troubled champ Mason ‘The Line Dixon’ (Antonio Tarver)’ scenario, I hate to admit it but it works. Bring on JOHN RAMBO! Okay, no wait – that’s a bit much.

And now :

New Release DVD Disses :

BOBBY (Dir. Emilio Estevez, 2006) I had heard the news upon its theatrical release that this was a NASHVILLE remake – relocated to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with the RFK assassination the backdrop to a convoluted mishmash of over 20 cliched ’60s stereotypes. I held out ’til it came in that red Netflix envelope because of my love for political period pieces but damn was that description right on the money! The Altman derived framework doesn’t disguise the awful screenplay with ham-fisted base dialogue like Nick Cannon playing an insufferably idealistic Kennedy staffer emoting “now that Dr. King is gone – no one left but Bobby. No one.” Cannon joins an ace cast including Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence Fishborne, William H. Macy, Harry Belfonte, Christian Slater (one of the few non-idealist characters – he plays a base racist), and Estevez’s Daddy Martin Sheen. Not so ace actors here include Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Moore and Estevez himself. The cringe inducing cliches pile up – Ashton Kutcher does his worst acting ever (can’t believe that was possible) as a hippy that would look phony on Dragnet 1967– during a horrifyingly stupid acid trip sequence actually sits staring at an orange in his hand saying “no, you shut up!”, every TV set has a perfect quality picture of carefully chosen clips of RFK speeches and there’s even a MAGNOLIA-esque montage going from strained close-up shots actor to actor. Can’t deny the heart that went into this movie but all we have here is an A-list cast, B-list production values, C-list cliches, D-list overused soundtrack standards, and an F-list script. Somebody revoke Estevez’s cinematic license! He should be exiled to the TV movie circuit after this film felony.

SMOKIN’ ACES (Dir. Joe Carnahan, 2007) Another better than average cast slumming it through derivative drivel. Flashy Vegas gangster caper in which every one in the cast is after sleazy magician soon to be snitch Buddy Aces (Jeremy Piven – pictured on the left). Some are trying to protect him – (lawyer Curtis Armstrong, FBI agents Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta under the supervision of chief Andy Garcia) but everybody else is trying to kill him including Alicia Keys, Ben Affleck, Jason Bateman, and rapper Common – okay yeah so it’s not A-list but most of them are still better than the material in this worn entry into the PULP FICTIONGET SHORTYLOCK STOCKGO sweepstakes that expired over a decade ago. Kind of like Shane Black’s also post-dated glib witless KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005) SMOKIN’ ACES is a lesson in how quick cutting and hip-hopisms don’t ensure a clever crafty meta-movie. Just say Tarenti-NO to this piece of pop-nonsense.

This post (especially the disses) is dedicated to Good Morning America critic Joel Siegel (1943-2007). He became a film babble hero when he walked out of a screening of CLERKS II last summer. Knowing his days were numbered he figured he didn’t want to waste his last hours on that crap. The fact that it pissed off Kevin Smith was the icing on the cake! Check out Roger Ebert’s heartfelt tribute.


More later…

The Summer Of The So-So Sequel

“Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness.”
– Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN : AT WORLD’S END

Last week all them there critic folk dumped on SHREK THE THIRD, the week before that they dumped on PIRATES 3, before that they dumped all over SPIDERMAN 3 so I can’t wait for them to dump on OCEAN’S 13! Then stand back for what RUSH HOUR 3 has got coming!

Okay so sure these are products of franchise blockbuster seasonal thing, sure – but does movie medriocrity have to be so slickly blatant? I guess so – here goes :

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN : AT WORLD’S END (Gore Verbinski, 2007)

Man I was dreading this. I was so indifferent to PIRATES 2 (informal short title) I didn’t post a review so this time out upon hearing it was just under 3 hours and word that it was another convoluted exercise in excess I was looking forward to it about as much as I was to a dental appointment (which incidently I had earlier the same day). Not to say the flick is a total waste – there is a fine cast of good actors (Depp, Bill Nighy, Stellen Skarsguard, Mackenzie Cook, etc.) who wade their way through the muck and provide some solid moments but woo-wee! All the lame jokes, un-affecting fight scenes, and pointless attempts at romaticizing map-mythology with supposed sacred artifacts holding eternal power just left me bombastically bored. I did however like the Keith Richards cameo (as Jack Sparrow’s father no less). I heard there was a bonus scene like the other PIRATES had after the credits but at the 2 hour 45 mark I was dying to get the hell out of the theater – bet you will be too.

So that’s the #1 movie in the country – now for the #6 movie (yep, how’s that for a seque?) :


WAITRESS (Dir. Adrienne Shelly, 2007) Keri Russell is Jenna, a small town waitress with an abusive asshole husband (Jeremy Sisto) who may as well be always clad in a wife-beater sleveless t-shirt. She escapes her miserable existence by dreaming of new pie recipes but that may be harder to do since she finds out she’s pregnant. Her fellow waitresses at the pie diner (Cheryl Hines and the director herself Adrienne Shelly) provide some solace – Hines with her wise-cracks – “good luck on your 5 minute date, don’t forget to wear a 5 minute condom!” and Shelly with her affable hang-dog quirkiness. None of this matters as much as Jenna’s new infatuation with her doctor (Nathan Fillion) who may just be who she’s looking for. Meanwhile Andy Griffith puts in a rare film performance as the cranky old diner owner who of course spews weary wisdom before gobbling down a piece of the plentiful pie. Funny without being cloying WAITRESS may have an ending that’s too pat but it achieves its “feel-good movie” goal and while I almost expected an announcer for the Lifetime channel to tell me what’s coming up next over the end credits I still smiled at the earnest effort.

Now as usual some new release DVD reviews. Dig in kids! :

FAY GRIM
(Dir. Hal Hartley, 2006) Hartley’s HENRY FOOL (1997) was one of the best independent movies of the 90’s. To make a follow-up (don’t want to call it a sequel) now comes off as one of the oddest decisions in recent film history. What’s odder is the film itself – a twisted, contrived, and frustrating series of espionage capers. That’s right Hartley took the unique absorbing picture he painted in FOOL and made it into a rote spy thriller. Parker Posey returns as the title character and again proves she can carry a movie – it’s just unfortunate it’s this meandering mumbo-jumbo.

It is nice to see Posey get back to her indie roots after such mainstream turns as YOU’VE GOT MAIL and SUPERMAN RETURNS – I just wish Hartley’s heart were more into it. After being told of Fool’s (Thomas Jay Ryan – who only appears briefly) death Fay makes a deal with an Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum – who looks very tired) to get her brother Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) out of jail while she goes to Paris to retrieve the missing possibly world-threating confession journals of Fool’s. That’s all I’m going to write about the damn numbing plot. Action scenes are ham-fisted and mostly made up of freeze frame still shots and purposely not showing us the actual moments of impact. The result is we are not convinced and don’t care about what’s going on. I know I didn’t. I believe I need to re-watch HENRY FOOL to get the sour taste out of my mouth from this dim grim (sorry – couldn’t help it) mess.

THIEVES LIKE US (Robert Altman, 1974) Having been an Altman fan for most of my life I was very curious about this movie. It was never available on VHS and I never came across it on TV so it was just a title in a filmography in some random film guide I would pick up from time to time. It’s still glossed over in Altman’s Wikipedia entry the last time I checked. Curious because it comes from Altman’s most acclaimed and glorious period (the 70’s, stupid) – I mean its right smack between CALIFORNIA SPLIT and THE LONG GOODBYE so what was the hold-up? Even more curious is that it’s really good and should be more than just noted – it’s a movie to savor.

Just released by Paramount on DVD mere months after Altman’s death we can finally see Keith Carradine, John Schuck, and Bert Remsen play bank-robbing ex-felons in Mississippi in the 30’s. Hitting over 30 banks they build up quite a reputation as evidenced in the radio reports and newspaper headlines they grab. Along the way Carradine falls for Altman regular Shelley Duvall, Remsen marries a frumpy beautician, and Schuck gets drunker and drunker. The real meat on the plate here is the mundune every day life between the stick-ups where Coke bottles are clutched, bad jokes are told, and the notion of settling down is as daunting as the fear of being caught by the law. The only special feature on the DVD is a commentary recorded by Altman reportedly in the late 90’s but it’s the only extra it needs to have.

In my adventures in Altman appraisal since the great man’s death I’ve put together this handy list –

THE ROBERT ALTMAN REPORATORY COMPANY (or stock company as Ebert calls it) ROLE CALL :

For the most part I’ve stuck to his movies – the TANNER series and it’s follow-up being the only exceptions. Also this is far from complete – the noting of everyone who puts in a brief cameo or just walks by in THE PLAYER (’92) who is in another Altman movie would take all day – sorry Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher! I don’t ignore THE PLAYER (how can I?) but I tried to get the most relevant down. Stand up when your name is called thespians!

Rene Auberjonois (pictured left) – MASH (’70), BREWSTER McCLOUD (’70), McCABE & MRS. MILLER (’71), IMAGES (’72), THE PLAYER (as himself) : Sure he may be better known from TV gigs like Benson and STAR TREK : DEEP SPACE NINE but it’s his work during Altman’s great early ’70’s run especially as Father Mulcahy in MASH that put him on the movie map.
Ned Beatty NASHVILLE (’75), COOKIE’S FORTUNE (’99)
Karen Black
NASHVILLE, COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME JIMMY DEAN JIMMY DEAN (’82)
Keith Carradine
McCABE & MRS. MILLER, THIEVES LIKE US, NASHVILLE
Geraldine Chaplin NASHVILLE, BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, A WEDDING (’78)
Bud Cort
(pictured on the right) – BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH– Only 2 movies but what a 2 movies to make a mark in! Forget about Harold for a bit and give Cort his due! BREWSTER McCLOUD is sadly still unavailable on DVD but there is a rumored release set for later this year that I pray is not just a rumor.
Sandy DennisTHAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK (’69),COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME JIMMY DEAN JIMMY DEAN
Paul DooleyA WEDDING, A PERFECT COUPLE (’79), HealtH (’80), POPEYE (’80), O.C. AND STIGGS (’85)
Robert Duvall
COUNTDOWN (’68) MASH, THE GINGERBREAD MAN (’98)
Shelley DuvallBREWSTER McCLOUD, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, THIEVES LIKE US, NASHVILLE, BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, 3 WOMEN, POPEYE
Henry GibsonTHE LONG GOODBYE (’73), NASHVILLE, A PERFECT COUPLE, HealtH
Elliot Gould MASH, THE LONG GOODBYE, NASHVILLE (as himself), THE PLAYER (as himself)
Sally Kellerman (above) – BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, THE PLAYER, PRET-A-PORTER (’94)
Lyle Lovett
THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS (’93), PRET-A-PORTER, COOKIE’S FORTUNE (also had songs in DR. T & THE WOMEN-2000) : Lovett was creepily effective as the plain-clothed cop on Robbin’s back in THE PLAYER but you’ve really got to give it up for his crazed cake chef in SHORT CUTS.
Julianne Moore – SHORT CUTS, COOKIE’S FORTUNE


Michael MurphyCOUNTDOWN, THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK, BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, KANSAS CITY (’96), (also the TV projects TANNER ’88 and TANNER ON TANNER) : Definitely one of Altman’s most reliable and solid players. Murphy has a handle on a particular late 20th century American male persona – polished and poised on the outside but in the inside a troubled tortured soul. Well used in the undeservably underrated Tanner series.
Paul Newman
BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, QUINTET
Bert RemsenTHIEVES LIKE US, BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, A WEDDING, THE PLAYER
Tim Robbins THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS, PRET A PORTER
John Schuck (pictured on the right) – BREWSTER McCLOUD, MASH, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, THIEVES LIKE US : Speaking of under-rated, Schuck is a wonderful unsung character actor who added much to Altman’s golden age. However you may recognize him more if he had Klingon makeup on.
Tom Skerrit MASH, THIEVES LIKE US
Lily Tomlin (pictured left) – NASHVILLE, THE PLAYER (as herself) , SHORT CUTS, A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (’06) : One of the biggest comedy stars of the 70’s, Tomlin displayed her best acting under Altman’s tuteledge. For her to be happily on-hand for his last hurrah was a beautiful thing indeed.
Nina Van Pallandt – THE LONG GOODBYE, A WEDDING, QUINTET, O.C. AND STIGGS

More later…