DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog

Friday, 2 December 2016

Short Cuts

Robert Altman’s deliriously-intricate LA mosaic is just about the last word in ensemble film. With effortless style, Altman’s observational approach to the collection of Raymond Carver writings used to inspire this film creates a uniquely disarming melodrama which starts out as a light satirical farce, then sharply turning into dead serious emotional powerhouse.

Short Cuts
(1994) dir. Robert Altman
Starring: Tim Robbins, Anne Archer, Julianne Moore, Lily Tomlin, Fred Ward, Andie McDowell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Chris Penn, Matthew Modine, Jack Lemmon, Peter Gallagher, Madeline Stowe, Lyle Lovett

By Alan Bacchus

The work put into plotting out the movements and crossovers of the two dozen characters which circle the city of Los Angeles in the 48 hours or so of this movie is mind-boggling. The core stories which carry most of the weight is Finnegan Family whose son is hit by a car and is hospitalized much to the distress of their parents (Andie MacDowell and Bruce Davison). Typifying the fine line between tragedy and comedy in the picture is Lyle Lovett’s character, as a baker who torments the couple through crank calls to their home phone for not picking up the birthday cake ordered for the child.

Secondly, there’s the trio of Fred Ward, Buck Henry and Huey Lewis who, while on a fishing trap discover a dead body floating in the water. Instead of calling it into the police, the men continue their vacation unfazed by the murder only to report it after the trip. Like the Finnegan predicament Altman deftly turns the grisly discovery into a situation darkly comedic. This segment famously turned up as a separate filmic adaption in Ray Lawrence’s 2006 drama Jindabyne. The two films, while based on the same source material, couldn’t be more dissimilar.

Other memorable characters such as Lily Tomlin as a waitress who’s ogled by the trio of fishermen, but also becomes the one who hits the Finnegan’s child with her car; Tim Robbins, who then appeared in many of Hollywood’s memorable films of the era, as an adulterer/policeman who takes his own self-absorbed jealously of his wife out on the family dog; and breakout newbie Julianne Moore and Matthew Modine as another bickering, philandering couple who distract themselves from their own malaise by partying and drinking heavily in their Hollywood Hills home.

Of course these snippets only scratch the surface of the intricate plot machinations which run its course over the picture’s breezy three-hour running time. Despite over 20 years between M.A.S.H. and Short Cuts Altman’s well-honed cinematic techniques still feel fresh and innovative. The observing style of Altman which famously uses overlapping dialogue tracks to move the audience’s point of view between characters and storylines becomes raison d’etre of the film. Same with the then-unfashionable zoom lenses which elegant complement the audio techniques.

What emerges organically from the stylized plotting, myriad of characters and overt production techniques is Altman’s cutting indictment of middle class triviality. By the time the imposition of the citywide Earthquake unifies his characters – an act of God famously recreated as a shower of frogs by Paul Thomas Anderson in Magnolia – we come to pity each of the characters and revile them for their self-absorption. But we’re saved from the bleakness of Anderson’s Magnolia, the audience of Short Cuts can always take pleasure in our superiority to the vacuum of Altman’s characters.

Short Cuts is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection.

Friday, 18 November 2016

McCabe and Mrs. Miller

For those new to 'McCabe and Mrs. Miller' it can be hard to relate to its reputation as the anti-Western that shook up the genre. Today, a non-traditional film like this would be common place, but in 1971, at the beginnings of the New Hollywood movement Altman’s shaggy Hippie Western was as strange an anomaly as could be.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Sully

The humble workmanlike nature of pilot Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger who flew the Miracle on the Hudson plane into the Hudson River in Jan 2009 sets the tone for Clint Eastwood’s no frills dissection of the events following the famed event. There’s no doubt this is a film about a hero, but Eastwood’s emotionally-detached approach plays against heighten state of action which belies other recent conservative-value hero films of late ('Deepwater Horizon', 'Captain Phillips', 'Lone Survivor', or even his own 'American Sniper'). 'Sully' is the best of these pictures.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Christine

A horror film of a completely different kind, Rebecca Hall is mesmerizing in Antonio Campos’ sobering cinematic rendering of the true story or Christine Chubbock, a Sarasota FL news reporter who committed suicide on air in 1974. Campos lets the audience’s own morbid curiosity and fascination with death and violence create the unique and extremely uncomfortable psychological journey.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

Often regarded as revered Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi’s first masterpiece, this pre-war picture personifies the poetic elegance of the ‘Mizoguchi-style’. An epic/tragic romance of a struggling actor and his supportive lover, Mizuguchi crafts a melodramatic love affair strained by the pressures of finance, class, family expectations and the demands of artistic life.

Friday, 7 October 2016

A Taste of Honey

One of the seminal British kitchen sink dramas of the 60’s, A Taste of Honey, resounds today on the strength of Rita Tushingham’s delightful screen debut and author Shelagh Delany’s taboo-confronting script which looks at interracial romance, homosexuality and teen pregnancy with delicate earthy realism.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Night Train to Munich


Carol Reed’s WWII espionage pot boiler confidently stands as tall as any of the celebrated Hitchcock war thrillers of the era. While this picture predates his more acclaimed post war pictures, The Third Man and Odd Man Out, it sizzles with the same kind of high stakes urgency.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Woman in the Dunes


'Woman in the Dunes', the third film from Japanese provocateur Hiroshi Teshigahara, is an indefinable film for genre and full of glorious Japanese strangeness, a captivating two-hander about a man imprisoned in a sand dune with a woman with no means of escape. Both a thriller, and meditative art film -  "Knife in the Water" meets "L'Avventura"- the film also has the distinction of receiving a Best Director Oscar nomination – then a rare feat for a foreign language film.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Night and Fog

Despite numerous other documentaries on the subject, as a masterwork of craft and technique, Alain Renais’ landmark Night and Fog still evokes the mind-boggling obscenity of the Holocaust with maximum impact. Renais forces us to witness the horror and digest those horrible images which, once seen, never leave one’s mind. While the breadth of Claude Lanzmann’s work is missing from Night and Fog, Renais’ vision in documenting the Holocaust is close to being the first and final word on the subject.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Alexander Hall’s thoroughly delightful ‘heavenly’ comedy, a Capra-esque tale of a deceased boxer who’s given a second chance at life by his angel/mentor Mr. Jordan by being able to inhabit the bodies of other recently deceased persons, is perhaps most famous for its notable remake as Warren Beatty’s ‘Heaven Can Wait’. But as produced under the studio system (Columbia), Mr. Jordan represents that unmistakable pre-war Hollywood magical combination of swift screwball comedy, dry black humour and high concept fantasy.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

The Naked Island

Two lowly Japanese farmers repetitively climbing an intense incline slope from the seaside shore to the top of a mountain to water their measly crops is the signature image of Kaneto Shindô’s social realist experimental film. Shindô observes his characters' backbreaking work with the same kind of salt of the earth honour as in the Soviet propaganda films if the 1920’s. Shindô’s cinematic eye triumphs over his self-imposed dialogue-free obstruction to achieve a woefully tragic slice of Japanese peasant life.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

In a Lonely Place

As a Hollywood screenwriter burdened with a hair trigger temper and seemingly psychopathic predilection to violence, Humphrey Bogart delivers one of his great late-career performances. 'In a Lonely Place' marries the mysterious tension of the unknown in Hitchcock’s 'Suspicion' and 'Shadow of Doubt' with director Nicholas Ray’s interest in brooding and damaged enigmatic characters.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Strike up the Band

Mickey Rooney is an electrifying dynamo in this foot-tapping, often astonishing musical which helps cement for me why the pre-war period was the absolute creative peak of Hollywood. This Rooney/Garland vehicle, the second of many musical pairings charts the journey of the young teenage pair to make something of their fledgling big band. The magic of the Busby Berkeley choreography matched with Rooney’s electrifying performance, as singer/dancer/actor /musician and Judy Garland’s youthful energy gives this film a pulse rarely seen in movies today.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Only Angels Have Wings

The exotic lands of South America provide the location for one of the big adventure films of Hollywood’s most famous year (1939). Cary Grant as an adventure-seeking enigmatic airline pilot running mail into dangerous regions of an unnamed town in the Andes established his Hollywood star status as a true leading man, game for comedy, romance and adventure. Howard Hawks’ recurring themes of male comraderie and his knack for wordy rhythmic dialogue elevate this straight-ahead actioner into something memorable and resonant.