Tuesday, February 27, 2007

One marathon overlaps another

The Brattle Movie-Watch-a-Thon is finished. Go here if you would still like to make a donation. With these films, I reached 19 Brattle films seen and 25 elsewhere, which means 63 "points" total (or 31.5, depending on whether Brattle films count for two or other films count for ½)

Actually, that "elsewhere" number could be as high as 31, since I saw six films in the sci-fi marathon before midnight, with no sleeping done until 2am or so. There could have been some really sick numbers, but I opted not to try and survive the Brattle's "Schlock Around the Clock" marathon, which would have started at 9:30pm on Saturday and run straight through until 12:30pm Sunday (overlapping the start of the Sci-Fi Marathon by a half-hour). I don't know if I have that kind of strength.

I've avoided visiting the sci-fi marathon's message board all week, wanting to organize my thoughts a little and just not looking forward to the annual "watching bad movies is not nearly as much fun as watching good movies" argument. And, of course, I'm going to have bad things to say about Trail of the Screaming Forehead, because that's a movie just designed to irritate me - watching movies that are deliberately bad is a much more painful experience than watching a bad movie whose filmmakers really felt they were making he best movie they can.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2007 at The Harvard Film Archive (Cold War Films) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

D.O.A. has one of the classic mystery hooks - a man given a "luminous toxin" searches for his murderer before the slow-acting poison finishes its work. It's one of those ideas so simple and brilliant that anyone who tries to use it at a later date must obviously be doing a remake whether it is credited as such (the Dennis Quaid film of the same name) or simply uses it as an obvious source of inspiration (the godawful Crank).

This version is an obvious B movie, and initially exhibits a lot of that kind of pulp cinema's weaknesses: After the scene that sets up the flashback, much of the first act is actually clumsy and annoying - the protagonist takes off to San Francisco to escape his clingy girlfriend/secretary, and while she's annoying enough that you can't really blame him, the sound effects as he looks at other women are outright juvenile enough that he becomes a pain, too. But then we see his drink switched, he goes to doctors and learns his fate, and the movie kicks into high gear. It's like a season of 24 crammed into eighty-odd minutes in its propulsive urgency. Where many noirs are hard-boiled, D.O.A. lets its characters wear their desperation on their sleeves, so that even the scenes with the annoying secretary become poignant by the end.

Rocketship X-M

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 February 2007 at The Harvard Film Archive (Cold War Films) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I'm not sure which is more annoying about Rocketship X-M - the obviously awful science or the jaw-droppingly ridiculous way in which it handles its one female character. The latter probably has some sort of basis in fact, but it's still sort of stunning for a modern audience to watch a film like this where the woman scientist has obviously proved her brilliance only to be patronized at every turn.

Is that more annoying than a rocket designed for a round-trip to the moon being nearly able to get to Mars and back because the passengers overslept? Maybe not. In any event, it's a deeply stupid movie, no matter how interesting what they actually find on Mars is.

The Eagle

* * * (out of four)
Seen 15 February 2007 at the Institute for Contemporary Art (The Alloy Orchestra) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Rudolph Valentino is a name most film fans know, even if they couldn't pick him out of a lineup they way they could with, say, Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. He's a vaguely remembered symbol of roaring twenties virility who died too young to appear in talking pictures or grow into more substantial roles. People vaguely remember that he did a couple of movies where he played a sheik. But, then again, how many of us can expect that much after we've been dead and gone for seventy-five years?

The Eagle is a fun Valentino movie - he romances the daughter of the man who stole his family's land, and we buy it, because Valentino does project a great deal of charm and come off as a believable lover and warrior. He probably would have made a great Batman in another era, and Vilma Banky has genuine chemistry with him. There's a fair amount of swashbuckling and derring-do, but Valentino and Banky are the core of the movie and there's no real slowdown when he's pretending to be her French tutor.

The Alloy Orchestra contributed a new score to sister group Box 5's restoration; it's as much fun as usual - I wish more contemporary filmmakers would hire Alloy for a score, because they have a great knack for letting the audience know when it's time to get down to business. The print is very nice, if not as eye-popping as the work done on Phantom of the Opera. All in all, a fun time at the movies.

Ghost Rider

* * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2007 at AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

You've got to feel kind of sorry for Nicolas Cage here. He's a huge comic book nut - he took his stage name from Marvel's Power Man, he and his son are co-writing a comic for Virgin, he was attached to play Superman when Tim Burton was going to be directing, and named his youngest child Kal-El after the man of steel. So I figure he really deserves a good comic book movie, rather than this bland thing.

The shame of it is, there's enough right in the setup to make it disappointing. Writer/director Mark Stephen Johnson has the right idea in making it feel more like Blade with western influences than other superhero movies, and casts people who are fun to watch - Cage makes Johnny Blaze eccentric without making him a freak show. Eva Mendes would be fun even if the producers had allowed her to button her shirt ("Eva Mendes's cleavage" really should get a co-starring credit) - there's a funny scene where she's waiting for Blaze in a restaurant and pulls a magic eight ball out of her purse to ask whether he'll show, and we buy this random, goofy thing because we like her. And Sam Elliott as the mentor character - Sam Elliott's a gimme. You can't screw him up.

Sadly, the film is bereft of interesting bad guys, so while, yeah, Ghost Rider is pretty neat, there's not much of a story to stick him into. The character's also a pretty goofy visual: I remember when the trailer first came out, I figure that that's as good as you're going to get Ghost Rider to look, and it was still kind of silly. Sometimes the character looks really good, and sometimes the expensive technology looks like something from The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra set afire.

But, some good might still come of this: Cage is talking about producing a She-Hulk movie to star Mendes. I'd be all over that.

The General

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2007 at the Institute for Contemporary Art (Alloy Orchestra) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

If you like film, then this should be a rule: If The General is playing in your neighborhood, you do see it. Period, end of story. If The General is playing with the Alloy Orchestra accompanying, there's a good chance of a "blackout" situation, where one has the tickets in hand even before quite realizing that they were on sale.

Which is as it should be.

Music & Lyrics

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2007 at Regal Fenway #12 (first-run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

There's something almost perversely clever about having the sanest person in a movie be the washed-up 80s pop star. Hugh Grant winds up playing the straight man in this movie, a thinly disguised "other guy from Wham!" who has a chance for a comeback when a loopy pop tart asks him to write a song for her and he recruits his substitute cleaning lady to write the lyrics.

It's a lightweight little romantic comedy, and that's no bad thing. Indeed, at one point during the movie, Grant's character defends such things, if not directly: A good, catchy three-minute pop song will affect millions more people than even the greatest novels, so don't apologize for liking or creating them. They work, and that's all that needs to be said.

Music & Lyrics works. Not transcendently, so that you'll remember much of it long afterwards, but in the moment? It elicits smiles and occasionally surprises you with something clever. Which is all it needs to do.

Happy Birthday Daffy

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2007 at the Brattle Theater (Bugs Bunny Film Festival) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Ninety minutes of Daffy Duck cartoons, in all his various incarnations - the deliciously egocentric Chuck Jones version who works as a perfect foil for Bugs Bunny, the fast-talking, genuinely daffy fellow, the victim of circumstance.

Daffy doesn't work on his own; he needs a straight man. But we love him, even as he sells out Bugs Bunny because he is "a duck bent on self-preservation". He's got the best lines and his bill is one of the funniest bits of maulable cartoon anatomy ever devised.

Forbidden Planet

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

The first film in this year's Sci-Fi Film Festival (after the obligatory Duck Dodgers cartoon) is one I just reviewed a month or so ago. Still good stuff: Warner does appear to have made new prints available, and it looks even nicer on-screen than it did on HD-DVD.

Full review (still) at HBS.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

I love this movie. Watching it with the marathon audience, after getting into a bit of an online shouting match with people who were reading to simply dismiss it for being anime (animated films are okay, Japanese films are okay, but put the two together and it apparently makes perfect sense to just dismiss them out of hand), I cringed a little, because I know that it plays into what a lot of people don't like about many anime films - it's dense with ideas and visuals, it doesn't stop to explain, it makes seemingly incongruous choices.

But that's what's great about it - it's a full world, and even though the audience initially laughs at "I Can't Stop Loving You" playing as a the city is laid waste, it's perfect - it prevents us from enjoying the destruction too much, and it encapsulates the theme of unrequited (and unrequitable) love perfectly

And some people passed on it because of the tools used to make it. Fools.

Full review at HBS.

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is a movie whose title garners low expectations, and yet it somehow manages to not meet them. It gives us both a NASA android prototype going haywire and the aliens who shot it down kidnapping Earth women for breeding stock, but never succeeds in making either really fun, unless you enjoy laughing at how something is badly produced. In that case, sure, go ahead and laugh at the scientists zipping around Puerto Rico on their motorscooter, the static and poorly-acted scenes on the alien ship, or the clumsy and non-threatening robot.

It's easy to say that one shouldn't expect much, but even with such a silly premise - and maybe even with such an obviously limited budget - the filmmakers could do better. This film is seldom even bad in a way where one can really soak in the badness and admire the effort.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

This one will get a full review at some point in the near future, but for right now, I'll just say I liked it. It's the story of an engineer who builds a robot using himself as a model, only to find himself eventually struggling with his creation for control over his own life - with the woman they love caught in the middle of the increasingly bizarre tug-of-war. It's told from the robot's perspective, which makes the narration interesting: "Puzzlehead" attempts to describe the sensation of being reactivated after a long time switched off, or having his autonomy neutered, and it's an intriguing idea. Necessary, too, because otherwise Puzzlehead's narration might humanize him, so these bits which emphasize his non-humanity are important.

The story this narration is wrapped around is just the right kind of creepy, noirish stuff, too: A messy, occasionally violent game of alternating identity theft that not only intrigues the audience in terms of what the next step in the dance will be, but eventually leads us to wonder what effect this will have on the robot's moral parameters, since he is like a child learning from every action. That's what makes the movie unique, in the end - it's neither an evil robot or exploited robot film, but a psychological thriller in which one of the characters is an android.

Flash Godon - Rocketship

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

This is why comic books can't be adapted directly into movies, if you figure each issue of the comic is equivalent to an episode of a Saturday serial. By themselves, I imagine each episode of "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe" was a fun experience, full of action and intrigue and a new element to be added to the plot. With a week between them, they're each exciting and the audience can let the bad parts fall away by the time they come back for the next installment. Take in a lot of the installments back-to-back, even (or, perhaps, especially) edited down to feature length, and the absurdity accumulates, the reversals piling on so quickly that one laughs at what the creators expect us to buy rather than just running along with it.

Also? As much as I can intellectually applaud the filmmakers for giving the women as much skin to ogle as the men, I'm sure that the ladies will agree with me when I say that some of these people really should be wearing pants.

Trail of the Screaming Forehead

* * (out of four)
Seen 18 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

To be fair to Trail of the Screaming Forehead, it's nowhere near as bloody awful as the writer/director's previous genre spoof, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, which sets a low standard almost impossible to live down to. Indeed, Forehead has a few moments of genuine humor, even as Larry Blamire beats his two or three jokes to death with repetition. But even if Forehead were executed well, I strongly suspect it would be obsolete. That's not the fault of Blamire, but three blokes from England: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright have killed this sort of parody dead.

They didn't do it alone, of course, but Shaun of the Dead will likely be seen as a turning point in the coming years: It's the moment when comedians stopped taking the easy way out, and instead of just highlighting and exaggerating a genre's flaws, put their efforts into making a movie that obeyed the rules of the genre, but applied them intelligently while still making the audience bust a gut.

Word has it that Hot Fuzz is more of the same. Heck, the next film in the line-up, Slither, is easily much funnier than Forehead, and rather than mocking the things that monster movies have often done badly, it embraces what's done well. Forehead has a little game, but unless the audience is going to laugh non-stop at "Look! Monster movies in the fifties and sixties were poorly acted with stilted dialog, and this is even more poorly acted with worse dialog!", it's got fifteen minutes of jokes to stretch into an hour and a half of movie.

Mel Brooks got away with this sort of thing for a long time, but at his best, he knew he had to have more. Sure, this form of parody isn't dead yet - "____ Movie" keeps coming out - but with any luck, it's on its way out.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

As I said, this is great fun. It's funny, thrilling, full of creatively disgusting visuals, witty line readings.

And, it kept me awake between midnight and two. Always a good indication a movie is doing something right.

Full review at HBS.

Chopping Mall

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

Here, I had a little more trouble staying awake. Three A.M. is a killer, isn't it? Same thing happened at another one of these - I don't remember falling asleep, but the cast seems to be mysteriously reduced without my knowing how someone bit the dust.

Ah, well. Not like I missed something really great. Security robots go kill-crazy thanks to a lightning strike, and of course a bunch of teenagers are partying in the mall where they work after hours. Think the virgins will survive? Damn right.

I've seen worse. But I'm not going to seek it out to find out what I missed.

The Stepford Wives

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

There may have been sleeping here, too. But The Stepford Wives is the sort of movie where you can drift off for a few minutes and come back and still not necessarily feel like you missed anything. Not that it feels padded or over-extended; it just procedes at a steady pace, working a slow build until, by the time it gets to the big revelations, it feels inevitable.

Part of this, of course, is that as I mentioned when I saw the remake a couple years ago, everyone knows what The Stepford Wives is and what it's about. Thirty years ago, would it have been so obvious? Maybe. The end would have been just as chilling, though, and that's what counts.

Blade Runner (Original Theatrical Cut)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

Supposedly, Warner Brothers and the various other entities that are involved with this film are planning something special for its twenty-fifth anniversary, probably another special edition (this would, I guess, be version 3.0). The talk was that we likely won't see this original theatrical version again, and we weren't supposed to talk about it being shown.

Well, okay, I'm breaking that. I didn't sign anything. It played, it was good, and the voice-over isn't nearly as terrible as the reputation it has acquired.

Dark Star

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

Heh. It's been a while since I saw this, probably some late weekend night my sophomore year of college, so, geez, twelve years or so. I've got to find time to revisit this sort of movie every once in a while, rather than just waiting for them to show up at the Brattle or marathon or the like. I've just got too many movies on my shelf.

And that doesn't even include this one, although it probably will sooner or later. It's a fun, goofy little movie that's probably smarter than a lot of more serious science fiction films. John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon have ideas in their head, and even if they're often cribbed from others like Ray Bradbury. This is way before John Carpenter got pigeonholed as a horror director; willing to try anything in this student film which he expanded into a feature.

Monster House

* * * (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

I liked this movie in theaters; quite a bit, really, although upon seeing it at the marathon, it's clear that a great chunk of the appeal was technology. Scenes which looked awesome in 3-D look merely neat here.

And what's this doing at a sci-fi marathon, anyway? It's a cute little movie, but if the organizers felt they needed something cute, recent, animated, and kid-friendly, why not Robots?

Full review at HBS.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 19 February 2007 at the Somerville Theater #1 (SF/32)

Somehow I'd never seen RoboCop before. That is a crying shame; it's as smart as it is over-the-top and violent, making good use of the news story devices Verhoven would later use to excess in Starship Troopers. The corporatization of services like law enforcement and the military, which seemed perhaps a little paranoid when the film was first made, seems prescient today, and more credit than I expected for making the corporate politics more interesting than I expected.

Indeed, it may seem kind of odd, but the thing that stuck with me from this movie was the observation of how corporate executives have evolved. The first generation is founders, people who had ideas and wanted to do remarkable things. The second generation is loyal to the company, though they often see the company as an entity whose survival is more important than the goals for which it was founded. The third generation is simply mercenary, playing politics as a game and out for nothing but their own gain.

Everything else - the willingness to accept authoritarianism, the idea that crime will spin so out of control as to require radical solutions, the nifty action, the idea that all the new technology is useless unless it has a human heart - that's good too, and just goes to show what a great, classic movie this is, even if it did spawn less impressive follow-ups.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Romance, mostly

REMINDER: The Brattle Movie-Watch-a-Thon is in progress. Drop me a line if you would like to sponsor me, go here to make a donation, and check back on a near-daily basis to see how well I'm doing. With these films, I reached 18 Brattle films seen and 19 elsewhere, which means 55 "points" total (or 27.5, depending on whether Brattle films count for two or other films count for ½)

Romance became more of a theme than I intended, with the non-Brattle films sort of fitting into the category if you push had enough. Okay, you have to push real hard.

Ugh. Late, and I've still got the end of the Watch-a-Thon period to write up. G'night.

The Princess Bride

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 9 February 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Classic Romance II) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I suppose that there are people out there who need The Princess Bride described to them, but I find that difficult to conceive. The film is a good-natured fairy tale packed with memorable characters and performances, along with swashbuckling fun. It's got just the right level of self- and genre-awareness, always able to dance around where things seem silly by virtue of good pacing and characters who refuse to be grimly serious just because that's the convention.

I find I've grown to appreciate the Peter Falk/Fred Savage bookends a bit more; identifying the story so definitively as something a grandfather tells to his grandson gives it a little more leeway for anachronism and self-referentiality, but William Goldman and Rob Reiner are always careful to never overplay that hand or even specifically connect the two. They're content to be clever without hitting the audience over the head with how clever they are.

The Mummy

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Classic Romance II) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I'll say it - I rather like the Stephen Sommers remake better than this original. It's not a bad movie, by any means, but at times it moves as slow as its title character (who suffers from rigor mortis), and its Western heroes are rather stiff themselves. It's difficult to get too terribly frightened by some of its threats.

On the flip side, it does have Karloff, tall and imposing and wearing an excellent makeup job to make him seem convincingly re-animated, dried out like a mummy but still able to walk and function in the living world. Zita Johnson is easy on the eyes as the target of both the hero's and villain's affections, not much of an actress but a striking presence. And even when it's at its most ludicrous, The Mummy at least seems to be making an effort toward believability, or at least cohesiveness, enough so that its trips into the realm of the macabre do have an edge of genuine creepiness.

The Bride of Frankenstein

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Classic Romance II)

Bride of Frankenstein starts off kind of slow, with an annoying old woman and a demonstration of Dr. Pretorius's successes in making miniature people that seem even more designed to pad the film's running time to seventy-five minutes than the opening scene with Shelley, Mary Wollestencraft, and Lord Byron. I admit, there are times when I watch it and wonder why I've always liked it so much.

But, man, does this movie pick up a head of steam. Its simple premise, that we all need love to survive and thrive, manifests itself in a number of ways, from the Monster growing smarter and more articulate from the friendship of the blind hermit to Frankenstein's wife fighting for his soul as Pretorius and the Monster try to harness his genius. In the end, it's unselfish, giving love that wins the day, and even the Monster knows it.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 10 February 2007 at Belmont Studio Theater (second-run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I'm no big fan of musicals; as I've commented before, they need to be perfect or they're just not going to work. Dreamgirls is a surprising exception to that: It's not perfect, but it avoids crashing and burning. Maybe it's because Dreamgirls is about a topic that specifically interests me.

I think part of it is that it's got more soul than most musicals. "Showtunes" is recognized as a specific genre, and it's a frequently insipid one, with hokey call-and-answer structures, dull orchestration, and bland, declarative lyrics that make for poor pop. Dreamgirls isn't just trying to tell a story with its songs, it's trying to capture a sound, and Motown is a great sound to capture. It doesn't hurt that a movie starring Beyonce Knowles openly snorts at "R&B" and features a fantastic scene where Eddie Murphy's character has a scene that epitomizes the evolution of pop music during the past forty years - James Brown soul buried under Lionel Richie blandness eventually bursts out as prototypical hip-hop. It doesn't end well in the story, but it's a beautiful thing to see.

As much as I don't much like musicals, I wish Bill Condon would stop being such a wuss and let his musicals be musicals. Chicago took pains to stage its musical numbers as the fevered imaginings of its main character, and even when Dreamgirls allows its characters to burst into song, it's often contained in a stage or some other venue where the audience might find singing "acceptable" or not out of place.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 February 2007 at AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Babel is a clever movie, though not nearly as painfully satisfied in its cleverness as the filmmakers' previous English-language film, 30 Grams. It hits its point hard - unless we communicate, the collisions of different cultures has the constant potential for disaster - but makes each of the individual stories compelling. Each story could probably be expanded enough to fill a movie on its own, but the tapestry is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Philadelphia Story

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 11 February 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Classic Romance II) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

The Philadelphia Story is darn-near perfect, a breezy romantic comedy from an era when such films were appreciated as more than simply disposable entertainment - it was nominated for and received several Academy Awards, and it may have deserved more. A part of me doesn't think it ends with the right pairings (or, indeed, that it needed to finish with pairing-off), but any disappointment I felt over the last couple minutes is of small magnitude, not nearly enough to tip the balance against the joy brought by the previous hundred and ten.

Two years ago, Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) and C. K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) had an acrimonious divorce. Now Tracy intends to marry George Kittredge (Josh Howard), a very serious former coal miner who worked his way to upper management, the polar opposite of the well-born and laid-back Haven. As the Lord family is one of the northeast's most prominent, Spy magazine wants pictures and a story from the wedding. To that end, they intend to send writer Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) in undercover - introduced by Haven, who will claim they are friends of Tracy's brother, an ambassador to a South American country who cannot make it back to the wedding. Tracy, being no dummy, twigs to the plot almost immediately, and has no interest in making their job easy.

Donald Odgen Stewart has famously claimed that the screenplay for The Philadelphia Story was the easiest money he ever earned, since there was nothing about Philip Barry's original play, which also starred Hepburn during its year-long run on Broadway, that needed changing. Whether that's true or false modesty, the film is filled with fast-paced, funny banter, opportunities for characters to steal scenes, and earnest observations on how relationships can fall apart. Director George Cukor and his cast take this material and fashion a movie whose comedy stops just short of zany (except when zany is really called for), but which can quickly take things down a notch to make sure the characters are taken seriously.

Full review at HBS.

Breaking and Entering

* * * (out of four)
Seen 12 February 2007 at Landmark Embassy Theater #3 (Classic Romance II) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Who would ever have thought that Anthony Mingella would direct a movie with parkour sequences? Seriously, that blows my mind. Almost as surprising is that Mingella directing a movie that feels less that seven hours in length.

Pretty decent little movie; nice performances by Jude Law, Robin Wright Penn, and Juliette Binoche.

Breakfast at Tiffany's

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Classic Romance II) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

A few years ago, I gave a set of cousins movie posters for Christmas presents. It'd been a while since I'd seen the film, so I was mostly choosing based upon the fantastically stylish design. Catching up with it, I wonder what my aunt and uncle thought about my pointing their sixteen-year-old daughter at a film about a gigolo falling in love with a call girl. It's a fantastic film, but, still...

The gigolo is Paul Varjak (George Peppard), a once-promising writer who moves into the apartment above Holly Goloightly (Audrey Hepburn). Holly probably enters "actress" or "model" on her tax returns (just as Paul likely enters "writer"), but supports herself one a hundred dollars a week to visit jailed mafioso Sally Tomato (Alan Reed) and pass a "weather report" on to his lawyer every Thursday, along with occasional fifties for "trips to the powder room". The two of them hit it off immediately and become fast friends, but their situations prevent them from acting on their attraction: Paul's "patron" (Patricia Neal) wants him to herself and Holly intends to land a millionaire for a husband, so that she can support her brother when he leaves the army (he's a bit slow).

Audrey Hepburn had several memorable roles in her career, though this is undoubtedly her signature part. Holly Golightly requires both cheerful pluck and fragile sadness, and part of what makes the film such a rewatchable delight is that even after the second time through, we can still take her simple, child-like enthusiasm at face value. There's a funny scene toward the end, well after we've learned that her history is darker than her flighty party-girl persona would suggest, where she lights up like a lantern upon seeing cameras, and it elicits simple, genuine laughter rather than thoughts on how being so chipper might be some sort of front. Hepburn presents Holly to us as sad, scared, and lonely, but doesn't let those traits entirely define her. She's genuinely charming and funny, and like Paul, we fall in love with her all over again every time we meet her.

Full review at HBS.

Annie Hall

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 February 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Classic Romance II)

Normally, old Woody Allen movies just make me upset with Woody Allen, for the vast amount of crap and mediocrity he's produced in the last fifteen years or so. Annie Hall is especially annoying in that regard - it's a very good movie, but it also brings into sharp relief what Diane Keaton's career has become. Annie Hall is a genuinely interesting, amusing, eccentric character. And now she just plays a succession of smart but flusterable mothers distinguishable primarily by which young actress with half the personality she had at their age plays her daughter. It's dispiriting, really.

It is interesting to notice that these earlier Woody Allen movies are more the work of a comedian than a filmmaker; Allen is basically telling jokes, stringing them together like a rambling stand-up act even as he uses filmic devices to make his jokes. I often wonder if the disappointment of Allen's later films is in part because as he became more of a filmmaker, he strayed from his roots as a comedian, and as good a director as he became, he was a great comedian.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Russian Fantastik Cinema, mainly

REMINDER: The Brattle Movie-Watch-a-Thon is in progress. Drop me a line if you would like to sponsor me, go here to make a donation, and check back on a near-daily basis to see how well I'm doing. With these films, I'm at 14 Brattle films seen and 16 elsewhere, which means 44 "points" total (or 22, depending on whether Brattle films count for two or other films count for ½)

Hollywood is not making the movie watch-a-thon thing easy. Seriously, would it kill them to release something that looks vaguely appealing? Smokin' Aces and The Messengers really never looked like much, but they at least had people I liked behind the cameras. This weekend looked positively barren aside from the Brattle's enjoyably off-beat Classic Romances program.

It's like Hollywood is making a deliberate effort to make the time period between Christmas and the Oscars suck as much as possible. Why, guys? Why must there be sucking?

The Messengers

* * (out of four)
Seen 3 February 2007 at AMC Fenway #14 (First-Run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

The Messengers is the kind of movie that makes me wonder if I've become too jaded. I don't really consider two stars a "bad" rating - it's below average, but there's something of merit to be found within - but for the most part, The Messengers just sort of sat there, inert, occasionally throwing something a bit creepy on screen, but I never seemed to feel even a fraction of what the boisterous crowd around me felt. Are they just easily scared people, doing something interactive (as in, there were points where I could see jumping if someone poked me at that moment, but not from what was going on on-screen), or is it me having analyzed so many of the movies I've watched that I can't connect on a purely emotional level?

I don't think it's the latter; I have seen movies that can genuinely creep me out recently. But this one's just so by-the-numbers with its vaguely-in-trouble teenage girl, actors who not long ago seemed bound for better things (Penelope Ann Miller, Dylan McDermot, John Corbett), and obviously-reshot ending.

In fact, that ending makes me sad. It's pretty well-known that someone other than Danny and Oxide Pang directed the studio-mandated reshoots, which is always unfortunate, but it's even worse when a favorite who has had his own studio-fighting experiences like Sam Raimi is listed as a producer. Nobody likes seeing one of the good guys go over to the dark side.

Planet of Storms (Planeta Bur)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 February 2007 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Remis Auditorium (Russian Fantastik Cinema) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

B-movies are B-movies no matter where they come from. This Russian example of the genre isn't bad as cold-war era sci-fi goes - it's certainly at least got all the trappings that those who love fifties/sixties cheese go for: Lizard men, a man in a robot suit, a woman fretting about her boyfriend down on the planet. It's an itch-scratcher, at the very least.

It does have a fairly cool visual effect for the cloudy surface of Venus as seen from orbit, even if the planet itself does seem like the Russian equivalent of Bryce Canyon. It's even got a sense of humor about the tendency of Soviet films to dip into propagandizing - the robot starts annoying the human crew with its talk about how it is a citizen, too, because all thinking beings are treated equally. But, overall, it sort of falls into the "we came, we did some dumb things and almost got killed, we left" trap.

To the Stars by Hard Ways (Cherez Ternii k Zvyozdam)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 4 February 2007 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Remis Auditorium (Russian Fantastik Cinema) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Like Star Wars, To the Stars by Hard Ways is a product of the late seventies/early eighties that was given a fresh new coat of paint twenty years later, to once again be devoured by nostalgic boomers. Like a lot of ambitious science fiction films made on either side of the iron curtain, To the Stars is a bit too long for its own good and hammers at its audience with a message, but it's playful enough to be worth watching a few times.

It seems to take forever to get going, as the first half is overly preoccupied with showing Niya (Yelena Metyolkina), a bald, telepathic girl found on a derelict space station, what it means to be human and social and stuff, before eventually rocketing back to her home planet, where pollution has driven the residents underground and they're doomed without Earth's water-purification technology. But, of course, the powers that be don't want any outsiders involved and blah blah blah...

Pretty standard stuff, but there are some parts that are worth notice. For instance, an actual effort was made to simulate zero-gravity by filming space station scenes underwater, and it looks pretty cool. Still, it's kind of amazing to me that the version the museum showed actually cuts twenty-five minutes - it seems to be the wrong twenty-five, at least, as the first half seems endless and the second sort of lurches about.

First on the Moon (Pervye Na Lune)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 4 February 2007 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Remis Auditorium (Russian Fantastik Cinema) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

First on the Moon isn't the first "documentary fantasy" I've seen to postulate a Soviet space program that achieved even greater things than the real thing, and I'm reasonably certain that there's another out there I haven't yet seen. I also suspect that there's more to come: Shooting documentary-style isn't terribly expensive for an independent filmmaker, and the Soviet space program did enough remarkable things that speculating on what they could have accomplished if things went just a little better is fertile ground.

Not that First on the Moon limits itself to "just a little better" - it purports to tell us the true story of Ivan Kharlamov (Boris Vlasov), who landed on the moon in 1938. It's an audacious premise, but one which director Aleksey Fedorchenko and writers Aleksandr Gonorovskiy and Ramil Yamaleyev frequently prove themselves equal to. After all, they've got documentary proof - the NKVD (the predecessor of the more famous KGB) was filming the Soviet people clandestinely, especially in highly sensitive areas like the secret space program, and though the archives are a mess, there's plenty of film to be found by dedicated searchers.

So we learn about Kharlamov, Khanif Fattakov (Aleksei Slavnin), pretty athlete Nadezhda Svetlaya (Viktoriya Ilyinskaya), and circus midget Mikail Roschin (Viktor Kotov). Some of it is via archive footage, with the narrator noting that few records of Kharlamov's early life exist. There are also interviews, with the uncooperative camera operator assigned to Kharlamov, various circus performers who know of Roschin via their community's oral history, and with an elderly Fattakhov (Anatoli Otradnov). The present-day Kharif Fattakhov would have to be around ninety if the "present day" segments are meant to be 2005, and while he does look like the sort of rugged, fit individual that could be vital into his tenth decade, he's charming in a gruff way, talking about the crush he had on Nadezhda or the way the government hushed up the program's existence without undue wistfulness or rancor. He's a guy who's seen a lot in his time and survived long enough to know there's no good in wishing for things to have turned out differently.

Full review at HBS.

The Painted Veil

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 5 February 2007 at Landmark Embassy #3 (First-run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

The plot of this movie is quite off-putting, almost to the point where I couldn't enjoy what it was setting out to accomplish: A man spitefully drags his unfaithful wife into the middle of a cholera epidemic, and through the experience they find true love? I can't say that hit me quite right. I get that the story arc, about people who married in haste for the wrong reasons finding love afterward, is a fine one, but bringing someone into a hot zone is not behavior I would be able to forgive. Of course, my reaction would likely be "pride and propriety be damned".

It is a beautifully filmed period piece, and Naomi Watts is something close to excellent. Edward Norton is good, too, although I didn't quite buy his English accent. It's always a pleasure to see Diana Rigg turn up in a good part, and she makes a fine Mother Superior at the convent where Norton's character has set up shop to treat the epidemic.

Apropos of nothing, considering the setting and time period, I kept expecting to see Jet Li appear and put the hurt on westerners trying to exploit his homeland.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 6 February 2007 at the Brattle Theater (Special Engagements) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

The difference between the trailer for Disappearances that played in front of every movie the Brattle played for the past month and the one that appears on the film's website is instructive - the trailer on the website is far more representative of the actual film, but the newer one that shows up in theaters sells the movie better: It cuts out most of the mystical elements, focusing tightly on the action-movie elements and playing up Kris Kristofferson's performance. It's a shame Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven didn't realize this during the actual making of the film.

The story, like many of Craven's other films, is taken from a Howard Frank Mosher novel about the people of Kingdom County, Vermont. The central focus is on "Wild Bill" Bonhomme (Charlie McDermott), the 16-year-old son of "Quebec Bill" Bonhomme, a retired bootlegger who is drawn back into the business when his barn (and the alfalfa in it) burns down during a Prohibition winter, necessitating some quick money. His mother (Heather Rae) objects, especially when Quebec Bill suggests their son accompany him on this "scouting mission", but Quebec Bill's sister Cordelia (Genevieve Bujold) convinces her that it's in the Bonhomme bloodline and young Bill should at least see it. So father and son head north in a boat, where they'll meet up with Quebec Bill's brother-in-law Henry (Gary Farmer) and Rat Kinneson (William Sanderson), an escaped con who works at their farm. The job looks bad on the face of it, and when the Bonhommes encounter the man they intend to steal the whiskey from - a demonic-looking amnesiac calling himself Carcajou (Lothaire Bluteau) - things quickly go straight to hell.

There's the makings of a strong "northeastern western" there, but that description omits a few things. Mainly, what it leaves out is the mystical elements tied up in Bujold's Cordelia - she makes predictions about the future, talks about how the men in their family tend to disappear, appears to Wild Bill to deliver cryptic messages, and just generally acts weird. Ms. Bujold does a generally very good job with the part: Cordelia is meant to be spooky and eccentric, and the trouble is never that we don't believe in her; it's that she's just a crazy old woman who initially seems to be serving no purpose other than to distract from what could be some good, pulpy crime. When the mystical stuff does start to have some relevance, it doesn't add a whole lot to the story (indeed, the first "disappearance" we see feels like a gigantic rip-off).

Full review at HBS.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

More Jodorowsky, more Altman

REMINDER: The Brattle Movie-Watch-a-Thon is in progress. Drop me a line if you would like to sponsor me, go here to make a donation, and check back on a near-daily basis to see how well I'm doing. With these films, I'm at 13 Brattle films seen and 11 elsewhere, which means 37 "points" total (or 18.5, depending on whether Brattle films count for two or other films count for ½)

I could have seen more, but Saturday was the day Red Sox tickets go on sale, so it was time to spend the entire day either in line, on hold, or in the "Virtual Waiting Room". I opted for the latter and thus wound up spending the whole day watching computer monitors and doing laundry. I got tickets, but they were mostly pretty crappy seats. I did better than my brother Dan, though, who didn't get through until almost eight o'clock and then couldn't get anything but standing room - which I suppose isn't practical when you're looking to bring your little baby.

I wound up missing McCabe and Mrs. Miller because of it, which was a bummer. I tried to make up for it on Sunday by rushing from Smokin' Aces to the double feature of The Long Goodbye and California Split, and I think I felt pretty bad by the end. I know I got through the last purely via ice cream.

A final note: The Brattle got a pretty crappy print of The Long Goodbye. A real shame, because I would be getting into the movie only to have the picture go black and white (and really crappy-looking B&W at that), and a bunch in the audience were complaining about the end being cut off. I hate when that happens. 3 Women was a little beat up, too, but nothing like The Long Goodbye

The Holy Mountain

* * * (out of four)
Seen 27 January 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Special Engagements) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I think I may be at a disadvantage in appreciating Alejandro Jodoworsky's film because I have never dabbled in illicit drugs. I am thus stuck trying to comprehend them with little frame of reference other than objective reality, which isn't going to get you very far. At least The Holy Mountain has the advantage of looking nice, which was more than could be said for El Topo.

The film opens with a thief (Horacio Salinas) being tied to a cross by a throng of naked prepubescent boys who throw stones at him. He soon makes it to a city, where he and his quadruple amputee sidekick are hired by street performers who re-enact the conquest of Mexico with toads and iguanas, after which a nun decides to make a plaster cast of him with which to make statues of Jesus.. It's no wonder he soon ascends the gigantic obelisk in the middle of the town, inside of which he finds The Alchemist (Jodoworsky) who helps him to see his potential and join him and a group of rich industrialists (each represented by a planet) on a journey to the holy mountain, where they will learn the secret of immortality from the wise men who live there.

This, you must understand, only begins to hint at the strange imagery and outright bizarre sequences that occur between the film's opening and closing credits. I would guess that something like a third of the movie, if not more, is spent introducing us to the powerful men and women who will go on the quest with the Thief and Alchemist, and I'd guess that only about half of these vignettes really work. Some are just strange for the sake of being strange, and there's nothing wrong with that; Jodorowsky is making Art, pop art though it may be, and I suspect that any emotional reaction to his work is considered a positive. That section in the middle spends some time going for shock value, but mostly thinking in terms of satire. Heavy-handed satire, to be sure, but something that broad tends to still be relevant thirty years later.

Read the rest at HBS.

Smokin' Aces

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2007 at Regal Fenway #13 (First-Run) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

As soon as I saw the guy creating a rubber mask on the fly, I wondered how much of Smokin' Aces came from Joe Carnahan's aborted run at Mission: Impossible 3. Probably not a whole lot, but you might as well be thrifty. Waste not, want not, after all.

The film's main story is fairly silly, especially when it tries too hard to get into plot twists as opposed to sticking with its strength - an elegant set-up that allows Carnahan to throw a bunch of outsize characters at us and let action unfold within a known environment. Even though there are really too many characters, there's some excitement once the movie gets down to business about having them converge on the hotel and start leaving dead bodies in their wake. Once the action gets started, Carnahan really shows his stuff: The gunfights have enough bullets flying to remind you of John Woo and Chow-yun Fat, and the time spent establishing locations really pays off in terms of tension.

I have to admit, though, I snickered a bit during one gunfight when characters were being pelted with what may as well have been naval artillery from a hotel across the street. Once you've ascertained where the bullets were coming from, what's the point of returning fire with your pistols? Does a 9mm pistol even have the range to reach the target?

The Long Goodbye

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Altman in the 1970s) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Even in 1973, Elliot Gould must have seemed an odd choice to play a private eye most famously portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. But that's sort of the point - Robert Altman's Los Angeles may be a different place than the city that was home to so many excellent film noir tales thirty years earlier, but some things are still the same, even if people go about things a bit differently.

There's something unsavory going on at the Malibu Colony, an expensive gated community: Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton) makes a late exit, asking his old friend Philip Marlowe (Gould) to give him a ride to the border. He does, but when Marlowe gets back home, he learns that Lennox's wife has been murdered, and spends three days in jail for accessory after the fact. When the private investigator is released, he learns that Lennox is dead. But his business at the Malibu Colony isn't done - Eileen Wade (Nina van Pallandt) hires him to help find her husband Roger (Sterling Hayden). This is easy enough, and it gives him an in to poke around the complex to find out who really killed Lennox's wife. Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) looks good for it - the gangster claims Lennox owes him money, and thinks Marlowe might know where it is.

Rather than film The Long Goodbye as a period piece, Altman opts to set it in then-present-day (1973) Los Angeles. Marlowe's neighbors are a bunch of blissed-out hippie girls who spend a lot of time topless, establishing exterior shots are more likely to show the freeway than a densely populated town, and everybody talks in movie references - Marlowe refers to calling Ronald Reagan, rather than just the governor, both to nail down the time frame and to point out how Hollywood has taken over.

Full review at HBS.

California Split

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 January 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Altman in the 1970s) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I imagine that gambling is like any other addiction, whether it be narcotics, alcohol, or anything else - it initially gives you a rush of excitement, making the rest of one's time seem boring, and in many cases it's not the addicting act itself that causes the addict's downfall - it's how it impinges upon his time and other resources. And yet, as it becomes a destructive activity, the pleasure drains out of it, so that an outsider wonders why people continue.

California Split starts with the excitement - Charlie Walters (Elliott Could) and Bill Denny (George Segal) meet when they share a table at a California poker parlor, then bump into each other later in a bar. It seems to be the first time Bill has found a kindred spirit who enjoys gambling as much as he does, and they spend the next few weeks gambling wherever they can - card games, the racetrack, making random bets in bars. As much fun as they're initially having, things aren't necessarily going well: They spend a night in jail, getting bailed out the call girls Charlie is staying with; Bill is separated from his wife, starting to miss work, and racking up debt; and one morning Charlie just disappears. Bill thinks he sees a way to get back even, though, with a high-stakes poker game in Reno.

Director Robert Altman and writer Joseph Walsh don't overload California Split with too much story or too many characters, and they're certainly not looking to make gambling glamorous in any way. The poker club where the film opens is crowded and despite its tidiness feels like a gambling sweatshop, discouraging any sort of socialization between the players and packing the tables in tight. The other gamblers don't have colorful nicknames like in Rounders and aren't admired celebrities; they're just other guys at the table or at the track. At best they're other addicts, but often enough they're just common thugs (and Bill and Charlie aren't necessarily exempted from that).

Full review at HBS.

3 Women

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 January 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Altman in the 1970s) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

It's a funny thing. Normally when someone says that it feels like someone made a movie up as he or she went along, it's because the end result feels disorganized, like random scenes shot with no idea how they connect. Then, there's things like 3 Women, which were shot without an ending and just a vague outline of the rest, but feel tight.

Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) takes a job at a rehabilitation center in California, having just moved there from Texas. The manager asks Millie Lammoreaux (Shelley Duvall) to train her, and Pinky's immediately taken with the other girl, eventually moving in when Millie's roommate leaves. Millie talks constantly but the only one who listens is Pinky, though of course Millie doesn't appreciate it; she's too busy trying to try to find a boyfriend without having any real grasp on her desirability (or lack thereof). They live in an apartment complex owned by pregnant Willie and Edgar Hart (Janice Rule and Robert Fortier), who also own the bar they stop at on the way home. Things continue like that for weeks until a broken date leads Millie to do something which shakes Pinky's adoration, leaving things very different in the aftermath.

Three actresses are listed immediately after the title, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Pinky, Millie, and Willie are the title characters; certain individuals change enough over the course of the movie to potentially be counted twice. It's difficult to describe how this can happen without getting into spoiler territory; suffice it to say that Pinky and Millie, at least, are not quite the same people at the end of the film that they are at the start.

Full review at HBS.

Brewster McCloud

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 30 January 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Altman in the 1970s) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

I suppose it's for the best that respected filmmakers get things like Brewster McCloud out of their system early. Robert Altman's career would feature no small amount of unusual projects and head-scratching decisions, and he'd rightly be celebrated as an independent voice making his kind of movie. But would he ever again, in three and a half more decades of making movies, give us a narrator who appears to changing into a bird while lecturing a class on the topic? I think not. Brewster is one of a kind in that respect.

Birds and flight are recurrent themes in Brewster McCloud. Rene Auberjonois's professor occasionally pops up to describe some bird whose behavior is relevant to the story going on. Their waste product appears on every one of the bodies that out of town detective Frank Shaft (Michael Murphy) arrives in Houston to investigate. There's an avian theme to each of the rest and retirement homes that Abraham Wright (Stacy Keach) visits with his driver, the titular McCloud (Bud Cort). And, once that job ends badly, we see that Brewster, with the help of free-spirited Louise (Sally Kellerman), is trying to build himself a pair of wings in the Astrodome's fallout shelter.

Doran William Cannon's script is chock full of characters too eccentric to simply be called "quirky", and Altman seems to be having a great deal of fun throwing them together. An early sequence, in which McCloud drives Wright around town, collecting profits from his rest homes plays like a running gag that we join at precisely the right time - Cort and Keach have got their banter down pat, and Keach's scenery-chewing as the vulgar old man is just about to wear out its welcome. Michael Murphy feels like he's just stepped out of a TV cop show with his clipped, cool demeanor and impeccable clothes, and it's a completely different type of show than the one that the traffic officer assigned to assist him (John Schuck) and the no-nonsense captain (G Wood) would appear in. Shelley Duvall's tour guide Suzanne is weird from first sight, but she and McCloud work well together.

Full review at HBS.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 January 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Altman in the 1970s) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Images is an unreliable-narrator movie, even though the narration is for another story entirely. It's a pretty good one, compelling the audience to watch in an attempt to figure out what's real and what's in the character's head. I suspect that unlike the jigsaw puzzle that features prominently in the story, there are more pieces than needed to get the full picture, but I'll take that over too few.

In real life, a stay in the country is probably just the thing for someone on the edge of a nervous breakdown more often than not, although it tends to have just the opposite effect on film (to be fair, someone who is hanging on by a thread is going to snap wherever a movie puts them, or else there's no movie). Cathryn (Susannah York) is probably already slightly over the edge when she convinces her husband Hugh (Rene Auberjonois) to take her out to the manse where she grew up, and it doesn't help - she finds herself visited by the ghost of Rene, a former lover dead a year in a plane crash (Marcel Bozzuffi); Marcel, a handsome friend of the couple (Hugh Millais); and his daughter Susannah, who has a disquieting similarity to Cathryn in both appearance and temperament (Cathryn Harrison). Fortunately, there are knives and rifles in the house that can be used to fight off these apparitions, although Cathryn's judgment probably shouldn't be trusted vis-a-vis which are actually hallucinations.

I just realized, upon looking up the actors' names, that each character has the name of one of the other cast members. Cute, considering one of the ways Cathryn exhibits being crazy is by actually seeing one character as another. Further blurring the line between madness and fiction and reality, Susannah York wrote the children's book attributed to her character.

Full review at HBS.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 1 February 2007 at The Brattle Theater (Altman in the 1970s) (Movie Watch-a-Thon)

Not a bad little movie at all, as Altman does a quite frankly amazing job of juggling dozens of characters without marginalizing many. It's the template for this kind of a movie, and deserves to be considered a classic.

Still, the end... What the heck? It's one of the biggest "this movie doesn't end, it just stops" deals I've ever seen.