Rating: The Good – 87.4 Genre: Satire, War Duration: 116 mins Director: Robert Altman Stars: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt
Robert Altman unfolds his broad interpersonal canvas to stunning effect in this classic piece of American cinema. Bold, hilarious, touching, and heartbreaking, there are few statements on war as focused as what he serves up here. Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerrit, and Elliot Gould are at their unorthodox best as the ragtag bunch of draftee surgeons working three miles from the front line of the Korean War to keep their spirits high and the endless wounded alive. Sally Kellerman and Robert Duvall are a hoot as the stiff career officers whom they pester unmercifully both intentionally and unintentionally. As with most of Altman’s films, the plot isn’t what drives M.A.S.H but rather the satirical vignettes which loosely coalesce around the personal conflicts. Whether it’s Hot Lips and Major Burns’ infamous broadcast or the gleeful irreverence of that “Last Supper”, Altman’s dry script and impeccable distance, not to mention the immense craft of his actors ensured they became immortal moments of humour. The result is an iconic piece of film making and one of the few movies that helps to definitively mark a moment in time and culture without ever feeling dated. “Hot Lips you incredible nincompoop, it’s the end of the quarter!”
Rating: The Good – 85.2 Genre: Crime Duration: 112 mins Director: Robert Altman Stars: Elliott Gould, Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden
Stunning, audacious, daring, provocative, ingenious are only some of the adjectives one could aptly use to describe Robert Altman’s affectionate parody of the Raymond Chandler novel. Elliott Gould is in the form of his career as the famous P.I. Phillip Marlowe but his isn’t the type of portrayal we saw from Bogart, Powell, or even Mitchum. His is a scruffy, wearily bemused, mischievous, and ultimately more complicated Marlowe. In fact, some may argue that this last similarity makes him more akin to Chandler’s notion. As as is typical for any of the Marlowes though, this one gets embroiled in a couple of cases that may or may not be related to the apparent suicide of his friend who was on the run for the murder of his wife. And as Marlowe carries out his own investigation he discovers some dark secrets that ultimately lead to a spectacular conclusion that brings this beloved character full circle from the point at which he was first created on paper.
There are no two ways about it – Gould is just sensational as the mumbling detective who lives with his cat and across from a hippy commune of naked women. As we’d expect, he handles the satirical element of Altman’s project effortlessly but that he manages to channel the purest understanding of Marlowe while doing so is really quite stunning. For much of the time the world-weariness that defined Mitchum’s turn in Farewell My Lovely seems to determine everything Gould’s Marlowe does and is likely to do (albeit in a less pessimistic manner) but, at key moments, the unique sense of justice which defined the detective on paper can be felt simmering – until one exquisite moment when it explodes! The supporting cast is also fantastic from Sterling Hayden who improvised most his lines to Mark Rydell as the seriously eccentric and equally terrifying mobster (you know it’s a scary performance when it even manages to blot out a pre-stardom Arnold Schwarzenegger as his henchman).
As usual, Altman’s documentary-like style adds a captivating quality to the proceedings and there is much fun to be had as he repeatedly tips his hat to old and new Hollywood alike. It’s a daring piece of film-making that paints a rich picture of L.A. both seedy and romantic and makes intuitive use of Leigh Brackett’s marvelously attentive screenplay. Given it’s commentary on the genre, it might strike one as a curious film to include among the great noir works but, in actuality, The Long Goodbye stands alongside the great films-noirs regardless of (or perhaps even because of) its ability to step outside the genre and look in.
Rating: The Good – 77.6 Genre: Mystery, Crime Duration: 124 mins Director: Robert Altman Stars: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward
The Player is a deliciously self-referential satire about an under pressure Hollywood executive (Tim Robbins) who accidentally murders a disgruntled writer who he believes is threatening his life. As the police investigation closes in on him, the pressures of his under threat job not to mention the guilt and fear he is feeling in the aftermath of the killing push him ever closer towards a personal breaking point….or at least a turning point. The movie references come thick and fast and the cast is a who’s who of 90′s Hollywood (with many playing themselves). The film is shot beautifully and indeed opens with a wonderful extended tracking shot that is accompanied by the great Fred Ward talking about Welles’ opening to Touch of Evil. The Player is director Robert Altman’s not so subtle critique of an industry that has become more about test-screenings and political in-fighting than writing and integrity and the story he intricately weaves is perhaps the cleverest examination of that problem. Just as importantly, it’s also just a damn good murder mystery.