Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Some quotes from Robert Altman (2/20/25 - 11/20/06), from two back-a-decade interviews, when he was basking in the comeback kliegs with his gleeful skewering of the Hollywood establishment, 1992's The Player, and when he went off to take an amiable ramble through the small-town South, 1999's Cookie's Fortune.

Talking about The Player, which used a murder mystery to nail a business built on ego and greed -- and which featured an A-list of stars (Cher, John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, Jack Lemmon, Andie MacDowell, Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis) playing themselves -- Altman insisted that his film isn't bitter or vindictive. Though he holds the Hollywood of today in some contempt, it is an attitude born of observation, not hatred. Revenge was not, he says, a motive for making The Player.

"Oh, I don't think it's about revenge," he says, chewing some ice. "I can't think of any film director in history, dead or alive, that has had a better career" - and by this he means a more personally satisfying career - "than I have. So, if I become revengeful or bitter, I've got to be a pretty arrogant, selfish person. . . .

"I'm always frustrated because there's a certain film I can't get done or whatever - and I'm frustrated by that and always have been and always will be - but there's no revenge in this. I think The Player is a kind of mild assault, and it's not personally aimed at anybody because I don't personally know any of these people. "

There's a note of disingenuousness to this last statement. After all, Altman rubbed elbows with studio bigwigs for 30 years or more. He knows where these people are coming from.

"I don't know where they came from," he jokes,"but I know they're there. And I hope they're moving on. And I hope they'll be replaced by people who perhaps agreed with this picture, and by the time they get into those jobs they'll change (the business) a little bit.

"But I think the first thing we have to do is get the corporations out of it. The studios are run by big money-management entities, not by people. Nobody can make a decision. Nobody can play a hunch, because there isn't anybody in charge, there's nobody in the room at the top.

"The room at the top," Robert Altman declares, "is empty."

(from "On Movies," the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 26, 1992)

And talking about Cookie's Fortune, whose cast included Glenn Close, Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler, Charles S. Dutton, Chris O'Donnell, Ned Beatty, Lyle Lovett and Patricia Neal, Altman had this to say about his penchant for overlaying dialogue, for weaving actors in and out of crowded, talky scenes:

"I've just always done it that way," Altman explains, on the phone from his New York office. "In the beginning I probably thought, well, if this gets boring I can always cut to something else - I don't have to depend upon one character. . . . Now, I just feel comfortable working that way. That's just what I do. "

(from "On Movies," the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 11, 1999)

Friday, November 17, 2006


Richard Linklater, the prolific Austin filmmaker (his A Scanner Darkly came out just a few months ago), has been a practicing vegetarian since his early 20s --"almost half my life," he says. But his mission making Fast Food Nation, the fictionalized adaptation of Eric Schlosser's 2001 nonfiction bestseller on America's meat industry, was not about converting carnivores to herbivores.

"I don’t disparage anyone who eats meat," says Linklater, who cowrote the Fast Food Nation screenplay with Schlosser. "Eric eats meat. I just think that people should eat healthy, certified humane and organic meat. Not the factory processed stuff we show in the film."

In researching Fast Food Nation -- which stars Greg Kinnear as a marketing exec investigating reports of tainted beef patties coming from a huge livestock/slaughterhouse/meat packing plant that supplies his chain -- Linklater interviewed several ranchers who raise cattle the old-fashioned way. Kris Kristofferson is an amalgamization of them in the picture.

"I really admire these guys," says Linklater. "The ones who are doing it right -- you know, grass-fed, no hormones or antibiotic pumpage. They’re good stewards of the land, they care about the animals, they’re doing it the right way. But they’re under such tremendous pressure. How can you compete against someone who’s cutting every corner, breaking every rule, and is poluting the environment? It’s not a level playing field.... I tried to depict that a little bit with Kris Kristofferson's character. A lot of the things he’s saying came right out of the mouths of some of these ranchers. They’re being encroached on, every which way."

Click here for the Fast Food Nation offical site.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Two great little indies – Old Joy, which opened Friday, Nov. 10, and Mutual Appreciation, which hits the Ritzes Friday, Nov. 24 – have more in common than just their improv-y, not-much-happens scenarios. They have the same product placement.

In Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy, singer/songwriter Will Oldham and actor Daniel London play a couple of long-time pals in Portland, Ore., who take a weekend camping trip in the thick of an old growth forest. Oldham’s Kurt is the quintessential west coast hippie, bearded, potbellied and potheaded, too. London’s Mark is about to become a dad, and has to ask permission, sort of, from his wife to take off for a few days. Then the two guys go, and talk – about impending fatherhood, about déjà vu, about the blurring lines between city and country life - and they hike, and soak naked in a natural hot springs and mellow out. And they smoke weed, and drink cans of Hamm's beer.

In Andrew Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation, the musician Justin Rice plays Alan, an educated, jobless twentysomething trying to get a band together, and some gigs, in Hipsterville USA, a.k.a. the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. He hangs out with his old buddy, Lawrence (played by writer/director Bujalski), and Lawrence’s girlfriend, Ellie (Rachel Clift). They go to a couple of parties, talk about friendship and art and skirt around the twin subjects of fidelity and adultery. And they smoke weed, and, yes, drink cans of Hamm's beer.

Maybe it’s an East Coast vs West Coast thing, but while both films are wholly engaging, I found Mutual Appreciation – shot in 16mm black and white – a little richer, smarter and more satisfying than Old Joy. The latter - in color, full of Zen moments of beauteous calm, courtesy of the ferny woods and tweety birds of the Oregon Cascades - received a couple of outsized raves, notably from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. But its rambling, shambling Oregon hippie aesthetic requires a certain amount of patience – not for the slow pace and spare dialogue, really, but for the characters themselves. Especially Oldham’s Karl, who can’t seem to articulate all the sad yearning he has inside.

In any event, both films are well worth checking out. The link to the Ritz Theaters is here. The link to the Hamm's Club is here.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Advertising Age "Media Guy" columnist Simon Dumenco reports on some of the scenes cut from the final version of Sacha Baron Cohen's over-the-top, box office mega hit. The scenes - "Cheese," "Doctor" and "Police" - are all out there on the Web, and they're certain to be included in the Borat DVD. Here's the text of Dumenco's column:

Media Guy's Pop Pick: Beyond 'Borat'
Our Columnist's Current Media Obsession
By Simon Dumenco

Published: November 06, 2006

NEW YORK ( -- The viral marketing campaign for "Borat" has been so effective, so omnipresent, that you almost (almost!) didn't need to go see the movie this past weekend. Now we can all look forward to the DVD release, which is going to be awesome, because there's so much stray viral Borat material already floating around out there that can be larded on as DVD extras. (I predict it'll be the best-selling comedy DVD since the "Chapelle's Show" first-season box set.) Need a quick fix of potential DVD extras now? Surf away:

Cheese, a scene deleted from "Borat" in which "Borat tours a grocery store with the supermarket manager" (search for the user "boratmovie" on YouTube).

Doctor, a deleted scene in which "Borat discusses the sexually transmitted diseases he has had in his life, some contrived [sic] from his sister, as a stoic doctor takes notes" (also via "boratmovie").

Police, a deleted scene in which Borat is pulled over by Dallas cops and "warns them about a cavity search because of all the Cinnabon he had eaten previously."

Friday, November 03, 2006


Ridley Scott, Knight of the Realm and Director of Really Big Movies, is trying his hand at something new: a comedy. A Good Year, opening Friday, Nov. 10, and starring Scott's Gladiator pal, Russell Crowe, is from the Peter Mayle book about a London financier who inherits his eccentric uncle's chateau in the South of France, and then has to choose between a life of making millions and squashing people, or a life of tending grapes, slathering brie on baguettes and playing footsy with the beautiful Marion Cotillard.

Tough decision, huh?

In an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, Sir Ridley talked about the first time he realized the power that movies had on people -- well, his movie: the jump-from-your-seat sci-fi scare pic, Alien. Watching it with a test audience, he saw viewers jolted and freaked by the scene in the galactic trawler's kitchen, when the crew sits down to dinner, thinking they'd vanquished the titular space monster, and suddenly a ferocious slimy hatchling erupts out of John Hurt's chest.

"My films are usually so savage, and I got this funny sense of responsibility, funnily enough, when I was doing Alien. I saw an audience rocked to the point of fear, and then saw the irritation that followed the fear.... People sit in a dark room and watch what happens, and for those two hours they're quite critically influenced by it.
"For a while I was amused, in an impish way, by that power. But then it gave me one big pause for thought. I realized, if you’re going to go that deep, it better be worthwhile, it better be about something."