Nashville (1975)

Initially posted on my school’s film club movie review site, I wrote this review about Nashville. I thought it’d be nice to post it on here since over a year ago I wrote about the upcoming release of the Criterion DVD of Nashville.

Were there to be a number one rule about Robert Altman, it would most likely be something along the lines of: one should not watch one of his films only once. Someone like Altman mandates multiple viewings. For some people, that’s too much commitment for there are other movies we must give our attention to. Yet here I am, multiple viewings later, writing this review for Nashville.

Altman’s style requires concentration, thought, and keen observation. For some viewers, he’s tedious and not worth the time because “there isn’t anything going on in the film.” However for others, like myself, Altman is a sigh of relief. With his long lens shots and overlapping dialogue, Altman trusts the viewer to use his or her senses to interpret what is happening and what it means. With that being said, it is nearly impossible not to see or hear something you didn’t notice in the previous viewing. It is with every rewatch I am more blown away by Altman’s technique of directing. I honestly have no idea how a director can put that much in one movie in a short frame of time that I notice a new line or prop piece that adds to the film’s various layers, especially considering Altman’s technique of using the script as a blueprint and allowing his actors and actresses to improvise. I am forever in awe.

But enough with the fangirling and on to the movie. As the trailer says, Nashville follows the lives of 24 characters. “That’s a lot of characters so listen closely.” Not only listen but also watch very closely as well. Each of these 24 characters is unique and holds some sort of personality was rife in the 70’s, ranging from Jeff Goldblum’s Easy Rider-esque unnamed “psycho freak” to Ronee Blakley’s “adored” country singer Barbara Jean. There is such a wide range of characters that it is impossible not to find one person you consider funny or interesting. There are many aspects of Nashville that one can focus on because of its structure. It does not always follow the same person through every event that happens to them. Instead the viewer is expected to fill in bits and pieces about what happened to the character, and that is what Altman expects and needs from the viewer. Nashville is wonderful in that, as writer Joan Tewkesbury says, it can only exist as a film because it literally moves through time and space; climaxes and plot points common in other films that could be written and described are absent from this film.

So what do I have to say about Nashville? I have so many things, let’s be honest, but I will keep it fairly brief. First off, it is funny. Oh my god is it funny. You have so many people from different backgrounds that that in it is amusing to watch. Underneath that, Nashville is layered and complex. There are certain aspects of the film that I’m drawn towards, such as the treatment and actions of the women in the film or the behaviors of the patriarchal country singer Haven Hamilton. But above all what interests me the most is the core basis that connects every single person in this film, and that is politics. American politics is exemplified by the Hal Phillip Walker campaign. Nashville was made in 1975, just before the Watergate scandal leaked but in the midst of growing disgust for American politics. However, the campaign car reminds the viewer, and the city of Nashville, that we are all involved in politics. This is essentially the basis: everyone in this film is involved with the Hal Phillip Walker campaign in some way that it affects their everyday lives.

Nashville, the capital of country music, equates to any small town in America. The people of Nashville are the people of 1970’s America. For viewers today, it is a glimpse of what the world was like in 1975. Altman himself said that he directed what he saw happening in the world, not as he viewed it. So it may not be surprising to learn that I recommend this film for any person, especially those who are serious about film. It is a film that, for me, is hard to give a good, run down review for so much of it is dependent on how much and what you observe. You may grow to love or hate Altman, but either way you will see a different approach of what film can be.

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Film Review: “Short Cuts” (1993)

I’ve been debating whether I should write a review on this movie, but, in the end, I decided it would probably be for the best. I purchased Short Cuts a few months ago when I was buying all the Robert Altman movies I could find. My good friend said she really liked it so I figured that I would probably enjoy it as well. And I guess I sort of did? Not really? I’m not sure? Which is the reason why I’m writing this post I guess.

Some people equate this movie to Nashville or say at least it’s similar to Nashville; I do beg to differ, and not just because there is no singing in Short Cuts. Perhaps my first and foremost reason is the treatment of women in the film; certainly Robert Altman is making a comment on women in society in Nashville, but in Short Cuts it almost disturbed me. Perhaps the fact that Short Cuts was made in the 1990’s and much closer to today (though, if you look at it, it’s a 21 year difference. I mean these people didn’t have cell phones).

From the brief number of reviews I’ve read on Short Cuts, I’ll admit I was surprised no one mentioned the treatment of women in the film. Rather, they summed everything up as the disconnectedness between the characters in the film. I pondered that and, while that was certainly true, it was much stronger in the relationship between males and females. Honestly, every single man in Short Cuts infuriated me. Tim Robbins, who literally throws his loyalty to his wife on the street (symbolized through the barking dog) to sleep with other women, Peter Gallagher, who destroys his ex-wife’s home when she goes out on a weekend vacation with her lover, Tom Waits, who drinks and drinks and is implied that he abused Lily Tomlin’s daughter when she was younger, and lastly, the three men that go fishing. Had it not been for them, I think I would have been able to tolerate it better. Let me give you a run down of these three lovely gentlemen: they first begin by asking Lily Tomlin if “they can have butter” just so they can see her rear end when she bends down. Then they go fishing and, what do you know, they find the body of a twenty-something year old girl who obviously had been raped and murdered. And what do they do? Well, they have no idea what the hell to do but decide that, since she’s dead already, there is nothing they can do, so: why not enjoy their fishing trip and tell the police after the trip?? Yeah, great idea. And it’s not like Altman is okay with this; he leaves the camera lingering on the floating body for a good 5 or 6 seconds with the overlapping dialogue of the men laughing about some nonsense.

Then, after the trip, one of the men goes home to his wife and makes love to her. Okay. Great. But then, when they’re finished (and after she has told him that she loves him), he tells her about the body they found. I’m not sure I can even do that scene* justice by trying to describe it for the women who plays his wife was phenomenal in my opinion. It is honestly shocking he can say all that he does to his wife right after making love to her. Her face says it all; she is in a state of shock and all she can say is, “and when did you find her?” He really does not get why she is so upset, and that’s what frightens me. It’s that whole general attitude among the men in the film where women don’t seem to be people who deserve any respect; they’re just, objects, things. Normally, I would just write it off and say it’s the movies but there are people out there like that and, yeah, that’s scary. {I’m not even going to begin with the final scene of the film; I think I’ve made my case on that bit clear.}

But do let me say this; the women in the film aren’t completely passive either. Look at the beautiful Madeline Stowe’s character: she knows Robbins is cheating on her and she finds it hysterical when he lies about “going out on the job.” But still, evaluating all the women, they realize how the men are treating them yet deal with it and stay with them.

Now, yes I agree that the whole sense is disconnectedness and it’s not just between males and females. Look at the relationship between the mother jazz singer and her daughter the cellist; that messed me up to be honest. Lily Tomlin and the little boy when he’s hit; we know Lily wanted to help him but he wouldn’t go because he’s not supposed to talk to strangers.

When I finished this film, I reminded myself that it was made in the 1990’s, a decade I really do hate and that I’m glad it’s over. But then I said, “It’s over!!! Life is different now!!” Or at least I hope? I mean, life is not as dreary and negative as it was in the 1990’s but still. It made me worried. And Robert Altman is a realist, and while I love Bob, I’m more of an escapist movie lover. But most of the Robert Altman films I love (3 Women, Nashville, The Long Goodbye) are his older movies so, to me, they are an escape. If that makes sense?

So, overall, I think it is safe to say that this was not my cup of tea, or rather a too strong cup of tea. Perhaps the best thing to say is that I don’t think I’ll be watching it again for quite awhile.

*I found a clip of that scene on YouTube if you want to watch it.

The African Queen (1951)

First off, let me start by saying that I apologize I have not been keeping this updated. I’ve been helping my mom with the house and I just started college so I’ve been quite busy lately. However, despite all the busyness, I am determined to watch at least one new-to-me movie every Wednesday night and possibly Friday night (we’ll see about that….)

Anyways, my choice for tonight was The African Queen. I originally planned to watch Night Train to Munich but for some reason I was drawn to The African Queen; probably because it has been on my to-watch list for quite some time and felt it was more ~essential~ than Night Train to Munich (which I’m not downgrading; the main reason I want to see it is because it’s directed by Carol Reed). But I am not, in the least, upset that I watched The African Queen instead of Night Train. In fact, I had no idea what to expect but I absolutely loved it.

The main reason that I loved it so much is because of Rose and Charlie’s relationship; talk about a truly equal relationship. There are almost no arguments about it; each person compliments the other the same number of times and is genuine about it, each puts in the same amount of work, is independent, and takes care of the other when in need. Who stood out to me was Rose. She is equally knowledgeable and has a lot of suggestions and help to offer to Charlie, rather than being as, oh, a damsel in distress? I don’t know. But it’s not what has been portrayed before, at least from what I’ve seen. But then again, Charlie is very different too; he never comes across as a jerk. It’s quite a change for Bogie but I loved it. And Bogie and Katharine together. Never in a million years would I think of putting them together but with their personalities, it works 100% on the mark.

The same relationship would not have been achieved, however, if they were not on a boat traveling up the river through Africa. I kept thinking of Heart of Darkness though out this film but obviously Heart of Darkness goes into a WHOLE different context of Africa, specifically going into the heart of Africa. Here in The African Queen, going up the river, Rose and Charlie find love, a love built from their journey and the life and death obstacles they encounter together. They will not leave one other for anything; an example of this is when the two are talking about who will stay on the boat to shoot the torpedoes. Bogie insists on doing it and does not want Katharine to do it. But Kate being Kate, she refuses to let him order her around and they finally settle on it being a two-man job.

The other thing that struck me about their relationship is their allowance of vulnerability to one other. I feel like in other films, they wouldn’t be as accepting of it, like they have to keep this facade of some sort. But I suppose from all the stuff they’ve been through, it doesn’t matter. At one point Bogie is on the floor of the boat, saying what a poor excuse he is as a man; Kate denies it and says that he has done so much. He doesn’t pretend to act macho 24/7. And neither does Kate. In essence, everything they do is so equal that there is no dominant of the two, but rather just one. One couple, one mind, and one true love.

Meet John Doe (1941)

I celebrated 4th of July movie style four days late with a Frank Capra film, fondly known as Mr. America (who wasn’t American) in my book. I’ve always enjoyed Capra’s films, the popular It’s A Wonderful Life being my favorite. I’ve been craving some Stany lately and Gary Cooper isn’t hard to swallow either. Plus a good friend of mine did a huge project on Capra’s films and highly suggested it so why not?

Barbara Stanwyck plays the fast-talking, determined reporter Anne Mitchell. Fired from her job, she writes a fake letter from a Mr. John Doe who says that he is fed up with society’s wrongs and plans on committing suicide on Christmas Eve in protest. The next day story explodes and soon the newspaper either needs to stop the story and come clean or find a person willing to take on the role of John Doe. Anne talks her boss into finding a John Doe and they soon discover the rugged, handsome, and very American John Willoughby (Gary Cooper). He agrees to everything the letter entails and takes on the role of John Doe. Inspired by her father’s diary, Anne writes John’s speeches and creates the John Doe that America begins to know and admire. Except that is not who John Willoughby is and not exactly what he believes; he would rather take the $5,000 bribed to him and go play baseball again. However he is attracted to Anne and eventually falls in love with her. He stays in the John Doe role for quite some time until he learns that Anne has been bribed by the owner of the newspaper, Mr. Norton, to write a speech about creating a third political party, the John Doe Party, with the rich being the leaders. It is exactly the opposite of what the John Doe movement stands for. By now, John believes in the John Doe movement as he sees what good it is bringing to the workers of America. John tries to tell the truth and expose Mr. Norton’s plan except Mr. Norton gets to the people first. The people learn and the John Doe movement dies and John Willoughby becomes nothing but a laugh. Time passes and soon it is Christmas Eve. John plans on committing suicide but Anne and a few followers still believe in John. Listening to their words and Anne’s speech, he decides against it and carries Anne to the elevator.

I thought this film was brilliant. I’m not sure why it’s not more recognized but I guess it’ll be a gem for those who decide to dive deeper in Capra’s filmography.

John Willoughby plays the Christ-like figure in the film. Even though his philosophy is created by Anne’s father, John is still someone the people can look up to and listen to. They take John seriously and listen to what he has to say. His speeches, containing the basics of Jesus’s teachings, inspire the John Does to get to know their neighbors and help each other out. They refuse to allow politicians in their clubs because it could bring corruption and defeat their purpose. When the truth is exposed, the people don’t know how to react. They placed all their faith and respect in one man and expect him to be a God. But that’s what they miss; they don’t see the idea of the movement but can only see the man and how he hurt them.

It is not fair that John isn’t given the chance to explain. When he tries to talk to the crowd at the convention, Mr. Norton’s police men cut the cords to the microphones. Thus the broken communication causes chaos among the people and they turn against him. The people soon become cynical again and give up their John Doe clubs and return to normal. Though John still hasn’t given up. He plans to follow through with the suicide because he fully believes in the idea, especially now that everyone has turned against him. Anne, the founders of the John Doe club, and Mr. Norton are the only ones who believe John will jump off the building and commit suicide. When Anne finds him up there, she cries, “If it’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for!” The basis of the John Doe movement has been around for 2,000 years and she tells him that it’s people like him who remind others of it. She tells him they can start clean and we can hope that by the end of the movie they do for it’s to great a cause to give up on.

This film is patriotic while also incorporating teachings of Christianity. It claims that America is wonderful because we can do and say what we want and get by with the help of our neighbors (society). We do not need the rich to help us for we have our own who have built the basic blocks of civilization to helps us out.

I’m afraid this review isn’t coming out as I planned (I’m completely tired and am all over the place) but I guess the best thing to say is that this film shows the people of America can become completely one, whole, united if we join together and help one another.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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One of the things I love about Tumblr (and believe me that list is dwindling everyday) are the gifsets that go around. There have been countless gifsets of films I’ve never heard of before that people I follow reblog and I think “That movie looks interesting. I’ll need to add it to my to-watch list.” But then there are some of those films that I just see everywhere and it gets to the point where I say “GOD I NEED TO SEE THAT LIKE RIGHT NOW OKAY RESERVING IT AT THE LIBRARY.” I guess you know by now that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was one of those movies :)

I checked this movie out today and watched it with my mom right when I got home. I’ve always been a fan of Kate Winslet, I guess I feel like I can relate to her somehow, but Jim Carrey is not usually my cup of tea (expect for The Truman Show).  But god, he surprised me! I never knew he could play dramatic roles so well! It took me a few times to remember that he was mainly a comedian, not a dramatic actor. He takes on a completely different look: slumped over posture, unshaven, quiet, unsure, distraught, and desperate. Not usually what comes to mind when I think of Jim Carrey. I’m so glad he played this role; I’m not sure the story behind it but I think this film made me respect his work and ability much more. (However, Carrey does have a few brief moments to bring out his funny side.)

I guess one of the nice things about watching a movie with someone is that you can talk about it as it’s occurring and sharing thoughts and opinions. I was worried my mom wouldn’t like this movie at first (she can classify these films as “weird”) but nonetheless she wanted to see it and was really into it. Talking helped quite a bit throughout the eradication process :).

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Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey in one of Joel’s memories

On the topic of the removal of Clementine from Joel’s memory, I thought that was all thought out and shot so well. My favorite being the way they portrayed the paths of the memory: unadorned, grey hallways with just enough light to lead Joel and Clementine to his next memory. It’s so fitting with the idea of memory and even more so with Joel because of his personality.

The shooting of this movie, the use of close-ups and the hand-held camera feel, was perfect for achieving the idea of reality and human emotion. Jim Carrey definitely benefitted from this whereas otherwise I don’t think his performance would have been as powerful or moving.

The story is completely unique and touching. The idea of clearing a person from your memory sounded perfect to me, that is until I saw Joel’s idea. It’s more of a whim, as Clementine says that’s what it was for her, and that the full realization doesn’t come until after it’s completely gone. There are the goods and bads of a relationship and sometimes the bads overpower the goods to the point that we want nothing to do with it. Clearly there were real reasons that Clementine wanted to forget Joel; loosing your identity and being changed by someone is very unsettling. But as the movie points out, there are and will always be problems and it takes work.

What I loved was that through this horrid thing, Clementine finally gets to see who Joel is and learn about his early life. Joel is able to appreciate the things that he didn’t before. He sees just what sentimental value they held and the quirks of Clementine’s personality that he loves . And to see them crumble and disappear. Memories are the one thing that no one can take from us; that is expect for the dancing naked and stoned Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Mary (Kristen Dunst).

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Kate Winslet when Joel and Clementine listen to the tapes.

I’m still not sure what to think about the ending. After seeing the potential of a brand new relationship, it about killed me when Clementine got Mary’s letter. But then again, it was bound to happen. If you look closely, their two meetings are fairly similar expect for the pieces of Joel’s now destroyed memories. At some point they were going to realize their problems and difficulties. But they’re still a clean slate, and aware of the past, and perhaps they can do things to better amend it.

Memories of people shouldn’t be zapped away by the click of a button. Not only can the bad ones go away, but also some of the good ones. But really the bad ones don’t go away; they’ll find a way back and haunt you even more than before. What you’re left with is still that yearning for a certain someone, which cannot be destroyed.  Life is reality and reality isn’t perfect. It’s just one of the few things that I have to keep reminding myself. This movie opened my eyes to a different point of view and a way of analyzing the good and the bad of memories. Follows is the quote that the movie’s title comes from:

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d

Rating: ♚♚♚♚♚