Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Player - A Movie Club Column

Well folks, now that I am somewhat settled in our new home.. and adjusted to our new computer setup since my 2003 relic emachines hard drive went kaput, it is time once again to resume the movie reviews for our Movie Club.

Today we present Part III of our Robert Altman 4-pack (M*A*S*H and Nashville were the first two) The Player is today’s movie and the 4th will be Short Cuts..which I just bought on eBay since no video store stocks it anymore. I decided to do the movies in the order they were made so I was kind of surprised to see an Altman interview on the DVD where he says he decided to cast Tim Robbins after he saw him in “Short Cuts” Huh? I doublechecked and The Player was released first.. so either Short Cuts was filmed first and released second, or Altman’s memory was a bit shaky when the DVD Extras portions were filmed.

This movie is very different than the prior 2 Altman flicks – those were a bunch of characters interacting with no major plot. The Player however has a plot and fewer major characters; yet it has a much larger cast due to a ton of cameo roles by actors who came in and basically did their scenes for free. The DVD extra also has a nifty gallery for the extras where you click on the name and go right to their cameo just in case you missed it during the movie. The extra producers were obviously not fans of The Bob Newhart Show because they identify Jack Riley (Mr Carlin) as another actor.

The plot reminded me of a program I volunteered for 4 years ago that was organized by a friend of mine. She had a lot of cable network execs come out to a program called “Pitch Your Project”. Aspiring reality show producers attended a reality show seminar and then got a few minutes to run their proposal past the very patient cable execs. I don’t know if any of these reality shows got picked up, but one after the other they pitched their idea. I started thinking of this when I saw the movie because Tim Robbins character – Griffin Mill is a bigshot at a movie studio where his job is to listen to people pitch their projects, and his personal life gets a little shaky when one of his rejected Project Pitchers starts to send him threatening postcards.

The first 7 minutes of the movie are a cinematic masterpiece.. mostly adlibbed and all shot off one camera with no takes to a 2nd camera. That means the viewers perspective never changes – there are no edits- and if there is a foul up during the process.. its back to square one to shoot it all over again. This is what is called a tracking shot. Tracking shots have been done in other movies before, but this is the first time that tracking shots in a movie was a topic of conversation during a tracking shot in a movie. They did fifteen takes on that scene.. Among the dialogue improvised was a pitch shot outside through a window where Buck Henry proposes an outrageously bizarre sequel to “The Graduate”. How odd that years later we would get the strange “sequel” Rumor Has It about a young woman played by Jennifer Aniston who realizes that her odd family was the inspiration of the book and movie. Even stranger is the casting of Mena Suvari as her younger sister… she's the same actress who got her start in “American Pie”… the movie that inspired the term MILF where “Are you trying to seduce me Mrs. Robinson? was replaced by yelps of "Stiflers Mom!!!”

Here is an amazing tracking shot from the Orson Welles movie "Touch of Evil"... remember there are no second takes and no cutting away...

Besides a rejected project pitcher, Mill has to worry about a new hotshot exec Larry Levy played by Peter Gallagher pre The OC. Mill gets pitched a project and as if it were ripped out of the pages of “The Producers”, the concept of “Habeas Corpus” sounds so awful that he decides to have Levy take charge of it so he can watch the whole thing fall apart. .. and then watch Levy’s career crash. The original idea is pitched by a wide eyed writer who insists his masterpiece, a mumbo jumbo of mistaken identity a DA and the death penalty… your typical Three’s Company episode… have no big name stars and a sad un-Hollywood ending…. Because that is reality! Ultimately, the movie is “tweaked” and you watch the wide eyed writer go from a bright eyed optimist to an even brighter eyed sell out rich man. Its ironic how in the beginning he insists on a low budget film... "NO Schwartzenegger!" he barks to keep the big names out..... which is exactly the same thing star Tim Robbins and wife Susan Sarandon have been yelling outside the California statehouse.

The movie makes a major turn when Mill realizes he can figure out which rejected project pitcher has been threatening him. He tracks his suspect to a movie theater.. and when he confronts him we realize it’s a younger, thinner Vincent D’Onofrio from Law and Order: CI. His character David Kahane hates Mill with a passion and after a night of drinking at a karaoke bar to sort out their differences, they realize that they cant come to any meeting of the minds, and they just don't like each other. Kahane sees Mill as a shmuck and when the confrontation gets physical outside the bar, a life changing moment arrives for both of them that will dog Mill through the rest of the movie. He also ends up putting the shmaneuver on Kahane’s girlfriend (who wears white at a funeral) much to the chagrin of his own girlfriend, co-worker Bonnie Sherow who passionately fights with the movie studio execs to retain the original concept for “Habeas Corpus”.

You can’t help noticing what a weasel Mill really is. He fingers Kahane as the suspect using flawed logic based on movie concepts. The movie itself has plenty of dialogue about twists on basic plot premises and a Polish joke involving what a woman will do to make it in the movies. Mill drives a snazzy car and has a cool 1992 era cell phone.. back when they were called car phones. During his confrontation with Kahane he runs into Kahane taking a pish outside a building. Kahane borrows the car phone and then hands it back to Mill… even though he never washed his hands! Yuck.. I couldn’t get my mind off the germ filled 1992 car phone during the next few minutes. But then again, here we are 15 years later and you can surf the web on your Iphone while sitting on the toilet!

Mill also dines with the power players during the power lunches and hob knobs with Burt Reynolds and other stars. He admonishes a waiter for serving him water in a wine glass and demands to be re-served using the proper glass ware. He later admits he doesn’t drink unless he is with another drinker… while Levy’s character is also sober but goes to AA meetings since that is where a lot of Hollywood business gets conducted! Levy later has a line in the movie about changing water to wine.

There is one scene in the movie that reminded me of a very funny moment in Nashville. The wacky writer agent duo of Tom Oakley and Andy Civella (played by Richard Grant and Quantum Leap’s Dean Stockwell) are chatting with Andie MacDowell at a Hollywood hang out.. Civella refers to her as “his namesake Andie”, and Mill points out how cool it was to see Andie after he had just run into Malcolm McDowell,… prompting aspiring writer Tom to announce his connection to Roddy McDowell! You almost expect the 1986 Astros to come sulking in after Roger McDowell shut them down in Game 6 of the NLCS. The McDowell scene reminded me of the scene in Nashville where the redneck character runs into actress Julie Christie and remarks how ironic it is to see her since he had just recently seen the Christie Minstrels.

One amusing anecdote about the dvd's extras.... I always like to watch the deleted scenes and the outtakes. Since the movie takes place in a movie studio, we see a deleted scene where the actors are watching “the dailies” involving a movie being filmed with Lily Tomlin and Scott Glenn who were both in Nashville. Since it’s a deleted scene you hear the movie director yell action and then the "movie in the movie" director character yell action. Its kind of odd, but then Glenn messes up a line and asks to start over, and makes it a point to request that he have his cameo appearance union check ready so he can leave right after his scene. Lily Tomlin also starts snapping at him and I was starting to think that the actor Glenn was a real shmuck until I realized that this was part of his character and his character had fouled up his line, and it was a deleted scene NOT an outtake. Oops; it was all supposed to be part of the movie. In the extras they actually said that some of the secretaries visiting the set who were watching walked out because they felt uncomfortable seeing Tomlin and Glenn snapping at each other. That same movie within a movie also featured Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis playing themselves.... as they did in "Ocean's 12" in an odd but strangely well done scene where Julia Roberts character actually is able to pull off a heist by pretending she is... Julia Roberts. Kind of like Too Close for Comfort where they had a cameo by "Ted Knight",..... or was that The Mary Tyler Moore Show?? And when was the last time 2 actors played themselves in 2 different movies?

The Player's plot is very enjoyable.. there are a ton of cameos that are not too distracting from the main story and the ending is filled with irony, especially where Mill is pitched a concept that could actually be a movie… The opening shot.. is a visual masterpiece! The musical score is well done. It actually sounds a bit like the Chuck Woolery game show “Greed”. On a scale of one to four bladders meaning how less likely you would be to leave in the middle to go to the bathroom.. The Player gets three and a half bladders.

Now time for the Clip of the Week: This month WFAN celebrates 20 years on the air.. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I was the 3rd caller on the first ever show hosted by Jim Lampley. Ladies and Gentlemen... I got my mitts on the tape and here is how it started that first day.. By the way this was the first time I had heard this since 1987, and to be perfectly honest.. I have no idea what the heck I was talking about! A baseball team in NJ?

No comments: