Thursday, September 06, 2007

Movie Club: Short Cuts - How Can a 3 Hour Movie Have the Word Short In Its Title??

Now that the summer is over and Jerry Lewis has sung "You Will Never Walk Alone..." .. its time to get back to the ol' blog.. and we begin the fall season with a movie club movie review. Its Part 4 of our 4 part retrospective on Robert Altman and we wrap things up with a look at his 1993 film "Short Cuts", At the end of today's column we will announce the next movie club anthology!

There are 4 people... all dead... who make a major contribution to this movie... Hence a reunion is out of the question! The late Chris Penn and Jack Lemmon stand out among 21+ actors by turning in especially stunning acting performances, especially Lemmon who was such a likeable guy but ended up playing an incredible shmuck in this film....Raymond Carver wrote the short stories that inspired the movie directed by Robert Altman who took several Carver stories and wove them all together in a Nashville-eque series of scenes that turn into an incredibly long 3 hour plus movie! That movie is almost as long as Tuesday night's Nadal Ferrer match at the US Open.. and why oh why do they start matches so late when the last train back to NJ leaves Penn Station at 1:30 AM?

Here is a clip from the trailer

Nowadays, this movie draws a lot of comparisons to last years Oscar winner "Crash" because you meet the characters in the beginning and you think you understand them based on preconcieved notions, but it turns out that those opinions are way off. In "Short Cuts", there are so many people flying by in the 1st half hour that you make mental notes that this person is happy... this one is miserable. It's incredible how the happy people get less happy and the miserable people get less miserable until you realize they are all pretty much the same.

It's kind of like the political landscape of the early 1990s when this movie was made. Not to go on a Dennis Miller rant, but Democrats and Republicans were very similar in their philosophy, as opposed to now where both parties have grown far apart.. yet despite the differences these politicians are still basically the same. Back then, Monica Lewinsky wasn't known to anyone except maybe Matt Drudge. All of a sudden while President Clinton was being questioned under oath about Whitewater, some Republican wiseass drops in a question about extra marital affairs with Lewinsky and the next thing you know the GOP is trying to impeach the guy. Fast forward to 2007, Larry Craig gets caught trying to put the shmaneuver on a male undercover cop. Even though the party dumped him pretty quick, a lot of his Republican supporters say he was framed as part of a big witch hunt. However, as it turns out Craig is just as big a liar as Clinton was when he got before the cameras and and announced "I am not gay and have never been gay". Despite what his right wing supporters say, this was no isolated incident and there have been gay rumors flying about this guy for years.... The "gay code" between toilet stalls involve a complicated series of steps and movements that Debbie Allen couldn't choreograph. And telling a cop his reach to the ground was to grab some toilet paper? This coming from a US Senator who probably has never touched a toilet handle in a public bathroom and likely flushes a urinal with his shoe! He should have said he was reaching to pick up a copy of the Star Tribune to see if Justin Morneau had any homers for his fantasy baseball team. Maybe Craig should take a page out of Jim McGreevey's playbook and came out as a Gay American and this story wouldn't have bumped the absurd NAACP defense of dog killer Michael Vick to the back pages of the paper! But then again, Craig and his GOP buddies have spent years blocking legislation for gay rights that everyone would realize his hypocrisy reaches J Edgar Hoover-ian proportions.

Getting back to the movie, Short Cuts is similar to Altman's M*A*S*H and Nashville as there really is no plot per se.. just a huge cast of characters whose storylines intersect like a Seinfeld episiode, except unlike that legendary sitcom, things dont end wrapped up in a happy ending. The actual plot that runs during the movie involves a young boy who runs into the street and is hit by a car driven by a waitress played by Lily Tomlin. The kid tells Tomlin hes ok and goes home.... but hours later the after effects of the accident start to kick in. Tomlin goes home to her trailer park... while the kid's dad... a local tv editorial commentator... hangs out at the hospital hoping that his kid can pull through in time for his birthday while the local baker sits furious not realizing why the kids mom never picked up or paid for the expensive birthday cake!

The concept of a local TV channel having an editorial commentator doesnt exist now except for Family Guy's Peter Griffin's brief gig where he talked about what grinds his gears..., Those local editorials were very popular in the early 1990s when this movie was produced along with big klunky cell phones... (as seen when Penn's pool boy character uses an old klunky cell phone while watching the hottie next door neighbor go skinny dipping), and women not getting bikini waxes... (as seen when Penn's pool boy character uses an old klunky cell phone....)

Once you figure out who's who, you start to see how the characters lives interact in a Crash-eque kind of way. The father of the young boy has Penn over to clean his pool and an older woman next door asks him to come to her pool too... One would think that it was the old movie cliche of the older woman who wants to seduce the pool man, but it turns out she just needs her pool worked on... The poolman's wife is a 900 sex operator who nonchalantly huffs and puffs and whines and squeals while she works from home multi tasking (was there such a word back then?) by changing her baby's diapers or feeding her kids or cleaning up or doing a crossword puzzle. The couple is friends with another couple where the woman is the daughter of Tomlin's character. Those two couples go on a picnic near the end of the movie when a bizarre and rather out of left field murder takes place; the killer seems to get away with it when an incredibly timed natural disaster strikes immediately after the crime leading police to think that the victim was not murdered!

While the injured boy's dad, TV Commentator Howard Finnigan maintains a vigil at the hospital, he is reunited with his own dad.. the Jack Lemmon character. It turns out Howard was also hospitalized with an injury as a kid.. it coincided with his mom's discovery that Lemmon was having an affair with her sister, and his being thrown out of the house. Lemmon picks his grandsons hospitalization to finally reappear after all these years, and launches into an absurd monlogue in the hospital cafeteria to explain how the affair (and 40+ year absence) was really not his fault... Lemmons character has a chance later to get on the road to redemption with his son, but once again shows what a true loser he really is. Maybe having Lemmon playing this character wasnt such a great idea because Jack was such a likeable actor, and I found it difficult to dislike him as he so richly deserved!

Other storylines work their way in also... the boy's doctor..Ralph Wyman is married to a painter whose sister is involved in a horrible marriage to a cop, a character named Gene Shepherd.. the same name as one of the greatest storytellers of all time...a great choice for a name in a movie whose strength is in the story telling. He is portrayed by "The Player"s Tim Robbins, and just like in that movie he once again has a rivalry with a character played by The OCs Peter Gallagher. This time Robbins is having an affair with Gallagher's ex wife.. a storyline that provides some of the best scenes in the movie... including Mrs. Shepherd's laughing response to her husband's alibis during his extra marital affairs, her snappy comeback to his alibi of a crack bust, and Gallagher's literary interpretation of his ex's suggestion to take half their stuff. That scene includes an amusing encounter with a very slick vacuum cleaner salesman.

Its interesting to watch the 2 sisters talk about their marital issues... on the surface the happy person may not be as happy as she thinks.. Mrs. Shepherd sheepishly admits her husband will come back to the family once his current honey gets tired of his shenanigans. You start to see Shepherd's method of meeting women when he pulls over a female clown.. and snags her phone number. The clown actually meets Lemmons character Mr. Finnigan at the hospital while she is en route to do something that Lemmon couldnt do... make a child happy Lemmon shows her a magic trip involving an egg and a cup, after which she looks at him like he is a moron and tells him that trick is more appropriate for a bar and not for a child. By the way, another case of a Finnigan-clown connection takes place in the 2005 NBC sitcom Committed when the character of Marnie (played by Jennier Finnigan) has a roommate who is a clown!

The clowns husband goes on a fishing trip with his buddies (and en route drools over Tomlin, the waitress at the local coffee shop), which has another story line involving the dilemma of fishing in a lake that has a dead naked woman in it... The clown and her husband later head over to a bizarre dinner hosted by the doctor and his wife..(the cops sister in law)

The movie at first is just as hard to follow as this review, and a little more complex than Nashville. However the characters fall into place and all of the storylines are adapted from the Carver stories, except for the one about the old bar singer and her classical musician daughter played by Lori Singer. If you watch the dvd, once you realize its Lori Singer, you will start to wonder whatever happened to her since the early 90s until the moment where she strips naked and dives into the pool and then you get too distracted to really care, knowing full well you can always log into IMDB to see her bio after the movie is over. The mother is incredibly selfish, when her daughter tells her about the tragic death of a close acquaintance, she doesn't recognize the name, and doesnt seem to really care about the tragedy. You almost want to set her up on a blind date with Jack Lemmon's character.

There are a couple of things that appear odd about these characters. Tomlin's daughter and her husband house-sit for another couple so they can keep an eye on their exotic fish.. Of course, its very important that they be fed properly and that their water is properly maintained. They seem more concerned with the fish's water, than the fishermen who catch and eat fish caught in the same water that contained a rotting corpse. The fishermen decide to continue on their fishing trip because reporting the dead body will ruin their long awaited fishing trip so they decide to wait till after their fishing trip to contact the police.

And there is something oddly tragic about Penn's character. He is married to the 900 sex line girl yet he develops an odd jealousy towards her callers because she talks dirty to them.... but not to him. How bizarre is that, since he actually gets to do the ol' hocus mcpocus with his wife.... and all these guys get is a higher phone bill after they hear her re-enact dialogue from a poorly produced porn film. Penn seems so happy go lucky in the beginning while ogling a naked Lori Singer, but he really isnt so happy after all... Later in the movie he and his buddy find some young girls and wander away from their wives and kids at a park to share some beers with the chickies... which is the plot of Superbad.. (Although Short Cuts didn't have a scene stealing character named McLovin!) And while Penn's character looks to be normal but ends up far from that.. another character is the exact opposite.. During the movie you think he is an absolute loonie kazoonie, but you later realize he is an incredibly caring and compassionate person, and comes through in the clutch in an unbelievably difficult situation.

Altman uses jazz to thread the storylines together using the over the hill singer's nightclub appearances as a transition between vignettes. However, even though the music is very good, especially Lori Singer's cello playing, it adds even more time on to a very very long movie. But you gotta give those transitions points for style... and the storytelling... is superb! If you watch the dvd, you won't be able to leave in the middle because you will get hooked right into the different storylines. 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, Short Cuts gets 3 and a half bladders.

Now time to announce our next movie club series... We are doing 007 in '07... four different Bond Movies with four different Bonds. We'll announce the first movie next week.

PUMPSTRADAMUS NFL PICK OF THE WK: Football season is back and so is Pumpy's wkly pick. Last year he went an incredible 10-6-1. This week in honor of wrapping up our Altman 4 pack we return to Nashville for the Tennessee - Jacksonville game.. The Titans are 6 and a half point doggies to the Jaguars. We caught up to Pump as he was leaving the multi-plex after seeing Superbad and after flashing his Hawaiian ID card as the one named Pumpstradamus, The Pump Sayeth: "Take Tennesee because of the first 3 letters of their nickname!!".

THE NON-BIASED GIANTS FAN WEEKLY PICKS - This season, I won't be picking all the games - I didn't follow the NFL over the summer since I got too caught up with my surprisingly good rotisserie baseball team.. (Thank You Carlos Pena!!)... so instead we will pick a few games each week under my alter ego.... The Non-biased Giants Fan... Here are those picks...

The Dolphins 3 point doggies over Washington - The Skins aren't that good.
The Packers 3 point doggies over The Eagles - Is Favre still playing? I havent been paying attention.
Giants 6 point doggies over Dallas - I hope Boomer goes to bed before the game ends because he has to do the 6am WFAN shift Monday and then fly out to Cincy to do the Monday Night Game and fly back after the game to do the Tuesday Morning 6am shift! Oh and the Cowboys are not as good as the Giants!!

THE CLIP OF THE WEEK - Earlier I mentioned Dennis Miller and The Family Guy... here is a very funny clip of Peter Griffin watching a Dennis Miller rant!


Sue said...

Nice observation, thanks. I don’t visit your blog every day, but when I
visit your blog I enjoy browsing through your old posts and try to catch up
what I have missed since my last visit.

jake said...

The term I read a few years ago is 'hyperlink' to describe movies like Crash, Traffic, Syriana, etc...Short Cuts obviously precedes them all but I never saw it so I can't determine if it is the first of the hyperlinks. Roger Ebert explains 'hyperlink' in a link I sent you separately

Terentia said...

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