Robert Altman’s BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, OR SITTING BULL’S HISTORY LESSON

 

Robert Altman was such a champion of unorthodox filmmaking, in particular when it came to telling a narrative. His films are smart, almost too smart; BUFFALO BILL AND THE INDIANS, OR SITTING BULL’S HISTORY LESSON is not different – it highlights Altman as an unconventional alternative filmmaker from the 70s. It has been said a million times, but cannot be understated, most of the counterculture and “fuck the man” films of that decade (as well as the late 60s), are just as prevalent with their themes now as when they were made during the cultural civil war of the 60s and in particular the 70s.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians Paul Newman and Harvey Keitel

Paul Newman, in all his glory, plays Buffalo Bill Cody, the legendary gunslinger whose mythos is built upon tall tales and folklore. He was a superior gunslinger due to his marksmanship or was he that champion buffalo hunter, perhaps he was that fierce Indian hunter who kept the townspeople safe. In actuality he’s an over the hill drunk who runs a circus with Harvey Keitel as his buffoonish nephew, Kevin McCarthy as a Buffalo Bill wannabe, Geraldine Chaplin as Annie Oakley, Robert DoQui as the makeshift Indian and stage hand, Will Sampson as Sitting Bull’s counsel, Altman mainstay Shelley Duvall, Burt Lancaster as the maker of Buffalo Bill’s legend, and Joel Grey in a magnificent reiteration of his Master of Ceremony’s character from Bob Fosse’s CABARET.

This film exposes something that has become so very American; sensationalism of celebrity, false idols, and how history is more or less a tall tale of bullshit told by those who either win or know how to manipulate and control a narrative. What is a truly remarkable aspect of the film, is that Newman might not even be the actual Buffalo Bill, or better yet, Buffalo Bill never existed; Newman just dons the legendary mantle.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians Paul Newman

It follows in suit with Altman, being a fast-moving a very talkie film, yet the film feels like it could slide into a triple bill with John Ford’s THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE and Alex Cox’s WALKER – though the latter film is much more on the nose with its self-awareness. The film feels very contemporary, there is a sense of urgency about the picture, yet it takes place in the old west, where fables became gospel and legends never die.

Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES

 

70s cinema was at its absolute best when it birthed softly nihilistic, introspective films where the protagonist lived within moral ambiguity and hard shades of grey – wherein this picture, Gene Hackman gives his finest, most low-key performance as a former football player turned private investigator who takes on a case of a missing girl that lands him in Florida from LA, and uncovers a well-layered and richly defined plot of smuggling, lies, and deception all the while discovering who he really is, as well as the world around him.

With a taut script from Alan Sharp, a groovy score by Michael Small, director Arthur Penn crafts a remarkably quiet film; which plays more like a documentary where the camera just follows Hackman through his journey, all scenes from the film are of Hackman’s point of view, and there are not any overt, showy set-pieces or flash edits, popular music; the film just lives.

Night Moves 1975

Sharp’s screenplay, coupled with Penn’s vision and the actors performing his written words, is perfect. There are so many memorable lines of dialogue that have staying power, so much of the characters are revealed through the brief, yet potent, exchanges. This truly is a masterclass in writing.

A lot can be said for Hackman, being one of the longstanding true craftsmen of his profession; being one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen. In this picture, he is noticeably muted and brings a striking weariness to the role, he is not the self-righteous and volatile Hackman, he is just here to observe, and internalize his emotions. He gives a remarkably raw performance that is more about self-discovery than anything.

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Harris Yulin, Jennifer Warren, Edwards Binns, Kenneth Mars, Janet Ward, John Crawford, Susan Clark, James Woods, and Melanie Griffith round up the supporting cast, and Hackman plays off of each one magnificently. The characters in the film are very real, as are their homes, places of work and so on. There is a deep-seated reality to the film, where it doesn’t take place in the movie world, it takes place in reality.

The film’s narrative is remarkable, not only with the overall detective storyline, but also with how defined Hackman’s character and life is; and how his two worlds begin to blend together; where he is just not solving the case, but also solving who he is as well.

Night Moves Gene Hackman

NIGHT MOVES is a film that came out at the right time, the mid-70s, while everything was in flux, and people were just trying to understand how to be in the world. In actuality, the film is timeless with its themes, making an excellent time capsule of a picture that came from an era of film, that is so universally well regarded. 70s cinema might just be the best decade of American cinema, and NIGHT MOVES is one of the best films to come from that time and place.

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Peter Medak’s ROMEO IS BLEEDING

Romeo is Bleeding

 

There was a time in the early 90s when a series of nihilistic neo-noirs were made, in which they examined the pitfalls of masculinity, the male ego, and what it is to be an alpha male. RED ROCK WEST, AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, and Peter Medak’s ROMEO IS BLEEDING belong in the upper echelon of that sub-genre from that time and place.

Romeo is Bleeding Gary Oldman

The film is a conventional rogue cop film, made in a rather unconventional way. The film sticks to the guide, with the dirty cop endangering the lives of beautiful women through his series of bad mistakes, the ultimate femme fatale, and the powerful evil man. Yet, within the framework of what a noir is, lies bizarre and aloof humor that allows all the darkness to be stomached, creating captivating moments that are as surreal as they are deadly.

Romeo is Bleeding Lena Olin

The film’s cast is paramount. Gary Oldman leads the ensemble in what is one of his finest performances. Oldman is an actor who never, ever disappoints, and regardless of how worn out, or tired a genre character he plays – he always brings something new and something fresh to the role that makes it uniquely his. His character of Jack Grimaldi is in fact, grim – hit the nail on the head with the not-so-subtle character name. A man consumed by the lifestyle he swore to bring to justice, he starts informing for the mob, and that’s when everything goes to shit.

Oldman is anchored by a remarkable gallery of talent; Lena Olin as quite possibly the best femme fatale depicted on screen, a vulnerable and damned Juliette Lewis, a sweet and very perceptive wife in Annabella Sciorra, Will Patton, David Proval and Gene Canfield as Oldman’s cop buddies, CRIME STORY’S Paul Butler and James Cromwell as FBI agents, Tony Sirico, Michael Wincott, and Dennis Farina as mobsters, with all roads leading to the big bad, Roy Scheider in the role of the perfectly heavy-handed named Don Falcone – the ruthless mobster who wants Olin dead.

Romeo is Bleeding Roy Scheider

While Oldman does his worst by trying his absolute best to play all sides against the middle and somehow end up with all the money, the women, and getting away with it; director Peter Medak and screenwriter Hilary Henkin build a world filled with fast and dangerous people, showstopping set pieces, memorable dialogue, and eccentric without being too much costume design. Not to mention an elegant and dangerous score by Mark Isham. The world-building within the film is terrific, and truly accentuates the dusty and grim neo-noirs of the early 90s.

 

3 for 3: Tim Burton

Tim Burton Press Conference

Frank and Tom are joined with former guest, and now recurring co-host, Mac McSharry to discuss three Tim Burton films. Burton is very well known, directing over nineteen films and his steadfast collaboration with Johnny Depp. Tune in to find out which three Tim Burton films are discussed, and what the next topic will be for 3 for 3 with Frank, Tom, and Mac.

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For Your Ears Only: John Glen’s A VIEW TO A KILL

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Frank and Tom are back to discuss Roger Moore’s final outing as James Bond in John Glen’s A VIEW TO A KILL which features one of the best Bond themes by Duran Duran, and an excellent supporting cast of Christopher Walken, Grace Jones, Tanya Robers, Allison Doody, and Patrick Macnee.

Artwork provided by the very talented Jeffrey Marshall.

Cathy Yan’s BIRDS OF PREY

Margot Robbie is a star. A bona fide star. She’s worked with Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and is now an Academy Award-nominated actress. Coming off her best year yet; her first entrance into the new decade is reprising her role of Harley Quinn in BIRDS OF PREY with the wickedly fun subtitle: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN. It is a sort of her standalone follow-up to SUICIDE SQUAD and in actuality, the movie the precursor wanted to be.

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Robbie, who is obviously a lot of fun and owns and commands the film, is supported by a rich cast of Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, and a remarkable turn from Ewan McGregor as perhaps one of the most perverse villains ever. With a runtime of 109 minutes, the film is incredibly paced that is very, very self-aware of what it is, and the genre that it is working within. The film doesn’t even come close to wearing out its welcome; with a narrative that is just bonkers.

Harley Quinn breaks up with the Joker (with a subtle and respective nod to Jared Leto), and then half of Gotham is after her. Along with her struggle to stay alive and work through heartbreak, she inadvertently assembles a team of hard women to take down a mean man, the gloriously flamboyantly gay, Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis the Black Mask.

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McGregor is marvelous in this film. He’s very hammy, with costumes that are gleefully gaudy; yet have an air of class and old money to them, yet completely psychotic with fierce paranoia that spins him into this perverse and sadistic delight. This picture is a perfect showcase of casting, and casting directors, enhancing the film to the heights of being so unique, that it would be hard to imagine other actors in the principal roles. McGregor as the big bad in a DC film, at the pinnacle of Robbie’s star power seems like a cinephile’s dream.

Chris Messina finally gets his moment in the sun as Victor Zsasz who gets turned into McGregor’s foppish boy toy and makes every scene he is in creepier and better. Messina has always put in solid dramatic and comedic work, but in this film, he really gets to cut loose, and have a lot of fun in the role. Rosie Perez is great, doing what she does best in an intentionally stereotypical role, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is one mean motor scooter; she’s terrific. And of course, Robbie is the star that perfectly slides back into the Harley Quinn role, and adds more depth and debauchery to her seminal character.

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The film cascades into a girl power film, it’s empowering while bending pretty transgressive with its hard R rating, keeping the film from becoming overly preachy or woke. It pulls off what it is trying to say rather well, with an end result of a film that is very self-aware, dirty, violent, and a lot of fun. Warner Brothers most certainly have turned the beat around regarding their most coveted franchise property with DC films.

JJ Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Bringing the decade to a close were three important films. Two being those made by cinema’s most influential and important auteurs, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, who with their respective films said farewell to their audience, their brand, and to cinema. The third film is by JJ Abrams who effortlessly accomplished the impossible; putting a capstone on a nine picture, decade spanning series that has brought unifying joy to billions around the globe as well as much unnecessary rancor and hostility that nearly imploded the franchise. Star Wars, without a doubt, is the most important film series cinema ever has or will offer.

With the final film in the Skywalker saga, Abrams delivered both nuance and fan service. Catering to the loyal and supportive fanbase for their years of dedication. With THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, he came in hot and heavy with the new components of the franchise that built upon the fertile foundation that the maker George Lucas had birthed. The story of Rey and Ben Solo are just a small cog in the juggernaut machine that is Star Wars.

Abrams took on an impossible task. How could he finish a trilogy that he started? Carrie Fisher had passed, and for the first time, a Star Wars film was made that took gigantic risks that caused much ado about nothing, especially with all the smug snarkiness that transpired after THE LAST JEDI, a film that was a catalyst with those pretending it was either the best or worst Star Wars film. A tribalist mentality formed around it, either you’re for it or against it.

So Abrams brought back Palpatine who is diabolical as ever and that old smoothy Lando, added Richard E. Grant as the Grand Moff Tarkin stand-in we deserve (all three are marvelously perfect) and regrounded the picture and series as a film for the fans made by the fans. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a thrilling spectacle that builds upon the absolute best parts of Rian Johnson’s previous installment, and walks back some of the weaker parts, creating an exhilarating experience that will be wholly embraced by those who love everything Star Wars, and irritate those who prefer the franchise in an ala carte manner.

Fact of the matter is, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is the best of the sequels, merging together both Abrams and Johnson’s vision into a film that brings equal parts laughter and tears, as well as surprises that are so nostalgic, the surrealism will not wear off quickly.

Film Twitter and Rotten Tomatoes be damned; THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a prime example of the stark contrast between film goers and pompous critics who are more concerned with how witty they come off than actually enjoying a movie. What JJ Abrams has accomplished is not just his finest output to date, but his most important.

Long live the Force.

Actor’s Spotlight with Stephanie Kurtzuba

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We are completely honored to bring you our chat with actress Stephanie Kurtzuba. Stef recently stars alongside Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN which is currently streaming on Netflix. Her other credits include THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, ANNIE, and the upcomig film BAD EDUCATION with Hugh Jackman. Her television credits include CHICAGO PD, BLUE BLOODS, THE LEFTOVERS, and THE GOOD WIFE. Stef speaks about her early beginnings in Nebraska to attending NYU, working on stage, and meeting Martin Scorsese and working on one of the best films of the new century, THE IRISHMAN.

I HEARD YOU HAVE A SHIT OPINION…AND DO YOUR OWN ECHO CHAMBER WORK TOO

Now that the masses have been privileged with seeing Martin Scorsese’s cinematic farewell, I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES (THE IRISHMAN), of course, there is going to be an onslaught of hyperbolic praise and unnecessary smiting of the digital de-aging process, old men bodies with younger heads, and how SLOW the picture moves. How this is an amalgam of GOODFELLAS and CASINO and how this is the last stand at Saber River of the gangster genre.

All of that is bullshit.

The film is a farewell from Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. Sure, they’ll go on to do more work until they pass, but I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES is it. It is LET IT BE, it is ALL THAT JAZZ, it is all over after this. And while the picture is an excellent companion piece to ONCE UPON A TIME IN…HOLLYWOOD – there is nothing cathartic, endearing, or born-again about the ending of this film. I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES ends on an underplayed note of sorrow, regret, and the denial of all roads leading to not just becoming obsolete but dying alone.

Martin Scorsese, and with all the credit due to Netflix, releases a three and a half-hour film that is underplayed beat by beat. Rolling Stones do not show up, there are not any slow motion kill shots, De Niro is not chain-smoking cigarettes, and Joe Pesci is not popping people’s eyeballs out by putting their head in a vice; the only showy part of the film is Pacino’s hammy turn as James Hoffa, which was well worth the wait of Scorsese and Pacino finally working together.

Mind you, this film comes out at a time where our culture has de-evolved. What was once a terrible addiction of constantly swiping through dating apps or scrolling through newsfeeds has become a habit, and where we not only two-screen life (phone and television) but also three-screen it (phone, laptop/tablet, television); there is no doubt that the meaty runtime is lost upon a large amount of people who get separation anxiety from their electronic devices while watching a very slow and underplayed film where people aren’t jumping from exploding buildings, flying spaceships, or fighting with laser swords while the filmmaker or studio behind the movie is trying to make some half-assed topical statement to stay one step ahead of other films in our woke culture. This very much underscores Scorsese’s very nice comments regarding the state of cinema and the MCU.

Bagging on the digital de-aging is a lazy argument to a shit opinion. If Scorsese did not digitally de-age the actors, he then had two options. One would be to cast younger actors to play a younger De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino or just not make the film. Neither of those options were realistic, so he did what he always does, challenge cinema and viewers simultaneously. While it is a bit jarring at first to see the actors with younger faces, it does become seamless and works perfectly. And while De Niro’s frame is much different now than it was in Goodfellas or Casino, he is also playing a much different character. There is nothing flashy or showy or glamourized by his character. He’s a regular, blue-collar guy. Not some iconic fictional character – he’s real.

If a viewer cannot sit through a three and a half-hour film; they have no business watching it in the first place. It is almost as if this film is a test pilot for what is to come of the future of cinema. Can an audience endure not just the runtime, but something so ominous; watching five cinematic titans saying goodbye with the viewer knowing in ten years we would be remarkably lucky to have at least one of them still living? Is the future of cinema pure escapism that is catered to an audience that needs constant visual stimulation to keep their attention span from wondering if they’ve received a match on their dating app, or what their ex posted on Facebook, or if they missed a deal on Amazon? Or a populous that has been reconditioned with marking off how many white actors are in the film, or how many lines of dialogue the women have within the film, or why there is not a representation of gender-fluid characters in the picture, because that’s how life is, according to clickbait on social media?

What we are witnessing is a deconstruction of our culture that is perpetuated by constant need of affirmation that is perpetuated with self-righteousness from those who either hold the same opinions or the opinions that we think we should have all the while, woke outlets are still making a shit pot full of money because we live in a capitalist society and always will. It is the snake eating its tail.

As someone who somehow accidentally carved out my own place in film journalism and has been paid for my words, and can be lazy when it comes to grammar, focus, and discipline; I am fortunate to have met those I have met, interviewed personal heroes and people who are vapid and shallow; I cannot stress enough the importance of not expressing this enough; opinions can be wrong and oftentimes misguided. And we placate to whatever cult we are apart of that worships some false idol that often ends with a quid pro quo of social media reacts. When you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the source you are critiquing, you are responsible for an echo chamber of bullshit that turns into the song that never ends from the Lambchop PBS show. Be better than that and please stop liking and disliking things the wrong way.

Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN

Martin Scorsese closes a decade, much like he opened the 70s; crafting and birthing a deeply personal film that instantly stands to be marveled at, and is cause for celebration. The names Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel are all what legends are made of and once they are gone, they are instantly irreplaceable and each of them will become an idol of a time in human history where movies became cinema, and each one of them will become an iconic footnote of the lasting impression of art.

There is so much to take away from this picture. Yes, it is a cumulative capstone of a generation of artists who have become the living embodiment of cinema, while also revolutionizing computer generated de-aging to a point where it is not a gimmick, it becomes reality. It pushes past the boundaries of tentpole fatigue and allows these four actors to move fluidly throughout four decades, all the while teaching the viewer about the passage of time where the final destination is death.

The entire film is underplayed and painstakingly low key. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing glides at a steady pace, the performances are all somber as they are sublime, with the exception of Al Pacino who gives a magnetically hammy turn as James R. Hoffa. Robert De Niro’s transformative performance marks a new high as what it is to be stoic, and Joe Pesci gives such an anti-Pesci performance, he will linger with the audience long after the credits roll.

And then there is Harvey Keitel. It has been thirty-one years since Scorsese worked directly with Keitel and fifty-two years since the two first worked together on WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR. Scorsese bestows the David Bowie in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST or Paul Sorvino in GOODFELLAS role to Keitel; the extended cameo that is so powerfully singularly due to casting, his presence hangs throughout the duration of the picture. It is an overly emotional re-teaming of the two strange bedfellows – the former Marine and devout Jew coupled with the anxious and hyper-obsessive artist whose Catholic guilt is worked out over the course of over fifty fruitful years of being the father of modern-day cinema. It is an absolute joy to bear witness as these two cinematic icons work together again in what will forever be Scorsese’s most seminal and grandiose work.

Inside the film, Scorsese sticks with the original title of I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES. And within it, he made his most self-aware picture that subtly references his career through music, atmosphere, location, and casting. He pulls in a cast representative of the many eras of his canon. His HBO era cast of Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, Jack Huston, and Dominick Lombardozzi to his gangster-era casting of Paul Herman and Welker White to the new guard of Stephanie Kurtzuba, Bo Dietl and J.C. MacKenzie all play a prominent role of merging Scorsese’s entire career into one three and a half-hour film.

There is a moment in the film where De Niro is gifted a ring by Pesci, where the ring in question is only worn by three people: Keitel, Pesci, and now De Niro; signifying Scorsese’s three boys, and the ones who are most representative of cinema’s most important auteur and solidifying their status as cinematic titans.

Netflix has truly outdone themselves with putting all their support and money behind Scorsese and letting him do whatever he wants. There isn’t another entity in existence that would have let Scorsese do what he did with this picture, and their protection of not allowing a massive theatrical run is absolutely just.

I HEARD YOU PAINT HOUSES, is Scorsese’s most import and cathartic work; and shows the audience about the embracement of death in a way that has never quite been conveyed on film. This is not a gangster film populated with slow-motion kill shots cued up to the Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton; it is a deeply personal picture that is a goodbye from Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Pesci, and Keitel.