Tag Archives: James Garner

Robert Benton’s Twilight

The title Twilight obviously brings up bad memories of a franchise we’d all like to forget, but before that abomination ever entered the fold, the moniker belonged to a laconic, brightly lit yet darkly intoned LA film noir starring Paul Newman as an aging Hollywood private investigator. He’s a guy who was was never famous himself but seemingly behind the scenes of stardom and scandal and making a career out of it until his golden years find him living on the lavish estate of a fading starlet (Susan Sarandon) and her husband (Gene Hackman), also an actor of former stature. He’s always been in love with her but is also Hackman’s good buddy and it makes for a love triangle that is never too tense or melodramatic, but just as uncomfortable as it needs to be. He sort of serves as their homefront security officer and sorta just spies on Sarandon languishing by the pool and you can tell that the three of them are just mournful ghosts of what they probably were decades ago, haunting their surroundings like echoes rather than living in them.

Things get heavy for them once again when Newman takes on a shady job that involves delivering blackmail money, a situation that quickly snowballs into deceit, old wounds torn open and, of course, murder most foul. Something nasty is going on that dates years back into the collective past of these three individuals and has come back to bite them all squarely on the ass, and although it might not be the most innovative mystery narrative and certainly aspects are predictable, it’s just so much fun watching these master actors play it out in sunny Hollywood enclaves. Speaking of old pros, James Garner has a nice supporting role as an ex cop pal of Newman’s who helps him out with intel and backup. Watch for early career work from Liev Schreiber, who now stars on Showtime’s Ray Donovan, another LA noir story that I’m almost positive drew inspiration from this film. A very young and very naked Reese Witherspoon also shows up briefly, as well as Stockard Channing, Margo Martindale, Giancarlo Esposito, Jason Clarke, John Spencer, Clint Howard and M. Emmett Walsh. Newman is terrific here in one of his older dude roles, his blue eyes lend just a hint of optimism to the downbeat noir archetype. Hackman and Sarandon say a lot with little dialogue and plenty of body language, embodying damaged souls with grace and grizzle.

I recently heard a character in Amazon’s Goliath (yet another LA noir- can you tell I’ve cultivated a fixation on the sub genre?) say that murders in LA and Hollywood are especially tricky to solve because anybody could know anybody or be connected to anything. That gives ample freedom to intertwine characters and set up strange encounters or resolutions to plot, which is always fun and evident here too. It’s a slow, sunny burn of a crime flick that isn’t designed to be particularly flashy or lurid, but unfolds at its own pace alongside Newman & Co. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Battle For Terra: A Review by Nate Hill

  
Battle For Terra is right up there with Titan AE as one of the most underrated animated films out there. It was shunted to the area off the beaten path of the genre, released quietly and inconspicuously back in 2009, sneaking just past people’s radar. Not mine. I waited eagerly for a theatrical release, which never came, and grabbed the dvd as soon as it hit shelves. It’s a dazzling science fiction parable not unlike Avatar, but a little softer, reverent and easy on the pyrotechnics. The story takes place some years after the remainder of the human race has been left to wander the stars in a giant spaceship called The Ark, left homeless after devastating the resources of earth, and three subsequent planets after. Soon they set their sights on a newfound world they dub Terra. Terra is populated by a peaceful alien race who spend most of their time in harmony, studying their heritage and bettering their existence. They now face annihilation, however, as the humans wish to settle, mine resources and deeply unbalance their way of life. One young Terran girl named Nala (Evan Rachel Wood) is a plucky young inventress and wonderer who finds one of the human astronauts (Luke Wilson) crash landed and stranded in her neck of the woods. They form a bond which may turn out to be the only way to find peace between humanity and the population of Terra. The story is wonderful, universal and carried out in a childlike manner full of earnestness that anyone can relate too. The Terrans resemble something like upright tadpoles crossed with sock puppets, and are fascinating to look upon. More interesting still is the natural world they inhabit; they sort of swim/glide through their thick atmosphere, and coexist with the many strange creatures and bioluminescence around them, including gigantic blue whale type things that fly around with them. I’m describing this to try and impart to you the level of thought and detail which went into creating this world, so you can see how high the filmmakers have jacked up the stakes in attempt to let you see the length humans will blindly go to further their survival, without voluntary compromise. The world the Terrans live on is a lush paradise in perfect balance, and the humans aboard The Ark, no matter how desperate, threaten it. They are led by stern General Hammer (Brian Cox), who is an antagonist, but not a villain in the least, a determind leader who will go to extremes to protect his people if his lack of empathy is allowed to go unchecked. The supporting cast is stacked high with incredible talent, and one can practice ones skill for identifying voices by listening for Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, David Cross, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Evans, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Amanda Peet and Dennis Quaid. What a lineup. Imagination, storytelling ambition and visual genius govern this overlooked piece, and anyone who is a fan of animation (which is brilliant here, I might add) or science fiction needs to take a look.

HealtH – A Review By Patrick Crain

zoom_1418768851_HealtH@2xWhen you begin to consider the high-level talent that went into the formula that produced Robert Altman’s HealtH, it’s difficult to recall another movie in film history that was, and continues to be, treated as poorly. Coming directly after Altman’s twin failures of 1979, Quintet and a Perfect Couple, its production was relatively quick and on-the-fly; an attempt to get one in the can while things at 20th Century Fox were still being run by Alan Ladd, Jr., a staunch Altman proponent who once gave the maverick filmmaker a million and a half dollars to make 3 Women, a movie that came to Altman in a dream and had no real cohesive story.

Sure enough, things did change and Ladd was ousted. HealtH, which had an initial scheduled release date in late 1979, began to get slowly pushed back on the schedule. Early 1980 came and went and a series of test runs arranged by the new management proved to be less than promising. The master plan of having it released before the 1980 presidential election never materialized. It’s safe to assume that when Altman began shooting the lavishly budgeted, dual-studio event picture Popeye in 1980, he couldn’t dream that he would get it shot, edited, and in theaters before HealtH.

But Popeye was released in time for Christmas in 1980 and HealtH was eventually pushed off of the Fox release schedule entirely. It did manage to play a limited engagement at Film Forum in 1982 but, aside from its occasional, stealthy appearance on various television movie channels, HealtH has never seen a release on home video. It’s a depressing world in which we live that Robert Downey Sr.’s similarly-imprisoned the Gong Show Movie finally gets a Blu ray release and HealtH can’t even be bought on the sad, used VHS market. Every once in a while, a widescreen rip from one of those movie channel broadcasts makes its way onto YouTube, but its difficult to know if it’s been edited for time or whether the somewhat squeezed visual presentation is a representation of the film’s true aspect ratio.

Given its obscurity, the perceived notion is that HealtH must be some kind of otherworldly dog of a film; a real hubristic bonanza crafted amidst a barrage of likeminded projects by Altman. But the truth of the matter is that HealtH is a surprisingly strong look at the ridiculousness of the American political system as filtered through the world of the then-bourgeoning consumer health industry. A fine addition to the busier, wide-canvas ensemble pieces Altman could engineer with remarkable skill and dexterity, HealtH performs double duty as a sly comedy and a prescient warning of the toxic injection of empty personality and media-driven messaging into our electoral process.

In a way, the overtly political overtones of HealtH would go on to serve Altman well when it came time for him to produce his masterpiece of the 80’s, Tanner ’88; one specific element, the jaunty campaign theme “Exercise Your Right to Vote,” is heard in both films.  In its earlier incarnation, it’s delivered by The Steinettes, an a capella outfit who acts as a ridiculous but appropriate greek chorus to HealtH’s very odd portrait of 1979 America.

HealtH is, on the surface, about two days at a health convention in which two candidates are running for the title of “President of HealtH.” Present at this convention are product pitchmen, authors, political functionaries & fixers, glad-handing bureaucrats, dirty tricksters, aides, liaisons, and PR staff all centering around the two presidential hopefuls.

In one corner, Esther Brill (Lauren Bacall), 83 year-old virgin whose ubiquitous campaign slogan “Feel Yourself,” is delivered with an astounding cluelessness as Brill believes that each orgasm shaves 28 days off of your life. Her staff is made up of PR guru Harry Wolff (James Garner), oversexed campaign manager, Dr. Ruth Ann Jackie (Ann Ryerson) Brill’s undersexed personal physician who secretly lusts after Wolff, and a gaggle of nurses who are constantly drinking behind Brill’s back.

In the other corner is Isabella Garnell (Glenda Jackson) a pragmatic-yet-cold idealist whose speeches all seem swiped from Adlai Stevenson. Her entourage consists solely of Willow Wertz (Diane Stilwell), a sweet-natured aide whose ongoing sexual frustration is rooted in her inability to feel anything sexual for anything whatsoever.

Between the two candidates is Gloria Burbank (Carol Burnett), a representative from the White House and Wolff’s ex-wife; Dr. Gil Gainey (Paul Dooley), an independent candidate for president and shill for something called “Vita-Sea;” Colonel Cody (Donald Moffat), a bellowing political string-puller; Bobby Hammer (Henry Gibson), a slimy political operative sent to disrupt the Garnell campaign; Sally Benbow (Alfre Woodard), the convention hotel’s PR director; and, finally, Dick Cavett, as himself, who is there to cover the event for his talk show. Oh, yeah, and the Steinettes. 

In the film, we’re told that HealtH (which stands for “Happiness, Energy and Longevity through Health”) is an organization more than three times the size of the NRA and whose members can be similarly motivated to vote one way or the other. So the film certainly exists in an America that could also produce the cockeyed presidential campaign of Nashville’s Hal Phillip Walker. But Walker didn’t much have a real-life counterpart in 1975. The populist politics of Nashville reflected a hopelessness that washed through the post-Watergate, pre-Carter country like a rotten fever. The politics of HealtH were much more immediate. While sending up the then-current political climate, the film seems to anticipate the cultural shift that occurred in the presidential election in 1980. Even if the other candidates in the film could be composites of many other political figures, Esther Brill is a certain representation of the perceived image of Ronald Reagan, a man who counted on a network of advisors and aides to keep him informed and aware and who was about to enter the presidential race with a boatload of sunny optimism and slogans aplenty.

While HealtH is far from perfect due to its unfocused and rushed production and its occasional tendency to get lost in the weeds of its own mix of satire and reality (you never really feel like you should be investing in it as you really should), there is a great deal to admire. The script, by Altman regular Frank Barhydt, actor Dooley, and Altman does an admirable job keeping the film equally steeped in reality (through the characters of Woodard and Garner), television (Cavett and, eventually, Dinah Shore), and fantasy (basically everything else). The performances, too, are all top-notch. Burnett, Bacall, and Jackson are all terrific but the film is absolutely stolen at every turn by Woodard whose polite facade hilariously begins to give way to disdain as the convention rolls along. Among the men, Garner turns in a reliably easy-going performance, Paul Dooley is as energetic as I’ve ever seen him, and Dick Cavett, remarkably comfortable in a sizable role, has a great deal of fun.

As history marches on, HealtH’s chances of being anything other than a completely forgotten and mostly unseen film become slimmer and slimmer. Altman passed away ten years ago so it’s unlikely that any other event could be the catalyst for its release. Sometimes chuckling and sometimes wincing while watching it in the midst of our own current presidential election that certainly seems like it could play out in an Altman film, it’s a cinch that HealtH could still find an audience today.health-sm-web