Altman-esque: Films by Robert Altman | Festival | Chicago Reader

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Altman-esque: Films by Robert Altman

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This retrospective series runs May 4 through June 10 at the Music Box. Following are programs through May 10; for a full schedule visit www.musicboxtheatre.com.

RBrewster McCloud One of Altman's most charming exercises in cabaret humor and off-the-cuff modernism. Bud Cort is Brewster, a sullen sprite who lives in the basement of the Houston Astrodome, where he's constructing a pair of mechanical bird wings with the help of guardian angel Sally Kellerman. This 1970 feature is loose and simpleminded in a generally pleasing way, though the Felliniesque ending seems a bit of a betrayal. With the then nascent Altman stock company in force: Michael Murphy, Shelley Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, and John Schuck. R, 105 min. (DK) a Mon 5/7, 5:20 and 9:40 PM.

RCalifornia Split Altman's masterful 1974 study of the psychology of the compulsive gambler. Elliott Gould, loose, jocular, and playful, and George Segal, neurotic, driven, and desperate, are really two halves of the same personality as they move from bet to bet, game to game, until they arrive for the big showdown in Reno. As in all Altman films, winning is losing; and the more Altman reveals, in his oblique, seemingly casual yet brilliantly controlled way, the more we realize that to love characters the way Altman loves his, you have to see them turned completely inside out. R, 108 min. (DD) a Wed 5/9, 5:10 and 9:45 PM.

RThe Long Goodbye Altman's antiheroic rewrite of Raymond Chandler. Elliott Gould plays Marlowe as a chain-smoking nebbish--an innocent child of the 40s set down in what Altman sees (problematically) as the grown-up, shades-of-gray world of the 70s. The film is so inventive in its situations and humor that its shortcomings--the blunt ideas at its core--don't become apparent before several viewings. Somewhere deep down inside, there's a screenplay by Leigh Brackett (The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo); Altman has lost it in his improvisation, but it does give this 1973 film a firm, classical shape that has eluded his other work. With Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell, and Nina Van Pallandt. R, 112 min. (DK) a Thu 5/10, 5:10 and 9:40 PM.

RM*A*S*H The movie that made Altman famous (1970)--a somewhat adolescent if stylish antiauthoritarian romp about an irreverent U.S. medical unit during the Korean war (the TV sitcom it spawned practically reversed the spirit of the original). The film also helped launch the careers of Elliott Gould, Donald Sutherland, Sally Kellerman, Robert Duvall, and subsequent Altman regulars Rene Auberjonois and John Schuck, and won screenwriter Ring Lardner Jr. an Oscar. But the misogyny and cruelty behind many of the gags are as striking as the black comedy and the original use of overlapping dialogue. This is still watchable for the verve of the ensemble acting and dovetailing direction, but some of the crassness leaves a sour aftertaste. With Tom Skerritt, Fred Williamson, and Bud Cort. PG, 116 min. (JR) Archival print. a Mon 5/7, 7:20 PM.

R McCabe and Mrs. Miller Altman's best moment, this 1971 antiwestern murmurs softly of love, death, and capitalism. Warren Beatty is the two-bit gambler who falls in with whorehouse proprietress Julie Christie; together they grope toward money and oblivion. With Keith Carradine, Shelley Duvall, and Rene Auberjonois; songs by Leonard Cohen. R, 121 min. (DK) a Fri 5/4, 5, 7:20, and 9:40 PM.

RNashville Altman presents Nashville as the ultimate metaphor for success in America, and the result is a technical masterpiece (1975) replete with self-consciously allegorical overtones rising to a politically simpleminded din. A rare and puzzling movie: beautiful and cruel, passionate but strangely shallow. With Henry Gibson, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Lily Tomlin, and Keith Carradine. R, 159 min. (DD) New print. a Sun 5/6, 2, 5, and 8 PM.

Short Cuts Altman returned to the anthology mode of Nashville and A Wedding to offer 22 crisscrossing characters and nine loosely related plots set in Los Angeles over a breezy 189 minutes (1993). Inevitably it's a mixed bag, though the film's assurance in keeping it all coherent is at times exhilarating. The script, authored by Altman and Frank Barhydt, claims to be based on the writings of Raymond Carver, but apart from a few characters and situations that have been borrowed as launching pads, the connections to Carver are pretty tenuous. Some of the best actorly turns here are furnished by Bruce Davison, Jack Lemmon, Madeleine Stowe, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lili Taylor, and Robert Downey Jr., while most of the other players--Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Chris Penn, Tim Robbins, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Buck Henry--do the best they can with relatively skimpy material. R. (JR)

a Tue 5/8, 7:20 PM.

Thieves Like Us Altman's good-natured reluctance to be moved by the most common forms of sentiment yields, in this 1974 remake of Nicholas Ray's They Live by Night, a cool, at times unbearably objective look at the fragile relationship between two rather ordinary young people in Depression America (Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall), who happen to rob banks and get shot at a lot. With John Schuck, Bert Remsen, and Louise Fletcher. R, 123 min. (DD) a Tue 5/8, 5 PM.

3 Women Altman's would-be American art film (1977) is murky, snide, and sloppy, but the director's off the hook because he dreamed it all. Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall are two Texas girls who meet while working in a California sanatorium (courtesy of 8 1/2) and exchange identities while Altman struggles with feminism and the American dream. As usual, the director plainly despises his characters but offers no alternative to their pettiness, although his sneaky jokes at their expense give the film its only glimmer of style. PG, 125 min. (DK) Archival print. a Wed 5/9, 7:20 PM.

A Wedding Ostensibly Altman's aim in this 1978 comic free-for-all was to top his own Nashville by doubling his cast of leading players from 24 to 48. The film concentrates on the aftermath of an upscale Chicagoland wedding, and it certainly has its moments. But the facileness of this "expose" of the upper middle class adds up to a lot of cheap shots--watchable enough, but considerably less than the sum of its parts. Among the 48: Carol Burnett, Desi Arnaz Jr., Amy Stryker, Vittorio Gassman, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley, Lillian Gish, Lauren Hutton, John Cromwell, Pat McCormick, Howard Duff, Dina Merrill, Nina Van Pallandt, John Considine, and Viveca Lindfors. PG, 125 min. (JR) a Thu 5/10, 7:20 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): 3 Women.

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