Robert Altman, WUD’s Marquee International Film Festival, Robert Altman, riffs on Chet Baker, and Robert Altman
Short Cuts (5:30p — Central Library, Rm 302)
Robert Altman’s oeuvre is defined by a fascination in human stories, films featuring everyday people just… living. Which is what makes this 1993 adaptation of Raymond Carver stories (and one poem) so vital. Short Cuts touches on the lives of 22 characters across head-spinning, insanely talented cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh juggles motherhood while working as a phone sex operator; Julianne Moore and Matthew Modine ignite the screen with their intense marital woes; Tim Robbins womanizes and disgusts as a disreputable police officer. Despite its intimidating three-hour running time (note the early start), Short Cuts takes a delicate approach in showing the shitty baggage that gets in the way of its L.A. denizens just trying to get by. As a bonus, Short Cuts makes illuminating homework for Altman’s clear influence on the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson. (FREE.)
All freakin’ weekend
Born to Be Blue (Sundance)
True to the corrupted inspiration of its subject, this Chet Baker biopic is a bit hard to pin down. With Ethan Hawke giving an inspired performance as Baker, Born to Be Blue has its jazz musician starring in a movie about himself. Compositing moments and women from Baker’s fiery, drug-fueled past, Hawke (who’s pretty bland outside of a Richard Linklater production) and director Robert Budreau wield a heavily improvised take on Baker’s life, splaying out and riffing on familiar elements in a manner not unlike what Todd Haynes did for Bob Dylan.
Marquee International Film Festival (Thurs – Sun — Union South Marquee)
WUD Film’s FREE international lineup begins Thursday night with Embrace of the Serpent (7:00p) and doesn’t let up until Sun evening with its smattering of the under-seen (and plain never-seen, in some cases). Madison gets an early look at The Dark Horse (Fri at 7:00p), a Kiwi spin on Stand and Deliver by way of speed chess. Stories of Our Lives (Sat at 3:00p) is a devastating examination of queer life in Kenya — so devastating that the unit behind it have fudged out their names for protection. Johnnie To tries his hand at the corporate-satire-musical genre with Office (Sat at 11:10p), a fluorescent and glossy song-filled tapestry with Chow Yun-fat. Oh, and stateside Studio Ghibli fans can finally see Only Yesterday (Thurs at 9:30p), Isao Takahata’s 1991 drama about a young woman (voiced by Daisy Ridley) whose early regrets are triggered by a visit to the Japanese country. If that’s not enough, there’s a victory lap presentation of the greatest animated movie about nothing and everything all at once. And that’s just a sample of this weekend’s program. Capital Times editor Rob Thomas has a short, solid preview of pretty much everything over at his blog.
Not to be outdone by “Cinesthesia’s” Thurs night film, Cinematheque presents this documentary on Altman’s career, from his rise to acclaim with M*A*S*H through a career filled with sweeping, uncompromising projects. More often than not, documentaries like Altman sound like fluffy, disposable material left as DVD extras, but this features warm appearances from Altman actors like Julianne Moore and Robin Williams. It’s also as good a warm-up as any to the Wisconsin Film Festival’s “Robert Altman Rarities” section that hits next week. Appropriately, Cinematheque’s double-bill closes out with a 35mm print of the film that got him here in the first place. (FREE).
Walker (7:00p — Union South Marquee)
Alex Cox brings his no-holds-barred creative style to this wholly unexpected riff on the life of William Walker (Ed Harris). Walker set out for Nicaragua in the 19th century to establish his own private colonies, and please note the numerous inconsistencies presented herein, as Cox draws critical parallels between the country’s unfortunate past with colonization and its then-present day reality. (The last of Cinematheque and WUD Film’s FREE “Marquee Monday” collaborations.)