Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Written by Musgo Del Jefe

Musgo hopes that the general film fandom out there appreciates the greatness of the Warner Archive releases. If you need a reminder - check out Musgo's musings on Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. These releases are a perfect ways for no-frills versions of these important smaller genre and art films to find a home. The perfect example of this is the recent release of Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud.

This arty satire falls right between two of Altman's greatest flims - released after M*A*S*H (1970) and right before McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971). Altman was really starting to find his comedic voice after the success of M*A*S*H . At the same time, he was able to create a film that went beyond just being a satire but really explored the deeper meanings of the counterculture of the late '60s and early '70s.

Brewster McCloud is our lead character played by young Bud Cort. Brewster is a youthful rebel who appears with huge glasses and a red-striped shirt like a cross between Where's Waldo and Harry Potter. He secretly lives in a fallout shelter under the Houston Astrodome. Brewster is building a pair of wings - convinced that he can fly. He is protected by his very own angel (Sally Kellerman). At the same time, people around Brewster keep showing up dead and the Houston police call in Detective Shaft (Michael Murphy) from San Francisco to help solve the crimes. Brewster meets Astrodome tour guide, Suzanne (Shelley Duvall's first role), who becomes his muse and first lover. Young Brewster wants to fly away from the world with Suzanne.

Altman breaks all kinds of storytelling conventions from the beginning to the end of the film. Even the opening MGM lion roar is replaced by a character saying "I forgot the opening line". There is a narrator, a college lecturer that starts the film talking about birds. Throughout the film we will hear his voice overdubbed giving his lecture on birds and his bird themes will mirror the action on screen. There is consistently a cacophony of sound - much like the screeches of birds. In one scene, while Detective Shaft is trying to investigate a murder scene, the other officers are talking over him about a party they are going to have. And in other places, the narrator or the music often intrudes on the dialog.

The film centers around a number of bird themes. The symbolism of birds works on so many levels that it's a perfect vehicle for Altman to tell multiple stories at once. This technique would serve Altman later on, notably in Short Cuts, where he could link many different stories with the ever present LAPD helicopters as symbols of freedom in some cases and symbols of repression in others. In the case of Brewster, the desire to fly away is certainly symbolic of his youth and innocence. But it also feeds into the counterculture's rebelling against authority. Brewster lives secretly underneath what is a symbol of Man triumphing against Nature - the Astrodome with its fake grass and artificial environment for football and baseball games. Brewster is followed around by an "angel" who was tattooed wings on her back. Even the cars fly (in a tribute to Bullitt the cars leave the ground over a hill in a long car chase scene) and have bird plates like DUV, OWL and BRD SHT.

Ultimately, Brewster is discovered by the police and tries to fly away. But he is a caged bird. The dome provides him with the environment to allow him to fly but his freedom is only an illusion because he can't escape it. Like Icarus, he flies to close to the sun and is forced to return to the fake grass that lines his cage. Has love betrayed him? As a tour guide for the Astrodome, was Suzanne just part of the machine that keeps him prisoner? Altman doesn't feel the need to answer all the questions raised in the film - it was his job to lay them out there.

The DVD release only comes with a trailer. But it doesn't really need any help. Much like Altman, the film just needs to be there to ask the questions. The viewer is left to ponder their own answers. Very few movies have the guts to do that today. And in a crazy finale, we can write the whole thing off as just a diversion if we care to, because the show ends with a full circus that introduces us to the cast, as if they are merely actors and clowns for our entertainment.

Well done, Warner Archives, well done.

ER: The Complete Thirteenth Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

ER: Season 13 is a treasure…hunt.

On July 6th 2010, Warner Home Video released all twenty-three episodes of the classic hospital dram ER. Though there are certainly some gems in this season, one must dig through many overwritten and acted stories that include rehashed and cartoon characters.

In the opening episode, we return to Cook County Hospital in Chicago, to wrap up one of the worst cliffhangers in the history of the series. Sam (Linda Cardellini) and her son Alex (Dominic Janes) have been kidnapped by her escaped convict husband Steve (Garret Dillahunt). Jerry (Abraham Benrubi) has been shot, and unbeknownst to everyone else on staff, a pregnant and bleeding Abby (Maura Tierney) has passed out and Luka (Goran Visnjic) has been tied to a bed and intubated. Yes, there is a lot going on. Unfortunately it plays out like pure desperation on the part of the writers. The kidnapping especially is horribly contrived, poorly written and executed.

In the second episode efforts are made to get things back to order, but there are too many fragments from the first episode bomb, to make this episode worth watching.

The first gem of the season is found in the guest performance by John Mahoney as an older gay man who comes into the ER with his partner. The entire episode may not be great, but the performance by Mahoney and the direction of the episode by Stephen Cragg are.

Eventually the season does get going, and there are some fine stories and performances including those of guest stars Forest Whitaker, Sally Field, Robert Prosky, Stacy Keach, and the afore mentioned Mahoney.

In season thirteen J. P. Manoux as Dr. Dustin Crenshaw, is the primary antagonist and what would appear to be an attempt to replace Paul McCrane as Dr. Robert Romano. The character of Dr. Crenshaw is far too much of a cartoon for this series. Eventually Stanly Tucci as Dr. Kevin Moretti would take over ER operations and serve as a far superior antagonist as the character has much more depth. Also jumping into many storylines in season 13 is John Stamos as former EMT and new intern Tony Gates. In many scenes Stamos appears to be channeling a young George Clooney, and it is extremely distracting.

Though season thirteen makes a valiant effort to balance the stories revolving around the personal lives of the staff at the ER, and the stories of the patients, the failure comes in the writing of the plots for the regular cast. The episodes revolving around the love triangle between Neela (Parminder Nagra), Gates, and Ray (Shane West) is boring and the outcome is fat too contrived.

Season thirteen ends with a far more reasonable cliffhanger than that of the twelfth season, and leaves the audience with an optimistic perspective of Season fourteen.

Recommendation: Season thirteen is worth owning due primarily to the guest performances. There are more bad episodes than good, but generally the direction of the episodes in season thirteen are superior to previous seasons. Many episodes feature music that is both poignant and powerful.

Season thirteen appears to contain more sexual situations than previous seasons, and there is an unusual amount of blood as choices are made to show many of the procedures in graphic detail.

The only bonus material is the “Outpatient Outtakes” and in most cases it is clear why these scenes were deleted.

Article first published as DVD Review: ER - The Complete Thirteenth Season on Blogcritics.