Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock and the Doom Patrol: movies and TV

After watching Robert Altman’s disappointing Short Cuts, I put his NASHVILLE (1975) in my Netflix queue to see if despite the similarities (sprawling cast, nonlinear narrative, almost three hours long) it was, as I remembered it, a much better film.

Yep, it is. Possibly because Short Cuts is a group of separate stories tied together by connections among the characters where Nashville feels like a single story, albeit broken into multiple different subplots, many of which don’t really go anywhere. The narrative spine is a Nashville rally for a third-party politician whom we never see but whose messages (tax churches, end the electoral college) are heard throughout the film. Various other characters include country superstar Henry Gibson, womanizing musician Keith Carradine, Keenan Wynne and Shelly Duvall dealing with a woman’s death in different ways, choir director Lily Tomlin having an affair, a racist British reporter trying to interview Elliott Gould … It’s very much a slice of life, which is a tricky thing to pull off, but it works brilliantly. “Let’s consider our national anthem. Nobody knows the words. Nobody knows how to sing it.”

Silent movies were definitely not Hitchcock’s glory years — Like Easy Virtue, THE FARMER’S WIFE (1928) is another Filmed Stage Play by Hitchcock, this time a comedy one in which a widowed farmer pursues various local women in the entitled conviction he’d a fantastic catch for any o f them. Looks good — there’s a real sense of life around the crowd scenes, like the carnival in The Ring — but the story couldn’t keep my interest. “You are the first man who has accepted my sex challenge!”

Hitchcock shows good judgment in classing CHAMPAGNE (1928) as one of his worst films; the story of a madcap heiress who elopes only to learn her father’s just gone broke — what will she and her fiancé do now? I didn’t care at all. “I’ve met some lively people, invented a new cocktail and bought some snappy gowns.”

As a die-hard Doom Patrol fan, I shelled out for DC’s streaming service and binged their DOOM PATROL over the past few weeks (while there’s other stuff I wouldn’t mind catching, I’ve canceled it until DP S2 comes out in 2020). As NASCAR driver and first-class jerk Cliff Steele, Brendan Fraser wakes up from an accident to discover he’s now a brain in a robot body, living in a creepy old mansion alongside Niles (Timothy Dalton), Rita Farr (April Bowlby), Larry Trainer (Matt Bomer) and Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero). Then reality-warping intelligence Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) kidnaps Niles for revenge and begins tormenting the team in countless bizarre ways, forcing them to change and adapt while making sneering metacommentary (“You’ve spent thirteen episodes whining like a C-list Breakfast Club!”).

This was absolutely fantastic. Adapting Grant Morrison’s DP gave them good material to start with and they’ve used it well. Rita’s arc, slowly going from selfish withdrawal to decent human being; Larry dealing with the energy being inside him and his own homosexuality; Guerrero giving an absolutely amazing performance as a metahuman with multiple personalities. And the show stays strong all the way to the finish. It was actually worth adding another streaming service — next year I might keep my subscription going so I can watch week to week. It’s that good. “I would sooner have sharks in my vagina than spend another minute in the same zip code as you.”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder. Cover by Richard Case.

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