Tag Archives: Bert Remsen

Brewster McCloud (1970)

brewster mccloud 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flying in the Astrodome.

Brewster McCloud (Bud Cort) is a young man who lives and hides inside the giant Astrodome in Houston, Texas. He dreams of one day flying like a bird and secretly works on building a contraption that will help him do it while being aided by a mysterious guardian angel named Louise (Sally Kellerman). Meanwhile strangulations start occurring all over the city and the police become convinced that Brewster may have something to do with it. As he gets ready to ‘spread his wings’ and fly for the first time the police surround the place and try to arrest him.

This film is reportedly director Robert Altman’s favorite out of all the ones that he did and it is easy to see why. The quirky, offbeat script by Doran William Cannon nicely compliments Altman’s free-form, cerebral style. The film works on many different levels with every shot and scene being unique and a kind of story in itself. The dream-like quality is nicely balanced with harsh realities creating an interesting theme that touches a wide array of senses. Although this film is never mentioned in relation to car chases the one that is has is exciting and well photographed without any of the jump cuts that you normally see.

The city of Houston gets captured well and I liked the fact that Altman stayed away from the downtown and instead focused more on the neighborhoods and city streets. The filming of the inside of the Astrodome is the most impressive and the building becomes like a third character. It may seem hard to believe now, but at one time it was considered ‘the eighth wonder of the world’ and was the very first dome stadium in existence. Watching Cort fly around on the makeshift wings he creates gives off an exhilarating feeling especially with the way Altman captures it against the backdrop of the stadium’s ceiling filled with skylights. The best shot in my opinion though is the bird’s-eye view of seeing Kellerman walking the entire length of the field and out the exit.

The broad and amusing characterizations are fun and Altman gives his actors wide range to create them. Some of the best ones are Stacy Keach who is unrecognizable under heavy make-up as an elderly, cantankerous and greedy landlord who goes reeling down the city streets in nothing but a wheel chair. Bert Remsen is good as a corrupt and racist policeman who even beats and berates his own family. Michael Murphy is interesting as a narcissist, hotshot detective who ends up killing himself and Rene Auberjonois as the lecturer who slowly turns into a giant bird as the film progresses. There is even the aging Margaret Hamilton who says a few curse words and dies while wearing her ruby red slippers.

The film is one-of-a-kind and perfect fare for those looking for something offbeat and diverting. The kooky opening and ending title sequences alone make it worth it. My only real complaint would be the fact that supposedly a bird is committing all these strangulations, but we never see how. All the viewers see is the victims getting bird poop on them and nothing more. I realize this might have been technically difficult to film or visualize, but for such an otherwise creative movie this seems like a bit of a cop-out.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: December 5, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD

California Split (1974)

california split

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Guys addicted to gambling.

There is a scene in The Gambler, which is a similar movie to this one and came out around the same time, where actor James Caan’s character is on the beach with his mother. He writes in the sand $44,000. This is the amount he owes in gambling debt and the amount he needs from her. He can’t bring himself to ask her directly so he writes it instead. His mother gasps when she sees the amount and then asks “How is such a thing possible?!” It is for that reason that making a movie about someone with a gambling addiction is so intriguing. What exactly is it that could propel someone to act so foolishly with their money? Unfortunately both films promised a lot, but delivered little. Worse yet both are uninvolving and boring.

In this case the film fails to ever get inside the character’s heads. We have no idea what personality traits a gambler may have nor their background or relationships. We simply see two rather bland middle-aged men getting together and going through their gambling paces. Apparently the idea was to show a gambler doing his thing and hope to find some ‘truth’ from it. Well it doesn’t work. It’s tantamount to a novice writer scribbling out some rambling prose and hoping to get a story. It all just proves that the filmmakers have no more insight into this phenomenon than anyone else.

Director Robert Altman seems more interested in keeping things light and entertaining. Normally his eccentric touches help compliment the film, but here it gets in the way. For example there is a long drawn out scene featuring Bert Remsen’s character that likes to dress up like a woman that is completely unnecessary and bogs everything down.

Elliot Gould’s wise guy, wise cracking ways become obnoxious and never once does he come off as a man gripped by an addiction. George Segal shows a little more of an emotional downside, but it seems forced.

The film hits its mark only once and that is when it focuses on a big poker game, played in Reno, by the country’s top players. Listening to Gould describe to Segal all the traits of each player is interesting. It helps show what a psychological game poker really is, but unfortunately it doesn’t get to this part until the very end and then only for a short while.

In the category of ambiance Altman scores as usual. The faces of the people at the casinos are etched in character. You can almost smell the hanging second-hand-smoke and Dorothy Showalter’s brassy, slightly off-key singing gives the soundtrack a distinct flavor.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 7, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Altman

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video