GOSFORD PARK directed by Robert Altman, written by Julian Fellowes, produced by David Levy and Bob Balaban, with Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Jeremy Northam, Kelly Macdonald, Emily Watson and Helen Mirren. 137 minutes. A Sandcastle 5 Production. A USA Films release. Opens Wednesday (December 26). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 77. Rating: NNNN
a movie about an english coun-try-house weekend from Robert Altman is as unexpected as a violent thriller from Woody Allen or a Meg Ryan comedy directed by David Cronenberg. Of course, Altman has spent the last 30 years doing surprising things in unexpected genres, and Gosford Park is no exception.
Indeed, its upstairs/downstairs machinations are so elegantly engineered that you're halfway home before you realize that the movie runs for more than two hours without having an actual plot. It does contain plot-like elements, and there's a murder mystery of sorts that no one is really concerned with solving, least of all Stephen Fry's comically uninterested police inspector.
Gosford Park is about putting as many great English actors as possible in the same place at the same time and watching them bounce off one another. Aside from those in the credit box above, there's Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance, James Wilby and Richard E. Grant. I had to check the credit sheet; how dense is the casting when you forget that Derek Jacobi is in the film?
There are undeniable echoes of Renoir's The Rules Of The Game here, particularly with the slaughter of innocent pheasants very much on the agenda, though Gosford Park lacks that film's political edge. Set in 1932, in the long twilight of the British empire, it doesn't quite have the ideological oomph of a movie that depicts the death of a class very much alive at the time of filming.
Gosford Park is less about great revelations than it is about an endless stream of tiny jolts of pleasure: Helen Mirren's glare, Maggie Smith stealing scenes from deep within the very busy mise en scène, Alan Bates's almost wordless dignity as a butler, Michael Gambon manhandling his "horrid little dog" at the dinner table, Emily Watson's gossipy resentment. It's an epic about the trivial.
Altman is now 76 and shows no sign of slowing down. He's directed five features, a television show and a documentary on jazz since turning 70, and while we often talk of youthful prodigies, what should we make of Altman, whose career as a major director began when he got his big break with MASH at age 45?JHRoyal pain
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson and Owen Wilson, produced by Anderson, Scott Rudin and Barry Mendel, with Gene Hackman, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover and Ben Stiller. 108 minutes. Friday (December 21). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 77. Rating: NN
expectation is a bitch. for every-one miserable about all the fat, addled movies this season, for everyone jonesing for another Rushmore, a Rushmore with a movie-star cast, The Royal Tenenbaums was the fix we needed.Should have been the fix. Even the story, about a family of child prodigies who've fallen on hard times, flatters any moviegoer who likes to feel brilliant but cranky.
But this movie coasts.
Nearly every performance hammers away at only one character trait, like something out of a junior theatre exercise. The father, Royal Tenenbaum, is the only character who acts from anything recognizable as human motivation.
Art direction swarms this film. It's studded with cute insider nods to the Beatles. Its New York City is fanciful, though not more so than any hundred New Yorker covers. Signs in the city hospital use the same typeface as the onscreen titles. Ha ha.
I wonder, what if Anderson didn't have the goodwill generated by Rushmore and Bottle Rocket behind him? What if none of these actors were famous?
You'd have a fitfully inventive script, a wonky but not especially interesting reinvention of New York and a standout performance by that old guy. That Gene Hackman.
With such an inventive director shepherding all that talent onscreen, The Royal Tenenbaums must have been a fun movie to make.
Guess you had to be there.CB