Friday, September 11, 2015


WARNING: The above heading does not denote an espionage themed month on the way ("September Spies" anyone?) but the end of an era-- the ten years and five days that this humble film blog has been online. For after this posting, the movie theatre cash register that is Cashiers De Cinema is due to be counted out and closed for good. Or, at least, a very long time.

I'd planned to do this final post on September 6th, 2015, the exact 10 year anniversary, but as so often happens these days regular life got in the way. And then Labor Day. That was the plan all along (or for this past year), to turn my attentions away from this blog to other more important labors on Labor Day (I do love a good holiday theme). There are two nearly finished novels screaming for my undivided attention and closure by the end of 2015. Also, actual labor (no, I'm not pregnant). I'm on the hunt for a more rewarding jobby-job. By "rewarding" I mean creatively restorative and financially remunerative, unlike what Cashiers de Cinema has become...a time and energy suck, an occasionally therapeutic enterprise for myself and a mild diversion for a tiny handful of stalwart readers (hey, some dude in Germany f'ing loves me!). In short, I need to stop watching so many goddamn movies for absolutely goddamned free.

Some background for those new to the site (and who don't click away before they get to this part), a Cashiers Highlights Reel, if you will, before I go. This blog began as a dare, an impossible mission to watch a stockpile of films I had gathering dust on VHS while learning this new self-publishing technology they called BLOG. I gave myself the task of watching 120 of them between Labor Day 2005 and the end of that year. I came close, made it to 100 (that life thing getting in the way again). At the time, it wasn't called Cashiers De Cinema but simply linked to my name and my Yahoo! email address (now defunct). The entries/reviews were basically all text. The Cashiers concept came later in 2010 along with more visuals, monthly themes and employees, a slightly better banner head, even occasional GIFs. If you take a look at the right hand side under "Archive," you can see this blog's whole sketchy history in the parentheticals, the number of posts per year. It starts out strong in 2005, the year I made the dare, then goes humorously dormant for the next three before picking up steam again in 2009-10. What was I doing for those years of non-blogging? In the midst of moving from L.A. to D.C. and then to NYC. "Having a life," maybe. Also, one of those jobby-job things I mentioned. They do kinda tend to get in the way sometimes.

But, no matter how few the entries, each year I always managed to pony up a Year's Best/Worst List. Take a look at the right side Menu if you want to browse a few. And, no matter the year, it seemed I kept ADDING to my list of movies to see instead of knocking it down. What started out as a muddy-pictured VHS experiment eventually morphed into one of better resolution and proper aspect ratios on recordable DVDs. Then, in the last few years, to pristine digital copies consigned to USB. It turns out I'm an obsessive collector, an addict of sorts (sidebar: does this have something to do August's Abel theme?). By last count, I have in the neighborhood of 2,000 DVD movies at home in flipbooks, roughly 500 or so I still have yet to watch. So, as you can see, at the rate my addiction is going, this blog could easily continue forever. But that's simply not going to happen. I'm putting my foot down. My "hobby" has gotten out of control. I gotta get the Movie Monkey off my back. Or at least switch to binge-blogging TV. If you can believe it, I still have yet to see a single episode of The Sopranos.

So then what comes next for Cashiers? For starters, I'm going to leave this site up at least for the rest of the year until I decide what to do with it. I may eventually fold many of the reviews into another site to come or just leave it as is for interwebs posterity. It's possible I may come back to it sometime in the future with the occasional mini-marathons stretched out over longer periods of time. There are still TONS of directors I haven't gotten to (Ken Russell, Alex Cox, Bertrand Blier to name a few) and a bunch on the right hand side Directors menu that I would like to further investigate (Fulci, Deodato, Boetticher, etc.). Also, a lot of unexplored themes..."Cons and Capers," "Space Camp," "Dirty South/Slavery," "Holiday Horrors," and even the "September Spies" month I joked about before. One of the problems of operating a (free) blog with a different theme every month is there's just not enough viewing time to finish out filmographies before the month turns over. That, and the fact that I have to scrounge up a new photo of a movie character near a cash register every month. There aren't as many out there as you think. Look around. Seriously.

In addition to the monthly turnover, the particular format I've chosen, added to my dwindling enthusiasms about blogging over the last decade, has mostly prevented me from doing what I'd call more "deep dive" reviews. What started out with slightly more serious cineaste intentions has, because of the time constraints, devolved into something closer to quick thumbs up-thumbs down style capsule reviews, the type which I don't really enjoy reading myself. Less New York Times and more New York Post in other words, and I do apologize for that. "Too much snark and not enough smarts makes Jack a dull boy." It's true this blog's title is a playful stab at Cahiers du Cinema, the influential French magazine started by the likes of Godard, Bresson, Chabrol and Truffaut. It was never meant to take itself too seriously. But I would actually like to indulge in some more serious film criticism at some point, or least a more lengthy, personalized examination of certain favored directors mentioned so many times on this blog (Peckinpah, The Coens, Cronenberg, Kubrick, Lynch, Mann, DePalma, Tarantino). Beware, Dear Cashiers Readers: Someone out there may be working on a book-length "movies memoir."

And what about that end of year Best-Worst List anyway? I've already done ten of the suckers. Isn't that enough? Would you like my firstborn too? It's very possible one will pop up around December 31st, 2015, who knows. Though I'm cutting down my movie diet for the remainder of the year, I'm sure I'll catch a few more before year's end, films that I can't help but champion or excoriate in written form. And where else would they go but here? There's a few must-see's on my hit-list already...Sicario, Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, Spectre, Trumbo, Carol, Snowden. And then there's Hateful Eight, of course. And, OK, I'll admit it, I'm kind of excited for the new J.J. Abrams Star Wars, though I'm ten times more excited for the one following it in 2017 directed by Rian Johnson and starring Benicio. I'm banking on that one being the Empire Strikes Back of the new bunch. Or at least better than Phantom Menace.

But then who am I to criticize? If this site proves anything, it's that I see them all, the good and the bad movies. And I've been involved in the makings or almost-makings or complete non-makings of some good and bad ones myself. This blog was born out of heartache. A literal heartache (a Los Angeles relationship gone bad that I've mentioned repeatedly) but also the spoils of several disheartening years in Tinsel Town. Cashiers has been an attempt to keep one of those loves alive. I'm talking about my love of film, of course, not the aforementioned L.A. lady. "Lady Cinema," if you will. If you've clicked on this site purposely or accidentally sometime in the last decade, I hope this little goof of a blog has in some small way helped you keep your heart embers stoked for her, too.

Signing Off,
Matt Burch, "Head Cashier"

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

POPEYE (1980) - Robert Altman

Did you really think my very last review (at least, for a very long time) would be of a good film about a tortured artist (see previous entry)? Don't be "ridinkulis," as one particular spinach-chomping sailor might say. This blog is called Cashiers de Cinema, not too be confused with its stuffy French namesake Cahiers. OF COURSE, I'm going to end it with Robert Altman's biggest bomb, the one that easily could've ended his Hollywood career (and almost did).

I actually loved this movie when I was a wee Swee'Pea myself. I conned one of my parents into taking me to the theatre to see it when I was a tot. They loved musicals, and I loved Popeye the cartoon, so no harm, no foul. Watching it again last night, some 35 years later, I finally see what a gigantic mess it is and why it was such an offense to moviegoers at the time. Altman shoots almost everything in long shots, with overly busy people-packed frames, most of his dialogue lost in the busier audio mix. Other than some fine costuming, the film looks nothing like the comic book or animated cartoon from which it sprang. And for a movie rumored to be a musical, none of the songs are catchy, apart from Shelley Duvall's "He Needs Me." But I think that's only because I was remembering its superior use in Punch-Drunk Love. I found myself checking my the DVD clock repeatedly, waiting for the parts I knew I liked as a kid...the boxing match, the spinach-fueled fight with Bluto at the end. The action parts, basically.

None of the actors can be blamed here. Robin Williams does his best to inhabit an iconic caricature, despite his tone-deaf singing and the cumbersome prosthetic arms. Ray Walston as Poopdeck Pappy does even better. And could there be a more spot-on casting of "Olive Oyl" than Shelley Duvall then or now? And how about that Swee'Pea? What a little canned ham. That kid gets my vote for the most expressive baby ever put on film.

Nope, as much as I hate to admit it, the two-ton anchor of blame for this clunker rests squarely on Altman's shoulders. He's just not the right man for this lightweight, family friendly PG fare, much less musical fare. Altman pretty much admits to this at the very beginning of the film, when the cartoon Popeye bursts through the Paramount logo and says "I'm in the wrong picture! Must be one of Bluto's tricks!" Bluto, maybe. Producer Robert Evans, positively.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

VINCENT AND THEO (1990) - Robert Altman

As with any biopic of a famous personage, Altman can't resist but hit a few of the notable high points. Yes, we see Van Gogh slice off his ear. And, yep, we see him painting those well-known sunflowers. But that's only after we've seen him destroy an earlier version in the same sunflower field in a frothing rage. It's refreshing to realize that even geniuses sometimes need second or third drafts.

But the creation/art-making scenes in Vincent and Theo play second fiddle to the real meat of the picture, the relationship between the two brothers, basically two poles in the art vs. commerce tug-o-war and both of them losing miserably. Yes, Vincent was a "pure" artist, a genius, a romantic, but he was also a freeloader, a people user, a money-grubber obsessed with his own lack of success, one which played no small part in driving him "mad." Yes, Theo was a reluctant gallery shill of inferior paintings with a bad case of The Syph, but he was also a compassionate believer in true art, his manipulative brother's only viable lifeline, the only one who kept on giving when any reasonable person would have stopped. Watching the two brothers' dual downward spirals makes for a doubly troubling and affecting tragedy, and Tim Roth and Paul Rhys are both equally fantastic in their roles. We all know what happened to Vincent (the ear, the gunshot). But do nearly as many people know that Theo died in asylum, his syphilis finally getting the best of him?

Perhaps the most harrowing, haunting part of Altman's film is not its end but its footage of a Christie's auction in which one of Van Gogh's paintings steadily climbs in worth to a ludicrous multi-million dollar sum. Placed at the head of the movie in grainy, grungy video form, it plays not as a celebration, as it would in some other films, but a disturbing epitaph, an indictment of the business side of art. To be a "success," one must first die tragically. And when success finally comes (after the fact), it comes in gross overabundance. To be a pure artist might be beautiful. But to be a "famous artist" is to court the obscene.

ARIA - "Abaris ou les Boréades" segment (1987) -
Robert Altman

Altman's contribution to this compilation film of opera-inspired shorts trains the camera solely on the audience for the duration of a 1700's Rameau performance, an interesting if one-note experiment livened by the fact that the crowd is comprised entirely of lunatic asylum inmates. We watch the show play out on their disturbed faces as the camera swirls about the theatre. And that's about it.

Like most anthology flicks (Paris, Je Taime, etc.) Aria is a hit or miss affair depending on who's doing the directing. It's more hits than misses though with directors Nic Roeg, Franc Roddam and Ken Russell turning in visually sumptuous shorts and Julian Temple turning in a painfully obvious (though still amusing) segment with Buck Henry and Beverly D'Angelo.

Surprisingly, my favorite of the bunch was Jean-Luc Godard's, a director whose mostly pretentious, insufferable output post-'70s I've avoided like the plague. But this one has a sense of humor! His "Armide" is set entirely in a Parisian gym in which two women who look like beautiful, porcelain refugees from an Antonioni movie attempt to seduce a bunch of disinterested beefcake bodybuilders who look like ex-pats from Pain and Gain. A perfect marriage of conceptualism and carnality. Jean-Luc meets Michael Bay.

THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK (1969) - Robert Altman

Could this be the most serious movie about pot cookies ever made?

Sandy Dennis plays a bored socialite who invites the young mute drifter she meets in a nearby park to stay in her home during a rainstorm. The twist, of course, is that she's the unhinged one, a possessive, psychotic 30-year-old virgin ala Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion or a younger Kathy Bates in Misery. She develops such a fixation that she begins locking him in the guest room, goes so far as to procure a prostitute for him later on when he refuses to have sex.

The other smaller surprise is that our drifter is not really mute but an opportunistic counterculture ne'er-do-well using Dennis for her riches. We find out midway through he's got his own weird thang going with his hippie sister, who sends him back to Dennis's swank crib with hash-laced Tollhouse morsels just to see what happens.

What happens? Not much. Dennis' character is so loopy already the pot cookies don't seem to have much effect. What happens after that I won't spoil, though if you've seen Images or even 3 Women, Altman's other flicks about psychologically imbalanced ladies, you probably have a good idea. I'd put this one smack dab between those two...better than Images though not nearly as dense and well-photographed as 3 Women. Nonetheless, an interesting early Altman work.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

TANNER '88 (1988) - Robert Altman

Altman skewers the political campaign process nearly as well as he does Hollywood (The Player) and the military (M*A*S*H) in this 11 episode made-for-HBO series. It's a treat to see his trademark roving, zooming camera style and densely overlapping dialogue tracks applied to an '80s era video format (what is that? Beta? Beta SP?). It makes this earliest of mockumentaries feel even more doc-like than his 35mm versions (such as Nashville) done in a similar style. Michael Murphy is great as the blank slate faux Gary Hart candidate Tanner, but it's the side characters I kept coming back for...Matt Malloy as the campaign videographer with a tendency to hit "record" during extremely private moments, the tireless workhouse Pamela Reed as his seen-it-all campaign manager, Ilana Levine as Reed's ditzy, too-kindhearted-for-politics intern who eventually explodes during a "get out the vote" telephone blitz. I think I may have developed a heavy '80s crush on Levine's "Andrea Spinelli" during the course of those six hours. I dunno. Is that weird?

If you're an Altman loyalist (or a Reagan-era political junkie), Tanner '88 is essential viewing. If not (and you happen to have Hulu), you may want give one episode a whirl before committing to the full 11. Altman won an Emmy for "The Boiler Room" episode set during the Democratic National Convention, with Harry Anderson (Night Court) as a "super-delegate strategist." Most would probably say that's the best place to dip in. But the episode that gets my strongest vote is the one called "The Girlfriend Factor." Tanner gets accosted by a robot at an electronics convention asking him if he's ever smoked marijuana or used crack cocaine, which is of course hilarious, and then visits an inner city Detroit project to "hear" its real-life angry residents, which turns very sobering very fast. In that one episode (from robots to the PJs), we see the two extremes of what Tanner '88 does best-- mixing the real and the fake-- and what Altman did like no other-- seguing seamlessly between humor and tragedy.

BEYOND THERAPY (1987) - Robert Altman

This is first Altman movie I've seen that I'd describe as "willfully wacky." As it turns out, straight-up screwball filmed mostly in one location is not the best fit for skill set. Though the far superior Brewster McCloud certainly had its oddball moments and the underwhelming O.C. and Stiggs had its fair share of low-brow frat boy antics, Beyond Therapy plays way too much like bad French farce (Altman actually filmed it in Paris though it's set in Manhattan). It doesn't rise to the Brewster's Astrodome scaled heights. I blame the source material, Christopher Durang's play. The humor just feels dated...even for 1987.

Jeff Goldblum plays a bisexual Manhattanite who puts a personal ad in the paper and ends up on a date with the (seemingly) more straight-laced Julie Hagerty. Both are seeing therapists who (of course!) are more unstable than they are (Hagerty is sleeping with hers, Tom Conti). And then there's Goldblum's live-in lover, Christopher Guest, who's miffed that Goldblum's suddenly leaning toward the female end of the bi-curious spectrum. Before you can say flaming escargot, yes, there are guns firing in a French restaurant.

I would say the only reason to watch Beyond Therapy is to finish out your Altman filmography. But since I said that already in so many words with H.E.A.L.T.H, I'll say this it solely for Goldblum's extravagantly patterned shirts.

H.E.A.L.T.H. (1980) - Robert Altman

Robert Altman is the undisputed master of multi-character, panoramic cultural exposes (Nashville, M*A*S*H, The Player, Short Cuts), but in this movie it just feels like he's coasting on fumes and reputation, doing his old '70s shtick but less successfully at the head of a new decade. Watching H.E.A.L.T.H, you get a severe case of the been-there-done-that's. Even the "Exercise Your Right to Vote" song is used to better effect later in the '80s in the far superior Tanner.

Maybe it's the target of satire this time...a health convention in a Florida hotel. Perhaps it's too small a bulls-eye for his broad canvas approach. Though it's fun to see Carol Burnett in a slightly more serious role outside of The Carol Burnett Show, not to mention Henry Gibson in full drag fondling fruit (above), many of the jokes fall flat, especially a recurring one with Lauren Bacall having a palsy at inopportune moments that causes her arm to raise into the air lazy Hitler style. File this movie under: "For Altman Completists Only." It sorely needs a B-12 shot.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


In six days, this humble film review blog will turn 10 years old. It's hard to believe I've been bloviating about movies in written form for that long. On September 6th, 2005 (just after the Labor Day weekend), I made a ridiculous pact with myself to "clean out my VHS closet," watch 120 analog movies in the remaining 119 days left in the year and blog about them all. This was before the heyday of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, mind you. Blogs were actually a COOL NEW THING at the time and BINGE BLOGGING even cooler. This particular blog didn't bear the name it has now (which came later in 2010) but the address was the same. Browse a few old entries and you'll quickly discover...I didn't even know how to upload pictures, much less make a banner head.

Despite a few technical difficulties and some year-end exhaustion, I mostly got the job done. I watched 100 of those suckers before year's end, even assigned them handy cassette-based ratings. In case you're wondering, yes, I was mostly out of work that fall of 2005, living in Los Angeles where it's far easier to be gainfully unemployed. And, yes, I had way too much time on my hands that probably could've been put to better use (like scrounging up another screenwriting gig). Surprisingly enough, I did have a live-in girlfriend at the time (who had her own blog, of course), though from what I recall we were fast headed for a break-up. Who knows...this blog and my nightly hogging of the TV (a tube monitor) may have been the final nail in that coffin. That, and the fact that she pulled a "Meryl Streep in Manhattan" on me. Yep...even my break-ups are cinema-themed.

What does all of this have to do with Robert Altman? And what do I mean by "short ends"? Well, the very first theme (weekly, not monthly then) of the very first review on this blog was "Altman Odds and Ends." Altman, one of my favorite directors of all time, was still alive at that point, and I'd seen the majority of his work but not all of it (the man's filmography is DENSE). So I took it under task to watch those films of his I hadn't seen which I possessed on VHS. Well, it seems I completed that job but not the one of finishing out Altman's complete filmography, the few remaining theatrical films I still need to see...his "short ends." And by "filmography" I do mean FILMography. There's no way I will ever get through all of his TV work, though I'm going to take a crack at one HBO miniseries this month, in addition to rounding out his unseen film work. I'm gainfully employed, living in Brooklyn and ten years older now. A man only has so much stamina for that many episodes of Combat!, The Whirlybirds or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

There's another reason for the "short ends" in the post title. One, because I don't have many Altmans left to watch, so this month will be "short" on content. Also, because after I finish out these Altmans, this blog, after ten long years, will "END" in so many words. Or at least go dormant for quite a while. Or possibly take on some other lifeform. I haven't quite decided yet, but the "end" is definitely nigh. If you couldn't tell by the declining quality of posts over the last few months/years (or the gimmicky postcard, GIF-themed months etc.), I'm getting a bit tired of this blogging thing. So very tired. I'm even a little tired of watching movies, heaven forbid. When Labor Day 2015 rolls around, I will need to focus my labors on other things. More to come on this decision. "Stay tuned," as they say.

In the meantime, let's circle back to this humble blog's beginnings and watch a few last leftover Altmans before Cashiers closes out the register and shuts off the store lights for the last time. What a long, strange decade it has been...

Monday, August 31, 2015

4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (2011) - Abel Ferrara

Hopefully, when the End of Days finally comes, I'm not online nearly as much as the characters in this film. Seriously. A better title may have been 4:20 Last Day on Skype.

When Dafoe and his live-in artist girlfriend aren't watching a 24-hour feed of NY1, having lazy sex, ordering in Vietnamese food (yes, they still DO still deliver on Judgment Day), or making bad artwork, they're chatting it up with relatives online, watching old Dalai Lama/Joseph Campbell YouTube videos and generally waiting around for the massive hole in the ozone layer to erupt and a blinding white light to evaporate the world. This being an Abel Ferrara film, ex-junkie Dafoe is, of course, also resisting a strong urge to go score heroin at a local friend's apartment. He mostly manages to resist...but only after a pretty unwatchable confrontation scene with his clean and sober girlfriend (i.e., Ferrara's girlfriend) in their bathroom. And that's not even mentioning the VERY UNWATCHABLE scene in which his girlfriend catches Dafoe Skyping with his ex-wife.

I get it...The Apocalypse as just another humdrum day. It's an interesting premise, and for a while I was on board with 4:44 in concept, if not the execution. Until it started to feel like everyone was only on Skype or watching the Tube because the production itself didn't have enough money to go on location. I wonder if there was enough money in the budget to pay Paz De La Huerta for her entirely extraneous two-second cameo. I wonder if NY1's Pat Keirnan at least got some free Vietnamese.

Friday, August 28, 2015

NAPOLI, NAPOLI, NAPOLI (2009) - Abel Ferrara

In the interest of finishing up (or coming close to it) the Ferrara filmography, this week I watched a few of his location-based documentaries with "dramatic reenactments" interspersed throughout. The first was about the Chelsea Hotel, then in the midst of a "new management" crisis. The other was about the mafia drenched city of Naples, which, judging from countless poliziotteschi films with "Napoli" in the title, has always a problem with crime.

In both cases, Ferrara gets more interesting results when he just sticks to the facts--the documentary footage or interviews with non-celebrities telling their personal stories, longtime denizens of the Chelsea (including himself) or, in Napoli's case, its overcrowded prisons' many inmates. Where he lost me was the dramatic reenactments, which are especially forced and hard to stomach in Chelsea, with name actors recreating imagined scenes involving Sid and Nancy or Janis Joplin. I'll put it to you this way: Bijou Phillips plays Nancy Spungen. Are you buying that? Though I do admit it was nice to see Milos Forman in the lobby refusing to take off his coat.

The reenactments in Napoli go down easier, if only because they're in another language (Italian), don't have a lot of dialogue and feature actors you wouldn't otherwise recognize. It's mostly handheld, police stakeout type footage, and plays like a grungier Gomorrah or an old Fernando di Leo film mixed in between the talking heads. Is it hard-hitting news that Naples is a depressed, crime-ridden municipality? No, probably not. And Ferrara isn't exactly David Simon--his tendency is to stay more on the surface of things rather than go systemically deep. There are some interesting, heartbreaking stories here and there. But the highlight definitely comes at the end, underneath the closing credits...the Dark Prince of Indie Cinema himself onstage at one of the prison's playing an acoustic version of Schoolly D's "King of New York." It could just me, but there's something infinitely amusing in hearing Ferrara sing-speak the lines: "Cause all I care about is selling my lleyo / Makin' money like a nigga make mayo."