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13 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Woven Folds, Flattened Levels

Author: tedg ( from Virginia Beach
27 December 2004

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Spoilers herein.

I keep my own list of films worth watching and from that I draw a smaller list of "number fours," films that everyone should see before they die. The rules of this short list provide for only two films from any year and two from any filmmaker. I have this slotted for one of my 2004 necessities.

Altman has often made good films and sometimes very important ones. Some are shocking in how they innovate, particularly in how they have the camera discover rather than anticipate the actor — starting with "Long Goodbye" and leading to "Gosford." "McCabe" was the first film I know that deliberately obscured details, just as in life. "Cuts" was a great advance in parallel facets of the same reality.

But now we have the most elaborately folded "conventional" film I have ever seen. Folding is where the narrative explicitly recognizes and often merges with its telling. The simple case is a film within a film where the two films are related.

In this case, we have two films: this one and the original (of 1988) which it cites and follows, using both the same characters and actors. We have two realities: "real" reality and the reality of the film which combine and overlap. We have the performance of film of life and of politics: distinct and yet the same. This film and porn.

Okay. Been there several times. But then we have the story itself. It involves a filmmaker doing a documentary — another film which relates to all of the folds and levels previously mentioned. That film is done once, discarded and done again (and discarded again), to be bested by a documentary of the documentary. At one point, a film crew asks to do yet another documentary layer, and several scenes involve yet other films and performances: Garofalo, Rose, Frankin...

There's one scene which involves children of three candidates, Reagan, Kerry and the fictional Tanner. The latter two are both named Alex (with Alex Kerry is a real documentary filmmaker). That scene has the following cameras rolling:

—Alex Tanner's camera —Alex Kerry's camera —Ron Reagan's camera —Alex's student's camera —An HBO camera that was doing a special on the event —Altman's camera, the one we experience at the moment

and in the background, the convention, likely the biggest collection of professional video cameras ever assembled.

Along the way, we have many small pleasures. These aren't the greatest actors and know little about folding in the small. But in Altman's hands, even the shoe salesgirl who appears for no more than 10 seconds is a special adventure.

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Diary of a Mad Film-maker

Author: Gyran from Birmingham, England
31 October 2004

It was a joy to discover 8 hours of Robert Altman's best work that I had not previously seen or even heard of. In the last week in the UK the BBC has screened the series Tanner 88 on its late night cultural ghetto channel BBC Four, followed by the recent update, Tanner on Tanner filmed largely during the 2004 democratic convention. This work has a breadth that has not been seen since Nashville, and, with a screenplay by Garry Trudeau, it also has a rare depth.

It is, of course, difficult for me to judge how well Tanner on Tanner would stand up as a film on its own. Much of the pleasure of the film is in seeing how the characters have matured over the 16 years since the original series, notably Alex Tanner played by the 22 year-old Cynthia Nixon in 1988. As a British viewer I learned a lot about the American political system from watching these films, although Tanner on Tanner is as much a satire about film-makers as it is a film about politicians.

It was clear from the beginning that the successful project would not be Alex Tanner's film about her father but her student's study of Alex, which we see at the end as Diary of a Mad Filmmaker. However, the anticipation of the irony did not detract from the pleasure. To my mind, the best scene in the film is where Alex Tanner and Alexandra Kerry find themselves double-booked to film an interview with Ron Reagan. They alternate Kerry's serious questions about stem-cell research with Tanner's ditzy questions about what it's like to have a celebrity father. I don't know what the future may hold for her father ( this is written 2 days before the election) but Alexandra Kerry would certainly seem to have a future as a comedy actress.

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6 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Skip the politics...more Cynthia Nixon, please

Author: bjc1115 ( from Boston, MA
9 November 2004

I admit it: I watched Tanner on Tanner for Cynthia Nixon. I'm male and an independent, right-leaning voter, but Tanner on Tanner was Nixon's series all along.

Politically, it had all the Demo-speak and the flashes of Garry Trudeau. Jack Tanner seemed a combination between deer-in-the-headlights and Clinton clone; TJ transformed from hard-working campaign manager to hardcore bitch in a short amount of time (bitter?) and the misadventures of Salim culminated in his vegetable curry being violated by a hard drive.

But every time Nixon's eyes teared up or her chin quivered, you knew that Trudeau and Robert Altman didn't play everything for laughs. The scene that struck me the most was Alex's admission that her Guatemalan husband was missing, and the tear trailing down her left cheek showed that even through all the bashing, glad-handling, and backstabbing, people still have deep emotions.

I don't agree with Trudeau's politics, but I enjoyed this series. Cynthia Nixon did a superb job in portraying Alex Tanner, and Trudeau should definitely consider taking Alex worldwide.

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Tanner Revisited, now with more meta-film stuff!

Author: MisterWhiplash from United States
25 September 2008

Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau didn't quite hit it out of the park on Tanner on Tanner, but that's mostly in trying to compare it to the sprawling brilliance of the original Tanner 88. Maybe part of that is because the ensemble nature (as a given for almost any Altman production) is broken down a little more and we're left mostly on the trail of Tanner's daughter, Alex, who is a documentary filmmaker-cum-documentary-film professor who is making "My Candidate", a doc on her father's failed 88 campaign. In a strange way it works almost in spite of how the character comes off; Alex Tanner can stand up right alongside Miranda on Sex and the City as the two (can't say it on IMDb) "B-word"-iest characters Cynthia Nixon has ever portrayed. The difference this time, I think, is in a consistency with the character's trials and tribulations as a "Mad Filmmaker" and how it's a logical extension of her original role in the mini-series. Nixon is very good in the role, even when we just want to scream "stop whining, you're at the Democratic Convention!"

As with Tanner 88, we get a whole host of cameos (my favorites being Martin Scorsese, Chris Matthews, Mario Cuomo, Al Franken and Ronald Regan Jr all for various reasons), and some familiar faces like Pamela Reed as TJ. But what's really fascinating about the TV special (not exactly a mini-series, but not a TV movie quite either) is how Altman digs about as deep into the psychology of film-making as he did in the Player- this time with a more hands-on approach. There's once again the young observer, quiet and with a curious eye almost akin to Altman's, filming all of the little things as Alex tries to shoot her movie, and there ends up being a scene, a great one in fact, where two women named Alex and both daughters of democratic hopeful candidates (one Kerry one Tanner) schedule an interview with Regan Jr, only to find they have to conduct it at the same time. This, on top of another scene where Alex's crew runs into a documentary film crew doing a documentary on documentaries, makes it about as close to "Factories in Chicago making miniature models of factories" from Austin Powers as comically possible without overstating the message.

There's also some topical stuff thrown throughout, and some uncomfortable bits and some nice foreshadowing watching it four years later (i.e. Kerry's "if he wins Tanner may become this and that" plot points, and Obama's key-note address shown as the event it was), and Altman and Trudeau are able to convey, often vividly, how to create a layering effect of politics, media, film-making, family and creative strife, and the pure and cruelly paradoxical nature of the political machine. If it's not quite as focused all the time, or always with a clear story arc, as in Tanner 88 it makes up for its faults with superb performances- as if sliding back into comfortable slippers- and a few bitingly satirical surprises (Robert Redford anyone?)

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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

An uninteresting documentary film-maker, followed around by a slightly more interesting filmmaker, made by an interesting director, with mildly interesting results

Author: Camera Obscura from The Dutch Mountains
29 November 2006

This follow-up to Robert Altman's "Tanner '88" (1988) originally aired as a four-part TV-series on HBO. Michael Murphy and Cynthia Nixon reprise their roles as Jack Tanner and Alex Tanner, with the former presidential candidate now teaching at Michigan State, while his daughter is a Manhattan-based documentary filmmaker who also teaches at the New School.

Basically, there's only one real character in this film and that's daughter Alex Tanner. It's hardly a person one can sympathize with, since she is a self-indulgent howler with seemingly only one goal, rehabilitating her father, Jack Tanner, whom she adores unconditionally.

According to Altman the film is primarily a spoof on the new documentary film-making, which he didn't intended as such, he admitted in an interview. The question is, what was the original idea for the film?

Well, the writing suggests a much more dramatic approach, but on that level it doesn't work. But with Altman, you already know this is gonna be a loosely constructed stew, highly dependent on high-profile cameos, but the irony is that this film essentially has become what Altman claims his own film ended up to be, a spoof about film-making itself, and documentary film-making in particular. "Tanner on Tanner" is about nothing. Of course it's not a documentary, but filmed as one and looks like one, shot in verité style. It's not drama. It's no allegory on politics. It's - if anything - a self-indulgent look at the very process of film-making.

At one point, in the last part of the series, the student of Alex who is making a film about her film, proclaims: 'Look at Michael Moore. Old-fashioned documentary film-making is dead.'

In many ways this seems true, at least if you aspire your documentary to get any attention at festivals. Facts are for television, and it's only recently that the documentary has become an accepted cinematic approach. For a long time, there was only one form. The factual, the journalistic approach. Now there are many, but more so than ever, the documentary has become a political pamphlet, a very powerful piece of propaganda. This makes it much easier for us to judge them on their cinematic qualities, instead of their qualities as objective journalism or an authentic portrait of a certain subject or person.

Camera Obscura --- 6/10

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4 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

A cult classic in the creators own minds

Author: sleestaker from Mississippi
8 April 2006

Altman is very proud of the fact that people in his movies talk over each other, because, he says, people do that in life. Well, people also cough, burp, go off on tangents, etc. The point is that just because people actually do something doesn't make it compelling cinema. That's one issue.

The bigger issue is that this just isn't a very clever or direct or hitting or relevant satire, in 1988 or 2004. Garry Trudeau is still living in the 1960s and thinks everyone except a small core of Republican elected officials is a 60s-style hippie liberal. I mean the guy still trots out Zonker in his strip - a character that is a complete anachronism, yet Trudeau still employs him as if he is representative of a large stripe of American youth.

Don't get me wrong. I am a conservative, but I'm not saying that this is bad because it's got a liberal bent. It could take a liberal tack and be funny and relevant, but it's not. It is mainly a vanity piece with a bunch of prominent celebrity liberals (including the odious, repellent Ron Reagan, Jr.). At times it feels unscripted, and the rest of the time it has a snarky air of self-importance and "aren't we oh-so-clever?"-ness.

Someone said that this show insists it has a cult following. I think its cult status is more wished-for than actual. I'm certain there are two or three people out there who taped all the original episodes in 1988 and still have them, but if that is the standard, then every show ever aired is a cult classic to some degree. If Tanner didn't have the names Altman and Trudeau attached, it would be another forgotten HBO production from the 1980s. Instead, it's presented as hard-hitting, incisive political commentary from guys who are at the top of their game. The reality, however, is about as far from that as possible. Pat Paulsen's presidential satire is more relevant than Tanner ever was, and he's been dead for a decade.

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4 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

not very good, no?

Author: kipconlon from United States
7 October 2004

I watched this last night on Sundance. Altman must be the most hit or miss director of note ever. This show, despite its "star power" is utterly non-compelling, and its political insights--which I as a proud liberal in no way disagree with--are shallow and clunky, and seem ripped from the headlines of USA Today, despite the fact it's coming out of the mouth of someone as esteemed as Mario Cuomo. The drama, as such, is not very dramatic, and the comedy is not funny. The only points of interest, really, are seeing how New Yorkers live their lives, and the loyalty of a cast and crew to reassemble a show that keeps insisting has some cult following from 1988. Sometimes it seems like Altman's sole contribution to cinema has been the art of having all your actors talk at once, the effect of which is one feels depressingly like they're a stranger at a wedding.

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