Get Shorty,
and a few more films

#217  [archive]
NOV. 16, 2023

Get Shorty (1995) 

Chili Palmer (John Travolta) is is a Miami debt-collector and darn it, a nice guy. Mostly he's a movie fan who'd rather talk about Touch of Evil than break your legs. Come to think of it, we never do see him break anybody's legs.

Chasing a $300,000 debt for his boss, Chili goes to Vegas, then to Hollywood to collect a casino debt owed by low-rent moviemaker Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). He's a fan of Zimm's work, so instead of breaking his legs Chili pitches him an idea for a movie, and things go wrong, things go right.

Elmore Leonard said he was happy with this adaptation of his novel, and it certainly captures his patter all the way through. Even the violence is funny.

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Men in Black), it also has Danny DeVito as the biggest star in show biz, Rene Russo as a sometimes-snarling starlet, should-be-more-famous Dennis Farina as Chili's mobster boss, and young James Gandolfini as a not-so-tough enforcer who's also a stuntman, because it's L.A., where everyone's in the industry. 

"Rough business, this movie business. I'm gonna have to go back to loan-sharking just to take a rest."

Travolta has never been better, and as for Hackman — I'd wondered a while back if he ever played anything but Hackman tough guys; well, here he's not a Hackman tough guy, and he's fine at it. The beard helps.

With its star-studded ensemble cast, plot twists too numerous to detail, Elmore's rat-a-tat-tat clever dialogue, plenty of laughs, elegant music, and a great ending and fade-away shot, this adds up to the best gangster comedy I can remember.

It's a Hollywood movie about Hollywood, big as the letters on the hillside. Great fun, very nearly perfect entertainment.

Verdict: BIG YES.

Bonus: Ben Stiller's deleted scene.

♦ ♦ ♦

Doctor Who Am I (2022)

In 1996, Doctor Who had been off the air for seven years, and BBC had no interest in bringing it back. America's Fox network did, so they rented the rights and made a pilot to re-launch the series as a BBC/Fox co-production.

It was the TV-movie Doctor Who (1996), which I mostly liked, but it scored only so-so ratings, the series didn't get made, and some of the nerdiest fans hated what Fox had done: The Doctor was suddenly half-human, like Spock, which is stupid. And he kissed his pretty companion, when until then he'd always, always been basically sexless.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, that poorly-received and failed pilot/movie was written by Matthew Jacobs, who 25 years later went to a Doctor Who convention, brought a camera crew with him, and directed this documentary about Matthew Jacobs going to a Doctor Who con.

If your next question is Who cares? you're asking the right questions. Jacobs is a writer, but nothing's interesting about that, so this is a movie only for hardcore fans of the show. I'm the hardest-core fan I know, and only about half of this held my attention.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

Greener Grass (2019)

Jill and Lisa are neighbors and friends, watching their children play soccer badly. Lisa compliments Jill on her beautiful new baby daughter, so of course, Jill gives the baby to Lisa. To keep.

Soon, though, Jill's son becomes a golden retriever, and suddenly childless, Jill wonders if she's made a mistake giving the girl away.

"I don't want to be a native-American-giver, but I wanted to ask — now that my only child is a dog, would it be possible to get the baby I gave you back?"

Set in a pastel upper-class suburb where everyone wears braces and drives golf carts instead of cars, this is an enthusiastically weird movie about the extreme awkwardness of humanity.

It's a world of conformity, where good manners are valued above all else. Relaxing and being yourself would be gauche. There might be a serial killer on the loose, but I'm sure he or she is very polite about it.

This is a comedy, if you haven't guessed, and while I certainly laughed, it's more unsettling than funny. Jocelyn DeBoer and Dawn Luebbe wrote, directed, and star. The flick made me uncomfortable for an hour and a half, but still left me feeling I'd had a good time.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Inhuman Woman (1924)

Claire Lescot is a world-famous singer, beautiful and forever pursued by men of means and reputation, but she rebuffs all advances.

The story opens with a dinner party at her palace, with many of her pursuers in attendance. Dinner is served on a table in the middle of the swimming pool. The waiters wear masks that lock perpetual smiles on their faces. Everything is weird, man, weirder than Greener Grass, and every new act of the drama is vividly tinted in a different color.

One of the men sniffing after Lady Lescott can't handle her rejection, so he storms out and drives away in a snazzy roadster, then intentionally drives over a cliff. That's when she regrets rebuffing him, and instead of being universally beloved, some in the audience at her next show have turned against her as "the inhuman woman."

That's the basics of the beginning of the story, which then goes too wild to recount. Doesn't matter, anyway, because more than the plot, it's the fantastic visuals that hold your attention. Like the guy on his back, legs in the air, balancing a barrel on his feet as he furiously mimes running — for about five minutes. It doesn't get boring, it only gets weird. Same for the whole movie.

Some of the sets are Fritz Lang-worthy, as the story moves into science fiction. The camerawork and effects are always imaginative, and everything's bathed in strangeness. It's a silent movie from a century ago, but most of it still feels fresh.

Claire Lescot is played by Georgette Leblanc, who Google tells me was a big opera star of the era. Seems Leblanc provided half the film's funding, and in return got the leading role, which is the only serious fuck-up in this otherwise fine film. She's weak as an actress, and at 55 years old even buried in pancake make-up, it's hard to pretend that her rejection could lead a young man to suicide.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

The Internet's Own Boy (2014)
Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)
The Man Who Thought Life (1969)
Nothing But a Man (1964)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Romper Stomper (1992)
Room Service (1938)
Who Farted? (2019)

... plus occasional 
schlock and surprises 

• • • But wait, there's more  • • •

Alexander Nevsky (1938)
Brainwaves (1983)
Cellular (2004) 
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)
Downsizing (2017)
Frankenhooker (1990)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
Love Happy (1950)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Phone Booth (2002)
PickAxe (1999)
Poison (1990)
Revelations (1993)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
Saved! (2004)
Scared to Death (1947)
Secret Weapons (1985)
The Shooting (1966)
The Soloist (2009)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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