Get Shorty (Special Edition) (1995)

Jesse Hassenger

Sonnenfeld keeps all of this under two hours by cutting the movie at a dazzling clip. The film moves like Travolta, quickly and with style.

Get Shorty (special Edition)

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Cast: John Travolta, Rene Russo, Gene Hackman, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo
MPAA rating: R
Studio: MGM
First date: 1995
US DVD Release Date: 2005-02-22
Amazon affiliate

In 1995, the film adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty (newly released on a Special Edition DVD) was a victory lap for a post-Pulp Fiction John Travolta, and so the fact that he gives a terrific performance may not have seemed either obvious or surprising. Ten years later, it's both.

Chili Palmer is probably most easily identified by his -- that is, Travolta's -- trademark swagger. Watching the movie again, the swagger, though well-delivered, is bested by the actor's ability to capture what Gene Hackman, speaking on a DVD feature, calls "a small boy's delight," Chili's genuine adoration of the movies. When he sits in a theater alone, saying the lines to Touch of Evil just before the actors onscreen do, it's endearingly childlike. This is the same Chili who prides himself on saying, "No more than I have to, and sometimes less." Faced with a great movie, he can't help himself.

Travolta may well duplicate this feat when he takes on the music business in the forthcoming sequel, Be Cool (comebacks are second nature to him), but the Get Shorty magic may prove elusive. While it's not a film that demands repeated watching (Out of Sight is still the best Leonard movie so far), or even one that offers much insight into the movie business (yes, Hollywood is a rough town and everyone wants to be in pictures), it never breaks a sweat while earning your affection.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld hits a similar career high here, keeping pace with his star. Like a lot of movies about a decade old, the cast here seems more star-studded than it did at the time: not only Travolta, Hackman, Russo, and DeVito, but also Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, Bette Midler, and David Paymer. Sonnenfeld finds room for all of their characters, a lot of dialogue, and a lot of scenes that accentuate character and dialogue rather than conventional "plot." An early scene where Chili and his hilariously irritable nemesis Bones (Farina) debate the meanings of "i.e." and "e.g." is one of the funniest and most memorable bits in the movie, the kind of technically "unnecessary" but highly delightful moments studio execs love to chop.

Sonnenfeld keeps all of this under two hours by cutting the movie at a dazzling clip. The film moves like Travolta, quickly and with style. Get Shorty is so lean and fast-paced it doesn't leave much for the Special Edition DVD to ponder: a single deleted scene instead of five or six; featurettes that emphasize single scenes, rather than comprehensive making-ofs.

The most substantial featurette is borrowed: an episode of Bravo's Page to Screen that tracks the novel's journey into movieland with emphasis on writing on both ends. Hearing about the details of Leonard's research -- down to noting the color and pattern of casino carpeting -- makes the jam-packed Sonnenfeld film all the more impressive.

If the extras have a theme, it's that making Get Shorty look effortless actually took a lot of work. The most unusual featurette concerns the shooting of the "Look at me" scene, in which Chili schools diminutive movie star Martin Weir (DeVito, the "Shorty" of the title if you haven't guessed) in how to command attention and respect. In the featurette, we see that Sonnenfeld and DeVito decide not to call "cut" for retakes, instead having the actors continue correcting and refining their lines in an almost stream-of-consciousness manner.

These quick glances behind the scenes are more valuable than the typical promotional video (also included here). Shorty was previously available in a bare-bones edition; it only receives the double-disc treatment now as a way of promoting the long-in-the-works sequel. Even with the new extras, this easily could've been a neatly packed one-disc edition, especially if the behind-the-scenes feature on Be Cool was cut. The new packaging resembles the Be Cool theatrical poster, now showing outside a theater near you, and even includes a pass redeemable at your local theater for one ticket to the new film, once it opens. This puts the disc in an odd position, reminding everyone how much fun Get Shorty is while emphasizing that there's a newer model on its way.

The ideal response, from a marketing perspective, is this: viewers remembers what a good time they had with one movie and are presumably motivated to rush out, plunk down opening-weekend money, and attempt to recapture the feeling. The potential backfire, of course, is that expectations may be raised by a re-acquaintance with the original. In either case, it's a shame to see Get Shorty dressed up as a marketing strategy for its sequel. Certainly Be Cool has an equally promising (if more blatantly star-spangled) cast. But John Travolta in 1995 may not be competition MGM wants to invoke.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.