Tag Archives: James Gandolfini

Get Shorty (1995, Barry Sonnenfeld)

There’s a gentle quality about Get Shorty, an invitation from screenwriter Scott Frank and director Sonnenfeld to dwell. One can also not dwell on the film’s little moments, because it’s got awesome big moments as well. Except Shorty doesn’t have much in the way of set pieces; Sonnenfeld does whatever he can to reduce action and suspense. He’s making a comedy–a likable comedy–not an action thriller. So those big moments come in dialogue and actors’ deliveries. Sonnenfeld and his actors layer their performances in each scene. Sometimes it’s so Sonnenfeld can do a sight gag, sometimes it’s just for the exit laugh. But it creates these fantastic characters who don’t get much chance at narrative progression. Get Shorty is a concise, impeccably constructed, impeccably edited film.

Frank’s script often gives each character a sidekick for a scene. Someone to watch while someone else has a big moment. The way Sonnenfeld directs these scenes is for the sidekick to react–in close-up–while listening. It’s not a big reaction, it gives Martin Ferrero a few nice scenes and lets Rene Russo excel in her scream queen turned producer part. Russo’s story is always in relation to the boys–lead John Travolta as her new beau, Gene Hackman as her Corman-esque Svengali, Danny DeVito as her movie star ex-husband–but she still gets to have a real, consequential part. And not because of action, but because of her character’s decisions, which the audience gets to see Russo make thanks to Sonnenfeld’s deliberate approach.

Get Shorty is also perfectly acted. No one gives anything less than an excellent performance (even Bette Midler in a cameo) but there are some particularly exceptional ones (i.e. Travolta). The thing about Get Shorty is it doesn’t ask Travolta to be a movie star. It asks him to be a character actor. Even though Travolta’s the lead, Get Shorty is far more of an ensemble piece. Each actor is intentionally memorable–the way Donald Peterman lights them, the way Jim Miller cuts them, the way Sonnenfeld composes the shot–even the bit players are intentionally memorable. It creates an exceptionally affable mood.

Of course, it’s also about Hollywood. The dream of Hollywood, filtered through Travolta’s exuberant nostalgia. Travolta and Russo have these side conversations about old movies; I wonder if Frank wrote the whole conversation or just cut in. It’s all handled perfectly. But with a couple exceptions, it’s not about “real” Hollywood. It’s about everyone’s dream of it. Whether it’s Travolta’s, Hackman’s, Russo’s, Delroy Lindo’s.

Delroy Lindo.

Delroy Lindo gives the film’s greatest performance. He stands out among all the standouts. He stands out in a film where Dennis Farina is able to so exactly embody his caricature, it becomes magic. Because Lindo has the task of being dangerous, loathsome, likable. You’re watching Get Shorty, you’re hoping Lindo gets his comeuppance, but not too soon.

No one else can do these roles. No one else is imaginable in these roles. Sonnenfeld gets the audience buy-in early, sort of doing a “pilot” for the film before the opening titles. There’s a concise little narrative, an introduction to Travolta and nemesis Farina, then the titles. The titles hinting at what’s to come, John Lurie’s Booker T-esque score excitedly dragging things out. Sonnenfeld makes you impatient to watch this Get Shorty picture he’s teasing.

Get Shorty’s great. I’ve always thought so, but it’s been over a decade since I’ve seen it so I’m really glad it’s so great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld; screenplay by Scott Frank, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard; director of photography, Donald Peterman; edited by Jim Miller; music by John Lurie; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring John Travolta (Chili Palmer), Gene Hackman (Harry Zimm), Rene Russo (Karen Flores), Danny DeVito (Martin Weir), Dennis Farina (Ray Bones), Delroy Lindo (Bo), James Gandolfini (Bear), Jon Gries (Ronnie), Martin Ferrero (Tommy), Miguel Sandoval (Mr. Escobar), Jacob Vargas (Yayo), Linda Hart (Fay Devoe) and David Paymer (Leo Devoe).


RELATED

Advertisements

Enough Said (2013, Nicole Holofcener)

For most of Enough Said, I marveled at how director Holofcener–apparently in an act entirely lacking irony–created the perfect film to fail the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test, which is all the rage, requires two female characters talk about something besides men.

Well, besides talking about men, the characters in Said do not do much. Lead Julia Louis-Dreyfus otherwise makes acerbic observations about those around her or the minutiae of her life; I wish I could know how the film played if one is unfamiliar with a certain show about nothing starring Louis-Dreyfus, but I cannot. It probably wouldn’t be much better, because Holofcener isn’t just lazy at the plotting, she’s lazy with the characters.

Here’s the idea (straight out of a “Seinfeld”). Louis-Dreyfus starts seeing James Gandolfini (even though he’s fat–she’s supposed to be out of shape too, in one of Enough Said’s more absurd requests for the viewer to suspend their disbelief). She’s a masseuse. Her new client–an exceptionally wasted Catherine Keener–turns out to be really cool and they become friends. Oh, and Keener’s Gandolfini’s ex-wife. Which Elaine–sorry, sorry–which Louis-Dreyfus figures out and keeps to herself.

The film wastes the more interesting empty nest subplot involving Louis-Dreyfus bonding with her daughter’s friend, Tavi Gevinson. Sure, they fail the Bechdel test too, but not as bad as the rest of the film.

Bad editing from Robert Frazen. Great performance from Gandolfini.

Enough’s pointless and slight.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener; director of photography, Xavier Grobet; edited by Robert Frazen; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Keith P. Cunningham; produced by Stefanie Azpiazu and Anthony Bregman; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva), James Gandolfini (Albert), Tracey Fairaway (Ellen), Toni Collette (Sarah), Ben Falcone (Will), Catherine Keener (Marianne), Eve Hewson (Tess), Tavi Gevinson (Chloe), Amy Landecker (Debbie), Toby Huss (Peter) and Kathleen Rose Perkins (Fran).


RELATED

In the Loop (2009, Armando Iannucci)

In the Loop is a spin-off of a British show… I didn’t know about that connection when I watched it. I guess it doesn’t matter, since In the Loop is–apparently–something of a prequel. The show’s called “The Thick of It,” for those interested.

Now, where to start.

In the Loop is, without being specific with names, about the rush to the Iraq war in 2003. As an anti-war film, it’s probably the most effective one I’ve seen about that war, because it portrays the people behind it as self-serving and callow. It’s hilarious. It’s also rather depressing when one realizes the state of government, but it’s definitely funny.

As really funny–and here’s where In the Loop gets a lot of laughs–is a Scotsman swearing. The film opens with Peter Capaldi and this torrent of obscenities just starts rushing from him. A lot of his particular insults are well-written, but it’s Capaldi’s performance–that accent–is still the most important part.

He’s not really the lead in the film, but the film doesn’t really have one so maybe he’s the closest it does have.

It sort of opens and closes with Chris Addison’s career, but he’s so unlikable after a certain point, it’s hard to call him a protagonist.

The best performances are from David Rasche (a standout), Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, James Gandolfini, Mimi Kennedy (another standout) and Steve Coogan.

It’s great.

But it’s sad the British cast Americans better than Hollywood.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Armando Iannucci; written by Iannucci, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche; director of photography, Jamie Cairney; edited by Anthony Boys and Billy Sneddon; music by Adam Ilhan; production designer, Christina Casali; produced by Kevin Loader and Adam Tandy; released by Optimum Releasing.

Starring Anna Chlumsky (Liza Weld), Chris Addison (Toby Wright), David Rasche (Linton Barwick), Gina McKee (Judy Molloy), James Gandolfini (Lt. Gen. George Miller), Mimi Kennedy (Karen Clark), Olivia Poulet (Suzy), Peter Capaldi (Malcolm Tucker), Steve Coogan (Paul Michaelson), Tom Hollander (Simon Foster) and Zach Woods (Chad).


RELATED

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009, Tony Scott)

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 might be the worst directed film I’ve ever liked. I haven’t seen a Tony Scott effort in eight years and he just gets more and more obnoxious with the post production effects. It’s like he’s competing with himself to affect more style and be more visually incoherent than any other filmmaker working today. With the possible exception of Simon West, he seems to be succeeding.

But even Scott can’t ruin a solid Denzel Washington star vehicle and, with the exception of John Travolta, Pelham is rather well-cast. Luis Guzmán is wasted, but James Gandolfini has some good moments, as does John Turturro. Instead of teaming with Scott again for this one, Washington should have brought in Spike Lee, whose realistic sense of New York would have played well with Helgeland’s script’s more fanciful, Hollywood characterization.

The film’s only source credit is the novel, which it doesn’t resemble much narratively, and it doesn’t improve anything on the earlier adaptation. In fact, it wastes the potential with Travolta, who does better than usual I suppose, but he’s not interesting to watch opposite Washington. He’s just not in the same caliber of acting and it isn’t interesting.

The film’s way too long, with the third act dragging on and on. The end’s a little bit absurd too, as Scott tries to pretend he’s capable of an honest observation of the human condition.

But it’s a decent hostage thriller. Even if Scott’s mise-en-scène horrifies.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Scott; screenplay by Brian Helgeland, based on the novel by John Godey; director of photography, Tobias A. Schliessler; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production designer, Chris Seagers; produced by Todd Black, Scott, Jason Blumenthal and Steve Tisch; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Denzel Washington (Walter Garber), John Travolta (Ryder), John Turturro (Camonetti), Luis Guzmán (Phil Ramos), Michael Rispoli (John Johnson), James Gandolfini (Mayor), Frank Wood (Police Commissioner Sterman), John Benjamin Hickey (Deputy Mayor LaSalle), Gary Basaraba (Jerry Pollard) and Ramon Rodriguez (Delgado).


RELATED