Home Entertainment Review: Get Shorty [Collector’s Edition] (Shout! Factory)

“Rough business, this movie business. I’m gonna have to go back to loan-sharking just to take a rest!” 1995’s ‘Get Shorty’, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (‘Addams’ Family’, Addams’ Family Values’, […]

“Rough business, this movie business. I’m gonna have to go back to loan-sharking just to take a rest!”

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1995’s ‘Get Shorty’, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (‘Addams’ Family’, Addams’ Family Values’, the ‘Men in Black’ series), is a movie about the movie business. A collector’s edition of the film has been released on Blu-Ray from SHOUT SELECT.

This movie goes beyond implying that Hollywood is a corrupt, cut-throat, dog-eat-dog Darwinian experiment run in perpetual fast-forward, by making our protagonist an actual mobster. John Travolta plays Chili Palmer, an East Coast loan shark venturing out West, who gets bitten by the bug and decides to break into show business, figuratively and literally.

There is something to be said about a film where everyone is having a blast doing their jobs. The joy bleeds through to the audience. Danny DeVito produced the film and most of the cast came to work because they liked him. It shows. People are having fun.

Due to the untimely death of his gangster patron, Momo, cinephile leg-breaker and loan shark Chili Palmer (Travolta) is forced by his new handler, ‘Bones’ Barboni, (Farina) to take on a debt collection gig in Las Vegas. While there, he accepts another job that leads him to L.A., and to a debt owed by the film producer Howard Zimm (Hackman). After some fits and starts, Palmer and Zimm’s girlfriend, C-movie star Karen Flores (Russo) both see a way out of their dead ends. Each has something the other needs in order to evolve. Palmer is familiar with her catalog but is moved by meeting the person behind the performance. She blows him off when he asks her out, then reconsiders, stalks him and finds him watching ‘A Touch of Evil’. She sees the inner Palmer, the super-geek film-lover quoting every line before it happens. She also comes to appreciate his ruthlessly blunt honesty, a trait she relishes as it is so alien to the people she knows. They decide to produce a movie together.

The movie Palmer is pushing is the ‘Adventures of Chili Palmer’, an autobiographical yarn depicting his jaunt to L.A. and the shenanigans that follow. They want the greatest actor available to pull off the roll, and their target is the colossally-talented, multi-Oscar-winning Martin Weir, (Danny DeVito.), who is the titular “Shorty’ in ‘Get Shorty’.

Conflict arises though when more players become involved in Zimm’s debt. There is a hunt for the payoff. There is drug money. There is the floating interest on Zimm’s ‘loan’, as well as the machinations involved in engineering the financing to purchase the half-million-dollar screenplay for the film ‘Mr. Lovejoy’, Zimm’s pet project. That screenplay is the Mcguffin that drives the plot of the movie within the movie

Palmer’s obdurate certainty as to how crime and cinema should be done just so is so entertaining to observe in a world where he is seemingly the only character with a moral compass. His character’s love of the medium of film shines through in almost every scene. The ending is perfect. It builds through the climax of the plot and blends seamlessly with the movie made during the movie to give us a viscerally satisfying ending that is just as snarky as the rest of the film.

Spectacularly well-cast, the movie stars Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, Bette Middler and James Gandolfini along with Travolta. (with cameos by Penny Marshall, and Harvey Keitel.) The screenplay, by Scott Frank, crackles with tension, wit, and energy, as the characters fence with each other and probe for weaknesses.

This is a movie about rogues, liars, thieves, and one strangely honest criminal. It’s about the stunningly abject power of truth in a sea of bullshit. It’s about how Hollywood capitalizes and cannibalizes dreams and yet how the most jaded players in the system still yearn for something better. How films are spun up not out of ether, but out of funding, and with occasionally dubious funding. It’s about aspirational change and the idea that everyone (except Barboni,) dreams of a better, different tomorrow. If you like movies, this is a movie.

The film is based on a book of the same title by Elmore Leonard, who has a knack for hard-boiled, heavy-hitting, witty stories that twist and simmer as they climb towards their climaxes. Several of his other books have been made into films, including Steven Soderberg’s ‘Out of Sight’ and Tarantino’s ‘Jackie Brown’, based on ‘Rum Punch.’ This particular adaptation does not disappoint.

Special features includes audio commentary by the director, as well as:

‘Look At Me.’ : A making-of featurette. Elmore Leonard reveals his process, his visual sense of scene and his love of dialogue as a window into a character’s personality. Sonnenfeld and Travolta discuss what is compelling about putting filmmakers and mobsters, in the same room together. The most surprising nugget of information learned in the extras is that Sonnenfeld wanted to cast DeVito as Palmer, not as Martin Weir, the actor playing Palmer in the film-within-the-film, but DeVito had scheduling constraints that only allowed him to take the smaller part.

‘Wiseguys and Dolls’: Rene Russo lays out how she developed her character. Sonnenfeld reveals his favorite scene in the movie, in which Lindo and Travolta’s characters, one a loan shark who loves movies and the other a drug dealer desperate to produce a film, craving the respectability that would bring, discuss how to craft a screenplay. The charm of the scene is that neither has any real idea how to proceed. Next, Farina talks up the virtues of his character, Ray Barboni, and the interactions with Gene Hackman. Barboni is archetypical conservative, the only character in the film not striving for change, but pressing to hold up the old hierarchy. Gandolfini divulge what makes the duality of his character, Bear, work. Finally, Sonnenfeld talks about his previous films, the visual way he perceives the medium based on his work history, and how the airport-terminal locker sequence was shot.

‘Going Again’: A short film with Sonnenfeld giving us more insight on his directing process, and how reluctant he was to go off script. If the goal was to get the lines right, it was important not to cut and reset and lose the moment for the actors. Depicted was DeVito’s struggle with lines during a particularly long take and how a scene with him, Russo and Travolta was shot without cuts and then whittled down in the editing room in order to allow the actors to work without constant resets. “Going Again” was his constant refrain to alert the editors when to cut.

The ‘Get Shorty’ Party Reel: BTS shots, bloopers, makeup, lighting tests.

Page-to-Screen: Actor Peter Gallager hosts a segment like ‘Behind the Actor’s Studio’, where the difference between the text and the film is delved into. There is a retrospective of Leonard’s career as a writer, where he discusses his improvisational technique, how he proceeds to write without an outline or notes of any sort, (beyond his factual research) just letting the story guide him as he types, akin to a jazz artist letting the music lead the way. We meet the ‘real’ Chili Palmer, who was an actual mob loan shark. In a bit of tradecraft revealed, Leonard divulges that he employs an investigator to do his legwork and research. Leonard sent him to Las Vegas to get the little, intimate details so vital for verisimilitude and the worldbuilding for the novel. We learn from Sonnenfeld’s perspective on the story of how the film was optioned. Then they discuss the process of discovering the theme of the film, which is that of transformation. Leonard said many scenes didn’t look the way he’d envisioned them, but due to Sonnenfeld and Frank’s fidelity to his work, they sounded exactly like he’d imagined.

‘The Silent Schmuck’: Sonnenfeld discussing more of how he works, and how the director’s choices make the movie what it is
‘Cappuccino’ Sonnenfeld talking about the difference in clout one gets when one is the director, and how it sometimes goes to your head.
‘Radio Show’: DeVito recalls the length of the arduous production and then, while working on another film, late at night, he remembered hearing Leonard complaining live, on the radio about how long it was going to take, “Why isn’t the movie getting made”. DeVito calls him up and gets on the air, and assures Leonard that it will get done. “Just you watch!”
‘I Bought It.’: DeVito explaining how he got the rights to the movie. After working with Sonnenfeld on ‘Throw Mama From the Train’, they both were actively seeking a movie project for Sonnenfeld to direct. He calls DeVito, ecstatic about having just read ‘Get Shorty’, how he was so impressed by the electric prose and staccato dialogue, how brilliant it was and how DeVito should read it yesterday. DeVito turns around, calls his lawyer, and without reading so much as one page, orders the lawyer to buy the movie rights to the text if they are available. Sonnenfeld calls him back and asks him if he’d read the book. He then has to explain that he bought the book.

The Graveyard Scene: Sonnenfeld thought that adding another layer to the film was vital. Palmer, a rabid film-buff, just had to visit a shoot under production. Ben Stiller was hired for a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo, as the director of Hackman’s Roger Corman-esque schlock film production., The disc provides a BTS bit about that scene, with Stiller’s commentary. However, ultimately, Sonnenfeld thought it was redundant character information and ruined the pacing. Studio executives disagreed, but it flopped in test screenings, where the film lost momentum at that point. The executives decided it was better off on the DVD as bonus material. (Then they show us the scene, which is actually sharp, funny, and another facet of the movie making the movie within the movie.)

Trailer: pre-release film trailer.

Chili Palmer returns for a sequel in 2005’s ‘Be Cool,’


About Dan Kleiner

Dan Kleiner is a strange visitor from another planet who resides in Brooklyn, New York with two cats and his amazing girlfriend. When not plotting world domination, he spends a great deal of his time watching movies and anime of all sorts, reading comic-books and book-books, studying politics and history and striving for the day when he graduates as a Class A-Weirdo.