Review of GET SHORTY (Shout Select Blu-ray)

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Grade: B
Entire family: No (older teens only)
1995, 105 min., Color
Crime comedy-drama
Shout! Factory
Rated R for language and some violence
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Amazon link

Get Shorty is rated R and strictly for families with older teenagers. The third word we hear is an f-bomb, and it’s dropped dozens of times throughout the film (how many dozen make a gross?). But for families that may have watched John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino in the old TV comedy Welcome Back Kotter, or caught his “cool” acts in Grease and Saturday Night Fever, his performance as small-time hood Chili Palmer will seem like a revelation. It’s Travolta at his absolute coolest. For his portrayal of Chili he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

Chili is a Miami-based loan shark who works for a crime boss, and a crazy series of unfortunate events is set in motion when he’s at a restaurant and a mobster from a rival crime family “borrows” his leather jacket from the coat room. Chili promptly goes to the man’s apartment and breaks his nose when he answers the door, then reclaims his coat. When the man, Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina), comes to Chili’s office to get revenge, Chili parts his hair with a bullet. And all of this is done to the kind of jazzy, up-tempo soundtrack that viewers have come to expect from crime comedy-dramas.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) has fun with this one, showcasing Elmore Leonard’s colorful characters and dialogue in scenes that are packed sky-high with props that add to the crime-comedy flavor.

It’s going to take some careful watching to catch everything, because there’s a lot going on, and some of the plot is based on the old domino theory. Knock one down, and they all fall down . . . eventually. After Chili’s mob boss dies, Palmer finds himself working for Bones and is ordered to collect a loan debt owed by a guy (David Paymer) who was believed killed in an airplane crash . . . but actually never made it on the plane. That trail takes Chili to Las Vegas, where he decides to accept a second job from a casino manager who has his own bad debt he needs collected. That sends Chili to Hollywood to track down B-movie producer Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), whom he finds at the home of B-movie actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo). But it doesn’t take long for film buff Chili to get sucked into the idea of making a movie himself. He pitches a script idea (that’s really what happened so far in this movie) and Harry is hooked. Bring in some DEA guys and another rival mob with drug money just waiting to be picked up at an airline locker, and you’ve got a tightly constructed plot interweave that eventually comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Aside from the language, there are several instances of brutal violence, but because the tone of the film is Elmore Leonard-light, even that seems tempered and there’s a tongue-in-cheek aspect involved, even when there’s a death. Several years before James Gandolfini played Tony Soprano he turned up here as a movie stuntman trying to make extra money working as a “tough buy” for a Hollywood mobster, and he and Travolta are fun together. Bette Midler also appears in a comic role.

Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray release featuring a 4K transfer is remarkable. With superior picture and sound quality, few would suspect that this film was made more than 20 years ago. It’s not dated at all. Part of that, of course, is attributable to Elmore Leonard, whose crime caper stories themselves seem timeless.

Language: More than 80 f-bombs and several dozen lesser expletives

Sex: Nothing is shown, but in one scene it’s suggested that a woman is rubbing a man’s crotch; other than that, there’s a three-second shot of bare butts swimming in a pool

Violence: People are punched in the face, two men are shot point blank, and another falls off a balcony

Adult situations: There’s plenty of casual drinking and smoking

Takeaway: Music really does a fine job of capturing the tone Leonard described in the novel, and Travolta is great fun to watch, as is Gandolfini


Review of OCEAN’S 8 (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B/B+
Entire family: No
Crime Comedy/Drama
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos-TrueHD
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy
Amazon link

It’s hard to say whether Frank Sinatra would be amused or annoyed that Ocean’s 11—his 1960 buddy heist film with fellow rat-packers Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop—has inspired a series of profitable remakes and sequels. But it might temper whatever he’s feeling to know that the latest of these, Ocean’s 8, also has a lot in common with another sixties’ heist film, Topkapi, which targeted jewels in a museum.

Ocean’s 8 is a caper film through and through. Director Gary Ross, who wrote the screenplays for Pleasantville and The Hunger Games, takes the genre in a warm embrace and has fun with this ensemble flick starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter. What could possibly go wrong?

There’s a Reds and Blues Brothers vibe early in the film as Bullock’s character gets out of prison and instantly gets the “band” back together, picking up a few others along the way. The plan? To not just steal the most expensive piece of jewelry on the planet, but also frame the guy who framed her. Instead of hitting three Vegas casinos simultaneously, as the original and first remake buddies did, this group sets their sights on a museum gala and one particular necklace that a star will be wearing. And part of the plan is making sure that this star does indeed wear that heavily guarded and heavily insured necklace.

If you’re not familiar with the caper genre, it’s a little different from the typical Hollywood screenplay in that there’s really no traditional dramatic arc where there’s a peaking movement toward a crisis and then a falling action. It’s more about coming together, planning the heist, and then executing the heist and dealing with whatever unexpected challenges pop up. That can give the film a somewhat even-keeled feel, but a slick upbeat collection of soundtrack songs—a blend of vintage and new that includes The Notorious B.I.G., Eamon, Kelis, Sammy Davis Jr., Herb Alpert, and Nancy Sinatra—provides plenty of energy to make it feel as if even the slow spots are moving a little faster. Ocean’s 8 is a slick film that doesn’t feel forced, and it looks really slick on high-def Blu-ray, which is the way to go with this title.

Everyone will have their favorites, but for me the standouts were Bullock and Hathaway, who really commanded your attention every scene they were in. They also got the glam-scam tone of the film: a combination of tongue-in-cheek humor and slick sophistication. More

Review of GOING IN STYLE (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B-/C+
Entire family: No
2017, 96 min., Color
Crime comedy
Rated PG-13 for drug content, language, and some suggestive material
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C (director’s commentary)
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Amazon link

Money-grubbing moneylenders are evil—at least in literature and Hollywood. Whether it was Tom Joad and his fellow Okies trying to start a new life in California after banks foreclosed on them, George Bailey fighting to keep Mr. Potter from buying up the whole town and gouging tenants, or even Bonnie and Clyde becoming bank-robbing folk heroes, any act of resistance has been seen as an act of heroism.

The financial crisis of 2007-08—triggered by banks actively selling subprime mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them—only solidified the notion that banks are the con men, the bad guys. Add the corporate shipping of jobs overseas and the dismantling of pensions that workers paid into but lost, and the idea of the evil moneygrubbers grows even larger.

So how can you possibly go wrong when you cast beloved veterans Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and Alan Arkin as 70-somethings who, victimized by the banks and their employer, decide to rob a bank? I mean, the bank and their employer cheated them, so what do they have to lose? If they get caught, they get “three squares” and better health care than they now have, and if they succeed they avoid financial ruin.

Close your eyes and picture the first-act set-up where we’ll get to know each of them, follow their routines, and come to understand what makes them decide that Going in Style is preferable to remaining law-abiding citizens.

Have you got an image of the scenes that you’d see, the situations that would be illustrated?

Good. Because then I don’t have to tell you about the first part of this film. The setup is as generic as can be, and paced so leisurely that it feels like a yawner. Their situations are clichéd, with one about to lose his house (and his daughter and granddaughter are living with him, so they too would be out on the streets), one who needs a kidney transplant and is told he doesn’t have much time left, and a third a family-less fellow who is hit-on by an elderly grocery-store employee (Ann-Margaret). There are no surprises and very few delights in the first third of the film. It’s only when they seek out a “low life” to get advice on how to rob a bank that the interest picks up, and by the third act things are rolling so well that you wish the film had started at that point.