Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Better than the Book: Get Shorty

I’m beginning to think that the whole basis for films being superior to the books on which they’re based is the presence of a soundtrack. Get Shorty can practically serve as the argument in favor of this. Great music--a mix of jazz and pop and instrumental mood-setting that is really on to something. If you look at the list of tracks, you might not think it would suit a tale of a gangster who wants to become a movie producer, so many people must die a horrible death,* but it does.

My son owns several books that play music. One is a rendition of “Up on the Housetop” that sets the lyrics to illustrations and plays the melody along. But even I can’t read the whole book before the song ends. It doesn’t include enough music to get through all the verses. The other book is an elmo pop-up book, which has buttons you push to play music for each page. You’re supposed to read the lyrics along with the music on each page. Neither of these books technically has a soundtrack in the sense that movies have soundtracks, but they make me think that the technology would be possible, were any demand to arise. I doubt it will. However, there's a whole section of the greeting card industry now devoted to putting music into cards. Sound and reading material, together at last.

Travolta and Hackman are fantastic in this. The movie, not the car.

Anyway...Get Shorty’s great. Travolta’s great. Hackman’s great. It was the first film in which I saw Dennis Farina, who swears in nearly every line he utters in the film. Travolta also has the following line, when asking Renee Russo to see Touch of Evil with him: “We can go watch Charlton Heston be a Mexican.” It’s funny when he says it.

Dennis Farnia is fantastic in this.

Combine great actors with Barry Sonnenfeld, who’s a fantastic director. He did the cinematography for another great film, Raising Arizona. And he really works wonders here, too. Almost every shot is a marvel to watch--movement, motivated movement at that, all the time. For me, the whole movie is encapsulated in one shot: John Travolta walking up the stairs. Allow me to explain.

Rene Russo is fantastic in this.

Travolta, playing the gangster Chilli Palmer, is set to have lunch with Russo and Hackman. They see that some rival gangsters-who-want-to-be-producers have been there before them, trying to get Hackman to work with them instead. Travolta sees the threat implied by James Gandolfini’s approach to the stairwell. This was Gandolfini before he became Tony Soprano, by the way. So Travolta, who had been cool and charming with Russo, asks her to step back. He glances up the stairs, takes a step, and Greyboy’s Panacea begins. Travolta walks up the stairs, seemingly with the beat of the song. The camera pulls back--he’s coming right at us--and he’s a whole different person. He was a guy with a girl, about to have lunch before. Now, he’s all business. And Gandolfini gets a whuppin. Everything comes together right in that shot: music, acting, directing; it doesn’t get much better than that.

The book, by Elmore Leonard, isn’t too bad. It’s not nearly as funny. Overall, it’s just not all that great. The movie is.

Danny DeVito is fantastic in this.

Elmore Leonard, by the way, wrote a book called Killshot. It’s one of the only books I started reading but vowed never to finish. It’s that bad--which is too bad, since it’s set in my hometown. I didn’t get more than twenty or thirty pages into it. You might say that I never got to any of the good stuff. But I don’t think that’s possible. Three other people had the same reaction.

*I stole this line from, of course, Joel and Ethan Coen. They used something similar for their movie The Man Who Wasn’t There--it’s about a barber who wants to become a dry cleaner, so many people must die a horrible death. No offense is intended to them. Theirs is funnier. I just can’t help myself.

1 comment:

  1. Great film. And I agree, Killshot was hideous.