Tag Archive: Rene Russo


Thor: The Dark World: Grade: B-

original

Directed by: Alan Taylor

Written by: Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, & Stephen McFeely

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo

Until Thor: The Dark World was released, the only individual franchise in the Marvel Studio universe that had a sequel (and I am not counting The Incredible Hulk as being a sequel to The Hulk) was Iron ManThor: The Dark World is a bigger test for Marvel than Iron Man 2 was primarily because (1) audiences gravitated toward Robert Downey, Jr.’s defining performance so much that the actor alone ensured a huge box office in the first weekend alone; (2) a billionaire playboy who suits up in a electronically sophisticated flying robotic armor is more interesting than a mythological god whose only weapon is a fucking hammer and whose world looks like a poor man’s version of J.R.R. Tolkien; and (3) Tony Stark’s pop culture-infused sharp sarcasm is funnier than Thor’s old English dialogue. It is far less risky to have a wisecracking Robert Downey, Jr. in a real world setting than a Viking god from outer space, played by a relatively unknown actor.

With Thor: The Dark World, I am disturbingly finding myself walking out of the theater thinking once you have seen one Marvel film, you have seen them all.  These films are beginning to feel more like TV episodes (or I guess you can say issues of comic books). While I overall enjoyed Thor: The Dark World, I was disappointed to find that it was not much of an improvement over its predecessor.

In this sequel, Asgard is faced with a new threat in the form of the Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and his minions, who are these ancient creatures called Dark Elves and who seek to return the universe back to eternal darkness. Malekith intends to accomplish his goal with the use of the Aether during the Convergence, an event that occurs once every like 10,000 years in which all of the nine realms of the universe align together. Thor: The Dark World takes place right after the events of The Avengers. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to Asgard and the villainous brother is condemned to spend eternity inside a dungeon. Thor remains busy bringing peace to the various kingdoms. In the meantime, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), his heartbroken love, continues her research into finding barriers between worlds. During her research, she stumbles across the Aether and is possessed by it. Thor finds her and returns her to Asgard to separate the Aether from Jane. However, discovery of the Aether reawakens Malekith, who descends upon Asgard to possess the powerful object.

If you can’t tell from my summary, Thor: The Dark World steeps itself a lot more into the fantasy Asgardian elements of this property than the first film. As one of the main directors of the hit TV show, Game of Thrones, director Alan Taylor is better suited to handle the fantasy aspect of the story than Kenneth Branagh, the director of the first film. This time Asgard feels more grounded and gritty and you get a sense that there are actual inhabitants outside of Thor, Odin and Loki. Taylor also does a fine job bringing back the humor the first film had and giving Thor: The Dark World a touch of lightness that the Marvel movies all seem to have. Here, it is obvious Joss Whedon exercised a heavy hand in many of this film’s humor, with gags and a great cameo from another Marvel superhero. Taylor also manages to avoid the typically dreadful third act climax/showdown that Marvel movies are sometimes plagued with (see Iron Man 1 and 2) – the final set piece is an inventive action sequence that, although not exceptional, is fun to watch.

However, despite the film’s virtues, Thor: The Dark World is held back by a number of elements. For one, Malekith is a woefully under-developed character, which is a real disappointment given how the very talented, charismatic, and versatile Christopher Eccleston (Mads Mikkelsen was originally cast to play Malekith, but he dropped out because of Hannibal) was cast to play this character. Aside from some decent design work on Malekith and his elvish minions, he doesn’t do a whole lot. Most of Malekith’s interactions occur with his henchman Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). He has one forgettable exchange with Thor and that is pretty much about it.

It is obvious that the studio decided to give short shrift to Malekith’s development in favor of allowing for more screen time to Loki, probably the most popular and memorable character in the Marvel movie universe next to Iron Man. Tom Hiddleston again proves himself to be indispensable to the enjoyment of this movie. He deftly combines a little boy vulnerability with his malevolent trickster traits. By now, Chris Hemsworth and Hiddleston have starred together in their third movie and you can see the two actors really hit their stride with these characters. At the same time, we are getting the same Loki that we saw in the first Thor and in The Avengers. There is no real character development here with him. The outcome with his character in this film seems to be setting him up for a third Thor film.

I have to say that I did not dig this more mature, noble Thor. I miss the cocky, impulsive, arrogant Norse god that we saw on display in the first film and in The Avengers. Now, he’s just some dull superhero who takes everything too seriously and much of the comedy he provided in Thor is gone (except for what Loki provides).

As for the rest of the characters, I was pleasantly surprised to find an expanded role for Rene Russo, who plays Thor’s mother. One of the best scenes in the film occurs between her and Malekith as she tries to protect Jane Foster from the dark elf. Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard also return to serve as more comic relief. For awhile I was expecting to see the story delve into an interesting love triangle between Jaimie Alexander’s Sif, Thor, and Jane Foster, but other than a few hints here and there, nothing comes of this sub-plot. Many have pointed out that Anthony Hopkins barely registers in this film as Thor’s father, Odin. I disagree and I found the performance to be far better and memorable than what Hopkins did in the first film.

I had the misfortune of seeing Thor: The Dark World in 3D. Reportedly, director Alan Taylor was not told that his film would be converted to 3D and it shows. The 3D make the whole image darker for one, and the technology was not utilized in the least bit. There is some very nice design work and landscapes in the Asgardian scenes and you totally miss it by watching it in 3D.

Ultimately, Thor: The Dark World is a fun, escapist romp that’s worth spending a nice Sunday afternoon in the theater to see (without the 3D). There is nothing original in terms of storyline, visual effects, or characters, but you weren’t really expecting that anyway, were you? Its unfortunate the talents of Christopher Eccleston are totally wasted, but at least we get a large dose of Loki instead, which is always welcome. Make sure you stick around for the end credits (like you should do with every Marvel film) for a nice teaser for Guardians of the Galaxy.

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thomas_crown_affair_xlgIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant, the iTunes Store, and Amazon Prime? The Thomas Crown Affair is not available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant, but it is available for rent through the iTunes Store and Amazon Prime.

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Rene Russo, Denis Leary, Frankie Faison, Ben Gazzara, & Faye Dunaway

Directed by: John McTiernan

Screenplay by: Leslie Dixon & Kurt Wimmer

Pierce Brosnan was probably sick of being only known as the suave and dashing James Bond so he decided to stretch his acting talents and do something completely different by playing the suave and dashing Thomas Crown in the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. The film was produced by Brosnan through his production company, Irish DreamTime, as a way for MGM to make its James Bond star happy. I don’t mean to start off on the wrong foot here by bashing Pierce Brosnan and I actually did enjoy watching The Thomas Crown Affair (really). However, it is difficult not to notice how much this film amounts to nothing more than making Pierce Brosnan look handsome and cool rather than give him a meaty character to play in a plot that has weighty stakes.

The Thomas Crown Affair is about Thomas Crown (Brosnan), a wealthy financier (the story doesn’t bother clarifying this, but all that really matters is that he is rich) who just so happens to be an art thief. Crown steals art not to make a bundle, but for the challenge of stealing something that is difficult to steal and for the simple fact that he likes art. Particularly anything by Claude Monet. The film is bookended by two heists. In the beginning, Crown steals Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Detective Michael McCann (Denis Leary) is put on the case to figure out who stole the painting. Assisting him is Catherine Olds Banning (Rene Russo), an insurance investigator for the company that has insured the artwork. Banning immediately suspects that Crown must have stolen the painting and she decides to pursue him to confirm her suspicion. However, as with all Hollywood films that feature a handsome man and a beautiful woman, romance rears its ugly head and complicates everything.

Before his legal woes began after being charged with the crime of making a false statement to an FBI agent, director John McTiernan was one of Hollywood’s most sought after action directors. He directed Die Hard, Predator, and The Hunt for Red October, which are all films that remain popular today and have remarkably held up over the years. McTiernan had previously worked with Brosnan, directing him in a 1986 horror film called Nomads. They decided to reteam for The Thomas Crown Affair, a remake of the 1968 film directed by Norman Jewison (Moonstruck) and starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway (who also unnecessarily appears in the remake as Crown’s therapist).

The Thomas Crown Affair is a story that feels very out of place in today’s uncertain economic climate. In a society where high unemployment appears to be a permanent fixture, job security is more tenuous, wages and health benefits are lower, and there is a growing rift between the wealthy and everyone else, a story about a wealthy man who steals for fun is practically offensive to today’s sensibilities. Even the fact that a man like Crown wants to steal a famous painting and thereby, deprive the general population of its enjoyment is enough to make you despise the man. Simply put, the Thomas Crown character is an over-privileged, selfish asshole and the film relies on Pierce Brosnan’s good looks and charm to make the audience overlook those qualities.

Pierce Brosnan has never been a great actor and he has relied primarily on his matinee looks to further his career. Not that there is anything wrong with that (hello Richard Gere, Kevin Costner, Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, and George Clooney). This is why Brosnan was so perfect for James Bond. The role does not require serious acting skills and so long as you have a British accent, you can perform physical stunts, and you are good looking enough for the ladies, you can fill the role. The same basically goes for Thomas Crown, a name that sounds as manufactured as James Bond. Even less so than Bond, Crown does not display a very wide range of emotions. He gets slightly pissed (when Catherine Olds Banning accuses him of seeing another woman) and shows a little bit of humor, but overall, Crown displays a bemused, contented look throughout the entire film. Nothing seems to faze him. Not even the prospect of going to prison.

Brosnan really had one thing to do in The Thomas Crown Affair. His job was to not damage his face or gain weight. Brosnan doesn’t even really play a character. He plays a stereotype, a paragon of everything that a man wants to be. He wears the nicest clothes, drives (or rather, gets driven) in the nicest cars, lives in the nicest homes, gets the best looking women, and he is perfectly lit and framed in every single shot. In one sense, you enjoy watching his character because you want to be him. However, on the other hand, if you are pretty comfortable with yourself and your station in life, then you won’t last 5 minutes before you throw up your hands and walk away from the screen.

This brings up a related issue. There is absolutely zero tension or stakes in The Thomas Crown Affair and this is the film’s most glaring problem. There is never any doubt that Thomas Crown will steal the painting, get caught for stealing the painting, or get caught for putting it back into the museum. There is also never any doubt that he will get his woman. Everything comes easily to Crown so you are left with admiring the film’s sexiness and coolness instead. In this sense, watching The Thomas Crown Affair is like watching any typical romantic comedy. You know the guy and the girl are going to get together, but you watch it to see how they do so. Same thing here.

Rene Russo as Catherine Olds Banning is a much more interesting, although contradictory, character. Ever since I saw her in her breakout role in Lethal Weapon 3, Russo has continually impressed me with her combination of great looks, wry sense of humor, and tomboyish qualities (check her out in Get Shorty). Here, she plays the insurance investigator/bounty hunter who is assigned to retrieve the stolen artwork and catch Crown. Apparently, despite working for an insurance company, her job pays her handsomely given the very expensive-looking clothing she wears in the film. Banning is set up to be this quirky person (clearly not a morning person, she does not begin her day until she has drank her green-lime sludge shake) with an uncanny ability to find her thief.

Russo does a fine job and I was glad to see that she wasn’t merely set up to be a pretty looking object of desire for Thomas Crown. She is intelligent, funny, and she has a real screen presence that especially electrifies in her scenes with Pierce Brosnan. The two actors have great screen chemistry and you buy into their relationship. At the same time, the film mishandles Banning’s conflict between doing her job and running off with Crown. The story is unable to establish exactly why Banning decides to run off with Crown rather than turn him in to the authorities. From what I got out of the movie, Banning has sex with Crown, he takes her away to his island getaway (that he has taken no other woman to), buys her nice shit, and wine and dines her. However, there is never that moment where Crown and Banning connect enough to justify Banning’s ultimate decision. We never see Crown open up to Banning so the only reason she would get together with him is for sex and to be taken care of.

For you police procedural purists out there, Banning’s always on-the-mark detective skills versus the rest of the NYPD’s always clueless ineptitude in tracking Thomas Crown will no doubt be exasperating. However, if you’re looking for a procedural type of story in the vein of David Fincher’s Zodiac, you are clearly in for a disappointing shock. The Thomas Crown Affair is not that film. The film has a playful, light quality that does not lend itself to a serious police procedural.

Now with all of these words I have spent reviewing all the various aspects of the movie, there is only one main reason to see The Thomas Crown Affair and this is for the two capers (and really more for the one at the end of the film, which I have included below) in the film. Ignoring any of the logical implausibilities involved with pulling off these art heists, John McTiernan puts together two cool and stylish sequences that are cleverly conceived and set to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” The sequences haven’t gone unscathed after all these years, but they are still very fun to watch.

The Thomas Crown Affair is an above-average film that is sexy and glossy and that does not take itself seriously. It is a throwback to old Hollywood films that were more about the stars than the plot. One can easily imagine Cary Grant playing the Thomas Crown role where he handles everything with ease and grace and never allows his clothes to get wrinkled in the process.

WARNING: ULTRA NERD DISCUSSION ABOUT TO COMMENCE: Thor has always appealed to me the same way that Iron Man has, which is to say that neither has ever held any appeal for me as a comic book reader/collector. The only time I have cared to read these characters is when they have been members of The Avengers superhero team. My problem isn’t with the characters themselves as they’re both coolly conceived creations. Their lack of appeal stems from the fact that they have never had great story runs or an interesting rogue’s gallery like Spider Man, Daredevil, Punisher, Fantastic Four, or the X-Men have had. Consequently, Thor and Iron Man have usually been considered second-string characters in the Marvel Universe except in those instances where they have fought as members of The Avengers or have been involved in some huge comic book crossover like Secret Wars or Civil War.

For this, I have great admiration for Marvel Studios for being able to take these characters and craft superb film adaptations that equal if not surpass the Spider Man and X-Men movies. THOR in particular was a project that worried me the most. Unlike IRON MAN, who is basically Marvel’s answer to Batman, who has the advantage of being played by the larger than life Robert Downey, Jr., and whose costume/powers look very impressive to kids who love Transformers, THOR is kinda cheesy and lame. For one, its about a hammer-wielding dude who speaks in Old English and who comes from a magical place called Asgard that has a Rainbow Bridge. Second, Thor is a god from Norse mythology, a mythology that no one is familiar with and that is nowhere near as cool as Greek or Roman mythology. Finally, Thor is a somewhat arrogant fellow who thinks highly of his god-like status and who lacks the humor and charm of Iron Man. Suffice it to say that Marvel Studios had its work cut out for it in making sure THOR did not become a massive embarrassment for Paramount and a huge setback for next year’s THE AVENGERS movie.

I have to admit that despite the surprisingly positive reviews THOR received, I went into this film with low expectations. The trailers for the movie never managed to grab my interest and it looked like just another dumb, summer popcorn movie that would be weak on story and characters and big on unimpressive-looking CG effects. Also, the fact that Kenneth Branagh, a director who is known mostly for adapting Shakespeare to the screen and for directing the horrible FRANKENSTEIN, would be helming THOR didn’t help to assuage any doubts I had about the movie. However, after allowing a few days to pass so that I can properly gauge my feelings about the movie, I can confidently say that THOR is one of the best Marvel comic film adaptations to date and even surpasses X-MEN (but not X-MEN 2) and SPIDER MAN (but not SPIDER MAN 2).

THOR (Chris Hemsworth) is a Norse god and the son of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Odin is the ruler of Asgard, the capital of the Norse gods and one of the Nine Worlds. Thor is groomed to become the next ruler of Asgard, but at his coronation, a breach of security has occurred in Asgard by a group of Frost Giants, a race of beings that have warred with Asgard in the past and have maintained an unsteady truce with the Norse gods since their defeat at the hands of Odin. Thor decides to teach the Frost Giants a lesson and disobeying his father’s orders, he and his trusty band of companions head to the realm of the Frost Giants and engage them in battle. Upon learning of his son’s defiance, Odin denies Thor the throne of Asgard and banishes him from Asgard entirely to live upon Earth. However, unbeknownst to Odin and Thor, Odin’s other son Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has struck a deal with the Frost Giants. Loki, who is jealous of his brother and the favoritism that has always been bestowed upon him, manipulated events to result in Thor’s banishment so that Loki could take over the throne. Meanwhile, on Earth, Thor befriends Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), a scientist who discovers him in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Along with her father (Stellan Skarsgard) and assistant (Kat Dennings), Jane helps Thor to reclaim his hammer and get back to Asgard so he can defeat Loki.

Even if you don’t care much for Marvel’s film adaptations of its properties, the one thing that Marvel has consistently pulled off with great success is in casting its superheroes with the perfect actors (exception: Ben Affleck as DAREDEVIL….no). I had no clue who Chris Hemsworth was before THOR, but I give Marvel huge kudos for finding an actor who flawlessly embodies the Thor character (despite the fact that the actor is Australian and the character is, well, not). I think in the hands of bad management, Marvel could have easily messed up this franchise by casting a UFC or wrestling star instead of someone who not only possesses the physique of an immortal, but also has the acting skills to portray the character convincingly. Hemsworth gives Thor a nice blend of humor and drama while maintaining a strong screen presence befitting a god/superhero. Although Thor possesses a streak of arrogance, Hemsworth is able to play it down enough that he doesn’t put off the audience. Like Christopher Reeve, who forever defined our perception of Superman, Hemsworth does the same for Thor.

As with any superhero movie, the quality of the film depends just as much if not more on its villain. Here, we have Loki, the god of mischief and deceit. Loki is to Thor as what the Joker is to Batman, but the former have a more interesting relationship by virtue of the fact that they are brothers. Loki is going to be the villain in next year’s THE AVENGERS movie so proper casting and development of this character is especially important. Again, we have a great performance from Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki as a quiet and thoughtful villain whose jealousy of his brother consumes him to no end. I have read various portrayals of Loki in the comic books and some of have really played up the mischievous aspect of his character to the point of making him sound like The Joker. I like that Branagh decided to veer away from that portrayal and present Loki as a more serious and cunning villain with a mad streak. It makes for a more menacing antagonist and such a character strikes a stronger contrast with Thor’s braggart, outgoing personality. I also think Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean background really benefits in drawing out the complexities and nuances of the relationship between the two characters in a way that we might not otherwise have seen in the hands of a lesser director.

The remaining cast does a serviceable job in filling the rest of the roles. I was actually a little surprised that Natalie Portman decided to take the role of Jane Foster. I’m sure the opportunity to co-star in a high profile, franchise picture like THOR was Portman’s primary consideration because I can’t imagine how anyone would see this character as presenting an acting challenge. Jane Foster is just like any other superhero love interest. Foster is an intelligent and ambitious scientist who finds Thor in the middle of the desert one night. Like Lois Lane, Vicki Vale, and countless other superhero love interests, Foster falls for Thor and she’s eventually put in a situation where she must be saved by him. I think the challenge for Natalie Portman was in trying to find a way to take her pedestrian dialogue and spice it up any way she could and avoid creating a two-dimensional character. Another character worth noting is that of Heimdall (Idris Elba), who is the gatekeeper of Asgard’s Rainbow Bridge. Elba does a fantastic job portraying the character as a noble, fierce, and loyal warrior. The scenes with him are all high points in the movie and I hope to see much more of him in the sequel or maybe even in THE AVENGERS.

The best part of THOR (and many of the other Marvel films) is the scenes that connect the character to the rest of the Marvel Universe. After this summer’s release of CAPTAIN AMERICA, we will be ready for the culmination of Marvel’s efforts in next year’s THE AVENGERS. Each of these individual Marvel superhero films (IRON MAN 1 & 2, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and now THOR) have given us clues to THE AVENGERS. We have been introduced to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his organization, S.H.I.E.L.D. Each of the films have also interconnected with each other (i.e. IRON MAN 2 showed Captain America’s shield) and we see more of that in THOR. By the way, make sure you stick around for the end credits as another glimpse of what is to come next year will be shown. My favorite scene in THOR is where we get introduced to Hawkeye (for you comic fans, you no doubt know who Hawkeye is as he’s the leader of the West Coast Avengers). Hawkeye is played by Jeremy Renner, who is one of my favorite actors working today. The scene with Hawkeye is brief, but unbelievably cool.

Sadly, THOR isn’t perfect. There are a few problems that I already knew would be present just from seeing the trailers alone. For one, the depiction of Asgard looks like a giant blob of multicolored CG. The world lacks a consistent design and delineating any of the buildings or other features of the realm is confusing. I wouldn’t put Asgard on the same level as Oa, the world that is depicted in the upcoming GREEN LANTERN and that looks absolutely horrendous, but it nevertheless smacks of something you would see on the SyFy Channel.

Furthermore, I wish the action scenes had been staged by a director or DP with action experience. The scene where the giant robot attacks the small town in THOR completely lacks any suspense. Branagh clearly relies on CG effects to impress his audience rather than create a sequence that truly raises the stakes for our heroes. The problem recurs later in the film when Thor battles Loki. Although this battle was far more suspenseful and engaging than the end battles in IRON MAN 1 and 2, I was still hoping of something along the lines of the final battle sequence in SUPERMAN 2 when Metropolis gets completely destroyed.

Aside from these minor criticisms, THOR is an entertaining film and it marks a great start to the 2011 summer movie season. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time its dramatic enough to give both kids and adult comic nerds like me a satisfying experience.

Given my interest in cinema, it comes as no surprise that my favorite topic of interest for a screenplay is the film industry itself. Tinseltown’s unique blend of commerce and art, its insular nature, the big personalities that run the studios and star in their films, and the never-ending scandals and secrets that pervade the industry together makes for fascinating fodder for a screenplay. There have been a number of excellent films about the film industry, namely The Player, Sunset Boulevard, Ed Wood, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? In 1995, another noteworthy movie about the movie industry was released, Get Shorty. An adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name, it was released with much fanfare due to its big cast (John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Danny Devito, and Rene Russo), big name director (Barry Sonnenfeld), and Travolta’s massive resurgence from the previous year’s Pulp Fiction. I have to admit that I didn’t care for the movie initially. I felt it tried too hard to be like Pulp Fiction, especially with John Travolta being cast as a gangster, which is what he played in Pulp Fiction. However, upon multiple subsequent viewings, I grew a deep respect for the film and I now I consider it one of the best films about Hollywood.

In true pulp novel fashion, Get Shorty has a convoluted plot that requires close attention or else you will easily get lost and not enjoy the movie (as I did the first time I saw it). Its basically about a Miami shylock (Travolta) who works for the mob. He’s very good at what he does, but he doesn’t enjoy it. His dream has always been to work in the movie business. One day, he gets assigned to go out to Vegas and track down a “client” (David Paymer) who owes the mob $300K. Travolta goes out there and is then asked by a casino owner if he would go out to L.A. and collect on yet another debt that’s owed to the casino owner. The debtor is a B-movie film producer (Hackman), which peaks Travolta’s interest. This is finally his chance to go to L.A. and get into the movie business. Travolta goes to L.A. and meets with Hackman, who listens to Travolta’s pitch for a movie. Hackman is interested and he gets Travolta in on a secret screenplay he has that he hopes to produce. The problem is that Hackman doesn’t have the money to buy the screenplay so Travolta helps him out. Involved in all of this is a crooked investor (Delroy Lindo) who has invested in Hackman’s films and he finds out about Hackman’s secret script. There is also a rival gangster from Miami who arrives in L.A. to find Travolta. Finally, we also have Danny Devito, who plays a huge movie star that Rene Russo and Travolta are trying to get to star in Hackman’s movie.

In the hands of a lesser writer, making a film noir comedy about mobsters and Hollywood but without the dark atmospheric undertones of a typical film noir is likely to be a recipe for disaster. Your task is to take a large number of subplots and tie them together in a coherent and interesting fashion without sacrificing the comedy or character development (and without losing your audience). In a novel, this is easier to accomplish because you can spend as much time as you want to unspool your story and develop your characters. However, in the roughly 2 hour time frame of a movie, this is a tall order and you must be extremely efficient with each minute. Scott Frank (Minority Report, Out of Sight, Marley & Me), the screenwriter, does a remarkable job in adapting Elmore Leonard’s novel. Whats more, he didn’t even need 2 hours to tell the story as the movie clips along at a brisk 1 hour 44 minutes.

Again, if you follow the movie closely and don’t get lost, you will find yourself completely engaged by the plot and the characters. The mobsters and Hollywood types are clichés, but they’re supposed to be. The film purposely plays up all the stereotypes of the movie industry and gangsters. Travolta’s character as the shylock is cool, composed, and he’s always 1 step ahead of the game. Hackman is the cheesy B-movie horror film producer who longs for respect but can’t get any. Russo is the scream queen actress, long jaded by the industry. Dennis Farina, in a great career-making role, plays a Miami mobster who seems to come straight out of a Martin Scorsese movie. Danny Devito is the self-absorbed mega movie star who does shit like order off the restaurant menu because he can. And so on. However, unlike a film like The Player where you need to be familiar with the movie industry to better appreciate the film, Get Shorty’s plot holds up on its own. If you get the inside industry jokes, you’ll enjoy it more, but its not necessary to get involved in the film.

Travolta is clearly cashing in on his Vincent character from Pulp Fiction, which is not a bad thing. After Pulp Fiction, American audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of Travolta, especially in roles where he played a cool acting character. His Chili Palmer character here is the closest thing to his Pulp Fiction’s Vincent Vega character. I like that his character isn’t a totally nice guy. He’s got a bit of the asshole in him and that makes for a more complex and interesting character.

I really miss seeing Hackman in the movies (his last role was in 2004 in a forgettable film called Welcome to Mooseport). Talk about a chameleon! How many actors do you know who can go from playing a low-class B-movie horror producer to a stern submarine captain (Crimson Tide) to a conservative Senator (The Birdcage) in 1 year? You don’t know whether to despise his character here, feel sorry for him, or like him. He’s an opportunist in which his only loyalty lies in whatever his next project is. He’s willing to screw over anyone to get his project made. Hackman didn’t make a lot of comedies, but in the ones he did, he was absolutely great in them.

Danny Devito is the shortest non-midget I know. Because of this, he’s very effective as a comedian because he’s vulgar and a swearing short man is hilarious. Along with Hackman’s character, Devito’s parody of your typical movie star is spot on. Its great to know that Devito is self-effacing enough to be willing to poke fun at himself.

Rene Russo is another actor who I don’t see much of these days and its too bad because she seemed to be emerging in Hollywood as the next Kathleen Turner. In Get Shorty, she doesn’t play sultry, but she’s sexy in her own right and her performance just seems so effortless that you wonder whether she’s really just playing herself.

The cast is rounded out by wonderful performances by Delroy Lindo (who is one of the scariest gangsters I know in movies), Dennis Farina (an ex-Chicago cop in real life who ironically plays a gangster here), David Paymer (who plays his signature loser here), and a pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini.

Get Shorty is a funny parody of the interaction between the mob and Hollywood that ranks among the best films about the movie industry. A sequel of sorts was made 10 years later where Chili Palmer decides to go into the music business. I can’t speak for the novel it was based on, but the film was one of the worst films of 2005. Get Shorty, on the other hand, holds up great and its one of Travolta’s finest performances.