The most disarming feature of 1995's "Get Shorty," the blithe, jaunty adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel, was that it didn't take itself too seriously. Think of a hood's-eye view of "The Player," soften the malice, and you got the gist of Barry Sonnenfeld's light-hearted send-up of gangster stereotypes and a culture's preoccupation with Hollywood.
In a disarmingly self-conscious way, "Get Shorty" made a virtue of its own shallowness. The film opened in frantic cartoon fashion but soon settled down to a pleasing hum, full of running gags and incipient catch phrases.
Though it looks spicy enough, the sequel "Be Cool" may have a hard time duplicating the breezy ease of the original. Opening here Friday, the film reintroduces us to charismatic ex-loan shark Chili Palmer (John Travolta), who last time out abandoned his enforcer's life in Miami for L.A. and a career as a movie producer.
Finding that industry too fickle for his tastes, now Palmer's taking aim at the music world, promoting the career of a struggling vocalist (Christina Milian) who's being tracked by the Russian mafia.
There's no Gene Hackman, no Rene Russo and no Delroy Lindo this time around, and we doubt if The Rock, Cedric the Entertainer and Vince Vaughn are going to be adequate replacements. But the picture does reunite Travolta with his "Pulp Fiction" co-star Uma Thurman (snubbed by Oscar for "Kill Bill"), Harvey Keitel trades his cameo for a larger role, and producer-star Danny DeVito again is on hand.
Peter Steinfeld ("Analyze That") does the adaptation of Leonard's original this time out, with "The Italian Job's" F. Gary Gray, yet another ex-rap and hip-hop video maker, at the controls.
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," penned by Charlie Kaufman, won best original screenplay at the 57th-annual Writers Guild Awards, adding to its recent awards haul, including the Oscar. We were delighted to see a first-rate science-fiction script ("Eternal Sunshine") win at last, even though the filmmakers refused to acknowledge it as such.
Best adapted screenplay went to fellow Oscar winner "Sideways," for the script by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, based on Rex Pickett's novel.
No quibbles. But for our money, the best adapted script of the past year was the one for "Before Sunset," by director Richard Linklater and co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
RADHA DOES WOODY
Not so long ago, Radha Mitchell was toiling away in Australian soap operas, paying her dues. Her show was "Neighbours," which also launched the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kylie Minogue. After her breakout performance in Canadian director Lisa Cholodenko's lacerating "High Art" (1996), Mitchell, 31, has been moving up -- albeit gradually -- most recently earning kudos for her work opposite Johnny Depp in "Finding Neverland," a role which demanded a slow accretion of character detail and growing complexity. She nailed it.
With such disparate fare as "Man on Fire," "Phone Booth" and "Pitch Black" also on the resume, she won the lead in Woody Allen's upcoming "Melinda and Melinda," also starring Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Peet and Will Ferrell. It's a comedy-drama in which Mitchell plays two variations of the same character, described as a "tortured neurotic" and a "freewheeling goof." Playing both variants in the same day's shooting must have been a challenge. And early buzz indicates this may be one of Allen's better films, after a fairly long dry spell.
Next up for the actress is a part as an autistic woman opposite Josh Hartnett in an indy film called "Mozart and the Whale," written by Ron ("Rain Man") Bass.
Maybe writer-director Kevin Smith can't decide whether he wants to do silly slacker movies like "Clerks," pleasingly nutty comedies like "Dogma," or top-of-the-line pictures like "Chasing Amy."
No matter. This small-scale icon of the independent film community offers the sum total of his wisdom on life and filmmaking in the upcoming "Silent Bob Speaks: The Collected Writings of Kevin Smith," due out in April from Miramax Books.
Billed as "a collection of irreverent and hilarious rants," this tome from the champion of the "Gen X cinema" (Richard Linklater might dispute that), has its roots in a monthly column on popular culture Smith wrote for Arena magazine. "Silent Bob" (referring to his mute on-screen character) is a compilation of what he feels are the best of his columns, plus highlights from his work for Details magazine, covering everything from the indy landscape and his loathing of Britney Spears (talk about shooting ducks in a barrel) to the fatal flaws of Spider-Man.
An amusing primer in advance of Smith forthcoming sequel to "Clerks."
OH, CISCO! OH, PANCHO!
Baby boomers have a zillion touchstones from '50s TV to fill the memory banks, but right up there with the best of the stuff aimed at kids -- "The Lone Ranger," "Captain Midnight," "Sea Hunt" and "Sky King," et al. -- was "The Cisco Kid" (1950-56), starring Duncan Renaldo as the resplendently attired Cisco and Leo Carrillo as his chubby sidekick and comic foil, Pancho Gonzales (think Guy Madison and Andy Devine of "Will Bill Hickock" fame, with a Mexican twist).
"The Cisco Kid, Collection Four" DVD ($50) is the latest installment in MPI Home Video's nostalgic look back at one of TV's more engaging shows, released on Tuesday. The set features 20 half-hour episodes on four discs, plus extras, complete with Spanish subtitles.
While some Hispanics doubtless may view Cisco and Pancho as stereotypes, in much the same way African-Americans regarded the characters of TV's "Amos 'n' Andy," it's a shame to overlook the fine work these actors poured into their roles. "The Cisco Kid" was a staple of comic books, radio and the big screen as well as TV.
It's interesting to note that outside of acting, Carrillo was a preservationist who served on the California Beach and Parks Commission for nearly 20 years. Leo Carrillo State Park, located northwest of Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast Highway, was named in his honor.
For more information on the video, call 1-800-777-2223, or go online at: www.mpihomevideo.com.
BITS AND PIECES
Balanced, though unearthing damning info on his ties to the Mob, Hollywood superagent-turned-mogul Lew Wasserman gets the warts-and-all documentary treatment in Barry Avrich's "The Last Mogul." ... Writer/director Julie Bertuccelli's first feature, "Since Omar Left," is being hailed as a remarkable study of family bonds and misguided deception, centering on three generations of women living together in post-Soviet Georgia, awaiting news from loved ones in the West. ... From the director of "Italian for Beginners" comes "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself," a dark-edged love-triangle comedy set in Glasgow. ... German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta's "Rosenstrasse" is said to be a compelling dramatization of a little-known episode in Holocaust history, when scores of Aryan women protested the internment of their Jewish husbands. Also set during World War II is the drama "Strayed," with Emmanuelle Beart in the featured role of a widowed teacher who falls in with a mysterious, dangerous young man during the Nazi occupation of France.
JOHN TRAVOLTA, on returning to the dance floor with Uma Thurman: "Uma and I are very comfortable together on screen, and in 'Be Cool' we're playing very different characters. In 'Pulp Fiction' we were basically playing two people hell-bent for death, and in 'Be Cool' we're playing two people that are cool and rugged, cool-bent for life."
Actress RADHA MITCHELL ("Finding Neverland"), on working with Woody Allen for "Melinda and Melinda": "Woody doesn't like to rehearse, and his direction is fairly minimal. A lot of people came to the set without any idea of what the script was about and played it out rather blindly, trusting in him. I think that creates a certain kind of neurosis that he's an expert at depicting and continues to celebrate in his films."
A.O. SCOTT in The New York Times, on interpreting "foreign" films: "Because the camera is a surrogate eye, what it captures is immediately comprehensible, even if it is nothing we have seen before. Filmed images do not require translation; we know what we see. Narratives, of course, are another story; even when they seem to be transparent, they come encrusted with local meanings, idioms and references, some of which will inevitably be lost as they move from one audience to another. Movies, in other words, may be universal, but they are universal in radically distinct ways."