Not one of the current Best Picture Oscar candidates can match Barry Sonnenfeld's pitch-perfect 1995 adaptation of Elmore Leonard's sardonic thriller about a loan shark who conquers the clumsier, cowardly sharks of Hollywood. In Get Shorty (on disc Feb. 22), John Travolta deserves props, too, for his sharp, smart performance as cineast shylock Chili Palmer, and for insisting that the screenplay should include scenes revealing Chili's deep love for and knowledge of movies, as well as several flavorful details from Leonard's novel—specific bits that anchor the fast fantasy in gritty reality. As the Dustin Hoffman–inspired matinee idol Chili's courting to get his autobiographical film greenlighted, Danny DeVito wickedly satirizes the vain folkways of A-list movie stars. (In one of the making-of minidocs on the two-DVD set, both he and Travolta admit that they, too, order "off-menu" at restaurants, and Travolta doesn't know his own home phone number.)
Gene Hackman, who shies away from comic roles, hilariously nails the part of Harry Zimm, the sub-Corman C-picture auteur whose movie Chili hijacks. Rene Russo, Chili's horror-flick scream-queen and partner in crime, anchors the silliness with sarcastic gravitas. The action is punchy and fun, but what makes this the first Leonard movie ever to equal the book is its keen attention to character. Sonnenfeld's visual imagination is awe-inspiring: Nobody frames a shot with wittier precision.
The making-of features make obvious points nicely. The lost scene—Chili visits Zimm's movie set and sees him battle snotty DP Ben Stiller—is sort of amusing, but eminently trimmable. The star-interview-studded preview of the sequel, Be Cool (which opens this week), makes you want to see it, but after seeing Get Shorty, you'll want to revisit Chili instantly anyway.
March 1 Brings The Loch Ness Project to DVD (with Werner Herzog essentially playing, but not directing, himself). Disney's 1942 classic Bambi is on two discs, still guaranteed to cause a flood of tears when the mother deer gets shot. Flight of the Phoenix is a routine action flick, despite Dennis Quaid. The SpongeBob SquarePants movie is OK for kids, while the elegiac river-rafting documentary The Same River Twice is far better for baby boomers contemplating midlife. Warner Bros. has nice new editions of Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, and Criterion's got a new transfer of Jean Renoir's The River.