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Short Cuts: The Criterion Collection

Review Written by: Evan Morgan
Film: A+
Video/Audio/Extras: A/A/A

Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by: Robert Altman and Frank Barhydt
Based on the short stories by: Raymond Carver
Produced by: Cary Brokaw
Starring: Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Jack Lemmon, Tim Robbins, Madeline Stowe, Julianne Moore, Chris Penn
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it!

As I write this review I recall a moment in the special features when Robert Altman comments on how they were going to market the movie. He says that the studio couldn't decide what to market the movie on; it's superb cast, the fusing together of two American artists (Carver and Altman) or the many stories that intertwine throughout the movie. I can't find the best way to describe this amazing film, either. It is truly one of those films that must be experienced. It can't be described in words, but I'll do my best.

Short Cuts is based on 9 short stories and a poem by the author Raymond Carver. Directed by Robert Altman, Short Cuts truly is the collaboration of two great American artists. Altman captures Carver's spirit perfectly, even though he changed the setting from the Pacific Northwest to L.A., as well as tweaking many of the stories. This isn't a true adaptation of Carver's works. It's more like an exploration of the themes of Carver's short stories with things like randomness, infidelity, love, paranoia, sex and loneliness. The movie follows 23 characters who live in L.A. The different stories in the movie don't always connect, stories such as: a cop (Tim Robbins) cheats on his wife (Madeline Stowe) who has long suspected cheating. Robbins' character, Gene is cheating on his wife with a single mom named Betty (Frances McDormand) who leaves town for a weekend with another man she is having an affiar with. This prompts her ex-husband Stormy (Peter Gallagher) to break into her house and destroy everything she owns except his grandfather clock which is still in the house. Three middle-aged friends go on a fishing trip and find a dead body in the water. They decide to ignore the body and report it when the trip is over. One of the fisherman (Fred Ward) tells his wife Claire (Anne Archer) about the body after making love. She is so distraught that she travels 80 miles out of town to attend the funeral. There are many other stories throughout the movie including a car accident, earthquake and a phone sex operator. The characters are well defined and interesting and even though there are many actors, the performances are amazing all around. This is one amazing movie. It may not be for everyone because many viewers won't enjoy it's length (a little over 3 hours), intertwining stories and lack of any over-arching narrative. However, if you are serious about movies, this one is a must-see.

Criterion has a reputation of putting out great DVD's and this is no exception. In fact, it is one of their best. The movie is in pristine 2.35:1 anamorphic aspect ratio. The colors are strong and blacks are pitch perfect. There is almost no noticeable grain or scratches and no compression artifacts. What makes this video transfer so great is how it captures the sun-baked, urban landscape that is L.A. The audio is equally wonderful. Short Cuts uses Altman's signature overlapping dialogue, which is always balanced perfectly and it uses 5.1 sound nicely, using the back and side speakers for the overlapping dialogue. It creates and affect that feels sort of like standing in the middle of a restaurant, there are lots of people talking and many of them are coming from behind and on the sides. It is one of those rare movies that must be heard on a nice 5.1 setup. There are no hisses or other sound imperfections that I noticed.

While the video and sound are great, the thing that makes this Criterion release one of the best is the special features. More specifically, a companion book that includes all of the nine Carver short stories and his one poem that the movies are based on. It is one of the coolest features I've ever seen with a DVD and it is not at all gimmicky. Along with the book, the movie comes with a second disc, separate from the movie, that contains a interview of Robert Altman and Tim Robbins. "Luck, Trust and Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country" is a feature length documentary about Short Cuts. It is a balance of behind-the-scenes facts and analysis of the films by Altman and Company. Another documentary, "To Write and Keep Kind" is about Carver and his writing's, an episode from Moving Pictures which is about adapting the short stories to the screen, an audio interview of Carver, deleted scenes and a pamphlet with an essay by film critic Michael Wilmington are also included. I was disappointed by the lack of a commentary track with the movie, but the companion book more than makes up for it.

Short Cuts is an American classic and a mosaic that shows how we really are. The DVD by Criterion is one of their best and the number of special features comes close to Criterion's release of Brazil. As I've said before, this movie must be experienced to be understood and even then it's hard to tell what Altman is really saying, yet the film can be interpreted as much as any movie I've ever seen. The greatness of this film lies in the how it captures our daily lives and translates them to film perfectly without ever boring us.

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