If aliens came down to earth to see if humanity was worth saving, showing them Short Cuts, Robert Altman's bluesy riff on life in L.A. in the '90s, would not be a good idea. Based on the stories of Raymond Carver (adapted ... more »by Altman and Frank Barhydt), this ambitious film is a devilish valentine to living in L.A., where happiness comes at a premium. There are at least eight separate stories that crisscross, most about people who choose not to relate to the lives they are living. Seemingly by design, none of the stories (nor the performances for that matter) have more impact than the others--this is a true mosaic film. The most representative plot deals with a group of friends (Buck Henry, Fred Ward, and Huey Lewis) who decide to keep fishing even after discovering a body in the river. The story works as a morose comedy and a flag holder for the movie: the inability to take the correct action. Others would rather talk about seeing Alex Trebek than discuss their faltering relationships. A huge and talented cast twists in the wind, bumping into moments of truth, sex, and passion. Some even come out all right in the end. The accidental nature of life--a common theme in many Altman films--has never been so maddeningly persistent, or absorbing. The score by Mark Isham with songs sung by Annie Ross (also a cast member) fuels the moodiness, as does the opening number in which Medfly helicopters spray the town to the tune "Prisoner of Life." Delivering the film a year after his biggest hit in two decades, The Player, Altman proved his artistic tenacity as an aged artist with the heart of a new filmmaker: he's not afraid of risking it all. --Doug Thomas« less
"Robert Altman takes another large cast and tells engrossing, interconnected and overlapping tales of modern LA life as no one else can. Based on the short stories of Raymond Carver, yes, the movie is long, 189 minutes long to be exact. But what stories! They echoed and resonated and stayed with me and I can't imagine what you would cut. So, its 189 minutes. Take your time.There isn't a "movie minute" in the whole film, which doesn't mean there aren't surprises. These people act like real people, they do what real people do, which means they surpise the hell out of you all the time. Character is revealed not so much by words but by unanticipated responses and actions.I don't want to divulge too much of the individual stories as it would spoil the moments of revelation. Suffice it to say, Tim Robbin's arrogant philandering motorcyle cop, Fred Ward's obtuse & callous fisherman, Lori Singer's sad cellist, Jack Lemmon's pathetic loser, Lily Tomlin & Tom Waits alcoholic trailer trash, Lyle Lovett's mistaken baker, Chris Penn's inwardly raging pool- cleaner, Davidson's & MacDowell's anxious parents, Modine's jealous surgeon, Gallagher's vengeful Ex, and all the other terrific performances both light and dark, will stay with you when the movie has ended.This is Altman back doing what Altman does best, catching lightning in a bottle, and great performances on celluloid. First rate!"
Brilliant Psychosocial Drama in Disjointed Cinematic Journey
Kim Anehall | Chicago, IL USA | 12/04/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In society, people end up with careers and lives through situational opportunity and the coincidence of chance that struck them at a sudden moment. Short Cuts grasps this notion as a large number of characters, 22 to be precise, interact directly or indirectly through a wide variety of different opportunities and chances. The connection is that these character's ties are of variable closeness, as some know each other, some get to know each other, and some never get to know of the existence of one another, yet every action has an effect on everyone. It is this moment, which Robert Altman seizes, as Short Cuts becomes a tale of the little and epic episodes of life.
Robert Altman does a marvelous job in depicting the small daily deceits that are made in order to keep family life intact. The idea is based on Raymond Carver's work which Altman freely adapts onto the silver screen, and he does a marvelous job grabbing Carver's atmosphere. The atmosphere is of a detached society where no true values or customs exists, and only where a temporary fix can provide instant happiness. This is supported by an excellent cast consisting of talented actors such as Andie MacDowell, Jack Lemmon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Anne Archer, Matthew Modine, Julianne Moore, Robert Downey Jr., and Tim Robbins among many others.
In the opening scene, a large number of helicopters take off into the sunset while families can hear about threats of the Medfly through a broadcaster. The hovering sound of helicopters roams over the Los Angles urban and suburban communities as the news continues of the helicopters that are set out to spray an insecticide over L. A. in order to combat the threatening Medfly. Fearfully, families close their windows and doors in concern of possible side effects of the insecticide. The cinematic introduction of Short Cuts brings the audience an anxious trepidation of an unforeseen looming future, and it displays how differently people deal with the worrisome situation.
In the middle of the Medfly tragedy there are ten different stories intermingled as they all affect one another in different ways. These stories contain love, deceit, suffering, denial, fear, envy, forgiveness, and death as the different characters explore new ways of dealing with life. The approach used to face the difficulties of life often contain some sort of short cut, such as alcohol, infidelity, lies, and denial to provide a quick fix. However, the short cuts taken by the people often end up being much more painful to involved parties as it does not involve taking the time to tell the truth or be frank with oneself or others.
The many tales of Short Cuts concern men such as an unfaithful police officer, three men on a fishing trip finding a dead body, a stalking baker, and a vengeful helicopter pilot. These men often to try to express an outward masculinity, but the maleness looks feeble as they find themselves forced into a situation where they have to be nurturing and caring. This inconsistency supports the notion that the men seek a short cut of being male by behaving in an overtly tough manner, but instead the men find themselves in a quandary as they find their wife or girlfriend upset.
The stories also have interesting quick fixes in regards to the women, who either drink themselves into oblivion or live in denial. For example, there is the story of a jazz singing alcoholic mother that drowns her own sorrows in alcohol instead of communicating with her depressed musically gifted daughter. There is also a housewife that runs a phone sex business while changing the diapers and feeding their infant, but when her husband wants to have some fun she is quick to remember something in order to ruin the moment. In addition, there is the waitress who has an alcoholic boyfriend who seems to have advanced on her daughter in a moment of drunkenness to which the mother blames the alcohol.
The different stories all have something in common, as all characters avoid the truth and try to find an instant fix around the corner. Nonetheless, the film is not about the stories, but about the people in the story and how these people deal with joy and misery from day to day while things they cannot control affect them. Altman provides this cinematically through jumping around to the different stories while telling each tale in a disconnected manner that enhances the detached atmosphere and brings human behavior to the focus. The behavior of the people seems to become a product of the environment and the way they have been nurtured, which gives the film some interesting psychosocial insights.
After a three hour long journey the audience will have experienced a first class venture into cinema as the tale offers several possible narrations of what happens. This is much due to Altman and his unique storytelling, which has been seen in both Nashville (1975) and The Player (1992). It is also a result of the brilliant performance of a magnificent cast guided into an every day rut, which many people go through. Short Cuts will ultimately offer the viewer a fulfilling cinematic experience, which presents much contemplation upon every day behavior. "
Knocks Magnolia into a cocked hat
Andrew Urquhart | West Japan | 09/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While Magnolia has often been compared (usually favourably) with Short Cuts, this is a fine chance for those of you who haven't done so to do a compare and contrast, 10 years after the mighty Altman put this out. I don't fancy Magnolia's odds though.
Based on a series of stories by Raymond Carver, this is perhaps Altman's most consistent, accessible work. Unfortunately, he followed it with 'Pret a Porter', but lets not concern ourselves with that.
What is interesting is how many of the ideas and characters seem to have been lifted outright by Paul Anderson (from the sketchy cop, to the troubled kid, to the overlapping storylines), but Altman pulls the whole thing off infinitely better, without the need to get Tom Cruise doing daft speeches about penises.
The cast is absolutely outstanding, though Tom Waits is probably my favourite, as a sleazy chauffeur. Even Andi McDowell is good, and that is saying something.
Make sure you put aside a few hours to appreciate this, cause it's a long one - but it doesn't drag for a second. Outstanding."
AN ACRID BUT INTRIGUING BANQUET OF CLIPS FROM EVERYDAY LIVES
Shashank Tripathi | Gadabout | 07/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Altman's singature classic with twenty two characters and ten nearly distinct tales. Imagine the ingenuity required to interweave all of that into a seamless whole, but Altman manages the feat deliciously. While the individual threads may coax discussion, it is their blending that enables a variety of perspectives. Most of them are poignant, for instance the life of a pool cleaner and his wife who vocalizes orgasms on the phone in her job as a tele-sex worker while changing her kids' diapers. Or the life of a couple whose son has been in a tragic accident that brings their lives to an abrupt halt. Etc. Be warned, many of these vignettes, while very tautly scripted and cleverly screenplayed, remain "unresolved," which may not work for some viewers. Personally I feel that films like this are more genuine reflections of the world in which we live: people often don't change, questions are frequently left unanswered, and unbecoming things do happen every day.It's a pure pleasure to find a movie that weaves such a deep and intelligent tapestry of human lives, with all their idiosynchratic travails and triumphs. An absolute gem for you to own, not just rent."
Shortcuts has a place in film history
Brad | 10/04/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I originally read the book by Carver, "Shortcuts", and expected, as usual, to be disappointed by the screen rendition.
Much to my surprise, the film was incredibly well-done. Despite it's 3+ hours in length, I never once left the theatre to use the bathroom, (afraid I'd miss something important) or looked at my watch.
This is a film about the unpredictability of life and how groups of strangers in the same California city cross paths, and affect each other in very profound ways.
Ensemble casting is not usually a big favorite of mine, but this film contains some of the best acting roles, by some of the most well-known actors, in film history. And that is not an under-statement.
Lily Tomlin, Tim Robbins, Andie MacDowell, Julianne Roberts and Jennifer Jason Leigh are brilliant, funny, and believeable characters that do Carver's characterizations true justice. Even Huey Lewis, Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett, especially Waits, make for interesting and believeable characters.
Jack Lemmon in one of his last performances is brilliant as the estranged father of a newscaster, who is brought back together with his son at the hospital after Lilly Tomlin's character accidentally hits his grandson with her car. Tomlin is so likeable and real in this film I couldn't get over it. What a tremendous actress she is!
This is one movie where I laughed hysterically one minute, and felt like crying the next. It's a movie about life's every day emotions, up's and down's, unpredictability, family, relationships, jealously and trust. Everyone can relate to a little part of what each character is going through in the film, and it draws you in and keeps you tied to the screen like few movies have the power of doing.
While the plot(s) here don't sound like anything new or exciting, the characters and stories are so interesting, and inter-twined in such a way, that it grabs your interest from the start and doesn't let you go until the final second.
This film throws away stereotypes, glitzy lifestyles, female-only nudity and other false pretentions so common in Hollywood films. It's raw, disturbing at times, emotional, humorous, a little bit over-the-top, and suspenseful...a little of everything.
This story reminds us that no matter who we are or where we live, that life is never under our total control. We are all affected by the same events, and we all have the same basic feelings of anger, jealously, hatred, mis-trust and happiness on a daily basis - regardless of what social class we reside in nor how "in control" we think our lives really are.
Strangers affect our lives just as profoundly as people we know very well.
This film deserves a place in film and literary history. I can't recommend a better movie, it's truly an amazing piece of work."