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Robert Altman
Tim Robbins, Julianne Moore, Andie McDowell, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Lemmon, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Writing Credits:
Frank Barhydt, Robert Altman

The day-to-day lives of a number of suburban Los Angeles residents.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$106,553 on 5 Screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 187 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 10/18/2016

• Isolated Music Track
• Additional Scenes
• Music Demos
• “Luck, Trust and Ketchup” Documentary
• “To Write and Keep Kind” Documentary
• Interview with Author Raymond Carver
• “Reflections on Short Cuts” Featurette
• Advertising Campaigns
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Short Cuts: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1993)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 11, 2016)

Back in 1992, The Player revitalized director Robert Altman’s career, as it brought his first successful effort in years. On the heels of that hit, Altman got ambitious and created a three-hour ensemble piece, 1993’s Short Cuts.

Based on a collection of stories by Raymond Carver, Cuts features 22 “main characters”. Set in Los Angeles, we follow aspects of their lives and relationships, with occasional interaction among the various subjects.

Might that be the most vague plot synopsis I’ve ever committed to the Internet? Perhaps, but I find it tough to come up with a more detailed overview that doesn’t require 1000 words to complete.

With 22 featured roles involved, Cuts hearkens back to another Altman flick: 1975’s Nashville. Indeed, that film did Cuts a little better, as it came with 24 “lead parts”.

As I noted when I reviewed Nashville, that claim needs to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, as Cuts clearly doesn’t given equal screentime to all 22 of its “lead parts”. Some of them barely register at all, whereas others get a fair amount of cinematic real estate.

However one wants to parse the notion of the film’s “22 lead parts”, the result spreads the characters too thin, and it also creates contrivances to blend the roles. It’s not enough for Altman to give us a movie with so many participants – ala 2005’s Crash, he also chooses to interconnect many of them.

This doesn’t really work, largely because Cuts requires so many coincidences to link the characters. Carver’s source stories stood on their own and didn’t attempt the form of blending Altman desires, so the film creates its own improbable moments to make one semi-coherent tale.

I will admit that Altman manages to do this in a fairly seamless way. While I think he relies on too many contrivances to create the links, he still manages to give the film a good flow. We may roll our eyes at the connections but the product progresses efficiently as a film.

Unfortunately, the individual tales lack punch – partly because they try so darned hard to deliver impact. Cuts comes chock full of soliloquies and melodrama – so much that it occasionally feels like little more than a compilation of Virginia Woolf moments.

The basic improbability of the overall narrative also causes problems, as it seems illogical that so many of the movie’s characters would experience Big Events all at once. I can buy that many simultaneous major life moments across metropolitan LA, of course – and more, in fact – but it stretches credulity to see so much hit such a relatively small collection of interrelated people.

A bigger problem comes from the nature of the film, as the number of participants makes it tough for us to bond with or care about any of them. Even in a three-hour movie, it’s tough to fully develop all those personalities, so they tend to remain at arm’s length from the viewer.

This means no real emotional impact results, and Short Cuts never turns into more than a mild cinematic diversion. I respect its craft and artistry but find myself disenchanted with the end product. Cuts delivers a mildly stimulating flick that evaporates from memory as soon as the credits roll.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Short Cuts appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a good but somewhat erratic image.

Overall sharpness was fine, though some soft spots occurred. Parts of the movie provided strong delineation, but the image could take a gauzy feel at times, and those led to a little softness. Still, much of the film demonstrated appropriate accuracy.

No concerns with moiré effects or jagged edges occurred, and I saw no edge haloes. Print flaws remained absent.

In terms of colors, Cuts trended toward an amber/mustard. tone. These hues looked decent, though they lacked much clarity. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows were fine. A couple of night shots were a bit thick, but those remained minor. Overall, the movie offered a mostly positive presentation.

When it came to audio, the disc provided both a DTS-HD MA 2.0 version and an “alternate” DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. Initially I figured this meant Criterion created the 5.1 track in 2016 and the 2.0 rendition represented the original theatrical mix.

Based on the package’s liner notes, though, apparently both come from 1993. The 2.0 mix ran with 35mm screenings and the 5.1 edition went with the less-viewed 70mm presentation.

For review purposes, I opted for the 5.1 track. In terms of soundscape, the movie’s character focus didn’t leave a lot of room for sonic fireworks. Probably the most impressive elements came from those in which helicopters sprayed to kill Med flies – these scenes used the spectrum in an active manner.

Otherwise, the track tended to focus on atmosphere, and the mix remained restrained. Segments that could’ve offered reasonable involvement – like those on a river – seemed without a lot of movement, and even an earthquake failed to do much. Still, given the movie’s emphasis, the laidback soundfield made sense most of the time.

Audio quality appeared fine. Speech came across as natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music showed nice range and impact, while effects worked well. Those helicopter scenes boasted nice bunch, and the rest of the elements seemed accurate. Nothing here impressed, but the mix did what it needed to do.

We also get an isolated music track. Oddly, this presents the score in a monaural manner – couldn’t the disc have at least gone for stereo?

All the remaining extras appear on Disc Two. Three Additional Scenes show up: “Smoking” (1:08), “Hey, Clown” (0:38) and “I Threw It Away” (2:24). The first two provide actual deleted scenes, while “Threw” brings us an alternate take.

“Smoking” looks at a fight about a missing dog, whereas “Clown” gives a quick shot of Claire on the job – and Annie’s negative reaction to this gig. Finally, “Away” gives us a slightly different finish to the saga of Casey’s birthday cake. None of these provide anything of real interest.

Under Music Demos, we hear three songs played by Dr. John: “To Hell With Love” (2:57), “I Don’t Know You” (4:21), and “Full Moon” (3:31). I can’t claim to like the songs, but this collection still provides a nice bonus.

Next comes a documentary called Luck, Trust and Ketchup. It runs one hour, 30 minutes, and two seconds as it features notes from director Robert Altman, writer Raymond Carver’s widow Tess Gallagher, co-screenwriter Frank Barnhydt, editor Geraldine Peroni, assistant director Allan Nicholls, cinematographer Walt Lloyd, music director Hal Willner, production designer Stephen Altman, script supervisor Luca Koumelis, and actors Buck Henry, Lyle Lovett, Bruce Davison, Tom Waits, Lily Tomlin, Tim Robbins, Madeleine Stowe, Matthew Modine, Huey Lewis, Frances McDormand, Peter Gallagher, Julianne Moore, Fred Ward, Anne Archer, Chris Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lori Singer, Annie Ross, Jack Lemmon, Robert Downey Jr., Lili Taylor and Andie MacDowell.

“Ketchup” examines the source work and adaptation, Altman’s approach to the material, cast and performances, stories/characters, sets and locations, music, and connected domains. With 90 minutes at its disposal, I hoped “Ketchup” would offer a deep look at the film, but it never quite gets there.

While it covers a lot of material, we don’t really get a great view of the production. Still, it comes with enough useful footage to make it worthwhile.

With To Write and Keep Kind, we find a 1992 PBS program. The 56-minute, 48-second documentary includes comments from Gallagher, Knopf Publishing editor Gary Fisketjon, writers Tobias Woolf, Chuck Kinder, Diane Cecily and Ann Beattie, New Yorker editor Charles McGrath, former literary editor Ted Solotaroff, Raymond Carver’s mother Ella, Carver’s former wife Maryanna Burk-Carver, Carver’s writing teacher Richard Day, English professor Harold Schweizer, Carver’s son Vance, writer/social psychiatrist Robert Coles and Gallagher’s brother Morris Bond. We also get archival footage from Raymond Carver.

“Kind” looks at Raymond Carver’s life and career, with an emphasis on the personal side of things. I like that trend, though I admit I’d like to learn more about his writing. Nonetheless, the show broadens our understanding of the author.

For more from the author, Raymond Carver delivers a 1983 audio interview. This piece fills 51 minutes, 47 seconds as Carver discusses aspects of his work as well as his life. Though not the most revealing program, the chat manages to give us a decent feel for its subject matter.

A 2004 piece, Reflections on Short Cuts lasts 28 minutes, 56 seconds and supplies a chat between Tim Robbins and Robert Altman, The two cover their working relationship as well as aspects of the creation of Short Cuts. Altman dominates, which means Robbins usually acts as interviewer. While I’d prefer more balance, “Reflections” offers a good look at the production.

Marketing breaks into two areas. “Advertising Campaigns” presents a collection of 64 stills that depict print promo prospects. We also find the movie’s teaser, its trailer and six TV spots.

A booklet finishes the package. The 10-page foldout mixes credits and an essay from critic Michael Wilmington. It’s not a great text, but it adds value.

A movie with too many characters and not enough story or momentum, Short Cuts delivers a jumble. Some of the moments work fine on their own but the package doesn’t come together well. The Blu-ray brings us generally positive picture and audio along with a reasonably nice collection of bonus materials. I admire the film’s ambition but don’t think it works.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 3
0 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.

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