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Artisan Home Entertainment presents

Picking up the Pieces (2000)

Leo: You can see?
Constancia: Si.
Leo: You can?
Constancia : Si.
Leo: See?
Constancia: Si.

Stars: Woody Allen, Cheech Marin, David Schwimmer, Kiefer Sutherland, Maria Cucinotta
Other Stars: Andy Dick, Fran Drescher, Elliot Gould
Director: Alfonso Arau

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexuality
Run Time: 01h:35m:03s
Release Date: 2000-10-17
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ C-C-B+ B


DVD Review

You probably haven't heard of Picking Up the Pieces—perhaps because it didn't receive a theatrical release in the US. When the producers couldn't find a distributor, it was shown once on cable TV, never to be heard from again. Of course, DVD is often the savior of the unappreciated film, and Artisan has delivered a nice special edition. The question is, did the film deserve the release, or should it have stayed on the studio shelf?

Tex (Woody Allen) was getting pretty fed up with his cheating wife Candy (an unrecognizable and unbilled Sharon Stone), so he decided to do something about it. Of course, in hindsight, cutting her up into seven pieces probably wasn't the best solution. As Tex drives across state lines to bury her, one of her hands drops out of the back of his pickup near the small town of El Niño. Later, an old blind woman trips over the hand and her sight is restored. She rushes it to the town priest Leo (David Schwimmer), and as more and more miracles occur, the hand is recognized as a sacred object, perhaps the hand of the Virgin Mary herself ("Yeah, I'm sure the Virgin wears turquoise polish - "). Of course, the cops get involved. Kiefer Sutherland plays Bobo, the sheriff on Tex's tail. The church wants the hand for religious reasons, Bobo wants it to convict Tex, and the townspeople want it to cure their ills (and make them big bucks on tourism, too). In the end, maybe God is just playing a joke on everyone.

Director Alfonso Arau called Picking Up the Pieces, "magical realism". He describes this realism as the dreamlike nature of the film, the layering of several different realities that all exist together. After seeing it, I have to agree. A lot happens here that certainly couldn't be considered realistic. From the miracles to the characters to the town itself, everything is exaggerated. As with Arau's most successful work, Like Water For Chocolate, Picking Up the Pieces deals with faith—not so much in the religious sense, but in the magical sense.

Unfortunately, the film doesn't seem to be sure what it is saying about faith. The script is so concerned with presenting farcical characters in outlandish situations, it forgets that they are supposed to serve a purpose. The real message of the movie is glossed over with clichéd commentary on the commercialization of religion. Yes, the people in El Niño are hypocrites, healed one minute and trying to exploit their experience the next. But what does it all mean? Picking Up the Pieces tries to do too many things at once, and ends up doing none of them well. The seeds were sown for a fantastic, satirical look at how different people react to faith in the face of modern life; instead, there is a lot of crude humor, sex, and bad language. The film delights in offending (especially with elements like the sexed-up priest and the hand, frozen in a perpetual "flip-off"), but offers no final message and no clear commentary.

The cast of characters here certainly outshines the script, and I can't for the life of me imagine how so much big-named talent got involved. Besides Allen, Schwimmer, Stone, and Sutherland, the film features cameos by Cheech Marin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Andy Dick, Elliot Gould, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Kathy Kinney. All the performances are good, although Allen seemed a little on the extreme side with an all-out parody of his nervous guy performance. Stone was amusing in an unbilled role (although considering how the film did, I don't blame her for asking that her name be removed). I found it very amusing that Jewish actors played all the Catholic clergy in the film.

Arau also directed A Walk in the Clouds. While that film wasn't the best (it DID star Keanu Reeves), it looked fantastic. Picking Up the Pieces falls into the same category; Arau is a very competent director. He balances the fantasy and reality in the movie nicely and always keeps things moving. The real standout here is the beautiful New Mexico scenery, photographed by Oscar®-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who worked on Apocolypse Now and The Last Emperor. This may be one of the best looking bad movies out there. Too bad the script doesn't match the talent involved.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image here is nowhere near what it should be for such a new film. Colors are bright and nicely saturated, but beyond that, pretty much everything else is bad. Blacks look muddled and gray, and often have a pixielated look to them (you can actually see big, blocky pixels all over the screen). Edge enhancement is rampant, as is artifacting. Particularly bad is a rain scene, which exhibits a lot of "halo" effect; as a result, it looks like it was shot on a blue screen in the 1980's. Watchable, I guess, but the worst transfer of a new film I have ever seen.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
English, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The sound transfer here fares much better than the video. Most of the action is set in the front soundstage (the "comedy effect", I call it), and dialogue is always clear and understandable. The score uses the surrounds nicely, as does one particular dream sequence featuring yelling and shouting from an angry mob. A better than average comedy mix overall.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Alfonso Arau
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo galleries
  2. Interviews
  3. Trivia game with bonus footage
Extras Review: For a film that was never released theatrically, Artisan has provided Picking Up the Pieces with a surprising amount of features. The commentary with the director is listed as screen-specific, but it seems like edited together interviews. Arau even talks more about his previous films than this one! I would've really liked to hear more about the politics of filmmaking and the reason the film wasn't picked up for American distribution, but Arau doesn't even mention it.

Also included are interviews with the main cast members, which run about two minutes each (for a total of about 15 minutes) and a six-minute promo featurette. Neither the interviews nor the featurette offer much in the way of thematic interpretations or insight, mostly just surface detail. Still, they are interesting enough to watch once.

Rounding out the disc are extensive biographies for almost the entire cast, a photo gallery with behind-the-scenes shots, the theatrical trailer, and a trivia game. The trivia game consists of ten ridiculously easy questions, and if you get them all right, you are "treated" to about 15 minutes of bonus footage that shows you just how boring it is to make a movie. Why, you get to stand around all day! Fun! Overall, Picking Up the Pieces was given a decent extras package, but nothing of any real substance.

Extras Grade: B

Final Comments

Fans of religious satire may find something to like in Picking Up the Pieces, but I found that it tried to be too zany and off-the-wall for its own good. In the end the movie fails, despite some great actors and good direction, because the script doesn't seem to know what it wants to say.

Joel Cunningham 2000-10-22