Movie Review ~ Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The uncompromising Tony and Emmy Award-winner is showcased both on and off stage via rare archival footage and intimate cinema vérité.

Stars: Elaine Stritch, Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Cherry Jones, Alec Baldwin, Nathan Lane, Rob Bowman

Director: Chiemi Karasawa

Rated: NR

Running Length: 80 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: The Oscar winner for Best Documentary this year was 20 Feet From Stardom, the melodic and inspiring look into the lives of the back-up singers heard on history making songs.  It bested the haunting The Act of Killing which centered on the genocide in Indonesia during the early 60’s.  Both documentaries had striking value but sentimentality seemed to win out in the end.  I’m not sure that Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is going to wind up on any Oscar shortlist next year, but it possesses the same joie de vivre 20 Feet From Stardom had while holding up a painful mirror to the passage of time.

I liked the film so much I watched my screener twice, almost back to back, but talking with a friend who was less impressed later he pointed out that making an entertaining movie about Broadway’s irascible character Elaine Stritch wasn’t exactly hard work.  In fact, it’s akin to shooting fish in a barrel.  Almost from the first frame, Stritch is on fire, traipsing around the streets of NYC in her huge fur coat and comically large glasses that look like two see through dinner plates glued to two black shoehorns.

Over the course of a too short 80 minutes, director Chiemi Karasawa follows Stritch as she prepares for her final shows at the Café Carlyle, the famous NYC cabaret housed in the The Carlyle Hotel which Stritch has held residence in for several decades.  We meet people from her past through excellent archival footage and photographs along with several of the famous faces that our leading lady calls friends.

What makes the film so interesting is that we’re as aware of the cameras as Stritch is.  One of my favorite moments sees Stritch discussing her new show and without missing a beat hysterically dressing down a camera man that got too close for her comfort.  Brutally honest but directing the most fatally barbed comments to herself, there’s a refreshing honesty that comes naturally to her, making the octogenarian instantly relatable to any age group.

I’ve seen Elaine Stritch in her one woman show (Elaine Stritch: At Liberty) and thought I knew all when it came to her upbringing and career but this new documentary reveals yet another layer.  There’s a bit of a downward spiral Stritch is undertaking and though she’s giving it all she’s got you can tell she sees the very faint writing on the wall.  Perhaps that’s why she’s let the cameras follow her and capture some pretty vulnerable moments.

Overflowing with humor with a few dashes of pathos, it’s not the downer of a film I may have made it out to be.  I’d watch Stritch read the phone book so I knew I was bound to like this one – and if you’ve ever heard Stritch on a cast recording or caught her on 30 Rock you’ll probably wind up liking this one too.

The Silver Bullet ~ Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

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Synopsis: What does it mean to be a performing artist – first, last and always? Broadway legend Elaine Stritch can answer that.

Release Date:  TBA 2014

Thoughts: I’ve had the great fortune of seeing Elaine Stritch perform live and it was one of the most thrilling nights I’ve spent in a theater.  A Broadway legend, she’s made a career out of playing brash women that will tell you whats what and make no apologies…which looks to be exactly the same person she is in real life.  I’m not sure an 80 minute documentary could really tell everything we need to know about this lady (her award winning one woman show Elaine Stritch: At Liberty did that just fine) but I’ll be interested to see what people have to say about her and also to see what kind of mischief she gets into when she forgets a camera crew is following her around. 

Oscar Predictions 2014

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Hello!

Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing  potential favorites, I’m taking part in The 2014 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂

This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting.  I don’t necessarily think there will be 10 nominees for Best Picture but ultimately I couldn’t make up my mind on which ones to remove from my list…

I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂

Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
American Hustle
Captain Phillips
Dallas Buyers Club
Gravity
Her
Nebraska
Philomena
Saving Mr. Banks
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
Spike Jonze, Her
Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave
Alexander Payne, Nebraska
David O. Russell, American Hustle

BEST ACTOR
Bruce Dern, Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips
Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Robert Redford, All is Lost

BEST ACTRESS
Amy Adams, American Hustle
Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Sandra Bullock, Gravity
Judi Dench, Philomena
Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
Daniel Brühl, Rush
Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
James Gandolfini, Enough Said
Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine
Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb, Nebraska
Julia Roberts, August: Osage County

BEST EDITING
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, American Hustle
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger, Gravity
Jeff Buchanan, Eric Zumbrunnen, Her

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine
David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
Joel & Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
Spike Jonze, Her
Bob Nelson, Nebraska

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
Tracy Letts, August: Osage County
Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Philomena
Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium
The Hunt, Denmark
The Grandmaster, Hong Kong
The Great Beauty, Italy
The Notebook, Hungary

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Sean Bobbitt, 12 Years a Slave
Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska
Roger Deakins, Prisoners

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Adam Stochausen & Alice Baker, 12 Years a Slave
Judy Becker & Heather Loeffler, American Hustle
Catherine Martin & Beverly Dunn, The Great Gatsby
Jess Gonchor & Susan Bode, Inside Llewyn Davis
Michael Corenblith & Susan Benjamin, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST SOUND MIXING
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Inside Llewyn Davis
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST SOUND EDITING
All is Lost
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Lone Survivor
Rush

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Catherine Martin, The Great Gatsby
Patricia Norris, 12 Years a Slave
Daniel Orlandi, Saving Mr. Banks
Michael Wilkinson, American Hustle
Mary Zophres, Inside Llewyn Davis

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alex Ebert, All is Lost
Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
Steven Price, Gravity
John Williams, The Book Thief
Hans Zimmer, 12 Years a Slave

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Crash Reel
Stories We Tell

The Square

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
The Croods
Despicable Me 2

Frozen
Monsters University
The Wind Rises

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
Pacific Rim
Star Trek: Into Darkness

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club
The Lone Ranger


BEST ORIGINAL SONG
“Amen”, All is Lost
“Let It Go”, Frozen
“The Moon Song”, Her
“Ordinary Love”, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
“Young & Beautiful”, The Great Gatsby

Movie Review ~ Enough Said

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.

Stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Ben Falcone, Eve Hewson, Tavi Gevinson, Tracey Fairaway

Director: Nicole Holofcener

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 99 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Are you as weary as I am with the slate of romantic comedies that have been released in the last several years?  If so then Enough Said may be the movie that could cure your blues.  A wise film for mature adults made by mature adults, this is a sweetly winning romantic comedy that goes against some of your typical Hollywood norms.  The leads aren’t your traditional bankable hot/buff stars likely to be featured on the cover of US Weekly the same week their film opens in the #1 spot at the box office, nor are they especially bankable…certain death when it comes to major movie studios.

Director Nicole Holofcener knows her way around awkwardly real situations and displays again here what she does best: showing real life people in real life situations reacting believably.  So the result is a film that feels very naturalistic and true to the predicaments we find ourselves in…especially where romance is involved.

I always find it odd that Julia Louis-Drefyus hasn’t become a bigger movie star…then again perhaps her sly talent for wry comedy is perhaps better suited for the small screen where actors can get away with her brand of sharply observed comedic beats.  Movies don’t often give comedic actresses the chance to display the kind of range that Louis-Dreyfus gets to take on here, especially those that are primarily known for their television work.

Even more of a surprise is the late James Gandolfini (Zero Dark Thirty) in his first lead in a romantic film.  Showing teddy bear-ish warmth and sensitivity that’s a far cry from the gruff mob men that made him such an in demand character actor, he fits right into the sweatpants of the character Holofcener has written.  It’s a shame that it took so long for Gandolifni to get a role like this because he’s really quite good, effectively navigating some emotions that until now had gone undocumented on the big or small screens.  The chemistry displayed between Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus is strong, and even better its believable unlike so many movies (like the recent Thanks For Sharing) that can’t muster up the same in their interactions between characters.

The supporting cast is also uniformly strong, if a bit tangential to the overall arc of the film.  Catherine Keener (Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding) is her usual acerbic self as a new friend to Louis-Dreyfus and the ex-wife of Gandolfini.  It’s nice to see her playing a woman that comes across as a self-centered bitch but who we gradually come to see is just hopelessly lonely and desperate for attention.  Toni Collette (The Way Way Back, Muriel’s Wedding) and Ben Falcone (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) pop up as friends of Louis-Dreyfus with marital issues of their own.

All the characters are really just swimming around in the same universe as Louis-Dreyfus because it’s really her movie.  What I liked so much about the film and what others may find frustrating is that there’s not a lot of follow through or wrap up when it comes to these secondary characters.  Even the central plot involving Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini isn’t fully completed by the final reel…but that’s the beauty of what Holofcener achieves in her films.  She allows us to peek in on the lives of people to see what makes them tick…we don’t’ necessarily need to know where they came from or where they’re going but instead she wants us to focus on the here and now.  As in life, some things come to their own natural conclusions while other events need a little time to sink in before they can find resolution.

With two strong lead performances and a general bucking of the status-quo for these types of films, Enough Said is a nice breath of fresh air…and another winning film from the observant eye/mind of Nicole Holofcener.

The Silver Bullet ~ Enough Said

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Synopsis: A divorced woman who decides to pursue the man she’s interested in learns he’s her new friend’s ex-husband.

Release Date:  September 20, 2013

Thoughts:  The sudden death of James Gandolfini (Zero Dark Thirty) in June is something that many fans can’t quite wrap their heads around quite yet.  Gandolfini’s tough guy persona kept him from getting roles with a softer edge…which is why Enough Said has caught my eye.  It’s not just because it stars the invaluable (and undervalued) Julia Louis-Dreyfus and features Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, The Way, Way Back) in a supporting role but because it’s Gandolfini’s last film…and it’s a mature romantic comedy. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener has been delivering solidly for nearly two decades yet while she’s popular in the indie film niche she’s yet to truly break into mainstream fare.  Enough Said is probably too small of a film to help make that leap but the public’s love for Gandolfini will get more than the usual amount of people to check this one out…myself included.

Movie Review ~ The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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The Facts:

Synopsis: When a street magician’s stunt begins to make their show look stale, superstar magicians Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton look to salvage on their act – and their friendship – by staging their own daring stunt

Stars: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jim Carrey, Jay Mohr, Michael Bully Herbig

Director: Don Scardino

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 110 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  It’s debatable but I’d argue that the best sleight of hand that The Incredible Burt Wonderstone performs is making laughs vanish for 110 minutes.  In my review of the trailer for the comedy, I predicted that the film was “either going to soar to great heights or crash and burn in terrible fashion” and while the movie isn’t a total write-off thanks to a few decent performances, it’s a largely forgettable film that vanishes from memory before you reach your car.

Though star Carell has done fairly well so far in his film career, he’s not known for taking on any roles that offer any real stretch opportunities.  I enjoyed his work in Dan in Real Life and Crazy, Stupid, Love but his work here falls into the Evan Almighty and Get Smart area…that is to say buffoonery.  In Wonderstone he’s one half of a Las Vegas magic act that seems to be sending up Siegfried and Roy grandiosity and David Copperfield (who also cameos) illusion. 

When we meet the younger Wonderstone in an enjoyable prologue, he’s a bullied child with an absentee mother who has him bake his own birthday cake.  After he receives a Rance Howard Magic Kit, he finds his passion and a partner in Anton – soon they are headlining their own show in Vegas and over the next decade they rake in the audiences along with the dough.  Trouble is, their act is stale and with a new generation wanting more bang for their buck their show becomes old hat.  It doesn’t help that Burt has become a misogynistic d-bag and Anton (a woefully untapped Buscemi) his punching bag.

For a boy that was bullied so much as a child, it’s an odd transition to have Burt become so unloving and harsh to his friends that support him.  It’s also not very fun to watch as Carell spends the first half of the movie with a put-upon snooty-toot accent and an array of sequined costumes.  When Burt and Anton find themselves without a show and not on speaking terms, Burt takes a job at a senior center for retired Las Vegas performers and that’s where he meets his idol since childhood…Rance Howard. 

As Rance, Arkin pretty much walks away with the movie as he is prone to do (and get Oscar nominated like he did in Argo) when given a character he can do something with.  Though thinly written, Arkin puts a nice shine on the grizzled magician to provide the film with its most dependable laughs.  The same can’t be said for Carrey as a Criss Angel/David Blaine style street magician whose tricks/stunts become more grotesque and dangerous as the movie progresses.  On complete auto-pilot, Carrey resurrects his Ace Ventura mannerisms to decidedly ho-hum results. 

Wilde is so shoe-horned into this film I’m wondering if her entire character wasn’t added after the film was completed to give Carell a ludicrous love interest.  Only called upon to say some of the more straight-forward dialogue that other characters couldn’t say, Wilde is totally lost at sea and knows it.  Gandolfini’s meatball head has nearly been swallowed by his shoulders and Mohr turns in one of the least funny performances in a comedy ever.

I have a quick note about the magic in the film.  I still hold to the belief that magic in movies is incredibly hard to pull off because most of us deal with a suspension of disbelief that prevents us from really buying into the magic we’re seeing on screen.  Though the film really isn’t about magic tricks, the few that are there are staged in such a way that indicates the filmmakers want us to think they’ve pulled off a great trick…when they really just positioned the camera in such a way that we can’t see what’s really happening. 

Director Scardino is known for directing television series and hasn’t made a feature film in over a decade, made painfully obvious by a dramatic lack of any sort of pacing beyond half hour increments.  The film is probably twenty minutes too long and strains to reach an ending so unbelievable I kept waiting for it to be some elaborate dream sequence.  The script by John Francis Daley/Jonathan Goldstein feels a tad selfish…giving too much to Carell and ignoring some nice comedic opportunities (a senior center for retired Las Vegas performers has so much potential that is totally wasted…where are the old ladies in showgirl costumes??)

If you’re a Carell or Carrey fan chances are you’re looking forward to this one and I say more power to you.  You’ll probably get what you came for but nothing more…sometimes that’s enough.  For this reviewer, I wish the filmmakers could hvae Zim Zala-Bim-ed their way into a better movie.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

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Synopsis: Magician Burt Wonderstone splits from his longtime stage partner after a guerrilla street magician steals their thunder. By spending some time with his boyhood idol, Burt looks to remember what made him love magic in the first place.

Release Date:  March 15, 2013

Thoughts: Here’s an example of a movie that’s either going to soar to great heights or crash and burn in terrible fashion.  Judging from the preview, the jury’s still out on which direction it will go.  It certainly has a game cast that has the combined talents to make this iffy material work.  Speaking of the material, is it just me or does this seem like a rejected idea from a sketch on Saturday Night Live?  A director who hasn’t helmed a major motion picture guiding A-list stars always makes me pause – so here’s hoping that the screenplay by John Francis Daley/Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses) has the laughs in it that the trailer promises.