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. 

The Silver Bullet ~ The English Teacher

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Synopsis: An English teacher’s life is disrupted when a former student returns to her small town after failing as a playwright in New York.

Release Date:  May 17, 2013

Thoughts: Julianne Moore has made some interesting choices in film as of late…and they haven’t always been good.  Though the Oscar nominated star has been on the A-List for some time, in the last few years she’s popped up in several indies that skipped a theatrical run and it’s left me wondering who exactly is choosing her projects.  Set to hit the mainstream again with October’s anticipated remake of Carrie, Moore has this little film coming out right at the beginning of a busy summer movie season.  Though the premise looks promising and supporting cast nicely diverse (save for Mirror, Mirror’s blandly boring Lily Collins), I still would like to sit down with Ms. Moore and ask “what gives” as it relates to her film compass.

Mid-Day Mini ~ Ironweed

The Facts:

Synopsis: A schizophrenic drifter spends Halloween in his home town after returning there for the first time in decades.

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Tom Waits, Carroll Baker

Director: Hector Babenco

Rated: R

Running Length: 143 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:   The pairing of Nicholson and Streep worked so well in 1986’s Heartburn that the two were teamed up again the very next year in this adaptation of a novel by William Kennedy.  Set in depression-era New York, the movie is a somber look at the lives of a rag-tag group of bums and drunks around Halloween as they deal with the ghostly shadows of their unfulfilled lives.

In roles that seem tailor-made for them (perhaps a tad too tailor-made), Streep and Nicholson go for the jugular and earned Oscar nominations for their effort.  She’s a failed singer on her last legs, leaning perhaps a bit unwisely on the shoulder of Nicholson’s ex baseball player.  Now he digs ditches and occasionally visits his abandoned wife and family who want nothing to do with him.  They hang out in shanties, drink, gossip, argue, and care for one another the only way they know how.

It’s a bleak film given dignity by the performances (including Waits, Nathan Lane, Fred Gwynne, and especially Baker as Nicholson’s wife), script (by author Kennedy), and direction from Babenco who found similar light in dark pieces like Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Pixote.  By the end of the film you’ll be as haunted by these characters as they are by the dreams of their lives that might have been.