Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me
“It’s wonderful to be almost 87,” confesses Elaine Stritch. “I’m tellin’ you, you can get away with murder.” An honest to God living legend, the grand dame of stage, television, and film is here seen in rehearsal, at work, and holding court, all the while battling her progressively declining health. She’s famously grouchy and sharp-edged, but filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa also captures her rawness and vulnerability. She tells some great stories (her brief almost-fling with JFK is a howler), visits her hometown, and puts up her cabaret show; she’s seen in rehearsal for a big performance at Town Hall struggling with (and losing to) her memory, but when it comes time to deliver in performance, she does, beautifully. Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Nathan Lane, John Turturro, and executive producer Alec Baldwin all show up to sing her praises — they love her, and after the film is over, you can see why. Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic
Marina Zenovich (Roman Polanksi: Wanted and Desired) takes on the rich subject of the 20th century’s finest comedian in this excellent documentary. She moves fast (it could frankly run a bit longer than its trim 90 minutes), but the film isn’t shallow; the construction is inventive and the editing is tight, deftly intercutting film clips, album drops, archival interviews, news clips, and new testimonials to create a mosaic-like portrait of a man who, as he says, “wanted to test you to your motherfuckin’ soul.” There’s footage that’s new to even this lifelong Pryor fan (the Sunset Strip outtakes are amazing), and the clips from his later years are heartbreaking but fascinating. A rare bio-doc that genuinely captures the essence of an iconic performer.
I Got Somethin’ To Tell You
Whoopi Goldberg’s documentary tribute to the great, groundbreaking comic “Moms” Mabley is properly reverential, mixing a treasure trove of archival clips, album lifts, and testimonials from an impressive slate of interviewees (Cosby, Poitier, Belafonte, Cavett, Eddie Murphy, Quincy Jones, Tom Smothers, and the filmmaker herself). But the film is too heavy on what she did and too light on who she was, with fascinating information about her past (and especially her sexuality) briefly mentioned but not explored. Worth seeing as a tribute, but frustratingly superficial as a documentary.
BEST OF THE FEST
3. Some Velvet Morning
After a decade spent on films mostly bad (The Wicker Man) or baffling (Death at a Funeral), writer/director Neil LaBute makes a naked play to go back to his talky, nasty roots with this battle-of-the-sexes two-hander, shot in eight days. The reach for former glory may be obvious, but it works; it’s merciless, unblinking, and occasionally shocking, as Alice Eve and Stanley Tucci (as, respectively, a call girl and the man who fell for her) talk, and talk, and overthink, and take offense, and talk some more, with the possibility of psychological and/or physical violence perpetually in the air. Those who loathed LaBute’s breakthrough works will find nothing new to love here. Those of us who found him a bracing and effective rabble-rouser will be glad to hear he’s made such a punchy return to form.
2. Trust Me
Clark Gregg’s second film as writer/director (after the flawed but fascinating Choke) talks fast, thinks fast, and moves fast, telling its story of a bottom-rung agent for child actors with the expected acidic humor. But it’s not as cynical as most Hollywood satires — as you’d expect from a film made by an actor, he loves actors. And reinforcing that point is a star-making performance by an astonishing young actress named Saxon Sharbino; her real, lively talent is what centers the story, and the picture. (The perpetually underused Amanda Peet is also very good.) Gregg bites off a bit more than he can chew in the third act, and the film gets a bit out of his control. But its final scene is ballsy and brilliant, bringing this sharp and entertaining film to a rousing conclusion.
1. The Kill Team
Director Dan Krauss crafts a chilling, unforgiving, and vividly effective documentary account of a platoon of soldiers murdering Afghans for sport, mutilating corpses, and engaging in other ghastly activity in the name of “combat.” Motivated by resentment, blood lust, or (worst of all) sheer boredom, the “kill team” took graphic video and pictures as shocking as anything at Abu Gharib, and nearly got away with it. Krauss focuses on the trial of Spc. Adam Winfield, who tried to blow the whistle and failed; his helplessness grounds the tale, while Krauss and editor Lawrence Lerew’s sharp-edged cutting keeps the storytelling hard and jarring. Excellent documentary filmmaking, and infuriating viewing.