Elaine Stritch—Shoot Me
Even as her waning health led to her final bow this past July, thespian fireball Elaine Stritch remained an open book as vibrant and vital as ever. Consider it a gift that documentarian Chiemi Karasawa had the chance to capture the Company actress in all her sassy splendor before the curtain closed. This is a role of a lifetime—and not only because it’s literally Stritch’s life. Stritch was never better than when she was just being herself. In what’s now, ultimately, a bittersweet send-off to a national treasure, Karasawa’s Oscar-bound masterpiece strikes a biographical-but-universal balance: It’s a telling, warts-and-all tribute to the tenaciousness of an aging icon, Broadway fixture and blunt force of nature, but it’s more than that: Shoot Me is an enlightening account of the human condition seen through the eyes of one badass broad. Preserving the stage veteran’s legacy with unforgettable zest, and serving it with empathetic heart and humor, you can’t help but raise your glass and say, “I’ll drink to that.” Elaine will have you in Stritches during the supplements, which includes priceless footage of her telling a filmmaker to keep the camera on her for no other reason than she can.
Y Tu Mamá También
Before sending a woozy Sandra Bullock to space in last year’s tour de force Gravity, and consequently winning the Oscar for Best Director, Alfonso Cuarón’s filmmaking was, well, a little more grounded. A road-trip flick through Mexico involving two restless buddies, a bored cougar and lots of butts, 2001’s Y Tu Mamá También was, like Gravity, about the transient journey of life. A young Diego Luna (who’d go on to appear in Dustin Lance Black’s Milk) stars, and an emotionally nuanced performance from Spanish actress Ana López Mercado is fiercely revelatory. With a film that’s liberating, queer, sexy and driven by the “live each moment…” aphorism, Cuarón, before his blockbuster space behemoth nabbed him an Academy Award, demonstrated his knack for storytelling even before he had a blockbuster budget. Resurrecting Y Tu Mamá También for this glorious three-disc Blu-ray/DVD set, Criterion Collection’s most noteworthy extras include new making-of interviews with the crew (Luna and Cuarón among them) and also a wonderfully assembled 71-page book of scene stills and in-depth essays. There’s even an “In Memoriam” for Betsabé, the station wagon that changed these characters’—and our lives—forever.
The modern ‘mo might watch limp-wristed comedy classic The Birdcage, director Mike Nichols’ American version of ‘70s French-Italian farce La Cage aux Folles, and gasp at its more-apparent-than-ever clichés: a flaming houseboy, Nathan “Starina” Lane and more male femininity than an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. But this was 1996; positive portrayals of gay couples were hard to come by (seeing two men madly in love with each other, as depicted in The Birdcage, was as monumental as gay marriage is now). That it starred two gay-for-pay Hollywood luminaries – Lane in drag and the hilarious-as-always late Robin Williams—in a box-office hit was a landmark moment for queer cinema. And besides, some humor is timeless: Watching Williams school Lane on how a “real man” butters his toast is funny in any era. Disappointedly without any extras, the fab-looking Blu-ray debut of The Birdcage is still a worthy addition to any queer cinephile’s collection.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
There’s absurd, and then there’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. It makes cute of a Fascist regime with a silly “Three Stooges” sensibility. It turns out deadpan dialogue with unforeseen non sequiturs. It kills a cat and makes you feel like a bad person for reacting with belly laughs. It casts Tilda Swinton as a garish old lady who you’ll only recognize because a) the credits and b) I told you. Basically, there is nothing normal about The Grand Budapest Hotel, but it’s not surprising when you consider the source: Wes Anderson, who tells the ridiculous story of Gustave H, a legendary concierge, and his lobby boy. With a premise like that, gay jokes predictably ensue, but its queerness has less to do with homos and more to do with Anderson’s trademark kitsch. Full of supreme oddities, Looney Tunes-esque zip and in-your-face aesthetics, the director and his all-star cast come out on top with this fantastical politically-charged live-action cartoon. Extras, on the other hand, are nil.
The Normal Heart
With advanced pharmaceuticals sustaining HIV-positive lives and PrEP minimizing the risk of contracting the virus, it’s easy for this generation to forget the onset of one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. But not anymore. And not for a long time. Provocative, unforgettable and expectedly heartbreaking, Ryan Murphy’s HBO adaptation of gay playwright Larry Kramer’s acclaimed theater production chronicles AIDS in 1980s NYC, when it emerged as a mysterious “gay cancer.” Winner of Outstanding Movie at this year’s Emmys, an award it certainly deserved, the film also showcases big names in riveting roles. Matt Bomer is fearless, and Mark Ruffalo, as the stalwart Kramer-inspired gay activist Ned Weeks, is intensely moving. Even Jim Parsons’ supporting role packs a punch. The lone extra gives scant insight with Kramer’s selective commentary.
All That Jazz
Stylistically flamboyant and dramatically morose, famed choreographer Bob Fosse’s trippy caper danced to its own beat. Decades later, it’s more apparent than ever that, with his fearless ambition and blatant hysterics, Fosse revolutionized cinema like no other. (It’s hard to imagine many films in the late ’70s celebrating the scope of human sexuality quite like All That Jazz). Released in 1979, this bizarre musical biopic about a drug-and sex-addicted dancer literally suffering for his own art inspired a company of dexterous crazies, including Natalie Portman as an unhinged ballerina in Black Swan. In Fosse’s fever dream of a film, a young (and wildly sexy) Roy Scheider takes center stage in his compelling turn as Joe Gideon, Fosse’s alter ego, with his angel of death, Jessica Lange doing American Horror Story before American Horror Story, standing in the wings. And talk about All That Jazz: Criterion’s newly minted Blu-ray/DVD edition is something to get dancey over. This impressive salute to one of cinema’s great musicals packs special features from Fox’s previous DVD releases—among them: scene-specific Scheider interviews and “Portrait of a Choreographer,” which features Liza Minnelli and Adam Shankman—and dazzling new additions. Archival interviews with Fosse talking in depth about his craft, characters and “the sissiness of dance” are stand outs.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com.