REVIEW: Ricki and the Flash

8 08 2015

The knives come out in “Ricki and the Flash,” the latest big screen outing written by “Juno” scripter Diablo Cody.  The film stars Meryl Streep as the titular character, a rock musician who ditched parenting her three children to entertain a half-full dive bar.  When her daughter Julie (Streep’s own daughter, Mamie Gummer) suffers a breakdown after getting unceremoniously dumped by her husband, Ricki is called off the bench and get in the family game once more.

Not unlike Cody’s 2011 effort “Young Adult,” articulate characters relish in shanking each other with particularly cutting remarks.  Decades of resentment get dredged out in the wake of Ricki’s reappearance with each of her estranged children as well as her ex-husband Pete (Kevin Kline) and his new wife Maureen (Audra McDonald) seeking to land the final blow.  “Ricki and the Flash” plays out much like a theatrical family melodrama that packs an especially potent load of venom.

Director Jonathan Demme’s last fictional feature, “Rachel Getting Married,” featured a similar set of conflicts hashed out between relatives.  He could have settled for directing “Ricki and the Flash” on autopilot, repeating the same techniques to produce a similarly effective result.  Yet rather than replicating his verité-style camera, heavy on observational close-ups to glean emotional breakthroughs, Demme opts for something a little more standard here.

Normally, that might make for a sticking point.  But it feels like the right choice to convey Cody’s story.  Though no subgenre of “deadbeat dad” dramas exists, she seems to make a sort of gender-swapped revision to the stock character.  Presenting Ricki within a more traditional framework, ironically, draws attention to how she bristles with the established conventions of storytelling.

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REVIEW: Young Adult

15 03 2012

You’ll have to pardon my French throughout this review, but there’s no other way to put it.  “Young Adult” is Diablo Cody’s courtroom drama-style comedy that puts the bitch on trial, both the Hollywood archetype and a very peculiar bitch of her own creation.  It’s really a genius work that serves as a genre deconstruction as well as a story of narcissism and self-loathing in the Facebook age that can stand up on its own two feet.  Then factor in the irresistible pathos of Jason Reitman, a director who tells the most authentic emotional narratives of anyone working in Hollywood today, and you’ve got one of the best movies of 2011.

In anyone else’s hands, Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary would be a totally unsympathetic, curmudgeonly home-wrecker.  Her vile acts of shameless selfishness draw first our shock, then our ire.  Every minute longer she lingers on the screen, we hate her all the more.  She’s toxic, knows it, and does nothing to change it.

But dare I say it, I actually related to Mavis – way more than I should have, in fact.  While we can’t deny her agency for all her awful deeds, Cody refuses to let her be totally written off as someone mean-spirited down to her core.  Her story takes Mavis back to the root of her problems, her hometown of Mercury, Minnesota.  We get to see the society that spawns the psychotic ex-prom queen, forcing us to wonder how much of her fate is due to society and circumstance.

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REVIEW: Jennifer’s Body

18 01 2010

Jennifer’s Body” may be from the Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, but this is not a movie that will be contending for any awards. It is still laced with the stylized dialogue that made Cody a star, but surprisingly absent is any sort of narrative creativity to make the movie feel exciting. I imagine that “Jennifer’s Body” is to Diablo Cody what “Inglourious Basterds” is to Quentin Tarantino: a project that tickles their own fantasies. The difference is that the latter provides a rush of excitement while the former gives us little more to marvel at than star Megan Fox.

Fox is pretty – pretty unqualified to handle Cody’s rich dialogue. It rolls off her tongue with absolutely no energy, and she almost manages to make it boring. Fox has been given such a fun role, yet she seems to be thoroughly bored throughout the whole movie, displaying a mere fraction of the spunk that Ellen Page showed in “Juno.”

I’m not under the mistaken impression that Cody was trying to reinvent or innovate the high school film, and I recognize that she merely wanted to pay her tribute in the form of a very black comedy. “Jennifer’s Body” doesn’t stop at evoking them; the movie itself feels like a page ripped from their textbooks. I couldn’t get “Heathers” out of my head while I watched the demon Jennifer (Fox) sink into some teenage flesh. Her mismatched best friend, “Needy” (Amanda Seyfried of “Mamma Mia”), notices something a little abnormal in Jennifer’s behavior and investigates. As their small town of Devil’s Kettle mourns, Jennifer is feasting and Needy is trying to figure out a way to stop her.

There is still plenty of entertainment to be had in “Jennifer’s Body.” It’s a self-conciously bad movie, and you can still enjoy yourself laughing at the movie itself, not the jokes. Megan Fox might match the requirements to play Jennifer in looks, but she proves to be little more than a pretty face. She just doesn’t seem to get it – this is really dirty, funny stuff that she gets to handle, and it comes off as dull and uninspired. Although I like a little eye candy, “Jennifer’s Body” definitely would have benefitted from the casting of an actress who has the ability to fully realize the character. C /





What To Look Forward to in … September 2009

17 08 2009

I guess this sort of serves as a “fall movie preview.” With this, I want to present what I’m looking forward to in September, what other might be looking forward to, and hopefully introduce you to some movies that you might not have heard of yet.

September 4

The movie that I’m most excited for opening this week is “Extract,” the latest comedy from Mike Judge, creator of “Office Space” and TV’s “King of the Hill.”  The movie stars Jason Bateman, who has been in nearly every comedy and yet I still have not tired of him, as the owner of an extract factory who is a bit down on his luck.  Also featuring a great supporting cast which includes J.K. Simmons (“Spider-Man,” “Juno”), Mila Kunis (TV’s “That ’70s Show”), Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), and Ben Affleck, the movie looks to be truly hilarious entertainment.

Other releases this week include “All About Steve,” a comedy with Sandra Bullock and Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), and “Gamer,” a non-stop action film with Gerard Butler (“The Ugly Truth”).

September 9 & 11

Opening on 9/9/09, “9” uses a clever marketing ploy to hopefully drive audiences its way.  But I’m not sold.  The ever creepy and quirky Tim Burton is behind it, and I have never really been into his type of movies.  The story revolves around nine CGI animated rag dolls living in a post-apocalyptic world.  Maybe this will be some sort of a breakout hit, but until I hear buzz from friends or other bloggers I trust, I’m not throwing my money at it.

“9” is the big attraction of the week.  Also opening is Tyler Perry’s latest movie “I Can Do Bad All By Myself,” starring Taraji P. Henson of “Benjamin Button” fame, the thriller “Whiteout” starring the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, and the horror flick “Sorority Row.”

September 18

There are several movies to get excited about that open this weekend.  First and foremost is “The Informant,” starring Matt Damon.  It takes your usual FBI rat story and flips it on its head, turning it into a comedy.  I have always thought Damon has a great knack for subtle comedy, perfectly illustrated in the “Ocean’s” movies.  The director is Steven Soderbergh, Oscar winner for “Traffic,” but has also helmed “Erin Brockovich” and all three “Ocean’s” films.  And the good news is that this is only Matt Damon’s first role of the year with Oscar potential (see the December preview later).

Also opening is “Jennifer’s Body,” which is the first film written by Diablo Cody since winning the Oscar for “Juno.”  It stars Hollywood’s beauty queen Megan Fox as a vampire who eats guys at her high school.  Her presence alone will drive every young guy in America to this movie.  It also features Amanda Seyfried, one of the bright spots in the otherwise disastrous film adaptation of “Mamma Mia!”  I love the quick-witted humor of “Juno,” and although this doesn’t appear to offer similar antics, curiosity (and Megan Fox) will probably get me.

In limited release, “Bright Star” opens, a movie consider by many to be a major Oscar player.  It isn’t the kind of movie that excites me just from watching the trailer, but the buzz surrounding it coming out of the Cannes Film Festival can’t be discarded.  The movie follows the life of the poet John Keats in the early 1800s.  It is directed by Jane Campion, writer/director of “The Piano,” and features a cast of nearly no recognizable names.  I feel obliged to tell you about it because many are sure that you will be hearing about it during awards season and also because so many people love movies set in the beautiful English country with tons of beautiful costumes and people.

Also opening is “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” an animated adaptation of one of my favorite books growing up. Unfortunately, their idea of adapting it is taking the basic premise of food raining from the sky and destroying the rest of the original story. Maybe I will check it out for old time’s sake, but I’m not expecting anything special. The week also puts forth a romantic drama “Love Happens” starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) and Jennifer Aniston. And technically, the writer/director of “Babel,” Guillermo Ariaga, releases his latest movie, “The Burning Plain,” to theaters this weekend, but you can watch it on demand starting August 21 if you are that curious.

September 25

Being a musical theater junkie, I feel that it is my duty to push “Fame.”  The movie is a musical that follows a group of talented artists throughout their four years in high school in New York.  At a time in their lives where they don’t know if they have what it takes it to make it big, all the emotions appear to run high.  The movie features no stars. so hopefully this will launch some very promising careers.

For action fans, Bruce Willis is at it again in a high concept sci-fi called “Surrogates,” in which everyone in the world controls a robotic version of themselves from home called a surrogate. Willis plays a detective who investigates the possibility of the surrogates killing the user who operates it.  For sci-fi fans, a screamfest called “Pandorum” with Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster (“3:10 To Yuma”) looks to deliver.  For all those craving a raunchy comedy, a little studio will try to pack you into “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell,” adapted from the tales of drinking and its consequences in the book of the same name.  In limited release, those who like the costumes of “Bright Star” get “Coco Before Chanel,” the story of the legendary fashion designer.  (NOTE: “The Invention of Lying” was pushed back to October 2.)

So, readers, what is your most anticipated in September?  Anything I left off?  Take the poll and let me know.

Until the next reel,
Marshall