Skip to main content

Do you have a gig tonight, or do you always dress like a hooker from Night Court?

Ricki and the Flash
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Well, Meryl can belt out a tune. And her daughter’s a chip off the old block. And Rick Springfield can emote with the best of them. And Kevin Kline’s the same charmer he always was, but possibly more likeable with a few years on him. Otherwise, though, Ricki and the Flash is an undemanding, trivial trifle, a tepid parody of the attitudinal pictures Jonathan Demme was making in the ‘80s.


So much so, Ricki makes Rachel Getting Married look edgy (and what’s Demme’s current fixation with wedding movies?) One can only conclude the (deserved) success of The Silence of the Lambs deflated the director’s taste in truly offbeat material, as his features since, in one way or another, have evidenced a filmmaker who has lost his way, normalised, forgotten what he’s about, in order to be kind-of engulfed by the Hollywood deep end. That may explain why he’s done so little in the fiction arena in the last decade, concentrating mainly on documentary work.


Ricki and the Flash finds Streep and Kline reuniting for the first time since the wretched Sophie’s Choice (remember the ‘80s, the decade where Meryl seemed to have a permanently drippy nose and eccentrically pronounced accent?), although they were later scheduled to co-star in Death Becomes Her, and their easy chemistry shines through. But Ricki’s an unlikely character, an aging rock chick living an alternative lifestyle on the back of working a supermarket checkout, prone to voicing ultra-conservative sentiments on race, gender and the merits of the Bush family, with a rich ex (and ex-family) from whom she’s entirely estranged. If it weren’t for Streep’s grounding presence, we wouldn’t be buying this for a second. And even then…


As such, both Diablo Cody’s Juno and Young Adult, this forming a “three ages of woman” trilogy of sorts, come from a more coherent and well-conceived place. The attempted suicide of Ricki’s daughter finds Kline’s Pete inviting his former wife down for a spot of crisis counselling, as unlikely as that seems. The interaction between Streep, Kline and Mamie Gummer (Julie) is the highlight of the picture, even as it traverses such essential tropes as getting stoned, having a makeover, and encountering Julie’s duplicitous husband. And Pete’s current wife (Audra McDonald), with whom there is, of course, friction. And the gay son and the other one who is getting married (Nick Westrate and Sebastian Stan, neither of whom make much impression).


Somehow, despite herself, Ricki ends up invited to the wedding, where she proceeds to impose herself on the assembly with an impromptu Bruce Springfield number, and isn’t rewarded with eternal opprobrium. Demme and Cody have configured a bizarre wish-fulfilment ending, one where everything appears to turn out well, a shameless embrace of acceptance and inclusivity, despite having absolutely no reason for the story to go that way (even Julie no longer seems about to top herself). It must be the power of The Boss. This is one of those pictures where you stick with it due to the talent involved, but have absolutely no idea what enticed them in the first place.


Popular posts from this blog

Doctors make the worst patients.

Coma (1978) (SPOILERS) Michael Crichton’s sophomore big-screen feature, and by some distance his best. Perhaps it’s simply that this a milieu known to him, or perhaps it’s that it’s very much aligned to the there-and-now and present, but Coma , despite the occasional lapse in this adaptation of colleague Robin Cook’s novel, is an effective, creepy, resonant thriller and then some. Crichton knows his subject, and it shows – the picture is confident and verisimilitudinous in a way none of his other directorial efforts are – and his low-key – some might say clinical – approach pays dividends. You might also call it prescient, but that would be to suggest its subject matter wasn’t immediately relevant then too.

The Bible never said anything about amphetamines.

The Color of Money (1986) (SPOILERS) I tend to think it’s evident when Scorsese isn’t truly exercised by material. He can still invest every ounce of the technical acumen at his fingertips, and the results can dazzle on that level, but you don’t really feel the filmmaker in the film. Which, for one of his pictures to truly carry a wallop, you need to do. We’ve seen quite a few in such deficit in recent years, most often teaming with Leo. The Color of Money , however, is the first where it was out-and-out evident the subject matter wasn’t Marty’s bag. He needed it, desperately, to come off, but in the manner a tradesman who wants to keep getting jobs. This sequel to The Hustler doesn’t linger in the mind, however good it may be, moment by moment.

Abandon selective targeting. Shoot everything.

28 Weeks Later (2007) (SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.

I said I had no family. I didn’t say I had an empty apartment.

The Apartment (1960) (SPOILERS) Billy Wilder’s romcom delivered the genre that rare Best Picture Oscar winner. Albeit, The Apartment amounts to a rather grim (now) PG-rated scenario, one rife with adultery, attempted suicide, prostitution of the soul and subjective thereof of the body. And yet, it’s also, finally, rather sweet, so salving the darker passages and evidencing the director’s expertly judged balancing act. Time Out ’s Tom Milne suggested the ending was a cop out (“ boy forgives girl and all’s well ”). But really, what other ending did the audience or central characters deserve?

Your desecration of reality will not go unpunished.

2021-22 Best-of, Worst-of and Everything Else Besides The movies might be the most visible example of attempts to cling onto cultural remnants as the previous societal template clatters down the drain. It takes something people really want – unlike a Bond movie where he kicks the can – to suggest the model of yesteryear, one where a billion-dollar grosser was like sneezing. You can argue Spider-Man: No Way Home is replete with agendas of one sort or another, and that’s undoubtedly the case (that’s Hollywood), but crowding out any such extraneous elements (and they often are) is simply a consummate crowd-pleaser that taps into tangible nostalgia through its multiverse take. Of course, nostalgia for a mere seven years ago, for something you didn’t like anyway, is a symptom of how fraught these times have become.

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018) (SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless  Heat  rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but  Den of Thieves  is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.

This guy’s armed with a hairdryer.

An Innocent Man (1989) (SPOILERS) Was it a chicken-and-egg thing with Tom Selleck and movies? Did he consistently end up in ropey pictures because other, bigger big-screen stars had first dibs on the good stuff? Or was it because he was a resolutely small-screen guy with limited range and zero good taste? Selleck had about half-a-dozen cinema outings during the 1980s, one of which, the very TV, very Touchstone Three Men and a Baby was a hit, but couldn’t be put wholly down to him. The final one was An Innocent Man , where he attempted to show some grit and mettle, as nice-guy Tom is framed and has to get tough to survive. Unfortunately, it’s another big-screen TV movie.

Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists!

Don’t Look Up (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s testament to Don’t Look Up ’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.

Archimedes would split himself with envy.

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) (SPOILERS) Generally, this seems to be the Ray Harryhausen Sinbad outing that gets the short straw in the appreciation stakes. Which is rather unfair. True, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger lacks Tom Baker and his rich brown voice personifying evil incarnate – although Margaret Whiting more than holds her own in the wickedness stakes – and the structure follows the Harryhausen template perhaps over scrupulously (Beverly Cross previously collaborated with the stop-motion auteur on Jason and the Argonauts , and would again subsequently with Clash of the Titans ). But the storytelling is swift and sprightly, and the animation itself scores, achieving a degree of interaction frequently more proficient than its more lavishly praised peer group.

Captain, he who walks in fire will burn his feet.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen returns to the kind of unadulterated fantasy material that made Jason and the Argonauts such a success – swords & stop motion, if you like. In between, there were a couple of less successful efforts, HG Wells adaptation First Men in the Moon and The Valley of the Gwangi (which I considered the best thing ever as a kid: dinosaur walks into a cowboy movie). Harryhausen’s special-effects supremacy – in a for-hire capacity – had also been consummately eclipsed by Raquel Welch’s fur bikini in One Million Years B.C . The Golden Voyage of Sinbad follows the expected Dynamation template – blank-slate hero, memorable creatures, McGuffin quest – but in its considerable favour, it also boasts a villainous performance by nobody-at-the-time, on-the-cusp-of-greatness Tom Baker.