Ricki and the Flash (2015)

ricki-and-the-flash-movie-poster

I’m a big fan of writer Diablo Cody so having her write a movie starring Meryl Streep and directed by Jonathan Demme made me hope for great things – like Young Adult, the criminally underrated comedy with Charlize Theron and still Cody’s best work … Ricki’s the sixtysomething mom who ran away from hubby and three small children to make music and is still rocking away in California bars at night and checking groceries by day – basically broke. (But living the dream! Yeah!) She gets a call from home, ex-hubby Pete  (Kevin Kline) informing her that their adult daughter Julie (Mamie Gummer ie Ms Streep’s own daughter) is in trouble after her husband cheated and split. Ricki rolls up to the mansion in Indiana in her rocker gear, Julie’s hair is on end and she’s off her trolley on prescription drugs. She’s vile to her mother. But the dog thinks Ricki’s cool. Then Pete tells Ricki that Julie attempted suicide. The women’s scenes together are really good – as you’d expect  – but the writing’s not as sharp as you want for performers of this calibre. There’s a good restaurant scene where  Ricki  discovers her older son is engaged (to an obnoxious snob) and her other son is gay (he used to be bi) and dad orders dinner over the row. It’s fun to see Streep and Kline back together for the first time since Sophie’s Choice but there’s no really felt narrative between them. Just a lot of years apart. Ricki brings Julie to the hairdresser and gets her off the pills. Then … stepmom comes back and narrative issues arise:  she’s black (I guess it’s PC), a high achiever, and she’s competing to be the better mom. Not too hard since she was there. Your basic bitch, as Kate Moss might have it. Ricki slopes back to CA to bandmate Rick Springfield and they have a good scene together – but he gets the best lines about parenting, plus the tears. Then there’s a wedding … Perhaps the big issue here is Ricki’s voice – in every sense. We hear one of her ‘own’ compositions, with Streep on guitar, wasted on weed, with Pete and Julie, when he admits he’s still got her album in a Rubber Maid in the garage. But everything  else is a cover version. We needed something true – written by a woman who’s seen it all. Wasn’t Lucinda Williams available for the whole soundtrack instead of just one song (ditto Emmylou)? A pity… That’s Cody dancing in the red striped dress in the bar, BTW.

Advertisements

Daddy’s Home (2015)

Daddy's_Home_poster.jpg

When will Hollywood’s affair with the midlife bromance stop? When Will Ferrell stops taking off his shirt and wobbling his tummy at us, that’s when. He’s a radio exec and stepdad to Linda Cardellini’s kids and when their real father shows up he’s Mark Wahlberg – a gung ho, athletic, sexy DIY repair guy and personal trainer who humbles Will and makes him even more wussy in front of the kids. To make matters worse, Will is ‘reproductively challenged’ and in this game of one-upmanship (as it were… ) it’s Wahlberg who introduces him to a gynae expert who then takes pleasure in telling him his little swimmers are now more active thanks to the presence of an alpha male in the vicinity.  Their competition for Cardellini’s affections and the kids’ admiration  knows no bounds but it all ends in a dance-off. There are funny scenes for Hannibal Buress, Thomas Haden Church and Bobby Cannavale and it’s only let down by an  instance or two of toilet humour. Family-friendly. Depending on what you call family, maybe. Un film de Sean Anders.

Scarface (1983)

Scarface_-_1983_film.jpg

‘Say hello to my little friend!’ Ah, Cuba. What it has given to the world. Cigars. And… coke dealers! This probably isn’t the film to recommend to people opposed to the mass entry of refugees in their back door. Oliver Stone interpreted the great Ben Hecht’s original story (for director Howard Hawks and producer Howard Hughes’s 1932 classic) to incorporate the influx of criminals to Florida in 1980 with Castro’s amnesty, flooding the area with jailbirds. It was Pacino’s idea to remake the film and Sidney Lumet came up with updating it setting it in the Mariel boatlift but Stone then picked up the reins while dealing with his own cocaine habit when Lumet dropped out. Stone and producer Marty Bregman got access to US Attorney and Organized Crime Bureau files in Miami so we have to say in our defence, m’lud, these things may actually have happened … Teamed with director Brian De Palma we get a great, baroque, violent tale of the rise and fall of Tony Montana (Pacino, peerless, unforgettable, brilliant), who’s just assassinated a Cuban  government official and gets a green card to a very unwelcoming Miami. He teams up with Manny (Steven Bauer) and they take on the local crime lords to become drug kingpins, picking up the stunning Michelle Pfeiffer along the way with little sis Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio joining in the drug-addled fun. The violence is just jaw-dropping – and yes, I’m referring to the chainsaw in the shower. Jesus. With a great supporting cast giving wonderfully detailed performances – Paul Shenar and F. Murray Abraham among them, and goodness, why doesn’t Pfeiffer do more films? Or Mastrantonio?! – cinematography by John A. Alonzo and a pretty groundbreaking score by Giorgio Moroder, we have to say that this is … INCREDIBLE!

Grandma (2015)

grandma-movie-poster

We enter this film in the middle of a breakup that is sharp and swift as poet and unemployed academic Lily Tomlin disposes of her much younger Lesbian lover of four months, Judy Greer. She describes her as a footnote. Then she breaks down in the shower. No sooner is she wearing her mortar board and gown than teenaged granddaughter Julia Garner shows up pregnant needing $630 for an abortion at five forty-five that evening. Grandma only has $43. Her longtime companion died 18 months earlier and hospital bills left her broke and she cut up her credit cards. They spend the day hitting on people she knows looking to make up the difference. This is an exercise in writing craft:  give interesting people a problem and solve it. Because it’s about a writer it’s told in six chapters. Grandma has cool friends but when they hit the feminist bookstore run by Elizabeth Pena (late, lamented, what a loss), Greer is unexpectedly there working and they have the mother of a quarrel. Laverne Cox owes her but hasn’t any money on her so gives her a tattoo and petty cash. Julia introduces Grandma to the moron who knocked her up – and she beats him up. They roll up to the fabulous modernist home of Sam Elliott – and Grandma’s surprising and hidden sexual past is opened up in an incredible scene-sequence, beautifully played by both parties. Push comes to shove and they have to go to the office of her daughter Marcia Gay Harden, a powerful businesswoman, and look for the money there. This is a very smart, well-told tale, of people who make families in unusual ways, about the perils of love, marriage, illness, parenthood, mother-daughter relationships, reconciliations and how hard it can be to get an abortion. (Just wait for the scene outside the clinic to see what happens to Tomlin!). Written and directed by Paul Weitz, who had worked with Tomlin on Admission:  this is her first starring role since Big Business with Bette Midler in 1988. She’s fantastic in this sharp story of septugenarian life,spiky, witty, wise, decent above all and occasionally sad. All the exposition is done succinctly and inventively and the running time is just 79 minutes. Politically correct – in a good way and extremely funny to boot. Who knew that ‘writer in residence’ could be a term of abuse? !

Delivery Man (2013)

Delivery Man movie poster.jpg

The redeeming and recuperating potential of paternity is the root of this very contemporary comedy about sperm donation and its many consequences. Useless meat truck delivery driver Vince Vaughn is immature, owes money and his policewoman girlfriend has just announced she’s pregnant when he discovers that his moneymaking activities in a clinic when he was in his twenties have yielded 533 children of whom 142 want him unmasked. This potentially lurid story manages to be both candid and sweet, principally through a well-managed screenplay by director Ken Scott (adapted from Starbuck by himself and Martin Petit for the earlier French-Canadian version) which places notions of family at the centre of everything. Vaughn decides against the advice of BFF Chris Pratt, stay at home dad of four chaotic children and on-off lawyer, and plays guardian angel to some of the hundreds of children he has unwittingly fathered when the clinic gave his donation to way too many recipients. We meet a few of them:  an aspiring actor wasting his life as a barista;  a basketball star;  a drug addict; a disabled man. He follows them and does them favours until his creditors beat up his dad who runs the family meat business and he has to follows the clinic into court to retain his anonymity. Meanwhile, his girlfriend is approaching her due date … A film about a very modern problem which asks questions about identity, family and fatherhood and doesn’t blame anyone for this social chaos – at all!

The Intern (2015)

The_Intern_Poster.jpg

Nancy Meyers is a spectacular filmmaker:  she makes deftly witty social satires starring female protagonists and she’s been at it since 1980 when she co-wrote Private Benjamin for the heroic Goldie Hawn. There was a long gap between It’s Complicated (2009) and this – so long I wrote a book about her work, fearing the worst. Then she came back with another zeitgeisty comedy, starring Robert De Niro as the titular character, an active widower seeking more to do with his time and seeing an opportunity with a politically correct seniors internship programme at an e-commerce firm in his Brooklyn neighbourhood.  His boss is the driven company founder, millennial Anne Hathaway who runs this fashion seller with a sharp focus that somehow blinds her to the people around her – the wussy stay at home husband and cute daughter, the chauffeur who drinks (despite her espousing of bicycle riding in the warehouse suite), and the capacity of former businessman De Niro to assist her in the running of her firm because her financier wants to replace her as CEO. This jabs at a lot of contemporary targets – women and work, work-life balance, the generation gap, seniors in relationships (the brilliant Rene Russo is CRIMINALLY under-used as De Niro’s romantic interest) and corporate life. Even if Hathaway wasn’t originally intended to co-star (it was supposed to be Tina Fey opposite Michael Caine, then Reese Witherspoon), it has the unexpected slippage effect from her role in The Devil Wears Prada and we might see her as Andie all grown up in a dream(-ier) job where she’s the boss. De Niro is a flinty protagonist (she’s really the antagonist here) and this perhaps is where the film-story balance comes a little undone:  there are snotty, spiteful moms in the playground, her own awful mother hounding her on the phone, a dull spouse (couldn’t she do any better?! And pay a babysitter?!)  and a decided lack of interests outside of work – compare the narrative solution in Baby Boom in which Diane Keaton hit on a highly domestic answer to a business problem. This targets so many bases and is a lot of fun at times – even De Niro’s break-in caper with his dude co-workers – yet it doesn’t really say a lot about the specifics of this fashion website idea or why it’s so important to Hathaway, has remarkably conservative ideas about men and women and never feels like it truly exploits its characters:  Anne Hathaway needed to go really crazy at some point! She’s … aggressive passive. In the meantime, you can get my book about Nancy Meyers here: https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1474702335&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+lennon.

The Girl Can’t Help It (1956)

The_Girl_Can't_Help_It_poster.jpg

Failed music agent Tom Ewell gets summoned by gangster Edmond O’Brien to make his talentless girlfriend Jayne Mansfield a famous recording star within six weeks. The eagle-eyed will spot this as the bones of the plot of Born Yesterday, a film that should have starred Marilyn Monroe (nobody looked at her screen test). And Monroe is all over this uncredited adaptation of a story by Garson Kanin (who wrote Born Yesterday), her sweetness, her love of home and of course her pneumatic looks – although the genius-IQ Mansfield is possibly larger in that department and unlike Marilyn she cannot hold a note, at least for the purposes of this story. There’s a score by Bobby Troup and (his real-life) wife Julie London looms large in Tom Ewell’s nightmares as his lost love – just as his wife did in the previous year’s Seven Year Itch, opposite Marilyn.  But it’s the opportunity to see some of the great rock ‘n’ roll acts of the time that still beckons (Little Richard, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran) and director Frank Tashlin cleverly integrates a lot of the lyrics as commentary on the action; and the infamous sight gag of milk bottles in Mansfield’s hands, a typical comment by the auteur on Fifties consumerism, sexism and a tribute to his cartoonist colleagues at Warners. Written by Tashlin and Herbert Baker. Rock. And. Roll.

The Great Race (1965)

The Great Race poster.jpg

Extremely long and lavish but fun and entertaining comedy version of the 1908 transcontinental land race from New York to Paris – using every means, fair and foul. Jack Lemmon is the moustache-twirling villainous Professor Fate while cleancut white-suited Tony Curtis is the good guy and Natalie Wood is the feminist journalist who joins in but whose car breaks down midway and she hitches a ride … Director Blake Edwards (working from Arthur Ross’s screenplay of Edwards’ original story) pays homage to the slapstick comedies of his youth with pratfalls, barroom brawls and piefights – the film is dedicated to Laurel and Hardy. There’s Jack times 2 in a Ruritanian kingdom so we have a comic take on The Prince and the Pauper with swordfights for good measure. There are some nice performances including Peter Falk as as Fate’s sidekick, Keenan Wynn as Wood’s mechanic and the delightful Dorothy Provine showing up as a showgirl in the western parody sequence. Wood’s recent divorce from Robert Wagner meant he didn’t get the lead as intended and she only agreed to do this in exchange for doing Inside Daisy Clover, the Gavin Lambert adaptation. She looks incredibly pretty and her costumes by Edith Head undoubtedly help. Lambert and Wood became close friends and he wrote a brilliant biography of her. The title cards are a lovely Pop tribute to late nineteenth century French paintings. It was billed as the funniest comedy ever made, it’s not – it’s the most expensive – but it’s good for a laugh.

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

I Walked With a Zombie.jpg

‘There’s no beauty here – only death and decay. Everything dies here – even the stars.’ RKO were on the skids with the commercial failure of Orson Welles’ films so producer Val Lewton was entrusted with churning out low budgeters ($150,000 limit) with audience appeal. One of these famous cult productions is this Jane Eyre adaptation by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray from a magazine article by Inez Wallace, set in Haiti or an island very like it, with Frances Dee as a nurse hired to care for Christine Gordon who has a mysterious illness. Dee falls for the husband, sugar plantation owner Tom Conway and begins to get drawn into the island’s strange colonial past and the voodoo culture… Zombies, colonial guilt, voodoo ceremonies, calypso, sibling rivalry, supernatural ambiguity and the ineffable blend beautifully in a film that positively drips with atmosphere and scares under the careful direction of Jacques Tourneur, all on the studio lot. Better experienced than read about.

Welcome to New York (2014)

Welcome_to_New_York_(2014).jpg

Until a half dozen years ago one didn’t necessarily equate the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank with molestation, self-pleasuring and rape – other than financial. With the arrest of French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss-Kahn, we learned that it’s a merry-go-round of whores, call girls, strippers, hookers, prostitution rings, orgies and sex parties. The first thirty minutes of this Abel Ferrara epic concern themselves precisely with this subject matter,  in which an important person going by the name Devereaux, a DSK-alike (Gerard Depardieu, who clarifies he hates all politicians and that one in particular in the opening ‘meta’ EPK) satisfies himself with a plenitude of whores in a succession of scenes. It’s a grotesque sight not merely because Devereaux is enormous and growls when aroused. It’s pure porn. This is prefaced by a meeting prior to his departure for the US where he’s warned that the secret service there are going to be monitoring him because of rumours (they’re not specified). The messenger is immediately offered sexual favours by one of Devereaux’s whores. After hiring two ladies of the night a housekeeper walks in on him naked, he grabs her and jerks off on her. Admittedly I had to pause at this point and come up for air because the stench off this story was overwhelming. He meets his adult daughter and embarrasses her in front of her boyfriend by asking if she enjoys sex with him. The police then grab him before his aeroplane leaves the ground at JFK. He is arrested and humiliated, stripped naked and imprisoned in a police cell when he’s finally allowed his one phonecall and it’s to his powerbroker wife Jacqueline Bisset as Simone, a version of Anne Sinclair. Bisset plays her with elegance, hauteur and the infinite understanding of a woman who is very much aware that she is married to an insatiable, repulsive sex fiend.They have a big scene about an hour in, when he’s permitted to stay in a posh modern duplex under house arrest. She begs him not to touch her – even now she’s susceptible to his touch. His adult daughter by a previous wife calls Simone humorless. He addresses the camera when they discuss his detractors and snarls,’They can go f**k themselves!’ After a therapy session enforced by law/his wife in which he admits he cannot be saved nor does he wish it, we enter real Ferrara territory, exploring the mindset of this unrepentant unChristian sinner:  Devereaux is back at the house, looking out at NYC. His reflection is fragmented in such a way as to actually look like the real DSK. His voiceover narration explains his contempt for ‘the herd’. We flash back to his previous sexual encounters including his assault of a young journalist whose mother he knows – he insinuates she wasn’t as much of a problem when it came to sex. His sense of entitlement is supreme, his sense of his power over women unvarnished, his sense of shame utterly non-existent. The charges are dropped, we don’t know why, he presumes it’s his wife’s chequebook. Can anyone comprehend the power of a billionaire? (In reality the immigrant hotel worker was accused of lying because her statement was mis-translated.) And we end with him looking straight to camera after his housemaid says he’s a nice person. If you can get through the vile first half an hour … you get to know why the world is the way it is and why we know next to nothing about the women he abused. But you probably know that already and since this barely got released, you probably don’t need to have this awfulness reinforced. This is a horrible film about a horrible person and the horrible people around him .