Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Demme’

RICKI AND THE FLASH: 2 ½ STARS. “movie hits the wrong notes when the music stops.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 6.39.24 PMThe title of the new Meryl Streep movie, “Ricki and the Flash,” sounds like a comic book flick about a regular, but spunky teen and the DC Comic character known for super human speed. No, Streep hasn’t joined the ranks of elder actors lending credibility to superhero movies and there’s not a skintight red superhero outfit in sight. Instead, there’s the black leather and fringes of Meryl’s rock ‘n’ roll Ricki, lead singer of bar band The Flash.

Ricki is a rock ‘n’ roll road warrior who never cracked the big time. Twenty five years ago she left behind her comfortable Midwestern life and family—husband (Kevin Kline) and three kids (including Julie, played by Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer)—for a shot at stardom in Los Angeles. Her one album didn’t chart and now she staves off bankruptcy by day as a grocery clerk, by night playing Golden Oldie covers in a seedy San Fernando Valley bar.

Out of the blue her ex gives her a ring with bad news. Julie’s husband has left her for a younger woman and he’d like her to come to Ohio to comfort her distraught daughter. Despite not having seen Julie in years she returns. Cue the family drama as Ricki tries to make amends for choosing rock and roll over her family.

Streep may not be playing a superhero in “Ricki and the Flash,” but she does a superhuman job of carrying the movie. Ricki is a raw nerve who says what’s on her mind whether she’s on stage or off, and Meryl rocks it. She strums and hums her way through a contrived script by “Juno” writer Diablo Cody that doesn’t add much to the family drama or rock movie genres.

Kline, Rick Springfield and Gummer hit the right notes, but are saddled with dialogue that sounds melodramatically overwritten—“My heart is dead and rotten,” sobs Julie.—or like a Successstory platitude—“It doesn’t matter if you kids love you,” says Springfield, “it’s your job to love them.” Missing are Cody’s usual wit and director Jonathan Demme’s careful examination of his characters. Instead they’ve opted for a blandly crowd-pleasing movie that isn’t as crowd-pleasing as they might have hoped.

“Ricki and the Flash” is about the power of music to break down barriers and bring people together, but as well shot as the music scenes are—and they should be, Demme made one of the great music films of all time, “Stop Making Sense,” among many others—the movie hits the wrong notes when the music stops.

NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS: 3 ½ STARS

Neil_Young_2008_Firenze_02“There is a ton in North Ontario,” Neil Young sings in “Helpless,” one of his most famous songs. That town is Omemee, where the singer-songwriter spent many of his formative years and where the new documentary “Neil Young Journeys” begins with, as he says in the song, “With dream comfort memory to spare.”

In their third collaboration Young and director Jonathan Demme take a memory filled road trip through Ontario in one of Young’s classic cars, a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria. At the end of the road is a two-night stand at the iconic Massey Hall, footage of which is interspersed throughout. Early on he says of his old hometown, “It’s all gone but it’s still in my head.” He talks about eating tar off the road after being told it would taste like gum, about blowing up a turtle, (This was long before my eco days,” he laughs), and the school’s town, dedicated to his father but this isn’t strictly just a walk down memory lane.

On display is a vital artist who sprinkles his set list with old favorites like “My, My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” “Ohio,” and “Helpless” but focuses on new material from his 2010 album, “Le Noise.” When he sings, “I’ve been in love and I’ve seen a lot of war,” in the new song “Love and War” it feels like an artist continuing a life-long tradition of singing personal, confessional songs about deeply felt convictions. It has a link to the past but feels remarkably current and vibrant.

Director Demme has a feel for music documentaries. Aside from his work with Young, (“Heart of Gold” and “Trunk Show”), he also directed the classic Talking Heads doc “Stop Making Sense.” His films are to music videos what vids are to Andy Warhol’s “Empire” (Google it!).

That is, he doesn’t overwhelm the pure honesty of Young’s performance with flashy camera work or special effects. Demme’s camera is an observer—sometimes, a very up-close-and-personal-observer with shots so tight they look like something you might see in a dentistry textbook—simply there to capture the sounds created by one man and one guitar on a stage he has played on many times. Only once, during “Ohio,” does Demme let his guard down when he gets ham-fisted with visuals.

In the film Young says, “You don’t have to worry when you lose friends because they’re still in your head and heart,” and I couldn’t help but think that “Neil Young’s Journeys” is exactly about that—memory with heart.