Monday, August 31, 2015

Queen of Earth Review (2015)

Alex Ross Perry’s “Queen of Earth” is a bizarre, chilling, mesmerizing portrait of one woman’s (played by “Mad Men’s” Elizabeth Moss) psychological breakdown and the degrading effect said breakdown has on her relationship with a lifelong friend.

In the wake of her father’s suicide and dumping by her boyfriend, Catherine (Moss) goes to a lake house with her friend Virginia (Katherine Waterson) for a week of solace and recovery. And well, that’s pretty much it. The peculiar thing about “Queen of Earth” is that not a lot “happens:” the two do a lot of sitting and lying around. Catherine paints Virginia’s portrait, they go walking in the woods. They argue, they connect, a meddling patronizing neighbor Rich (Patrick Fugit) hangs around. At the same time, there’s a feeling of dread and uneasiness the viewer can’t shake. This is mostly due to Keegan DeWitt’s haunting instrumental score, which is soothing yet eerie, peaceful yet distressing-- flaring up at particular moments like a horror movie soundtrack. In addition, cinematographer Sean Price Williams primarily uses lengthy shots and slow pans and zoom in’s, giving the film a heightened, almost slow motion, dreamy reality. Just about everything that happens in “Queen of Earth” is mundane and ordinary but the tone is creepy and chaotic.

Through the creepy score, dreamy cinematography and elegant direction, Perry brings the deeply internalized feelings of panic, anxiety, alienation, sadness and concern associated with Catherine’s break down to the surface with unnerving, disturbing energy. In this regard “Queen of Earth” is a horror movie but it’s not about ghosts, murders or even trippy visions. It’s a horror movie about depression, a much more frightening and ominous entity because it’s a real condition thousands of people suffer from.

What is supposed to be a week of relaxation turns into one of discomfort and tension. Catherine gets progressively worse as the days count down. The serenity and seclusion of the lake house, while initially welcoming, becomes suffocating. It’s amazing that a place so beautiful and tranquil (with its crystal clear lake water and a lush forest surrounding with sunlight peaking through the tree’s) could be the setting for such an intense psychological breakdown. Perry crafts one uncomfortable, nail-biting scene after another. Catherine’s demeanor becomes more hostile and anxious; she hardly sleeps, has mood swings and complains about her face aching (even though nothing physical is wrong with her).  It’s like the walls of her psyche are closing in on her. The movie is reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s claustrophobic paranoid thriller “Repulsion” (another movie in which a woman suffers from psychosis) sans the nightmarish hallucinations.

  We also see the gradual decay of her friendship with Virginia. At first the two share a few warm and intimate moments; there’s a great scene (shot in a single take close up, the camera moving back and forth between their faces) where they open up to each other about past romantic relationships that gives us a great sense of their closeness and trust. However, due to Catherine’s increasing hostility, it gets to a point where they act like strangers-- saying few words and awkwardly avoiding each other. There’s a beautiful shot near the end of the film in which Virginia lies on a couch in the living room reading her magazine while Catherine stands outside a window (that’s slightly above than her) looking in. Virginia looks up from her magazine but the two never make eye contact, emphasizing the emotional and psychological distance growing between them.

It also helps that Perry found two incredibly talented rising actresses. Moss is phenomenal-- playing Catherine with a perfect blend of sympathy and menace, not going overboard with the craziness. We experience the immense internal suffering she’s going through right along with her. When she rubs her face in pain we can’t help but rub our faces too. Often times her pained facial expressions say more than any line of dialogue. At the same time, she has clearly snapped and you wait (on edge) for her to do something drastic—either inflicting pain on herself or someone else. At one point, after encountering a random man in the backyard one night, she says to him, with a chilling smile: “I could murder you right now and no one would ever know.” Perhaps best of all, Moss doesn’t paint Catherine entirely as a victim. In flashbacks to last year’s trip to the lake house, she’s depicted as selfish and inconsiderate, the result of living a privileged comfortable life and depending on others (her father and boyfriends) to be taken care of. Overall, Catherine is a tragic, flawed, multifaceted heroine.

Waterson gives a wonderfully restrained, nuanced performance as someone witnessing her best friend’s horrifying descent into madness. Virginia has an obligation to stay strong and supportive (especially considering she went through her own bout of depression) but as Catherine’s condition worsens it becomes difficult for Virginia to conceal own her growing frustration and sadness.

On the whole, “Queen of Earth” is a beautiful, remarkable film showing just how terrifying depression can be for both the person who is depressed and the friends/ family members affected by it second hand.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Digging For Fire Review (2015)

While staying at a friend’s house with his wife Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) and young son Jude, (Jude Swanberg) Tim (Jake Johnson) discovers a mysterious human bone and handgun buried in the backyard. That sounds like a set up for a murder mystery, however Mumblecore director Joe Swanberg’s “Digging for Fire” is a mid life crisis drama instead. More specifically it’s about adults in their late thirties to early forties having second thoughts about being adults, about growing up. Tim and Lee have been married for eleven years and the pressures of parenthood and adulthood are overwhelming them. They begin to wonder: “is this the life I really want to live?” Lee hasn’t had a night out by herself in years. Tim wants to believe he still has a leather jacket wearing wild streak in him. During a single weekend the two go on separate soul searching adventures.

If anything, “Digging for Fire” demonstrates Swanberg’s ability to craft a laidback atmosphere free of melodrama; the performances and dialogue are casual and naturalistic. The massive supporting cast (Orlando Bloom, Anna Kendrick, Sam Elliott, Sam Rockwell, Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, Ron Livingston, Jenny Slate and Melanie Lynskey) is used so nonchalantly. Recognizable actors like Bloom or Elliot make brief appearances in such normal unassuming roles. If you’ve seen any of Swanberg’s other movies (“Drinking Buddies” and “Happy Christmas”) you know that that’s his modus operandi. Also like his other movies, “Digging for Fire” was heavily improvised; the script consisted of a three-page outline. As a result it feels more like an informal hangout session than a movie-- as if Swanberg called up his actor buddies and asked them to riff about adulthood while he filmed them.

It’s mildly entertaining to watch this group of talented actors free style but “Digging For Fire” is ultimately a slight, undercooked effort. You get to the end and there isn’t much to discuss or mull over. Nothing very surprising happens over the course of the eighty-five minute running time; the resolution is underwhelming and obvious. Overall Swanberg is saying that getting married and having children drastically changes things; you have more responsibilities and less freedom. While this is a relatable message, it’s certainly nothing new and has been explored in greater depth in better movies. The bone and gun side plot becomes the only intriguing aspect of the movie. Tim continues to excavate the backyard, finding more bones and human accessories. At one point a creepy old neighbor tells him that some “bad stuff” happened at that house. But even this side plot never blossoms into anything very substantial and instead feels more like a quirky afterthought. It has nothing to do with the central relationship drama and could have been jettisoned from the movie without any change.

Thankfully, the impressive cast keeps “Digging For Fire” watchable. I wish Swanberg had given them more to do (some of the cast, like Lynskey and Livingston, have only one scene) but without their talent and easygoing charm, the movie would be even more forgettable.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

American Ultra Review (2015)

“American Ultra” is hard R Jason Bourne meets Cheech and Chong. A government conspiracy action comedy (with a romantic angle tossed in) dreamed up by two young stoners hot boxing their basement. “Dude! What if the C.I.A. made us into genetically altered government agents and then decided to kill us?” An intriguing idea that falters in execution— the movie falls victim to a dull, uninspired plot, repetitive action and an uneven tone.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Mike Howell, a stoner who’s been living happily with his cool stoner girlfriend Phoebe Larson (Kristen Stewart) for the past five years. Working his mundane job at a convenience store he writes and draws the adventures of Apollo Ape and plans on proposing to Phoebe. That is until everything gets crazy. Unbeknownst to him Mike is actually a C.I.A. agent and one night he’s “reactivated” by agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) when she receives word that Mike is going to be killed. Fellow C.I.A. agent Adrian Yates (Topher Grace) launches a full on offensive—practically taking over the small West Virginia town Mike and Phoebe live in. Things get off to a solid start. Director Nima Nourizadeh throws us into this chaos without much explanation (mirroring Mike’s own confusion) but we go along with it because we hope to find out why Mike is now Public Enemy Number One.

Soon enough however, the intrigue runs out and “American Ultra” becomes a drag. The screenplay by Max Landis runs out of ideas and surprises, turning into just another “On-the-run-from-government-agents” picture with hit and miss comedy sprinkled throughout. Yates is a one-dimensional bad guy. The action is repetitive and the scenes themselves lack creativity— they’re poorly shot in dim, disorienting shaky cam. I almost got seasick from watching them. The movie certainly doesn’t shy away from gore (it earns its R rating) but it gets to a point where you ask: who cares? The violence isn’t used inventively anyway and the story around it becomes so dull.

The origin of Mike’s abilities is vaguely established; by the end we still don’t know much about the government program he was a part of and more importantly we don’t know why Mike is such a liability. It doesn’t seem practical to waste the time and resources to kill this guy when things seemed fine to begin with. He lives a very simple unexciting life. He didn’t know he was an agent until Victoria reactivated him with a very specific verbal code that no one would know and he doesn’t become dangerous until he’s initially provoked. Mike doesn’t become a liability until the C.I.A. makes him into one. And the decision to kill him appears to come out of thin air; why is this lowly stoner all of a sudden the C.I.A.’s most wanted? Don’t they have better things to do? We’re never given an answer and frankly we stop caring after a while.

I could be looking into it too much. After all, isn’t “American Ultra” a comedy? Well yes but on some level it also wants to be taken seriously. As far as I can tell the movie isn’t trying to be a satire or parody-- it isn’t trying to comment on the government conspiracy action genre or the stoner comedy. Instead (with the shaky cam cinematography) the film feels planted in reality; it wants you to believe that Mike and Phoebe are a real stoner couple who get wrapped up with the C.I.A. The picture’s violence isn’t Quentin Tarantino “cherry-red-blood-spattered-all-over-the-wall” cartoon violence but brutal and realistic. At the same time “American Ultra” also wants to be zany, which creates tonal confusion. A scene depicting the town’s entire police force being massacred doesn’t exactly gel with John Leguizamo as an over-the-top drug dealer, or the scene in which Mike (hiding behind a kitchen cabinet) throws a frying pan up in the air and shoots a bullet that ricochets off said pan, killing a government crony. The film wants to be gritty and intense like the Bourne films but also goofy and outlandish like a stoner comedy, a combination that doesn’t entirely work. Nourizadeh should have taken a much more cartoonish approach.

On the bright side, Eisenberg and Stewart keep “American Ultra” watchable. Eisenberg’s typical fast-talking, nervous on screen persona is perfectly suited for paranoid mixed-up Mike, though Stewart does the best work. Ever since “Twilight,” Stewart has proven to be a very talented actress capable of playing a wide range of roles. Here she gives a lively, playful performance where she isn’t the helpless sidekick or the damsel in distress but gets to actively participate in the action. She’s as much an action hero as Mike is. Together they make for a likable couple and their relationship becomes the only remotely interesting aspect of the movie.

But even Eisenberg and Stewart aren’t strong enough to save “American Ultra.” The ending is ham-fisted and anticlimactic-- suggesting that all the trouble the C.I.A. went through trying to obtain and kill Mike was for nothing. Overall, the movie wastes a talented cast with an unimaginative story and a barrage of dull action sequences.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Straight Outta Compton Review (2015)

Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of familiarity with the rap group NWA, as well as the entire history of 
rap in the late 1980’s through the 1990’s.  I’ve heard of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre but haven’t listened to hardly any of their music; instead I know Cube mainly through his film career (“Boyz n the Hood,” “Are We There Yet?” etc.) and Dre via his line of Beats headphones. The name Eazy-E rings a bell but again I don’t know anything about him and haven't listened to his music. Pathetic right? But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

So I went into F Gary Gray’s new biographical film “Straight Outta Compton” hoping to be entertained and learn about these influential musicians. I’m pleased to report that it succeeded on both fronts: “Straight Outta Compton” is an informative, timely, hugely entertaining, moving tribute to the musical group and a celebration of the Gangsta rap movement.  It isn’t solely a musician biopic (NWA was short lived) but a portrait of a Cultural Revolution too.  

In 1988 five guys-- Ice Cube, (O’Shea Jackson Jr. Ice Cube’s real life son) Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) came together. They took their harsh experiences growing up in crime infested Compton and translated them into a new kind of music that directly addressed the contemporary climate of frustration and unrest. NWA (and the subsequent side ventures that came after the group broke up) helped establish the Gangsta rap subgenre--a subgenre that would go on to influence an entire generation of Hip Hop artists and continues to influence artists today.

It’s an amazing story and Gray gives it the rich and sprawling film epic treatment it deserves. At a daunting two and half hours the picture covers three significant time periods: life in Compton before NWA, the yearlong period that NWA was together under the management of Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti, fast talking, nervous and supportive with a hint of slimy) and the post NWA period in which Ice Cube launched his solo rap career, Eazy-E continued to work with Heller and Dr. Dre cofounded Death Row records with Suge Knight (R Marcos Taylor, doing a spot on impression. He’s almost as intimidating as the real Knight).

“Straight Outta Compton” is enthralling to watch. From brutal street violence and police brutality, to the brotherly affection felt between the young artists and the tense feuds that develop in the post NWA period, Gray captures this hectic revolutionary atmosphere with energetic authenticity. Matthew Libatique’s (“Black Swan”) fluid hand held cinematography immerses the viewer in this world; his camera constantly tracking in and out parties, studio recording sessions and electrifying concerts (reminiscent of the camera work in the American sagas made by Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson or Robert Altman) making the film pop.

Where “Straight Outta Compton” excels the best is in the story and character development; the overall evolution from tightknit tribe to dispersed rivals is well defined.  In the first two sections Gray takes great care in establishing the bond between the five members. A lot of time is spent on the smaller, intimate moments; in the recording studios or backstage as they joke around with one another and lend encouragement. They’re a united front; they all come from the same place, are all fed with the way they’re treated and looked at by outsiders. One of the things I appreciate most about the film is the way it takes intense and dour situations and makes them into positive experiences. At one point the five are harassed by police --  a harrowing frustrating sequence to watch but something good comes out of it (a song ). This part of the movie is about powering through bad situations, something the five of them have had to do their entire life. They refuse to be kept down and they have each other.

This strong sense of persistence and brotherhood makes their eventual falling out all the more devastating because we’ve come to know them as a unit. But as is often the case fame alienates them and instills a rivalry. They band together at first because all they had is each other but with success comes independent mindedness and egotism.

Dre is the most ambitious of the group, feeling more at home producing music and so its not surprising to see him break off from the group and co found his own record label. Meanwhile Cube is more short-tempered and skeptical from the beginning--skeptical of Heller and the record deal NWA signs and decides to launch his solo career. E’s arc is perhaps the most interesting and tragic; he goes from being reluctant to even get in front a microphone to the leader of NWA and eventually allows himself to be taken advantage of. As for the remaining two: MC Ren and DJ Yella function more as secondary characters. Even a two and half hour running time isn’t long enough to fully develop five different characters.

Thankfully however, Cube, Dre and E (the prominent members of NWA) evolve into well-rounded characters; they’re likable underdogs but at the same time their flaws (adultery, recklessness, selfishness etc.) are prominently displayed. The actors playing them give raw, impassioned performances and the fact that they’re relatively unknown actors gives the movie another layer of authenticity. These are young and hungry performers trying to make a name for themselves, just like the NWA musicians were back then.

Gray also makes good use of the actual NWA songs beyond simply live concerts. Going back to the police harassment scene, the tense incident leads to the creation of the song “F—the Police” (one of their most famous songs) and later on when the group has parted ways rap is used as a tool for battle. Through these examples, the director portrays just how much the music is intertwined with their surroundings. The songs are inserted organically into the movie—helping to drive the narrative forward and develop the characters

Is the movie flawless? Of course not. Some material gets glossed over and there are abrupt shifts in tone, making things feel melodramatic at times. But “Straight Outta Compton” is an engrossing and important film that should be seen immediately. It tells a significant story about significant musicians. And it’s timely! With all the recent police shootings, talk of racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter Movement, it couldn’t have come sooner. Seeing the group perform “F—the Police” in front of a massive, enthusiastic crowd one night in Detroit seems like it could have happened yesterday. I don’t think a movie needs to be timely in order to be good but it certainly doesn’t hurt.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Man From U.N.C.L.E Review (2015)

British director Guy Richie has lost his way of late. I appreciated his attempt to inject the “Sherlock Holmes” story with adrenaline, making Holmes (played by Robert Downy Jr.) into an action hero. Though I still found myself caring more about Holmes as a genius detective, unraveling complex mysteries than whether he could beat someone up or use a gun. So, while I liked 2009’s “Sherlock Holmes” it also turned into another tedious action movie. Its sequel “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” was more of the same: more cheeky Downy Jr., more repetitive action and an uninspired storyline.

 The slick, Cold War era spy throwback “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” (based on the T.V show) reinvigorates Richie’s career. He still directs with his trademark kinetic style and sense of cool but this time action and coolness take a back seat to character. The movie is still very cool but that style wouldn’t matter much if the central spy duo (played by Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer) weren’t strong.

With perfect skin, neatly combed hair and a rich, soothing voice you could listen to for hours, Cavill plays ultra suave American spy Solo. Cavill’s performance is basically the polar opposite of his brooding self-serious turn in “Man of Steel.” Cavill displays near perfect comedic timing and exudes charisma in every scene. Solo handles just about every situation with wit and grace, practically strutting from one scene to the next. Even when he’s strapped into an electric chair about to be experimented on by an ex Nazi surgeon he retains a level of cool. In the span of just two movies Cavill demonstrates impressive range. Who knew the bland Superman actor could be so smooth and funny.

Meanwhile (sporting a thick Russian accent) Hammer plays the intense Soviet spy Illya. He’s an intimating six feet five inches and, in the words of another character, “built like a power lifter.” Illya isn’t someone you’d want to get cornered by in a dark alley. Even Solo is a little taken aback by his presence at first; “he ripped the back off my car!” he exclaims in puzzlement after Illya chases him down a dark Berlin street on foot like the T-1000 from “Terminator 2.” Though Hammer also gets to be playful and charming. For example, when German mechanic and fellow spy Gabby (Alicia Vikander) is trying on clothes to go undercover as his wife, Illya intervenes, claiming that a Soviet wife wouldn’t wear the clothes she’d tried on and proceeds to pick out the outfit for her. Hammer hasn’t done much of note since his duel performance as the Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network.” Here, he gives his first accomplished leading performance.

Together Cavill and Hammer are immaculate, playing off each other wonderfully and giving the movie balance. We don’t want too much of the suave agent, just as we don’t want too much of the menacing one. Richie keeps the focus of the picture on their turbulent, banter-ey dynamic. As enemy spies being forced to work together Solo and Illya are constantly trying to one up each other-- putting mini tracking devices in each other’s stuff or seeing who has the best gadget to cut through a chain-link fence to sneak into a top secret facility. At the same time, through their begrudging rivalry, we begin see a common understanding between them that makes Solo and Illya into an effective team. They’re both talented at what they do and acknowledge their status as puppets in a war between two major countries. The nationalistic tension still exists but there’s a mutual respect.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about “U.N.C.L.E.” is the action and how little there is. Both “Sherlock Holmes” features were full of relentless, nonstop action but in “U.N.C.L.E.” the action is used sparingly and effectively. There are only about five  major action set pieces that are well spaced throughout the movie’s one hundred and sixteen minute running time. And they play second fiddle to the Hammer/Cavill relationship, instead of being the focal point of the film.

On top of that, Richie finds new and clever ways to capture the action. Boat chases have become such a tired cliché in action cinema; in “U.N.C.L.E.” however, Richie stages his boat chase from Solo’s perspective as he sits in a truck, watching Illya fend for himself on the water. The song “Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera” by Peppino Gagliardi plays on the truck radio in the background. The sequence is funny and the change in perspective makes it fresh and exciting. We also see innovation in Richie’s handling of the nighttime raid on a small island. What could be a generic, fifteen-minute raid sequence is turned into a brief five-minute montage using split screen (sometimes the screen is divided in up to eight small segments). Again, Richie makes this standard action scene feel new and makes good use of the tacky split screen device.

Also worth singling out is the lively and diverse soundtrack. In addition to using existing songs from the time period, Daniel Pemberton’s original score pays homage to the old school orchestral spy scores by Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin, as well as other cinematic legends like Ennio Morricone. The score is a crucial component-- enhancing the action and strengthening the film’s fun, chic 1960’s atmosphere.

The actual plot of “U.N.C.L.E.” involving Nazis, nuclear warheads and the retrieval of yet another flash disk, is slight but the movie is light on its feet and the attention to character is so strong that it doesn’t matter much. The only major flaw in Richie’s movie is that Alicia Vikander is underused. Vikander is another rising star that has been on a roll this year (in movies as diverse as “Ex Machina” and “The Testament of Youth”). While Gaby certainly isn’t weak, she’s forced to be a third wheel to Solo and Illya. Vikander still gets to be funny and sexy but the character doesn’t play as prominent a part as our two male spies.

Even so, “The Man From “U.N.C.L.E.” is smart, funny, stylish character driven picture. There’s just enough action to keep things from feeling repetitive or draining. It’s Guy Richie’s best film since “Snatch” and it showcases the immense talents of three up and comers. I’ll be curious to see how the film does at the box office. I don’t think there’s much interest (among young movie-goers) in a “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” movie and the marketing makes it look like yet another generic action heavy spectacle.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Ricki and The Flash Review (2015)

To be honest, Jonathan Demme’s “Ricki and The Flash” sounds supremely bland on paper and looked even worse in the trailers. Meryl Streep plays Linda Brummel aka Ricki, who years ago abandoned her family to pursue being a rock musician in L.A. Now she’s Total Foods cashier by day and lead singer of amateur rock band The Flash by night. She’s told by her ex husband Pete (Kevin Kline) that their daughter Julie (a feisty Mamie Gummer) was left by her husband. So she hops on a plane to Indiana to reconnect with her estranged family. It all sounds cliché (and it is) but the movie excels in its execution— primarily through atmosphere as well as script and acting.

Demme taps into that universal feeling of awkwardness we sometimes experience during tense, heated confrontations. We’ve all been in those situations where an argument between friends or family members breaks out and we’re stuck in the room longer than we want to be. This is achieved by stretching out the confrontations and taking more time than necessary to show the facial expressions of characters as they react to what’s going on around them.

When Ricki and Pete go to dinner with Julie and their two other kids and an argument breaks out, Demme goes around the table showing everyone’s facial expressions as they react to mean words being traded, emphasizing the tense atmosphere. In another scene, Ricki and Julie have just finished arguing and Julie has stormed off to her room in anger. At this moment another director might have just cut immediately to the next scene but instead he keeps the camera on Ricki and Pete for a few more seconds, as they stand there quietly, with awkward looks, unsure of what do to next. Demme isn’t in a hurry to tell his story and often times the facial expressions reveal more about a character than their dialogue.

These prolonged moments peppered throughout scenes add a layer of authenticity to the derivative material in “Ricki and The Flash.” Just like Robert Altman used overlapping audio to evoke the mood and energy of a scene, Demme uses reaction shots. For example, when Ricki arrives at her oldest son’s wedding (sticking out like a sore thumb) the camera lingers on the random guests and their looks of disgust and contempt. During Ricki and The Flash live shows Demme shows the faces of the various audience members as they smile and nod along to the performance. Demme makes communal spaces like these come alive; they’re not just two dimensional sets for the primary actors to stand and perform in front of but living breathing environments.

It also helps that “Ricki and The Flash” has an energetic script by Diablo Cody (“Young Adult,” “Juno”) full of sharp, acid tongued dialogue. Anytime the movie starts to slip into melodramatic territory, a character will interject with a hilariously awkward out of left field stinger. Cody’s script achieves a near perfect balance of comedy and drama; the movie deals with some rather heavy subjects (abandonment, attempted suicide, etc.) but the humor keeps it from being relentlessly dour. At the same time, the comedy never undercuts the dramatic impact or betrays the connections between characters.

Not surprisingly, the acting is top notch. Streep once again proves she’s one of the best working actors, giving a loopy, giggly and compassionate performance as Ricki—a sixty six year old rocker with the spirit and etiquette of a twenty year old. She doesn’t fit in with the conventionality and refinement of suburban Indiana; Staying at Pete’s clean, modern mansion she’s flabbergasted by the vastness of the kitchen and the almost pool sized bathtub. This “fish out water” stuff works much better than it should, mostly due to Streep. And she makes for a convincing rocker; seeing the joy and enthusiasm she has while performing makes you at least partially understand why she gave up her former Midwestern life.

Kline is also strong as the stiff, mild mannered Pete who’s always trying to diffuse the tense familial situations (I’d say his performance alone is fifty percent facial reactions) and musician Rick Springfield gives a tender performance as Ricki’s supportive band member/boyfriend Greg.

In the end, “Ricki and The Flash” is light and familiar; the story doesn’t yield any major surprises and Cody’s script could definitely cut deeper. Additionally, the ending enters into hokey territory. But I was OK with of all of this. Demme and the actors come together and create such a genuine, entertaining filmic environment that a little silliness and cliché is deserved. “Ricki and The Flash” is no doubt the biggest surprise of the year so far.