Ricki and the Flash – Not Too Flashy, Just Right

When I heard about this film, I was intrigued. Meryl Streep playing a rock musician? It sounded pretty awesome. The promotional picture looked pretty cool too. One thing is for sure: Meryl looks great holding a guitar and wearing leather. Amazing for a woman in her sixties! Anyways, aesthetics aside, I really enjoyed this movie. But upon further reflection, if anyone else, or more specifically, a less top billed actor played Ricki, it would not have delivered the same punch. The story itself was, well, a little forgettable. A mother who essentially abandons her three children and husband to live her dreams as a musician, is beckoned home due to some family drama. It has all the makings of an indie family drama and isn’t very unique or fresh. The characters weren’t surprising, nor were the settings. The fact that the family was wealthy felt very hollywood to me as well. Perhaps this was done on purpose to juxtapose Ricki’s life, but it just didn’t work for me, felt too fabricated. The cinematography, direction and editing were par for the course as well. Nothing special here. This surprised me, since the director is Jonathan Demme, yes the one who once directed Silence of the Lambs. What makes the movie go from medicore to enoyable truly is Meryl Streep lending her talents. Without her, the film would have fallen flat. I recommend – but just know this film is really only as good as Meryl.


The Duff – Everything That It Seems

Who doesn’t love a good coming of age film? The turmoil of the years bridging the metamorphosis of child to adult are perfect fodder for drama and comedy: embarrassing moments, cliques and belonging, awkward romances, and of course fighting against the powers that be. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing characters going through the harrowing times of teenage hood and coming back victorious and changed. The Duff delivers on all of this, but honestly there isn’t much new here. The acting, casting and dialogue were entertaining and sharp, and the addition of the influence on social media on belonging and shaming was fresh. The usual teen tropes were played with as well – the “hot” girl was still the bully – but the other “hot” girls were intelligent, and contributed more than just having a pretty face. And indeed the entire premise of the film – the typical coming of age formula but as experienced by the sidekick (think a female Duckie from Sixteen Candles)  – seems new, but really it is the same ole formula. Perhaps I am too old, and have seen too many of these movies. And perhaps I unfairly compare all new coming of age films to movies such as Heathers, The Breakfast Club  and even the more recent Easy A, but I would have to say that this film isn’t as great as it could be. I feel it never captured truly how awful the teen years can be. It seemed to skirt the issue of belonging and never got serious enough to make you worry for the main character. I always knew things would turn out ok for her. And why? Because it is the same plot of the other hundreds of teen movies out there. I recommend this film if you want to watch something mellow and neutral on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – Yes, Let’s!

I just finished reading Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by Davis Sedaris. No, not read, devoured. I can’t remember enjoying a book this much in a awhile. It was so entertaining, so funny, so brutally honest. Sedaris is an excellent writer, humorist, and his anecdotes shine light on the painfully true insights encased within. It is a quick read, each chapter a essay. As Sedaris is known for, most of the chapters are stories of his life – growing up in his rowdy childhood home with his four sisters and brother, his relationships with his parents, moving out as a young adult, traveling the world. Sprinkled throughout are six essays in which he writes from the perspective of a fictional person of his creation. The best part of this book isn’t the constant laugh out loud moments, or the way the prose quickly unravels each ridiculous moment, but in how at the end of each one a nugget of truth lies. Almost sobering, but not quite too dark, lies a truth you and I know to be true but don’t want to admit it. It is easy to laugh at Sedaris’ complete honesty of the mean, bad  and stupid things he has done, thought or said, but it is another emotion entirely when you realize you yourself have been guilty of the same behavior. I heartily recommend this book.

The Martian – A Very Unpopular Opinion

There are few things in life I love more than a good sci-fi. Especially realistic sci-fi. Films such as Primer, Moon, Gravity, Her and the more recent Ex Machina top my favorites list. This is why when I heard the recent Oscar buzz and saw the overwhelming positive (93% Tomatometer as of today) reviews, I thought I was in for a treat. Yes, I said thought. Now don’t get me wrong, The Martian is entertaining enough. However, the reviews and the overall buzz just don’t add up to me. When I see an approval rating in the 90’s I assume I am going to see an incredible film that will blow my socks off. Which makes this movie all the more disappointing. The science in the film is neat – really it is a pretty simple premise -Mark Whatney (Matt Damon) must “MacGyver” his way around the lonely red planet in order to survive until help reaches him, after being mistakenly left behind. It really felt like one thought experiment after another, and that was fun and enjoyable. In addition, the cinematography and effects were dazzling, leaving me hankering for a repeat read of the The Martian Chronicles in the near future. The acting was well done too. However, the characters lacked depth. I kept waiting for the writers to reveal Whatney’s background story, about his family back home, anything to be able to connect with him. His chirpy one  liners throughout exacerbated this problem – he rarely looks as stressed out and defeated as one would be while going through such a harrowing experience. He just whistles along, happily cracking jokes while everyone freaks out around him. Despite being the main character, he literally felt like he was a “good idea” delivery system – merely there to show us the cool ways one could survive on a foreign planet. To make things worse, back home on Earth NASA could not be more bland: the rule loving , unemotional director, the PR specialist who only cares about good press, the emotional, kind scientists, even a on-the-spectrum brilliant scientist/student who comes up with the winning solution towards the end. They are all cardboard cutouts – nothing new here. There is a part in the film where Whatney comes across abandoned equipment on the red planet. I actually held my breath, excitedly thinking there are aliens, or this was left behind by a previous astronaut! But no! No twists, no turns, nothing unexpected. Intersteller did not receive as good reviews, but I enjoyed it much more thoroughly. Why? It kept me guessing and I am still thinking about it. A story is empty without the people behind it – and forgettable at best. Ridley Scott knows this. Remember Ripley in Alien?  Alien would not have been half as good and memorable without that amazing character.  The flat characters and poorly written dialogue in The Martian lends me to recommend this film – but only as a rental.

Saturday = (Light) Foreign Flick Night: Review of Zero Motivation

Craving a film that was unique yet not too heavy, I decided to give a foreign flick a go – something I haven’t done in awhile. The film is called Zero Motivation – billed as a smart, dark comedy detailing the lives of three young women in the conscription in Israel, serving their required two years in the IDF. I popped a big bowl of popcorn and invited a friend over telling her I had a comedy for us to watch. Now, to be clear this friend is adventurous and used to my risky film watching behavior – we joke often about the ridiculous and sometimes traumatic films I have exposed her to. So when the Hebrew subtitles began she gave me a look like, “what am I in for this time?” However, we were both pleased with the film. Although dealing with such heavy handed themes such as military, suicide, national identity, gender equality and even sexual assault, it never gets too incredibly dark or heavy. Intelligent comedy bookends the darker moments, leaving the viewer with a palatable taste in their mouth, while thinking about the themes later after the credits roll. One of the major themes was of gender equality – a theme I am passionate about. The commentary was fresh though, beneath the lens of a perspective that was new to me. All in all, this film was entertaining, intellectually stimulating, taught me new things about a culture I am all but unfamiliar with, and provided some good laughs. I recommend heartily.