Pick of the Week
Ricki and the Flash (Sony)
Did you catch Ricki and the Flash in theaters? Based on its box-office returns, chances are the answer is “no.” There’s also a good chance you weren’t enticed by posters and trailers that made it look like a by-the-numbers heartwarming story of a family that learns to love each other. It’s not. Written by Diablo Cody (Juno, Young Adult) and directed by Jonathan Demme, it’s a film about the messiness of relationships — between mothers and daughters, between exes, between old wives and new wives, between politics and emotions — that’s not afraid to get messy in the telling. Meryl Streep plays a woman who’s never given up on her rock-star dreams, even though she’s now playing for the same crowd at the same bar and working a day job at a Whole Foods-inspired grocery. When a crisis reunites her with her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) and her troubled daughter (Streep’s real-life daughter Mamie Gummer), old resentments surface as everyone tries to work through the trouble at hand.
That sounds like a predictable set-up, but this is a film in which characters take two steps forward and one step back. Progress gets made as new problems rise. Nobody gets fixed. There are no group hugs. The movie’s informed by the not-always-pretty ways families really work and it’s all the more moving for it. What’s more, it’s filled with great performances and the sort of loose, intimate filmmaking that Demme does so well. If any of this year’s financial disappointments deserves as a second chance at home, it’s this one.
Don’t Look Back (Criterion)
D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, which follows Bob Dylan during a 1965 tour of England, would be groundbreaking no matter who Pennebaker trained his camera on. Pennebaker’s verité approach, enabled by breakthroughs in technology that made camera and sound equipment lighter and easier to carry, helped redefine the language of documentary films — and of films in general. But it is a film about Dylan, and one that captures the singer/songwriter at the height of his early fame. He’s testy, cutting, and getting ready to throw it all out and try new approaches. Don’t Look Back has been on DVD and Blu-ray before, but, predictably, this new Criterion edition trumps its previous incarnations with a new, Pennebaker-approved transfer and a combination of an old audio commentary, and new features, including versions of songs that didn’t make it into the film.
If you will, please indulge your humble home-video correspondent a personal note: Years ago, I had the good fortune to attend a screening of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 film Ikiru introduced by Roger Ebert at the Chicago International Film Festival. This was before illness robbed Ebert of his voice when he could often be found genially holding court before screenings, both those for the general public and critics-only screenings. (Ebert remained a friendly, approachable presence even after losing his ability to speak, but his ability to interact with others changed, of course.) Of Ikiru, Ebert said it was one of the few movies he knew that might actually make those who watched it a better person. That’s a lofty claim to make of a movie, but if any movie can support it, it’s Ikiru, in which Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura plays a middle-aged bureaucrat who, diagnosed with a terminal illness, starts to question what he’s done with his life. I doubt anyone who watched Ikiru with Ebert that night disagreed. It’s a rich, moving film, and one I’ll now forever associate with Ebert, whose humane, curious approach to film — whether masterpieces like Ikiru or dreck — improved the lives of others in ways he probably didn’t even imagine. End anecdote. Ikiru‘s out on Blu-ray. You should see it.