A few more good ones left to see this summer and one circling the drain…
See MISTRESS AMERICA! Co-writer/director Noah Baumbach’s and his muse/co-writer/star Greta Gerwig’s hilarious ode to finding your path through and post college. Freshman Tracy (Lola Kirke) is floundering in her first semester and connects with her soon to be older “stepsister by marriage” Brooke (Gerwig). They meet in Times Square and Brooke’s dazzling entrance down a neon lit red staircase like some wacky Miss America from a parallel cartoon universe says it all. Brooke immediately sweeps Tracy up and into a non-stop series of escapades through Brooke’s frenetic world. She’s an interior decorator, a spinning instructor, is in meetings to open a restaurant/community center, and is the endlessly mutable variable in her own equation: ” ‘x’ can be anything! That’s what’s so crazy about ‘x’!” she explains to the middle schooler she’s also math tutoring. A self described “autodidact” (“..one of the things I self-taught myself!”), Brooke makes one feel like anything’s possible. Tracy, a writer in the making, is initially entranced and finds in Brooke her perfect subject. And then she begins to see the limits of Brooke’s lunatic energy and endlessly unfolding ideas and schemes. Will they amount to anything? Who cares. I couldn’t stop watching, laughing, and lapping up the fizzy promise of life channeled by this crazy dreamer.
See THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.! When I first heard about this adaptation, I thought, how could it be any better than the swingin’ 60’s TV series starring suave Robert Vaughn and the blonde David McCallum on whom I had THE most incredible crush?! Well this big screen update directed by Guy Ritchie starring hunky Henry Cavill (SUPERMAN) as CIA agent Napolean Solo and Armie Hammer (THE LONE RANGER) as KGB man Illya Kuryakin is hilarious and stylish! While winking at the technology and fashion that made the cold war era super cool, the men from U.N.C.L.E. once again team up to prevent the atom bomb from falling into the wrong hands. Some things never change.
Add the saucy, versatile Alicia Vikander to the mix as Gaby, a crack car mechanic and niece of a kidnapped genius scientist, plus a screenplay that finds this chic and cheeky threesome cocktailing around the globe in designer duds playing cat and mouse with each other and the bad guys– well it’s all just plain groovy. Bickering about fashion in between slinky car chases and riotously funny spying maneuvers, Cavill and Hammer may actually have more chemistry with each other than anyone else. The only thing that would have made this caper better? Surprise cameo appearances by the original Solo and (sigh) Illya. Wonder if they’ve seen it!?
See THE GIFT: It’s a nasty tale about bullying with a twist, with Jason Bateman in an unsettling performance as Simon, opposite the marvelous Rebecca Hall as his uptight wife Robyn. The two move into a new house back in Simon’s hometown and run into Gordo creepily played by Joel Edgerton. It seems Gordo was the class weirdo and latches onto the couple, leaving gifts, hanging around to fix things, and making Simon increasingly uncomfortable. Me too. (I actually let out at least one full-on scream and jumped out of my seat, much to the amusement of those sitting nearby.) I love to be scared at the movies, and not know exactly where things are headed. So I’m not giving too much away here. This was plenty ambiguous with excellent performances, subtle direction, and an ending that’s utterly disturbing.
Don’t bother seeing RICKI AND THE FLASH: Unless you want to see Meryl Streep play a failed rock star and almost be able to sing the songs. Too many of them. The singing part of this role may finally be out of her range, but you can’t fault the actress for constantly pushing the limits. Opposite her own real life daughter Mamie Gummer (excellent in an underdeveloped part) Streep stars as a wife and mother who renamed herself Ricki Randazzo and gave it all up for fame and life on the road. But when her daughter tries to commit suicide after a breakup, Ricki leaves her bandmates who include the surprisingly effective actor/real life rock star Rick Springfield and returns home because, well, that’s what a mother should do. Kevin Kline plays her “ex” living in a bloated McMansion with his just-this-side-of-smug second wife Maureen well-played by Tony Award-winning singer/actress Audra McDonald who unfortunately doesn’t sing here. The script by Diablo Cody is loose and rangy with ill-formed scenes that don’t add up to much more than a quip here, a show-down there, and a climactic wedding scene that seals it all with Ricki delivering a half-hearted soliloquy on sexism, then belting out a Springsteen tune. Didn’t buy it, despite the cast and the efforts of director Jonathan Demme who must have left some of his mojo with PHILADELPHIA and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.