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Knight at the Movies: Rock 'n' roll Meryl
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

This article shared 3663 times since Wed Aug 5, 2015
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Someday I'd like to see a YouTube compilation of Meryl Streep in all her character get-ups, acting with herself and chewing up scenery like there's no tomorrow.

When my imagination gets going, I like to think of all those Streep characters residing in a hotel for women—Streep women. Kind of like the Footlights Club, the residence for single actresses in Stage Door. There they are: the conniving, singing witch in the recent Into the Woods; the shrieking, drug addled harridan in August: Osage County; the helmet-haired, snaggletoothed Margaret Thatcher of The Iron Lady; the terse, unyielding nun of Doubt; the marshmallow-voiced, giggly French chef in Julie & Julia; the frost-haired ice queen fashion editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada; and on and on, going back almost to the beginning of Streep's movie career. The collection of accents and hairstyles, not to mention the skill set Streep mastered for each character, would be jaw-dropping to see in a mash-up.

We have another of these outsized, exacting creations in Ricki and the Flash, Streep's newest film in which she essays an aging rock 'n' roll singer who works a grocery-store cash register by day and continues to pursue her dreams of Melissa Etheridge-Stevie Nicks-Ann and Nancy Wilson success by night at a tatty bar. As usual, Streep digs into this woman like there's no tomorrow. No detail—including Ricki's rock star braids, pierced ears, leather jacket and boots—has been left untended. There's even a prominent tattoo on Ricki's back. And, of course, she wields a guitar like nobody's business, fingering it with the expertise of a seasoned musician.

Ricki left behind her husband and her kids years ago to pursue her career. But after a call from her ex-husband ( Kevin Kline ) that their daughter is in emotional freefall over the end of her marriage, Ricki heads home. "Home" in this case is a palatial McMansion in a gated community in Indiana that the ex now shares with his second wife ( Audra McDonald ). But she's out of town, so, for a while, Ricki is left alone to try and bond with her emotionally bereft offspring ( played by Mamie Gummer, Streep's real-life daughter ) and restore her relationship with the husband and now two grown sons. Things are rocky, of course—"Oh my God, she's parenting! Someone get a camera," says the bitter gay son when he sees Meryl for the first time in several years—but eventually Ricki holds sway.

Later, when she returns for the wedding of the other son with her rock boyfriend ( Rick Springfield, who is as sexy as ever ) in tow, the film descends into the oldest of movie tropes—the stodgy conservatives versus the unfit, socially unacceptable mother. Can grandma rock ( and her rockin' boyfriend ) turn the tide with a heavy dose of that old demon rock 'n' roll? Diablo Cody scripted, Jonathan Demme directs and miraculous Meryl, as usual, finds moments of real, gut-wrenching emotion that transcend this mostly old-fashioned but very entertaining nonsense.

Back in the pool

The legendary Olympic gold medal-winning diver Greg Louganis, who paved the way for a generation of athletes to come out when he did so decades ago, is the subject of a new documentary Back on Board: Greg Louganis, which premiered on HBO Aug. 4 and will screen throughout the month. It would seem that we know all there is to know about Louganis, thanks to years of openness that began with his intensely honest 1995 memoir Breaking the Surface. That film detailed Louganis' battles with others' homophobia, his HIV-positive status, his bouts with insecurity and depression, and his lack of endorsement deals. ( He's perhaps the only Olympian whose image never graced the cover of a Wheaties box. )

And while filmmaker Cheryl Furjanic details all this in the documentary—along with Louganis's extraordinary achievements—she also captures the long-since-retired 55-year-old at a moment when he is in the midst of a series of personal and professional crises. After years of shaky finances and less-than-stellar career choices—much of it, he contends, due to the advice of his former lover and manager—the silver-haired, still foxy Louganis finds himself about to lose his house. Candid and stressed out, but still retaining his humor and optimism, Louganis charts a new path for himself which Furjanic records. Now married to his partner ( whose ceremony we witness ) for two years and back on solid ground financially, the Louganis we meet in Back on Board remains an inspirational figure for both Our People and the world at large.

Best of Enemies

In 1968, ABC was dead last in the ratings and had little money to cover the presidential conventions when it hit on hiring the arch-conservative columnist William F. Buckley and his most bitter enemy—the ultra-liberal, flamboyant and unapologetically gay author Gore Vidal—to discuss the campaign issues in a series of debates on the network.

The heated conversations between two of the country's most renowned intellectuals made for great television, capped by Buckley threatening to punch out his "queer" adversary after Vidal called him a "crypto-Nazi." Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville's documentary of the debates—and the two opposing men at its center—is appropriately titled Best of Enemies, and opens in Chicago at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., on Friday, Aug. 7.

Upcoming movie calendar

Highlights from films opening in Chicago, Aug. 7 and 14 ( or available digitally ):

Back on Board: Greg Louganis ( available now on HBO )—The legendary, openly gay athlete is profiled in a new documentary airing on HBO. See listing details above.

Jenny's Wedding ( available now VOD )—Katharine Heigl stars as Jenny, a lesbian who is open everywhere in her life except with her immediate family. When she falls in love with Kitty ( Alexis Bledel ) and the two decide to marry, her decision threatens to tear apart her conventional family. Tom Wilkinson, Linda Emond, Mamie Gummer and Chicago-based actor Ann Hageman ( Hannah Free ) co-star. Written and directed by Mary Agnes Donoghue.

Best of Enemies ( 8/7 )—It's a documentary about William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal debating the issues in 1968. See listing details above.

Fantastic Four ( 8/7 )—Yup, it's another reboot of yet another comic-book superhero franchise. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell co-star. Aug. 7

Ricki and the Flash ( 8/7 )—Meryl Streep's latest starring vehicle. See listing details above.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ( 8/14 )—It's Guy Ritchie's big-screen adaptation of the 1960s spy TV hit with hunks Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer taking on the iconic roles of CIA agent Napoleon solo and his KGB counterpart, Illya Kuryakin. Hugh Grant and Alicia Vikander co-star.

Tom at the Farm ( 8/14 )—Canadian gay filmmaking auteur Xavier Dolan stars in this homoerotic thriller about the surviving partner in a gay couple who arrives at the remote, childhood farm of his deceased lover and immediately encounters trouble with the lover's oddball mother and her surviving and intensely homophobic son. Screened at Reeling last year, the film now gets a theatrical run at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., beginning Friday, Aug, 14.

This article shared 3663 times since Wed Aug 5, 2015
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