Being the Ricardos

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Amazon Prime Video;
Drama;
Rated ‘R’ for language.
Stars Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, Christopher Denham, John Rubinstein, Linda Lavin, Ronny Cox.

Leave it to Aaron Sorkin to chronicle the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz while making “I Love Lucy” from the perspective of the show’s writers.

The entertaining docudrama Being the Ricardos provides a thorough look at the challenges of television production, focusing on a week behind the scenes of the iconic sitcom while Ball tries to save her marriage while dealing with the potential fallout of being accused of being a communist in the 1950s.

Writer-director Sorkin uses a number of narrative tricks at his disposal, beginning with a framing device involving older versions of the show’s three primary writers — Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll — played by John Rubinstein, Linda Lavin and Ronny Cox, respectively as if being interviewed for a documentary (Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy play the younger versions).

The trio end up telling the story of how Lucy (Nicole Kidman) met Desi (Javier Bardem), navigated the tricky waters of show business, got married and created an iconic show that changed the course of TV history.

During the week in question, tensions run a bit higher than usual. As Ball wonders if her career is about to end over HUAC, she argues with the writers over jokes in the show and deals with rumors of Desi’s womanizing. Meanwhile, the couple also wants to turn her impending pregnancy into a storyline, much to the chagrin of network executives at CBS, as Desi appeals to the show’s sponsor to force the issue.

It’s a lot to process in two hours, but Sorkin keeps it pithy with his trademark crisp dialogue, and the performances are terrific throughout. One clever conceit involves peering into Ball’s comedy mind as she imagines a scene coming to fruition, allowing Sorkin to re-create moments from the sitcom in black-and-white.

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Unlike with his previous film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, which was dripping in political commentary, Sorkin manages to keep any overt politicization of the subject matter at bay, hinting at the debate between the theories and realities of communism without delving too deeply into the particulars (though in interviews he likens the hysteria to modern cancel culture). He also isn’t so uncouth as to point out how “I Love Lucy” was sponsored by the Philip Morris tobacco company, and both Lucy and Desi would eventually die of illnesses known to be exacerbated by smoking.

The particulars of the story are mostly accurate in the aggregate, though in typical Hollywood fashion Sorkin has changed some details and rearranged the timeline for dramatic effect. For instance, the episode shown being produced, “Fred and Ethel Fight,” was the 22nd episode of the series, not the 37th as stated in the movie. And the communist controversy came about a year later, apparently around episode 68, months after Little Ricky was born. The episode in particular was likely chosen because its topic paralleled Lucy and Desi’s own marital troubles in the film, and provided a nice insight into Lucy’s penchant for physical comedy.

On another note, the casting as Lavin to play the older Pugh is a nice touch, as Pugh and Carroll were among the executive producers of the sitcom “Alice” that starred Lavin.

 

 

Rampage

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 7/17/18;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $98.58 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 3D BD, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures.
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jake Lacy, Joe Manganiello, Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Movies based on video games often run into trouble when the screenwriters deconstruct the original premise of the game to the point where it either barely resembles the source material or loses the sense of fun that made the game popular to begin with.

On the other hand, some arcade games have a premise that is so basic that a convoluted screenplay is almost required to translate it into a movie.

Rampage, based on the 1980s Midway smash-em-up game that gave players the option to play as one of three mutant creatures attacking a city, manages to find a balance between the two extremes, using an evil corporation storyline to explain how a gorilla, a wolf and an alligator mutate into giant monsters and lay waste to Chicago.

The film jettisons the game’s notion that there are people who morph into the creatures — an aspect of the game’s constant replayability — in favor of a storyline involving a gorilla expert (Dwayne Johnson) caught up in a corporate conspiracy to weaponize genetic engineering.

The script doesn’t delve too deeply into the tropes it needs to use to get to the meat of what the game is about, and that’s giant creatures attacking everything around them, eating people, destroying buildings and causing all-around mayhem.

Johnson is pretty much settled into his generic action-star persona at this point, to the degree that his character has a name but it doesn’t much matter what it is. This is his third collaboration with director Brad Peyton, following Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas, and the pair demonstrates a reliable confidence in delivering audience-pleasing action that doesn’t rely on over-complicating the storyline.

Likewise, Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn’t doing much more than a more benevolent take on his smarmy Negan character that made him a popular mainstay on “The Walking Dead.” But, again, it’s all in service to the central concept of getting the giant animals to a big city and trashing it.

And once they do get to Chicago, oh the destruction is glorious. It almost serves as a preview of the eventual King Kong vs. Godzilla movie. The filmmakers also took care to layer in several subtle references to the game mechanics, as revealed in one of the Blu-ray’s behind-the-scenes featurettes, the six-minute “Not a Game Anymore.”

Other featurettes, running between 10 and 12 minutes each, include a look at the stunts, the designs of the monsters, the attack on Chicago and the development of the Gorilla, George.

The Blu-ray also includes a nearly three-minute gag reel and more than 10 minutes of deleted scenes, including an excised cameo from San Andreas co-star Alexandra Daddario.

‘I’m Dying Up Here’ Season One on DVD May 29

Paramount Home Media Distribution and CBS Home Entertainment will release I’m Dying Up Here: Season One on DVD May 29. The Showtime series deals with stand-up comedians trying to make it in Hollywood in the 1970s.

The cast includes Melissa Leo, Ari Graynor, Clark Duke, Michael Angarano, RJ Cyler, Andrew Santino, Erik Griffin, Al Madrigal and Jake Lacy.

Created by David Flebotte, “I’m Dying Up Here” is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by William Knoedelseder and is executive produced by Flebotte, Jim Carrey, Michael Aguilar and Christina Wayne

The series was renewed for a second 10-episode season slated to premiere May 6.