Jersey Boys: a drama with music. Clint Eastwood’s movie version of the play by the same name. Both tell the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. The group’s history is complex. The movie version is a tale of East Coast Italians. The fact that the group featured a singer with an unique falsetto sound becomes, at times, incidental to the storyline. Starting with “Sherry”, the group had many major hits including “My Eyes Adored You”. With the group’s musical heritage and with Eastwood having done the Charlie Parker film Bird, I was expecting more scenes such as the film’s closing number and the scene during the credit run of the group singing at night under a street light. Instead, the focus is on how Valli escaped the neighborhood mafia allure. The film has a slow start; the second half is much more entertaining. Whenever Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarolo, the local mafia fixer, is on screen, the movie has a positive energy. I was not so enthused by John Lloyd Young as Valli. I understand he played Valli in the Broadway version, however, on screen, there was something missing. Also, his voice lacks that Valli magic. There are amusing scenes, particularly whenever a character named Joey appears - the future Joe Pesci, played by Joseph Russo. I didn’t know Pesci and Valli were from the same neighborhood. There is also an excellent acting performance by Mike Doyle as music producer Bob Crewe. I also liked the Rawhide clip that runs before the Bob Gaudio (Eric Bergin) character losses his virginity. What doesn’t work are the drop-in scenes between Valli and his wife Mary (Renee Marino). For instance, out of the blue, Valli and Mary have three teenage daughters with one, Francine, being quite troubled. During the 134 minute playing time, there is a lot to like about the film and if you are a Four Seasons fan, you should see the movie. The film, however, is choppy and at times, particularly during the first half, it drags. It seems as if Eastwood could not decide what he wanted to do with the material: West Side Story or The Godfather.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Words and Pictures: a romantic comedy. The story takes place at a New England prep school. Clive Owen, as English teacher Jack Marcus, is the “words” and Juliette Binoche, as art teacher Dina Delsanto, is the “pictures”. In his classroom, Jack declares war as to which is more important, words or pictures. Jack is a published poet who has lost his creative spark and now has a problem with alcohol. He has been teaching at the prep school for a few years but due to his alcohol consumption, his job is in jeopardy despite the fact that he is very popular with the students. Delsanto is new to the school and she has a medical issue, rheumatoid arthritis. The obvious analogy is to Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, but for this type of film to work, there must be a certain chemistry between the lead actors and the storyline must contain crisp dialogue. When the Tracy/Hepburn scenes do occur, Gerald DiPego’s script succeeds and there are enough of these scenes to make the film enjoyable. Owen and Binoche are excellent actors. The personalities they project at the beginning of the story make you wonder how they’ll manage to connect with each other. Jack’s portrayed denial of his alcohol problem is realistic. The downside to this film, directed by Fred Schepisi, is too many subplots. The film could also have been more tightly edited. Jack is divorced and has a college age son, but their story is never developed. Although we never see the ex-wife, there are throwaway scenes with a female school trustee. There is also a sub-story involving a male student (Adam DiMarco) harassing a female student (Valerie Tian) which has nothing to do with the primary tale. In its 116 minutes, the film deals with a number of ideas, however, it is at its best when it directly involves Jack and Dina. The elimination of at least one of the sub-stories would have resulted in a more enjoyable film. Ultimately, this is a film whose parts are better than its whole. There are, however, enough positive parts that you will be pleased to have seen the movie.
Friday, June 13, 2014
The Immigrant: a drama set in 1921 New York. The film opens with a shot of the Statue of Liberty and two young women standing in line on Ellis Island. The women are sisters, Ewa and Angela. A medical clearance is required before the sisters can enter the U.S. Angela has a cough and is held on the Island. Ewa has a separate problem with the immigration officer. Something happened during the voyage from Poland and Ewa is accused of being of low moral character and banished to a separate line for deportation to Poland. Ewa then meets Bruno Weiss and her life changes as the film leads us down a fascinating but dark road to survival. Joaquin Phoenix plays Bruno and he is outstanding. Marion Cotillard plays Ewa, a woman whose raison d’etre is to gain her sister’s release into the U.S. Ewa is a difficult character but Cotillard’s acting makes Ewa believable. Corruption, including bribery at Ellis Island, moves the storyline forward. To say much more would detract from the film’s impact. Bruno is a complex character. The sisters are Catholic; Bruno is Jewish. While religion does plays a role in the story, this film is not about bigotry, notwithstanding the police’ use the word “kike” more than once. The Immigrant is a story about surviving in America. James Gray is the director and, along with the late Richard Menello, the co-writer. This two hour film is not the typical uplifting Hollywood immigrant story. Further, in this particular story, the parts are greater than the whole primarily because the story itself is a downer. In addition to uniformly excellent acting, the photography and the film’s pace set a tone that compliments the dialogue. Most of the scenes take place on the Lower East Side of New York. The look of the film is consistent with the sepia stills you’ve probably seen over the years. There are also some subtitles as not all the dialogue is in English. The cinematographer is Darius Khondji and his work, coupled with the excellent acting, results in a film worth seeing. But be warned - you may leave the theatre depressed as The Immigrant is a grim story.
Chef: a delightful food movie. When I saw the preview, I thought this might be an enjoyable film. After spending 115 minutes watching food being prepared and getting more and more hungry, I can report that words like “delightful” and “enjoyable” are inadequate. This film will bring many smiles and a few laughs. At Its foundation is a simple story line. The Chef, played by Jon Favreau who is also the writer and director, receives and reacts to a negative restaurant blog by first sending a twitter response to the critic (Oliver Platt), then physically confronting him. This face to face confrontation goes viral on youtube. Back story is that the owner of the L.A. restaurant (played by Dustin Hoffman) where Chef works refused to allow Chef to update the menu. The critic had previously praised Chef when he was young and starting out in Miami. After losing his job in L.A., Chef returns to Miami, puts together a food truck serving Cuban sandwiches and makes a triumphant return. In between, Chef connects with his 10 year old son (Emjay Anthony) who travels with him as they drive, cook and serve food from Miami to L.A., with stops in New Orleans and Austin. The film is filled with superb cameos including Robert Downey, Jr., playing Marvin, the ex-husband of Chef’s ex-wife, who is particularly charming. In one scene, it appears the script must have been misread by Marvin, nonetheless, he and Chef keep playing it out, which results in one of a number of funny episodes that occur throughout the film. Scarlett Johansson also has a charming role. Other prominent players are Sofia Vergara as Chef’s ex-wife and John Leguizamo as the line cook who follows Chef to Miami and back to L.A. In addition to the food, there is Cuban music present throughout the second half of the film. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the sound. The family story is positive, the music is wonderful and then there is the food. You owe it to yourself to see this film.