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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 20 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 25
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Hard to take eyes (or ears) off of Eastwood's Boys
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Everyone knows a song sung by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons whether they realize it or not. Their signature tunes, stuff like 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You,' 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Walk Like a Man,' having a timeless singularity to them that transcends genre and era. With Valli's unique voice giving them inspiring resonance, the group's influence can be felt in wide-ranging fashion spanning the gamut between Rock, Pop, Country, R&B and Hip Hop, making them as vital a part of 1960s musical American as any artist birthed during the decade.

Clint Eastwood probably seemed like an unlikely choice to helm a movie version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Jersey Boys, the chronicling of Valli and his bandmate's rise to fame not initially seeming as something that would be in the Unforgiven, Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby filmmaker's wheelhouse. Yet his old Hollywood, tried and true sensibilities work rather well as far as the telling of this particular story is concerned, and while certain elements do indeed fall a little flat, overall his adaptation of the smash musical manages to pack quite the melodiously punch all the same.

It helps considerably that he made the decision to bring Tony-winner John Lloyd Young along for the ride, the remarkably talented actor reprising his role as Valli from the Broadway stage. He is magnificent, holding each scene with a magnetic resonance that's continually hypnotizing. He knows this character inside and out, mining his complicated emotional territories, bringing me to tears and rousing me to euphoric ecstasy with shocking ease. Young has moments here that ripped my heart out with subtle ferocity, signature moments during the climactic stretch involving his daughter Francine (Freya Tingley) and the subsequent birth of 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You' indescribably mind-blowing.

He's not the only one Eastwood culled from theatrical presentations of the material. Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda were part of the national touring company, each reprising their roles here giving bang-up performances in the process. Renée Marino was part of the Broadway production, and while her time on-screen as Valli's first wife Mary Delgado is cut a little short, the chemistry and intimacy she manages to ooze alongside Young is palpably authentic right from the start all the same.

The story itself is in many ways your typical rise, fall and rise again piece, chronicling Valli's early days eking out a survival in his close-knit New Jersey neighborhood alongside best friend and smalltime hoodlum Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). With the blessing of local crime kingpin Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) the pair, with friend and bassist Nick Massi (Lomenda), form a semi-successful musical group. But it isn't until they add someone from outside the neighborhood, piano player and songwriter Bob Gaudio (Bergen), that things start to take off, the talented lyricist adding the missing piece to the puzzle setting them all on the fast-track to success.

Even if it's all true (more or less), from that point forward things follow a relatively predictable path. What makes it interesting is that screenwriters Marshall Brickman (Manhattan Murder Mystery) and Rick Elice retain the conceit from their show of having the three secondary members of the Four Season (i.e. not Valli) directly address the audience, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall in order to hammer certain plot points home. It allows them all to have their own idiosyncratic imprint on what is going on and why, making the film something of a musical Rashômon forcing the viewer to decide which parts are embellished and which are the honest truth.

At the same time, it should be noted that in some ways Eastwood's old school sensibilities do let him down a time or two. The movie has trouble maintaining organic momentum, the visual styling, the way scenes are attached to one another, it all tends to feel a little dry, a little stilted, every now and then. Momentum can be hard to come by every now and then, and whenever the drama slows down to garner extra insights into the deteriorating relationship between Valli and DeVito things get more than a little bit bumpy. Walken's presence, while not unappealing, is also a little on the distracting side, his familiar ticks and tricks calling way too much attention to themselves in what is otherwise a sea of fresh-faced, unrecognizable newcomers.

But the musical moments are to die for, especially the birthing of both 'Sherry' and 'Big Girls Don't Cry,' while the debut of 'Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You' is absolutely stupendous. The last twenty minutes of the motion picture is decidedly strong, and even with some old age makeup that makes the prosthetics used in Eastwood's J. Edgar look photorealistic in comparison (this is not a compliment) the last moments are undeniably magnificent. There is a power to be found here that took me by total surprise, all of it brought home thanks to a performance from Young that's easily one of the best I'm going to see in all of 2014.

I've never seen the stage version of Jersey Boys. I can't tell you how it compares to this adaptation. And, in all honesty, I shouldn't be forced to. Cinema should speak for itself, and while some things decidedly work better on the stage than they do when projected inside a movie house, the dramatics strengths lurking and lingering inside Eastwood's latest are impossible to dismiss, and harder to resist, nonetheless. This girl did indeed cry while watching the film, and if I were to watch it again, I bet I'd have just as much trouble taking my eyes off of it a second time around as I did the first.


22 Jump Street a funny, if familiar, sequel
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

22 JUMP STREET
Now playing


I find that I could probably write the same review for 22 Jump Street I did for its predecessor 21 Jump Street. Character development? Not important. Continuity? Shaky at best. Narrative structure? It comes close to being nonexistent. Plot? Unimportant in the extreme, almost as if it were an afterthought on the part of the returning team of filmmakers, notably directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller and stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.

But is it funny? The answer to that question is a rousing, unequivocal yes, the movie containing more laughs in its first 15 minutes than most features can manage in a full 90 (let alone the close to two hours this sequel runs). There are moments that had me wiping tears from my eyes, Tatum and Hill proving once again they are a comedy team for the ages, showcasing the potential to be mentioned alongside the all-time greats. They are the reason this works nearly as well as it does, the heights it soars to in most rights due to them and them alone.

Be that as it may, I'm not completely certain it's enough this time around. The movie is constantly commenting on itself, making sure viewers understand in no uncertain terms that the comedy they are watching is a sequel to a popular hit many didn't think was going to be so, let alone that it would also turn out to be, you know, good. It also is quite knowledgeable about the fact that, by and large, comedy sequels are never, ever successful, attempting to lower expectation just as it delivers a laugh-out-loud sucker punch almost impossible to see coming.

And it's terrific those moments are there, because I'm hard-pressed to believe I'd be willing to recommend 22 Jump Street, let alone to admit to having enjoyed it, if they hadn't popped up with such effervescent frequency. The fact the plot is such a massive afterthought did weigh on me after a point, as did the reliance on tons of supposedly humorous situations revolving around the fact undercover officers Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) are 'partners,' and for the life of me I can't quite figure out if that latter item makes the film homophobic or inspired.

Said plot, what there is of one, finds the two detectives sent to college to investigate the emergence of a brand new drug on the verge of expanding nationwide or, as their superior Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) likes to put it, the exact same thing they were asked to do when they were tasked with infiltrating a high school. Jenko infiltrates a popular fraternity, his prowess on the football field gaining them their trust after a single catch, while Schmidt becomes way more than friends with Maya (Amber Stevens), the ex-roommate of the woman the pair are investigating. They bicker, they clash and they fall apart, all of that happening on their road to reconciliation as the two-some see their friendship solidified and their desire to close the case strengthened as things near their preordained end.

Lord and Miller orchestrate everything taking place with confident flair, keeping things zipping forward, even if what's taking place isn't particularly noteworthy. They prove once again they might be the most exciting comedic filmmakers working today, knowing just which jokes to highlight and which ones to quickly move on from. They have an innate ability to make 112 minutes fly by in the blink of an eye, self-assuredly connecting dialogue and images together with whiplash precision that boldly breaks convention, setting new standards future filmmakers will undoubtedly emulate sometime soon.

But even they can't work outright miracles. The scattershot nature of the first Jump Street was mildly charming, working in direct tandem with the film itself most of the time, and rarely, if ever, in direct opposition to it. This time around the seams are far more noticeable, and not just because the sequel blatantly calls attention to the fact. It's herky-jerky storytelling in the extreme, the only thing missing is commercial breaks separating each mini-vignette from the next, everything culminating exactly as I expected it to right from the start.

Still, the most important factor is whether or not all this is funny, and thankfully it is that in spades. There are plenty of moments that had me wanting to stand up and cheer, Tatum again showing a self-effacing glee in deconstructing his own masculine image the overall effect of which on the audience is blissfully mind-blowing. His chemistry with Hill remains off the charts, the pair having a Mutt and Jeff eloquence to their exchanges that's superb.

I do wish they had made a real movie, however, and not just an excuse to crack wise and play with conventions in a somewhat self-congratulatory tone. Miller and Lord are too talented to keep running in these sorts of circles too much longer, while Tatum and Hill deserve to turn their attentions towards something edgier, less obnoxiously dim. Don't misunderstand - 22 Jump Street is a heck of a lot of fun, full of numerous, ribald laughs worthy of celebration. It's just not as satisfying this time around, at least for me it wasn't. And, as entertaining as it ultimately proves to be, if this ends up being the last ride for Jenko and Schmidt that wouldn't bother me one single bit.


Minimalistic Rover an absorbing Australian road trip
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Travel

THE ROVER
Now playing


It's been ten years since the collapse. A grizzled man (Guy Pearce) lives in the middle of the Australian outback alone and without any ties, looking to the world as a walking corpse going through the motions of pretending to still be alive. After a trio of bruised and battered men (Scoot McNairy, David Field, Tawanda Manyimo) steal his car, this nondescript loner takes it upon himself to track them down and get it back. He is aided in his pursuit by Rey (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one of the fleeing men, unceremoniously left for dead after he was mysteriously shot. They don't so much strike up a friendship as they do a partnership, each gaining something from the other they never would have obtained otherwise.

Thus begins writer/director David Michôd's gripping The Rover, a mesmerizing, minimalist Australian thriller that shows the up and coming filmmaker is much more than a one-trick Animal Kingdom pony. In point of fact, if Peter Weir, George Miller and Walter Hill (an American director, yes, but his influence is felt on every reel all the same) could be combined into a single human being, it's likely this is the type of film they probably would have made. The movie might be nondescript, it might not be much for explaining every little thing that's happening, but that doesn't make it an ounce less powerful, the coldly passionate maelstrom swirling at the center of all the histrionics as devastating as it is fascinating.

Michôd isn't afraid of silence. He uses images, his musical choices, the inherent power of certain situations and the dual performances of his two main stars to speak for themselves without additional indulgences on his part. The director sets the scene and then lets things rip, and while the film is clearly under his control, he's not above certain stylistic flourishes at the exact same time. There isn't any facet that doesn't feel completely and entirely by design, even the climactic outcomes, as overblown and as startling as they might be, having a lived-in, utterly organic feel to them, giving them an indescribable power to emotionally obliterate.

Pattinson proves once again the Twilight series should not be a proper gauge for the individual talents of the actors who all played major roles within it. He's a little showy at times, not fully grasping and engaging in all of his character's intimate details, but overall the one-time undead heartthrob does a magnificent job making Rey tick. His mental imbalances, the way he looks at life, all of it comes together nicely, leading to stunning conclusion between him and McNairy facing one another, each trying to make sense of the events that have disastrously reunited them.

But this is Pearce's show, make no mistake, and he makes another case that he's without a doubt one of the most multifaceted, and underrated, major actors working today. He does so much with so little, making our nameless wanderer - referred to in the credits as Eric, but a name never given voice to inside the film itself - a complete character with breathtakingly little effort. His pain is palpable, his history shockingly easy to define, and while his choices at first seem oddly nondescript, as things evolve it becomes increasingly clear why his obsessions are the way they are. Pearce anchors every scene with powerful, magnetic authority, his fury, his rage, all of it having an undercurrent of unbearable catastrophe linked to it that grabs hold with vice-like intensity.

The reasons behind the world's collapse, why exactly Australia has transformed into a somewhat Mad Max-style existential wasteland, none of that matters as far as the grand scheme of things are concerned. What does is that Michôd makes the world his two main characters are traveling feel realistic, that there are never any questions as to why people act the way they do and react to situations in such varying, oftentimes violent, degrees. Even the surprising, out of left field moments don't feel nearly as shocking in retrospect as they do in their initial moment, when the whole is taken in context, giving the movie a breadth and a scope going well beyond its simplistic scenario.

I wasn't the biggest cheerleader for Animal Kingdom. I had multiple problems with the film's tiredly familiar narrative, and as solid as the craftsmanship was, and as wonderful as the majority of the performances were, the movie itself didn't do a heck of a lot for me. Not so with The Rover. Michôd improves upon all the plusses that were on display in his previous effort and erases almost all of the negatives; and while this film isn't all that more original than his last one was, it feels like it is, which in the end is really all that matters. This is a seriously great motion picture, one I'm certain I'm going to be ruminating over for some time to come.






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Submissions for The Queer Press Grant are now open
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Hard to take eyes (or ears) off of Eastwood's Boys
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22 Jump Street a funny, if familiar, sequel
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Minimalistic Rover an absorbing Australian road trip
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