BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017) Still Has The Songs

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Beauty-Beast-2017-Movie-Posters

It’s all about the music.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017), Disney’s live-action remake of their beloved animated classic from 1991, succeeds for the simple reason that it’s still got those songs by Alan Menken.  Everything else is gravy.

I enjoyed this new version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST so much I’m going to say something here that will be sacrilege for those who love the 1991 film version: I liked this new version better. 

Sure, I really liked the 1991 animated film and was glad it received a Best Picture nomination that year, but for me the best part of that film has always been Alan Menken’s songs.  In fact, his score was so good I’ve always thought it really deserved to be in a film with real actors as opposed to animated ones.

This 2017 version gives Menken’s music the platform it has always deserved.

The plot, of course, remains the same.  A handsome but selfish prince (Dan Stevens) is cursed for his meanness and turned into a hideous Beast.  His servants are cursed as well, as they are all transformed into household items.

Meanwhile, in a neighboring village, an “odd” farm girl Belle (Emma Watson) who would rather read books than marry the muscular village heart-throb Gaston (Luke Evans) lives with her equally eccentric inventor father Maurice (Kevin Kline).  When Maurice becomes lost in the woods and finds himself at the Beast’s castle, he is taken prisoner there.  Belle comes to his rescue and makes a deal with the Beast to take her father’s place.

We then learn that in order to break the curse, someone must fall in love with the Beast, and the former servants who are now household objects believe Belle is this women, and they go out of their way to arrange a romance between Belle and the Beast.

This 2017 version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is probably not going to receive the recognition which the 1991 animated hit received, which is too bad because it’s a very good movie.  It’s grand entertainment from beginning to end.  That being said, it’s not without flaws, but even these drawbacks don’t derail this two-hour and nine minute musical.

Many have lamented that Disney chose as its director for this film Bill Condon, the man who directed the awful THE TWILIGHT SAGA:  BREAKING DAWN – PART 1 (2011) and PART 2 (2012),  but Condon also directed MR. HOLMES (2015), an intriguing tale of an aged, dementia-suffering Sherlock Holmes, and GODS AND MONSTERS (1998), an equally engaging movie about the later days of FRANKENSTEIN director James Whale, both films starring Ian McKellen in the lead roles, who also appears here in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

Condon’s work here is closer in quality to MR. HOLMES and GODS AND MONSTERS than those horrible TWILIGHT movies.  The film is colorful and beautiful to look at, the pacing is upbeat, and for a two-hour plus film it doesn’t drag at all, and the musical numbers are lively and satisfying.

Emma Watson has also been receiving her fair share of criticism for a rather flat portrayal of Belle.  Sure, Watson doesn’t play Belle like a princess.  She plays her like a bookish farm girl who is more interested in imagination than romance, which is exactly how Belle should be portrayed.  So, while I agree that at times Belle isn’t the most exciting woman on the planet, she’s not supposed to be.  I thought Watson nailed Belle’s persona.

I did have a little bit of a problem with the CGI used on the Beast, and it’s not that the Beast looked fake— he looked fine— but that he looked a bit too handsome.  He’s not very beastlike in appearance.  He’s not hideous or revolting or frightening.  He’s pretty darn good-looking for a beast.  I kept thinking of that line from the song “Werewolves of London”:  And his hair was perfect.

As the Beast, Dan Stevens does a serviceable job providing the voice, and even displays some well-timed humor when he’s the prince at the end of the movie.

The rest of the CGI effects on the occupants of the castle are unusually understated and simple. Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Chip all look rather plain. Some have interpreted this as inferior CGI, but I liked this effect.  It kept the film from going down the road of high silliness.

Kevin Kline turns in a nice performance as Belle’s father Maurice, and he enjoys some fine moments.

But hands down the two best performances in the movie belong to Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou.  Now, in the 1991 animated version, these two provided the comic relief and were over-the-top ridiculous.  As such, they were probably my least two favorite characters in the 1991 version.  It’s the exact opposite here.

While they remain over-the-top and again provide comic relief, both Evans and Gad add so much more to their performances, giving these characters nuances which simply weren’t there in the original.  Evans, as the handsome cad who every woman in the village other than Belle pines for, plays this aspect to the hilt, but he also grounds the character with a sense of military realism that makes Gaston more of a three-dimensional villain here.

As good as Evans is, Josh Gad is even better as LeFou.  He provides several laugh-out-loud moments in this movie, and he makes LeFou much more than just the mindless bumbling sidekick we saw in the animated version.  This LeFou is a real person.  Much has been made about the gay angle of the character, and all I can say is it works wonderfully and it’s a natural progression for the character.

Ewan McGregor is serviceable as Lumiere, but the rest of the cast is hardly noticeable, and this includes some big names.  Ian McKellen barely registers as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson, while fine as Mts. Potts, doesn’t stand out either.  Even Stanley Tucci is restrained as Maestro Cadenza.  But somehow, none of this really gets in the way of the success of this movie.

And to come full circle, the reason again is the music by Alan Menken.  Somehow, those songs sound even better today.

Menken’s music score and songs have always cried out for a live action rendition.

The 2017 version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is that rendition.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

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Best Movies of 2016

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La La Land (2016)Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in LA LA LAND (2016

 

Here’s a look at my picks for the Top 10 movies of 2016.  Of course, while I do see a lot of movies— 58 this year, and that’s just theatrical releases—  I’m not able to see every movie that comes out, and so this list is limited to only those movies I have seen.

We’ll start with #10 and count down to #1:

 

10. THE INFILTRATOR

infiltrator-poster

Excellent performance by Bryan Cranston powers this crime drama which tells the true story of how U. S. Customs Official Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) went undercover to take down a  Columbian drug lord.

 

9. THE JUNGLE BOOK

Loved this remake of Disney’s animated THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967), and I’m a huge fan of that original 1967 animated classic.  Special effects here were amazing, and I really liked how director Jon Favreau made this family friendly film a serious hard-hitting adventure.

 

8. DEADPOOL

deadpool-movie-poster

The role Ryan Reynolds has been waiting for.  Sure, this vulgar, violent tale isn’t for everybody, but the humor is spot-on.  My second favorite superhero movie of the year. Best part is it is so unlike other traditional superhero movies.

 

7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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My pick for the best superhero movie of 2016.  Plays much more like THE AVENGERS 2.5, rhis exciting tale pits Team Captain America vs. Team Iron Man, and the rift between these two friends comes off as real and believable, something that the similarly themed BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) failed miserably at.  The scenes with newcomer Tom Holland as Spider-Man are off-the-charts good.

 

6. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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Hilarious comedy-drama starring Hailee Steinfeld as a seventeen year-old dealing with life as a teenager.  Things get complicated when her best friend starts dating her older brother.  Topnotch script and direction by writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig.

 

 

Now we get down to my picks for the Top 5 movies of 2016:

5. HANDS OF STONE

hands-of-stone

Critics panned this movie, but I absolutely loved this boxing pic about boxing champ Roberto Durant.  Edgar Ramirez  gives a spirited performance as Roberto Durant, and he’s supported by a fine cast which includes Robert De Niro, Ruben Blades, and Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard.  Excellent movie, much better than critics gave it credit for, although admittedly I am a sucker for boxing movies.

 

4. HELL OR HIGH WATER

hell-or-high-water-poster

Easily could be my pick for the best movie of the year, this impeccably made crime drama follows a Texas crime spree by two brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) with an old Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) hot on their trail.  Features fantastic peformances by the three leads.  Jeff Bridges is amazing as always, and the same can be said of Ben Foster, and it’s also fun to see Chris Pine get to do a whole lot more than when he plays Captain Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK movies.  Riveting direction by David Mackenzie, and a phenomenal thought-provoking script by one of my favorite screen writers working today, Taylor Sheridan.

 

3. SULLY

Easily the most efficient film of the year, SULLY, starring Tom Hanks, and directed by Clint Eastwood, clocks in at a brisk 96 minutes, and not a minute is wasted.  It tells the emotionally riveting true tale of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, aka “Sully,” and his decision to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.  It’s an amazing story because all the passengers on the plane survived, and the film makes things even more compelling as it follows the subsequent investigation by officials who questioned Sully’s decision to land in the water in the first place.  SULLY features another remarkable performance by Tom Hanks, and yet another superb directorial effort by Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood is 86 years old, and yet SULLY plays with as much energy, oomph, and emotion as if directed by someone half that age.  I left the theater incredibly impressed.

 

2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

manchester-by-the-sea-poster

This film could also have been my number one pick of the year.  MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a finely acted drama, led by two powerhouse performances by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, about a man Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) thrust into a life-changing situation as he finds himself having to care fo for his deceased brother’s sixteen year-old son.  His life in a shambles due to an earlier traumatic event, Lee knows he’s not the man for the job, but since there is no on else, he pushes himself to live up to his brother’s wishes and care for his nephew. Atmospheric direction by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, with a script that is as honest and believable as they come.

And now, for my pick for the Number 1 movie of 2016:

 

 

  1. LA LA LAND

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My pick for the Best Movie of 2016 also happened to be the last movie I saw in 2016, LA LA LAND.  What a fabulous way to end the calendar year!  LA LA LAND is an absolutely wonderful movie.

I  loved the energy writer/director Damien Chazelle brings to this one.  The opening dance number on a gridlocked L.A. freeway dazzles, and the film never looks back.  Emma Stone gives the best performance of her career to date, imbuing her struggling actress character Mia with so much raw emotion and quirky pizzazz she’s one of the liveliest characters I’ve seen on screen in a long while. Ryan Gosling is just as good as jazz musician Sebastian in this uplifting almost magical musical which follows Mia and Sebastian through a romance in which they help each other achieve their artistic dreams before reality ultimately sets in, forcing them to make decisions which affect their future.  A remarkable movie and genuine crowd pleaser.

Hands down, LA LA LAND is the Best Movie I saw in 2016.

Okay, that about wraps things up for today.  Thanks for joining me in 2016, and here’s to another fine year of movies in 2017!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

LA LA LAND (2016) – The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

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la_la_land_poster

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.

So says Humphrey Bogart at the end of THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), words that perfectly sum up LA LA LAND (2016), but before you dismiss this uplifting musical from the director of WHIPLASH (2013) and starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as pure happy fluff, there’s another Bogie quote which does this movie even more justice.

From CASABLANCA (1942):  We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we— we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.

Bogie’s words of wisdom, of course from a script by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, go a long way in understanding and appreciating where the plot of LA LA LAND ultimately goes.

LA LA LAND opens with a spectacular musical dance number  on a gridlocked L.A. freeway which hearkens back to the great musicals of yesteryear. In this traffic jam, the paths of two characters, a young actress Mia (Emma Stone) and a jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), cross in a none-too pleasant way.

After this chance meeting, the two characters briefly go their separate ways.  Mia works at a coffee shop, struggling to fulfill her dream of becoming an actress, suffering through one brutal audition after another.  Sebastian is a jazz musician who dreams of opening his own club but struggles to hold onto any music gigs because he’s frustrated he can’t play the music he really wants to as he’s forced to play fluff and background music rather than true jazz.

When their paths cross again, and later again, Mia and Sebastian finally start paying attention to each other, and a romance blossoms. Not only do they get along wonderfully, but they also inspire each other’s dreams.  Sebastian gives Mia the confidence she needs to become a better actress, specifically encouraging her to bypass the awful auditions altogether and to write and star in her own one-woman show instead, while Mia nudges Sebastian towards his dream of running his own club, helping him find at long last a paying gig that will eventually finance his club.

But dreams and reality have a way of butting heads, and to become a success, more often than not sacrifices have to be made, something that Mia and Sebastian discover as they realize that their near-perfect relationship and their dreams of artistic success may be mutually exclusive.

I really really enjoyed LA LA LAND.  2016 has come to a strong close as the last two movies I saw this year, LA LA LAND and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) are among the best movies I saw all year.

First of all, just the energy level alone in LA LA LAND is enough to knock your socks off. Writer/director Damien Chazelle imbues this film with so much oomph, charm, and colorful charisma it’s hard to sit still in the theater.  You want to get up and dance.

The musical numbers here are really impressive and hearken back to so many classic musicals.  Specifically, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952) comes to mind.  The number where Stone and Gosling literally float into the air is destined to be a classic.

And since this takes place in Hollywood and is about the whole Hollywood culture, there are plenty of references to classic Hollywood movies, like the aforementioned CASABLANCA.  It’s a fabulous script by Chazelle.  He creates a heartwarming romance, brilliant and vibrant musical numbers, and a thoughtful intelligent script that doesn’t let its audience down.  Chazelle did not win the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for WHIPLASH (2013).  He may get another chance with his script for LA LA LAND.

Emma Stone is brilliant as Mia.  Hands down, this is the best performance I’ve ever seen her deliver.  She enjoys some amazing moments in this movie, moments where she completely nails it, like the excrutiatingly painful audition where she’s brushed off for a phone call, or the hilarious sequence when she spots Sebastian playing with a wedding band.

I always enjoy Ryan Gosling, and he’s great again here as Sebastian.  He’s charming, likable, and has a winning sense of humor. Best of all, Gosling makes Sebastian’s idealistic dreamer a person grounded in reality.  And that’s what I liked best about Sebastian. Other characters in the film chastize him for being an unrealistic dreamer, but just because he has dreams doesn’t mean he doesn’t possess the ability and wherewithal to achieve them.  He does, and he demonstrates this when he helps Mia with her career.

Reportedly Gosling learned how to play the piano for this movie.  After several weeks of intense piano lessons, he was able to play for his scenes in LA LA LAND without involving trained musicians for the close-up hand shots.  So, even though professionals recorded the music, when you see Gosling playing piano in the film, it’s him, and those are his hands on the keys.  Cool!

Gosling and Stone share a wonderful chemistry in LA LA LAND.  Theirs is a powerful romance in the classic tradition.  There’s not a sex scene in sight, yet the feelings they have for each other come off so strongly that I have to admit, I haven’t been rooting for a movie couple to be together as much as I was for Mia and Sebastian in years.

And LA LA LAND is definitely Gosling’s and Stone’s movie.  In spite of a huge cast of dancers and extras, in terms of characters, it’s pretty much Mia and Sebastian, and with Stone and Gosling playing these roles, that’s more than enough.

The music is also wonderful, from the dance numbers to the jazz performances.  It’s a lively score by  Justin Hurwitz.  This is one soundtrack you’ll definitely want to own.

LA LA LAND is an incredibly enjoyable movie, bursting with so much emotion you’ll be hard pressed to keep from applauding, singing along, or even dancing.  From the pure happiness of Mia and Sebastian’s early relationship, a truly magical time together, to the concern when their lives reach the point where they question what they are doing, to the inevitable ending which regardless of how you feel about it, ultimately rings true, and for me, that’s all that matters.

I loved LA LA LAND.  It’s one of the best movies of the year.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

THE HORROR JAR: THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Movies

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Lon Chaney Sr. remains the definitive Phantom of the Opera, even after nearly 100 years.

Lon Chaney Sr. remains the definitive Phantom of the Opera, even after nearly 100 years.

THE HORROR JAR: PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies

By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we compile lists of odds and ends about horror movies.  Today we look at the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies.

It still amazes me that the best version of this terror tale remains the original silent version starring Lon Chaney Sr. I love this movie, from its incredible sets to its amazing Phantom make-up created by Chaney himself, to the way it tells its story.  It’s the most compelling and exciting of all the Phantom films.

Seriously, none of the remakes come close to matching it.

Here’s the list of the lot:

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)

Directed by Rupert Julian

Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux.

The Phantom: Lon Chaney

Christine: Mary Philbin

Raoul: Norman Kerry

Ledoux: Arthur Edmund Carewe

Make-up: Lon Chaney

Running Time: 93 minutes

By far, the preeminent version of the Phantom tale. Certainly the most faithful, and the one which most fully captures the spirit of Gaston Leroux’s novel.  Chaney is the definitive Phantom, even after nearly 100 years.  He’s phenomenal.  If you’ve never seen this silent classic, you’re missing one of the finest horror movies ever made.  Don’t wait any longer.

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943)

Directed by Arthur Lubin

Screenplay by Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein

The Phantom: Claude Rains

Christine: Susanna Foster

Anatole: Nelson Eddy

Make-Up: Jack Pierce

Running Time: 92 minutes

Thoroughly entertaining movie, although I think Universal got confused when they made this remake and thought they were making a straight musical. Lots of musical numbers in this one.  Claude Rains makes for a decent Phantom, but his sympathetic interpretation of the character is less effective and far less chilling than Chaney’s.  Memorable Phantom mask, but make-up by Jack Pierce is surprisingly ordinary.

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962)

Directed by Terence Fisher

Screenplay by Anthony Hinds

The Phantom: Herbert Lom

Christine: Heather Sears

Harry: Edward DeSouza

Lord Ambrose D’Arcy: Michael Gough

Lattimer: Thorley Walters

Make-Up: Roy Ashton

Running Time: 84 minutes

Hammer’s foray into the Phantom universe. Not bad, and Herbert Lom makes for a sinister Phantom, at least during the first half of the movie, before he follows in Claude Rains’ footsteps and turns on the sympathy.  The first half of this film is among Hammer’s best, but uneven use of flashback and the emergence of a sympathetic Phantom weigh down the second half.  Tepid make-up by Roy Ashton.  Chaney’s interpretation keeps getting better and better.

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)

Directed by Brian De Palma

Screenplay by Brian De Palma

The Phantom: William Finley

Phoenix: Jessica Harper

Swan: Paul Williams

Make-Up: John Chambers

Running Time: 92 minutes

1970s rock opera version of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  Like everything else about the 70s, it’s far out, man.

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1983)

Directed by Robert Markowitz

Screenplay by Sherman Yellen

The Phantom: Maximilian Schell

Maria: Jane Seymour

Michael: Michael York

Make-up: Jim Gillespie

Running Time: 96 minutes

TV movie version of the Phantom story. Ho-hum re-telling.

 

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989)

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Screenplay by Duke Sandefur

The Phantom: Robert Englund

Christine: Jill Schoelen

Make-Up: John Carl Buechler

Running Time: 93 minutes

Inferior movie tries to take advantage of Robert Englund’s NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET popularity, but Englund’s presence simply is not enough to lift this one up.  Decent make-up, at least, but Englund’s performance as the Phantom underwhelms.  Dark, violent version lacks imagination.

 

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1990)

Directed by Tony Richardson

Teleplay by Arthur Kopit

The Phantom: Charles Dance

Christine: Teri Polo

Gerard: Burt Lancaster

Count Philippe de Chagny: Adam Storke

Make-Up: Catherine George

Running Time: 168 minutes

Elaborate TV movie version of the Phantom story.

 

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1998)

Directed by Dario Argento

Screenplay by Gerard Brach and Dario Argento

The Phantom: Julian Sands

Christine: Asia Argento

Make-Up: Alessandro Bertolazzi

Running Time: 99 minutes

It’s Dario Argento. It’s dark and it’s bloody.

 

 

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004)

Directed by Joel Schumacher

Screenplay by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher

The Phantom: Gerard Butler

Christine: Emmy Rossum

Raoul: Patrick Wilson

Running Time: 143 minutes

Film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ultra-popular musical THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.  Not bad.

 

And there you have it, all your Phantoms in one place. And not a single one tried to saw off a chandelier!  Hope you enjoyed this list of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA movies.  See you next time on another HORROR JAR.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

JERSEY BOYS (2014) Walk LIke Men

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Jersey-Boys-poster-1Movie Review: JERSEY BOYS (2014)
By
Michael Arruda

I didn’t see the stage musical JERSEY BOYS.

I’m not the biggest fan of musicals or even of Frankie Valli, for that matter, as he was a bit before my time, but I am a fan of Clint Eastwood and the myriad of quality movies he consistently makes, both behind and in front of the camera, so perhaps this might explain my feelings towards today’s movie, JERSEY BOYS, Eastwood’s film adaptation of the award winning musical. It’s getting mediocre reviews, but I enjoyed it from start to finish, so much so that in this year of mediocre movies, JERSEY BOYS just might be the best movie I’ve seen so far this year.

JERSEY BOYS tells the story of singer Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, reprising his role from the musical), as he rises from the depths of crime ridden New Jersey streets in the 1950s and sings his way to stardom. As a teenager, Valli joins a band run by his friend Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), who in his spare time does small jobs for the local mobster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Gyp loves Frankie’s voice and encourages him to make it big.

Once Bobby Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a promising young musician and songwriter, joins their group, which also includes their friend Nick (Michael Lomenda), they settle upon a name, The Four Seasons, and then they work to get playing gigs and their songs played on the radio. They persevere through early failure before they put together three number one hits in a row, “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like A Man.”

But the road to fame never comes easy for them. Tommy’s selfish behavior consistently gets in the way of the band’s success, and he owes large sums of money to the mob. Early on, Frankie falls in love with and marries the charismatic Mary (Renee Marino), and they start a family together, but Frankie’s road schedule of constant gigs takes its toll on Mary and she starts drinking, eventually forcing Frankie out of the family picture.

And just when they seem to be hitting their stride with an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, things come crashing down on them.

The thing I liked best about JERSEY BOYS was it told a good story. The screenplay by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, both of whom also wrote the musical, hits a homerun, and this comes as no surprise, knowing Brickman’s prior writing credits. Brickman’s a seasoned writer who years ago co-wrote the Woody Allen classics SLEEPER (1973), ANNIE HALL (1977), and MANHATTAN (1979).

Some have complained that the story of The Four Seasons as told in this movie is cliché ridden. I disagree. Just because there have been other stories of bands that went from rags to riches doesn’t meant that this particular story can’t be done well.

Of course, this story wouldn’t be a success if you didn’t like the main character, Frankie Valli.
From his rough beginnings in a Mafia neighborhood, Frankie comes across from the outset as a stand-up guy, even as a young sixteen year-old. He carries this persona with him throughout the story. Years later, when he should kick his friend Tommy into the street, he stands by his friend and agrees to have the band settle Tommy’s debt to the Mafia. This act of loyalty demonstrates what Valli is all about and shows why he’s determined throughout to be a success. It’s not for fame, glory, or money. It’s about living one’s life in a way that is respectful to one’s self and one’s friends. JERSEY BOYS paints a likable picture of Frankie Valli. He comes across as a decent human being trying to do the right thing, even when those around him don’t do the same.

The performances in JERSEY BOYS are all first-rate, and director Eastwood deserves a lot of credit for getting so much out of his largely fresh and new ensemble of actors. The players here all act like old pros, when in reality most of these folks are rather new to the film world.

John Lloyd Young, reprising the role of Frankie Valli from the stage musical for which he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical, is as you would expect excellent in the role. Young makes Valli a solid likeable character throughout, and he should be applauded for running the full gamut of ages here, as he plays Valli as a teen, in his twenties, thirties, and even older. It’s a terrific performance.

Erich Bergen is just as good as Bobby Gaudio. There’s something very youthful and energetic in his performance, as he captures more than any of the other three members in the band what it’s like to be in a struggling and then successful band. He’s also the member with a head on his shoulders, and he helps steer Frankie in the right direction when things get murky.

Tommy Devito is the exact opposite, as he’s the band member who is constantly putting the band at risk. As Tommy, Vincent Piazza is superb. He makes Tommy a multi-dimensional character, one you never really hate. Sure, his selfishness and mob connections do the band no favors, but early on he’s the one who gets the band started and pushes it along.

Michael Lomenda is also very good as Nick Massi, the self-described “Ringo” of the group. Nick constantly feels overwhelmed by the group’s struggles and successes, and of the four, he’s the least dynamic. Lomenda does a nice job in this low-key role.

Renee Marino is excellent in her film debut as Frankie’s wife Mary. She’s absolutely electrifying in her first couple of scenes. Unfortunately, she’s not in the film much as it goes along, and in her remaining scenes she’s pretty much reduced to a nagging wife with a drinking problem.

And Mike Doyle as the group’s producer Bob Crewe enjoys some scene stealing moments in a neat supporting role. He has some of the film’s best lines, including a few laugh out loud moments.

Christopher Walken does the “Christopher Walken” thing as mobster Gyp DeCarlo. Walken brings an instant feel of menace and respect to the role, even though not once in the movie do we ever see DeCarlo engage in anything criminal. Walken makes full use of his presence here.

There has been only a handful of Clint Eastwood films that I haven’t been nuts about— in recent years J. EDGAR (2011) and HEREAFTER (2010) come to mind— which is remarkable considering the number of movies he has starred in and directed. The thing that I like most about Eastwood’s work is he has a way of making movies that cut through the muck and get to the simple issue of likeability. Watching a Clint Eastwood movie is like sitting with a favorite uncle who’s a gifted storyteller. He knows what he’s doing, and you know what you’re in for, a quality story that doesn’t disappoint.

In JERSEY BOYS, Eastwood effortlessly utilizes the gimmick— as they did in the play— of having the characters speak directly into the camera, and he uses this to full effect. He also uses some flashback and moves back and forth in time seamlessly here.

JERSEY BOYS is impeccably made, from the sets and costumes to the musical numbers. No, JERSEY BOYS is not a traditional musical in terms of song and dance numbers. It’s a bio pic, about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. But it does contain some tremendous music, as the Four Season’s canon of songs is a good one.

All in all, JERSEY BOYS tells a solid story, is flawlessly filmed, and features strong acting performances from everyone involved. It also features classic music from The Four Seasons.

This summer at the movies, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more satisfying movie experience.

And that’s because it’s more than just a story about a band. It’s about friendship, family, loyalty, and fighting for what you want even when those around you fight against you. Christopher Walken’s Gyp utters a telling line in this one, “Do the work and everything follows.” Hard work pays off. That’s usually the case. And the harder one works the harder it gets, but you keep going anyway.

Big Girls Don’t Cry. Neither do JERSEY BOYS.

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SECOND LOOK: LES MISERABLES (2012)

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les-mis-posterSECOND LOOK:  LES MISERABLES (2012)

By Michael Arruda

 

 

I was pretty tough on LES MISERABLES (2013) when I reviewed it last year for this blog.  I think my title was, LES MISFIRE?

 

To be fair, I didn’t dislike LES MISERABLES when I saw it in the theater.  I simply was disappointed it wasn’t better, and I think it came across in my review that I wasn’t all that crazy about it. 

 

Anyway, I saw it again recently on DVD, and I have to say, I did enjoy it better the second time around.

 

While my biggest criticisms remain the same- that the film seemed to lack a soul, that it came off as completely gloomy and dark with the theme of redemption noticeably absent, and that the pacing seemed off, in that things moved too quickly without natural breaks in between scenes and songs, I did appreciate more about the film the second time around.  I even found Russell Crowe’s singing somewhat more tolerable.

 

I love the stage musical LES MISERABLES, and I suppose any film version wouldn’t be able to match the spectacle of how it plays on the stage.  This film version by director Tom Hooper didn’t even seem to try.  It dove right into a brutal realism that somehow didn’t work as well as it should have.  I mean, both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway looked phenomenal in their misery, but this gritty heavy realism came off as too dark for the bulk of the movie and detracted from the musical numbers.  It’s a case where Jean Valjean and Fantine looked so beaten and emaciated that it was difficult at times to suspend disbelief and accept them breaking into song.  The realism also made for some harsh musical numbers. 

 

I still thoroughly enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine.  Both their acting performances and singing voices were amazing.  Russell Crowe, on the other hand, was a different story.  I found his voice grating when I saw the movie the first time.  I found it slightly less harsh this time around.  I also enjoyed Crowe’s performance as Javert better the second time around and found him to be a much more dominant character than when I saw it the first time. 

 

I still was not wowed by Amanda Seyfried as Cosette, which still surprises me, since usually I enjoy her a lot.  And although his singing voice was among the best in the movie, Eddie Redmayne didn’t blow me out of the water as Marius either.

 

And the pacing of the film definitely slows down during the third act.

 

Yet, the film looked just as amazing on DVD as it did on the big screen.  Not much was lost in terms of picture quality.

 

Parts of the story also worked better for me the second time.  The blockade sequence near the end I thought fell flat on the big screen.  I found it more compelling this time around.  I remember growing restless in the theater at this point in the movie, and this wasn’t a problem in the comfort of my living room.  The chase storyline between Jean Valjean and Javert also played better at home, perhaps because of the intimacy of the smaller screen.

 

So, is LES MISERABLES worth your time on DVD? 

 

Well, it certainly provides grand entertainment, and it does a pretty nice job bringing the musical to life.  It remains to be seen whether or not making it darker, grittier, and more depressing than the stage musical was a good idea.  I wasn’t nuts about this interpretation, mostly because the sense of hope found throughout the musical seems to be lost here.  But this wasn’t enough to ruin the movie for me.

 

And with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway leading the way, and Russell Crowe doing the same, especially when he’s not singing, the cast also excels. While I do have a problem with the dark take this movie has on the story, I have to admit that I appreciated its dramatic elements better the second time around.

 

LES MISERABLES, the 2012 movie version, in spite of its flaws, is still an engaging musical and certainly worth a look.

 

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