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Film Review: “Jersey Boys”

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Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
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Broadway musicals do not always translate well to the movie screen. Screen versions of musicals directed by Clint Eastwood stand even less of a chance of translating well to the screen. Some work, some don’t: Moulin Rouge was amazing; the Footloose reboot pretty awful; I thought (and still think) Rob Marshall’s Chicago was hopelessly overrated. The best musicals, frankly, come from animation studios or Bollywood. Not the house that Dirty Harry built.

His vision of Jersey Boys sings and dances – but only just so. Eastwood is more concerned with the human drama behind the songs . . . which (and this is no fault of his) is remarkably superficial, even for a song-n-dance extravaganza staged for the express purpose of utilizing 60s juke box hits. There just isn’t much ‘there’ there.

It’s the standard Behind the Music expose, showing whose ego or love story got in the way of the band’s success, and who really deserves the blame for extinguishing the success that could have been. Eastwood doesn’t seem very interested in telling the real tale – which is why creative types let noncreative impulses destroy them. It’s also much too long at 134 minutes – the same problem Eastwood had with his ill-fated J. Edgar.

Watchable, but instantly forgettable.

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Film Review: “Third Person”

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Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Classics
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A classic case of a ‘prestige’ picture that manages to be decidedly underwhelming despite all the talent involved, Third Person is gripping but entirely forgettable at the same time.

The film is a pastiche from writer-director Paul Haggis of Crash fame who gives us three stories that are supposed to be independent but interlocked: there’s a writer (Liam Neeson) in Paris who tries to overcome writer’s block by having an affair with a power-hungry careerwoman (Olivia Wilde). Then there’s Adrien Brody, playing a cocky American in Italy who does what he can to piss off as many Romans as possible. And lastly there’s Mila Kunis as a hotel maid whose life was ruined by a child abuse case and whose lawyer (Maria Bello) is helping her pick up the pieces of her life. James Franco appears as an artist with a French fetish.

The film works in terms of dialogue but fails to really go anywhere with it. There is conflict aplenty . . . but to what end? And the connection between these stories is a little too obvious, especially in this era of huge cast movies like New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Crash. The first half is very watchable, but the second half goes from mediocre to unbearable very quickly.

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Film Review: “22 Jump Street”

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Photo Credit: Sony Pictures
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Okay, I’ll give it this much: I did laugh out loud. But I must add the disclaimer: I knew it was coming.

22 Jump Street is a mostly worthy successor to the hit buddy comedy starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, but it’s mostly just a reheated version of an old dish without any of its surprising comedic energy. The plot is essentially the same – except the duo goes undercover on a college campus, instead of a high school one.

The jokes are mostly relegated to how “old” Tatum and Hill look in comparison to the college kids they must blend in with. It’s like a masculinized version of an episode of The Golden Girls. That works in a sitcom; here, it gets old quicker than it should and can’t sustain the energy for a feature (even if it’s a mainstream cop buddy comedy).

A little too much winking at itself – and not enough at the audience. Watchable, but not memorable.

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Film Review: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”

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Photo Credit: DreamWorks Animation

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Let’s get one thing straight off the bat: the original How to Train Your Dragon is one of the exceedingly few non-Pixar animated films that are actually on par with the Pixar repertoire (and even exceeds a few of them). It is as magical and adventurous and heartfelt as the best animated films are – and withstands repeat viewings (unlike, say, The Croods or Ice Age- shudder).

The sequel, thankfully, is just as terrific as the original, stuffed full of visual hijinks and humorous gags that will keep everyone thoroughly entertained from the opening sequence. In fact, its mainstay is its spectacular and stunning flying sequences of an airborne Hiccup atop his dragon . . . and then the endless fleet of flying and warring dragons amid the clouds. This is a movie that makes you want to fly, especially when the story soars along with the visuals. You actually want to live in this world.

The plot picks up where the original left off, with Hiccup venturing into a foreign land where a villainous dragon-hoarder seeks world domination by luring, trapping and enslaving every dragon he can find. There, Hiccup meets a young pretty boy Dragon Rider played by Kit Harrington (Jon Snow, from Game of Thrones). In fact, with the all the dragons and British/Scottish accents, the movie does feel a bit like an animated Game of Thrones. Cate Blanchett also pops in to play one of the leading roles of a mystery character . . . but saying more would give away too much.

A surefire blockbuster hit, and likely the best animated film of the summer. Not to be missed.

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Film Review: “Edge of Tomorrow”

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Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
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It’s almost incomprehensible these days to give a positive review to a Tom Cruise film that isn’t from the Mission: Impossible franchise….but today is one of those rare, almost incomprehensible days.

In what is the best Tom Cruise movie to emerge in years, Edge of Tomorrow has him playing a soldier in a distant dystopian Earth where humanity is about to be killed off by a foreign species. He is killed on the battlefield, but somehow gets caught in a time loop which brings him back to the day of his death over and over again. He dies again. He is returned again. And so on and so on.

If it sounds like a futuristic, actioner version of Groundhog Day, well, that’s because it is. Cruise is still stuck in warrior mode, but he isn’t playing the greatest weapon wielder on the field: that honor goes to Emily Blunt’s Rita Vrataski, who kicks major intergalactic booty. Together, they figure out a way to destroy their enemies as the soldier learns a new weakness every time he is resurrected.

A bit cerebral for most Cruise franchise fans, but definitely the best thing he’s done in ages. Not to be missed.

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Film Review: “The Fault In Our Stars”

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox
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Remember when teens used to be teens? I mean, those hormone-infused, bubble gum-smacking, ever-crushing large kids who worried about getting their algebra homework done on time?

Well, apparently, they’re dead. Or on their way to dying. Which is why the new film The Fault In Our Stars is as affecting and as predictable as it is. The film purports itself as an atypical cancer melodrama, but really the only thing atypical about it is that the protagonists are cancer-stricken teens who fall in love knowing that their love story can only have one conclusion. It’s a Romeo & Juliet told for the modern age . . . only instead of contending with centuries-old clan rivalries, they must fight their own bodies. It’s very sad – and very sentimental.

The film works as well as it does (and when it does) thanks to the faultless performance by its lead Shailene Woodley. She hits every note perfectly – there isn’t a false note in the entire performance. The same can’t be said of its leading man who, despite being quite charming, is faaaaar too literate and well-spoken to be a believable 17-year-old.

This is basically a love story about middle aged fools in teen bodies. Bring the tissues – it manages to out-Notebook the uber sentimental The Notebook.

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Film Review: “A Million Ways to Die In the West”

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Photo Credit: Universal
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Be forewarned: if you’re at all reverential about John Wayne and his Good Ol’ West, then this is not the movie for you. If you, like me, enjoy the madcap, socially ironic and politically charged humor of Family Guy, then you stand a good chance of enjoying it.

And that’s because Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West is really just a very long episode of Family Guy, told with live action actors and with MacFarlane at the center of the story. This story of a wimpy guy with a heart of gold is comic fodder for anyone who has empathized with a lovable loser – well, “loser” in the winningest sense of the word.

While A Million Ways to Die in the West is entertaining enough with some hilarious sequences intermittently sprinkled throughout (hello, Sarah Silverman, who hits a knock out playing the town whore engaged to the dumbest virgin on the planet), it is definitely not in the same league as the screamingly funny Ted.

MacFarlane does well enough in the leading role, but he isn’t quite movie star material. He carries the film, but it’s practically carried off by Charlize Theron as his kick ass love interest . . . and then virtually dominated by the hysterical turn from Neil Patrick Harries who plays the villain of the piece (sorry, Liam Neeson). Amanda Seyfried is wasted in a purely ornamental part as the ex-girlfriend.

It doesn’t always deliver the laughs it should, but it’s still quite enjoyable on its own terms. Worth a chuckle or two.

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Film Review: “Maleficent”

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Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures
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For anyone who feared that Disney would do to the villain of Sleeping Beauty what it did with that wretched live action retelling of Snow White which starred Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen: rest assured, they have not.

Maleficent is a much more complex, interesting, and yes, evil villain than the reimagined Evil Queen. The new film, starring Angelina Jolie, gives us Maleficent’s back story – she was once a fanciful fairy who put her trust in another (a man, of course) but when betrayed, she swore vengeance on all of humanity . . . and this poor Princess Aurora is forced to bear alone.

The back story is not exactly novel – many is the film lately which tells us that our favorite movie villains are just misunderstood good guys. (See: Frozen). And in the guise of Angelina Jolie, Maleficent is both beautifully complex and fittingly dark. It is a welcome return of one of Hollywood’s most underrated actresses who rarely gets starring vehicles befitting her talent.

The film is quite dark – sometimes almost unrelentingly so. But its depiction of the princess who raises Maleficent’s ire is boringly one-dimensional. Elle Fanning’s performance is hindered by the flat characterization of a super saccharine and innocent Princess Aurora.

Overall, a valiant effort, but not as memorable as it should (or could) have been.

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