Wednesday, 2 July 2014

FILM REVIEW: JERSEY BOYS



Warner Bros./Roadshow Films

When is a musical not a musical? When it's a big screen adaptation of a Broadway smash, helmed by a director better known for masculinity and economy rather than razzle dazzle.

Not that there isn't a song or two in Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys -- the story of the rise, fall and rise of Frankie Valli and the Four seasons -- nor the occasional dance number, but any joie de vivre that was to be found in the original stage production seems to have gone AWOL for the movie.

Yes, the hits are there -- Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man, Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You -- in one form or another, but as the story progresses from the suburbs of New Jersey in 1951 to the big time (and from varying points of view as in the stage version), there's very little in the way of drama or emotion. There's barely even a pulse.

But it's not all Eastwood's fault. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who wrote the original musical book for the stageplay, have adapted their own work, perhaps not realising that what works on the stage doesn't necessarily translate to the screen.

The same can be said for leading man John Lloyd Young. Young originated the role of Frankie Valli on Broadway when Jersey Boys debuted in 2004 and the boy can sing (though he's a little too old to pass as a 16-year-old Valli). But his screen presence is lacking, and the role as written doesn't provide much in the way of character.

Frankie may have the voice of an angel but he doesn't have much in the way of a personality. It's Vincent Piazza's Tommy DeVito who has the hutzpah (or whatever the Italian equivalent is), and there's some fun from his to-camera posturing as well as to be had at his expense; Bob Gaudio (Erich Burgen) is the bland pretty boy who writes the hits, and Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) is the good-natured fourth wheel seemingly there to make up the numbers.

Success, internal group tensions, mob affiliations (hello, Christopher Walken as the least threatening Godfather ever) and family breakdowns play out without any sense of excitement, danger or emotion, thus the audience's investment in this age old tale of rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches may come down to one's appreciation for the back catalogue of the Four Seasons. And if you loved Jersey Boys on the stage, you may just get a kick out of seeing it on the big screen.

The same goes for those who are fans of Eastwood the director but not so much the musical as a film genre. For Jersey Boys is no Dreamgirls (2006). Or Hairspray (2007), or Chicago, the 2002 film which sparked a revival of the musical in Hollywood following its Oscars* success, though a little of that film's razzle dazzle could have gone a long way here.

(*Eastwood and co. need not worry about keeping their calendars clear for February 2015).

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

MOVIE TIX GIVEAWAY: BELLE & SEBASTIAN



BELLE & SEBASTIAN is based on the much-loved 1965 children’s book which was later adapted into a popular French TV series. Set high in the French Alps during the Second World War, it is the timeless tale of a boy and his dog.

Six-year-old Sebastian lives on the mountainside with a kindly but gruff caretaker and no real family of his own. As such he is left to his own devices and is often found roaming the countryside. Belle is a wild mountain dog who has escaped from her cruel owner. The villagers have mistaken her for a “beast” that has been killing their sheep.

When Sebastian first crosses paths with Belle he must keep their friendship a secret and the two of them form an unshakeable bond. Their adventures take them through the mountains and ultimately they become pivotal in the successful escape of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany for the safety of Switzerland.

BELLE & SEBASTIAN was the second highest grossing French film to be released in France last year and has also captured the hearts and mindS of movie lovers at the Alliance Fran├žaise French Film Festival earlier this year.

Thanks to Icon Film Distribution, we have double passes to Belle & Sebastian to give away. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed (@TheLennoXFiles) for your chance to win. Note: Competition will be open to Sydney residents only. Belle & Sebastian will be screening at Dendy Newtown and Dendy Opera Quays.

Only at the movies July 3.

Friday, 6 June 2014

FILM REVIEW: EDGE OF TOMORROW



Warner Bros./Roadshow Films

Live. Die. Repeat. It's a simple concept and not an entirely new one, but what Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow -- a sci-fi actioner based on a Japanese novel -- lacks in originality it makes up for with above-average blockbuster smarts and a surprising level of fun.

And admittedly, most of that fun comes in witnessing Tom Cruise die, over and over again. Cruise plays William Cage, a military PR supremo who gets busted down to Private when he refuses to join the forces on the beaches of France for a D-Day like assault on an invading alien force.

The Mimics, as they've been dubbed, crashed in Europe some years earlier and since then the metallic, arachnid-like extraterrestrials have been advancing across -- or rather, under -- the Continent. The Normandy assault is to be the Earth's united final front to prevent the enemy from spreading across the planet.

Cage, with no military training and even less sympathy from his new commanding officer (Bill Paxton) and fellow soldiers, soon finds himself dropping in to France, into battle and, not before long, dead at the hands -- tentacles? -- of an Alpha Mimic.

But then he awakens at the beginning of that very same day, and events begin to play out as they did before: conversations, a botched D-Day landing, and then death. And again. Live. Die. Repeat. For something happened to Cage during that first D-Day landing which is forcing (allowing?) him to live the same 24 hours over and over.

He still can't manage to avoid his demise but on one such occasion he encounters Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), the so-called Angel of Verdunn: a soldier who took out several Mimics during an earlier campaign and has been the face of the military's propaganda machine. "Come find me when you wake up" she cryptically instructs him, and so he does; soon discovering (with a little help from Noah Taylor's scientist) what's happening to him and how he may just be humanity's best hope for defeating the aliens and saving mankind.

Yes, Tom Cruise's Messiah complex may be somewhat in effect in Edge of Tomorrow but for the first time in a long time (possibly ever?), he is playing a man who is an out and out coward. Cage sells heroism, he doesn't possess it. But with a strong woman at his back, and endowed with a 'gift', war might just make a man out him; if not the first time round then eventually.

That's where Liman's film, adapted from the novel All You Need is Kill by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Christopher McQuarrie, draws easy comparison with the classic 1993 existential comedy, Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray's misanthropic weatherman lived the same wintry day over and over until he got it right.

But Edge of Tomorrow's not on the same level as Harold Raimis's film; it's more recent relative is 2011's Source Code, where Jake Gyllenhaal's soldier relives the the same seven minutes on a doomed commuter train in the hopes of preventing a domestic terrorist attack.

And much like Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow fudges the ending; seemingly defying its own internal logic to provide the audience with a 'feel good' out rather than a more "realistic" outcome. But up until that point, Cruise and this sci-fi summer blockbuster are in fine form.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

FILM REVIEW: MALEFICENT



Walt Disney Studio Films

Now Showing

Not for the first time in recent years has a fairy tale been revisited, re-imagined and viewed through a feminist lens. And there's nothing wrong with that. But much like Snow White and the Huntsman, 2012's retelling of the royal beauty who took up arms against a wicked and vain queen, Maleficent has the original heroine pale in comparison to her nemesis.

But that is very much the point of Maleficent, a re-working of the Sleeping Beauty tale. More specifically, the 1959 animated feature by Walt Disney with events this time around told from the point of view of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), a peace-loving woodland fairy who swears vengeance on mankind -- and one man in particular (Sharlto Copley's King Stefan) -- when she is literally and figuratively broken; Stefan removing her wings and breaking her heart in order to ascend the throne. Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned and deformed!

Cursing the King's first born, Aurora, on the day of her christening -- she will fall into a sleep like death upon pricking her finger on a spinning wheel prior to her 16th birthday -- Maleficent then spends the next 16 years keeping a curious watch over the child, who has been spirited away to a small cottage to be raised incognito by three well-meaning but absent minded pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple).

But the more Maleficent, and her crow-manservant, Diaval (Sam Riley), watch the child (whom she comically dubs 'Beasty') grow -- eventually into the pretty but rather dull Elle Fanning -- the more she feels her hardened heart softening. Not that Jolie's wronged fairy is any kind of pushover. Imperious and with cheekbones that could shred lettuce, Jolie floats through the film (above it almost); not quite chewing the scenery, nor camping it up, but archly presiding over the intermittently beautiful but mostly dull proceedings.

Robert Stromberg, a visual effects artist and production designer making his directorial debut, worked on James Cameron's Avatar (2009). He also worked on Alice In Wonderland (2010) and Oz The Great and Powerful (2013), two less than successful re-imaginings of childhood classics that should have been some kind of portent that Maleficent would be less than magnificent (although to be fair, Linda Woolverton's screenplay, with its annoying narration (by Janet McTeer) and lack of tension, is not without blame).

Maleficent has the one trick up its sleeve and that's Angelina Jolie. She sells the fairy tale 'girl power' message; the rest of the film is green smoke and mirrors.