Friday, June 20, 2014


Opening this weekend:

Jersey Boys—The 2005 Broadway musical, chronicling the rise of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, had a contemporary-cinema approach to its staging—short, fast-shifting scenes, driven by music and Scorcese-style narration. Director Clint Eastwood chose instead to make the movie version less of a jukebox musical and more an old-fashioned showbiz biopic. The characters still address the camera directly, but there’s less of a music-montage feel to the flow of the action. This seemed like a mistake to me—compared to the show, the movie feels plodding and flat and cliché-riddled, especially early on.

But it’s pretty enjoyable all the same. The ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s-era period detail is fun (though not always strictly accurate), the young actors who play the Seasons—John Lloyd Young, from Broadway, as Valli, Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi and, maybe most personable of all, Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito—are charming, and Christopher Walken does his Christopher Walken shtick in a built-up role as an avuncular mob boss.

Better still, Eastwood does something that makes up for a multitude of sins: When there’s a song, he treats it as a number. There’s very little talking over the songs, or showing the action progress during the songs. He points the camera at the performers and lets us enjoy their performance. That’s old-fashioned moviemaking at its best.

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon—To be accurately described as a mensch in the Yiddish sense—a kind and loving family member, a reliable friend, a good neighbor and citizen—is, I would argue, the proper ambition of an adult. Thus the title Supermensch suggests the kind of superhero epic I could really get behind.

But the movie is really the feature directorial debut of Mike Myers, who is also one of the movie’s many big-name showbiz talking heads to gush about the legendary Gordon, a sweet guy from Long Island who managed Alice Cooper, Anne Murray and Teddy Pendergrass, among many, many other stars. Gordon is also frequently credited with popularizing the idea of the celebrity chef.

The documentary traces his brilliant and canny yet (supposedly) scrupulously non-shark-like management style, which has left him a huge corps of famous and non-famous friends. It’s very inside-baseball—I was unfamiliar with Gordon, and I take an interest in such things—but for show-business and ‘70s pop-music aficionados, it’s enormously entertaining. It left me wishing that Gordon would manage my career, or at least let me hang out with him once in a while.

My pal Dewey Webb has finally knuckled under to peer pressure and started a blog; check it out here—his debut post details the anachronisms of Jersey Boys.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Opening this weekend:

Obvious ChildIt might be called the anti-Juno. It’s another romcom where the cute quirky young woman finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy, but this time she unhesitatingly decides she wants an abortion, and is upset that she has to wait two weeks, for medical reasons, to get it—on Valentine’s Day, no less.

Said young woman is Donna, played by Jenny Slate, a tiny Saturday Night Live veteran with a pretty, anxiously optimistic face. Donna is a small-potatoes stand-up comic who, sad and very drunk, has an unprotected one-night stand with a nice goyish type (Jake Lacy) and soon realizes she’s in a jam. When they meet again sober, they find they like each other, and would maybe like to be parents someday, but Donna is sure she’s not ready yet.

With reproductive rights under legislative attack in many parts of the country it’s probably well to put a human face on this predicament, and Slate’s sweet face is a good choice. She carries the movie nicely—a friend of mine predicts that this is her star turn before a long career of playing wisecracking roommates and cubicle neighbors—and she gets capable support from the small cast, which includes Richard Kind and Polly Draper as her parents and Gaby Hoffmann as her wisecracking roommate.

Written and directed by Gillian Robespierre, the movie is slight, watchable and somehow not quite satisfying. But it’s honest and believable.

How To Train Your Dragon 2This sequel to the 2010 animated charmer, adapted from the books by Cressida Cowell, continues the adventure of young human hero Hiccup and his dragon Toothless, who taught the Viking culture of Berk to be dragon trainers instead of dragon-slayers. Now the dragon-loving colony is threatened by a growling warlord who enslaves dragons through his mastery of a gargantuan “Alpha” monster who compels obedience in others of its species.

The appeal of this movie—and it’s extremely appealing—lies in the characterizations, both of the humans and of the dragons, who have endearingly canine personalities. The story takes a sad turn about two-thirds in, but while it’s upsetting, the loss makes sense in the context of a robust adventure story.

HTTYD2 is likely to hold up as one of the best animated films of the year. As far as I’m concerned, in its sunnier way, it’s as visually and thematically extravagant a fantasy as Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies.