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 clichĂ©-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.

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