REVIEW: Jersey Boys

24 06 2014

Clint Eastwood ends his film adaptation of “Jersey Boys” with a Broadway-style curtain call so unabashedly corny and theatrical that it might make the creative team behind the “Mamma Mia!” movie blush.  It is, however, just about the only concession Eastwood makes to the stage.  (Unless you want to count casting mostly stage actors.)

Eastwood’s desaturated color palette and starkly observed realism always felt like a strange pairing with a crowd-pleasing hit from the Great White Way.  Although among those shows, “Jersey Boys” seems like it could mesh decently well with his style. It’s a jukebox musical, where characters break out in song not just as a form of heightened expression (as in “Les Misérables“) but simply to fulfill the act of singing.

Yet even with this natural method of presenting tunes, Eastwood’s film still opts to minimize the music.  It feels as if Eastwood ran out of quarters to feed the jukebox since we get nearly all the music from the prologue (8 minutes on the soundtrack dragged out to a 35 minute expository sequence) and then the first three show-stopping hits from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man.”

What little we get to hear sounds good, a product of both Eastwood’s decision to sing live (thanks, Tom Hooper!) and picking voices that have the requisite pipes to do the numbers justice.  The joy of hearing a great, natural harmony recalls the authenticity of a pre-AutoTune era nicely and without drowning in nostalgia.

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REVIEW: Trouble with the Curve

8 10 2012

Chances are you’ve already seen “Trouble with the Curve” … but you just don’t know it yet.

If you’ve seen “Gran Torino,” you’ve seen it.  Clint Eastwood is just doing a PG-13 version of his cranky, stubborn Walt Kowalski.  Don’t get me wrong, I still find that fairly entertaining though as I intend to pattern my 80-year-old willful disregarding of social conventions on him.  As aging Atlanta Braves scout Gus, he’s still got the ability to make curmudgeonly charming once again.

If you’ve seen “The Fighter,” you’ve seen it.  Amy Adams essentially does a dolled-up reprisal of her role as Charlene the MTV Girl, a tenacious sports groupie and strongly opinionated woman.  Here, she’s got some of those same qualities on display as Gus’ daughter Mickey, a baseball enthusiast looking to climb the corporate ladder but faces casual workplace misogyny.  She gets called onto the road to assist her ailing father, reawakening her love for the game.  Adams is a bright and fun presence on the screen, but it’s hardly of the caliber of performance David O. Russell got out of her.

If you’ve seen … really any Justin Timberlake movie, you’ve seen it.  Whether it’s “The Social Network,” “Bad Teacher,” or “Friends with Benefits,” it’s the same old schtick for the former N*Sync frontman.  It’s less Sean Parker-ish here, however, since the character doesn’t have nearly the dimensionality of an Aaron Sorkin creation.  Timberlake tackles the role of Johnny, a failed baseball player turned novice scout.  Gus has made, then broken, then made his career … and may have made his dreams with Mickey.

If you’ve seen “Moneyball,” you’ve seen this movie.  Even though “Trouble with the Curve”  is about the human calculations of baseball while Bennett Miller’s Best Picture nominee glorified computer models and statistics as the new great tool of baseball, both share an equal goal of bringing back a romanticism quickly disappearing from America’s pastime.

But strangely enough, “Moneyball” does a better job achieving this drawing parallels between computer pixels and the bright stadium lights.  “Trouble with the Curve,” clunking along at a leisurely pace it doesn’t earn (I mean seriously, it feels like an extra innings game), can only muster up cliches to show how much it loves baseball.  The game has seen better, and it deserves better.  C+





REVIEW: J. Edgar

29 03 2012

Is the biopic headed the way of the sports movie?  “J. Edgar” seems to point towards a larger genre decline.  Clint Eastwood’s latest attempt at biography moves slower than molasses or “Invictus,” whichever better communicates the idea that this movie is boring and stuffy.  Everyone knows that he can do better, and with this following “Hereafter,” I have to wonder whether Eastwood should just retire after his next good film (if there is ever another good one).

Really, “J. Edgar” is more worthy to be analyzed as a Dustin Lance Black movie.  The Oscar-winning writer of “Milk” seems to be far more interested in Hoover, the rumored closet homosexual, than Hoover, the revolutionary founding director of the FBI.  There’s so much hinting when it comes to his sexuality and so much omission when it comes to his career that Black’s portrait really amounts to little more than a pencil sketch on café napkin.  If he intended to make Hoover a counterpoint to Harvey Milk, he should have just outright said it.

Eastwood claims “J. Edgar” is not a love story, but the tenor of the movie he intended to direct is directly clashing with Black’s script.  As a result, the film just feels like a half-hearted attempt at everything it sets out to do.  Black writes so many scenes with sexual overtones that so flagrantly obvious, but Eastwood tries to keep it as platonic as he possibly can without changing the lines.  What ultimately makes it onto the screen is just awkward and uncomfortable as everyone seems far too worried about slander or decorum to go for it.

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“Hereafter” Poll Results

15 11 2010

Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” fell out of the top 10 at the box office this Sunday after spending only three weeks among Hollywood’s top earners.  With only $31 million in the bank and running out of steam quickly, what does this mean for the movie’s Oscar chances?

After the 49% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes spelled doom, the movie needed some box office support if it was going to have a clear shot at Best Picture – support that didn’t really materialize.  Before these developments came about, I asked in my Oscar Moment on “Hereafter” if we were looking at a Best Picture nominee.

The results were split right down the middle.  50% said yes, and 50% said no out of a voter yield of 4.  If I had the splitting vote, I’d probably say no given how the movie really has nothing going for it other than the fact that it’s directed by Clint Eastwood.  However, according to a report from The Odds, “Hereafter” may not be dead in the water:

“…from what I hear, Eastwood’s drama – three interlocking tales of people around the world affected by death or near-death experiences, with Cecile de France and Matt Damon – was very well-received by an AMPAS crowd that I’m told filled as much as 85 percent of the 1,000-seat Goldwyn.  One Academy member who was at the screening said the reaction to the film was ‘terrific,’ with sustained applause at the end of the film. Others concurred, but thought the attendance might have been a bit overstated.”

So we’ll just have to see what lies ahead for “Hereafter’ in the Oscar season.  It surely has an uphill battle ahead.





REVIEW: Hereafter

4 11 2010

It’s interesting to see the growth of the “hyperlink cinema” filmmaking style over the past decade.  In an age where we often feel so isolated and alone, living out just our own story, these movies that manage to intertwine multiple apparently unrelated storylines fill us with a sense that we actually are connected with everyone in the world around us.

The latest entry in this style comes from writer Peter Morgan (“Frost/Nixon”) and director Clint Eastwood, “Hereafter,” a musing on the nature of life and death in modern times.  Eastwood, who has made a name directing gritty movies, would seem to be the last person to take on such a project.  Yet at 80, his age and experience give the movie an overarching sense of peace and placidity.

In one sense, “Hereafter” is more focused than more sprawling movies like “Crash” and “Traffic,” which attempt to weave together what feels like dozens of characters in the course of two hours.  Morgan gets us well acquainted with three principal figures spread across three countries.

George Lonengan, played with composure by Matt Damon, has the ability to talk to the departed but struggles to maintain control over their intrusion into the way he lives his life.  There’s the age-old “gift vs. curse” dialectic haunting him as well, and it has forced him to resign himself to factory labor in San Francisco.

Marie, a subtly affecting Cecile de France, makes contact with the hereafter when she nearly drowns in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.  Her experience sticks with her when she goes back to her job as a news anchor in Paris, and it’s obvious to everyone around her that she has something more than mere survivor’s guilt.  Trying to move on but unable to let go of her experience, her views of what awaits us after death lock her into a “faith vs. reason” debate that has accompanied countless discussions of heaven.

In London, a touching and hard-hitting story of mourning arises after death separates Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren), leaving the latter feeling left behind and alone.  With a mother addicted to drugs, he feels he has nowhere to turn to but the supernatural.  Whether Marcus seeks companionship or closure is left much to the audience’s imagination, but no matter what the goal is, it’s an emotional journey.

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Random Factoid #436

7 10 2010

Hooray for memes!  It’s been a while since I’ve been tagged in one of these … good to be back on the circuit!  Thanks to Sebastian for tagging me.  Here’s the pitch:

The idea is that you list off the first 15 directors that come to your head that have shaped the way you look at movies. You know, the ones that will always stick with you. Don’t take too long to think about it. Just churn em’ out.

Here are my 15:

  • Woody Allen
  • Judd Apatow
  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Alfonso Cuarón
  • Clint Eastwood
  • David Fincher
  • Sam Mendes
  • Fernando Meirelles
  • Christopher Nolan
  • Sean Penn
  • Roman Polanski
  • Jason Reitman
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Steven Spielberg (no, it isn’t cliched)
  • Quentin Tarantino

In case anyone was wondering, I got to about 10 and then had a major pause.





Oscar Moment: “Hereafter”

5 10 2010

There was once a time when a Clint Eastwood movie being released meant instant Oscar attention and presumed to have nearly automatic entry into the Best Picture category.  Wait, that was just in 2008.  After picking up his second Best Picture/Best Director combo package for “Million Dollar Baby” in 2004 and nominations for “Letters from Iwo Jima” in 2006, the Academy has been cold as ice to the 80-year-old legendary filmmaker.

Is it a sort of backlash to Eastwood?  Have they simply had enough of him?  Or have his last three movies just really not been that good?

I personally don’t think he will ever win again, simply because twice is nice – and enough.  However, he can still have some horses in the race; they just aren’t in it for the win.  If Clint Eastwood directs one of the ten best movies of the year, they can’t be denied a spot simply by virtue of being directed by Eastwood.

So where does that put us with “Hereafter?”  We’ve hit the pedigree, which is kind of a toss-up as to whether it will hurt or help come awards season.  As of now, all we have to work with is critical reaction and looking at how the Academy has reacted historically to similar movies.

Eastwood’s latest directorial venture debuted last month at the Toronto Film Festival to a very polarized reaction.  Some critics seemed to really like it.  Roger Ebert went to bat in a big way for the movie:

“Clint Eastwood’s ‘Hereafter’ considers the possibility of an afterlife with tenderness, beauty and a gentle tact. I was surprised how enthralling I found it. I don’t believe in woo-woo, but there’s no woo-woo anywhere to be seen. It doesn’t even properly suppose an afterlife, but only the possibility of consciousness after apparent death … it is made with the reserve, the reluctance to take obvious emotional shortcuts, that is a hallmark of Eastwood as a filmmaker. This is the film of a man at peace. He has nothing to prove except his care for the story.”

Other critics, however, were not impressed.  Many called it the worst movie Eastwood has ever directed.  Some used words like uneven” while others just went straight to “trash.”  But according to Kris Tapley of In Contention, this may not be entirely bad.

“… even among the appreciators, Peter Morgan’s script may come together in a rather unsatisfying manner in the third act.  But words like “facile,” “cliche” and “manipulative” describe many, many former Oscar nominees and winners, so we should keep an eye on it.  To be perfectly honest, it sounds like a contender now more than ever.”

As I have said many times before, critical tastes do not determine Best Picture.  They didn’t love “The Blind Side,” and it still got in.  They didn’t lavish praise on “The Reader,” and it still got in.  While critics can shape Academy taste, they do not define it.  The Academy is not a group of critics; it is a group of filmmakers.  The fact that it has gotten a polarizing reaction thus far is not necessarily bad.  Several of last year’s Best Picture nominees had their fair share of detractors, such as “Avatar,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and even “Precious.”

And while on the subject of Academy tastes, speaking to the dead is a concept that they have readily embraced in the past.  Both “Ghost” and “The Sixth Sense” received Best Picture nominations.  But according to Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly, “Hereafter” reminds him more of “Babel” because of the movie’s three inter-connecting storylines.  “Babel” received nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay in 2006.  I could see Eastwood’s latest taking a similar trajectory.  I’m not expecting it to win (Eastwood has already won here twice), but it would be a nice inclusion on the shortlist.

Beyond the movie itself, I think Matt Damon can also be seriously considered in the Best Actor category.  He received his first acting nomination last year for “Invictus,” a collaboration with Eastwood, and he also has a nice Oscar sitting on his mantle for writing “Good Will Hunting.”  But with Damon also being an apparent scene-stealer in the much more Academy friendly “True Grit,” Warner Bros. may choose to campaign him harder there.

He stands a better chance in Best Supporting Actor, which has yet to be formed, than in Best Actor, which many people have narrowed down to Firth, Franco, Eisenberg, Duvall, and Bridges with Wahlberg and Gosling as strong outside shots.

There’s also a chance that Peter Morgan’s original script could make it in the field since he has been nominated before.  I don’t think much else from the movie has much of a shot, even the visual effects which make a tsunami look pretty good.

To close, I want to quote the wonderful review by Sasha Stone of Awards Daily.  While she was not a huge fan of the movie, she still states that it is one of Eastwood’s best and puts it all into perspective quite nicely.

“In his later years, he is ruminating on bigger questions, like what it means to be alive, to be killed, to be loved – to die, and to mourn … ‘Hereafter’ fits in to a triptych of films that meditate on childhood and loss: Mystic River, Changeling and now, ‘Hereafter’ … it isn’t the flavor of the month, but it is quintessentially Eastwood … at 80 years old, Eastwood remains a visionary.”

Since the idea of death is something especially pertinent to someone at the end of his life like Eastwood is, perhaps the emotional impact on the voters will prompt them to show some gratitude to a man who has been an outstanding contributor to the cinematic way.

BEST BETS FOR NOMINATIONS: Best Picture

OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Director, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay





F.I.L.M. of the Week (May 7, 2010)

7 05 2010

Prepare yourselves emotionally before diving into the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” Clint Eastwood’s true-life story “Changeling.”  You might remember the movie as a blip on your radar in 2008 for one of two reasons: Angelina Jolie or the Best Actress nomination that Angelina Jolie received for this movie.  If you are one of Angelina’s detractors who argue that she’s good only for adopting babies and saving the world, you need to see this movie.  I have yet to see “A Mighty Heart,” so I’m not in a position to classify it as her best work since “Girl, Interrupted.”  However, it’s a reminder of why she has an Oscar sitting on her mantle.

Jolie takes on the persona of Christine Collins, a woman pushed to the brink in late 1920s Los Angeles. After the kidnapping of her son, the LAPD returns a boy who is supposedly her child in order to produce a positive headline for the department that had been marred by corruption.  Christine knows instantly that the boy is not her son, and she demands that the investigation into her son’s disappearance continue.  The police, not wanting to admit an error, dismisses her as crazy.  She obtains credible letters supporting her story, but the police won’t tolerate her vocal criticism.  They find a silencing method that evokes anger from people in high places, particularly a radio preacher, Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich).

In the meantime, the police also uncover a series of horrifying acts committed by Gordon Northcott (Jason Butler Harner).  The Northcott storyline may seem like a tangent at first, but it ties into Christine’s story in unexpected and brilliant ways.  It also helps that Harner gives a startling and disturbing performance as the deranged criminal, one that has hauntingly remained with me since I have seen the movie.  It’s unforgettable the way he mixes the calm surface with a tumultuous and unstable mind.

Jolie’s forceful and commanding presence is a major part of the success of “Changeling.”  But it’s also director Clint Eastwood, who portrays these horrifying events with realism mixed with a comforting sensitivity.  A very delicate balance had to be struck to be able to really digest this movie, and Eastwood found it.  However, even with this approach, it doesn’t change the fact that this is an absolutely brutal and heavy movie.  It may not be for you if you cannot handle disturbing depiction of atrocities, including ones committed on children.

Fun fact: this movie isn’t based on a true story.  It is a true story.  Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski took all of the movie based on evidence that can be corroborated by documents.  Thus, what we see on the screen is as close to what actually happened in “the strange case of Christine Collins” (an original title of the movie) is as close as Hollywood can ever show us.

I’ve heard from many smart movie speculators that “Changeling” is a film that was met with a mild reception but will eventually be embraced as a truly great movie.  I wholeheartedly espouse this belief, and I have been convinced that this is one of the most emotionally powerful movies that I have ever seen since I first saw it in 2008.  As for you, why wait until the rest of the world discovers it?  See it now and say you knew about it before it became so popular.





REVIEW: Invictus

10 01 2010

Now that the page has turned for the first decade of the new millennium, it can safely be said that Clint Eastwood was one of its definitive filmmakers. His final directorial venture of the era, “Invictus,” tops off a nearly immaculate resumé. While it doesn’t rank with “Mystic River” or “Changeling,” it is a moving portrait of a country caught at a very crucial stage in its history. Despite what the poster would have you believe, this is not a movie about Nelson Mandela, nor is it about the South African rugby team. It is about the triumph of virtue over hatred, and “Invictus” is a truly spirited and fascinating film because of this focus.

The film mostly follows Mandela (Morgan Freeman), starting from his first day as president of South Africa. He faced large racial divisions and dissent among his countrymen, and his decisions were crucial to bring the nation to unity. Rather than eradicate all vestiges of the hateful Apartheid era, he tries to use them as a rallying point, and this surprises and even alienates certain members of his staff. Included in this plan is the revitalization of the Springboks rugby team, the green and gold previously seen as an emblem of white supremacy, and the winning of the 1995 World Cup being held in South Africa. Mandela takes a particular interest in the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), a man who believes has the qualities necessary to lead a team to greatness. It’s an inspirational sports movie, so the math to get the final product isn’t hard. Despite the occasional narrative slowdown, Eastwood manages to keep us very absorbed in the story.

A large part of the movie is dedicated to the racial tension among Mandela’s security. Many detractors point this out as a flaw in the movie, but I found the subplot to be a very nice illustration of the themes Eastwood wished to highlight. The whites and the blacks in the detail initially butt heads, yet they find common ground in their desire to protect the man with the power to change the world. It is particularly rousing to see them playing rugby together towards the end of the movie, and little moments like these are what makes Eastwood’s value of the human spirit shine.

Morgan Freeman is remarkable as Mandela, and it is a performance that reminds us why he has such a revered status among actors. It’s tough to play someone who is as well-known as the ex-President, and he pulls it off with endearment. Freeman is always soft and gentle, but we never doubt that he means business. There is no stand-out powerhouse scene for him because Mandela kept his cool at all times, so it is only through slight but powerful shifts in tone that he communicates the feeling. Damon also projects his authority, although a little bit more sternly. No remnants are left of his blubber from the “The Informant!,” and we not only buy him as a rugby player but as a commanding presence on the field. The urgency with which he sets out to transform rugby into something more than just a game for his team is played with an ardent and admirable intensity. From corporate drone to triumphant athlete, 2009 has reminded us that Damon is one of the most versatile working actors, constantly working to improve his craft.

Eastwood handles the rugby fairly well, and he manages to make it compelling even though most Americans (including myself) had no idea what was happening. Although it may not be as exhilarating as watching a climactic football game, we see the significance of the game, which is what really matters. More importantly, we see the game as merely symbolic of the progress made by a country who sought to overcome hatred. “Invictus” is more than a history lesson, it is a depiction of two fine leaders using their example to brighten the future. A- /





Oscar Moment: National Board of Review Winners

3 12 2009

The first big awards of the season are here!  Below are the winners of the National Board of Review’s 2009 awards.

Best Picture: Up in the Air

Top 10 List (does not include the winner of Best Picture):

An Education
(500) Days of Summer
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
Invictus
The Messenger
A Serious Man
Star Trek
Up
Where the Wild Things Are

Best Director: Clint Eastwood, Invictus

Best Actor: (tie) George Clooney, Up in the Air and Morgan Freeman, Invictus

Best Actress: Carey Mulligan, An Education

Best Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson, The Messenger

Best Supporting Actress: Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air

Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air

Best Original Screenplay: A Serious Man

Best Animated Film: Up

Best Documentary Film: The Cove

Best Ensemble: It’s Complicated

Breakthrough Male Performance: Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Breakthrough Female Performance: Gabourey Sidibe, Precious

(For a full list of winners, see the National Board of Review’s release on their official website.)

Now here’s some more in-depth analysis on the results.

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Oscar Moment: “Invictus”

10 11 2009

Every year, one movie looks so impressive on paper that it is a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the year that it is not only a slam dunk to be a nominee, but also the assume winner of Best Picture.  I think I speak for most pundits when I say that “Invictus” is that movie from 2009.  When you mix one of the Academy’s favorite directors, Clint Eastwood, with two highly respected actors, Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, not to mention a true inspirational story involving a beloved humanist, Nelson Mandela, it seems like simple math that these add up to Oscar gold.

But let’s look at the movies in a comparable position to “Invictus” from the past few years:

  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” was nominated for 13 Oscars, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Screenplay.  However, its three victories came only from its technical merit.
  • “Atonement” was nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture and Screenplay, and those were a surprise due to a fair level of disappointment that met the film upon its release.  It ended up walking away with a statue for Best Score.
  • “Dreamgirls” was nominated for 8 Oscars in 6 categories (3 nominations came from Best Song), but the film surprisingly was omitted from many major categories including Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay.  It ended up with two awards, Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Hudson and Best Sound Mixing.
  • “Munich” was able to ride its assumed esteem into nominations for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay, but it did not cash in on any of its nominations.

The only real conclusion that can be drawn from those results is that having sky-high expectations can often yield unfavorable results.  If people expect something amazing, it is all the easier to underwhelm.  So the only question that remains is which awards season path “Invictus” will tread – the extremely disappointing “Dreamgirls,” the mildly rewarding “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” or perhaps it will even capitalize on its status and turn it into Oscar triumph.

It is hard to judge the film on its own merit, though, because no one has seen it.  However, if the trailer is any indication, we are really in for a treat.  “Invictus” seems to be one of those inspirational movies designed to make your heart melt, the type of movie that the Academy hadn’t rewarded in a while until last year when “Slumdog Millionaire” cleaned house.  If “Slumdog” has really ushered in a new era of feel-good, triumphant films taking home the big prizes, “Invictus” seems to be a logical successor.  But then again, I feel like bloggers like myself often create these “movements” much like some suspect English teachers of coming up with “themes.”  Maybe we over think it, and the choice of a body of voters is just based on what movie took their breath away that year.

To bring up the obligatory other face of the coin, Clint Eastwood perhaps isn’t quite as venerated by the Academy as many think.  Neither of his two works gained much attention; “Gran Torino” wound up with a goose egg in the nomination column, not even willing to acknowledge what could be the last time he steps in front of the camera.  The Academy rarely awards more than two Oscars to actors and directors, and maybe the voters think that Eastwood has gotten enough recognition from them.  On a different note, if people are looking for a fairly buoyant movie, they might find “Up in the Air” a more appealing choice.  Critics claim that it truly expresses the zeitgeist of these tough economic times, addressing our problems but infusing the gravity with a bit of levity.

While I could spend all day discussing the awards potential of “Invictus,” I will let the movie speak for itself on December 11.  Then I will be in a much better position to discourse.








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