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Entries in Clint Eastwood (3)

Thursday
Jun192014

Jersey Boys

Clint Eastwood may not seem like the best person to direct a musical. When you look back at his filmography, even in recent years with films like “Gran Torino,” you see mostly gruff, no-nonsense characters who, if asked, would likely tell you they wouldn’t be caught dead at a musical. Of course, his onscreen personas don’t necessarily reflect his true self, but it’s a tough sell nonetheless. However, he shows that he still has some aces up his sleeve with “Jersey Boys,” an adaptation of the hit Broadway jukebox musical of the same name. While it has more than its fair share of problems, Eastwood is surprisingly adept at putting music to screen. Granted, this isn’t your typical musical with grand choreography where people randomly start singing and dancing down the street—the music instead comes organically to the story as it follows the rise and fall of the popular 60s pop band, The Four Seasons—so much of what is shown is small in scale, but that in no way diminishes Eastwood’s steady directorial hand. “Jersey Boys,” while not the rousing success it had the potential to be, is worth seeing all the same.

The film begins in Belleville, New Jersey in 1951. As Tommy (Vincent Piazza) puts it, it’s a town with only three ways out: joining the Army and getting killed, joining the mob and getting killed or getting famous. He’s a part of a small band in town with his buddy, Nick (Michael Lomenda), and plans on getting out via the latter means. After hearing Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) sing, he recruits him into the band. Before long, Frankie’s voice attracts some attention, including from Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), a songwriter who just knows he has to write for it. It isn’t long before they find themselves thrust into the spotlight, but fame has its price; personalities clash, heated exchanges take precedent over calm conversation and they eventually find themselves in an undesirable situation.

The first thing more discerning viewers might notice when sitting down to watch “Jersey Boys” is its color palette. The film, at least at first, is washed of bright colors. Varying shades of black and grey are most prominent, a nice touch that nails the setting of the pre-70s tie dye hippy era. While certain colors still poke their heads in now and then, they look so strange next to the more pronounced blacks and greys that it almost looks like an early black and white to color Technicolor conversion. The film gets brighter as the film goes on, paralleling the success of the band members, which adds an interesting thematic and visual layer that many films these days don’t possess.

Aside from some unconvincing green screen shots, “Jersey Boys” looks the part; it’s in its story that it falters. The film mixes drama and humor, but the two parts aren’t created equal. Despite primarily being a drama, the jokes land more effectively, while its more somber moments collapse under a story that doesn’t properly set them up. Take a late movie moment where one of Frankie’s children goes missing for a couple days, for instance. When he finally catches up to her, the heartfelt talk they share and the would-be sadder moments after resonate with a resounding thud, as the film fails to make that daughter a real character, featuring her in perhaps only one minor earlier scene. Similar issues arise with Frankie’s wife, Mary (Renee Marino), who is largely overlooked after the beginning of the film, to the point that when she popped up later, I had forgotten she was even in it.

“Jersey Boys” fares better when it focuses on the up and down relationship between the boys in the band. Pretty much all of them are unlikable—they’re abrasive, rude and more than a little bit sexist—which may turn some people away, but those unlikable personalities are the point of the movie, as it’s their behavior and arrogance that ultimately lead to their destruction. Nevertheless, some of their recklessness is so reminiscent of imbecilic television personalities that, by the end of the film’s 2 hour 15 minute runtime, they can get a bit grating, which is enhanced by a story that gets progressively heavy-handed as it goes on. At one point, one of the guys says of a song, “If you goose it up too much, it gets cheesy.” It’s an unintentional meta line that describes the narrative path of “Jersey Boys” to a tee.

If you’re in it for the songs, however, you’ll likely enjoy the movie quite a bit, though much of your appreciation for Frankie’s singing will hinge on your tolerance of those high pitched swooners that characterized that musical era. By today’s standards, it sounds a bit silly, but there’s no denying the heart and soul that went into its creation, even if that heart and soul eventually turned to bitterness and contempt. If you’re a fan of the band or grew up in their heyday, “Jersey Boys” will probably work wonders, but even if you’re not and didn’t, there’s still enough here to enjoy, though you’re not likely to remember it for long after.

Jersey Boys receives 3/5

Wednesday
Nov092011

J. Edgar

Clint Eastwood is a man everybody respects. As an actor, director, producer and composer to dozens of movies, his filmography is an impressive one indeed. With that said, his last few cinematic endeavors have been considerably less than. Not since 2006’s Letters from Iwo Jima has he made a truly great movie and last year’s Hereafter proved to be one of the year’s biggest disappointments. His latest, J. Edgar, is not a return to form, but it’s certainly a step up. While not a great movie by any means (and sloppy in more areas than one), it nevertheless has a goal and reaches it.

That goal, at its simplest, is to depict J. Edgar Hoover’s life as he builds and legitimizes the power of the FBI while also exploring his alleged homosexuality. The film, in a well done balancing act, creates a juxtaposition between his two halves, as a man who was forced to hide his true self while also serving as one of the faces of a growing America. It’s that contrast that gives the film its weight. It portrays him as an intensive man that was so caught up in his job he didn’t have time for friends, perhaps as a way to cope with the falsity of his normal life. His time spent working was the only time he was truly himself. He didn’t have to fake his passion for his work, he simply had it.

Of course, the controversy of Hoover’s life is on display as well and you get to see that his passion is sometimes misplaced. Never mind the fact that he was so adamant about his men dressing nicely and sporting a clean face (perhaps as a way to bring at least a portion of his true self to his work). He harasses people suspected of subversion and abuses his authority to get what he wants. If the reach of his authority becomes limited, he blackmails his superiors into giving him more.

But if he was imperfect, he was also quite smart. While the film doesn’t shy away from criticizing him, it nevertheless treats him like a man of high intelligence and unwavering principles, however wrongheaded they may be. One can’t help but simultaneously loathe and revere Mr. Hoover in a way that is uncommon among many one-dimensional, poorly developed characters that exist as either black or white, good or evil, wrong or right. Hoover hits all extremes and numerous places in between. He is a strong, but flawed individual with hidden demons and a clear mind, though certainly troubled and distant from his own reality.

All of that can be seen clearly for those who are interested in dissecting the character. While some of that can certainly be attributed to writer Dustin Lance Black, who was responsible for 2008’s truly wonderful Milk, most of it is due to Leonardo DiCaprio’s masterful performance as Hoover, once again proving that he’s one of the best actors working today. In a movie that is very talkative, dry and sometimes dreary, he delivers his lines with vigor and makes them something more. Even with dark eyes, pale skin, slicked back hair and strange lighting that makes him look like he would fit comfortably in a 1920’s version of Twilight, he manages to impress. He overcomes any shortcomings, visual, verbal or otherwise, and makes the character his own.

J. Edgar is, at times, like many of Clint Eastwood’s films: heavy handed. Movies like Hereafter, Invictus and Gran Torino, for instance, were too thematically intense, taking its central idea and shoving it down your throat. This, on the other hand, is emotionally too much. It doesn’t toy with yours, but it overdoes the emotion in its characters. Despite its intentions, the film is hard to take seriously when certain scenes are so over-the-top, but just when it seems to be going too far, it calms itself down. These redemptions are what make the movie good, but the fact that they exist to begin with is what keeps it from being great.

J. Edgar receives 3.5/5

Friday
Oct222010

Hereafter

There’s no escaping it. We’re all going to die someday. While some would rather not talk about it, I find a healthy discussion cathartic. I like dissecting the possibilities of the afterlife with open minded individuals because nobody knows what awaits us after death. Maybe religion is right and there’s a god waiting to embrace us. Maybe nothing happens and our lives are simply over. Or maybe what happens lies somewhere in between. Because of this fascination, I love movies that explore life and death and I was hoping Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter would give me something new to think about, but sadly, it goes nowhere. Death and the afterlife are not explored, but rather are merely there in what is essentially another generic, bland, overly sentimental drama.

The movie follows three stories simultaneously. In America, George (Matt Damon) is attempting to cope with a gift he doesn’t want. Due to a surgical procedure on his brain as a child, he now has the ability to touch another human being and see their loved ones. He has become a psychic and communicator for the dead, though he has now given up the lifestyle and is trying to live normally. Across the pond, Marie (Cecile De France) has just lived through a tsunami, or rather died in it before being brought back to life. She experienced death and is beginning to write a book on what she saw. Elsewhere, a young boy named Marcus loses his twin brother Jason (both played at various points by Frankie and George McLaren) in an accident and decides he can’t live without him, so he seeks out information on death and the afterlife.

There is potential in Hereafter. Clint Eastwood is a fantastic director, despite what naysayers may proclaim. He doesn’t do anything too fancy with the camera, but it’s this simplicity that makes him so great. He never draws attention to himself when behind the scenes and he lets his actors bring out the story, which they all do wonderfully. The problem is that the story is insignificant.

Hereafter is a movie that wants to be something more than it is. It wants to say something meaningful about its subject matter, but it never goes the distance to accomplish that goal. A few bullet points are hit here and there, like the idea that religion is used as a comfort for those who fear death, but they never fully come together. Cohesion is not one of the film’s strong suits. Each time something is brought up, it stands alone like a blip on a radar screen.

This problem isn’t limited solely to the themes, however. The many different side stories that exist within the already-too-many main stories don’t feel completely finished. One such subplot shows George as he begins to make a connection with a girl he meets at a late night cuisine course. As prevalent as this is in the first half of the movie, it isn’t properly concluded. After she learns of his gift, she disappears and is never seen or heard from again.

The rest of George’s story is met with contrivances. At one point, he decides to leave the states to escape what his brother calls his “duty” as a psychic to perform readings. So he travels to the home of his favorite author, Charles Dickens, which leads him to a book convention where the other two characters just happen to be mingling, converging all of their stories in the least realistic way possible.

Although I have other issues with the film, like bad CGI and an excessively cheesy ending in the vein of Eastwood’s last film, Invictus, there’s nothing truly objectionable in Hereafter. It does no harm, but it fails to impress and it will likely fade away just as quickly as it appeared. For another filmmaker, this may be passable, but given the legacy of the great Clint Eastwood, this is a real disappointment.

Hereafter receives 2/5