Quickies: Summertime Films
First the Good...
JERSEY BOYS, Clint Eastwood’s hymn to the rise of Frankie Valli (“with an ‘I’”) and the enduring Four Seasons, is entertaining, tuneful, and notable for the “Mad Men”-like calendar of hairstyles, clothing, and makeup of the past 60 years or so. We were particularly impressed by the pointy undergarments worn by the females; accurate attention to period detail. The stylists failed here and there with makeup and hair that was out of era for the decades shown. The hugely successful Broadway play of the same name anthemizes the story, of course, and may explain the etiology of this film. But the Broadway audience is both older and has obviously longer memories than does the average film biopic viewer. We enjoyed the film -- though it is slightly long, and several characters’ breaking the “fourth wall” to address the viewer directly does not work for all -- especially the staging of the well-loved songbook (Sherry, Sherry Baby). Christopher Walken is a running lollipop in the proceedings, but Steve Schirripa appears for only a split second, alas. Go see it fast, if you want to see it: If a flick fails to rake in first weekend Box Office, it quickly gets yanked.
SUPERMENSCH: The Legend of Shep Gordon A documentary on legendary talent corraler and ultimate Hollywood insider Shep Gordon, who happened into artist management after moving to LA after his college diploma. Never less than fascinating, bright with Hawaiian sunshine and the rocky folk peopling L.A. and Honolulu, the story of writer/producer Shep Gordon (They Live , The People Under the Stairs  and Prince of Darkness  as well as enlarging the careers of countless celebs, rockers and moguls) is tasty viewing, with major narration on air by director Mike Myers, Sly Stallone, Michael Douglas, and a cavalcade of others. Don’t dismiss this bio spritzed with celebrity and affability, reminiscences and humor: Mike Myers has created one of the chef d’oeuvres of documentary filmmaking of the decade.
THE J STREET CHALLENGE A necessary corrective to all the media untruths and hype on the eruptive group “J STREET,” which pretends since its inception that it’s “pro-Israel, pro peace,” CAMERA and Americans for Peace and Tolerance (they joked at the screening that they “beat Lois Lerner” by not putting “patriot” or any of the key exempting words into their 501[c]3 applications) anatomize their top people, their secret funding from Israel bashers and haters (George Soros, many mid-Easterners, some wealthy Filippina living in HK -- all fortuitously revealed when the IRS accidentally released their financial papers), their support for the boycott actions that mean to bankrupt Israel and put her into penury or worse, and the largely clueless collegians who just have no idea what the group positions are, blissfully believing the hype and Kumbaya nonsense put out by the campus leftists and multiplying hate-groups. It will be appearing across the country, mainly at college campuses, where it is uber-necessary to counteract the seething anti-Semitism of faculty and students misled by Arabist claques. If you can find a screening, go.
EDGE OF TOMORROW, though unquestionably summery entertaining, is somewhat overwrought, heavy with CGI, very loud, and packed with stunts and major reverb boom. It has Tom Cruise and the winning Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, and Bill Paxton -- but because of the nature of the repetitive scheme of the plot, the film might have trimmed half an hour -- you weary of all the repeats and the necessary reiterated killing of Cruise (it is a sci-fi/adventure Groundhog Day with the earth in the balance). But it fulfills the requisite summer lenser check-off list: It fills the eye, makes one forget nonstop scandals and misgovernance, and the A/C is nice to swim in for the 2 hours.
COFFEE IN BERLIN A whimsical B/W feature that is about more than its meandering storyline seems to suggest covers a day in the life of a Gen Y slacker who loses his job, cannot recover his auto for DUI or drug assumptions, has his credit card taken by the ATM, and meets up with a mixed bag of types during his efforts to get just a cup of coffee in post-modernist Berlin. Sublimated WWII guilt, rageaholic ex-fatties, caste-system nuances and being cut off from daddy moneybags all make their entrance. We saw the film twice, and gleaned more insight into Germany, and quests for meaning, each time.
And the Not-so:
MALEFICENT The children's fantasy beginning with Sleeping Beauty is turned on its heel, certainly, but not sure the result is for kids, one, or a success for adults, two.Maleficent is played by the perfectly suitable Angelina Jolie with ram’s horns and a wicked expression to complement her decorous features and slamming other assets. One missed seeing ears on this evil-stepmother redux. Men do not come off as ultra nice, reliable, or trustworthy. After one particular candidate for King betrays Angie, and, not satisfied with purloining her gorgeous black wings, sends out troops to deep six the horned lady with the one-time extra-wide wing spread. Surprise: The kiss of the handsome prince, for the first time in movie history, fails to wake the bespelled Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning, Dakota’s kid sis). Many might enjoy the scenery, effects, and diverting twists on the fairy tale. If you do go, don’t expect much, and you might not find it so objectionable a waste of time.
TRANSFORMERS: Age of Extinction, the fourth in the franchise, is interesting for the intermittent humor spackling this CGI effort, and the work of too-rarely-seen Kelsey Grammer as a mad general seeking power and control of the lethal transformer giants. Mark Wahlberg delivers an earnest effort, as well as the big guy, Optimus Prime, too, but Michael Bay forgot to edit the overlong, overactioned, fight-fueled film. We were captivated by the transformations from sleek racers into huge megabots, but we don’t think the audience appreciated much beyond the first half. Too loud, too full of destruction, too lumbering. And why do transformers all sound like James Earl Jones with a wry sense of humor? The one thing in its favor is that the transformers are all pro-human (Mark W and his lovely daughter and her driver boyfriend). But again, the military or paramilitary bad guys are stand-ins for American values, which is tedious ‘way before it becomes overdone.
THE LONG WAY DOWN A “dramedy” about the intersecting lives of four would-be suicides, it is not all that compelling, the cast seems off somehow, though it includes Pierce Brosnan and the usually terrific Toni Collette, the phenom from Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul, and Imogen Poots. Four people meet on New Year's Eve by happenstance and form a sort of surrogate family to help one another weather the difficulties of their lives. The film, directed by Pascal Chaumeil, leads to grimmish sex, misunderstandings, squabbles, and then of course the – unlikely -- resolution that reads as patty-cake Hollywood never-never.
MOEBIUS A weird, unremittingly twisted bleak Korean something-or-other, marked by being without a word of dialogue, Moebius is an egregious tale of penectomy, rape, sadomasochism, and incestuous maundering. It continues oddball writer-director Kim Ki-duk’s travels into the peculiarities of the Korean soul -- in a much more hard-to-take fashion than last year’s Pieta. It is difficult to think of anyone in the general audience who could stomach this film. The only thing of note is the choice of title, which term refers to an endless twisted loop, a mathematical construct that does not redeem the weirdness of this disgusting movie.