JERSEY BOYS

I’m a Jersey boy and, until the Brits invaded, the music of the Four Seasons formed the soundtrack of my teens. So this is personal.  I remember when they hit the radio with “Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”  Like a sock on the jaw.  No one had ever heard anything like Frankie Valli’s falsetto.  Yeah, it got old after a while, but it bolted onto the scene like a road-to-Damascus epiphany.  I knew every note of those early records, but knew nothing about the band members.  After seeing this film, I don’t know much more.  For instance: Founding member Tommy Devito was kicked out because of debts to the mob and raiding the group’s account, but where the money went, who knows?  And really, who cares?  Clint Eastwood’s direction seems perfunctory and never engaged me. Without my connection to the records, I’m sure I would have bailed.  Tactical error: playing the original “Sherry” over the closing credits.  While the singer playing Valli does a credible imitation, hearing the original only emphasizes how sui generis was Valli’s tone and phrasing.

FF=0

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

If I gave stars, this would get 5. GotG is what film is all about: visual entertainment.  Take a bunch of arresting heroes (really, how can you not love Rocket and Groot?) and a goofy-looking, aggressively kohled, monomaniacal villain, add snappy, clever dialog, relentless pacing, and you’ve got yourself a movie (not a film – a movie).  The big surprise is how good Dave Bautista comes off as Drax.  The plot?  Well, the fate of the galaxy is at stake – ’nuff said?  Sure, you can point out all the derivations (so can I) and improbabilities (like that cassette tape player still working) and impossibilities (Groot’s defiance of the laws of conservation of mass and energy), but this amalgam works.  That’s all you need to know.

FF=0

I, FRANKENSTEIN

The poster says “from the producers of Underworld” and, if you’re not paying close attention, you might think it’s another sequel in that series, especially since it co-stars (surprise!) Bill Nighy who had a recurring role in the early “Underworld” entries. Unfortunately it lacks Kate Beckinsale and its rudimentary plot is even less coherent: Somehow Frankenstein’s monster has survived to modern times and become embroiled in a war between CGI gargoyles and CGI demons. The latter are under the command of Nighy’s villainous character.  Don’t ask, just watch.

FF=2.5

BLOW DRY

Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy as hairdressers? How did I miss this?  It has a Best in Show vibe while following (like another Nighy film of a few years before, Still Crazy) the formula of trying to reunite or build a team for an event or competition; inevitably one key member can’t or won’t cooperate but comes through in dramatic fashion at the end. (So thoroughly skewered in South Park’s “You Got F’d in the A” episode.)  No surprises, but a fun film to watch while you’re doing something else.

FF=0

STILL CRAZY

I went on something of a Bill Nighy kick after the Worricker trilogy and someone recommended this.  A fun if predictable film about the trials and tribulations of reuniting the 70s-80s hair band called Strange Fruit.  It has Spinal Tap moments but, like Nighy’s later film, Blow Dry, it follows the tried and true film formula (thoroughly skewered in South Park’s “You Got F’d in the A” episode) of trying to reunite or build a team for an event or competition; inevitably one key member can’t or won’t cooperate but comes through in dramatic fashion at the end.  Watch it for the performances – a great ensemble cast.

FF=1

MALEFICENT

I’m not an Angelina Jolie fan but I loved this retelling (obviously inspired by Wicked) of Sleeping Beauty from the evil fairy’s side.  The visuals are sumptuous but the script is what makes it work: so many layers of conflict, all meticulously laid out and resolved.  Most screenwriters (hell, most novelists) could take a lesson from this film.  Trust me and see it.  You won’t regret it.

FF=0

NOVEMBER MAN

Against all odds, I enjoyed this preposterous film.  The high concept: veteran superspy is being tracked down by his expert protégé. (Where have you seen that before?) And if you don’t figure out Mila’s identity ten seconds after her alter-ego appears on the screen, well, I don’t know what to tell you.  But it’s well executed (Brosnan’s Bond chops are on display)  and directed and efficiently paced.  With one twist I didn’t see coming (I wasn’t looking for one and it doesn’t alter the path of the story) it all ends as it should after the requisite gunfights and car chases.

FF=2