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Movies
Review: 'Jersey Boys'
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Review: 'Jersey Boys'

Review: 'Jersey Boys'

Review: 'Jersey Boys'

"Jersey Boys" the movie is a different, more sedate animal than "Jersey Boys" the Broadway musical. Often this happens when a stage success comes to the screen, even with many of the same performers and artistic team members on board. Changes are made; ardent fans of the original are variously pleased or disappointed. And in this case, those who missed the theatrical edition of the tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — how they found their sound and wrestled with temptations — may wonder what the fuss was about.

The hits keep on coming: "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "December, 1963" and many more, including that uniquely addictive gush of romantic '60s desperation, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." They may be enough. Full of genial showbiz cliches and mobbed-up sweeties, it's an easy movie to take.

It is also an uncertainly stylized one, with a drab sense of atmosphere at odds with the material's punchy theatrics. Like the recent film version of "August: Osage County" (now there's a musical!), "Jersey Boys" labors under a case of directorial miscasting, that of legendary filmmaker Clint Eastwood at the helm of a whiz-bang jukebox tuner.

Onstage the show was nothing if not speedy under the direction of Des McAnuff. The musical's librettists, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, adapted it for the screen, retaining (though downplaying) the basic structure allowing each of the Four Seasons a chance to relay the group's origin myth his way. It begins in Belleville, N.J., in 1951 and ends with a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, complete with unfortunate old-age makeup, in 1990. Valli and songwriter Bob Gaudio serve as executive producers of the film, so you know they're going to come off extremely well in relation to the other two, Nick Massi and Tommy DeVito.

What did the Four Seasons have that so many other groups lacked? Start with Valli's falsetto, which in its heyday sounded like a duck-and-cover emergency siren played at 78 rpm. "Jersey Boys" argues that Valli's success, like Sinatra's in a separate, imperious corner of superstar mythology, was all about the working-class Jersey roots and a natural overlap with the local capos.

"There were three ways out of the neighborhood," DeVito says at one point, to the camera. "You join the Army and maybe get killed; you get mobbed up, maybe get killed that way. Or you get famous. For us, it was two out of three."

It's a pleasant shock to see the opening credits of an Eastwood film scored to pop music with some energy instead of his usual forlorn solo piano. The story skates through the decades. As the Four Lovers, the boys are stuck with backup vocal chores for better established artists. Then, naming themselves after a bowling alley, the Four Seasons hit pay dirt with "Sherry" on "American Bandstand"; Valli juggles a nagging wife and needy mistress (the women's roles are neither central nor nuanced here, even with additional screen time); DeVito nearly sinks the group with debts to the mob, represented by Gyp DeCarlo, a real-life fan from the beginning. As the kindly underworld kingpin bearing hardly a whiff of authenticity, Christopher Walken strolls off with every scene he's in.

Valli goes up, then down, then up, and the road along the way is paved by drugs, heartbreak, personal tragedy. We're left with a sense of conflicting versions of events smoothed over by the harmonic convergence of a history-making quartet. Working with his usual collaborators, chiefly cinematographer Tom Stern (king of the desaturated, slightly sad color scheme) and production designer James J. Murakami, the director plugs along, following one narrator, then another, hitting the story points and moving on. The casting of relative unknowns, many from stage incarnations of "Jersey Boys," helps in some cases, hurts in others. John Lloyd Young won the Tony Award for his Frankie Valli, but on screen he's a tentative presence, despite a formidable vocal range and powerful falsetto. Far better is Erich Bergen's Gaudio, a comfortable and natural personality who doesn't get lost amid the swirl of years and setbacks and triumphs.

Some scenes are frankly theatrical, such as the hardship tour of the famous Brill Building, full of hardened veterans impervious to raw talent. (See "Singin' in the Rain" for an earlier example.) Other segments are stiff Hollywood soundstage artifacts all the way, such as the boys' early smash-and-grab robberies for the local gangsters. Others still are played out more or less realistically, until we're hit with a deliberately fakey bit of rear-projection. Eastwood never pushes his approaches too far in any one direction. Those who show up for the songs, and only the songs, probably won't mind how they're treated visually.

Another better-than-average jukebox musical, "Mamma Mia!" turned into a $600 million-grossing movie not because it was a great film (or even a good one) but because it had irrational exuberance in spades, and in tune with the appeal of ABBA. "Jersey Boys" is rationally exuberant to a fault. The personalities feel curiously small within the story. This was the case onstage as well — McAnuff's musicals tend to clobber performers with a ton of visual competition — but his intentions were clear and ultimately fruitful: pace the thing, as McAnuff put it in one interview, like "a bat out of hell." Moderately entertaining, Eastwood's film marches to a more methodical drummer. I suspect its commercial fortunes are unlikely to rival that of the stage version, which has made more than enough in its 10-year life span (since debuting at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2004) to cover the recent $800 million budget shortfall currently hobbling the Garden State.

"Goose it up too much, and it gets cheesy," Valli says to Gaudio in "Jersey Boys," about a song arrangement. Eastwood takes that line to heart. The unspoken B side of that warning, however, is worth heeding: No particular style leads to a movie of no particular style.

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  • There is light at the end of the prolonged wet and/or cloudy spell we have been going through. As I’ve been advertising on the radio for a few days now a prolonged dry spell is expected to begin Sunday and last through next Thursday, with modest thunderstorm chances returning Friday and next weekend. By the way, from this long distance, 4th of July weather looks pretty typical for the Metro, very warm and humid with around a 30% chance of an afternoon or evening thunderstorm. But first things first. We are still in a warm very deep moist tropical air mass. And while we get to see some sun today and tomorrow, we are not done with rain just yet, nor the threat of an isolated severe storm or small, weak tornado. Listen for details on the weather today this weekend and next 5 days on the radio in my reports for updates. Or check wsbradio.com at Click on the MellishMeter on the WSB Radio homepage for my 5 day forecast in writing anytime on any digital device. Due to the tropical nature of the air in place, more heavy downpours are likely in spots late today and overnight into tomorrow and that’s on already saturated soils, so a FLASH FLOOD WATCH has been issued for all of Metro Atlanta north of Griffin. Take note that trees may fall in the wet root zones without new rain or without high wind. Also bear in mind that in tropical systems lightning and thunder is often at a minimum, even in storms capable of producing damaging straight line winds or a tornado, so you may get little or no warning. You can see what’s left of Tropical Storm Cindy and the approach of a front from the north. MID-DAY FRIDAY: FRIDAY END OF DAY: FRIDAY EVENING: SATURDAY AM: END OF DAY SATURDAY: SUNDAY MORNING: HIGHEST FLOODING RISK FRIDAY: Flash Flood Watch 2pm Friday-8pm Saturday FRIDAY SEVERE WEATHER RISK:   TORNADO WATCH UNTIL 9PM Atlanta time: The remnants of Cindy will push eastward, and interact with shear axis/weak convergence boundary through Saturday. This shear axis/weak convergence zone will slowly sag south across the metro area through Saturday, serving to focus areas of precipitation. As with any tropical system, the potential for severe weather will exist. Especially for isolated tornadoes within any rain-bands. Areas roughly along and west of the Interstate 85 corridor will have the best potential for any severe weather through tonight. However, if good heating occurs across southern areas today, an isolated severe thunderstorm is not out of the question there, too. End of day Friday predicted (simulated) radar from a couple models: A welcome change is headed our way in the long term as drier air moves into the region, with lower than normal temperatures continuing and lower than normal humidity moving in with a less than normal rain odds Sunday through next Thursday. FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER @MellishMeterWSB
  • Family and friends are preparing for the funeral for a 16-year-old killed in a crash in Cherokee County. Police said a 17-year-old driver fell asleep at the wheel on Hightower Road and traveled into an embankment and hit a tree. Mahlon Thornton died at the scene. The driver has a broken arm. Family members said Mahlon and his friend had been up all night fishing Sunday into Monday. 'They stayed up all night fishing. They were tired and they were probably going pretty fast,' said Cynthia Decker, Mahlon's guardian. Mahlon moved in with Decker three years ago. TRENDING STORIES: Sheriff reduces jail time for Georgia inmates who saved officer Police: Woman attacked at gas pump, turns tables on would-be robbers Homeowner stabbed to death during home invasion 'I'm going to miss that hug in the morning and that hug at night and that hug before he left,' she said. Deputies are still investigating the crash. 'I just want these kids to understand they're not invincible. They gotta rest. They gotta take care of themselves,' Decker said. Mahlon's parents said they forgive the driver. 'No blame, no blame. It could have easily been Mahlon driving,' said the victim's mother, Jenelle Thornton. Mahlon's funeral is Saturday in West Cobb. His family said they are finding comfort through faith. 'Our ministry has just begun because of this event. This will reshape us. We have no idea how to comprehend,' the victim's father, Wayne Thornton said.
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  • Lauren Hutton is going to be this year's honoree at the 20th annual Maine International Film Festival. The 73-year-old actress, model and producer will be awarded the Mid-Life Achievement Award next month in Waterville, Maine. Festival programmer Ken Eisen told the Morning Sentinel (http://bit.ly/2u03TZ6) that Hutton was part of what he described as a golden age of American filmmaking in the 1970s and that she broke the rules for aging by modeling nude at age 61. She'll receive the award July 20 at the Waterville Opera House where her movie 'American Gigolo,' also starring Richard Gere, will be shown. ___ Information from: Morning Sentinel, http://www.onlinesentinel.com/
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