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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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  • The British man who killed four people during a London rampage had made three trips to Saudi Arabia: He taught English there twice on a work visa and returned on a visa usually granted to those going on a religious pilgrimage. More details about attacker Khalid Masood's travels, confirmed by the Saudi Arabian embassy in Britain, emerged Saturday amid a massive British police effort to discover how a homegrown ex-con with a violent streak became radicalized and why he launched a deadly attack Wednesday on Westminster Bridge. The embassy said he taught English in Saudi Arabia from November 2005 to November 2006 and again from April 2008 to April 2009, with legitimate work visas both times. He then returned to Saudi Arabia for six days in March 2015 on a trip booked through an approved travel agent and made on an 'Umra' visa, usually granted to those on a religious pilgrimage to the country's Islamic holy sites. The embassy said Saudi security services didn't track Masood and he didn't have a criminal record there. Before taking the name Masood, he was called Adrian Elms. He was known for having a violent temper in England and had been convicted at least twice for violent crimes. Masood drove his rented SUV across London's crowded Westminster Bridge on Wednesday, striking pedestrians. Then he jumped out and stabbed to death police officer Keith Palmer, who was guarding Parliament, before being shot dead by police. In all, he killed four people and left more than two dozen hospitalized, including some with catastrophic injuries. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attack, calling him a 'solider' who responded to its demands that followers attack countries in the coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq. British officials said security at Parliament will be reviewed after new footage emerged that showed the large gates to the complex were left open after Masood rushed onto the grounds. There are concerns that accomplices could have followed him in and killed even more people. The footage from that day shows pedestrians walking by the open gates and even a courier entering Parliament grounds. Former Metropolitan Police commissioner Ian Blair told the BBC that changes to the 'outer soft ring' of Parliament's security plan are likely in the aftermath of Masood's attack. The new footage follows earlier video that showed slight delays and confusion during the evacuation of Prime Minister Theresa May from Parliament as the attack unfolded. Masood, who at 52 is considerably older than most extremists who carry out bloodshed in the West, had an arrest record in Britain dating to 1983. In 2000, he slashed a man across the face in a pub parking lot in a racially charged argument after drinking, according to a newspaper account. Masood's last conviction, in 2003, also involved a knife attack. One victim, Danny Smith, told The Sun newspaper that Masood had stabbed him in the face with a kitchen knife after an argument just three days after they met. Hundreds of British police have been working to determine his motives and are scouring Masood's communications systems, including his possible use of the encrypted WhatsApp device, to help determine if he had any accomplices. Still, police have released many of those they took in for questioning in the case. One 58-year-old man remains in custody for questioning after being arrested Thursday in the central English city of Birmingham, where Masood was living. Authorities haven't charged or identified him. A 32-year-old woman arrested in Manchester has been released on bail and faces further inquiries. Police said Saturday that a 27-year-old man arrested Thursday in Birmingham has been released. Eight others arrested in connection with the investigation had been set free earlier, including a 39-year-old woman who had initially been freed on bail but now faces no further police action, police said Saturday. Details about how Masood became radicalized aren't clear, although he may have become exposed to radical views while an inmate in Britain or while working in conservative Saudi Arabia. It's also not clear when he took the name Masood, suggesting a conversion to Islam.
  • RADFORD, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina sheriff says a newborn and the baby's 2-year-old sister have been found stabbed to death.Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin tells WRAL (http://bit.ly/2n1S80h) the bodies of 4-day-old Genesis Freeman and 2-year-old Serenity Freeman were found Saturday in the woods near an intersection close to the city of Raeford.Before they were found, their 30-year-old father Tillman Freeman was arrested and charged with two counts of child abuse and child endangerment. Authorities said the father refused to cooperate with the investigation into the children's whereabouts. TRENDING STORIES: Plane crashes near Cobb County home; 1 killed Company will pay you $10K a month to travel, stay in luxury homes Home Depot accused of unsafe practices; Criminal investigation launched They have not said who they think killed the children, who were reported missing following a domestic dispute. Freeman's wife was in a local hospital when the children disappeared.Details about the domestic dispute were not immediately released. It's not clear whether Freeman has an attorney.
  • Tens of thousands protested Saturday under sunny skies in London against plans for Britain to withdraw from the European Union. The Unite for Europe march, which saw many people carrying bright blue EU flags, came just days before Britain is expected to begin its formal separation from the other 27 nations in the EU. The crowds observed a minute of silence at Parliament Square as a tribute to the four victims killed and dozens wounded in an attack Wednesday on Parliament. Many bowed their heads as Big Ben chimed and placed flowers at Parliament's gate to honor the victims. Police did not provide a crowd estimate. Organizers said more than 25,000 people were present. There was also a smaller anti-Brexit protest march in Edinburgh, Scotland. Organizers considered delaying the long-planned march because of the attack — in part to avoid putting extra strain on British police — but decided to go ahead. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron told the crowd that 'democracy continues' despite the assault. 'We stand in defiance of that attack,' he said. Prime Minister Theresa May plans to trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty on Wednesday, setting the Brexit process in motion. Negotiations are expected to take at least two years. Britain voted in a June 23 referendum to leave the EU.
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