Cold in July Review – Payback’s a B*tch!


Director: Jim Mickle

Writers: Jim Mickle, Nick Damici (screenplay), Joe R. Lansdale (novel)

Stars: Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Vinessa Shaw

cold_in_july_ver2


Release date: May 23, 2014

 Distributor: IFC Films 

Country: USA

Running time: 110 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: The atmospheric visuals.

Worst part: The undercooked sub-plots. 

My screening of crime-thriller Cold in July was a precious and disarming experience. Sitting alongside my mother, several distractions reared their ugly heads before the lights dimmed and the movie reached its first frame. It’s strange whenever a movie instantly immerses you in its magic. The distractions fade away, and the narrative’s cinematic aura introduces itself willingly and charmingly. After the opening frame (part of a spectacular first scene), Cold in July fills its quarrels and catastrophes with a revolver’s worth of bullets.

Michael C. Hall.

With a dynamic story and engaging characters riding off into the sunset, this crime-thriller addresses the best and worst aspects of its ever-expanding genre. With new additions kicking their way through our doors each year, the revenge-thriller is hurriedly becoming a worn-out concept. In fact, recently, Blue Ruin roared its satirical and visceral sound at an unsuspecting film festival crowd. Here, the genre’s stripped-back nature is in full effect. The movie, not one to shoot second, delivers major questions before and after lighting up the screen with bullets, blood, and bad deeds. Intriguingly, to describe the plot, I may have to reach into the deep, dark recesses of my soul. This crime-thriller kicks off with a bang. With an intruder rummaging through his house, polite citizen Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) takes the law into his own hands. After blowing the intruder’s brains out, Richard watches on in horror as his actions ripple across town. Tested by his wife, Ann (Vinessa Shaw), and their child, Jordan (Brogan Hall), this simpleton craves for everything to go back to normal. However, this act of self-defence yields severe consequences for our lead character. As the victim’s disgruntled father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard), is released from prison, Richard watches over his family and home. Following through with its premise, masculinity, right vs. wrong, and gun worship are given as much credit as the lead actors.

C. Hall and Sam Shepard.

The premise – relying on charm and subtlety to push it forward – is certainly an interesting one. With revenge-thrillers making their mark on the transformer-and-superhero-ridden cinematic landscape, the little guy is making his mark over the big boys surrounding him. Okay, enough with the metaphors! I’m here to discuss Cold in July in a sincere and serious fashion. However, with something so delicious and gritty gracing our screens, it’s difficult not to notice its overt cheese factor. From the first few scenes onward, in which the town’s tasteless inhabitants tell it the way they see it, this story delves head-long into its most discomforting conceits. Cold in July tracks its characters, as its familial drama quickly reaches breaking point. With Ben swearing revenge, paranoia builds upon the already bizarre narrative. Echoing Cape Fear‘s intensifying structure, this guessing game rolls through the small-town setting with thunderous momentum. However, shockingly, this conflict only takes up the first third. The first third, housing Richard and Ben’s cat-and-mouse game, delivers more tension-fuelled moments and standard story beats than expected. The narrative then takes a turn for the kooky, as certain revelations alter Richard and Ben’s vicious battle. Taking on goons and genre tropes, this crime-drama lovingly transitions into a fiery western. Aided by War hero turned private investigator Jim Bob Luke(Don Johnson)’s kooky introduction, the movie’s second-half turns bolster an already arresting revenge-thriller.

“Are you really my father?” (Freddy (Wyatt Russell), Cold in July).

Don Johnson.

Upping the ante throughout the tight 110-minute run-time, director Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are) understands the benefits and limitations of the genre he’s playing in. Influenced by Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Drive, Mickle honours these significant game-changing features and directors throughout this alluring thrill-ride. Matching sickeningly dark twists with blackly comedic jabs, his efforts deliver gut-wrenching surprises and moral quandaries. Clinging onto Joe R. Lansdale’s novel, Mickle and fellow screenwriter Nick Damici (also starring in a key role) occasionally veer into cloying obstacles. Several sub-plots, from the intrinsically important to the mildly distracting, are left wholly unresolved. By story’s end, questions and answers face off inside the viewer’s swirling mindset. Mickle’s feature, if anything, follows through on its promise to stick by Texas’ good ol’ fashioned timeliness. With certain settings becoming drenched in sleaze and sweat, the visuals strike up an unusual concoction of filth, degradation, and blood. Tracking our leads through strange situations, the cinematography is worth the admission cost. Slightly off-kilter, certain camera angles and movements heighten the tension. With a John Carpenter-like score upping the stakes, the movie’s 80s-era vibe comes close to tripping this meticulous story. Gracefully, the movie’s organic performances push this crime-thriller over the edge. In this hard-edged role, C. Hall’s adds tenacity and liveliness to every scene. Following his character, the story jumps whenever he does. In addition, Shepard and Johnson simultaneously parody and pay homage to their wonder years.

Overcoming the corny one-liners, gaping plot-holes, and obvious homages, Cold in July puts its foot down at opportune moments. Setting up several intriguing sub-plots and motivations, the first half pays off significantly more so than the second. However, despite these mild complaints, this crime-thriller eventually comes through. Unlike most modern movies, Cold in July is surprisingly honest about its best and worst qualities.

Verdict: A taut and intriguing crime-thriller

Trailer Trash – The Expendables 3 Official Trailer


expendables3-poster1-2In 2010, action-hungry superstar Sylvester Stallone gave us a taste of his excessive lifestyle. Surrounded by action heroes, explosions, and bland one-liners, The Expendables became a commercial hit in the vein of Planet Hollywood, the National Rifle Association, and your average strip club. However, eerily resembling a set of testicles, this testosterone-charged roller-coaster rubbed critics and pop-culture the wrong way. However, in 2012, The Expendables 2 upped the ante. Quality wise, it was vastly superior to the original. Sadly, it didn’t elevate the series’ reputation.

This year, Stallone and co. aim to please every being on this big, blue marble. Looking back on the first two with regret, this-and-last-century’s action stars are, at the very least, trying to make a different type of Expendables venture. Ridding this sequel of CGI blood, useless cameos, and irritating jokes, the style and tone have been drastically altered. Bred by Australian filmmaker Patrick Hughes (Red Hill), The Expendables 3 sticks to this genre’s roots. With explosions, fist-fights, and wrinkled facades covering the screen, this trailer makes everything look somewhat authentic. From the get go, we see a train being turned into junkyard scrap-metal by our arthritis-ridden supermen. Ironically, their target is a jail-ridden Wesley Snipes. Giving this instalment a chance, this trailer gets off to a promising start.

Here, we also see some significant upgrades from the first two. Adding gravitas to this witless and brash franchise, newcomers Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer boost this instalment’s gargantuan potential. Sadly, Ford makes room to make fun of Jet Li’s height. Seriously, why would ANYONE pick on this martial-arts master? However, this sequel’s purpose rings true. Kidnapping the Expendables’ younger additions, Mel Gibson’s bad-guy character delivers some bite for this preposterous series. Beyond this, the trailer may be delivering the movie’s better moments. It could end up as a momentous disappointment. Then again, we’ve already sat through the first one. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think!


Tom Conyers (Director) Interview – Working-class Cinephile


Australian filmmaker Tom Conyers.

At 2012’s Revelation Perth Film Festival, I got the spectacular chance to chat with Victorian Filmmakers Mark White and Tom Conyers. These two, promoting their new flick The Caretaker, were as approachable and professional as possible. So, a couple of years later, I took it upon myself to get in touch with them to chat about their past, present, and future successes. Conyers, the director, was lauded for using Victoria’s searing landscapes to his advantage. Building an influential bottle film, Conyer’s style brought a tight-knit cast and crew together for this explosive genre event. Recently, I caught up with Conyers to talk about the movie, his career, and the places he’s going next.

How did you begin your career in film-making?

I wouldn’t call where I’m at as having a career in filmmaking, more a residual existence, but I’ve always been interested in the craft, from way back as a kid making super 8 movies.

Where did the idea of the caretaker come from?

I was trying to think of a cheap script. ‘The Caretaker’ is basically four people in a room with a vampire. We were able to make it a lot more cinematic than that with great locations, by shifting much of the action to the outdoors, and putting in a few scenes with extras, though. I also wanted to try to bring up issues that aren’t usually the preserve of genre films. To me ‘The Caretaker’ is about domesticity. Whether the house is always a home. Is marriage something that must be sanctified in a church or whether it can exist as an idea between couples. I wanted to look at less salutatory aspects of Australian culture, particularly to do with masculinity. And to invert the idea of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold into domesticity, as anyone will understand who’s seen how the film ends. Even the vampire is domesticated, being let out like a cat at night. One of my favourite plays is ‘The Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen and I think that fed into the film somehow.

Were your inspirations/ideas by the current popularity of vampires in any way?

I wouldn’t say I’ve religiously followed vampires. My favourite vampire novel would be ‘Carmilla’ by Sheridan Le Fanu. Very subtle, which it had to be for the time. In terms of vampire films, ‘The Hunger’ and ‘Martin’ are my two favourites. And they’re quite old now. So I wasn’t terribly aware of the current trends.

How did your plan for the film come together in the script writing/pre-production stage?

It mostly came together pretty well despite great obstacles. I feel I got about 70% of the film I wanted, and the rest I can live with!

What was it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s production?

There was good and bad. The depressing thing is that not only does a vast proportion of the public and critics write off Australian films, but so too do many actors and crew working on them. It means that making an independent film is just one long torturous uphill battle. There were a handful of people we worked with both in front of the camera and behind it who were great, and there have been some really supportive champions of the film since. But Australian films are never going to really thrive till there is better support at home. Which is a shame, because there seem to be independent films getting made all the time in this country but most people wouldn’t know it. I don’t know why the ABC doesn’t set up a channel like the Indigenous one they’ve now got, but devoted exclusively to homegrown, independent content. It might just be that Australian film generally fails because no one gets to see it. The problem with this stupid world where protectionism has been deemed a dirty word, where the market is left to decide what lives and dies, is that instead of the greater choice and lower prices this purportedly offers, instead we are left with monopolies dictating the publics’ tastes with increasingly homogenous and overpriced fair. But that’s how this dumb world works. ‘The market, the market.’ Likes it’s this living thing we have no choice but to be in thrall to.

What were the highest and lowest points of the production?

The food, the mice, the skepticism were the low points. The high point was just the thrill of making a feature film finally, and working with those people who were enthused and doing a great job.

How did you create the visual effects and set designs?

In terms of visual effects, we tried to do as much in-camera as possible and then enhanced things later on computer. But the real impressive computer graphics were done in Brazil by a friend of mine, Verginia Grando, and her team. The sets were put up and taken down and redressed in record time by the producer Mark White and set-dressing duo Jane Cherry and Jessica Moran.

How did everything come together in the post-production stage?

We took a year editing the film. We’d probably do it much faster if we had it over again. But because you’re feeling your way in the dark, you make mistakes like having your sound files in the wrong format and discovering you need to recode them and so on. Plus we had one big continuity problem. One of the actors in the film doesn’t have any costume changes. He’s in the same gear from start to finish. No one was really watching his continuity but the actor bizarrely kept rolling his sleeves up and down!

How important are genre films such as yours in the image of Australian independent cinema?

I don’t know. I suppose genre films are appealing to the independent filmmaker because people will still watch them even if marquee names aren’t attached. The genre crowd generally seems less snobbish. I’ve seen some really good independent dramas and comedies that just don’t get a look in at all because no one knows any of the actors in them.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian independent film industry?

There are almost no advantages. There are almost an overwhelming number of disadvantages. I’m still trying to think of the advantages.

What is your next project?

I have multiple projects. Whether any come to fruition is another matter. But they are in all sorts of genres and styles. I’m taking to a few people, and there are a few people doing their best to make some of them real, but we’ll see. I won’t believe I’m making another film till the first day on set and it’s too late for investors to pull their money out.

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

I think it’s become a lot cheaper to make a good-looking film these days. I starting out making 16mm shorts and the cost of the film stock, processing and telecine was exorbitant. Our whole budget for ‘The Caretaker’ would probably have gone on those three things if we hadn’t been able to shoot digital. But while digital has been a godsend in one way, it also means people can copy your work without any degradation in quality. Making money out of movies for the independent filmmaker still seems like an uphill battle.

Official website: The Caretaker


 

 

Mark White (Actor/Producer) Interview – Diving In Fang First


Actor/producer Mark White.

Back in 2012, I got the chance to meet, and chat extensively with, actor/producer Mark White. At the Revelation Perth Film Festival, his latest feature The Caretaker was on display for critics and cinema-goers to take in. The movie, dropping a bunch of ordinary people in a vampiric apocalypse, pushes the very best of Australian genre cinema to the edge. With a restrained budget, cast, and crew on offer, the production was lauded as being valuable and intrinsic to the Australian film industry. Calling Victoria home, Mark White graciously agreed to an interview about his motivations, the feature, and everything concerning the industry today.

How did you begin your career in film-making ?

IT WAS A VERY FLUID PROCESS FOR ME. AS A DANCE STUDENT I TOOK ALL THE TELEVISION COMMERCIALS AND BIT PARTS I COULD GET TO HELP KEEP A ROOF OVER MY HEAD. OVERR THE YEARS THE WORK BECAME MORE SOPHISTICATED AND I BEGAN TO GRASP THE VAST DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THEATRE AND RECORDED MEDIA, AND THE VERY DIFFERENT TYPES AND INTENSITY OF PERFORMANCE FROM ONE TO THE OTHER. AS MY DANCE SKILLS DEVELOPED OPPORTUNITIES TO CHOREOGRAPH AROSE, INTRODUCING ME TO PRODUCTION. AT THAT TIME I WORKED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY WITH SILVER-SCREEN AND JEFF DIXON BEGAN TO ASK ME TO CAST UPCOMING PRODUCTIONS. IVE HAD NO FORMAL TRAINING AT ALL.

As producer, how did you finance The Caretaker?

INDIE FILM IS ABOUT AD TOUGH AS IT GETS. I CAN YELL YOU THAT IT IS EASIER TO RAISE $20 MILLION THAN IT IS TO RAISE $200 THOUSAND. I’M CONSTANTLY STUNNED BY THE PERCENTAGE OF ARTLESS CRAP COMING OUT OF THE BIG MONEY END OF THIS INDUSTRY. EASY COME EASY GO I GUESS. I BEGIN EVRY INDEPENDENT FILM, BY BEGINNING! THERE WAS NO MONEY AT ALL. SO WE PULLED IN A FEW FAVOURS, ASSEMBLED A SKELETON CREW HIT THE ROAD TO MAKE THE TRAILER FOR THE FILM. IN MY OPINION THAT IS THE WAY TO GO. SHOW POTENTIAL BACKERS WHAT IT IS GOING TO BE, THE STYLE AND FEEL, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY….THAT YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU SAY! PEOPLE SAW THE TRAILER AND WROTE US CHECKS. THE FIRST THREE PEOPLE WE SHOWED IT GAVE US $345,000. I DONATED FOUR YEARS TO THE PROJECT AS WELL AS SHAVING COSTS BY ACTING – IN REAL TERMS, THAT REPRESENTS A MINIMUM OF $1 MILLION, AND THE DIRECTOR’S CONTRIBUTION WOULD BE THE SAME. THIS IS WHAT CAM BE SO MISLEADING ABOUT INDIE FILM. THE REAL COST IF YOU INCLUDE THE PRODUCER/STAR/WRITER/DIRECTOR/EDITOR ETC WOULD BE CLOSER TO $3 MILLION.

What are the major challenges with financing a film such as this in the Australian film Industry?

I’LL BE FRANK. THE VAST BULK OF AUSSIE FILMS THIS SIZE NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY, OFTEN SHELVED WITHOUT BEING COMPLETED. THEN IF YOU GET THERE IT’s DAMN TOUGH TO GET AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTORS AND AGENTS TO CONSIDER YOU. THE CARETAKER IS IN THE UK, NORTH AMERICA, CANADA, JAPAN, SPAIN, GERMANY AND MORE…PRETTY MUCH EVERYWHERE, EXCEPT AUSTRALIA. NOT ONE DISTRIBUTOR WAS INTERESTED. WHILE IT’s NOT EXCLUSIVE TO AUSTRALIA, THERE IS A GATEKEEPER MENTALITY IN MOST ARTS COMMUNITIES HERE, SO THAT INSTEAD OF ENTHUSIASTICALLY SUPPORTING THE TENACITY OF DYI NEWCOMERS AND EMERGING TALENT THEY ARE OFTEN IGNORED

You not only produce but play an important character in the film, what is it like to work with such a close group of people during the film’s conception?

EXHAUSTING. I WOULD HAVE BEEN THE MOST EXPERIENCED PERFORMER BY TWENTY YEARS AT LEAST. IN ADDITION OF COURSE ITS MY DUTY AS PRODUCER TO INSURE THAT PRODUCTION ORBITS MY PERSONA IN SUCH A WAY AS TO PROTECT THE DIRECTOR AND HIS VISION. IN ORDER TO ENSURE THAT THE ACTORS NEVER FELT THAT THEY WERE FILMING A SCENE WITH THE BOSS I HAD TO REDESIGN MY PRODUCER ROLE INTO ONE MORE PLIANT…NO DOWN TIME.

How did/do you distribute your films?

AS YOU’D BE AWARE. THE INDUSTRY IS AT THE MERCY OF SUCCESSIVE REVOLUTIONS IN MEDIA TECHNOLOGY AND INTERACTIVITY. ANYONE DISTRIBUTING FILM WITHIN PIRACY BEING FRONT AND CENTRE IN THEIR STRATEGY WILL FAIL. SO GIVING A DISTRIBUTOR NEARLY HALF OF YOUR REVENUE WHEN THE FILM IS ON EVERYONE’s COMPUTER BEFORE THE RELEASE DATE AINT GONNA CUT IT. THIS WAS PROBABLY THE LAST FILM THAT I WOULD DISTRIBUTE TRADITIONALLY. THAT SAID, THERE WAS NOTHING TRADITIONAL ABOUT OUR PROCESS. RANDOMS SUBMITTING UNSOLICITED FILMS TO DISTRIBUTORS IS SIMPLY NOT DONE. BUT YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN EHAT YOU DO, AND CONVEY THAT BELIEF. WE HAD THREE SOLID OFFERS FOR DISTRIBUTION AND A GLOBAL AGENT WITHIN A MONTH OF COMPLETION.

How important to you is the fan base that it now has?

ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES OF STARTING SO YOUNG AND GROWING UP IN THE BUSINESS IS A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ARTIST AND AUDIENCE. A STRONG AND GROWING FAN BASE IS AN INDICATION THAT YOU ARE MOSTLY GETTING YOUR JOB RIGHT. NOT PERFECT, BUT RIGHT. ALSO, NOW MORE THAN EVER WE NEED THE FAN BASE TO VALUE THE FILM, BECAUSE MOST OF THEM TORRENTED IT. THE FUTURE OF THIS RELATIONSHIP WILL RELY ON THE END USER CHOOSING TO GIVE THE PRODUCER MONEY.

How do you see social media outlets aiding the distribution and advertising of independent films such as yours?

DIFFICULT. WITHOUT THE MANPOWER AND CAPITAL FOR A SUSTAINED BLAST TO ALL AVENUES OF SOCIAL MEDIA IT IS DIFFICULT TO REACH CRITICAL MASS. SO, AGAIN WE HAD TO DO WHAT WE COULD AND THEN LEAVE OURSELVES IN THE HANDS OF THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY. FB FANS ARE JOW GROWING OF THEIR OWN ACCORD, MANY OF THEM TORRENTED THE FILM, BUT DECIDED IT WAS WORTH SUPPORTING.

How important are national film festivals to independent film-makers such as yourselves?

HAVING A HANDFUL OF LAUREL LEAVES TO PLASTER OVER THE FRONT OF YOUR MATERIAL IS A GOOD ATTENTION GRABBER iIN TERMS OF BOTH AGENTS/DISTRIBUTORS AND AUDIENCE. I HAVE MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT FESTIVALS. ONE NEEDS TO BE AWARE OF HOW MANY COPIES OF THE FILM ARE OUT THERE. IM CERTAIN SOME OF THE SHONKIER ‘FESTIVALS’ ARE NOT MUCH MORE THAN A FRONT FOR PIRATE BAY. WHILE THE A LISTS ARE A QUAGMIRE OF NEPOTISM. AS FOR THE B AND C LIST…IF YOU ARENT CERTAIN YOULL TAKE OUT BEST FEATURE, WHY BOTHER? THE EXPECTED ANIMOSITY BETWEEN MAINSTREAM AND ALTERNATIVE FESTIVALS OFTEN MEANS LIMITED UPWARD NETWORK MOBILITY. IF YOURE NOT GOING TO WIN, DONT PUT IT IN.

What is your next project?

HAHAHA. THAT WOULD BE TELLING! BUT I CAN SAY THAT IT IS CONFIRMED AND FULLY FUNDED AT MANY TIMES THE BUDGET OF THE LAST. AND THAT I WILL BE WORKING WITH THE SAME DIRECTOR ONCE AGAIN. I ANTICIPATE THAT WE WILL HAVE COMPLETED PRODUCTION BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR.

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

EVERYTHING IN THE INDUSTRY HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS. TECHNOLOGY….ON ONE SIDE AS RELENTLESS WAVES OF TECHNICAL REVOLUTION CRASH OVER THE INDUSTRY IT GETS EASIER TO DO MORE FOR LESS, WHICH IS GOOD, BECAUSE ON THE OTHER SIDE-THOSE SAME WAVES CRASH OVER THE MARKET AND MAKES IT EASIER TO TAKE EVERYTHING AND PAY NOTHING. TWENTY YEARS FROM NOW CELLPHONE CAMS WILL HAVE THE SCOPE AND CAPACITY FOR FEATURES. WE HAVE ENTERED A PERIOD WHERE ALMOST ALL THE TECHNICAL HARDWARE FROM EVERY DEPARTMENT IS REDUNDANT BY THE END OF EACH PROJECT, WITH BETTER, CHEAPER VERSIONS WAITING FOR THE NEXT.

Official website: The Caretaker


Jersey Boys Review – A Bum Note


Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice (screenplay & book)

Stars: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda

 


Release date: June 20th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 134 minutes


 

 

 

2/5

Best part: The catchy musical numbers.

Worst part: Eastwood’s direction. 

Musicals – some people absolutely love them, while others despise them more than death, taxes, and the Republican Party combined. Gen-Y, a group infatuated with bright screens and tight clothes, is a generation with no interest in musical theatre. In fact, most youngsters would take Selena Gomez any day over Jean Valjean. Despite the preceding few sentences’ condescending tone, I must ask the following questions for the sake of objectivity – is this a major issue? Which demographic is the focus of musical theatre? Is anyone to blame the fall of specific genres, trends etc. throughout entertainment history?

Our troupe in action.

With all this in mind, Hollywood has thrown several big-budget musical adaptations at us over the past decade. With everything from Les Miserables, to Moulin Rouge, to Rock of Ages gracing us with their presence, this trend, like any others, has its fair share of spectacular hits and crippling misfires. So, who would be the best person to elevate this genre above its blockbuster-drenched competition? According to…himself, actor/director maestro Clint Eastwood is the man to make this potentially transcendent cultural shift happen. His latest directorial effort – and first musical adaptation – Jersey Boys, despite its charming high points, lands with a deftly sullen thud. Beyond the commendable intentions, this tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons delivers far more false notes than grand crescendos. I’ll stop myself there. Before I delve into my complaints, I’ll describe the topsy-turvy plot. Jersey Boys kicks off with three miscreants struggling keep their heads above water. Stuck in New Jersey, bad-boy Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) and his sidekick Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) spend their days scoring gigs and breaking the law. Moving through “revolving door” prisons, these boys are destined to either join the mob or die. However, after timid confidant Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) wows an audience, their aspirations become reality. Along the way, after the group hires ‘Short Shorts’ creator Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), recording contracts and country-wide tours make stars out of our four rapscallions.

Mike Doyle.

Resting on several generations’ love of nostalgia and peace-of-mind slices of entertainment, this Jersey Boys adaptation feels like it’s been released about 5-10 years too late. I don’t mean to illuminate my age or insinuate a hatred of anything even remotely twee. In fact, I recently saw the West End stage production of Jersey Boys in full bloom. The musical – gripping onto its obvious archetypes, fun sense of humour, and lively visuals – sets the right tone for this harmless narrative from the get-go. Inexplicably, Eastwood leaves out everything vibrant and profound about the original material. For his forceful and misguided adaptation, his style drenches this light-hearted tale in a distressing brand of darkness. From the first breaking-the-fourth-wall narration sequence onward, the musical’s iconic tropes clash with the movie’s dour tone and meandering development. Here, the differences between film and theatre production stick out like Valli’s piercing falsetto. This time around, the younger Joe Pesci’s inclusion lacks any sense of verve or sky-high wit. Eastwood, who may be going senile, clings onto the musical’s intended audience whilst neglecting its most valuable conceits. Without stretching the musical’s boundaries, his adaptation takes an inappropriately maudlin approach. At the very least, Eastwood’s comforting themes about the good ol’ days, Americana, empowerment, and masculinity aid this otherwise peculiar adaptation. Regrettably, noticeable in comparing the musical with Eastwood’s efforts, this adaptation clearly isn’t concerned with attracting new followers.

“Oh, by the way, if you’re ever in Vegas, go to a casino. Say the name, “Tommy DeVito”. My hand to God, you’ll be outta there in 12 seconds.” (Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), Jersey Boys).

The amazing Christopher Walken.

Like Walk the Line and Ray, this version follows our famous musicians through poverty, success, temptation, and salvation. With his style known for creating ever-lasting time capsules, this version could, and should, have been an epic tale of devastation, regret, and profound accomplishments. With tinges of Martin Scorsese and David O. Russell shining throughout, these filmmakers would’ve brought more enthusiasm and wonder to this note-worthy concept. With muted colour patterns, an acute attention to detail, and lingering camerawork defining Eastwood’s directorial efforts, his visual palette prevents this adaptation from hitting any high notes. Worst of all, our leads are hampered by dodgy old-age make-up in the final scene. Beyond this, the musical numbers are largely neglected in favour of the by-the-numbers-biopic execution. However, used sporadically throughout, certain songs become shining lights in this morbid affair. Paying homage to everything from the Ed Sullivan show to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, performances of ‘Sherry’, ‘Walk Like a Man’, and ‘Who Loves You’ provide context and gravitas for Eastwood’s out-of-touch vision. Graciously, like with every Eastwood production, the performers shine throughout. The four leads excel despite the awkward circumstances. Having played Valli on stage, Lloyd Young excels as this heartbroken celebrity figure. In addition, famed character actor Christopher Walken is a delight as high-end gangster Gyp DeCarlo. Meanwhile, Mike Doyle is enrapturing as the group’s “theatrical” manager Bob Crewe.

Whilst I was watching Jersey Boys, I spent a certain period of time imagining what Eastwood’s day-to-day production schedule must’ve been like: At 8am he starts filming, at 3pm he talks to a chair, and at 4: 30pm he goes to bed. I know this is a cruel way to talk about such a colossal Hollywood legend. However, here, like with Invictus, Hereafter, and J Edgar, he’s taken promising material and tarred it with soppy story-lines, leaden pacing, and a bafflingly dark tone. ‘Walk like a Man’? More like ‘Direct like an Amateur’. Sorry, Clint.

Verdict: Yet another Eastwood-helmed flop. 

3 Days to Kill Review – Dead on Arrival


Director: McG

Writers: Luc Besson, Adi Hasak

Stars: Kevin Costner, Amber Heard, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Nielsen

three_days_to_kill


Release date: June 20th, 2014

Distributor: Relativity Media

Country: USA

Running time: 117 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: Costner’s hard-edged performance.

Worst part: The dodgy action-direction.

Known for tear-jerking baseball/ghost flicks and the movie that inspired Avatar‘s by-the-numbers storyline (Dances with Wolves), actor/director/producer extraordinaire Kevin Costner has been thrust back into the spotlight. Embarrassingly, I don’t think anyone was asking for his return. However, amiably, this All-American bloke is keen to repurpose his charming persona and limited range for a vastly different generation. In addition, this cool-calm-and-collected star hopes to reinvigorate a particular type of character – the father figure.

Kevin Costner.

Now emblazoned with crows feet and grey-tinged stubble, this brand of Costner elevates, but never legitimises, ultra-moronic actioner 3 Days to Kill. Donning a suitable facade, this veteran Tinseltown icon has fallen into a morose and vapid trap. Sadly, Costner is now wrapped around ‘acclaimed’ writer/director Luc Besson’s gargantuan middle finger. Labelled by pop-culture as a “factory” or “school”, Besson’s stranglehold on French film production is fuelled by optimistic executives and stylish action beats. Repeating himself over multiple decades, this auteur has developed a knack for handing responsibilities, and blame, off to other writers, editors, cinematographers, and directors. Kicking off Pierre Morrel (Taken) and Louis Leterrier(Unleashed)’s perfunctory careers, Besson now places his trust in one of Hollywood’s most despised directors. However, before I talk about him, I should examine 3 Days to Kill‘s meaningless and confused plot. Trust me, this synopsis won’t take too much out of you. Costner plays grizzled CIA operative Ethan Renner. Suffering a bizarre illness, Renner’s health could potentially disrupt his next major assignment. Renner’s team, aided by CIA assassin Vivi (Amber Heard), is assigned to track down a dangerous arms dealer, the Wolf (Richard Sammel), and his lieutenant, the Albino (Tomas Lemarquis). After the mission is obliterated, Renner coughs up blood and passes out before waking up in a hospital.

Amber Heard.

As it turns out, Renner has malignant brain and lung cancer. Given 3-5 months to live, he heads to Paris to send some quality time with his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) and their daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld).  As you can tell, 3 Days to Kill‘s story neither says nor does anything original or intriguing. From the opening action sputter onward, the movie’s plot-points, twists, and character turns become visible from miles away. The narrative, copied and pasted from Besson’s previous efforts (Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita), makes for devising a fun game out of pinpointing certain French action-thriller tropes. However, given the budget, resources, and talent on offer, this derivative and inconsistent narrative just isn’t acceptable. Director McG (the Charlie’s Angels series, Terminator Salvation) treads over and slips across tired, old ground. Yet again, McG’s bizarre and inconsequential style covers farcical situations, spies, and explosive action sequences. Failing to eclipse his TV series, Chuck, 3 Days to Kill delivers frustrating flashbacks to McG’s preceding flop This Means War. In addition, like Renner’s illness, Besson’s style infects the movie’s more valuable conceits. Like that atrocity, this actioner mistakes genre-hopping antics for jarring tonal shifts. With useless comedic hijinks clashing with heartfelt moments, the movie’s tone is as shaky and destructive as Renner’s ailing condition. Haphazardly, the movie also juggles Renner’s parenting issues, an African family squatting in his dingy apartment, and several wacky torture sequences. Bafflingly, this concoction of Taken and The Transporter lacks stakes, pacy thrills, and grit.

“The longer I was gone, it felt like the harder it was to come back.” (Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner), 3 Days to Kill).

Connie Nielsen & Hailee Steinfeld.

Despite the directorial foibles and insufficient screenplay, 3 Days to Kill delivers enough enjoyment to last…about 2 hours in the memory banks. In fact, this movie is worth little more than a lazy, hangover-induced Sunday morning. Sadly, the extensive run-time outlasts the movie’s more gripping aspects. After the second act, the narrative falls head-long into predictable revelations and tiresome shootouts. Wrapping up plot-lines in ethically questionable and unfulfilling ways, this action-thriller could, and should, send Besson and co. back to the drawing board. Despite this, this mindless actioner still delivers entertaining action sequences and witty lines. The shootouts and fist-fights, utilising Paris’ gorgeous aesthetic, are fun distractions in this po-faced schlock. However, in typical McG fashion, the sound design and editing fatally misfire. Held hostage by misplaced gunshots and quick-cuts, McG’s approach undercuts everything Besson’s work promises. Overcoming the woeful direction and dialogue, Costner’s inherent charm saves this bland and uninspired effort. After scintillating turns in Hatfields & McCoys and Man of Steel, this veteran star can still deliver touching performances. With Liam Neeson seemingly unavailable this time around, Costner skilfully adapts to each set-piece. Despite his limitations, his action moments elevate this forgettable effort. Meanwhile, taking on a pseudo-Sin City vibe, Heard overtakes Denise Richards for the title of ‘Sexiest Blonde to Envelop Unconvincing Roles’.

With Besson and McG at the helm, 3 Days to Kill is as predictable, tedious, and groan-inducing as you’d expect. Treating constructive criticism like a mind hindrance, Besson’s money-grubbing system deals perfunctory efforts out to desperate hacks. However, with Costner anchoring the silly narrative, this action-thriller is still more tolerable than Columbiana, Taken 2, and Lockout. Well done, McG – you’ve finally made something that’s considered better than something else.

Verdict: A misstep in Costner’s career renaissance. 

Theatre Review – Les Miserables @ Queen’s Theatre


Directors: Trevor Nunn, John Caird

Music/Lyrics: Claude-Michael Schonberg, Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel, Herbert Kretzmer

Stars: Simon Shorten, David Thaxton, Celinde Schoenmaker, Tom Edden

66631-large


Basis: Les Miserables (novel) by Victor Hugo

Adaptation: Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil, Trevor Nunn, John Caird

Premiere date: 1980 (Paris), 1985 (west End)

Genre: Musical, drama


 

 

4½/5

Best Part: The rousing musical numbers

Worst Part: The stodgy love triangle

Courageously, a handful of musicals have stood the test of time. These select few, visually and thematically standing out from the crowd, have been proven worthy of pop-culture acclaim. Even the average Joe, who may or may not know anything about musical theatre, is aware of these productions and their effect on the world. However, big-budget musicals like Wicked, The Loin King, Jersey Boys, and Miss Saigon – despite their overwhelming auras – all pale in comparison to the world’s biggest theatre production. I’m, of course, talking about period-piece extravaganza Les Miserables.

The cast in control.

So, the question remains, how has Les Miserables become this prominent and insightful? Why is a musical about a French Revolution considered to be the most important creation in theatre history? Certainly, the narrative doesn’t inspire confidence or rave rounds of applause. The premise is steeped in one of history’s most depressing periods. In fact, its acclaim all comes down to the execution. The musical, thanks to acclaimed writers/lyricists Alain Boubil and Claude-Michael Schonberg, is a worthwhile delight in the midst of its exhaustive pop-cultural impact. After 25 years in the spotlight, this theatre extravaganza is still holding onto its best-and-brightest characteristics. Nowadays, after the 2012 blockbuster adaptation collected an enthusiastic choir of newcomers, future performances need to excel to satisfy its ever-increasing audience. So, does the West End’s ongoing iteration still hold-up to scrutiny? Well, in short, yes it absolutely does! Obviously, each performance tells the same story about heartfelt characters struggling to survive. However, this version delivers more refreshing nuances than operatic high notes (and that’s saying something). Queen’s Theatre, the heart of London’s artistic hub, now hosts this extraordinary endeavour. Walking up the steps, the anticipation builds like a grand crescendo. Greeted by courteous employees, I was immediately impressed by the venue’s atmospheric vibe.

A vibrant French Revolution.

Soon enough, after the rabid theatre geeks and groan-fuelled school kids took their seats, the lights steadily dimmed as the performance kicked off in style. Closing the surrounding curtains, the venue had prepped the audience. From there, the projector beamed bright colours and titles onto the stage’s immense canvas. The narrative rears its disgusting head in 1815, Digne. Matched by a momentous opening number, disgraced prisoner Jean Valjean (Simon Shorten) is released from his sentence by notorious lawman Javert (David Thaxton). Rejected by society, Valjean is ignored by everyone except the gracious Bishop of Digne (Adam Linstead). Those familiar with the musical will be able to track where this story goes after its traumatic  opening. After factory worker Fantine (Celinde Schoenmaker) is forced into prostitution, Valjean risks everything to help her daughter Cosette (Emilie Fleming) achieve a better life. Shockingly, I find it difficult to spell-out these details. This musical’s prowess lies within its darkest and most transcendent elements. Les Miserables‘ tiniest details reveal themselves at opportune moments. Suitably, viewers will lap-up this exhaustive, gripping, and touching experience. The story, revelling in the time period and courageous characters, is just one of several invigorating aspects of this stirring extravaganza. From there, several major and minor characters and plot-threads clash throughout the 150-minute run-time. Thanks to Thenardier (Tom Edden) and Madame Thenardier(Wendy Ferguson), a love triangle forms between Cosette, idealistic student Marius (Rob Houchen), and Eponine (Carrie Hope Fletcher).

“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living!” (Fantine(Celinde Schoenmaker), Les Miserables)

1097-1923-Master of the House

The Thenardiers.

Suitably, Les Miserables‘ musical numbers fuel its scintillating and unrelenting narrative. From the confronting opening sequence onward, the show’s top-tier numbers ring throughout the venue. Here, the performers deliver each song flawlessly. Within the first 45 minutes, this musical showcases its most profound and memorable songs. ‘Valjean’s Soliloquy’, ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, and ‘Castle on a Cloud’ tug on the heartstrings whilst telling gritty stories in themselves. Describing our lead characters’   conflicts and motivations, these numbers are first-half highlights. In addition, despite being brash comic reliefs, the Thenardiers work wonders for this sombre tale. ‘Master of the House’, fitting comfortably into this sprawling narrative, is a punchy and effective song. Utilising the entire stage, this version’s intricate production design boosts the experience. Switching sets with flawless technical precision, Les Miserables smoothly transitions between time periods, locations, and set pieces. Thanks to the swivelling stage mechanism, the larger-than-life execution crafts a momentous scope. The second-half’s battle sequences, combining the love triangle with Valjean’s dilemma, deliver timeless numbers and breathtaking choreography. Gun shots and bellowing cries help paint a portrait of this vital conflict. Graciously, the performers bolster this stirring stage production. Shorten, replacing Peter Lockyer for this performance, is a breakout success as the troubled prisoner turned protector. Within the first act, his revelatory performance matches Colm Wilkinson and Hugh Jackman’s turns.

Pushing itself to be better than previous productions, this West End version lives up to the original’s efforts and audience expectations. Eclipsing Tom Hooper’s cinematic adaptation, this version sticks to the original’s roots whilst delivering an exciting experience. As the world’s most popular and enlightening musical, the story, set and costume designs, musical numbers, and character arcs stand the test time on both sides of the Atlantic. Do you hear the people sing? Yes, we do. In fact, judging by box-office receipts, we cling onto multiple listens.

Verdict: An immense and note-worthy musical experience.