Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Arts

06/27/2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction is one gigantic roboflop

Arts1

Everything about Michael Bay’s fourthTransformers movie is too much. Its 165 minute running time. Its convoluted plot. Its deafening score. Its product placement. Its never-ending action scenes. Its swooping camera work. Its overwhelming stupidity. Well before it finished I was numb from its bludgeoning excess.

The story opens five years after the “battle of Chicago,” the CGI extravaganza that ended the third instalment. Despite the fact that the Autobots saved humanity from annihilation, a C.I.A. black ops team led by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) is hunting down all Transformers, Autobots or Decepticons. Citizens are being asked to report all “suspicious” alien activity.

Shia LeBeouf is gone. In his place is Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) a struggling robotics engineer who discovers a broken-down Optimus Prime in a rotting movie theatre where the owner bemoans all those horrible sequels that have ruined movies.

Yeager’s daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), a gorgeous blonde who spends her time at their farm in short shorts and high heels, wants him to report the find, but he refuses.

Next thing you know, the black ops team is descending on them and explosions begin.

After narrowly escaping with the help of Tessa’s race-car driving boyfriend, Optimus sends out a call to all Autobots, and suddenly they all appear – Bumblebee, Hound (John Goodman), Ratchet (Robert Foxworth), Brains (Reno Wilson), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio) and Drift (Ken Watanabe). The group travels to Chicago to sniff out secrets at the company run by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), a Steve Jobs-esque figure who is building “better” Transformers in cahoots with Attinger.

Next thing you know, another Transfomer appears out of a giant spaceship. He’s got a huge cannon on his face and some message about a “Creator” who wants Optimus for reasons that are never explained and a “seed” that will destroy the Earth.

At this point, the action moves to Hong Kong for reasons that are completely unnecessary other than satisfying the interests of the film’s Chinese co-financiers and raking in money from the world’s second-largest movie market. This is a movie, after all, designed with nothing more in mind than making cash registers ring, as is evidenced by its heavy product placement. Bud Light, Tom Ford, Victoria Secret and Goodyear are just some of the brands that receive conspicuous screen time.

And...


Transformers: Age of Extinction Brings the FUN Back to Theaters

Arts2

I always say that it is ok for Critics to have a bias when we walk into a theater, a good movie will be good regardless of your initial opinion, a truly great movie has the ability to turn you into a fan and change your mood. To make glad you dragged yourself out to the theater. Yeah, I know people are whining and complaining about Transformers, but are people complaining about the movie or just projecting their irrational hatred and jealousy of Michael Bay onto the film? He knows his audience and delivers everything a fan of this franchise could want and more.

As someone who thinks Michael Bay gets unfairly slammed by critics I’m fairly ambivalent about his Transformers series. I was always more into GI: Joe than Hasbro’s weird robot franchise. I never understood it’s popularity and after three movies still can’t tell much of a difference between the Robots, Autobots, and Decepticons. When I heard Transformers: Age of Extinction was a gasp worth 165 mins, I’ll admit, I had zero desire to see it. Imagine my surprise when I walked out absolutely loving the hell out of this movie!

One of my concerns walking into the film was that it had the smell of complete reboot written all over it. When you destroy a major city, there should be some form of repercussion.  In the first GI Joe film, Cobra destroyed a large chunk of England, but it wasn’t even mentioned or touched on in the sequel. I love that Transformers film doesn’t ignore the events that happened at the end of the last one and that the war and destruction of Chicago is the catalyst for everything that happens in this movie. I kind of hope Batman Vs. Superman goes this route.

Taking place five years after the last film, the Government has had enough of Aliens of all stripes and has declared “war” on all Transformers. The CIA has a special taskforce assigned to track down any rogue Autobots and Decepticons. The lead black ops guy James Savoy (Titus Welliver) is in the game because his sister was killed in the battle of Chicago. He has zero tolerance for the Transformers and even less for humans like Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) that helps them.

Savoy’s boss is CIA mystery man Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) whose ace in the hole is a Alien bounty hunter who was hired by some unseen creator to capture Optimus Prime. Savoy has no allegiance, his grand scheme is to capture Optimus so the bounty hunter will give him “the seed”...



06/21/2014

'Jersey Boys' an off-key movie rendition

Arts1

The Broadway smash "Jersey Boys," among the most popular of the jukebox musicals, gets the Clint Eastwood treatment in this big-screen adaptation. That means it's turned into a movie defined by drab colors, muted tones and an overarching seriousness that thoroughly downplays the music while emphasizing The Four Seasons' roughneck New Jersey roots.

The Eastwood approach works for "Million Dollar Baby" and "Mystic River," but it seems a bit weird for a movie in which an emotional high point is a rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off You."

I haven't seen the show, so I can't comment on the degree to which the film differs from what audiences have been flocking to eight times a week on the Great White Way since 2005. But the film certainly plays as if Eastwood molded the material to shape a vision that adds a degree of realism but seems to operate at cross-purposes with the apparent goal of celebrating classic songs such as "Walk Like a Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry."

In the most straightforward fashion possible, the movie chronicles the rise of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and his fellow original Four Seasons, from their early days on the streets of Newark through fame and fortune and difficult periods. It hits all the expected notes for a biopic, though it is shot and defined like an old-fashioned mob picture, complete with a sepia-toned aesthetic and gritty scenes set on darkened streets.

This is never particularly engaging, despite the great work of Young, who has achieved the sort of close-knit communion with the real Valli that transcends mere acting. He won a Tony when he originated the part on Broadway and, if nothing else, the movie justifies its existence by preserving that performance for posterity.

Yet "Jersey Boys" goes through the paces in a fashion that suggests an overarching failure of imagination. Eastwood fixates so heavily on period details that the film rarely stops to consider what makes The Four Seasons endure.

We get glimpses of the musical process and there are the requisite performances, all of which occur on stage and are about as stirring as covers of these songs could be (which is to say not very). But if you're going to make a movie about the Four Seasons, it'd be a good idea to show some more interest in what broke them free from their neighborhood rather than just the neighborhood itself.

"Jersey Boys"
Two Stars
...


Jersey Boys (10/10)

Runtime 2 hours.

OK for children.

Rarely has a musical play disappointed me as much as Tony award-winning Jersey Boys (which is one of the longest running plays in Broadway history). The version I saw was so bad I was fighting sleep all the way through and even the music was mediocre.  So this movie was a pleasant surprise because it’s the best film I’ve seen all year, and maybe it will bring about the rebirth of the movie musical.

Director Clint Eastwood has done himself proud with a film that combines terrific musical performances along with a compelling story of Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young, who won a Tony for playing the role on stage) and The Four Seasons. Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda reprised their touring company roles as Bob Gaudio and Nick Massi, respectively.

Highlighted by a bravura performance by Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito, the troubled guy who put the group together, one of the big things Eastwood does right is to stay faithful to the music. One of the worst musicals ever made was Walk the Line (2008) which tried to tell the story of Johnny Cash without one song being sung straight through. Of course the film was burdened by an egomaniacal actor who insisted on singing the songs himself, never mind that he can’t sing and that Johnny Cash’s voice was iconic. Eastwood, to the contrary, showcases each song from beginning to end so the film is akin to a Four Seasons concert along with the interesting story of how they got there and what happened to them once they arrived. The difference is that Eastwood is a musician who loves music and pays it the deference it is due while James Mangold, who directed ‘Line, apparently has no history or background with music and obviously thought it had nothing to do with the story of Johnny Cash.

All of the music was recorded live (no lip-syncing) so what you hear is the music of the Four Seasons, sung by the cast. There didn’t seem to be any diminution of the quality of the performances, however.

The music is so good in this film that I stayed until the end credits stopped rolling just to hear all the music of The Four Seasons that played right up until the end.

As good as the music, are the story and the acting. As with most groups, they had their internal problems and Eastwood doesn’t blanch at telling the truth.

One of the many highlights of the film is the appearance of Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo, a mob boss who...



06/14/2014

Is Lana Del Rey ready to reign as pop queen?

Misc1

It was supposed to be Lana Del Rey’s big mainstream-crossover moment. But in January 2012, after she appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” the singer must have felt like heading straight back underground.

The New Yorker looked like a rabbit in the headlights, stumbling through a pitchy version of “Video Games,” from her major-label debut “Born to Die.” After months of hype — according to the blogosphere, Del Rey’s dramatic vocals, cinematic sound and movie-star looks were set to take the world by storm — the backlash was fast and vicious.

Actress Juliette Lewis clawed at the singer on Twitter, saying her appearance was like “watching a 12-year-old in their bedroom when they’re pretending to sing and perform.” NBC anchor Brian Williams deemed the performance one of the “worst outings in SNL history” in a leaked e-mail. Even Del Rey’s manager, Ben Mawson, admitted to The Post afterward that it was probably too soon to have booked her. The fact that Del Rey had gigged around New York under her birth name of Lizzy Grant before reinventing herself — she admitted to lowering her voice but denied rumors of plastic surgery — only added to the fire.

But how things have changed. On Tuesday, the 27-year-old drops her new album, “Ultraviolence,” and completes her rehabilitation from punching bag to post-modern pop queen.

In terms of sales, her recovery from SNL was instant. The controversy turned into to curiosity, sending “Born to Die” to No. 2 on the Billboard album charts, while a remix of the single “Summertime Sadness” hit the top 10 in 2013.

She also refined her songwriting skills over the course of the well-received “Paradise” and “Tropico” EPs, released in 2012 and 2013 respectively. “I think the backlash came from uninformed bloggers, not the general public,” Rick Nowels, a seasoned LA songwriter whose credits include tracks for Dido and Madonna, tells The Post. He has worked with Del Rey for three years, co-writing “Summertime Sadness” as well as three cuts on the new album, and insists that she is no poser. “She’s a brilliant lyricist and melodist. It flows from her effortlessly. All of our songs have been written in 20 minutes.”Modal Trigger

Del Rey’s femme-fatale poise has seen her stock rise in Hollywood quickly. She collaborated directly...


Lana Del Rey: 'I wish I was dead already'

Misc2

Lana Del Rey admitted in an interview that she wishes she was already dead reports Rob Shuter of VH1's "The Gossip Table." The hip crooner, speaking withThe Guardian UK, was discussing her heroes, members of the “27 club,” like Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain when she blurted out, “I wish I was dead already.” When the interviewer instinctively replied to not say that Del Rey countered back, “But I do… That’s just how I feel. If it wasn’t that way, then I wouldn’t say it.”

The chanteuse also revealed that she had been working on a song called “Brooklyn Baby” that she had written with him in mind : he’d wanted to work with Del Rey so she flew to New York to meet him.

“I took the red eye,” she recalled, “touched down at 7am and two minutes later he’d died.”

While she performed at Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding, Del Rey pondered on why she hasn’t achieved the same level of success as fellow musician Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga.

"Well, maybe those people are true provocateurs," she said. "But I'm really not and never have been. I don't think there's any shock value in my stuff – well, maybe the odd disconcerting lyric – but I think other people probably deserve the criticism, because they're eliciting it."

Del Rey’s second album, “Ultra Violence,” is due out next Tuesday.



06/06/2014

'Maleficent' is mostly magnificent

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Maleficent is the baddest fairy of them all. Doing a heavy rewrite of the classic Sleeping Beauty, Angelina Jolie redefines and gives unheard of depth and width to an until now fairly shallow fairytale character.

The movie begins with Maleficent and Stefan meeting as children. She's the de-facto ruler of a kingdom of fairies, pixies and other-worldly creatures. He's a young thief living next door in the kingdom of men. They become fast friends and fall in love.

But as an adult, he's power mad and greedy. When the king of men attacks Maleficent's kingdom, war breaks out. The men are easily defeated. Later, Stefan seeks her out to patch things up. She buys his deception, and he double-crosses her.

To say how would ruin the surprise and one of the film's twists.

After the double-cross, Stefan marries the king's daughter, inherits the kingdom and they have a daughter. Her name is Aurora. You know the gist of the story from there.

Screenwriter Linda Woolverton mixes the Brothers Grimm's late 1800s fairytale with that of Charles Perrault, who put it to paper in the 1600s, and the version Walt Disney's writers did in 1959, and makes it her own. Most of the story and its unique twist works.

So does Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. She has always been able to use her incredible beauty and hard-edged facial features to be stronger, tougher and badder than her male co-stars. That doesn't change here. What does is the addition of a motherly softness we haven't seen before from her.

It's a nice touch in a movie lacking nice touches.

Jolie gets decent but not all that impressive support from Elle Fanning (We Bought a Zoo) and Sharlto Copely (District 9), who plays the evil Stefan. Sam Riley and Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Leslie Manville try unsuccessfully to put a little humor into a dry plot.

The lack of humor doesn't matter. Neither does an overuse of effects and what looks like indecision as to whether the movie should be animated or live action. Director Robert Stromberg -- who is a visual effects expert with credentials that include The Life of Pi, The Hunger Games,Pan's Labyrinth and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End -- ineffectively uses both.

Sometimes the look is gorgeous. At other times, it's cheesy. That doesn't matter either. The movie is owned by Jolie, who gives one of her best-ever performances.

Director: Robert Stromberg

Stars: Angelina Jolie,...


"MALEFICENT"

Arts2

If we're making a list of the biggest missed opportunities of the last ten years, Maleficent is definitely somewhere high up on that list. It's staggering to me that the film exists in this form. If you can get Angelina Jolie to play one of the most beloved villains in Disney history, why would you make thismovie? This movie – which is so joyless and which lacks any real sense of playfulness or fun. As mediocre as 1996's live-action 101 Dalmatians was, it at least had enough smarts to afford Glenn Close the chance to chew scenery as Cruella De Vil. Jolie, meanwhile, is stuck in a picture that's somber and slow, one that forces her to mute the fiery, passionate quality that has been her stock-in-trade as an actress. It's an epic miscalculation.

The movie begins with Maleficent as a young fairy living in the Moors, a magical world that bumps up against a human kingdom. She befriends a human boy named Stefan, and they dream of ending the conflict between their species. Years later, Stefan (now played by Sharlto Copley) betrays her by cutting off her wings to appease his dying king and gain control of the throne. Maleficent (Jolie) gets revenge by placing a curse on his newborn daughter, so that the girl will fall into a coma on her 16th birthday, with only a “true love's kiss” able to awaken her. Stefan orders three pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple) to hide the child away. They do, but Maleficent spends the intervening years subtly hanging around sweet, innocent Aurora (Elle Fanning), and feeling a little guilty about what she's done.

Let's stop right there, because this is the biggest mistake Maleficent makes. Here you've got a character well-known to anyone who's ever seenSleeping Beauty. She personifies evil, hatred, and vengeance. She has endured in pop culture because of those qualities. So what does Maleficentdo with her? Try to make her sympathetic, of course! Having Angelina Jolie portray a fiendishly nasty character sounds great; having her play a misunderstood version of that character does not. The actress is made up to look the part, and she's certainly game enough for it, but by softening Maleficent's dark heart, Jolie doesn't really have a whole lot to do. If a villain isn't being evil, what else is left?

Perhaps if the story she'd been stuck into was stronger, it wouldn't matter as much....



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