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* MALEFICENT (6/2/14)   *JERSEY BOYS (7/14/14)
* THE BFG (8/8/16)







by SJV
(posted 7/15/14)

(GK Films / Malpaso / RatPac Entertainment - Dune Entertainment / Warner Bros.)
GullCottage rating (**** on a scale of 1 - 5)

Dir. by - Clint Eastwood
Screenplay and Musical Book by -
Marshall Brickman & Robert Elice

Prod. - C. Eastwood, Graham King, Rob Lorenz
Exec. Prods. - Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio,
Tim Moore, Tim Headington, Brett Ratner

Dir. Of Photography  - Tom Stern A.F.C. / A.S.C.
Edited by - Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach
Production Design by - James J. Murakami
Costume Design by - Deborah Hooper
Song Music - Bob Gaudio / Lyrics  - Bob Crewe
Running Time: 134 mins.

John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli),  Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio),  Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi),  Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito),  Christopher Walken (Gyp DeCarlo),  Renée Marino (Mary Delgado),  Kathrine Narducci (Mary Rinaldi),  Mike Doyle (Bob Crewe),  Rob Marnell (Joe Long),  Donnie Kehr (Norm Waxman),  Jeremy Luke (Donnie),  Joey Russo (Joe Pesci)

      Originality is a quality that is glaringly absent from modern popular music.  The singers and groups proliferating stages and recording studios in recent years seem consumed with recorded vocal tricks, bland commonality and physical acrobatics all designed to hide and disguise their absence of both talent and individuality.  There has always been a fear of distinctiveness in the arts in the upper echelons of producing, recording, and management: a concern and obsession for commercial success and financial profit that has crippled the music industry.  Whether in the concert hall, on the motion picture screen or on popular music recording studios and stages, distinctiveness has become both feared and reviled.  The “suits” commanding the once hallowed halls of “Artists and Repertoire” at record labels have hidden under their corporate desks, clutching their wallets, suspicious of any sound either daring or different begging opportunity and exposure. 

     Once upon a time in a creative galaxy seemingly far, far away, artistry and originality were encouraged and embraced.  In today’s homogenized, overly sanitized representation and conception of popular music, “only the good die young.”  To succeed in modern music, each group and singer must conform to computer generated demographics and pre-conceived notions of what will sell to mass audiences and, in particular, to the cherished teenage market.  While that element of unimaginative corporate greed has, perhaps, always guided artists on their journey to success, it has never been as commercially manipulative as it seems today.  Each successive performance act must remain devoid of individuality and originality in fear of rocking the cash drawer and musical boat.  Today’s teenage idols all look and sound alike, vocally and stylistically inseparable from one another. It’s virtually impossible to decipher where one “sound” ends and the other begins. Spontaneity and excitement have been unceremoniously drowned and consumed by the crushing tides of conformity, and the bland have inherited the Earth. It wasn’t always that way.

   Frankie Valli: on he U.S. Capitol West Lawn - July 4th, 2014

     When Frankie Valli stepped out onto the outdoor stage before the cameras in Washington on July 4th for the annual public television extravaganza, “A Capitol Fourth,” it was as though time had stood still.  Still lean and hungry at age eighty, the veteran singer who helped chart the birth of rock and roll remained confident and cocky, an embattled, world weary survivor attired in open collar and sports jacket, physically reminiscent of an earlier Italian crooner named Sinatra who had similarly broken the barriers of Jersey street life, pioneering a musical sound that would last a lifetime.  His remarkable falsetto voice, undimmed by half a century of drama, stunned the ageless crowd of fans and onlookers adorning the capitol lawn.

     Frankie Valli and “The Four Seasons” remains one of the most iconic pairings in rock and roll history.  Their stormy history and eventual disharmony as a team, offering striking counter melody to their recorded harmony, has formed the inspiration for both the theatrical presentation as well as the motion picture version of JERSEY BOYS.  Frankie Valli’s stunning performance on Public Television’s annual July 4th concert event offered ample evidence of the singer’s enduring talent and legacy. 

Director Eastwood and his JERSEY BOYS cast (photographed by Annie Leibovitz)

     The eighty year old singer, seemed comfortable and self assured as he sang the title song from “Grease” just as he had performed it for the soundtrack of the John Travolta / Olivia Newton John motion picture nearly forty years earlier.  Although representing a later cockier generation of musical artists, Valli appeared a Sinatra-like elder statesman for the music he had helped create 60 years ago.

JERSEY BOYS (official trailer #1)

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DeCarlo (Christopher Walken) schools young Valli in "business"   

      It's hard to imagine now, but Frankie Valli's first recorded hit single "My Mother's Eyes" debuted in 1953 when he was known simply as Frankie "Valley".  A year later in 1954 the singer formed a group known as "The Variatones" along with his boyhood friend Tommy DeVito.  In 1956 the group underwent another identity change - calling themselves "The Four Lovers". 

     It wasn't until 1960 that the four musicians transformed into their most recognizable incarnation, "The Four Seasons".  Their name derived from a local bowling alley that the young singers frequented.  Their first recorded single as Frankie Valli & "The Four Seasons" hit the juke boxes in 1961.  "Bermuda / Spanish Lace" was their first official release as the newly formed ensemble, but it was their second release, "Sherry", which put them on the national charts. 

The Four Seasons

The group’s flirtations with the law are well documented.  Founding member Tommy DeVito had more than his share of scrapes with law enforcement, spending nearly as much time behind bars as he would spend in them.  In later years, his gambling debts would tear the act apart.  Inner turmoil, along with classic rock and roll, seemed an irresistible combination of combustible music and docu-drama.  It was probably inevitable, then, that the story and theatricality of “The Four Seasons” would lend itself to dramatic presentation.

     Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice created a “book” for the new show which opened at an out of town tryout on October 5, 2004 at the La Jolla Playhouse at The University of California, San Diego.  The fledgling show ran thru January 16, 2005.  David Norona played Valli, but was replaced at the end of the tryout by John Lloyd Young.

     The new musical began its Broadway previews on October 4
, 2005.  It premiered officially at The August Wilson Theater on November 6, 2005. The musical told the stories of the young singers, their relationships, and their variety of troubles, all told from the differing perspectives of the principals involved.  The “Rashomon” like inter-weaving of conflicting versions and  points of view brought an often abrasive quality to their story, creating a dramatic counter point to the now timeless music created by the “Seasons” and their frequent composer collaborators, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe.

      Gaudio composed the music for many of the group’s biggest hits, while singing alongside his fellow cast members, which included lead singer Frankie Valli, Tommy DeVito, and Nick Massi.  It was Gaudio, however, who brought lyricist Bob Crewe into the mix to create the unforgettable recorded sound and distinctively unique identity of “The Four Seasons.” 

     While Frankie Valli reputedly disliked the show and its disruptive, often disjointed recounting of the group’s rise to musical stardom, he is reported to have seen the stage presentation some fifty times, while the New York production itself went on to become the thirteenth longest running show in Broadway history.

  Eastwood and Valli on set

The creative transition from life to theater to screen has never been an easy one, as the demanding dictates of theatricality often commands artistic license.  While recounting the life of an artist, there is usually an element of fantasy in attempting to make a work more palatable to mass audiences.  Rarely has an artist been entirely pleased by the uneasy metamorphosis from reality to theatricality.  Compromise is, sadly, an essential element in bringing one’s life experience either to the stage or to the motion picture screen.  The end result of any collaboration must, in finality, be its success. 

     The history of Hollywood is rife with biographical portraits that, by necessity, glossed over its subjects’ imperfections in order to present a more entertaining, sanitized presentation to general audiences.  The artist or artists represented in these “biographical” portraits understandably have their own perception of how and why their lives and careers played out, but truth can’t always translate into entertainment.  Al Jolson was never happy with his impersonation by Larry Parks either in THE JOLSON STORY (Columbia Pictures, 1946) or in its sequel JOLSON SINGS AGAIN (Columbia Pictures, 1949), but the reality of Parks’ unblemished portrayal of the artist was that, while removing the grittier aspects of Jolson’s life and career, the films re-established Jolson as a major star and thoroughly rejuvenated his musical career. 


     Warner Brothers’ 1946 biographical portrait of Cole Porter entirely ignored the popular composer’s renowned homosexuality, presenting instead a heavily sanitized, romanticized fantasy in which Porter, played by Hollywood hunk Cary Grant, was not merely a monumental song writer, but a singularly virile heterosexual stud, as well. To be sure, the producers of the film achieved their goal in presenting the sublime artistry of a great composer, presenting his music to a new generation of film goers, but the film’s veracity was historically dishonest and misleading.


Then there was the ludicrous pairing of Mickey Rooney as lyricist Lorenz Hart and Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers in MGM’s atrocious 1948 “biopic,” WORDS AND MUSIC, which purportedly told the “real” story of the song writing team’s creative efforts and long association.  Even by 1948 standards, this mediocre musical was embarrassing.  In the case of JERSEY BOYS, the task of presenting a balanced treatment of its principal performers became more problematic as each of the singers had his own distinctly different take on what had actually transpired over the course of their rise to stardom.

     Despite these many challenges, the production caught fire, capturing the imaginations of  critics and audiences alike.  JERSEY BOYS lit the theatrical stage like a searing comet in a star lit sky. The original cast recording of JERSEY BOYS was released by Rhino Entertainment in November, 2005, winning the 2007 Grammy Award for “Best Musical Show Album.”  John Lloyd Young who portrayed Valli in the Broadway production received a Tony award for “Best Performance By A Leading Actor In A Musical.”
     Attempts had been made for several years to turn the hit Broadway musical in a viable, coherent motion picture.  Then, in August 2012, Jon Favreau was signed by Warner Brothers to direct a big screen production of the film.  Creative differences all around seem to have derailed the original concept and screenplay.  The project was temporarily shelved and placed in “turn around” soon after its production announcement was made public.  For a time it appeared that a film version of the popular show might languish on studio shelves interminably.  Then, in July 2013, Warner Brothers re-announced their intention to make a big screen translation of the show, with the stunning revelation that Favreau had been replaced and that Clint Eastwood was now set to direct the motion picture. 

JERSEY BOYS - "Prelude / December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night!)"

     The announcement that Eastwood, one of America’s most important and influential directors, would helm the film seemed to lend new credibility and respect to the planned production.  Admiration for the acclaimed Oscar winning director added an important pedigree to the presentation that it hadn’t, perhaps, enjoyed before.  Anticipation for the film became infectious, as Eastwood’s adulation for jazz and popular music had become legendary in both the film and music communities.

     Eastwood’s homage to the life and legend of famed jazz musician Charlie “Bird” Parker formed the basis of his powerful, tragic look at  Parker’s musical soul and drug addiction in the 1988 biographical film, BIRD, starring Forest Whitaker in the defining role of his superlative career.  Eastwood’s commitment to music, and to the artists who both create and perform it, have established the director as a major force in the preservation of both traditional and modern jazz.  An accomplished jazz pianist in his own right, Eastwood’s singular gifts were celebrated and visually recorded for EASTWOOD AFTER HOURS, a 1996 Carnegie Hall concert honoring the director for his work on behalf of jazz preservation.

  Director and cast doing "selfies" at the 2014 LA Film Festival

Among Eastwood’s earliest, most significant decisions in directing the film version of JERSEY BOYS was to have the singers perform their vocals “live” on set in order to create a sense of immediacy that could never have come merely from lip synching for the cameras. 

Following the lead of the 2012 film adaptation of LES MISERABLES with Hugh Jackman and Ann Hathaway, the songs of “The Four Seasons” were recorded “live” as the performers were filmed, establishing their vocals and dance steps, in real time.  While this method of performance is usually shunned in favor of a safer lip synched recording, Rex Harrison had asked the producers of the 1964 Warner Brothers adaptation of MY FAIR LADY if he might sing his songs “live” in order to preserve on film the excitement and authenticity of his original stage performance.  While the rest of the filmed performances for the Lerner and Lowe musical were pre-recorded, Harrison did indeed perform all of his classic songs before the cameras in real time.

With filming finally completed, Clint Eastwood’s interpretation of JERSEY BOYS premiered domestically in theaters around the country
on June 20th, 2014.  With a screenplay by the Broadway production’s original writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice,  music by Bob Gaudio and Bob Crew, and executive produced by Clint Eastwood, Frankie Valli, and Bob Gaudio among others, the motion picture version of the Broadway musical is a bombastic, joyous celebration of the early days of rock and roll. 

     John Lloyd Young reprises his volatile Tony winning performance as Frankie Valli, the brash young Italian rocker who would lead his pioneering group, wishing only to eclipse the career of another Italian singer named Sinatra, to fame…fortune…and, ultimately, to induction into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.   

     Other cast members, taken mostly from the original Broadway production as well as from a variety of national touring companies, include Vincent Piazza as the edgy, unstable Tommy DeVito; Erich Bergen as composer Bob Gaudio; Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi; Mike Doyle as lyricist Bob Crew, Renee Marino in a largely unflattering take on the first Mrs. Valli, Mary Delgado; and the wonderful Christopher Walken in an utterly delightful turn as Valli’s mentor and mafia “don,” Gyp DeCarlo.  The Warner Brothers motion picture features lush cinematograph by Tom Stern, editing by Joel Cox and Gary Roach, period art direction by Patrick M. Sullivan, Jr., set decoration by Ronald R. Reiss, and costume design by Deborah Hopper.


     Sadly, in a Summer season filled with rampaging TRANSFORMERS, daredevil dancers and teen tragedy, JERSEY BOYS opened to a mostly disappointing box office and tepid reviews by critics seemingly immune to its charm and allure.  Perhaps favor at the Summer box office is largely generational.  Perhaps the traditional “biopic” is temporarily out of favor with contemporary audiences.  Perhaps movie musicals are automatically pronounced dead upon arrival. 

     The fact remains, however, that any film of quality, integrity, and merit deserves a home in the hearts and minds of an increasingly callous, suspicious, largely embittered public consumed by acrimony and self absorption.  In a time of slavish devotion to cell phones,  iTunes and video games in which the average concentration expenditure of many movie goers is limited to the number of chase scenes and car crashes that one can comfortably fit into two hours of screen time, it seems that subtlety and class have only a rapidly diminishing window of opportunity for exhibition and success in these United States.

     Yet, in spite of these largely impatient times in which we live, films like JERSEY BOYS cry out to be seen, heard and appreciated for the sparkling gems that they are.  In the end Eastwood’s re-telling of the lives and careers of these hungry young performers from New Jersey is a hugely entertaining, toe tapping, pulsating, finger snapping delight. Their's was the primal voice of a generation, and JERSEY BOYS is Clint Eastwood’s loving homage to Frankie Valli and “The Four Seasons.” In short, his “eyes adored you.”

     From their early struggles to be heard, to eventual “fortune and fame”, a time capsule eternally preserved on stage and film, to the scarred aftermath of lives remembered… these were their “four seasons.” JERSEY BOYS is a sumptuous musical soufflé served over easily with passion and bravado by a master story teller whose musical soul echoes the throbbing rhythms and delirium of early rock and roll, and the primal passion of its birth.


Steve Vertlieb (7/14/14)

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