The Silver Bullet ~ Sully

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Synopsis: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, who became a hero after gliding his plane along the water in the Hudson River, saving all of his 155 passengers.

Release Date: September 9, 2016

Thoughts: Though he doesn’t wear a cape, Tom Hanks is the unquestionable superhero of moving movies. The amazing story that came to be known as The Miracle on the Hudson made its captain, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a media darling and Sullenberger’s recounting of his courage under fire made for good reading.  Judging from this first look at Sully, there’s more to the story than most of the public would ever know as it shows the rippling backlash after Sully’s moment in the spotlight. While I feel it looks awfully similar to the 2012 fictionalized Flight and that J.K. Simmons would have been a more ideal Sully, Hanks (Cloud Atlas) and director Clint Eastwood (American Sniper) make this one something that might fly high this fall.

Movie Review ~ American Sniper

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle’s pinpoint accuracy saves countless lives on the battlefield and turns him into a legend. Back home to his wife and kids after four tours of duty, however, Chris finds that it is the war he can’t leave behind.

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Jonathan Groff, Kyle Gallner, Keir O’Donnell, Sammy Sheik, Jake McDorman

Director: Clint Eastwood

Rated: R

Running Length: 131 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: Including a spoiler alert here because while many are aware of elements about the subject of this film, I realize that some pieces may not be as well know. To avoid any angry claims I didn’t warn you…I just did.

There’s been a lot of brouhaha in the press about American Sniper and the life of the man the movie is based on. Chris Kyle was a United States Navy SEAL honorably discharged from the Navy in 2009 who went on to write his autobiography that recently Oscar nominated screenwriter Jason Hall based this movie on. Accumulating 160 confirmed kills over four tours of duty in the Iraq War, he was thought to be the most lethal sniper in U.S. history. It was only after he was gunned down in 2013 by another vet Kyle was helping cope with PTSD that the mysteries behind certain pieces of Kyle’s memoir started to come to light.

What you should know about the film is that while I haven’t read the source novel it was based off of, the disparities between Kyle’s account and what some would argue as the truth aren’t the focus of director Clint Eastwood’s latest film. I’m not going to speak to those that claim Kyle fabricated several sequences or events, I’m merely reporting out on the movie as it was presented to us. I did read an article recently detailing the false claims and I don’t recall any of these incidents being included in the movie.

Whether that was a conscious decision on Hall’s part, creative editing after the fact, or simply not the story Eastwood and star Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) wanted to tell is anyone’s guess. What I do know is that Eastwood’s film is an edge-of-your-seat experience anchored strongly by Cooper’s revelatory performance as Chris Kyle.

Arguably the most pro-American movie you’re likely to see in some time, the film bleeds red white and blue from frame one. It’s clearly established who the “good” guys and the “bad” guys are and Eastwood makes no apologies for injecting some politicized grandstanding throughout. I can’t say it really bothered me because it didn’t really stray into that insufferable right wing territory.

Bulked up and burly, Cooper transformed himself from the sinewy muscled look of previous projects to an impressive built Navy SEAL that’s 100% believable. With his Texan twang in full drawl his performance is the most flesh and blood in his already impressive career. Cooper may have been nominated for an Oscar twice before (for Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook) but his nomination for American Sniper is his most warranted. He’s never been better.

Unlike December’s Unbroken, American Sniper doesn’t shy away from showing the after effects of war on the men, women, children, and families of veterans after they return home. A decent chunk of the movie is devoted to showing Kyle’s adjustment to life with his wife Taya (a stellar Sienna Miller, Foxcatcher), and young children. Responsible for so many fatalities, the film looks (but doesn’t press) into the psyche of those that have to live with themselves long after their service to our country ends.

To round the film out there’s a through line arc of Kyle’s multiple run-ins with a stealth sniper and while these war torn sequences are impressively staged they start to feel like a part of an action film rather than a human drama which is really what American Sniper is at its core. It’s no wonder that directors like Steven Spielberg and David O. Russell circled this project at one time or another, there’s some meat to the script and the chance to explore not just the destructive side of war but the healing piece as well.

Eastwood struck out earlier in 2014 with the disastrous Jersey Boys so I was hoping he’d redeem himself with this film and it’s nice to report he found his footing with American Sniper. The 84 year old director’s laid-back style could easily have worked against the overall momentum of the film but it’s as breathless and engaging as any film he’s made before.

Nominated for 6 Academy Awards, American Sniper may not hit on the full scope of Chris Kyle’s life, but what’s told is a powerfully moving tale of service and sacrifice.

The Silver Bullet ~ American Sniper

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Synopsis: A Navy SEAL recounts his military career, which includes more than 150 confirmed kills.

Release Date:  January 16, 2015

Thoughts: I’ll be more than willing to forgive director Clint Eastwood for the musical tragedy of Jersey Boys earlier this summer if December’s American Sniper is as breathless as this first trailer.  Starring Bradley Cooper (American Hustle) as the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and based on Kyle’s book of the same name, this is the film that could once and for all seal Cooper’s Hollywood A-List status if he can carry it off.  I’ve always thought Cooper was an interesting actor but didn’t really take notice of his leading man potential until his Oscar nominated turn in Silver Linings Playbook…so here’s hoping Eastwood’s laid-back style works for both the movie and his star.

Movie Review ~ Jersey Boys

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons.

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

Director: Clint Eastwood

Rated: R

Running Length: 135 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: When it was first announced that the Tony Award winning smash hit Broadway show Jersey Boys would be making the transition from stage musical to movie musical, it seemed like a fairly logical move. The show was still driving audiences crazy on Broadway, on tour, in Vegas, Canada, London, and other international locations and was fueled by genuine nostalgia and a highly cinematic staging that made you feel like you were living the show right along with the stars onstage.

Though it briefly fell into the directorial lap of Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Iron Man 2), when he eventually backed out suddenly Oscar winning director Clint Eastwood set his sights on the property and soon The Man with No Name was lensing the adaptation in his typical economical style. I actually thought Eastwood was a good and not so obvious choice to helm the picture, an actor’s director that could help find balance between the trappings of a stage-bound musical structure and the free-range fantasy film can afford. This was a flashy show that seemed pre-packaged to make a very entertaining film.

So what the hell happened?

Honestly, I was pretty shell shocked just five minutes into the film because I could see some of the trepidation that has been steadily growing as the film neared release was coming true. In the weeks leading up to the screening, I couldn’t believe that Warner Brothers assembled such an average looking trailer and was failing to promote the film that had a pretty decent pedigree behind it. Why would they dump the film smack dab in the middle of summer when everything about the film version of Jersey Boys felt like a late fall release?

Well…like their utter failure two years ago with Rock of Ages, Warner Brothers knew they had a total turkey on their hands and wanted it to go away as fast as possible. However, what Rock of Ages had that Jersey Boys doesn’t were name stars filling out the various roles and not the newcomers that Eastwood has assembled. With many cast members (and three of the title men) culled from various productions of the show worldwide, the cast more than acquits themselves with the music (more on that in a moment) but their green-ness shows when the music stops and actual acting is required.

We have to start with the music. I’m hoping that an extended cut of Jersey Boys is released on BluRay…and that this alternate version will have, oh, I don’ t know MUSIC in it. Eastwood has taken a big bona fide smash Broadway musical and turned it into a biopic drama with musical moments. Now, I’m not saying he had to just film what was onstage…but he had free range to go big and instead he strips the music out almost entirely and instead focuses on the men themselves. Understanding that in any adaptation certain concessions have to be made, what exists in Eastwood’s Jersey Boys is not even a mild representation of what audiences lose their minds for nightly at productions around the world.

Screenwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice adapted their own musical script, sadly dropping many of the magical moments and retaining all the problems…like the ill-advised direct to camera address that lands like a thud. This is partly because it’s not used with the consistently or the panache of its Broadway counterpart and also because it remains a cheap narrative trick slyly designed to help keep a fast moving show zipping along. Eastwood lets absolutely all of the air out of the film pretty much from the get go…including removing any underscore. Without music, we’re left to really get a listen to the hokey dialogue and comically bad accents. All the men are basically giving their take on Robert DeNiro and all women are trying to out Marisa Tomei each other. Example: “Yo ah soch ah lu-sah” Translation: “You are such a loser.” Time flies by and occasionally a character will interject what year it is or a title card will help audiences get their bearings…until the film mystically starts going backwards in time. You’ll need a roadmap to keep track of it all…but you probably won’t care.

I’ve seen the stage show twice and only really liked it the second time around when I stood back and saw it for what it was: a high class jukebox musical that was rough around the edges like the men at the center of the story they were trying to tell. Most of the music sprung from performance, not from the gut of a hackneyed emotional outburst. There were moments of true magic as all the pieces fit into place and the The Four Seasons unleashed songs like Sherry, Big Girls, Walk Like a Man, Dawn, Rag Doll…it was thrilling. Most of these winning set-ups still exist in the film version but have arrived without any verve or showmanship…making it all one big heaping bore.

All of this may have been more tolerable had Eastwood went against his gut instinct and cast his film a different way. I appreciate he wanted to go with stage actors who could sing the music live and already had a working knowledge of the material but though they are in step on the familiar Four Seasons choreography, not a one of them seems to be on the same page with each other.

John Lloyd Young won a Tony Award for playing Frankie Valli onstage but the awards will stop there based on his dreadfully desperate attempt at dramatic range here. I went back after the film and watched some of Valli’s performances from back in the day and nowhere did I see Valli make the kind of pained faces Young does as he strains to hit Valli’s effortless high notes. Further stymied by a wig from the Scott Baio line of near-mullets, Young’s overly emotive squinty singing style comes across like he’s wearing 20 pairs of too small underoos with a bright light constantly being shined directly into his face.

With their supposed lead letting them down in a big way, the remaining Seasons aren’t nearly as bad but have their own dull hang-ups that keep them from working out in the end. Erich Bergen’s habit of looking into the camera with a knowing gaze made me feel like he was auditioning for The Office, not playing the golden boy songwriter that gave Valli his greatest hits, Michael Lomenda looks like Goofy and sounds like him often too as the dopey bassist. Vincent Piazza is the only one of the four not previously involved with the production…but too often he comes across like he’s playing a deleted scene cut out of Goodfellas.

Christopher Walken (The Dead Zone) is the biggest name you’ll see onscreen and while Brickman and Elice have significantly expanded his small time mobster role there are times when Walken is literally standing around with nothing to do on screen. Twenty (thirty?) years ago I could easily see Walken taking on the tough guy role played by Piazza but here he becomes another casualty of Eastwood’s lackadaisical approach.

When the film flashes forward to the early 90s you’d be advised to hold on to your hat because you’re going to see some jaw-droppingly bad make-up on display. I’ve seen better old-age make-up on a grade school production of Driving Miss Daisy. It’s the embarrassing capper on an embarrassing experience. But wait…Eastwood saves the best/worst for last by truncating the penultimate showstopper of a finale in favor of a drab mega mix and fully realized production number that is both totally random and wildly inappropriate. And the final shots of the film must be designed to play over applause…but our audience sat in stunned silence. It’s truly one for the head slapper record books.

The one thing the film has going for it (and trust me, it’s one thing only) is that the design team has crafted an impeccable looking film. Production designer James J. Murakami gets every precise detail down pat and Deborah Hopper’s costumes are period perfect…not that they don’t feature some truly awful fashion trends most would rather forget completely. Were you to watch the film on mute (and without hardly any music…you usually are) you’d see how richly designed the film is.

Earning points for being well sung and immaculately designed, there’s little else to recommend about Eastwood’s tuneless (literally) attempt at bringing the Jersey Boys to the big screen. Now little more than your run of the mill entertainment biopic, audiences are strongly advised to wait until the show comes through your town and seeing the story as it really deserves to be told.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Jersey Boys

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Synopsis: The story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons.

Release Date: June 20, 2014

Thoughts: Many a musical has made the jump from the Broadway stage to the silver screen over the years but few would be able to exist sans songs, which makes Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Jersey Boys such an appealing project. Obviously, to tell the story of the Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons you need a soundtrack full of their hits but the history of the group would be just as interesting, I think, without being tagged as a musical. I’ve seen the stage show twice and was impressed with how cinematic it already seemed to be so it doesn’t seem like it’ll have any trouble making the transition to movie screens. I’m always impressed at Eastwood’s efficiency as a filmmaker and he’s gathered a strong group of actors (several that have been in the stage show at one time or another). Not sure if it’s wise to release it in the middle of the summer action extravaganzas, but it could be a nice bit of counter-programming for audiences weary of 3D effects-a-thons.

In Praise of Teasers ~ In the Line of Fire (1993)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately. It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

In the Line of Fire (1993)

With the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy just passing us by, this modest yet clever teaser was on my mind.  As a child of the 80’s, my exposure to Clint Eastwood wasn’t very diverse in 1993 when I first saw this teaser trailer for In the Line of Fire.  Come to think of it, at that time this action thriller surrounding Eastwood playing cat and mouse with an assassin (John Malcovich, netting an Oscar nomination for his work) could have been one of the very first Clint film I had seen.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film but do recall it had a few nice twists and unconventional moments.

Missed my previous teaser reviews? Check out my look at Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Showgirls, Jurassic Park, Jaws 3D/Jaws: The Revenge, Total Recall, Halloween II: Season of the Witch