MOVIE REVIEWS – Movie Mantz Movie Reviews and Industry News from Scott Mantz Wed, 23 Mar 2016 19:08:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Review: Love & Mercy Wed, 03 Jun 2015 19:20:15 +0000 “Brian Wilson Gets Around”

“Love & Mercy”
Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Directed by Bill Pohlad

God only knows what the America music scene would have been like back in the 1960s without the artistic brilliance of Brian Wilson. Between 1962 and 1966, Wilson was the unparalleled genius who wrote, co-wrote and produced some of the most enduring songs in pop music history with the group he co-founded, The Beach Boys. These were iconic songs that fully defined the “California Sound,” thanks to chart-topping hits like “Surfin’ USA,” “Catch a Wave,” “Little Deuce Coup,” “I Get Around” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.”

During that time, The Beach Boys even gave those mop-tops from the UK, The Beatles, a run for their money like no other American band – and vice-versa, as their competitive rivalry brought out the best in each other. When Wilson heard the fab four’s innovative 1965 album “Rubber Soul,” he pushed his own band to top it with 1966’s landmark “Pet Sounds.” Then The Beatles answered that call with 1967’s game-changing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and the rest, as they say, is history.

But breaking new ground came at a price, and it was one that cost Wilson dearly: his sanity. After he retired from touring with The Beach Boys following a nervous breakdown, he re-focused his efforts on pushing the boundaries of the recording studio. But he was constantly at odds with the rest of the band – especially lead singer Mike Love – who didn’t understand the complex arrangements and sophisticated musicianship and would rather stick to the tried-and-true hit-making formula of singing about surfing, cars and girls.

Then there was Brian’s physically and verbally abusive father-turned-manager, Murray Wilson. Jealous of his talent, envious of his success, out of touch with his son’s generation and wholly unsupportive of Brian’s new musical direction (inspired with the help of mind-altering drugs), it’s no wonder that Brian finally lost his marbles, gave up on his musical vision and pretty much locked himself in his bedroom for the better part of the next decade.

An unconventional musician with such an incredible background deserves an unconventional biopic, and that’s exactly what “Love & Mercy” is – and then some. As directed by Bill Polhad (the Oscar-nominated producer of “The Tree of Life”) from a screenplay written by Oren Overman (“The Messenger”) and Michael Alan Lerner, the film jumps back and forth in time, and with two different actors playing Brian Wilson.

That might sound confusing, but it’s an ingenious approach, and it’s much more accessible than a film like 2007’s avant-garde “I’m Not There,” in which music legend Bob Dylan was played by six different actors (including Cate Blanchett). Paul Dano is superb as the groundbreaking 60’s-era Wilson, who fought an uphill battle with the evolution of his music, while John Cusack is equally terrific as the sweet-but-emotionally fragile Wilson in the mid-80’s, when he was under the 24/7 control of his domineering therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy, played with creepy egocentric self-absorption by Paul Giamatti.

Music history buffs will find the Dano sequences fascinating, especially during the in-studio scenes where Wilson conducts session musicians (often not the actual Beach Boys), until he unravels during the making of his would-be masterpiece, “Smile” (an album that would remain unfinished until 2011). But the heart and soul of “Love & Mercy” lies with Cusack, who tries to break away from Landy’s unhealthy stranglehold with the help of his iron-willed new girlfriend Melinda Ledbetter, played with strength and gusto by Elizabeth Banks (who’s on an incredible roll this year after directing the box office smash “Pitch Perfect 2”).

Though it runs a bit too long at 2 hours, “Love & Mercy” is still a terrific film about one of the most complex musical virtuosos in rock history. It’s deeply fascinating and engaging from start to finish, and the satisfying emotional impact is bound to give moviegoers – dare I say it? – good vibrations.

-Scott Mantz

Review: I’ll See You In My Dreams Fri, 15 May 2015 16:17:38 +0000 “A Dream Come True”
By Scott Mantz

“I’ll See You in My Dreams”
Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott
Directed by Brett Haley

Forget about big-budget spectacles like “Tomorrowland,” “San Andreas,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” or even the box office behemoth known as “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

If you really want to see something truly unique and special at the movies this month – or, for that matter, all summer long – then feast your eyes on “I’ll See You In My Dreams.” Shot on a shoestring budget in just 18 days, this delightful, touching, poignant and very funny independent gem is packed with more genuine emotion than you’ll likely find in any other movie over the next few months.

But what really makes “I’ll See You in My Dreams” a rare sight to behold is the prospect of seeing 72-year-old Tony and Emmy-winner Blythe Danner command the big-screen with her first truly lead performance. She is quite literally in every single scene, and she shines from start to finish. It’s the kind of star turn that Oscar-worthy performances are made of, and that alone makes this wonderful crowd-pleaser a dream come true.

Danner plays Carol, a longtime widow who is set in her ways. She has her friends, her hobbies and her dog. She’s comfortable on her own, and she has no interest in rocking the boat. That changes when she meets a charming retiree named Bill (Sam Elliott), whose pursuit of her forces her to reconsider the prospect of starting over again at this stage of her life. Making the situation a bit more complicated is the unexpected emotional connection she has with Lloyd (Martin Starr), her much younger pool-boy with a heart of gold. Will she throw caution to the wind and take another shot at love, or will she play it safe and stay firmly wrapped in her comfort zone?

Though “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is clearly aimed at grown-ups, the sweet and profound screenplay – written by Brett Haley with Marc Basch – is bound to resonate with moviegoers of all ages. It doesn’t matter if you’re 27 or 72, this is one deeply heartfelt and honest cinematic experience, and it never hits a false note with button-pushing manipulation.

In addition to Danner’s terrific performance, Sam Elliott is equally superb in a rare turn as a romantic leading man. Their irresistible chemistry is off the hook, as is Danner’s emotional connection with Martin Starr. Being torn between two completely different men creates an awkward situation for Danner’s character that’s unlike any that she has ever faced before, but in both cases, the levels of intimacy are genuine and effective, regardless of age.

When “I’ll See You in My Dreams” had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this past January, it got an extended standing ovation, especially for Blythe Danner’s revelatory lead performance. No film could have been more deserving, as it is quite simply the stuff that cinematic dreams are made of.

Review: Avengers 2 Fri, 01 May 2015 16:21:22 +0000 “The Avengers Come of Age”
by Scott Mantz

“Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by Joss Whedon

After a decade of having big-screen adaptations of its best-known comic book characters – like Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic Four – primarily controlled and released by other studios, it’s hard to believe that it’s been seven years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe came into its own with the Marvel Studios release of the first “Iron Man” back in May of 2008. But that’s because the old saying is true: time flies when you’re having fun.

And as a separate production company that has gained control over its treasured library of superheroes (and villains), Marvel Studios sure has had fun in the years since with the release of “The Incredible Hulk,” two “Captain America’s,” two “Thor’s,” two more “Iron Man’s,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and, of course, the first “Avengers,” which alone grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide (making it the third-biggest movie of all time, behind “Avatar” and “Titanic”).

Based on the box office returns of what we’ve seen so far, there’s no question that moviegoers are having loads of fun too. And there’s a lot more to come with additional sequels to the aforementioned titles, as well as new franchise-starters like “Captain Marvel,” “Doctor Strange,” “Black Panther” and, thanks to a new deal between Marvel and Sony, another reboot of “Spider-Man.”

Don’t get me wrong; I love these movies as much as the next comic book nerd (some more than others, of course), but I can’t help but wonder, is this all too much of a good thing? Based on the by-the-numbers malaise that permeates the new “Avengers” sequel “Age of Ultron,” the answer, unfortunately, is yes.

Not that the first “Avengers” was all that great to begin with – a fun movie, yes, but the alien invasion story didn’t feel inspired, and last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which felt like a mini-“Avengers” movie unto itself, was a superior film on every level. But now that the “cool” factor of seeing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes assemble for the first time is out of the way, what we’re left with this second time around is a film that’s far too unfocused, uneven and convoluted than a movie based on a comic book has any right to be.

It’s also too long, running 2 hours and 21 minutes, which just so happens to be one minute shorter than its equally overlong predecessor. And then there are the action scenes, which are thrilling and exciting at first, but after a while lead to the mind-numbing effect of “battle fatigue.” So by the time we get to the climactic showdown of mass destruction that fills the last 30 minutes, it looks and feels too much like the big blowout that closed out the last film.

If “Avengers: Age of Ultron” has one saving grace – and it’s a saving grace that goes a long way – it’s that the irresistible chemistry between the characters is infectiously entertaining. Despite having to pick up the pieces after their world-protecting agency S.H.I.E.L.D. crumbled in the last “Captain America” movie, it sure is fun hanging out with these heroes. They feel like a close-knit family now, digging at each other with sly, cheeky humor. There’s also a romance brewing between Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and…well, no need to spoil the fun on whom she hooks up with here, but it’s a nice surprise.

But it’s not all fun and games for the once-and-future Avengers, who once again assemble to save the world from a threat in which the future of humanity lies in the balance. That threat is Ultron, an artificially intelligent super-villain that made its first appearance in the 58th issue of the “Avengers” comic back in 1968. As if its intent is to wipe the human race from the face of the earth wasn’t bad enough, the Avengers must also contend with two mysterious super-powered newcomers – the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

There’s a lot going on here – too much, perhaps – and even though popcorn-minded moviegoers just looking for nonstop action will get their wish, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is really at its best when it’s focusing on the characters. As usual, Robert Downey Jr. effortlessly commandeers the proceedings at Tony Stark/Iron Man, but there’s also a noble attempt by returning writer-director Joss Whedon to give all of the heroes their moment in the sun. That’s especially true for Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, who after being vastly underutilized in the previous movie, is given a much bigger backstory this time around.

Overall “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is fine. It’s fun, it has a confident tone that’s endearing, and the action scenes deliver the goods. But as Marvel Studios gears up to keep cranking out more of these superhero flicks – and that’s in addition to the full slate of movies that its rival, DC, has on tap with “Batman v Superman,” “Aquaman,” “Wonder Woman,” “Suicide Squad” and “Justice League” – the pressure will be on the filmmakers to make each and every one of them feel as unique as possible, lest they start to feel like more of the same.

As for whether or not they’ll succeed, we’ll find out soon enough over these next few years. After all, time flies when you’re having fun.

Review: Boyhood Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:51:13 +0000 “The Ultimate Coming-of-Age Movie”

Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane
Directed by Richard Linklater

Everything you’ve heard since its premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival is true: “Boyhood” is a masterpiece.

Written and directed by Richard Linklater (whose wide-ranging list of credits range from experimental indies like “Tape” and “Waking Life” to studio crowd-pleasers like “School of Rock”), this daring, brilliant, beautiful coming-of-age story is unlike any movie you’ve ever seen, or will ever see again. That’s because Linklater took the unprecedented step of shooting the film little-by-little over the course of 12 years using the same actors – a process that’s never been done before in the history of cinema.

Among those actors: Patricia Arquette and longtime Linklater collaborator Ethan Hawke (the landmark “Before” trilogy), who play, respectively, Olivia and Mason Sr., divorced parents trying to raise their kids while putting their broken lives back together. But it’s Lorelei Linklater (Richard’s real-life daughter) and, in a breakthrough performance, Ellar Coltrane who makes the biggest impact on this bold and remarkable cinematic triumph. The effect of seeing them grow up before your very eyes – particularly Coltrane, who was only six-years-old when Linklater started filming back in 2002 – is a stunning and mind-blowing testament to the relentless passage of time.

With a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, “Boyhood” is both epic in its scope and intimate in its depiction of a broken family. Olivia is the heart of the movie, while Mason Sr. is its soul (and Arquette and Hawke both give superb performances). But the story is told through the eyes of Mason Jr. (Coltrane), who over the next 12 years will have to deal with a struggling mother who works numerous jobs to care for him, a drifting father who comes back into his life after many years away and an alcoholic stepfather. And as he passes from boyhood to manhood, he will have to endure puberty, his first beer, his first broken heart and figuring out what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

The fact that Coltrane never secured another major acting job between 2002 and 2013 (when filming wrapped) turned out to be a blessing in disguise for “Boyhood.” For if he had been in a big-budget Hollywood movie, people would have come to recognize him, and the effect of his changing physical appearance would not have had as much of a jarring emotional impact. Also a stroke of luck: as Coltrane gets older, he becomes a better actor, and his performance gets stronger as the movie progresses.

“Boyhood” is another in a long line of Linklater films that utilize the concept of time, but it also represents something of a time capsule in itself. While filming through the years, a number of cultural milestones are organically interwoven into the story, particularly the war in Iraq, the mayhem surrounding the latest “Harry Potter” novel and the election of President Obama.

It’s hard to believe that Linklater was able to keep this experimental film under the radar for 12 years, but what’s even more amazing is how fantastic it turned out. In addition to being a masterpiece and an instant American classic, it’s hard to imagine another movie that deserves to win the Oscar for Best Picture more than “Boyhood.”

-Scott Mantz

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Thu, 10 Jul 2014 16:31:35 +0000 “Evolution of the Planet of the Apes”

“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell
Directed by Matt Reeves

Diehard fans of the five original “Planet of the Apes” movies – which came out between 1968 and 1973 (and the first of which still stands as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time) – had every reason to be disappointed by Tim Burton’s ill-conceived reboot from 2001. So ten years later, who could blame them for still thinking “damn them all to hell” when 20th Century Fox went back to the drawing board for yet another reboot? Adding more fuel to the fire was that this time around, the apes would be completely computer-generated using the complex (and very expensive) performance capture process, rather than feature actors wearing makeup like the original films did.

As it turned out, those lowered expectations were a blessing in disguise, for not only did 2011’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” catch everyone off guard when it turned out to be a really great movie that grossed $483 million worldwide; it was also one of the best films of the year. As directed by Rupert Wyatt and co-written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, it was smart, gripping and exciting, it featured a provocative story where the apes were the more sympathetic characters, and it took computer-generated special effects to a whole new groundbreaking level.

But now that the bar has been raised, so have expectations – and the budget. Coming three years after “Rise” (which cost $93 million to make), it’s brilliantly-directed, poetically-written and superbly-acted sequel “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (which cost $170 million) exceeds those expectations by improving upon its predecessor in just about every way. The story (once again written by Jaffa and Silver, along with Mark Bomback) is deeper, ambitious and morally-challenging to the extent that it depicts the apes and the humans as being far more alike than unalike, even though the apes have the physical advantage for being able to live under primitive circumstances. The result is a powerful, intense, epic and exciting blockbuster with brains, and the special effects have once again been taken to another game-changing level.

It’s been ten years since a devastating virus (dubbed the “simian flu”) wiped the human race off the face of the earth, leaving genetically advanced apes to rule as the dominant species. Led by the chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis), who led the ape revolt against the humans, the apes have evolved into a peaceful society in the Muir Woods just north of San Francisco. That peace is threatened by the arrival of human survivors, who are desperate to re-establish electrical power and need access to the dam near where the apes have built their village. The apes and the humans forge a fragile alliance, but how long will it last before the tension between them escalates into an all-out war?

Even though “Rise” was such a resounding critical and commercial success, there was some cause for concern when director Rupert Wyatt passed on directing “Dawn” rather than commit to a rushed production schedule to meet a July 2014 release date. But the film couldn’t be in better hands, since Matt Reeves – who previously directed 2008’s “Cloverfield” and 2010’s “Let Me In” (and is already committed to direct the third “Apes” installment) – carefully crafts both high tension and exciting action sequences. The first half of “Dawn” is made up of the former, while the second half is dominated by the latter, but that first half is far more compelling, since it artfully depicts a fascinating portrait of the ape culture, particularly how they communicate with each other through a mixture of sign language and their own dialect (subtitles fill in the blanks).

As with “Rise,” the most sympathetic character in “Dawn” is Caesar, brilliantly played by performance capture go-to guy Andy Serkis (who also “played” Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and King Kong in that giant-sized epic). After leading the charge against the humans, Caesar tries to empathize with the human survivors, much to the chagrin of his embittered right-hand ape Koba (played with potent, raging force by Toby Kebbell). Equally effective are the rational humans played by Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kodi Smit-McPhee, while Gary Oldman provides some menace as the human leader who’s too quick to pull the trigger in an effort to restore power to the city.

If “Rise” was something of a loose update of the fourth film (and best sequel) from the original series, 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” then “Dawn” could be seen as a far superior update of the fifth (and last) installment, 1973’s “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.” Fans of those films will relish the sight of the apes riding horseback, while their ears will surely perk up during some of the music cues composed by Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino (“Up,” “Star Trek”), who periodically tips his hat to Jerry Goldsmith’s pioneering musical score from the original 1968 masterpiece.

But where these last two reboots are concerned, “Rise” had a more uplifting conclusion – well, uplifting for the apes, anyway. Their revolution built to a rousing payoff, and their victory felt like it was fully earned. By contrast, “Dawn” presents both sides with equal measure, since the good intentions of the few are sabotaged by ignorance, intolerance, fear and betrayal within their ranks, forcing moviegoers to make the more difficult choice of who to root for. It’s a bleaker moral conundrum that ends on a heartbreaking note, the effect of which is both haunting and packs a powerful emotional punch.

Will the apes and the humans learn how to co-exist in peaceful harmony? If not, which side will be left standing, if anyone is left standing at all? Either way, the superb “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” leaves the door wide open for the next installment, and as for what that could be, consider this: Remember the spacecraft that lifted off in “Rise” and vanished without a trace? What if, like in the original classic from 1968, the astronauts from that ship crash-landed back on Earth 2,000 years into the future, only to find a planet overrun by intelligent apes? Sure, it’s been done before, but so, to some extent, were these last two movies, and look how great they turned out.

-Scott Mantz

Review: Life Itself Fri, 04 Jul 2014 16:25:51 +0000 “‘Life’ Affirming”

“Life Itself”
Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Martin Scorsese
Directed by Steve James

At the risk of jumping the gun, I’m calling it now: At next year’s Academy Awards (on February 22, 2015), the Oscar for Best Documentary will go to “Life Itself.” Not only is it a powerful, revealing, intimate and life-affirming cinematic triumph that’s fully-worthy of the honor just based on its own merits, but it’s hard to imagine a more fitting way for the Motion Picture Academy and the film community in general to honor the life and legacy of the late great Roger Ebert.

As directed by Steve James (who’s landmark film, “Hoop Dreams,” was hailed as the best movie of 1994 by Ebert and his longtime TV sparring partner Gene Siskel), the brilliantly-structured “Life Itself” tells the fascinating and inspiring story of a life well-lived: from Ebert’s childhood in Urbana, Illinois, to his budding career as a news reporter; from his brief stint as an aspiring screenwriter (he wrote 1970’s far-out camp classic “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”) to his Pulitzer Prize-winning career as the resident film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times; from his most famous role as one-half of TV’s “Siskel & Ebert” to his final role as one of the nation’s most influential cultural bloggers.

But above all else, “Life Itself” is a love story – and it’s a profoundly moving one at that – between Roger and Chaz Hammelsmith, the woman he first saw at an AA meeting and would eventually become his strong and supportive wife (they married in 1992). It’s also a love story between Roger and the movies. As a permanent fixture at the world’s most famous film festivals (especially Cannes and Sundance), Ebert would champion movies both big and small, regardless of how well known its directors were.

With unflinching access to the last five months of his life, Ebert’s incredible career is framed around his challenging and often painful daily routines, which came as a result of being diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in 2002 and eventually led to the loss of his lower jaw in 2010. But rather than be silenced by his circumstances, Ebert became more vocal than ever, writing about anything and everything that was on his mind while “speaking” through his technologically-advanced computer.

Among the contemporaries interviewed for “Life Itself”: directors Martin Scorsese (he’s one of the film’s executive producers), Errol Morris, Werner Herzog and Ava DuVernay, as well as film critics Richard Corliss and A.O. Scott. Also interviewed here is Marlene Siskel, who gives an amazing perspective on the love-hate relationship between Roger and her late husband Gene during the production of “Siskel & Ebert at the Movies” – a show that, for better or worse, changed the face of film criticism forever. (Siskel died of brain cancer in 1999.)

Steve James went through great lengths to keep Ebert engaged and distracted from his disabilities, but his failing health eventually got the best of him, and he passed away on April 4, 2013. It’s heartbreaking to watch Ebert slip away, but the lasting impression left by this truly remarkable film is one of enormous courage. So, perhaps the ultimate coda for “Life Itself” is this: No one could have asked for a better tribute, and if Ebert himself could have seen it, he would have given it two thumbs way up.

-Scott Mantz

Review: A Hard Day’s Night Fri, 04 Jul 2014 16:22:52 +0000 “Meet The Beatles – Again!”

“A Hard Day’s Night”
The Beatles, Wilfred Brambell
Directed by Richard Lester

If you really want to know why the world fell in love with The Beatles in 1964, all you have to do is watch “A Hard Day’s Night.” Or better yet, watch it the way it was meant to be seen: on the big screen in all of its gear, full, fab glory.

Back in theaters to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its original release – and to coincide with its debut as a Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray – the first (and best) movie by the act you’ve known for all these years has never looked or sounded better. Brandishing a gorgeous print digitally restored from the original camera negative, it also boasts a remixed and remastered soundtrack produced by Giles Martin (the son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin).

No one – not even The Beatles themselves – expected “A Hard Day’s Night” to turn out as groundbreaking as it did, much less stand the test of time to be even more vital, vibrant and charming now than it was back in 1964. Upon its original release, film critic Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice widely hailed it as “the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals,” and 50 years later, it still shines brighter than ever as a perfect example of pure, delirious, irresistible joy.

The Beatles were huge fans of director Richard Lester, specifically his work with Peter Sellers and the Goons and his 11-minute short “The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film” (included as a bonus feature on the DVD/Blu-ray). Lester’s fly-on-the-wall, cinema verite style was a perfect fit for the very funny screenplay written by Alun Owen, whose cheeky dialogue solidified the public’s perception of John Lennon as the witty one, Paul McCartney as the cute one, George Harrison as the quiet one and Ringo Starr as the funny one.

But since The Beatles were not actors, their dialogue was kept short and simple, just like the plot itself. It’s just 36 hours in the lives of the Fab Four as they, with Paul’s trouble-making (and very clean) grandfather (Wilfred Brambell) in tow, went from being “in a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room.” At the same time, they turned out to be a handful for their stressed-out manager (Norman Rossington), their dim-witted roadie (John Junkin) and their high-maintenance TV director (Victor Spinetti) until it all culminated with the moment of truth for the fans: The Beatles “live” in concert.

But as was always the case with the group, it was the music that sealed the deal. In addition to the landmark title track (written by Lennon in one night after being influenced by a quote from Ringo), they performed some of their most vibrant songs during scenes that had a huge influence on a new format called the music video. For proof of that, witness the train-set scene for “I Should Have Known Better” and the lively breakout-to-freedom scene for “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

“A Hard Day’s Night” cost $500,000 to make and started filming just two weeks after The Beatles returned from their triumphant first visit to America. It made being a Beatle look like fun, but it also captured just how much they had become prisoners of their own unprecedented fame.

So regardless of whether the year is 1964 or 2014, if you really want to know why the world still loves The Beatles, all you have to do is watch “A Hard Day’s Night.” And with a love like that, you know you should be glad.

-Scott Mantz

Review: Jersey Boys Fri, 20 Jun 2014 16:57:32 +0000 “‘Jersey Bores’ is More Like It”

“Jersey Boys”
John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Vincent Piazza
Directed by Clint Eastwood

If there’s any studio film that has everything going for it this summer, it’s the big screen version of “Jersey Boys.” Among the many reasons why: It’s based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway show about The Four Seasons, the hit-making pop combo from the late 50s and early 60s; it stars John Lloyd Young, who reprises his award-winning role as its high-pitched lead singer, Frankie Valli; it’s directed by Clint Eastwood, the Oscar-winning director of “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby”; and, perhaps most of all, it serves as a viable alternative for grown-up moviegoers who have no interest in seeing big-budget blockbusters about spaceships and superheroes.

So how could something that was full of so much promise fall short on so many levels? Well, for starters, there’s Eastwood himself. While his straightforward, no-frills and old-fashioned directing style served him well with the likes of 2003’s “Mystic River,” 2006’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” and 2010’s “Gran Torino,” it’s just not a good fit for a jukebox musical like “Jersey Boys.” Where the film should have popped with rousing flash and vibrancy, it is instead dull, poorly-paced, uneven, unfocused and overlong.

It doesn’t help that the screenplay and musical book (written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice) covers far too much ground for a two-hour-and-14-minute film to effectively handle. The historical high points feel episodic, and the subplots feel underdeveloped. The result is just another cliché-ridden rise-and-fall music biopic that barely scratches the surface, as the working-class Four Seasons hit the bigtime, only to implode when success, greed and jealousy take their toll.

Of course, the music is great, and it’s hard to resist the appeal of chart-topping hits like “Sherry,” “Big Boys Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man” and “Rag Doll.” But otherwise, most of the characters fall prey to “Goodfellas”-style Italian stereotypes, particularly Vincent Piazza (TV’s “Boardwalk Empire), who lays it on too thick as hot-tempered bandmate Tommy DeVito. John Lloyd Young fares much better as Frankie Valli – even though his performance suffers from being underwritten, you can’t take your eyes off him when he belts out the hits.

As with the stage show, some of the characters break the fourth wall and speak directly to the camera, but it’s not consistent enough to be effective. It doesn’t help that despite the presence of the group’s ever-growing sideburns, one never senses the passage of time. The majority of the film takes place over a 10-year period during the 60s, but the evolution of The Four Seasons feels far too insulated from the outside world, which was shaken to the core by political assassinations, race riots, the moon landings, the British Invasion and the conflict in Vietnam.

“Jersey Boys” should have gotten under your skin and worked like a charm, but sadly, it misses the boat. It feels too flat and lacks depth, flair and spirit, and it doesn’t feel open enough in its transition from the stage to the big screen. That’s really too bad, because for a movie about one of the biggest selling pop groups of the 1960s, “Jersey Boys” just doesn’t pop enough.

-Scott Mantz

Review: 22 Jump Street Fri, 13 Jun 2014 16:52:53 +0000 “Hill and Tatum Take Another Giant Leap”

“22 Jump Street”
Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum
Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

A little over two years after the big screen version of the 80s cop show “21 Jump Street” turned out to be a far better comedy than it probably deserved to be, thanks to its smart, self-aware storyline and the amazing chemistry between co-stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, its bigger, better, tripper sequel “22 Jump Street” further solidifies the endearing bromance not only between its leads, but also its co-directors as well.

As far as Hill and Tatum are concerned, they seem much more at ease and confident in their roles, as the brotherly love that defines them is what makes the film so infectiously entertaining and endearing. That bond goes a long way, because “22 Jump Street” is basically the same movie – actually, it is the same movie – as its predecessor, right down to its plot, in which Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) graduate from high school to college to expose yet another drug trafficking ring.

As with most long-term relationships that make the jump from high school to college, the bond between Schmidt and Jenko is stretched to the breaking point, especially after Jenko embraces the fraternity lifestyle and becomes a college football hero while Schmidt is left behind and gets involved with the wrong girl. Fortunately, it’s nothing that a good car chase and a big spring break party can’t eventually repair, which helps make “22 Jump Street” the best bromantic comedy since 2009’s “I Love You, Man.”

But if “22 Jump Street” further solidifies the bond between Hill and Tatum, it does even bigger wonders for co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. In addition to directing its predecessor, Lord and Miller also directed the animated hits “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and this year’s wildly imaginative “The Lego Movie.” They bring that wild and wacky animated sensibility to their live action films, which is why “22 Jump Street” often feels like an animated movie unto itself and is all the better for it.

As far as buddy cop movies go, the “Jump Street” films are a worthy addition to the best of the genre, which also includes “Lethal Weapon,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Rush Hour” and, more recently, “The Heat.” As for whether or not there will be another sequel, you won’t want to miss the hilarious ending credits, which goes off the rails with crazy sequel ideas that will keep them busy for the next hundred years (seriously). And as long as they keep topping themselves like this, then “23 Jump Street” can’t get here fast enough.

– Scott Mantz

Review: Edge of Tomorrow Wed, 28 May 2014 15:29:21 +0000 “A Cutting ‘Edge’ Sci-Fi Spectacular”

“Edge of Tomorrow”
Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton
Directed by Doug Liman

Over the course of his impressive 30-plus year career, Tom Cruise has played a wide variety of characters, and all of them extremely well. Among his best performances: a good son who comes of age (“Risky Business”), a daredevil fighter pilot (“Top Gun”), a dim-witted pool hustler (“The Color of Money”), a paraplegic Vietnam vet (“Born on the Fourth of July”), a sleazy motivational speaker (“Magnolia”), a sports agent with a heart of gold (“Jerry Maguire”), a skilled assassin (“Collateral”) and, of course, a resourceful undercover agent (the “Mission: Impossible” movies).

The list goes on and on, but there is one character that the 51-year-old Oscar-nominee has never played before: a coward. And no surprise that he’s great at it – that is, until his heroic qualities shine through – in “Edge of Tomorrow,” an exhilarating, exciting and pulse-pounding alien invasion epic that can best be described as a cross between “War of the Worlds,” “Groundhog Day” and “Starship Troopers.” As brilliantly directed by Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) from a smart screenplay co-written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, “Edge of Tomorrow” is a very entertaining sci-fi spectacular that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Based on the Japanese manga novel entitled “All You Need is Kill” (written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka), and reportedly costing more than $175 million to make, “Edge of Tomorrow” tells the story of an unrelenting alien invasion that has already leveled most of Europe, and the aliens, known as Mimics, are quickly gaining ground.

Cruise plays Major William Cage, a PR rep for the U.S. Army who’s been able to coast along with his killer smile and avoid direct combat, but his luck runs out when he’s sent to the front lines on a suicide mission to hold the enemy at bay. The D-Day style attack turns into a massacre, and Cage is killed within five minutes, only to be resurrected and find himself stuck in a time loop – one where he is forced to repeat the same brutal day over and over again until he can improve his skills, break the cycle and defeat the aliens. His only hope lies with Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a celebrated Special Forces warrior who holds the key to Cage’s destiny and the future of the human race.

When it comes to the concept of a flawed protagonist being stuck in a time loop until he can learn from his mistakes, it’s safe to say that the 1993 comedy classic “Groundhog Day” set the standard. But “Edge of Tomorrow” takes the process to stratospheric level, resulting in an instant sci-fi classic. It’s smart, visceral and action-packed, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously, so it’s also clever, playful and loads of fun. The tone is right on the money with more humor than one might expect, and “Edge of Tomorrow” represents a superb display of bravura filmmaking – especially in the editing department, thanks to editor James Herbert.

Tom Cruise is known for throwing himself into his roles with fierce commitment, and his performance as William Cage is no exception. His journey from a shameless coward to a daring hero is a great one, and Cruise plays it perfectly as repeated encounters allow him to get a grip on the stakes and master the use of his heavy metal exoskeleton. Bill Paxton is also perfect as Cage’s relentless squad leader, but Emily Blunt is downright sensational in her first action thriller as Rita Vrataski, a strong and courageous heroine who takes a cue from Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the “Alien” movies and is not to be messed with.

After a dazzling first half, “Edge of Tomorrow” becomes a bit convoluted with exposition-heavy plot points, but that’s a minor flaw, given the film’s many merits. The production values are impressive, the fast-moving aliens are genuinely scary, the pacing is perfect and the performances are fantastic. It’s a blockbuster with brains, and when it’s over, you might find yourself in a time loop of your own – one where you can’t wait to see it over and over again. And then there’s Tom Cruise, who continues to make all the right moves, so no matter what he does next, you can bet that he’ll do it extremely well.

-Scott Mantz