7 Blog

Archive: Movies / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Tammy’ is an extended series of fat jokes

Thanks to the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, Margaret Cho and George Carlin, not to mention the late, great Bill Hicks (NSFW), it's possible to enjoy off-color jokes — otherwise known as politically incorrect humor — because a larger point is being made. In other words, fat jokes — as just one example — aren't just opportunities to laugh at the overweight. They are an opportunity to, maybe, laugh at our overall cultural obsession with looks. Or maybe they're the holding up of a cultural mirror inviting us to reflect on why such nasty humor is appealing. And so on.

Except in Melissa McCarthy movies. I've never watched her sitcom, “Mike and Molly,” so I can't comment on what happens there. But her movies? “Bridesmaids,” which won McCarthy — incredible as it was — an Oscar nomination, shows just how comedically talented the woman is. It uses her stature directly, forcing us to accept her as someone who doesn't fit standard norms of beauty but who still insists on blazing her own original path. And it is hilarious.

But in her succeeding films, “Identity Thief,” “The Heat” and now “Tammy,” the point has been less about the directness of McCarthy's character as it has been about using McCarthy's talents to repeat the same comic schtick over and over. Until, in “Tammy,” it's as if another lame “Saturday Night Live” routine has been adapted to the big screen.

“Tammy” is so stupid a character that she doesn't known who Mark Twain is. She doesn't know the meaning of the word “pattern.” She works at a hamburger joint and she literally has no idea what the Affordable Care Act does. In fact, the movie is so full of stupid and pathetic moments that I can't begin to list them all. The problem is that “Tammy” never actually melds McCarthy's talents (even those mired in her now tired mannerisms) with the overall story, which tries to offer up some sort of life lesson.

As in, apply yourself, get an education, find a job and work hard — no one says anything about not eating Doritos for lunch — and you give yourself a better chance to enjoying a happy life. Duh.

Without ever doing any of those, though, McCarthy's character still manages to attract the attentions of the obligatory love interest (Mark Duplass).All because he sees her inner beauty, don't you know.

The best thing I can say about “Tammy”? It isn't the worst film I've seen this year.

But it's close.

Spielberg’s shark is cousin to these ‘Apes’

I've already commented on “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” which is leading the week's box-office. But I thought I'd post the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio, if for no other reason than to emphasize how surprised I was at how good it is. A transcript of the review follows:

Summer hasn’t always been a hot season for cinema. In fact, until the July 4th weekend of 1975 – when Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” made it unsafe to visit the beach – summer was considered a bad time to release movies.

These days, other than the Christmas holidays – when Oscar hopefuls vie for attention – summer is the province of blockbuster wannabes. Just ask Michael Bay, who has never seen a summer-movie season he won’t mug with a handycam – which actually emphasizes something: Summer movies don’t usually rank very high on a critic’s quality list.

But Matt Reeves has changed all that. And he’s done it by making a movie about – well, talking apes. And it’s hardly the first one. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a sequel to the franchise reboot of a series dating back to 1968. That’s when the original adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s novel hit the big screen. Four sequels came in quick succession, followed by Tim Burton’s 2001 “reimagining” and this reboot’s 2011 prequel, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

That places Reeves, the talented director both of the alien-invasion flick “Cloverfield” and the vampire variation “Let Me In,” eight films along the storyline progression Boulle envisioned. Despite that late start, though, Reeves has given us one of the best “Apes” films since that moment Charlton Heston roared the memorable line: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

What director Franklin J. Schaffner's 1968 film boasted in originality was offset by cheesy special effects. Nearly a half century later the kinds of effects Reeves has access to not only allow him to digitally depict individual talking apes with incredible authenticity but also to create an entire Apes culture.

“Dawn” picks up a decade after “Rise,” when a human-created flu – which scientists brewed up using Apes as breathing petri dishes – has decimated the human population. A band of survivors lives in what is left of San Francisco and is running out of fuel, which has caused their leaders to eye a dam that sits in Apes-controlled territory. Caesar, the genetically evolved ape from “Rise” (played by digitally enhanced Andy Serkis) is the Apes leader – and it is he, with his mixed feelings about humans, who stands between them and members of his own troop who would exterminate anything non-ape.

Like any good summer blockbuster, things in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” blow up real good. Cars, trucks, buildings, downtown San Francisco. But thanks to his screenwriters, especially Mark Bomback, director Reeves has plenty of opportunity to explore intimate moments – between humans, between apes and even inter-species. Sure some of those moments stretch credulity: My three-year-old iPad has trouble firing up in minutes, but a decade-old one in this film powers up in seconds. Right.

Still, no matter. The summer-movie season isn’t about literal truth. It’s about virtual believability. And “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is about as believable, and poignant, as a movie about talking apes could possibly be.

Enjoy the weather - and ‘The Goonies’

Tonight, of course, would be a good time to go and listen to Mozart in Manito Park. But if you prefer movies and you still want to enjoy this fine summer weather while it's here, then I'd suggest taking your family to Riverfront Park. Because that's where Richard Donner's 1985 film “The Goonies” is playing tonight at 7.

“The Goonies” is one of the mid-'80s young-adult films that, unlike John Hughes' work, is pure fun. Shot in and around Astoria and Cannon Beach, Ore., the film tells the tale of a bunch of outsiders — Goonies, if you will — who, in danger of losing their home, stumble onto a treasure map that leads them to an actual pirate ship. Oh, and they have to battle a gang of murderous counterfeiters to get the gold and jewels.

Donner, who is also known for “The Omen,” the original Christopher Reeves “Superman” and “Lethal Weapon,” employed a style that is pure Steven Spielberg in making “The Goonies.” Which is only natural since Spielberg dreamed up the story, which Chris Columbus fleshed out into a full screen play (Spielberg also served as executive producer and, apparently, is developing a sequel).

But maybe the most memorable aspect to the film is its cast, which is full of actors who went on to extended careers. Among the kids, we have Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman and Martha Plimpton. Among the adults, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Davi and the late NFL player John Matuszak. (Here are some other interesting notes about the movie.)

Like most Spielberg-influenced kids films, “The Goonies” strikes a tone that tries to appeal both to adults and children. As a result, it may be a bit intense for some young movie fans. During a recent at-tome screening, my then-5-year-old granddaughter started crying — though her 3-year-old brother wasn't troubled at all. So use your best judgment.

And enjoy the summer night.

Friday’s openings: Sex in the Cloud(s)

What would a summer be without a movie that melded Internet ignorance with the anxiety over fading sexual attraction? Hmmmm, refreshing? Sorry, it's just that I have felt under assault by all the trailers for the “romantic comedy” that opens on Friday. “Sex Tape,” which stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal, is just one of five openings — which makes you wonder what those who schedule summer films were thinking.

Friday's movie schedule is as follows:

“Sex Tape”: It's a plot as old as videotape (which no one ever uses anymore, so what's with that title?): A couple, trying to rekindle their former sexual fervor, decides to film their exploits. Then, stupidly, they somehow mistakenly download the results onto the Internet. Whoops. Yeah, stupid people are supposed to be funny. “Neighbors,” anyone?

“The Purge: Anarchy”: A sequel to the 2013 original, this one continues the theme of an America in which for one 12-hour period, held annually, no crime is deemed illegal. Naturally, instead of anyone trying to rip off big banks and get rich, people opt for … murder. Oooooh, kids, scary.

“Planes: Fire & Rescue” (in 3D and standard): A sequel to “Planes” in which our hero (voice by Dane Cook) responds to a damaged engine by giving up racing and joining a fire and rescue crew. Sounds a little like Steven Spielberg's 1989 movie “Always.”

“Persecuted”: This from IMDB: “An evangelist finds himself framed for murder and on the run after he refuses to back a senator's proposition calling for sweeping religious reform.” Right, happens every day.

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Life Itself”: Documentary filmmaker Steve James follows film critic Roger Ebert during the final months of his life, revealing Ebert's life story and his ever-evolving take on both movies and life. I reviewed the film here.

That's the week. Enjoy.

‘Planet of the Apes’ still has the bananas

You'd think that a movie franchise that was born in 1968, had four sequels and a television series, a 2001 reimagining and in 2011 a whole new reboot (featuring JAMES FRANCO, no less), would have run out of energy by now. Or bananas. Or something.

But I have to say, the latest movie version of French writer Pierre Boulle's 1963 novel “La planète des singes” — or, as we have come to know it, “Planet of the Apes” — just may the the best of all.

I'll defer the top spot to Franklin J. Schaffner's 1968 original, which worked off a screenplay crafted by Michael Wilson and the great Rod Serling. Yeah, the movie is cheesy, but it has at least two striking moments of originality: when we first see the gorilla on horseback bursting from the thicket, and that finale with Charlton Heston on the beach.

As time went on, the sequels got progressively more cheesy. And Burton's reimagining was just plain silly (Mark Wahlberg, really?). But Reeves, who helmed the J.J. Abrams-produced “Cloverfield,” and “Let Me In,” the better-than-decent remake of the Swedish vampire flick “Let the Right One In,” has taken a script written by the pair who gave us the 2011 film (Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) — with additional work by Mark Bomback and Reeves himself — and has given us something unusual: a sci-fi, post-apocalyptic study that is CG heavy but still character-driven enough to achieve a sense of poignancy.

And while in the original, even in Burton's effort, the “good” apes were few, here they're mostly all good. It's only those scarred by their contact with humans who are understandably twisted and murderous. The trek to what we know is going to happen, then, is that much more sad, even if predictable. As far as back stories go, Reeves and his screenwriters have given us a pretty good one.

I, for one, am going to be a lot nicer to any and all animals I come across. Starting with my cats. They have a far better chance of surviving an apocalypse than I do.

Below: The embed is a clever take on the “original ending.” It is definitely NSFW.

Roger Ebert was larger than ‘Life Itself’

Note: An earlier version of this post reported that “Life Itself” was opening at the Magic Lantern on Aug. 18. The film is actually opening on July 18.

Steve James' new documentary, “Life Itself,” will open at the Magic Lantern on July 18th. I took advantage of my On Demand services to see the film just so I could post a review on Spokane Public Radio. My review follows:

On two occasions, I almost met Roger Ebert.

One year at Sundance, I saw him crossing the street but was just too shy to open my mouth. A decade earlier, in 1989, I was in Los Angeles to attend a press junket for Steven Spielberg’s film “Always.” Walking into the press reception room, I had to squeeze past a couple of short guys who were engaged in an intense conversation. Only gradually did I realize those two guys were Ebert and the filmmaker Spike Lee.

I was starstruck. And for good reason. In the late ’70s, I was living in Eugene, Oregon, working at my first newspaper job. I considered pursuing an MFA in film studies, but journalism seemed a safer career bet. So I contented myself by taking a few graduate film courses, by seeing as many movies as I could and by watching a Public Television show called “Sneak Previews.”

Remember that show? It featured Ebert and fellow Chicago film critic Gene Siskel engaging in the kinds of arguments that reminded me of my undergraduate years, when my friends and I would spend hours arguing about the movies of every filmmaker from Akira Kurosawa to Don Siegel. I would find myself yelling at Siskel and Ebert even more than I yelled at my more ignorant movie-going friends.

And, yes, I loved every minute of it. Almost as much as I enjoyed watching “Life Itself,” the documentary made by Steve James that takes its title from Ebert’s own 2011 memoir. James, best known for his films “Hoop Dreams” and “The Interrupters,” does more, though, than give a mere look back at who and what Ebert was: He gives us a primer on how to face death with both courage and an enduring sense of self.

A few months after production began, Ebert – who’d already lost most of his lower jaw to cancer – returned to the hospital. A cracked femur would eventually lead to the discovery that his cancer had returned, and just that quickly it became clear: Ebert wasn’t long for this world.

Until Ebert did die, in 2013 at age 70, James’s cameras rolled, cutting from past to present while documenting those final months. We learn that Ebert was an only child of working-class parents, that he spent more time writing for and editing his university newspaper than in attending class, who at age 24 became the Sun-Times’ film critic, who in 1975 became the first critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism and who, that same year, began broadcasting his TV show with Siskel.

Through testimonials by Martin Scorsese and others, James gives Ebert full credit for his support of cinema. But we also learn of Ebert’s fierce competitiveness, his alcoholism, and – with the help of his wife – his eventual maturing. It’s the view James provides of the man Ebert became – the loving husband and adored stepdad – and how gracefully that man endured the end of his life, that left me even more star-struck than I already was.

No lawyer jokes in ‘The Case Against 8’

Above: The two lawyers, David Boies and Theodore Olson, show a sense of compassion in “The Case Against 8.”

On “Movies 101,” the weekly Spokane Public Radio show that I host with Mary Pat Treuthart and Nathan Weinbender, we decided to bypass any of the films that opened last week in theaters. Seems we mirrored the U.S. public at large, which also decided to spend the weekend in any place but movie theaters.

That left us in a bit of a quandary as to what we actually would review. Then we decided to turn to our television sets and our respective On Demand services. And that led us to the three documentary films that we will review (to be broadcast Friday at 6:30 p.m. on KPBX, 1:30 p.m. Saturday on KSFC): “Life Itself,”Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” and “The Case Against 8.”

“Life Itself” is Steve James' study of the late film critic Roger Ebert. It is a must-see for wannabe critics but is an even more riveting exploration of end-of-life issues. “Whitey” is Joe Berlinger's look at the Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger and his complex relationship with law enforcement. And, finally, “The Case Against 8” is a look at the battle to overturn the anti-same-sex marriage statute in California.

In reading the reviews of that latter film, I found myself nodding in agreement with the point made by Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney, who commented on the fact that the lawyers in the case come across as empathetic, compassionate, open-minded individuals.

As Rooney wrote, “There might actually be more humanization of the legal profession in less than two hours here than there is in multiple seasons of 'The Good Wife.' ”

I'm married to a lawyer (one who happens to be a fan of “The Good Wife”), so I'm in a perfect position to say he's correct. But check out the film and see for yourself.

Miss South Perry Summer Theater? Inconceivable

Thanks to my friend and former colleague Kevin Taylor, I was reminded once again that in addition to having an actual summer, Spokane of 2014 is enjoying another FREE outdoor-movie season at the South Perry Summer Theater. We're well into the season, what with screenings of “Big” and “Despicable Me 2” already having occurred.

Next up? “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which — as with all the screenings — will screen at dusk. Saturday's show, which is sponsored by South Perry Pizza, will benefit T.E.A.M. Grant. As the organizers say, the FREE screening is open to all, so “Show up early, bring your lawn chair, and join us at the Summer Movies!”

The event takes place in the lot in front of The Shop at 924 S. Perry. And did I mention the shows are FREE?

The rest of the summer schedule is as follows:

July 19 — “The Princess Bride”: My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to … enjoy this movie.

July 26 — “The Lego Movie”: Everything about this animated movie is awesome!

Aug. 2 — “The Raiders of the Lost Ark”: I hate snakes! I hate 'em!

Aug. 9 — “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug“: Precious redux.

Aug. 16 — “Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure”: Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K … er, The Shop.

Friday’s openings: a chimp off the old block

Now that the Michael Bay furor is over, it's time to look ahead for more sci-fi mainstream mayhem. And Friday will give us … monkeys! Or chimps, at least. And gorillas. And babboons. Maybe even a gibbon or two, not to mention the poor humans they will ultimately dominate (thanks, originally, to Pierre Boulle, then Franklin J. Schaffner and others, including Tim Burton).

Friday's openings are as follows

“Dawn of the Planet of Apes” (3D and 2D): A sequel to 2011's “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” this James Franco-less follow-up has much of the world dead because of “simian flu,” which gives Caesar and his followers the need to defend themselves. Gives a whole new meaning to the term monkeying around.

“Begin Again”: John Carney, who gave us 2006's busker feature “Once,” returns with this offbeat romance between a wannabe singer (Keira Knightley) and a has-been producer (Mark Ruffalo). Think “Dreamgirls” meets “Jerry Maguire.”

“Third Person”: All good things may come in threes, and that — let's hope — includes these three romantic entanglements. So, will this be a three-hanky date flick?

And at the Magic Lantern:

“Obvious Child”: Donna (Jenny Slate) is pregnant and she knows what she's going to do about it. Question is, will she involve the guy she had a one-night fling with? One thing is sure, Slate is a real find.

“Find Your Way: A Busker's Diary”: One of the more interesting offerings at last February's Spokane International Film Festival, this documentary about Seattle street musicians explores the world of people you walk by often without giving a second thought.

And there's the weekend. Enjoy.

Hey, where did all the movie fans go?

Considering how I feel about “Transformers: Age of Extinction” — or as we call it in my house, “Transformers: Interminable” — it should come as no surprise that I failed to recommend it. But my eyes did widen a bit when I read a post on Gawker reporting that this past July 4th weekend was one of the worst for moviegoing in decades.

Even Boxofficemojo.com called it a “very slow Fourth of July weekend,” the slowest since 1999.

A number of reasons were offered, among them the fact that the actual holiday fell on Friday — instead of, say, Thursday — which gave one less day for people to see movies. Also, the weather was pretty good across much of the country (especially in Spokane), which caused many people to seek the sunshine. Etc., etc.

But seriously? The openings — “Tammy” and “Deliver Us From Evil” — couldn't even muster enough box-office power to unseat the latest “Transformers” from the top spot. And Michael Bay's creation itself saw a 63 percent drop from its opening weekend.

So my theory? Hollywood didn't give us anything worth seeing. And who the hell wants to see “Transformers” twice?

Note: Answer to that last question? People in China.

According to Boxofficemojo, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” has earned more than $400 million worldwide, nearly $213 million of that coming from China. Chinese moviegoers ponied up some $51 million this past weekend. Question is: Why?

Well, ignore the obvious (that many young Chinese people with disposable incomes are enjoying prosperity by going to see the same mindless crap as U.S. teens and 20-somethings). Instead, credit Bay for setting much of the second half of his film in Beijing and Hong Kong, thus smarty catering to an Asian audience unused to seeing its big cities — even if they are being destroyed — portrayed in Hollywood blockbusters. He's only doing what other filmmakers (“Pacific Rim,” “Godzilla”) have attempted, but Bay seems to have done it better.

Welcome to globalization, folks.

Fourth ‘Transformers’ has critics on the ropes

According to the box-office reports on Thursday afternoon, the latest Michael Bay creation — “Transformers: Age of Extinction” — had earned some $412 million worldwide ($128 million domestically) in its first week of release. That adds to the total that I cite in the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio.

What's clear is that, despite an almost universal loathing by critics, people are going to see Bay's movie. It's equally clear that Bay himself think critics can suck on his handycam. Which is great because it absolves me from feeling any guilt at all for labeling his films for what they are. My review follows:

Roberto Duran had fought nearly equally with Sugar Ray Leonard until the closing seconds of the eighth round. But in this, their 1980 welterweight title rematch, things clearly had started going Leonard’s way. And whether because of mere pique – or as he was to claim – stomach cramps, Duran abruptly quit.

The words he uttered then instantly became legend: “No más,” Duran told the referee. “No más.”

I know the feeling. I’ve been watching Michael Bay films since 1995. That’s when the master of all things overblown offered up his first bona-fide feature, “Bad Boys.” That movie’s stylisms – big explosions, quick-cuts contrasting with slo-mo EFX, camera shots that revolve more fully than Regan MacNeil’s head – were a mere preview of what Bay would show us in films such as “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and – count ’em – four “Transformers” films.

Bay’s latest release, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” has been playing for a week. And as I wrote in a Spokane7 blog post, the film is pure Bay: “bigger, louder, longer, worser.”

Why, you ask? For one thing, unless you’ve seen the past films, you’re likely to be lost. Having seen them, though, is no guarantee you’re going to fully understand who, what, when, where or why. The WHO is perhaps the second easiest question to answer: a whole new cast. Mark Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a Texas farmer-inventor whose lab skills seem limited to making robotic contraptions that work maybe half the time – when they work at all.

Yeager lives with his 17-year-old daughter (Nicola Peltz), who seems to be the adult in their relationship, though his overprotective attitudes toward her are a major point in WHAT passes for a Bay plot (provided by screenwriter Ehren Kruger). Another plot point involves the Yeager family finances, which are virtually nil – a situation that doesn’t stop daddy from buying a beat-up semi that he finds, improbably, in a movie theater.

This brings us to WHEN, which for the Yeagers and everyone else is some four years after the so-called Battle of Chicago that ended 2011’s “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.” The semi that Yeager buys changes everything because it is none other than Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots – alien-transformer-robots that, in the past, have been friendly to humans. That’s changed now, though, because of a dastardly CIA operative (Kelsey Grammer) who, along with a billionaire businessman (Stanley Tucci), is bent on using alien technology both to free humans from all robot dependence – and to make those in power a pretty profit in the process.

The WHERE is whatever place Bay wants to trash – the Yeager farm, Chicago (again), Beijing and, almost lovingly, Hong Kong.

And, finally, WHY did Bay make this fourth “Transformers” (with a fifth already in preproduction)? This is the easiest question of all: Including last weekend, the series has made in excess of $1.17 billion dollars.

Incoherence has never provided a better payday.

No más, por favor, no más.

Hang out with The Dude tonight at The Garland

You can't buy much for $1 anymore. Oh, if you scour the aisles at your local grocery store, or stop by a Dollar Tree location, you can find everything from shampoo to party supplies, all for just that single Washington.

But movies? Not to date myself or anything, but I can remember $.25 movie matinees (which is what I paid one Saturday to see the Charlton Heston version of “Ben-Hur”). These days, though? Even The Garland Theater charges $5 for general admissions anymore ($2.50 on Wednesdays).

Not for select showings during the summer, however. Tonight at 9:30, The Garland will screen the Coen brothers' 1998 film “The Big Lebowski” for the admission price of, yes, $1. In fact, the Garland-area theater is boasting a whole selection of summer showings for that same discounted price.

If you haven't seen “The Big Lebowski,” you should know that it's a typical example of the Coens and their offbeat attitude. Jeff Bridges plays The Dude, a pot-smoking guy who gets mistaken for someone and finds himself involved in a scheme that … well, let's let Roger Ebert explain: “It involves kidnapping, ransom money, a porno king, a reclusive millionaire, a runaway girl, the Malibu police, a woman who paints while nude and strapped to an overhead harness, and the last act of the disagreement between Vietnam veterans and Flower Power. It has more scenes about bowling than anything else.”

First time I saw “The Big Lebowski” I was disappointed. The second time, some 20 years later, I connected with the humor and laughed all the way through. Either way, you're likely to find something about the movie that's entertaining.

Especially for a buck.

Paul Mazursky, 1930-2014: Master of the ‘70s

Above: A young Christopher Walken starred in Paul Mazursky's 1976 film “Next Stop, Greenwich Village.”

Paul Mazursky died on Monday.

That likely doesn’t mean much to contemporary moviegoers. No disrespect, but Mazursky – one of the major American filmmakers of the 1970s and ’80s – didn’t make movies that blew stuff up real good. His best movies were explorations of middle-class, often urban life in an era that saw U.S. culture breaking free from 1950s-era “Mad Men” conventions.

More to the point, the 84-year-old Mazursky hadn’t worked much as a movie director since the mid-’90s, choosing instead to act on such television shows as “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

So anyone who didn’t grow up watching Mazursky’s films, as I did, can be forgiven for not recognizing his name.

But if it’s true that artists come along when the time is right, Mazursky was certainly right for the ’70s in particular. That was, most critics would agree, a golden time for American film. And Mazursky’s contributions, as a writer-director, were many.

His first film, 1969’s “Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice” explored the era’s changing sexual mores. His next year’s follow-up, “Alex in Wonderland,” featured Donald Sutherland as a director, fresh off a hit film, who struggles to find either a follow-up project or a larger sense of meaning to his comfortable life.

For Mazursky, in real life, the movie projects kept coming. “Blume in Love” (1973) used the rising popularity of George Segal to tell the story of a guy who, try as he might, can’t let go of his failing marriage. “Harry and Tonto,” a year later, gave us an aging guy going on the road with his cat (and it won a Best Actor Oscar for Art Carney).

“Next Stop, Greenwich Village” (1976) followed a group of young New Yorkers (and features a memorable turn by a young Christopher Walken), while “An Unmarried Woman” (1978) focused on Jill Clayburgh as a privileged New Yorker whose life gets turned upside down when her husband leaves her for a younger woman.

Mazursky worked all through the ’80s, though his work became less and less original. “Tempest” (1982) was heavily influenced by Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” was a remake of the 1932 French film “Boudu Saved From Drowning.” In a decade that featured an American president who was a former actor, “Moon Over Parador” (1988) gave Richard Dreyfuss the chance to play an actor doubling for a South American dictator.

That’s only natural. Most filmmakers have a fertile period of creation. Mazursky’s time passed soon enough, but he managed to make a mark on American film.

It’s one that deserves to be remembered.

Wednesday’s openings: Pies and aliens

Updated post: To include the second run of “Belle” at the Magic Lantern.

Our country celebrates a birthday on Friday. By my reckoning (which is always problematic), this would be the 238th.

Before then, however, something even more important occurs: the week's movie openings, which on this holiday weekend have been moved to Wednesday. Those opening are as follows:

“America”: Conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza imagines a world in which America didn't exist. From the Daily Beast review by Andrew Romano: “I don’t have the space here to dispute every specious point that D’Souza makes in 'America' or highlight every bit of nonsensical sophistry he employs in order to mask the emptiness of his so-called reasoning. But his acrobatically evasive—and borderline idiotic—treatment of slavery should be enough to convince all but the most closed-minded D’Souzaites that the guy is little more than a slick, self-promotional propagandist.” 

“Earth to Echo”: An extraterrestrial uses a bunch of preteens to help it find a way home. Uh, sound familiar? Somebody call Steven Spielberg.

“Tammy”: A husbandless, jobless Melissa McCarthy hits the road with her grandmother — and becomes a notorious pie thief.

“Deliver Us From Evil”: Based on actual paranormal cases investigated by a now-retired NYPD officer. Oh, and guess who is hawking a book about his so-called “based-on-the-real-story” experiences?

And at the Magic Lantern (which opens nothing until Friday):

“Snowpiercer”: Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho wrote and directed this post-apocalyptic tale about the last of humanity riding a super-powered train around the world. Think the “Hunger Games” meets “The Orient Express.”

“Belle”: A mixed-race woman faces 18th-century British prejudice while being raised by her aristocratic relatives. Based on a real person, though the really interesting thing about this movie project can her found by clicking here (it concerns screenplay credit).

Relatively speaking, ‘Jersey Boys’ is a hit

I've never been a big Broadway musical guy. I've seen my share, both on Broadway and off. “Rent,” which I liked. “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which I thought was OK. And, of course, I've seen so many movie adaptations, from “”42nd Street” to “West Sdie Story” to “Hairspray” and so on.

So I wasn't really looking forward to “Jersey Boys,” even if it was directed by Clint Eastwood. But I was pleasantly surprised, which I reveal in the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio. A transcription of the review follows:

Judging Broadway musicals takes an adroit critical hand. It’s not as if you can hold, say, “Phantom of the Opera” to the same standards as “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Looking for a similar sense of quality within such contrasting theatrical productions is tricky.

Truth is, you have to adjust your perspective. And relativity is key. You have to compare “Phantom of the Opera” with, say, “Jersey Boys.” And in movie terms, at least, that means weighing the weepy feeling that strikes you when Gerard Butler sings “The Music of the Night” against whatever you feel when John Lloyd Young sings “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

Young, of course, is the actor who plays Frankie Valli in Clint Eastwood’s movie version of “Jersey Boys,” the show that won the 2006 Tony Award. Adapted by original authors Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, “Jersey Boys” is a period-piece study of the multi-hit ’60s-era singing group The Four Seasons. And if I sound muted in my appreciation for Young’s singing, it’s no reflection on his abilities. It’s just that I’m not confident that everyone today shares my affection for a group that was churning out hit songs when I was just approaching adolescence.

Again, I’m speaking here about relativity. I won’t argue that “Jersey Boys” is a great film. In a certain sense, it’s no different from any other hard-road-to-success picture that has been made about singers from Al Jolson to Billie Holiday, Ray Charles to Johnny Cash. We have the rough beginnings, kids in urban New Jersey caught between crime and their dream of making it as entertainers. Next comes the break: They find a sound and a competent producer and, fairly quickly, make it big. Then come the complications: Being blindsided by all the problems that come with too much, too soon – while life goes on and on. Finally, we arrive at the resolution, which is as glossed over as any shiny new LP in its pristine packaging.

But melodramatic shine is all part of what makes Broadway, and maybe the best thing that director Eastwood has achieved with his “Jersey Boys” is to have given us something that strikes a balance between that stagey glow and the greater sense of authenticity that the movie screen demands. Yes, Eastwood does have a good cast to work with: Young has the Valli-like pipes, if not quite the acting chops, to play our lead singer. Yet Vincent Piazza as tough-guy Tommy DeVito, Erich Bergen as a winking Bob Gaudio and a Mike Doyle as producer Bob Crewe carry enough swagger for any movie.

And even as that cast walks through a movie world that, for the most part, is set clearly on a studio backlot, Eastwood misdirects us by keeping his movie moving, by having various cast members address the audience directly and by always using that memorable music to enhance our emotions.

Seeing “Jersey Boys” isn’t exactly like time-traveling back to 1960. But if I close my eyes, it’s as close as I can come.

Subscribe via RSS