Thursday, June 26, 2014

Movie Review: Cheap Material Makes Up 'Yves Saint Laurent'

The iconic Yves Saint Laurent (Pierre Niney) dresses a model in an early scene of the movie.

Yves Saint Laurent (2014, directed by Jalil Lespert. France, in French with English subtitles, color, 110 minutes) Madonna said in one of her earliest hits, she's gonna dress you up in her love. Tackling one of the most iconic designers in the world, you'd think director Jalil Lespert would want to dress his audiences up in his love of the designer. Nope, just the opposite. "Yves Saint Laurent" is a disastrous mess that evokes a storyline on one of the many "Housewives" reality shows.

In just his early '20s, Laurent (Pierre Niney) took over as head of the Dior fashion house, eventually being let go and starting his own fashion line with his partner Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne). What unfurls is a movie that repeats the same formula for about 100 minutes: fashion meltdown, fashion show, arguing with Pierre, jump offs (casual sex partners), and drugs. In a film that has great production values, it put its best asset, fashion, on the backburner.

How can you make a film about a great designer and not even focus on his iconic fashion? We only get glimpses of it and it's only during his fashion shows. In "Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel)" we get some of the drama of Chanel's life but it encompassed her style so beautifully into the story, how she changed society and ushered in a new wave of iconography in women's fashion. This film is trying to make haute couture out of thrift store leftovers. Sorry, try again.

The film could have used some alterations, like taking it in on the soap opera melodrama, and adding more of YSL's special touch. You don't go to a bridal shop and expect there to be no dresses in it, so why would I expect to see a movie about a designer and not see his fashions highlighted in it?

Rating: D-

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Movie Review: Big Girls Don't Cry, But 'Jersey Boys' Do

Jersey Boys (2014, directed by Clint Eastwood. USA, Color, 134 minutes.) "Jersey Boys" isn't the typical Clint Eastwood film, or is it? Sure, no one would expect the Man With no Name who has been the epitome of masculinity to adapt a Tony Award-winning musical for the screen, but here it is, draped with all of that obnoxious chiaroscuro lighting that is typical of Eastwood's films.

The jukebox story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons won four Tonys, including best musical, when it premiered on Broadway in 2005, and, to me, is another cautionary tale of the politics and frustrations of the '60s music scene.

Young Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young reprising his Tony-winning role) is a babyfaced teenager from a Newark, New Jersey suburb who gets caught up in the bad boy Tommy DeVito and his musical group. Through mob connections and a brilliant songwriter, the boys from Jersey eventually become a staple of that generation's pop music. Eventually that all crumbles as the group falls apart when a mountain of debt, and tears, falls into their laps.

Maybe this was a better show to see on the stage, but there was something about this film that worked more as a comedy/drama and less as a high-energy musical. There were some performance scenes where your toe was tapping and  the audience would clap afterward, but that was few and far between. Previous Broadway shows adapted for the screen, like "Chicago" and "Dreamgirls", could do both, especially the former.

This brings me back to Eastwood. For a man who never directed a real musical before it shows. The choreography was pretty basic and repetitive, the sound mix he approved on the final cut was crazily uneven and he added an unnecessary encore performance as the credits rolled. Really? Do people even do a final medley as the credits go at the end? Without the music, it's a well-paced and interesting drama, but if the movie is about the music, don't make it seem like an extra lingering in the background.

Rating: C

Monday, June 2, 2014

Movie review: 'Snowpiercer' is a Train Ride to (Frozen) Hell.

Snowpierecer (2013, directed by Bong Joon-Ho. USA/Korea, Color, 126 minutes. In English and Korean with subtitles) Think of the most horrendous train ride you've ever been on and times that by a hundred. This pretty much describes the post-apocalyptic movie "Snowpiercer". Much like the non-stop track the titular train barrels along on, you wish there was at least one stop you could get the hell off at.

It's 2031, and all of the world's inhabitants are stuck on a train cruising around the globe after an experiment to combat global warming in 2014 puts terra firma in another ice age. Curtis (Chris Evans) and a few of his conspirators in the squabble cars at the end of the train plan to overtake the engine and gain control of it, but in order to do that they need to pound the allegorical messages of the film into the viewers heads.

Steeped in so much of its own political seriousness about global warming and military rule, "Snowpiercer" comes off like a serious film that wants to discuss these issues but is really nothing more than dribble that would make up a Sylvester Stallone film. And no, using drab imagery as to compare the train to those that transported Jews to the concentration camps doesn't give you a pass for seeming serious. What a cheap trick that was.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

On Netflix: Philadelphia tragedy 'Let the Fire Burn' and 'Mitt's' Presidential Runs

Let the Fire Burn (2013, Directed by Jason Osder. Color, USA, 95 minutes) The 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound in Philadelphia's Cobbs Creek neighborhood was the culmination of a tense standoff between the back-to-nature group and police, resulting in the deaths of 11 people, and the destruction of 60 residential homes. "Let the Fire Burn" is a well-crafted documentary that looks at the buildup to the MOVE/police interactions from the '70s to the standoff. Using only archival footage from newscasts, witness testimonies and the investigation hearings by the MOVE commission, this is a perfectly balanced look at happens when fights between a radical group and law enforcement reach a fever pitch. Pretty in-depth considering it didn't use any modern interviews, and a must-see for anyone interested in Philadelphia history.

Rating: B

Mitt (2014, Directed by Greg Whiteley. Color, USA, 92 minutes) Mitt Romney might be the focus of the Netflix-proudced documentary "Mitt", but he's somehow a secondary character. We follow Romney, but mostly his family, through his two presidential campaigns including the debates and sitting around for the election results. "Mitt" portrays its main character as its own MacGuffin. We hear so many opinions about Romney and what he needs to do to succeed, but we don't actually see the tactics to do so. With not enough interesting scenes or characters, "Mitt" is a bland look at an interesting man at the focus of the biggest story of 2012. "The War Room" this film is not.

Rating: C-