It was only a matter of time before the 4-time Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys became a motion picture. The Broadway show, which also received the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Musical, still runs after 3,564 performances and tours around the world. And now Clint Eastwood has directed a film which is strikingly close to the source material, and has tremendous talent in front of the camera.
John Lloyd Young opened the Broadway production as Frankie Valli in 2005, and returns as the star of the film. It also stars Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi, and Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito. The story starts with a 16-year-old Frankie getting roped into petty crimes by Tommy, and eventually joining Tommy’s band “The Lovers.” As times change, trios are out and the people want to see 4 members in the band. Frankie, Tommy and Nick make an agreement with singer/songwriter Bob Gaudio to become the fourth member of the band, which would eventually become The Four Seasons. The film shows the entire journey of the group and it’s member, from creation until present day – the good, and the bad.
How to Train Your Dragon was a huge surprise hit in 2010, garnering almost $495 million worldwide on a $165 million budget. The film also received a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, proving that critics, adults and kids alike were equally enamored by the colorful tale of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his dragons. HTTYD was nominated for 2 Academy Awards, including Best Animated Feature – losing that year to Toy Story 3. With such a great film, it is often hard to live up to the original; but in the case of How to Train Your Dragon 2 – it gets pretty darn close.
The story takes place five years after the events of the first film. Berk has completely accepted dragons, thanks to Hiccup and his friends, and the villagers work and live alongside each other on a daily basis. While the villagers are interested in dragon sports during their free time, Hiccup and Toothless explore new lands and try to complete their handmade map. His father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), wants to start training him to become the chief of Berk – yet Hiccup doesn’t think that the job is for him. During one of his adventures, Hiccup and his fiance Astrid (America Ferrera) discover a new fortress that has been attacked and encased in ice – lead by Eret (Kit Harington), who blames them and their dragons. Eret and his crew attempt to capture their dragons, explaining that a conqueror named Drago Bludvist is building a dragon army and must have them. When Hiccup tells his father what Drago is up to, Stoic locks down Berk and warns him of the dangerous villain. Yet the hero inside of Hiccup doesn’t allow him to stay put, as he escapes the village with Astrid to reason with Drago. Along the way he runs into someone he never would have imagined, and finds out that he isn’t the only one who shares a bond with dragons.
“Groundhog Independence Day”
Time travel movies have always fascinated me. What if you could go back in time, change the past and right the wrongs? What if you could forever alter history for the better? The possibilities are endless. Then there are movies like Groundhog Day, one of the all-time great comedies. While not traditional “time travel,” the character is stuck in a time loop – forced to repeat the same day over and over. We already know that this can mean comedy gold, but what if you apply it to a big-budget action movie? Enter Edge of Tomorrow.
Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is the public face of military recruiting, yet he has never actually been in combat. After successfully recruiting hundreds of thousands of new soldiers for the war against a technologically advanced alien race who has invaded Earth, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) wants to embed Cage in the action to gather PR footage. When he declines, going as far as to basically blackmail the general to get out of duty, he is put under arrest and ends up tased by military police. When he wakes up, he meets Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) who is the opposite of sympathetic to his situation. Cage ultimately ends up on the battlefield, unskilled and untrained, and dies minutes after landing on the ground. But unlike most deaths, his results in waking up at the moment he was detained by MP. Everything is exactly the same, and eventually he finds that no matter what he does – he is living the same day over and over after each death.
Chances are that if you’re watching live theatre in the Midwest, more often than not it’s tough to be genuinely surprised. That doesn’t mean there is any lack of talent or amazing shows that come through town. And we have a great theatre community in St. Louis. Yet there is a huge difference between seeing a show that you know will be amazing – and feeling completely surprised by something risky and new. Most shows we see are already proven, and who can blame them? It’s expensive to put on a show, and especially to bring us something new from Broadway. Yet this isn’t the case with New Line Theatre, who time after time produces shows that are different and widely unknown. Artistic director Scott Miller has a true talent for recognizing the potential in shows we might otherwise have never seen, and filling them with some of the best actors in town. With that being said, I introduce you to their latest success: Hands on a Hardbody.
Based on a documentary film which follows true events from 1995, Hands on a Hardbody takes the audience to Longview, Texas for an annual competition of endurance. The prize? A brand new pickup truck. And it’s a musical. How wonderfully strange and fantastic the synopsis sounds. But you haven’t seen or heard anything until you’ve been to the show.
Songwriter Amanda Green is no stranger to bringing us this sort of unexpected gem. My first introduction to New Line Theater was in 2012 with their production of High Fidelity, based on one of my favorite films. But a musical? Green was responsible for those lyrics, and the show was an absolute blast. And how about the surprise Broadway hit “Bring It On The Musical,” based on a 2000 high school comedy about cheerleaders? Green teamed up with the mega-talented Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights) and Tom Kitt (High Fidelity, Next to Normal) on that one, which completely caught me off-guard with how fun it was. And now Green, along with Trey Anastasio (Phish) and a book by Doug Wright (Quills, The Little Mermaid), has done it again. This time with a musical about a contest to win a truck. On paper, it’s hard to imagine that the show could be so amazing. But I’ve learned to trust both New Line and Green by now, and both have yet to let me down.
Based on Marvel’s “The Uncanny X-Men” issues #141-142, Days of Future Past is a time travel story that brings together the X-Men of old and new. The film bridges the gap between Bryan Singer’s original X-Men and X-2, and Matthew Vaughn’s “origin” story First Class. Throughout all of the X films, as well as the comics, are themes of social issues which reflect our own society. It is no secret that the humans in the films do not accept mutants. But what would happen if they were finally successful in eliminating them? In Days of Future Past it’s a race against the clock to travel back in time and save the X-Men and all mutants before it is too late.
The plot follows the story from the comics pretty closely. In the original storyline, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) travels back in time to occupy the mind of her younger self, in order to warn the X-Men of their future downfall. In the film however, Kitty uses her powers to send back Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), because… Wolverine (enough said, Bub). In the year 2023 a sentient line of robot mutant-hunters know as Sentinels, created by Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), have been successful in finding and eliminating most all mutant threats. The surviving X-Men, lead by Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), work together with even Magneto (McKellen) to try and stop the Sentinels from eliminating their kind. Yet however much they try, the Sentinels keep coming back stronger and more plentiful. Their only hope for survival is to send someone back to the year 1973 and erase the catalyst which gave birth to the Sentinels – the murder of their creator at the hands of Mystique. Wolverine is the only one whose brain can handle the stress of traveling that far back, and so it is up to him to convince a younger Xavier (McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to work together and ensure the survival of mutant-kind.
The film is smart, fast paced and action packed from beginning to end. There is no doubt that this is the X-Men movie that we have all been waiting for. Coming off the heels of both First Class and The Wolverine, Days of Future Past brings back all of our favorite actors and gives us exactly what we want to see. Hugh Jackman is the glue that holds the film together, and does an incredible job as always. Although it is inevitable, it is hard to see anyone else in the role of Wolverine. He not only has the acting chops, but the charisma to make every scene he appears in that much better. Although Ellen Page does a great job as Kitty Pryde, there is no question as to why Jackman is the star of the film.