JERSEY BOYS. When I visited New York years ago, the Four Seasons musical Jersey Boys was on Broadway and everywhere else in the city: billboards, the hotel TV's information channel — it was inescapable. At the time, I thought disinterestedly, Who gives a shit? Now that I've seen Clint Eastwood's stodgy, stagy, overlong adaptation I find myself asking the same question all over again.
The movie opens in 1951 New Jersey. Young Frankie Valli, then Castalucio (John Lloyd Young), finds himself drawn into his friend Tommy DeVito's (Vincent Piazza) late night habits of thievery and singing in nightclubs. The singing proves to be more reliably profitable, and they make a go of it as a band, bringing along Nick (Michael Lomenda) from the neighborhood on bass. Through their friend Joe Pesci (yeah, same one), they meet hotshot songwriter Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen). So begins the dominance of the Four Seasons over the early-1960s American airwaves.
It comes as no surprise that the group's rise to fame and fortune is complicated by personal conflict, dishonesty and loss. That's the thing about Jersey Boys: There are no surprises. Tommy's gambling gets out of hand; Frankie's daughter is out of control; nobody's marriage works because they're on the road all the time. If you've seen a musical biopic, or any rags to riches story, you've seen all this before.
Because Eastwood directs, the movie is well dressed and appointed. He also saddles it with the same washed-out color palette and pancake makeup that made J. Edgar (2011) so tough to take seriously. The closing sequence of this one, which takes place at the Four Seasons' 1990 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, is a vivid example of how not to age actors on screen.
Enjoying this requires a committed effort from the audience. If one is a fan of the music, or of Broadway, or wants some of the Jersey period details of Goodfellas without the excitement, then it might work. Barring all that, it doesn't resonate. R. 134m.
THE ROVER. Guy Pearce with a merciless thousand-yard stare, wandering the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland? That's more up my alley. Written and directed by David Michod (Hesher, Animal Kingdom), The Rover takes place "10 years after the collapse." Pearce's solitary penitent finds himself at odds with a group of killers after they steal his car. In pursuing them, he stumbles across their wounded accomplice Rey (Robert Pattinson) and enlists him to help recover the stolen property. And that's just about the whole plot.
The Rover is a bleak, misanthropic study in violence and atmosphere, its frightening desert quiet punctuated frequently by gunshots to the head. The sparse dialogue is mostly uncomfortable, reinforcing the hopelessness.
Pearce, great as always, plays the part with a fearsome, icy intensity. Pattinson, taking on the riskier role, does a shockingly good turn. His character could easily deteriorate into pantomime or caricature, but Pattinson invests Rey with pathos and honesty that make all his mumbles and facial tics all the more sad and out of place.
In my younger, moodier days, I would likely have called this my favorite movie of the year. But the oppressing cynicism and gritty contempt of The Rover were a little much by the end. It is artfully photographed and exceptionally well acted, but its labored effort to be INTENSE undercuts some of the subtler, more troubling undertones of the performances. R. 102m.
— John J. Bennett
TAMMY. Melissa McCarthy plays a woman on a wild and wooly rock-bottom road trip with her hard-drinking grandmother, played by Susan Sarandon. R. 102m.
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION. One can only hope. But has anything ever suffered for lack of Shia LaBeouf? Stepping in is Mark Wahlberg as a DILF mechanic drawn into the intergalactic CG fray. PG13. 134m.
22 JUMP STREET. It ain't broke, and they ain't fixing it. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return as undercover cops busting a college drug ring in this funny and self-aware comedy. R. 112m.
CHEF. Jon Favreau stars in this well done food-truck road movie that cuts through professional kitchen bravado to real humanity and warmth. With Robert Downey Jr. and John Leguizamo. Bring napkins. R. 115m.
EDGE OF TOMORROW. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt as soldiers battling aliens in a post-apocalyptic Groundhog Day loop. Clever, slick and utterly forgettable. PG13. 113m.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Beat the rush and start crying now. Adapted from John Green's novel with excellent performances from Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as the young, star-crossed lovers. PG13. 126m.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. Transportive animation and talented voice acting create a world worth revisiting and a story with humor and real drama. PG. 102m.
IDA. A young woman about to become a nun delves into her true identity and her family's history during the Holocaust. PG13. 80m.
MALEFICENT. An atmospheric, good-looking fantasy with a sharpened Angelina Jolie as the fairytale party crasher from Sleeping Beauty. Heavy on CGI, light on character and not quite scary enough. PG. 98m.
A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST. And none of them live up to the MacFarlane brand or the rest of the top-shelf cast (Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and Neil Patrick Harris) in this Western comedy. R. 116m.
NEIGHBORS. Suburban parents (Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen) go to war with the frat next door and their oft-shirtless prankster leader (Zac Efron) in this crude but effective comedy R. 97m.
THINK LIKE A MAN TOO. Bachelor and bachelorette party shenanigans in Vegas with Michael Ealy, Gabrielle Union and motor-mouth Kevin Hart. R. 100m.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The mutants go time traveling to save the world. Pacing and exposition are rocky, but the action and the cast make an enjoyable distraction. PG13. 131m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill