By Lloyd Carroll

Paul Revere & The Raiders                                                   “The Essential”          (Legacy)

      When the discussion turns to the names of rock bands that are not enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, very few pop musicologists get worked up about the omission of Paul Revere & The Raiders. That’s a shame because it borders on the criminal that these guys are forever being ignored by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner and his snooty friends who are the arbiters of who gets rock’s highest honor.

Paul Revere (yes, he is a descendent of Sarah Palin’s favorite patriot) and the Raiders were the first rock band ever signed to Columbia Records; sold more records than any other American group during the British Invasion’s 1964-67 heyday; and logged more hours on television, thanks primarily to Dick Clark, than any rock group in the 1960s. Yes, that includes the Monkees.

Although there were numerous personnel changes from the time the quintet got its start in Boise, Idaho in the late 1950s, the nucleus always consisted of keyboard player Revere and occasional saxophonist/lyricist/lead vocalist and perennial heartthrob Mark Lindsay.

Things did not start out swimmingly for the Raiders. They lost a chart battle with a rival group from the Pacific Northwest, the Kingsmen, in the spring of 1963 for who would have the national hit with the controversial “Louie, Louie.” It would not be the last chart war that the guys would lose. They came up second best in their battle with Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon in1965 with “Action” and again in 1966 when the Monkees had a Top 20 hit with “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” after the Raiders cut the track first. It is a shame that Legacy couldn’t find room for those recordings in this 2-CD “Essential” package.

Paul Revere & the Raiders have often been referred to as a garage band because of their deceptively simple sound. They say that the greats often make things look or sound easy and that is certainly the case here. A lot of credit also has to go to the Raiders’ producer, the late Terry Melcher, who was Doris Day’s son. Songs as “Hungry, ” “Good Thing, ” “Him or Me” and “Ups And Downs” do not sound dated despite being around 45 years old.

While the vast majority of their records were catchy tunes about relationships, the Raiders were capable of cutting hits that had serious meanings. 1966’s “Kicks, ” a tune written by Songwriter Hall of Fame members Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, was the first rock hit to point out the negatives of drug use. The guys scored a number one hit in 1971 with a John Loudermilk-penned tune, “Indian Reservation.” Mark Lindsay’s on-point phrasing of the lyrics brought more attention to the shameful treatment of Native Americans than any televised news documentary could have.

Chuck Berry                               “Icon” (UME)

      It is hard to believe that it is nearly impossible to listen to any of Chuck Berry’s songs on any New York City radio station. You have to dial in to the right side of the AM dial to try to find low watt New Jersey stations as Morristown’s WMTR (1250 AM) and Eatontown’s WHTG

(1410 AM) to hear his or any other of the great pioneering rock & roll hits.

Universal Music Enterprises’ “Icon” is an excellent 12-song primer of why Berry’s compositions have been recorded by a who’s who of rock including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys, the Electric Light Orchestra, and Johnny Rivers, just to name a few.

Choosing a dozen tunes from Berry’s sizable catalog is a daunting task. It is hard to argue with the end results since all of the Mount Rushmore tunes as “Maybelline, ” “Roll Over Beethoven, ” “Rock And Roll Music, ” “Johnny B. Goode, ” “Sweet Little Sixteen, ” and “Carol” are included here.

Although it wasn’t one of his biggest hits when it was released, “You Never Can Tell, ” is wisely part of this reissue since it was used in a very memorable dance scene involving John Travolta and Uma Thurman in the classic 1994 film, “Pulp Fiction.”

Also included is Berry’s suggestive 1972 hit, “My Ding-A-Ling, ” that was recorded live in London. WABC and a number of other powerhouse radio stations at the time banned the song from their playlists but it still wound being Berry’s only number one hit of his glorious career. The lyrics still make me laugh nearly 40 years later.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 192 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/08/06/records-2/

By Lloyd Carroll      

Various Artists                             “Rave On”      (Concord Music)

       Buddy Holly         Icon”                          (UME)

       Rock & roll is chock full of “what if” questions. Certainly on the top ten list of most rock aficionados’ lists would be “Could you imagine how much richer American pop culture would have been had Buddy Holly not died at age 22 in a plane crash along with Ritchie Valens and JP “Big Bopper” Richardson in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959?” Twelve years later Don McLean further immortalized Holly to baby boomers with his iconic “American Pie” that referred to that fateful frigid night as “the day the music died.” Holly also inspired a Broadway show and a 1978 biopic that starred a still sane Gary Busey.

Buddy Holly would have been celebrating his 75th birthday next month if he were alive. Concord Records commissioned a number of artists to record their favorite tunes associated with Holly, while Universal Music Enterprises, which holds the rights to Holly’s original recordings, has compiled a dozen of his best, in a new compilation titled “Icon.”

Paul McCartney owns the publishing rights to Holly’s catalog so he clearly had the pick of the litter here. On “It’s So Easy, ” which was a big hit for Linda Ronstadt in 1977, he tries so hard to give a different interpretation that the song is unrecognizable and quite awful to boot. He bizarrely attempts to emulate Dave Edmunds’ 1971 hit cover of Smiley Lewis’s “I Hear You Knocking” by singing through a fuzz box.

Sir Paul is happily the only weak link here. Fiona Apple duets with Jon Brion on a touching version of “Everyday” while Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame, delivers a faithful, heartfelt version of “Raining In My Heart” to close the album. Other veterans who deliver are Kid Rock on the lively Motown-style“Well All Right”; Lou Reed on a very moody take on “Peggy Sue”; and Patti Smith who shows a rare romantic side for her with “Words of Love.”

The biggest surprise is how Cee Lo Green, of “Forget You, ” and “Crazy” fame and one of the hosts of NBC’s “The Voice, ” wonderfully captures the sound of Holly and his backup band, the Crickets, on the rather obscure “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care” that was written for Holly by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame composing/production team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

As fine as the aforementioned Holly tribute album is, as the old cliche goes, there’s nothing like the real thing. “Icon” captures a dozen of Holly’s most memorable recordings from such catchy seminal rockers as “Oh Boy!” and “Maybe Baby” to the full orchestral ballad, “True Love Ways, ” which was recorded in New York City mere weeks before his untimely passing. Also included here are tunes that were written by fellow up and coming pop stars at the time, Paul Anka and Bobby Darin, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and “Early in the Morning, ” respectively.

Stevie Nicks                                              “In Your Dreams”     (Reprise)

    Judging from both the album cover and her voice on her new album, “In Your Dreams, ” Stevie Nicks has found a way to cheat time. She looks and sounds just the way we all remember her when he she was cranking out hits with Fleetwood Mac in the mid to late 1970s.

As has long been the case in her music, Nicks is full of contradictions. In the opening cut, “Secret Love, ” she is content with a “no strings attached relationship” while on the very next track, “For What It’s Worth” (not the Buffalo Springfield classic), she yearns for a grand romance.

It has been six years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans so Stevie’s concern for the city in “New Orleans” may be a bit late but it serves as a reminder that the Crescent City is still not what it once was.

Nicks has been singing about spooky characters way before “Twilight, ” HBO’s “True Blood” and the CW’s “Vampire Diaries, ” so we have to indulge her slow ballad, “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream).”

The title track, “In Your Dreams, ” is the kind of snappy, uptempo hummable tune that we haven’t heard from Nicks since “Stand Back, ” “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” back in the early ‘80s.

“In Your Dreams” shows that Stevie Nicks can still carefully craft fine pop music.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 208 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/08/06/records/

Starring: Tom Hanks & Julia Roberts

Directed by: Tom Hanks

By Lloyd Carroll

      “Larry Crowne” purports to be another film that reflects the tough economic times that all too many Americans are facing. While it’s an innocuous way to spend 90 minutes, it is certainly no “Up In The Air.”

The titular character, Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks), is a hardworking team leader at a San Fernando Valley U-Mart, a big chain retailer modeled after you know what. Despite being well-like by colleagues and having been named “employee of the month” eight times, Larry is called into a meeting with store executives and told that he is being let go because he lacks a college degree. While the film says that he is a victim of downsizing, it seems that he is instead hurt by a new, sudden “up or out” philosophy at the store since he is told that without the sheepskin he can never be promoted.

Be that as it may, after pounding the pavement and discovering that it is hard to find a decent paying job when you are over 50  unexpectedly lose your previous one, Larry decides to enroll in fictional East Valley Community College in the hopes that it will lead to a better economic future for him.

Rather than be told to enroll in technical classes such as accounting or computer networking, he is told be a liberal arts-oriented dean to take speech, composition (although we never see him in that class) and Economics 101. Based on my experience, the only thing that matters in economics is supply and demand while everything else is used just to fill up textbooks.

Larry’s speech professor, Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts), is a bitter burnout whose favorite activity at home is breaking out the blender and down one margarita after another. She is married to failing writer (Bryan Cranston) who spends his days surfing the web for new porn sites. It is only a matter of time until she finds herself attracted to the salt-of-the-earth Larry.

It is unfortunate that “Larry Crowne” had the ingredients to be a good film but it loses its focus rather early. We are supposed to believe that AARP member Larry would be sought out by a group of young, mostly Hispanic, motorcycle riders to be their newest member. To be fair, in a refreshing change of pace, motorcycle enthusiasts are portrayed as upstanding citizens instead of criminal gang members. The film also points out the great gas mileage motorcycles get.

The notion that Roberts’ character, an aspiring Medieval English scholar  would embark on a romance with Hanks’, a part-time short order cook who is now a full-time student where she teaches, is rather far-fetched, even for romantic comedies.

One positive for the film is its supporting cast. Cedric the Entertainer nearly steals the film as Larry’s next door neighbor who is always having a flea market on his lawn. He enjoys the haggling far more than the actual selling. The always welcome Rob Riggle is hysterical as a blowhard U-Mart executive who gets him comeuppance.

“Larry Crowne” is not an awful film. It just should have been a lot better.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 285 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/07/06/larry-crowne/

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel

Directed by: Jake Kasden

By Lloyd Carroll

While watching this film I couldn’t help but think back to Mayor Bloomberg’s desire to change the layoff policy for teachers from the traditional LIFO (“last-in, first-out) to one based on merit. Of course, what would be a fair arbiter of merit rarely got any discussion. What Bloomberg was clearly implying was that kids would be better off with young, eager educators as opposed to many older, higher paid teachers, who were not as good as these recent dynamic college grads.

Mayor Mike will certainly not like “Bad Teacher” because in this film it is the older faculty who are dedicated professionals who want students to learn, while the protagonist, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is a young, sexy, stylish , and a complete burnout. “I went into teaching for all of the right reasons: a shorter workday and summers off!” she tells a colleague.

The film begins with Elizabeth announcing that she is leaving suburban Chicago’s John Adams Middle School in order to marry a very wealthy man. The scene quickly shifts to her driving away in a red Porsche where she is soon confronted by her fiancee, and even worse, her perspective mother-in-law, who accuse her of being a thoughtless gold digger who can’t even remember that today is “the love of her life’s” birthday. “OK, I’ll sign the prenup!” she screams just before being officially dumped.

She manages to get her job back at the junior high but instead of teaching, she shows movies to her classes while drinking mini-bottles of Jim Beam. Recess is a time to sneak a few marijuana tokes from a bong in her car.

Her spirits don’t begin to pick up until she meets a handsome new substitute teacher who comes from a wealthy family, Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). Figuring that Scott can be her new sugar daddy if she plays her cards right, she starts devising ways to save for breast implant surgery since Scott’s ex was, shall we say, extremely curvy.

“Bad Teacher” has more than its share of flaws. The script is choppy and too often quite predictable. Figuring that she can at least skim off the top, if not embezzle nearly all of the funds, Elizabeth runs a student car wash whose purpose is to raise funds for a class trip. She dresses akin to the Daisy Duke character from “Duke of Hazzard” fame in order to get middle aged men to fork over the green. Of course, a series of collisions ensues from distracted drivers.

Justin Timberlake, who was a revelation in “The Social Network, ” is blander than tapioca pudding as Mr. Delacorte. To be fair to him, it did not seem as if the screenwriters nor the director knew what to do with his character. You can’t help but cringe hearing Timberlake croon an infantile original song called “Simpatico” whose forced bad rhymes sound like they were discard given to him by Adam Sandler.

Having pointed out the negatives, “Bad Teacher, ” surprisingly has a lot going for it. Jason Segel is terrific as the gym teacher who pursues Elizabeth by putting on absolutely no airs and calling her out on her obnoxious behavior. Lucy Punch is hysterical is a spunky, energetic teacher whose outward enthusiastic optimism may be covering up mental illness. Veteran second bananas John Michael Higgins and Thomas Lennon, who plays a kinky Illinois Department of Education high-ranking bureaucrat, are quite funny and make the most of their screen time.

I had never thought much about the talents of Cameron Diaz until now. Like Julia Roberts, I saw her as a pretty face with little else to offer. I still stand by my feelings towards Roberts, but I stand corrected on Diaz. She shows a fearless and wicked comedic side that I never knew existed.

While her character is foul-mouthed and egocentric for most of the film, she manages to convey some credible humanity as well. When an unpopular overweight seventh grade boy humiliates himself by publicly admitting his crush on a very attractive girl in his class, Elizabeth pulls him aside. “You’ll never get this girl. She is out of your league, ” she tells him but adds that things will improve for him. “How about next year?” he earnestly asks. “Probably not. You may have to wait until college. Sensitive guys do better there, ” she points out. Elizabeth then finds a way to make him look like a seventh grade stud to his peers. A lot of boys in junior high school could have used an advisor like Ms. Halsey.

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 211 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/07/06/bad-teacher/

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms & Zach Galifianakis

Directed & co-written by: Todd Phillips

By Lloyd Carroll

2009’s “The Hangover, ” a film about the misbegotten adventures of four guys in the midst of a bachelor’s party weekend in Las Vegas, set a box office records for most gross receipts for an R-rated comedy. The relatively low budget film made stars out of the three leads: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis.

It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Warner Brothers would find a way to green light a sequel that would be released to kick off the lucrative summer season. The result is “The Hangover Part II, ” a textbook example of how to make a risk averse sequel that may make the Warners’ accounting department happy but it is a disappointment artistically.

“It’s happened again!” laments Phil (Bradley Cooper) in a cell phone to his wife in the film’s opening scene. For those who missed “The Hangover, ” the plot dealt with four guys who wake up in a trashed Las Vegas hotel room and can’t remember any of the events of the preceding 24 hours. This time the guys wake up in a seedy Bangkok hotel with no recollections of how they got there.

The filmmakers quickly backtrack to a week earlier where we learn that uptight dentist, Stu (Ed Helms) has ditched his harpy ex-girlfriend and is about to marry his new love, Lauren (Jamie Chung), at a seaside resort in her native Thailand. The road trip gives Stu a chance to round up the guys for another round of hijinks.

We are reintroduced to handsome, suave Phil, man-child Alan (Zach Galifianakis), and easy-going Doug (Jason Bartha who has surprisingly and disappointingly little to do here). Galifianakis, as is his wont, can break up an audience with a blank stare and he does get off some good one-liners.

Also returning from the first flick is Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow. Whereas in the first film Chow was a dangerous villain with a short temper, here he is basically a comedic character who has made himself “one of the boys” with Stu, Phil and Alan. Jeong has earned raves for his offbeat role as Chang, an erstwhile Spanish professor on NBC’s hit comedy, “Community, ” and it is clear that director Todd Phillips wanted to leverage his comedic talents. In real life, Ken Jeong is a medical school graduate who gave up being a physician for a successful showbiz career.

The only major new name on board is Paul Giamatti who plays an underworld crime boss named Kingsley (I am not sure if that is a tip of the hat to the Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley or to uber-publicist/Hollywood mover and shaker Patricia Kingsley) who sadly has minimal screen time.

Yes, there are some belly laughs to be had in “Part II” thanks to Alan’s antics and a wedding rehearsal dinner in which Stu’s future father-in-law hurls one insult after another at the man who is about to marry his daughter. A capuchin monkey who wears a tiny jacket with the Rolling Stones famous lips logo steals numerous scenes.

Unfortunately, too much of the 101-minute plot is a rehash of chase scenes and being in the wrong place at the wrong time gimmicks that we saw all too often two years ago.

Mike Tyson, who had a memorable cameo in the original, is called upon to sing a rendition of the 1980s Murray Head hit, “One Night in Bangkok, ” from the former Broadway show, “Chess, ” that was written by male half of ABBA. It’s not as funny as it sounds.

Incidentally, Victor Whitmill, the tattoo artist who is responsible for Mike Tyson’s facial artwork is suing Warner Brothers for using its likeness on Ed Helms in the film. My guess is that it’s a publicity stunt for both of them.

It is understandable if you feel hung over from the sense that you have watched this film before.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 184 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/06/15/hangover-2-review/

By Lloyd Carroll

During the past two months the various cable and broadcast television networks presented sneak previews of their fall schedules to advertisers and the media.

Many actors who grew up in Queens will be seen on TV this fall. Forest Hills natives David Caruso and Ray Romano return to hit series (CBS’s “CSI Miami” and TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age” respectively) while Hank Azaria and David Krumholz are each starring in new NBC series, “Free Agents” and “The Playboy Club.” St. Albans’ own LL Cool J returns for third season to CBS’ “NCIS Los Angeles.” Donald Trump, who grew up in Jamaica Estates, launched an incredibly successful campaign this past spring. His alleged presidential aspirations created a ton of attention for “Celebrity Apprentice” which clearly impressed the new management team at NBC. Trump announced his “reluctant decision” not to enter the Republican presidential primary (even though he stated that he was certain that he would have won) at the May 16 NBC Upfront. Yes, the Donald won something more important than the White House; namely television series renewal.

Here is a quick look at some of the new programs that the broadcast networks will have on their fall schedules.

NBC

It’s no secret that new NBC network chairman Ted Harbert and NBC Entertainment president Bob Greenblatt have their work cut out for them after former NBC czar Jeff Zucker decimated the Peacock Network with senseless cost cutting as exemplified by the disastrous 10 PM weeknight “Jay Leno Show” last fall. At the Upfront Greenblatt begged advertisers for patience and admitted to me that he has doubts about some of the shows that are on the fall schedule.

The success of AMC’s “Mad Men, ” a show about the early 1960s ad industry has revived interest in the JFK-Camelot era. The aforementioned “Playboy Club” looks at life inside Hugh Hefner’s famed Chicago nightclub. That show looks promising as does “Prime Suspect, ” a gritty New York police drama starring Maria Bello. NBC’s new comedies however, “Bent, ” “BFF” “Up All Night, ” and “Whitney” (starring hot comedienne Whitney Cummings who has made a name for herself on Comedy Channel roasts) did not cause massive laughter.

CBS

At the NBC Upfront “Saturday Night Live Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers humorously reported “Three TV legends, Meredith Viera, Larry King and Jim Lehrer are all retiring. That means three new viewers for CBS!”

Yes, the Tiffany Network has always skewed a little older than the other broadcast networks, thanks primarily to its very successful crime procedurals, but its primetime lineup has proven to be far more durable than its competitors.

CBS will stay with a winning formula as it launches two new Big Apple-based crime dramas, “Unforgettable” and “Person of Interest.” “A Gifted Man, ” stars Patrick Wilson as a Manhattan surgeon who gives up a lucrative practice to work in a Bronx clinic after he keeps having conversations with the spirit of a past flame who recently passed away. Think of the 1990 Demi Moore-Patrick Swayze flick, “Ghost, ” and more recently, Jennifer Love Hewitt’s TV melodrama, “Ghost Whisperer.”

A new Monday night comedy, “2 Broke Girls, ” starring popular indie film actress Kat Dennings, was the most clever comedy snippet that I saw at any of the Upfronts.

FOX

We’ll quickly learn whether Simon Cowell made “American Idol” or whether it was vice-versa when Cowell’s much ballyhooed talent competition, “The X-Factor, ” debuts this fall.

The other big buzz coming from Fox is the sci-fi “Terra Nova” whose executive producer is Steven Spielberg.  Jason O’Mara, who was terrific in the very underappreciated 2009 ABC series, “Life on Mars, ” about a guy who wakes up and finds himself living in 1973, goes back farther in time here, as he has to battle dinosaurs.

Whereas CBS nabbed Kat Dennings to try to hook in a hipper audience, Fox is attempting to do the same by having Zooey Deschanel, who has been in a number of fine small films such as “500 Days of Summer, ” star in a romantic comedy, “The New Girl.”

ABC

“Back to the future” appears to be the Alphabet Network’s mantra as it will attempt to revive “Charlie’s Angels, ” one of whose stars is Derek Jeter’s girlfriend, Minka Kelly. ABC wants America to return to the swinging ‘60s as well with “Pan Am, ” a drama about pilots and stewardesses (they weren’t called flight attendants then.)

“Work It, ” a comedy about two guys who have to dress as women to get a job in the lucrative pharmaceutical sales industry, is sadly no “Bosom Buddies.”

CW

It’s no secret that the CW’s main audience is young women. This coming season however the CW seems willing to try to expand its audience somewhat. “Hart of Dixie, ” starring Rachel Bilson as a young New York doctor who finds herself working in rural Alabama, is a bit more sophisticated than say, “Gossip Girl.” “Re-Modeled, ” a reality series starring Simon Cowell-wannabe Paul Fischer as a consultant to struggling small market modeling agencies, should generate some attention as well.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 229 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/06/15/fall-tv-preview/

Starring: Rahul Rai, Stefanie Estes & Freishia Bomanbehram

Directed by: Nayan Padrai

By Lloyd Carroll

“When Harry Tries To Marry” (not to be confused with the iconic “When Harry Met Sally”) is a likable low-budget indie flick that nicely blends American and South Asian cultures and mores.

Harish, a.k.a. Harry (Rahul Rai) is about to graduate from an unnamed Brooklyn college with a degree in architectural engineering. In a role reversal, it is Harry who believes in arranged marriages while his parents, now divorced, married for “love.” To avoid the bitterness that has consumed his folks, Harry is determined to marry the very attractive Nita (Freishia Bomanbehram), an Indian engineering student a week after he picks up his sheepskin. The two communicate nightly via Skype so Harry knows that his future wife is clearly not a dog.

Things get a bit complicated when he meets Theresa (Stefanie Estes), a very tall and beautiful girl in his sociology class, who is intrigued by his old-fashioned view of romance and by his ability to resist her many charms. The two hit it off and Harry is well aware that he now has a dilemma.

“When Harry Tries To Marry” is a pleasant film that doesn’t overstay its welcome by coming in at 93 minutes. The lead actors are all likable and appear to be destined for bigger budget films. Caitlin Gold and Osvaldo Hernandez Chavez nicely play the obligatory best friend second banana roles while veteran Bollywood actor Tony Mirrcandani steals the film as Dev, Harry’s playboy dad who actually sounds quite a bit like the late Penthouse Magazine founder Bob Guccione.

Even though this movie deals with India social life, and a portion of “When Harry Tries To Marry” was filmed there, director Nayan Padrai grew up in Queens while Rahul Rai is from Jericho so there is a New York sensibility here.

Frankly this is a better romantic comedy than what most of the big studios crank out these days. Jennifer Aniston could learn a thing or two from watching this film.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 182 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/05/19/when-harry-tries-to-marry/

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph & Melissa McCarthy

Directed by: Paul Feig

By Lloyd Carroll

Syosset native Judd Apatow has had a golden touch when it comes to making comedic films as is evidenced by such hits as “The 40 Year-Old Virgin, ” “Knocked Up, ” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall, ” “Superbad, ” and “Talladegha Nights” to name a few.

All of Apatow’s films have been geared more for guys and the predominantly male cast of his films bears that out. It is understandable that Apatow would be curious to see if he could start a new genre–chick flick comedy. Further helping his odds, on paper at least, is that he enlisted the help of terrific “Saturday Night Live” cast member Kristen Wiig who stars in, and co-wrote, Apatow’s latest cinematic production, “Bridesmaids.”

Wiig plays Annie Walker, a thirty-something single woman living in Milwaukee who is going through some hard times. Her entrpreneurial venture, a downtown bakery called Cake Baby, failed and she is working as a sales clerk in a jewelry store. She is renting a room in a house shared by a very strange brother and sister tandem from Australia. The only dating relationship she has is an abusive one with a wealthy, handsome, but shallow and naricissistic guy named Ted (an uncredited Jon Hamm in a tailor-made role). Even worse, her best friend from childhood, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is about to get married and has asked her to serve as the maid of honor.

Annie gamely takes on the responsibility of trying to plan the requisite parties, shower, and bridal dresses but soon discovers that she has a nemesis. Helen (Rose Byrne) is a wealthy friend of Lillian’s fiancee, Doug, and tries every way possible to upstage Annie and destroy her friendship with the bride-to-be.

Helen is the standard-issue adult preppy character that we have seen countless times in film and television. I am frankly surprised that she wasn’t given the name of Muffy.

The other bridesmaids in the cast are not memorable with the exception of the tomboyish Megan played by Melissa McCarthy who is the co-star of the CBS comedy “Mike & Molly” which was one of the few breakout TV hits of the 2010-11season. McCarthy is clearly spoofing Rosie O’Donnell and Roseanne Barr as Megan is a bull in a china shop but is a lot smarter than she lets on.

Unfortunately, McCarthy is really the only reason to watch this film. Nearly all of the scenes drag on too long and the de rigeur gross out scene where all of the women suddenly and conveniently come down with a case of food poisoning as they are trying on dresses in a snooty bridal salon is funny for about the first fifteen seconds.

With the exception of the 1963 Stanley Kramer classic, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, ” memorable comedies rarely clock in at over two hours. This one runs a painful 2:05.

I have a lot of respect for Kristen Wiig’s talents on “SNL” but there is a big difference between starring in a five minute skit versus a two-hour movie. Wiig all too often looks lost on the big screen.

“Bridesmaids” is sadly the last film that the late Jill Clayburgh made as she plays Annie’s mom. Although she does not look well, she still has a star’s presence and gets more laughs here uttering a handful of lines than Wiig gets in the whole film.

There is little blissful about “Bridesmaids.”

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 285 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/05/19/review-of-bridesmaids/

Broadhurst Theater

By Lloyd Carroll

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is legendary for overlooking deserving artists who clearly deserve enshrinement in its Cleveland museum and bestowing honors on those whose contributions to pop music are questionable.

There is no question that they did the correct thing in 1996 by inducting the Shirelles. Lead singer Shirley Alston and her three close friends from Passaic High School, Micki Harris, Doris Coley and Beverly Lee, became the first successful girl group, and they clearly paved the way for others such as the Ronettes, the Marvelettes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and of course, the Supremes.

The Shirelles were discovered by Mary Jane Greenberg, the daughter of Florence Greenberg, a bored Passaic housewife who missed living in New York and who dreamed of working in the music business. “Baby, It’s You” is the new Broadway musical that follows the little-known story about Greenberg, who did the near impossible, getting a record label off the ground (Scepter), that while never a major force in the recording industry did have a good run in the 1960s before teetering in the mid 1970s.

Florence (Beth Leavel) believes so much in the Shirelles that she invests her family’s life savings into pressing their early recordings much to the chagrin of her husband, Bernie (Barry Pearl). As was reflective of the times, Bernie felt that he was the breadwinner and that Florence’s role was being a housewife which he did consider to be work.

Achieving success in the music business at the end of the Eisenhower administration did not require a ton of capital as it would  years later but it did involve payoffs to unsavory characters and popular New York disc jockeys as the smooth-talking Jocko Henderson (played to perfection by Geno Henderson who is not related).

Greenberg may not have had a background in music but she did, like Clive Davis, have great eyes and ears for a hit song and talent. She was drawn to a handsome producer and songwriter from Jacksonville, Florida named Luther Dixon (Allan Louis). It was Dixon who was the mastermind behind such baby boomer classics as “Soldier Boy, ” “Tonight’s The Night, ” “Mama Said, ” “Dedicated To The One I Love” and “Foolish Little Girl.”

Right under the cast listing in Playbill is an advisory stating “although this play is inspired by actual events, some material has been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.” A major plot device is the romantic tension between Dixon and Greenberg, something that I had never heard about prior to this show.

The problems of mixing personal and business becomes apparent when the Shirelles’ success wanes just about the time of the JFK assassination. The times are changing and Florence fears that Luther is unwilling to adapt. She is taken with the talents of a young pianist and arranger from Forest Hills named Burt Barcharach who has been working with a talented singer from Newark by the name of Dionne Warwick. Luther feels threatened by Burt (who is unseen in the show) and realizes that he has to leave. Bacharach had previously written “Baby, It’s You” for the Shirelles a year earlier, and the song would be recorded as well by the Beatles.

As is frequently the case with jukebox musicals, the dialog is often corny and contrived, such as the interplay between Florence and her husband. There is also some unfortunate ethnic stereotyping as Bernie Greenberg is portrayed as a nebbish accountant with a whiny nasal voice, while Florence’s trusted assistant, Murray Schwartz (Brandon Uranowitz), is a pushy Sammy Glick type who also has a whiny, nasal voice.

The music, not surprisingly, is top-notch but strangely the Shirelles’ first number one hit, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, ” is omitted. My guess is that songwriter Carole King probably wanted too high a price for its inclusion here.

The creators of “Baby, It’s You” admit that they have taken liberties with the facts. At the end of the show, Florence says that she has bought four homes in Passaic for the members of the Shirelles, whose careers were waning. In reality, the Shirelles had to sue Greenberg for royalties. The show’s narrator, Jocko, claimed that Luther Dixon never wrote another hit after leaving Scepter. While he never did enjoy the level of success that he did have there, he did write the Platters’ 1966 comeback hit, “With This Ring, ” for Musicor Records.

While I have pointed out some negatives, “Baby, It’s You” will certainly keep you entertained for two hours thanks to great music and a very talented cast. “Jersey Girls” may not be in the same league as “Jersey Boys” but it’s worth seeing.

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 169 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/04/23/baby-its-you-a-review/

Starring: Matthew McConaughey & Ryan Philippe

Directed by: Brad Furman

By Lloyd Carroll

Matthew McConaughey has always perplexed critics. It is clear that he has talent but in too many films he seems content to merely wing it and get by on his Texas “good old boy” charm. McConaughey, who is always in great physical shape, has become an industry joke because directors always insist on him taking his shirt off in at least once scene in his films allegedly as a favor to female filmgoers. With his latest starring vehicle, “The Lincoln Lawyer, ” McConaughey has the last laugh as he turns in a fine performance as Los Angeles defense lawyer, Michael “Mick” Haller.

Mick has not made a lot of friends defending clients who are the antithesis of high society. Every drug dealers mugger and murderer in East L.A. has his phone number on speed dial. Ironically they can’t walk into his office because he works out of a classic Lincoln automobile, hence the title of this movie.

Haller is no saint though; he doesn’t do pro bono work. He makes it clear to his lowlife clientele that if they want his services then they had better be prepared to pay. In an early scene, one of his jailed clients, a motorcycle gang member who desperately wants to get out of the slammer, informs him that he doesn’t have the money to pay him. Mick senses that he is being played. He goes in front of a judge and tells him that he is not ready to start the trial and that it may have to be postponed for awhile since he is trying to track down a key witness, “Mr. Green.” Mick quickly receives his retainer.

Greasing palms is de rigeur for Mick. It seems as if every LA County bailiff and bail bondsman has been a recipient of his largesse over the years. One of those bail bondsmen, Val Valenzuela (Jackson Heights’ own John Leguizamo), tells him that a rich kid from Beverly Hills named Louis Roulet (Ryan Philippe) got arrested for assault and that he recommended Haller to defend him.

While Mick is happy to pocket a hefty fee, he wonders why a blue blood from arguably the wealthiest community in the world, is seeking his services. As Mick learns more about Louis, the more he realizes that he is dealing with a guy whose dark side is far worse than anyone of the low lives that he has represented over the years. Even worse, Mick begins to suspect that Roulet may actually have committed a murder years ago to which he had a former client, Jesus Martinez (Michael Pena), cop a plea, because he did not think that a jury would acquit him on a Murder One charge. Martinez pleaded with him not to take the deal with the DA.

As is the case with most film and television whodunit procedurals, there are going to be plot twists which make little sense or seem a bit contrived. Having said that, “The Lincoln Lawyer” is a very fast and enjoyable two hours. Matthew McConaughey is aided by a terrific supporting cast that includes William H. Macy as an offbeat investigator; Marisa Tomei as Mick’s exasperated ex-wife who is an assistant DA; Josh Lucas as a straight-laced prosecutor; and Bryan Cranston as an old school detective who despises Mick for finding ways of getting criminals acquitted. Ryan Philippe may not have much dramatic range but there is a reason why he is Hollywood’s go-to guy for yuppie sociopath roles.

Director Brad Furman makes excellent use of Los Angeles as he showcases middle class neighborhoods as Echo Park and Silver Lake (located just north of Dodger Stadium and downtown LA) as well as hardscrabble communities as Inglewood and Boyle Heights while eschewing the more familiar glitzy LA that we see from film premiers and awards shows.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 232 user reviews.

http://www.movielandreport.com/2011/04/20/the-lincoln-lawyer/