Film Reviews: Jersey Queen, Or Step Up At The Rainbow

November 24, 2016

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Queen: Live At The Rainbow ’74 / A                      6

Jersey Boys / 16L                                                     7.5

Step Up All In / 10L                                                 4

 

The music of Queen lends itself to tribute shows, with Freddie Mercury’s flamboyance and Brian May’s ingenuity inspiring thousands of would-be frontmen and guitarists. This DVD is a tribute of another sort, taking footage from 40 years ago, when the band was just beginning its ascent to what would become almost unprecedented heights. What’s captured is relatively raw, but the talent, stage smarts, charisma and fresh ideas – now clichés – were already in place, and these theatre audiences would have been just a marker of the throngs who were to pack stadia in the coming years.There is a striking lack of arrogance. Mercury, May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon get on with what they’ve come to do, performing with flair but also with an obvious sense of purpose. They knew they were good and they knew the songs they were coming up with would have staying power, and they also knew that the best way to get to the top and to stay there was through hard work.Already, in 1974, their oeuvre was impressive. This 21-track set-list includes Killer Queen, Keep Yourself Alive, In The Lap Of The Gods and Seven Seas Of Rye. All are delivered with passion and precision and the gathered audience is loudly appreciative, though again, there is a sense that they’re not quite taking in what they’re seeing. This is the acclaim given to local lads done good, not yet that lavished on international superstars. That would come, but in 1974, the folks in front of the stage at the Rainbow had the inside track.The footage is, predictably, nowhere near the quality of today’s HD concert coverage, despite the technical tweaking and the remastering and all the rest of it. That does niggle as you watch, but if you appreciate the historical significance of what you’re looking at, you’ll get over that and enjoy the spectacle.

 

The stage musical of Jersey Boys is a phenomenon rather than a mere theatrical outing, requiring musical virtuosity of its leads even as they play complex, frustrating, bull-headed real-life individuals. Creating that same milieu on screen requires careful handling of the well-known narrative – not least because Bob Gaudio one of the Four Seasons, the band at the centre of the piece – is one of the executive producers. Director Clint Eastwood gets it almost right by sticking pretty closely to the structure and continuity of the stage play. No extra drama is needed, as the quartet who make up the band – Frankie Valli (John Lloyd, who won a Tony for playing the role on stage); Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen); Nick Massi (Michael Lamenda) and trouble-causer Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza) – were, in real life, not unacquainted with the inside of jail cells or the company of local mobsters (Christopher Walken plays Gyp DeCarlo, a mixed blessing as the band’s unofficial mentor). It’s a compelling tale – rags to riches and most of the way back down – littered with some of the most enduring pop hits of the 20th century. The music inspires as Frankie and his friends alternately entertain and exasperate. It’s a story that would have been a triumph of the imagination for any writer and is all the more incredible given its basis in fact.

 

The makers of the Step Up films have never placed much truck in the power of the stories in their scripts – it’s the dancing and the physical appeal of the lithe young stars that are the real crowd-pullers. As such, the set-up for Step Up All In is unsurprising, but nevertheless a touch dull. The winners of the competitions in the previous films are now brought together for – wait for it – another competition, thereby ticking all the demographic boxes and giving fans of the franchise to date an easy hook to hang their continued enthusiasm on. The narrative doesn’t hold much water, with the usual path being followed: someone wants a certain dancer to join their crew; said dancer is reticent for a number of reasons, including relationship challenges with some of the other dancers; the competition is fierce, but there’s an undercurrent of respect all round; and the designated good guys – nominated as such at the scriptwriters’ discretion, as there’s no discernible difference between them and the relative villains – come right in the end. Blah and ho hum for the most part, though the actors can move, and the dance sequences are spectacular.

 

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