Tag Archive for 'Beatles'

Let It Be

Let It Be (12/22/13) Savoy Theater, London (2013 ***1/2) Musical Supervision and direction by John Maher. In the early sixties, a band of four musicians from Liverpool came on the scene, changing rock history in the process, and while they were together they produced some pretty amazing music. Hell, you might even call them “fab.” First off, it’s important to note that this show is fundamentally a well-produced Beatles tribute band, much to the disappointment of our friend who went to the show with us. During intermission, he lamented, “I expected more of a story.” As for myself, you’d be hard-pressed to put on a Beatles-related stage production that I didn’t enjoy, and I’m happy to say I’ve seen about a half dozen now, ranging from Circe du Soleil’s Love to a show on a cruise ship. As for this production, my first reaction was: “Why are there two Ringos and no George?” Which is a reasonable question to ask. Actually, there was a George, but he was a dead ringer for Harry Shearer’s Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap. You know what? If you’re a Beatles fan looking to rise to your feet and dance to “Twist and Shout,” this is definitely a show you should check out.

Across the Universe

 Across the Universe (1/31/13) FXM (2007 **1/2) Directed by Julie Taymor, starring Evan Rachel-Wood, Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson, with cameos by Joe Cocker, Bono, Eddie Izzard and Salma Hayek. Set in the 1960s, a young Liverpool artist befriends a Vietnam-bound student and falls for his all-American sister. Imagine the musical Hair, re-envisioned with music by The Beatles, and you’d get something pretty similar to Across the Universe. I’ve never hidden the fact that I’ve been a pretty big Beatles fan my entire life, so I looked forward to this film. I loved the use of some of my favorite songs, in particular a lot of the more esoteric ones from the Fab Four’s catalog. With so many “expensive” songs on the soundtrack, I kept wondering what kind of music licensing arrangement the film’s producers had, and what fraction of the film’s budget went straight toward music rights. However, as much as I liked the use of Beatles tunes, the presentation of those songs seemed a bit repetitious. I lost count of how many were staged as slowed-down renditions sung wistfully while the camera orbited the singer. In other words, the songs kept hitting the same notes (pun intended) over and over. There also seemed to be a general problem of story pacing, and I question whether back-to-back psychedelic renditions of “I Am the Walrus” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” was the best idea. On the other hand, the use in “Happiness is a Warm Gun” of multiple Salma Hayek’s in a sexy nurse’s uniform was definitely a highlight.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (7/25/12) Netflix (2011 ****) Directed by Martin Scorsese, featuring interviews with and/or footage of: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, George Martin and many others. George Harrison’s life and career before, during and after The Beatles is examined by one of history’s greatest filmmakers. At 208 minutes, Living in the Material World was quite long as documentaries go, and my wife and I watched it on two separate DVD discs. That extra length was nice, however, to give plenty of breathing room to its fascinating subject. A little more than half the film focused on George Harrison’s early days with The Beatles, leading to their break-up in the early 1970s. Harrison was portrayed as a complex man, one who was both the most spiritual of The Fab Four but also capable of great anger and prone to weaknesses of the flesh. I was reminded recently that the hallmark of a good documentary (or a biopic, for that matter) is one where you learn something about its subject that you didn’t know before, even if it was already very familiar, and this film certainly succeeded on that count. As someone who has watched many documentaries about The Beatles, I very much appreciated that the historical material was made up of footage and photos I mostly hadn’t seen before, even at times when it must have been tempting to use better known clips. Scorsese also did a wonderful job of showing Harrison’s spiritual journey, that much of his interest in Eastern philosophy and transcendental meditation was about preparation for a “good death.” By the accounts of the many who loved him, George Harrison had succeeded in that goal by the time cancer took him on November 29, 2001, at the age of 58.

Paul McCartney: Wingspan: An Intimate Portrait

Paul McCartney: Wingspan: An Intimate Portrait (7/7/12) Netflix (2001 ***1/4) Directed by Alistair Donald, featuring interviews with and footage of Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney, Denny Laine, Denny Seiwell, Geoff Britton and others. Sir Paul’s daughter Mary interviews her dad about meeting her mum, the formation of the band Wings and the musical decade that followed the breakup of The Beatles. If you asked me who my favorite Beatle was, I don’t know that I could give you a straight answer. But if you asked me which one I identified with the most, it would definitely be Paul. He has an earnestness mixed with starry-eyed dreamer quality I’ve always related to. Over my life, I’ve watched many documentaries about the Fab Four’s rise to greatness and its eventual collapse. But Wingspan did a wonderful job of picking up — at least for one of them — where that well-worn story left off. If that’s all it did, that would be enough, but in addition it also exists as a loving tribute to Linda McCartney, who’d passed away from cancer in 1998, just a few years before this film was made.

Mad Men, Season 5

Mad Men, Season 5 (6/10/12) TV-AMC (2012 ***1/2) Series created by Matthew Weiner, starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery. 13 episodes, originally aired 3/25/12 – 6/10/12. Happy, newly remarried Don Draper watches the turbulent mid-1960s world change around him as he’s forced to realize how little control he actually has in his life. Some have complained that the fifth season of Mad Men was not worth waiting for, especially since 18 months had passed since the end of Season 4. However, since my wife and I had watched seasons 1-4 on disc via Netflix, we were affected by that feeling somewhat less. Also, though the drama of the season mostly played out in a subdued fashion, there was still plenty to like about it. Highlights of the season included: Megan’s sexy version of “Zou Bisou Bisou” in the season opener, sung to Don during a birthday party he didn’t want to have; the bare-knuckled fistfight between Lane and Pete; Don and Megan’s stop for Howard Johnsons’ world-famous orange sherbet; Roger’s life-changing LSD Trip; little Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) walking in on her step-grandma giving Roger Sterling a blow job; Don listening to, then switching off The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” from their album Revolver (at a cost to the Mad Men production of $250K); Joan accepting a decidedly “indecent proposal” in exchange for a well-deserved, non-silent partnership; and finally: lots and lots of death and falling imagery in virtually every episode, culminating with the “graceful exit” of one of the show’s main characters. I was quite grateful to have been invited by a friend as her “+1” for a special event at the TV Academy: Playing to a standing-room-only crowd, the season’s finale was screened, followed by a panel discussion featuring series creator Matt Weiner and six of his show’s stars. Almost all the main cast members were there, though Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss were unable to attend due to shooting schedule conflicts. The event’s aim was to promote the show’s visibility prior to Emmy nominations, and I imagine it will receive more than a few. The discussion was spirited and well-moderated. I feel very privileged to have gotten a chance to attend, and I can’t wait to try my take-home gift: a jar of Mad Men cocktail olives!

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride (3/20/12) Phantom Theater, Carnival Miracle (2012 ***1/2) Featuring vocalists Tanner McGuire and Darren Jefferies, with The Miracle Dancers and Dave Fulton & The Miracle Orchestra. Carnival Cruises’ tribute to The Beatles may not have been on par with Cirque Du Soleil’s Love, but it sure kicked the holy “ship” out of a similar Beatles-themed show we saw aboard the MSC Splendida last year. For this die-hard Beatles fan, Ticket to Ride was probably the best show I’ve ever seen… aboard a cruise ship. Some of you may snicker at that important qualification, but this show was seriously entertaining. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, glow-sticks were handed out to members of the audience for a bit of swaying participation during “Hey Jude.” Yeah, I know it sounds cheesy as hell, but it was AWESOME!

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour Memories

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour Memories (1/9/12) Netflix (2008 *) Directed by David Lambert, featuring narration by Victor Spinetti and interviews with Neil Innis, Keith McCartney (Paul’s brother) and others whose lives were touched by The Beatles and their multi-colored bus. While this wasn’t the worst documentary I’d ever seen, it was definitely not a professional production: The anecdotes by the interview subjects often seemed to go nowhere and the sound quality was generally miserable. If I had to guess, I’d say this documentary was made primarily to exploit some grainy 8mm home movies and make some cash from aging Beatles fans with disposable income. On a side note, it’s an interesting point of multi-layered trivia that Neil Innis, of The Bonzo Dog Do Da Band featured in the Magical Mystery Tour TV special was responsible for the song “Death Cab for Cutie,” the inspiration for the contemporary band of the same name. Innis was also the songwriter for the wonderful Beatles’ parody band he created with Eric Idle, The Rutles.

Help!

Help! (1/1/12) Netflix (1965 **1/2) Directed by Richard Lester, starring The Beatles, Leo McKern and Eleanor Bron. Ring-collecting Ringo winds up with an oversized sacrificial ceremonial ring, and the bloodthirsty (and cranky) savages who lost it want it back. This was such an unfortunate followup to the fantastic A Hard Day’s Night (1964). The fault for this film’s failure lay almost entirely with its horrible screenplay. The Beatles did just fine playing themselves and the cinematography and direction of the individual scenes was superb. The highlight (not surprisingly) were the musical numbers which found The Beatles in a variety of colorful settings and climates. But the film’s weak plot, such as it was, made the whole thing virtually unwatchable.

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour (1/1/12) Netflix (1967 **) Written and directed by (according to Imdb.com) The Beatles themselves, featuring the Fab Four, a couple of overzealous character actors and a stripper named Jan Carson. Originally created as a TV special, John, Paul, George and Ringo climb aboard a colorful bus and tour the English countryside. This 1-hour video is notoriously bad, and rightly so. By any standard, it was absolutely dreadful, with the best part of it being the music from the Magical Mystery Tour album itself and the low point being a surreal nightmare sequence in which John Lennon shoveled feces-colored slop onto the table of Ringo’s morbidly obese aunt (played by Jessie Robins). When I was in my early teens I had recently discovered The Beatles and I talked my grandparents into taking me to a special showing of this “film” at Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum. Well, let’s just say we didn’t make it past the “feces shoveling” scene.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

The U.S. vs. John Lennon (8/29/11) TV-Sundance (2006 ***) Written and directed by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, featuring interviews with Yoko Ono, G. Gordon Liddy, George McGovern and Ron Kovic. This documentary explores John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s activist activities in the late 1960’s into the 1970’s. Did they single-handedly end the Vietnam war? No, of course not. They did, however, cleverly take their celebrity spotlight and redirect it to a cause they believed in: Peace. The late 60s/early 70s was a fascinating era and this film examined a chapter of Lennon’s post-Beatles life that hasn’t received a lot of cinematic attention. As a fan, I know from some other materials I’ve read that the film glossed over some of the negatives (Lennon’s early 1970’s “bad boy” clubbing, drinking and drugging) to paint a more saintly picture. However, it was still a fine film with great interviews, and I imagine the film’s slant may well have been why they were able to get Yoko Ono to participate.