THE BEATLES: GET BACK (2021, doc)

November 28, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s a lot of Beatles. The three episodes total more than 7 hours of run time. It will be likely be too much for most folks. Not for me. In fact, I envy Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson, who got to go through every minute of 60 hours of video and 150 hours of audio from the 1969 sessions that led to the “Let it Be” album and documentary, as well as the band’s infamous rooftop live performance atop Apple Studios. The 1970 film won the band an Oscar for best original music, but unfortunately, that 42 minutes on the rooftop would be their final public live performance as The Beatles.

For those who have seen the 1970 documentary LET IT BE, you are aware of the discord amongst the band members during the sessions, but Peter Jackson’s project shows us there was much more to the story: pressure, expectations, creative forces, doubt, friendship, young men changing, and plenty of laughter and joking. And cigarettes. An incredible number of cigarettes. Keep in mind that even though they were the biggest band in the world, these lads from Liverpool still only ranged in age from the youngest, George at 25, to the oldest, John at 28.

One thing we notice is that there was a very small group involved with the daily activities. Outside of the band members, the faces we see most are Music Producer George Martin, the band’s long-time assistant Mal Evans, and renowned Sound Engineer Glyn Johns. It’s not really discussed here, but despite all the work we see Mr. Johns perform over the 22 days, it was Phil Spector who ended up with the production credit on the album. The director of the LET IT BE documentary, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, is seen quite a bit in the first two episodes, although he’s not as funny as he seems to think he is. Film Producer Denis O’Dell initially sets the band up at Twickenham Film Studios, which he rented as the location for his upcoming zany comedy THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN starting Peter Sellers and, yes, Ringo Starr. It’s this movie that has the Beatles on such a tight schedule, and it’s at Twickenham where Peter Jackson’s film kicks off.

PART 1 (2 hours, 34 minutes) provides a quick history of the band, dating back to 1956 when John Lennon and Paul McCartney formed The Quarrymen and invited George Harrison to join as a guitarist. There is a clip of the band performing at The Cavern, and a note on how Brian Epstein became the band’s manager. It was 1963 when George Martin began producing the band and that’s they year they hit #1 in Britain, kicking off Beatlemania. The following year took them to the United States for the appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and it was 1966 when the band faced the backlash over John’s comment about “being more popular than Jesus.” That was also the year when the band decided against future tours, choosing instead to focus on studio work and albums. 1968 brought the death of Brian Epstein at age 32, and the infamous trip to India, where they spent time with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. So here they are in January 1969, with the goal of writing, rehearsing, and recording 14 songs, and then performing live over about a three week period.

Director Jackson uses the 22 days as a framing structure, going day-by-day to track the progress. Day 1 is kind of a feeling-out day as the band checks out the studio. Day 2 finds Paul in business mode, as the other band members poke fun at the Fan Club publication. Day 3 delivers the familiar setting of George being “annoyed” by Paul, but it’s Day 4 where “Get Back” is born, “Across the Universe” is introduced, and a terrific then-and-now montage of “Rock and Roll Music”. Day 5 gives us “I Me Mine”, as the band discusses ideas for the live show, and we learn code names for Ringo (Russian) and George (France). Day 6 finds Linda Eastman (not yet married to Paul) snapping photos in the studio while the band works on “The Long and Winding Road”, and “Let it Be.”. Day 7 is critical, as we get more “Get Back”, numerous mentions of Eric Clapton, and George leaving the band with “See ya’ in the clubs.” This is when we are subjected to our first Yoko Ono banshee screams. She has been attached to John’s hip for most every minute.

This first episode provides us our first look as the band works out songs on the fly. Ringo keeps amazing rhythm, while remaining mostly quiet. George’s insecurity and annoyance with his role (and Paul’s bossing) is beyond obvious (resulting in his leaving), and the band’s uncertainty about the best direction for the live performance is a bit unsettling. Despite all of that, it’s truly fascinating and humbling to watch and listen as they create the rough early versions of songs that we now know so well.

PART 2 (2 hours, 12 minutes) is probably my favorite episode of the three. For Day 8, with George having quit the band, Ringo is the first to show up as flowers are delivered for George from the Hare Krishnas. We eavesdrop as Paul (with Linda in tow) analyze the John and Yoko relationship, and we are privy to a secret conversation between John and Paul regarding George and the band. The rest of the day is spent rehearsing 3 songs, including Paul and John brainstorming fine-tuning “Get Back” lyrics. Day 9 has Peter Sellers stopping by – and likely wondering what the heck kind of mess he’s wandered into. This is Paul’s day to be irritated and stating they can’t go on like this. Day 10 reports on the band’s meeting at George’s house, which results in his return to the band and a shift from Twickenham studios to the Apple Studios on Savile Row, This throws a delay into things, and makes Day 11 a lost day.

Day 12 has the four band members back recording, despite technological challenges and a scathing article on the band in local publications. It’s this day when we hear an amazing version of “I Dig a Pony”, followed by “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “Don’t Let Me Down”, and “She came in through the Bathroom Window” (which would end up on Abbey Road). On Day 13, John recalls the Martin Luther King Jr speech, and the band gets a jolt of energy from keyboardist Billy Preston. Watching them perform “I’ve Got a Feeling” is pure musical joy. Day 14 stars strangely with more Yoko banshee screams, and Maxwell’s anvil is in the middle of the room, while the band solidifies the “Get Back” single. Day 15 offers discussions of Billy Preston as the 5th Beatle, while we get a Pattie Harrison sighting, and performances of “Two of Us” and “Polythene Pam.” Day 16 includes flashbacks to the trip to India, George working on “For You Blue”, the band’s first look at the rooftop, and early work on “Let it Be”. Once again, watching the creativity in action is simply mesmerizing.

PART 3 (2 hours, 19 minutes) begins on Day 17, which is only 3 days until the rooftop performance. George is assisting Ringo with writing “Octopus’s Garden”, which will end up on the Abbey Road album. Linda’s young daughter Heather bounces around the studio, and we can all relate to her cringing at Yoko’s latest banshee scream. We see John go hard on “Dig it”, while the band spends a great deal of time jamming to their favorite classics. These are musicians collaborating on the music they love – and enjoying every bit. Day 18 has George running through “Old Brown Shoe”, and John and Yoko celebrate her divorce being final. With Alan Parsons in the booth, the band goes through many takes of “Get Back”. On Day 19, George begins early work on “Something”, which would be featured on the Abbey Road album, and they wrap up the “Don’t Let Me Down” recording. With the live performance scheduled for tomorrow, Paul and John have a serious discussion about the payoff for all of this work. Is an album and one live show enough, if there is no TV special? As Paul’s brother Michael watches, we can’t help but think Paul was really hoping for another tour – one that would never happen.

Day 21, January 30, is when the rooftop performance actually happens. There are 10 cameras in place, 5 of which are on the roof with the band. Most of us have seen these performances, but director Jackson includes some of the ‘second takes’. The band opens with two takes of “Get Back”, followed by “Don’t Let Me Down”, “I’ve Got a Feeling”, “One After 909”, “Dig a Pony”, and second takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down”. Included here are some of the interviews from folks on the street, and we see the cops who are unsure how to handle the noise complaints. What’s obvious and thrilling is that John’s and Paul’s voices are in prime form, and the band is truly enjoying doing what they do better than any other band … despite the cold London weather. You can sense their pride as they head to the booth for the playback. Day 22 is the Final Day, and the band finishes the mostly acoustic recordings for the album.

Over the three episodes, we hear bits and pieces of more than 100 songs, and we witness the collaboration and tribulations of a band that reached heights of popularity previously unimaginable (remember Elvis never performed in the UK). It’s quite a privilege to witness artists at work during the creative process. Tension and disagreements are to be expected, and yes, they did occur. Perhaps those tensions drove the individuals to be even more creative and better at their craft. Regardless of your thoughts on this, one thing is certain … The Beatles “passed the audition”.

Now streaming on Disney+

WATCH THE TRAILER


THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD (2018, doc)

December 17, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve noted many times how World War II has been mined for cinematic purposes over the years, even to this day. It’s always seemed a shame that World War I – ‘The Great War’ – has so few big screen projects in comparison. Obviously, timing is a major reason. World War II ended in 1945, which means during our lifetime, many of those veterans have been able to record their experiences and memories. In contrast, 2018 marks the 100 year mark of the end of World War I, so the archival footage and documentation is significantly reduced – and sadly, much of it lost or destroyed over time. Because of this, we should treasure this latest from director Peter Jackson as he allows these WWI participants to come alive and tell their stories. But it’s more than historical significance … it’s truly fascinating to hear the words from those that were there.

Director Jackson is best known for his THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT trilogies, as well as his version of KING KONG (2005) … all “large scale” movies with ground-breaking CGI effects. For his latest, he gets much more personal and intimate, though the technical achievements are equally impressive. The first thing to note is that this film is not presented as a historical timeline detailing the political motivations or battle strategy of the various countries involved. Instead, we hear archival audio from dozens of soldiers who fought, and we see actual video clips and photographs – many we’ve never seen before. Mr. Jackson’s grandfather was a soldier in WWI, and the film’s focus is on the experience of the British soldiers.

Fittingly, the film begins with soldiers’ words playing over some of the faded and tattered war footage. These soldiers go unnamed as the goal is to have us understand the experience – what motivated them to enlist, and what it was like to serve on the battlefield. As we hear the words, the scale and clarity of the video transitions to full screen in vivid color … it’s breathtaking to see these figures become living, breathing, smiling young men from a century ago.

The words of these men fill us in on aspects of the war that most history books gloss over. Many of them “exaggerated” their ages so they could join their friends or relatives in the war. We learn about ‘plum and apple’ jam, stew, sipping water from gas cans, and the challenges presented when the ‘poop pole’ gets overloaded. The trenches are seen up close as mazes of mud (when not fully flooded) with cutouts for sleeping and cooking. We see proof of trench foot/gangrene due to the impossibility of proper sanitation, and we hear and see the constant threats of green gas, snipers and artillery shelling – and that’s on top of the relentless smell of death and infusion of rats.

This is about being a soldier … the ramifications of leaders deciding war is the best or only option. Director Jackson makes it personal, and a segment where the British soldiers mix with injured and captured German soldiers proves that these young men have more in common than not. They all just want to survive and go home to their loved ones.

Jackson co-produced the film with his wife Fran Walsh, and with the involvement of the Imperial War Museum and BBC. Controversy surrounds the colorization of archival footage. I would encourage anyone who feels this way to understand this is much different than bastardizing IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE or CASABLANCA, where those directors purposefully lit scenes and sets based on the black and white filming process. Jackson is dealing with war footage from100 years ago, much of it by war photographers or soldiers. The purpose is to cause the people and horrific settings to come alive for those who have never connected with WWI – preserving The Great War for personal and historical purposes. It’s really something to behold.

watch the trailer:


CHRISTOPHER LEE (1922-2015) remembered

June 11, 2015

christopher lee Usually when a screen icon passes, we spend time reminiscing about the characters they played in the movies we loved. For Christopher Lee, this goes much deeper. When I first began an infatuation with movies, he was almost 20 years into his acting career. He truly has been an active part of my movie-watching for my entire life. So when I see today’s headlines labeling him as a “Movie Villain”, I cringe and think what an injustice and simplification that is. Christopher Lee has always been there – from 13 inch B&W television sets to 40 foot theatre screens – inspiring me to love movies.

This was a fascinating man … so much more than a beloved and talented actor. By the time he was 23 years old, he was decorated for his distinguished WWII service for the Royal Air Force and Special Services. He then moved into acting, and now leaves us with a remarkable 281 screen credits to his name.

Lee’s acting career was incredibly diverse, and certainly not limited to villainous roles, even if that’s how he is most frequently remembered. His screen time ranged from playing Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy in traditional monster movies (many from Hammer films), to his iconic clash with James Bond as The Man with Golden Gun (1974). He also played Sherlock Holmes, Fu Manchu, and Rochefort in 3 – Three Musketeers films,  utilizing his expert real life fencing skills.

In 1977, Lee’s autobiography was published … “Tall, Dark and Gruesome”. He embraced his image, while working non-stop at broadening his roles. Many know him from the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man, and how could we forget his hosting of “Saturday Night Live” in 1978 (musical guest, Meat Loaf)? This man embraced both horror and comedy – he was courageous enough to appear in one of the Police Academy movies!

christopher lee2 Lee experienced a career renaissance thanks in part to having a huge fan in filmmaker Tim Burton, who cast him in Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Additionally, younger film fans know him from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, two “Hobbit” films, and of course three “Star Wars” films.

Of course, it’s Mr. Lee’s voice that always announced his presence with authority. A deep, booming resonance could spark fear or respect; however, he also used that voice for singing – opera, a Broadway tunes album, and two Heavy Metal albums. He was married (yes, to the same woman) for more than 50 years. A life well lived may be the highest honor man can achieve, and it is personified in Sir Christopher Lee … much more than a villain.

Here is a taste of Metal Christmas from Christopher Lee:

 

 


TMI (2-13-12)

February 13, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

February: Director’s Month

 PETER JACKSON … his favorite movie is King Kong (1933), which he re-made in 2005, with Naomi Watts in the Fay Wray role.  Jackson has also been greatly inspired by George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978).  He always co-writes his scripts with his wife, Fran Walsh, and his big breakthrough came in 1994 with Heavenly Creatures, starring a 19 year old relative newcomer named Kate Winslet. Jackson is one of 7 filmmakers to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay for the same film (Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, 2003) … he also has six other Oscar nominations. Already thought of as a cinematic genius thanks to his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson is currently at work filming his two part film based on “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien.  Expected release date for part one is December 14, 2012.


THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

December 23, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Not that I am hoping for marital strife, but I like it when Steven Spielberg wants to get out of the house, especially when he joins forces with Peter Jackson (serving here as Producer). This year he has delivered awards contender War Horse and this crowd pleasing motion-capture animation film (also) for the whole family. If you are unfamiliar with Tintin, it is a long-running, extremely popular European comic series by Herge’, who passed away in 1983.  This is Planes, Trains and Automobiles … plus Ships, Rowboats, Motorcycles, Zip lines and just about every other form of transportation that comes to mind.

Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) is an investigative newspaper reporter who looks 14, but clearly isn’t. He lives on his own, travels the world and is treated as an adult by those with whom he crosses paths. There is an early scene where Tintin is sitting for a local artist and the resulting portrait is an exact replica of his simple look in the comic series. Tintin has a trusty sidekick … his genius little dog, Snowy. Together they go on adventures that Indiana Jones can only dream about! This particular story focuses on the hunt for the lost Haddock family treasure. Tintin literally stumbles into the drunken sea Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) who is more concerned with his next swig of whiskey than the the fact that he has been kidnapped by the bad guy Rackham/Sakharine (Daniel Craig). This bad guy has unlocked the mystery location of all the clues to the lost treasure and needs Captain Haddock for the final step. Unfortunately for him, Tintin and Snowy get in the way and try their darndest to stop him.

 The action sequences are amongst the most exciting and thrill-packed that you will ever see. They look like “Jonny Quest” on steroids. The story is quite convoluted and complicated, and small kids will be totally lost on exactly WHY the characters do what they do. But it won’t much matter, because the visuals of each scene are captivating. There are even a couple of Interpol agents on the trail … Thompson and Thomson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, respectively).  Expect many site gags tossed in to offset the breakneck pace of the globe-trotting adventures.

 Spielberg has always done nice work when he can go after a kid’s imagination – even big kids like me. The look of this movie is pretty amazing, especially when compared to 2004’s The Polar Express. If you doubt how far technology has come, look at these two side by side.  Many of the characters here are as close to lifelike as we have seen – check out the skin and facial contours of Captain Haddock and Sackharine.  Wow.  Herge’ creation is given script work here by Steven Moffatt, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. The great John Williams provides the score. This is one you can bring the kids to and all will enjoy.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of animated family fun with loads of action OR you just want to see how far motion-capture technology has come

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: to you, Indiana Jones is the be all and end all of action heroes in the movies OR you refuse to get props to anything with French origins 

watch the trailer:


THE LOVELY BONES (2010)

January 23, 2010

 (1-23-10) Greetings again from the darkness. With the uproar from fans of Alice Sebold’s novel, I am actually glad I have not read it yet (though I will). I found director Peter Jackson’s take to be interesting, attention-grabbing and well filmed, though at times a bit sloppy in story structure.  The fact that the actual murder and rape are not shown did not affect my ability to connect.

Certainly not a who-dunnit, the viewer instead is exposed to the many forms of grief after a family tragedy. I found myself quite angry at Rachel Weisz (the mom) for deserting her kids, though I understand the clash with Mark Wahlberg’s (the dad) approach. Not only was I angry at her as a parent, but as a viewer, her running away meant more screen time for Susan Sarandon, which is rarely a good thing.

Saoirse Ronan (excellent in Atonement) plays Susie, the victim of neighbor Stanley Tucci’s crime. Tucci is my favorite kind of movie villain … non-descript and blends right in. I find that to be the creepiest possible monster – the one that lives amongst us. Some of Jackson’s camera work with Tucci is fascinating and frightening, especially around the dollhouse. We can’t wait to see this guy burn.

Again, I consider myself lucky in that I can appreciate the film for what it is rather than comparing to a great book. Oh, and don’t miss Peter Jackson as the customer playing with the video camera in the store when Wahlberg picks up the first roll of developed film.