Thursday, November 25, 2021

GET BACK Takes LET IT BE And Turns It Into A Beatles Extravaganza

Now streaming exclusively on Disney Plus:

The BEATLES: GET BACK 
(Dir. Peter Jackson, 2021)

In the 1978 Beatles parody, All You Need is Lunch, narrator, Monty Python’s Eric Idle announced that “ithe midst of all this public bickering, Let it Rot was released as a film, an album, and a lawsuit.”

But while this three-part documentary doesn’t touch on any of the legalities surrounding the project, Idle’s spoof acknowledges that for a long time there’s been a dark cloud hovering above the Beatles’ original swan song. 

 

Now, the reason for this reputation comes down to the oft told narrative that the Beatles went into the GET BACK/LET IT BE production hating each other, suffered dreary sessions with mediocre material, and the film is a sloppy, badly edited rockumentary. 

 

Although the film was released in the early ‘80s on Beta, VHS, and laserdisc, it soon went out of print was never re-issued on DVD, Blu ray, or any home video format. The word is that Paul McCartney has blocked the re-issue of LET IT BE, but it should be noted that George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr also despised the film.

 

So after 40 years, we’ve got this delicious docu-series that shapes the Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot footage into a trilogy treasure trove of revelatory footage. The story is now an accessible breakdown of the Beatles’ final days that at times makes us feel like we’re in the same room as the Fab Four.

 

Each entry begins with this disclaimer: “The GET BACK project in January 1969 produced over 60 hours of film footage, and more than 150 hours of studio recordings.” 

 

Part 1 kicks off with a 10-minute montage of old Beatles footage to give us their backstory leading up to 1969. This recap will surely be seen as redundant to many as these are tales well told, but nonetheless they get us to speed.



We join the Beatles as they rehearse at Twickenham Film Studios, where the plan is for the group to write, rehearse, and play live 14 new songs in two weeks for a TV special. Their time is short because the studio is due to be used for the shooting of THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, starring Ringo and Peter Sellers. As they sit in front of Ringo’s drums, the boys appear to be in good spirits as they joke around and jam on such tunes as “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Like Me Down.”

One of the most famous bits from the LET IT BE movie is when George and Paul seemingly have a scuffle in which George says “I'll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won't play at all, if you don't want me to play.” While it played as a harsh moment in Hogg’s film, we get to see it in full context, and understand that it was simply band bickering.

 

After an hour and a half of Beatle babbling (funny that George seems to be the most vocal in this first segment), working out songs, some of which are destined to later solo albums, covers of tunes by Dylan, Chuck Berry, Ben E.King, and even Hank Williams, the film builds up to a cliff hanger. One the members ups and quits (no Spoilers).

 

Part 2 gets even juicier as we hear a private conversation of John and Paul recorded by the filmmakers with a hidden microphone in a flower pot. This is followed by more of the same as the boys flesh the new songs out (expect a lot of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Two of Us,” and, of course, the title tune), engage in witty chats, and a pop-in by Peter Sellers, but it’s a bit of a let-down as he barely says anything. The Beatles then take their operations to familiar ground, the studio at Apple Headquarters, but not before Paul lays down a demo of “Oh, Darling” as the lights go out. Also, the TV special concept is abandoned.

 

But despite the change in scenery, the Beatles intend to go forward with their plan of recording songs without edits or overdubs, and now the idea to use the footage for a feature film. So as the lads from Liverpool goof around in the studio, the day that they need to come up with a big finale for the film looms nearer. So after considering several locations, they decide on the rooftop at Apple for their grand conclusion.

 

This brings us to Part 3, which contains the meat of the matter: the Apple rooftop performance – one of the most famous farewells in rock history, first though we’ve got to go through well over an hour of more studio stuff, but since this includes film of the Beatles cutting the version that appears on the album, Let it Be, it’s okay by me.”



Now, having seen LET IT BE numerous times, I don’t think it’s as doom and gloom some folks think, but Jackson’s new fangled remix is a massive improvement. This is apparent in the rooftop climax, which now can be seen as a joyous concert after the Beatles’ fruitful time in the studio. Without the time limitation, Jackson is able to use more songs, and make some amusing drama out of the cops that showed up to try shut down the gig. Also the people on the street get some funny moments answering the interviewer’s questions.

Jackson really pulled it off here. It seems his work on his first doc, the excellent 2018 war documentary THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, proved to him where he could go in interpreting history. 

 

While neither LET IT BE nor GET BACK contain my favorite batch of Beatles songs, I have a new perspective on the material from seeing the Beatles working on songs, bullshitting with each other, and experiencing those precious moments when inspiration takes hold. Just be prepared for seven hours of that. A lot of folks who aren’t hardcore Beatles fans, may find GET BACK boring, but since a large percentage of the world’s population are hardcore Beatle fans, that’s alright.


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Sunday, November 21, 2021

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE - Not Afraid Of A Glorified Cameo!

Now playing at a haunted, slimy multiplex near you:

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE

(Dir. Jason Reitman, 2021)


Since the 1989 release of GHOSTBUSTERS 2, there have been a head-spinning multitude of attempts to continue the series largely derailed by Bill Murray’s reluctance to revive his wise-cracking character of Dr. Peter Venkman. Yet, Murray did appear, in a different role, in Paul Feig’s 2016 female-led reboot, as did many members of the original cast despite it being a non canon entry.

 

But Feig’s film bombed, and angered fans, so we’re supposed to forget it exists, and embrace what’s being billed as an authentic GHOSTBUSTERS movie, one that exists in the same universe as the first two films, is filled with musical ques from Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score (now rendered by composer Rob Simonsen), is littered with callbacks to the 1984 classic including the reappearance of the Ectomobile (Ecto-1), and, most importantly, re-unites our proton pack wearing, spirit-capturing/entrapping, and beloved buddies, the real Ghostbusters (incidentally the name of an ‘80s animated series – whew, this franchise is ginormous!).

 

Thing is, if you’re going to see Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and other returning cast members like Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts, you’re going to have to wait through most of the movie to get to them (ok, you don’t have to wait very long to get to Potts).

 

Not that this is a bad thing as it’s admirable that Reitman, and co-writer Gil Kenan wanted to establish a new ensemble including geeky teen Fin Wolfhard (who at times makes this feel like a super-sized episode of Stranger Things, an episode of which even had him wearing the Ghostbusters uniform), his just as geeky sister played by Mckenna Grace (whose hairstyle is overly familiar), and their exasperated mother portrayed by Carrie Coon.

 

There’s also a budding love interest for Grace, Logan Kim who’s named Podcast, for cuteness sake; Celeste O’Connor as Wolfhard’s crush, and, thank the heavens, Paul Rudd, bring the hip charm as a science teacher, who educates the kids about how the Ghostbusters saved New York unbelievably powerful paranormal activity.

 

As the kids learn that their broken down Oklahoman farm house (described as “Apocalyptic” by their mother), was once owned by their grandfather, Egon Spengler (originally played by the late, great Harold Ramis), they encounter a round of paranormal pursuits they can call their own.

 

Rudd is plagued by an army of tiny Stay Puff Marshmellow men, and then a terror dog named Vinz Clortho that possesses him, while Coon gets the Zuul makeover. This puts Rudd and Coon into the Rick Moranis, and Weaver parts, which even includes a recreation of the ascending stairway from the first one, though this time up the side of an ominous mountain.

 

So it’s up to the new breed of apparition hunters to take on these supernatural baddies, but don’t worry, they are joined by you know who. Unfortunately the guys that most of us are going to this movie to see only appear in the last 10 minutes, with a minimum of dialogue. Murray only gets four-five one-liners, tops, and we don’t get a story as to how they re-grouped to get there. Any of these guys' talk show appearances is bound to have more substance than their glorified cameo here.


*

But their appearance does work, and it’s nice that the filmmakers even found a way to include Ramis, who the movie is dedicated to. 

 

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE may lack the laughs of the 1984 effort, and it may rely too much on plot points and story beats from that one too, but it’s a spirited (sorry), and a heartfelt tribute brought forth by a group of likable kids. I do miss some of the edge that was there before, and, of course, wish there was more material featuring Murray and Company, but at least there’s a during-the-credits scene with Venkman and Dana Barrett that’s worth sticking around for.

 

So this valiant venture to conclude the GHOSTBUSTERS trilogy is a warm and fuzzy follow-up, even if it most likely won’t come, see, or kick anybody’s ass.


* The picture above is of Murray donning the Ghostbusters outfit at the Spike Scream Awards in 2010. Im using it here as pics of he, and his old buddies from the new flick are hard to come by.


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Monday, November 01, 2021

MUSICIAN MOVIE CAMEO MONDAY: David Bowie In YELLOWBEARD


Here I go again with another series, and it’s centered on one of my favorite subjects: movie cameos. The angle here of Musician Movie Cameo Monday (snappy, huh?) is that they obviously showcase famous musicians, who took time off of their meteoric careers to put in a few minutes often because they’re friends with the actors or filmmakers (or both). 

We’ll kick off with one of biggest rock icons to ever sashay in front of a camera: David Bowie. Bowie was in middle of one of his many peaks in 1983, which revolved around the hit singles, “Let’s Dance,” “Modern Dance,” and “China Girl, when he agreed to appear in a crude pirate comedy entitled YELLOWBEARD – the brainchild of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. With John Cleese, and Eric Idle, the film features half of Monty Python, and a rich ensemble that even included Cheech & Chong.


Midway through the movie, an uncredited Bowie pops up as a character named Shark, though he’s addressed by Idle as Henson, who is escorting Madeline Kahn through a ship that’s careening through the seas. Bowie’s Henson/Shark, takes Kahn to dining room inhabited by a tired-looking Eric Idle. Kahn says that she seems to remember something about an island,” and that “it must’ve been that shark that jogged my memory.”


With a “well done,” Idle dismisses Bowie, and as he turns to exit we see what the scene was building to – Bowie was wearing a rubber shark fin on his back, meaning that the revered rocker at the height of his pop powers was reduced to a sight gag in a subpar Python knock-off.

YELLOWBEARD was one of the biggest flops to come forward from the well that sprang MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, and LIFE OF BRIAN. It’s a painfully unfunny experience that even my 12-year old self couldnt find much comedy within.

But at the very least, this misguidingly star-studded non epic, had something no other ‘80s film could ever dream of having: David Bowie wearing a rubber shark fin a cameo that only lasts just over 3o seconds.

So check out the glory that is Bowie sharking it up in the largely forgotten (for good reason) Chapman vehicle YELLOWBEARD:


After seeing that understated walk-on, you really don’t need to see anything else from the failed pirate production. At least that’s what I’d recommend, but if you are a glutton for punishment, so then, knock yourself out.

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Todd Haynes’ VU Doc Begins To See The Light, Even If It Doesn’t Quite Get It Right


Now streaming on AppleTV +, this may be the artsiest rockumentary I’ve ever seen. This is despite the fact that it’s largely in black and white, filmmaker Todd Haynes has assembled a smorgasbord of split screen imagery that places pop art legend Andy Warhol’s screen tests of the legendary avant-garde group, The Velvet Underground alongside archival footage, and newly show interview clips to unconventionally tell the tale of one of the most unconventional bands ever.

This aesthetic is obviously an attempt to recreate the Velvet Undreground’s multimedia presentations, which were curated by Warhol, and for the most part the effect takes harmonious hold.

Now if you don’t know the Velvet Underground, also known as the Velvets and VU, it’s likely that you’ve never formed a band before. The New York based outfit was founded, under Warhol’s tutelage, by bassist-viola player, John Cale, and guitarist/singer Lou Reed who met at a NYC party. The additions of multi-instrumentalist Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker soon followed.

Reed remarked that his literary influences epitomized by Allan Ginsburg’s Howl, William s. Burrough’s Naked Lunch, and Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn were “what I want to do except with a drum and a guitar.” This led to the VU constructing music that was just as influential in such seminal releases as The Velvet Underground & Nico, and White Light/White Heat.

The first of these albums, their Warhol-produced debut that emerged from the Factory secenescene, featured German chanteuse Nico on four songs, but demos included in this doc give us a taste of what tracks like “Here She Comes Again” could’ve sounded like.

Unfortunately, when we get to Cale and Reed’s bandmates, Morrison, and Tucker they are treated in an afterthought a la “and the Professor and Mary Ann.” But at least Tucker gets to chime in about the West Coast vibe: “This love, peace crap, we hated that. Get real.”


The second half of the film, is dominated by simulations of such events of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which had the Velvets backed by Warhol’s flaky films, and audiences who would haphazardly take over the lighting duties. Flickering effects, fuzzy sped-up footages, and, yes, more split-screen visuals, display that the doc is more about the interactive performance art, than it is about the music, man!

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of the band’s twisted tunage on hand, but it seems secondary to their artsy stage antics. There is some offstage juiciest dealing with Reed firing Warhol, and, more surprisingly Cale. Sadly, not much insight is given to these shake-ups. It’s hard to explain exactly why these firings went down, with the Cale situation is mainly used to introduce Doug Yule as his replacement.


Interview bits with such subjects as Reed’s sister Merrill Reed Weiner, mega fan Jonathan Richman, actress Mary Woronov, Jonas Mekas (who passed right after shooting his contribution), as well as beyond the grave sound bites by Reed, and Morrison, attempt to flesh out the story, yet only skirt the surface of the narrative. Perhaps this would’ve been better as a doc mini-series.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, which was made by a true music geek, is recommended more to folks already acquainted with VU, as I don’t think it’s a thorough intro to their oeuvre. This is an in-the-know portrait that aims to celebrate the band’s position in the landscape of the oh so hip ‘60s freak out happenings. This makes for a very watchable curio, but those who have lived and breathed the often strange stylings of Reed and Company, know that this band is so much more than what the flashy footage onscreen struggles to convey.

For those who want more music, the soundtrack, VELVET UNDERGROUND: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack, is available now. It contains 16 tracks including such rarities as “The Ostrich” by The Primitives, an early novelty track by Reed before VU; “The Wind” by The Diablos, and The Theatre of Eternal Music's “17 XII 63 NYC The Fire Is A Mirror (excerpt).” So, much like the doc, this soundtrack is anything but a hits collection.

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