Thursday, May 23, 2024

THE BEACH BOYS Doc Makes Its Disney+ Debut, But Does It Offer Anything New?

THE BEACH BOYS (Dir. Frank Marshall, Thom Zimny, 2024)

There have been plenty of Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson documentaries before so fans that know their story backwards and forwards may wonder whether what this film, which debuts today on Disney+, brings new to the table. 


Well, famed producer/filmmaker Frank Marshall, and Thom Zimmy (best known for a handful of acclaimed Bruce Springsteen doc projects) give us loads of never-seen before photos, lots of previously unshown footage, and a bunch of brand-new interviews with the principles (Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks, and Bruce Johnston) so that’s what.


But with this wealth of material, it’s surprising that the program’s length is less than two hours (1h 53m, to be exact), as one might reasonably expect an epic three-hour (or even two part) event. This means that THE BEACH BOYS is heavy on the early years (1961-1969), going into detail about their beginnings in as a Four Freshman-inspired garage singing act from Hawthorne, California, giving focus to the creation of their sound, and their run of chart-topping singles, and speeds through their later career in the last thirty minutes.


However, despite this doc’s uneven presentation, it contains a very entertaining exploration of how a band that was defined by the surf ‘n sun Californian dream (so much so that their first three records had the word “surf” in their titles), came of age in the mid ‘60s rock era with the Beatles as their rivals/later friends, and went through various re-births via the two then concurrent incarnations of the band.


As Brian Wilson refrained from the road to conjure up studio genius with the aid of The Wrecking Crew, “The Beach Boys effectively became two groups, the touring group and the recording group,” Love reflects as the doc gets into edgier territory with the ground-breaking Pet Sounds sessions, and the shelving of the ambitious Smile album. 


The main arc (or arcs) concerns how the band goes from being cool to embarrassingly unhip to cool over and over again, but, as it skips over huge chunks of their output in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and even the ‘90s, it doesn’t feature how the touring and recording versions of the group later became two camps.


Firstly, the long-running Mike Love-led hits-centric outfit that largely performs at state fairs and casinos under the banner of the Beach Boys (Love has the exclusive license of the name), and the Brian Wilson-fronted pop orchestra that has played loftier venues, recreating Pet Sounds, and Smile in full, as well as a ton of fan favorites with Jardine, and later BB member, Blondie Chaplain (who is also featured in a new interview in the doc).


There are many, many elements from the band’s canon that are either glossed over, or skipped completely while the most attention is paid to Wilson toiling over the mixing console conjuring up his eccentric brand of melodic magic with almost a half an hour spent on Pet Sounds and SMiLE, and the ending’s declaration of its sacred place in musical history.


Not that I’m complaining as those are amazing works, and BB enthusiasts will dig the insights and delight in all the footage finally seeing the light of day here, but there really is too much that’s left out of this treatment. The stories around their later day attempts to recapture the band’s glory days would be nice, and I believe necessary to have been included, for example their 50th Anniversary album, That’s Why God Made the Radio, which re-united all the principles in 2011 for a surprisingly solid effort, but isn’t even mentioned here.


Keep in mind, these are the quibbles of a fan who has grown up with not just the BB catalogue, but with the narrative behind the music, and would probably still have issues with a three-four hour version. Overall, whatever it lacks, THE BEACH BOYS is a highly recommended watch for what it has, and I was impressed that when it was wrapping up, it had gone its entire running length with no instance of “Kokomo,” the unbearably cheesy 1988 single that was the band’s last top 20 hit. 


But I had thought too soon, as when the black screen credits starting rolling, “Kokomo” kicked in. Sigh. I’m not usually a fan of medleys, but there’s an early ‘80s single, officially sanctioned by Capitol Records, “Beach Boys Medley,” made up of bits from eight smashes from their ‘60s heyday, that would’ve worked so much better, especially as this doc is more about those times than any others.

More later...

Friday, May 10, 2024

THE PLANET OF THE APES Gets A Solid Franchise Extender In KINGDOM

Opening today at a monkey-infested multiplex near us all:

(Dir. Wes Ball, 2024)

Since it’s been a minute since we’ve visited the PLANET OF THE APES (which we all know is really future earth) – the last film was 2017’s WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – I had to refresh my memory with YouTube recap videos as I couldn’t quite remember where they had left off. 


This is the fourth entry in the POTA reboot series that started in 2011, when James Franco was still a thing, and it begins with the funeral of Caesar, the lead chimpanzee from the first trilogy, and then we flash forward, as a caption tells us “several generations later” (no reason to be specific about a particular year), to a clan of apes who live in towers made out of branches and logs right outside of some (again not specified) ruins of a city.


Our new protagonist is Noa (affably voiced and motion captured by Owen Teague), a noble chimp who we first meet in a stunning action sequence at the top of a green, tree covered rotting building (a “hard climb” the apes call it) stealing an eagle’s egg and almost having a hard fall because of it. 


Back home, where Noa’s father, Koro (Neil Sandilands), leads as a master of falconry; the abrupt appearance of a human woman (a stoic Freya Allen) gets the egg broken in a scuffle, and Noa travels back into the city to get another where he comes upon an evil clan led by the wonderfully scary villain bonobo ape, Proximus Caesar, who has co-opted and misconstrued what the original smart monkey, Caesar was all  about. “For Caesar!” Kevin Durand’s Proximus declares as he kills Koro in a powerful fight scene as the village burns.


Resembling many action adventure movies (including the recent THE CREATOR and CIVIL WAR), the film becomes a road trip scenario to rescue Noa’s clan, in which our determined ape is joined by the woman (who finally speaks saying her name is Mae), and an elder, incredibly intelligent orangutan name Raka (Peter Macon) who teaches Noa about books and astrology (there’s a stirring scene set in an observatory where Noa sees something that startles him through the lens of a ginormous telescope that they don’t let us see).


Noa, Raka, and Mae find that Proximus has built a settlement with scores of ape prisoners around a human-built bunker in the cliffs on the seashore. Proximus, who uses his ape slaves to daily try to destroy the impenetrable door to the bunker, asks Noa what he sees when he looks at what he calls his “kingdom,” “stolen clans” is our down-but-not-out hairy hero’s reply.


Another human, Trevathan (the always trusty William H. Macy), as our antagonistopportunistic history teacher, tries to dissuade Mae’s plans to get to what’s in the bunker before Proximus, saying “it’s already their world!” but with Noa’s smarts, and unflappable motivation to save his clan, there’s no stopping the determined duo.


In a world cluttered with big action franchises, KINGDOM is a surprisingly solid series entry with a compelling narrative in which very little is a hard climb to tackle. Its gliding, and intensely detailed visuals, provided by cinematographer Gyula Pados, keep the eyes popping, with the characters given just the right amount of heft to keep us emotionally interested. There’s also some nicely placed humor of the human-bashing sort including Noa and Raka ridiculing Mae’s smell during some down-time.


Taking this in, and looking back at the three films (RISE, DAWN, and WAR) that proceeded it, I have to say that this is one of the stronger sci-fi series going these days. Since the original classic 1968 POTA, there has been four sequels in the ‘70s, a really weird (and bad) stand-alone Tim Burton version in 2001 (with an ending that makes absolutely no sense), and now this effective reboot series with four more films (there were also live action and animated TV series, but let’s stick to the big screen) so I really wasn’t expecting anything but another attempt to keep the series afloat here.


But when there’s a creative team (and a sharp screenwriter in Josh Frieman) bringing primo passion and power to such a project, a fresh direction for these old APES can actually happen. And it’ll most likely happen again and again (of course, until the series becomes unprofitable), but for now the bottom of this barrel of monkeys is very far from being scraped dry.

More later...