January 10th, 2022

Get Back: I finished Peter Jackson’s three episode multi-hour documentary of the Beatles working for the month of January 1969 in preparation for a new album, and potentially a movie or TV special. The structure is footage from each day as they strike off the days in the calendar towards a performance. There is music to be created. For me, the fascinating part is seeing how musical geniuses work. McCartney early on is the driving force and wants to get to work. He is working on most of the memorable tunes of what becomes the Let It Be album. John is working on I’ve Got A Feeling. I was amazed to see Paul at the piano and bringing forward Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road. John seemed fixated on Yoko earlier and lounged in whenever he pleased. George in the first episode quit quite suddenly, as he was feeling left out. He is a third wheel often with John and Paul crafting the songs they are working. But at the same time, he is considerable talent in his own right. In the third episode, we see Ringo working on very rudimentary Octopus’ Garden, and George adds tremendously with his suggestions on the structure. It seems the Beatles generally are music first and then the lyrics come after. As a viewer, we know these songs well, and seeing the alternate language and suggestions are fun to see. Songs are efforts over time and change from day to day. George can speak of struggling with a particular song for months. After three episodes some general observations: I think that the boys in the band do enjoy themselves, they have fun. John not only is able to break the ice with some good quips and jokes, he also later on focuses on valuing George and his songs and contribution. There was, at times, and underlying tension between Paul and George as George resents being told what to do. Paul is a perfectionist for his songs and he has much of it formed in his head. But he works hard and wants to be productive. The lack of focus with these guys is interesting. They don’t have a set agenda each day and often times are just jamming with various tunes (theirs or others). The introduction about the midpoint of keyboard player Billy Preston adds an energy to the rest of them, and some creative juices flow as a result. I am in awe of people who can just play. Sit down with an instrument and just play. The end of episode three has the famous outdoor concert on the rooftop of Apple Studios. I hadn’t realized that they only played about 5 or 6 tunes. A few like Get Back multiple times. So while the crowds gather for the lunchtime performance, there are bobbys who are gathering to shut it down due to complaints about the noise. Little did they realize they were interrupting the last performance in front of an audience that the Beatles will ever do. Perhaps had they known that, it wouldn’t have been so disruptive requiring a phone call to the police. The London police are polite, but they have no sense of the moment or history. This is must viewing for Beatles fans, and for casual fans of music and creative process.

Harry Potter Reunion Show: For those who are Harry Potter fans, you, you may be surprised to learn that the first instalment of this series was released twenty years ago! Feel old yet!? Young Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were unknowns and were given lottery tickets for this series. It was a tremendous success. Along the way, the acted along side some of the Who’s Who of British theatre and film. Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branaugh, Emma Thompson and Ralph Fiennes among others. They learned, developed and grew before our eyes. This reunion brings them face to face with these actors, the directors and the sets. There are some fun stories. You learn that Emma Watson had some consideration about whether she wanted to carry on with it. The young actors obtain fame and wealth as the multi-billion dollar franchise. We learn that Tom Fenton (Draco Malfoy) and Emma Watson (Hermione) have a connection. And there are other little tidbits. This is on Crave. Funnily enough Emma Watson played Belle in Beauty and the Beast, but otherwise none of these primary young actors are doing what lesser lights like Robert Pattinson or Alfred Enoch have had done in other projects. Radcliffe has played some quirkier small roles but isn’t a box office draw it seems.

Stay Close: This is a new series from the UK on Netflix. I am halfway through the ten episodes for Stay Close. It is a murder mystery with characters living in a seaside town on the British coast. It seems to be a relatively quiet, uninhabited place. There is a strip bar (Vipers) which is the focal point. A woman is trying to restart her life, getting away from the stripper life after a creepy guy was stalking her. All the while men seem to be disappearing annually. The local detective is a colourful Irishman who was formerly married to his present police detective partner, and seems to have various other people he is involved with. Among them are the older female barkeep at Vipers. The story is from the book Harlan Coben, who is well known writer, unknown by me but familiar in the genre. The plots twists and turns back onto itself. There are of course inconsistencies and stupidity as characters do things that don’t make any sense. But if you ignore it, then it can be entertaining. If this is the type of story you like, then the British can do this pretty well.

December 6th, 2021

Tick Tick Boom: I have admitted as recently as last week in talking about Get Back with the Beatles that I am fascinated with the creative process. This is a movie brought forward by Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) which tells the story of Jonathan Larson. Larson is played by Andrew Garfield. This movie is another reason to dislike Garfield, and I say that in jest of course. Amazingly Garfield admitted on Late Night television that he didn’t sing. Garfield shows that not only can he act, but he can sing and play the piano so it seems. Jonathan Larson is a young aspiring NY playwright and musical creator who was still looking for his big break. He struggled to make ends meet, living with various friends and other creative people. In his life he had always felt that he was in a race against time. As he was about to turn 30yo, he spoke about how he felt like a failure. He wrote a song about it, in fact. Writing music for musicals is different than songs in a band. The songs are telling the story, and moving the plot along. But it also needs to have an emotional punch, and be something that (in a perfect world) your audience wants to hum on the way home or listen by buying the soundtrack. Many musicals are like this. The story has Garfield telling his own one man story through song, which was a Broadway play in its own right (Tick Tick Boom) but told the story of his earlier musical that never really got off the ground. In the performances you can see a who’s who of Broadway (like Bernadette Peters, Judith Light, Lin-Manuel himself and many others). They are very good. All the while he is dealing in the story with his relationship. He and his girlfriend who cared deeply for each other were at odds because she wanted to move on. Start a new a career. But his life was living in NYC and Broadway. So there is an emotional underpinning to the story which is effective. If you know the history of Broadway, the Tonys and musicals then know that he went on to write Rent. So this I can encourage people to watch. Watch because you can see the absolute talent of Andrew Garfield. Watch because you can see a quality cast doing what Jonathan Larson was born to do, through and through. Watch because you can set aside some time and feel good about a story well told. I enjoyed this.

Belfast: This movie won the People’ Choice Award this year at TIFF. Usually that means that the Academy will come calling. Often this can mean a Best Picture award. But we will see. For me having been to Belfast back in 2019 and sitting through a guided tour through the locations where many stories of The Troubles are told, it brought back thoughts of how it would be to live during troubled times. Kenneth Branaugh directs and wrote the story. It is more or less autobiographical, as he was 9 years old in 1969 when the story is set. There are quality performances by Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciaran Hinds and a young boy, Jude Hill who is excellent. It is a story of a poor Protestant family living in Belfast where there is a move afoot to rid the neighborhood of the Catholics. This isn’t ancient history. The young boy at one point is playing with Hot Wheels kept in the plastic box with trays to keep the various cars. He is innocent. He likes a girl in his class. All the while Dad works near London and spends a lot of time away from home. He has grandparents that he is close to. The young and innocent ask direct questions. They want to understand. Events are happening around them that seem so foreign. Adults are angry and confused. I have never lived through strife. I have never lived in a war zone, and make no mistake that living in a barricaded block with a burned out car and cement slabs and armed soldiers nearby is a war zone. As an outsider, I didn’t and don’t understand. They speak the same language. They share in struggles, and have common history. And yet there is that religious chasm between the peoples, and ongoing discrimination that ensures that the issues continue. As a writer, you write what you know. That very line was delivered to a young Jonathan Larson by his agent. Branaugh has brought forward a poignant story that shows a place in time which even today, while there has been peace in recent years, still has some underlying tension. I wish that I had spent more time in Belfast. It doesn’t have the vibrancy and energy of Dublin, which is just a short drive away. This story personalizes it, in the eyes of a young boy with his parents trying to make difficult decisions on how to best serve the interests of the young boys. The Irish may be born for leaving, but is it best to have your population split and forced to make these decisions so very young. I am thankful that I have never had to endure any of these situations. I haven’t had to fear my life walking down the street. I have been safe with people who generally respect one another and allows for everyday tasks to take place. We’ll see about Academy Awards for this movie, but I won’t be surprised if there are more than a few levied here. I think Hinds as the Grandpa was excellent, and the work from the little boy. Another film worth checking out.

Get Back: I finished the first of the three episodes in this series by Peter Jackson. At the end, very casually George decides that it was time for him to leave the band. He casually walks off. The other three after lunch return to the studio and try and put in some work, but they didn’t manage much. Again in the creative process, you can hear Paul “putting in some piano work” while the others talk through an inane idea about where to hold the future concert. Remarkably, everyone seems quite alright with talking about the daily events, without pausing and listening to the piano and singing of “Let It Be” and later “The Long and Winding Road”. Paul doesn’t have all the words yet, but the structure is there. It is interesting too to see Paul and Ringo work away while the others roam in much later and try to catch up. However much we have read that it was Lennon and McCartney, you see that for these songs anyway, the documentary seems to show that it was more McCartney. You also see the real affection that these guys had for one another. Yes they had rows, and George was frustrated by being the third wheel with two musical geniuses, but they had one another. They were pretty tight for many many years. This is a really cool glimpse into some of that life, in pictures that aren’t grainy but rather vivid and you can see just how young that they are. It is fun to watch.

November 29, 2021

Get Back: Peter Jackson a couple of years back did some work to take World War One film coverage and colour it, add sound and make it more relatable to today’s audiences and the result was the excellent They Shall Not Grow Old. He has turned his sites from New Zealand now into unseen raw coverage of a proposed documentary film for the Beatles in their writing new songs for what became the Let It Be album and the famous outdoor office roof performance from January 30th, 1969. I have not finished the series, three episodes and the first one is over two hours long. It chronicles the days leading up to the performance in early January 1969. I am forewarning viewers that this is a sizeable investment in time, watching the four members of the Beatles interact during rehearsals and early days. A couple of early observations: Paul seems to be the driving force to try and get the material completed, and come up with new ideas. His off-the-top guitar playing with rambling lyrics in a matter of minutes to ultimately begin the song Get Back is quite simply miraculous. I marvel at the creative process, and this is an excellent example of someone creating on the spot. I think generally Paul and John would work together on their own and bounce ideas off each other in their earlier days. Having a camera there to record everything is a little forced, but over time the guys tend to just be themselves. Some of the dialogue can be hard to hear and understand with the accents. Still it is compelling. I cannot see this early what Yoko Ono does on any level. She occupies a chair near John, but says nothing, sometimes reads or looks like she does some craft. She may have been emotional support for John, but creatively in this setting she does absolutely nothing. George is frustrated by this process, and you can see what eventually builds up to his departure from the band during this time. He is creative himself and talks about songs that he has developed but they all seem to be, in his words, much quieter songs. He seems angrier with Paul and he gripes about any show, and seems uneasy in his role as third wheel with Paul and John. He will “just play whatever [Paul] wants [him] to play”. Then Ringo is adding nothing creatively but has the daunting tasks of keeping up, and adding rhythm and beat for the songs being developed. John early on is fixated on working through the song “Don’t Let Me Down” and there is time spent trying to finalize that. For Beatles fans, this is a must see. For more casual fans, you can watch a creative process taking place in two weeks for writing an album that has iconic songs like Two of Us, Across the Universe, I’ve Got a Feeling, Long and Winding Road and of course Let It Be. Utterly remarkable.

Peter Jackson talks about John and Paul relationship – “how utterly painful this was for Paul”

Succession and The Crown: Discussion about how females are treated: I was re-watching the end of Season 3 of The Crown with the episode about the disintegration of Princess Margaret’s marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones but also the latest episode in Succession and the treatment of the women in these series. Margaret as the younger sister of Monarch Queen Elizabeth had plenty in her life impacted by the perceptions of how it will impact the Family and the Crown. She was unable to marry her true love Peter Townsend, who was divorced (because his wife cheated on him) because of the whole abdication of the Crown by Edward VIII. She has a tumultuous marriage with Mr Armstrong-Jones who openly is having an affair before the whole world, but no one seems to care about that, including her sister although she did encourage a reconciliation. But then Armstrong-Jones amazingly attacks Margaret for an affair with a younger man who has finally brought some happiness to her world. It seems her Family and her position will just not allow her to be happy. She wanted a meaningful role, in the same way that Phillip did and it just doesn’t come. The Queen is a strong character and develops into a force politically which many acknowledge in this third season, like Edward VIII himself when he was about to die. But Margaret is left to the sidelines to deal with her unfortunate station. In the latest episode in Season 3 of Succession, at Kendall’s birthday party, we see how Shiv is being turned aside in the family as Roman becomes more of the relied upon sibling to execute Dad’s wishes. Roman begins showing his true colours as he gains in confidence while Shiv becomes increasingly frustrated with her seemingly back seat role. Her husband, Tom, who has been fixated on his pre-determined path is given really good news, but he remains unable of moving forward. That marriage is an interesting one, and Shiv has seen her position relegated to secondary status. This season is fairly slow moving but it it brilliantly written with tremendous dialogue. Part of me thinks that the underlying premise is to explore how it seems first generations of wealthy families generate the money, and then the later generations fritter it all away. The story is not unlike the Vanderbilt story with Anderson Cooper just recently reviewed. But it is these female characters that in their time, Margaret was a completely different generation, while Shiv is more or less today, reveals that not much has changed for them and how they are viewed. Both women are extremely capable. Yet when the chips are down, it seems others are relied upon more directly. To be fair about Shiv, I don’t think that she did herself any favours by the events at the Shareholders Meeting. But ultimately we will see how it plays out. There are plenty of good things to be watching these days.