The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

For F*** Magazine

THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – THE TOURING YEARS

Director : Ron Howard
Cast : John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Brian Epstein, George Martin, Richard Curtis, Larry Kane, Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg, Sigourney Weaver
Genre : Documentary
Run Time : 2h 18min
Opens : 3 November 2016

the-beatles-eight-days-a-week-posterIn 1964, after enjoying success in their home country, four Liverpudlian lads made their first appearance in the United States on The Ed Sullivan Show. The rest, as they say, is history, with said history chronicled here by filmmaker Ron Howard. This documentary splices together archival concert and interview footage, some of which is hitherto unseen, with present day interviews to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s experiences on the road. We glimpse lots of fainting, screaming female fans; see John, Paul, George and Ringo at their goofiest and most candid, and hear from currently-active artists and musicians about the impact the Beatles had on them when they were growing up.

With a maelstrom of bleakness and negativity seemingly unavoidable these days, everyone needs an ameliorating balm, and this wistful, joyous nostalgia trip should do the trick. While longtime devotees of the Fab Four probably know all the factoids about the band’s history by heart, it’s still fun spending time in their presence. There is an almost mythic air about the Beatles: they were not pre-fabricated by committee in Simon Cowell’s office, they rose from modest obscurity and swiftly dominated the world, millions of hysterical teenagers in the pockets of their tailored suits. The sociopolitical climate in the U.S. then was even more fraught with tension than it is now, with the assassination of John F. Kennedy fresh in the public’s minds. People needed to feel happy, and the Beatles were as happy-making as they come.

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In addition to their musical talent, the Beatles’ affability won them plenty of fans. For those of us who weren’t following their endeavours at the time (i.e. those who weren’t born yet), it’s a bit of a surprise to see how funny the Beatles were in their interactions with the press. When a TV reporter asks John “which one are you,” Lennon replies without missing a beat “I’m Eric.” The reporter believes him. The original manuscript with the lyrics of I Want to Hold Your Hand scrawled on it has a postscript that reads “3/10 – see me!” Writer/director Richard Curtis identifies the Beatles as the platonic ideal of friends one would want to hang out with – he doesn’t use the phrase, but basically, the Beatles were his squad goals. Because of how much the boys seem to be enjoying their fame and popularity, it’s all the more emotional to see it take a harsh toll on them, the documentary covering their dizzying highs and also their hollowest lows.

Those who dismissed the band as lacking artistic merit have since eaten their words. We love the Beatles, but perhaps when composer Howard Goodall puts them on the same pedestal as Mozart, saying the Beatles have a similar ratio of memorable melodies in their prolific output, that might be overstating it a tad. Just as we’ve referred to them in this review, the film treats the Beatles as a singular entity, a four-headed, mop-topped Hydra. While there’s no doubt that they functioned as a unit and that their creative partnership and friendship was their lifeblood, it would’ve been nice to see more of John, Paul, George and Ringo as individuals.

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Howard wants to document both the Beatlemania phenomenon and the lads themselves, but the balance is slightly weighted in favour of the former. It would seem that more than half the interviewees, including actors Whoopi Goldberg and Sigourney Weaver, were observers from the outside. Aside from the two living Beatles McCartney and Starr, the most insight is gleaned from Larry Kane, the broadcast journalist who spent the most time on the road with the band. Kane recounts how Lennon and McCartney consoled him following the death of Kane’s mother, and fondly recalls how he initially baulked at the assignment, thinking it wasn’t “real news”.

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In addition to the general frivolity that follows teen idols about, the film has its heavier moments. The Civil Rights movement was unfolding just as the Beatles reached the height of their popularity in the States, and their refusal to perform at a segregated arena in Alabama is credited with eventually causing other stadiums in the south to abolish segregated seating. We also see the Beatles at their most burned out, with Harrison remarking that it must’ve been really difficult for Elvis Presley, since he was just one guy but the Beatles had each other to lean on when things got rough. There’s a clarity to the film’s recounting of the whole “more popular than Jesus” hullabaloo, when Lennon’s remark about the band’s fame was taken out of context and led to religious groups boycotting the Beatles.

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Because the film’s focus is on “the touring years”, the period of time when the Beatles were their most esoteric and consequently most fascinating is glossed over. Just as Henry Jones Sr. remarked in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “you left just as you were becoming interesting”. In any case, Eight Days a Week does its subjects justice and is a delightful slice of pop culture pie. Stay past the end credits to watch the 1965 Shea Stadium concert. Alas, even after a remastering at Abbey Road Studios, the sound quality’s still not great.

Summary: It’s not especially incisive and there aren’t any explosive revelations for long-time Fab Four fans to take in, but Eight Days a Week is a pleasantly entertaining baby boomer time capsule.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Chappie

For F*** Magazine

CHAPPIE

Director : Neill Blomkamp
Cast : Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Yolandi Visser, Ninja, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
Genre : Sci-Fi/Action
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 5 March 2015
Rating : NC-16 (Coarse Language and Violence)
Sentient robots, from the terrifying (the Terminator) to the adorable (WALL-E), have long been a mainstay of science fiction films. Director Neill Blomkamp hopes Chappie can join those ranks. It is the very near future and South Africa has become the first nation in the world to utilise a police force comprised entirely of androids. These robots, called “Scouts”, are designed by engineer Deon Wilson (Patel) for the Tetravaal Corporation, run by Michelle Bradley (Weaver). Deon’s professional rival at Tetravaal, ex-military man Vincent Moore (Jackman), wants his own creation, the heavily-armed Moose robot, to be deployed instead of the Scouts. Deon is working on his pet project, a fully sentient artificial consciousness, when he is kidnapped by gangsters Ninja (Ninja), Yolandi (Visser) and America (Jose Pablo Cantillo). They force Deon to create a robot that they can train and control, resulting in the birth of Chappie (Copley). Ninja, Yolandi and America try to mould the childlike Chappie in their image as the robot comes to grips with having a consciousness of its own.

            Chappie is an expansion of director Blomkamp’s 2004 short film, Tetra Vaal. Unfortunately, in making the leap from 1 minute and 20 seconds to 120 minutes, Blomkamp has exposed his shortcomings as a filmmaker. The dialogue is cringe-worthy and the characters are disappointingly two-dimensional, a shame considering Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell were nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for District 9. That film was praised for its original take on the alien invasion subgenre, a unique allegory for Apartheid. Here, it’s plainly visible where all the ideas have been cobbled together from. With its experimental military robot who gains consciousness, this is strongly reminiscent of Short Circuit. The Moose looks pretty much exactly like ED-209 from RoboCop, Chappie’s “ears” are cribbed from Appleseed’s Briaeros, the list goes on.


            The visual effects work, supervised by Chris Harvey and supplied by effects houses including Weta, Image Engine and Ollin VFX, is top-notch. Blomkamp has proven that he knows the right way to use CGI and the digital robots in this film all have a realistic weight and texture to them. The character animation on Chappie himself is good, with those ears being particularly expressive. Despite the best efforts of the animators and Sharlto Copley, who plays Chappie via performance capture, this reviewer was unable to truly connect with the character. Blomkamp is striving to make the title character an endearing, plucky creation and there are moments when the audience might go “aww”, but there’s a spark missing. Just this past November, moviegoers embraced Baymax from Big Hero 6 and TARS from Interstellar, androids with loveable, well-defined personalities. Chappie certainly falls short of those two.


            In addition to being derivative, Chappie comes off as indulgent. Very indulgent. We have Watkin Tudor Jones and Anri du Toit, better known as Ninja and Yolandi Vi$$er respectively, playing essentially fictionalised versions of themselves. Blomkamp has cast rap-rave group Die Antwoord in his movie, not in a cameo somewhere in the background, but in major supporting roles. Their shtick gets really grating really fast and while the unique South African thug culture does lend the movie a personality of its own, it quickly becomes just another flavour of annoying. The film also awkwardly bounces between the tough and the twee, with much of the comedy being derived from Chappie being taught gangster affectations by Ninja with Yolandi playing a more nurturing role, actually tucking the robot into bed and reading it a bedtime story in one scene.

            Dev Patel’s Deon is as stereotypical a computer geek as they come. The character stays up all night working on programming his fully sentient AI, fuelled by Red Bull and logging his progress via webcam recordings where he speaks in frenzied tones. Hugh Jackman is as charismatic as he usually is, rocking a glorious mullet and khaki shorts as the villainous Vincent. He really should take up bad guy roles more often; we’ll get to see Jackman as Blackbeard in Pan a little later on this year. Unfortunately, instead of a climactic confrontation, we get Hugh Jackman in a virtual reality visor remotely controlling the actions of his giant killer robot in a sequence that is anticlimactic in spite of all the explosions because Jackman isn’t in the middle of the action. Sigourney Weaver doesn’t do much as the stock boss lady and it’s a somewhat sad realisation to think her character in this film could have been played by anyone.

            Chappie is what happens when a promising director is given too much free rein. Yes, big studios can often stifle a director’s artistic voice, but sometimes, they need to be told “no” for their own good, lest one end up with a Michael Bay. For all the effort taken in making the world of Chappie seem realistic and lived-in, it is impossible to swallow some of the far-fetched sci-fi plot developments, particularly since the events of the film are meant to take place a year or so from now. Here’s hoping that with the Alien film Blomkamp is doing next, the rules of that particular universe make for a set playing field so he doesn’t get so carried away.

Summary:It looks like a relatively cool product and all the specs check out, but a crippling software error brings Chappiedown.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Exodus: Gods and Kings

For F*** Magazine

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS

Director : Ridley Scott
Cast : Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Tuturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, María Valverde
Genre : Adventure/Action
Run Time : 150 mins
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
It could be said that Old Hollywood’s Biblical epics were the big-budget superhero blockbusters of their day, with their casts of thousands and lavish sets. Cecil B. Demille’s The Ten Commandments is the codifier of that genre and now director Ridley Scott offers up his retelling of the story of Moses.
            It is 1300 B.C. and Moses (Bale) is a general in the Egyptian army who has been raised alongside Prince Ramesses (Edgerton) by the Pharaoh Seti I (Tuturro). While on a routine survey at a work site, Moses is struck by how badly the Hebrew slaves are being treated. Nun (Kingsley) tells Moses the truth of his origins, that he was born a slave and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses is eventually exiled by Ramesses. He wanders the desert, becoming a shepherd and falling in love with the Midianite Zipporah (Valverde). After a dramatic spiritual encounter, Moses takes up the task of returning to Egypt to fight for the freedom of the Hebrew slaves. In the face of Ramesses’ stubbornness, God strikes Egypt with ten frightening plagues. Only after the most horrific of these calamities does Ramesses relent, but for Moses and the children of Israel, their journey has only just begun.

            The story of Moses is a familiar one, the best-known films inspired by it being the afore-mentioned The Ten Commandmentsand the 1998 animated film The Prince of Egypt. Director Ridley Scott, who as the promotional materials are quick to remind us helmed Gladiator, delivers a not-quite epic. While the departures from the Biblical source material are not as outrageous as in Noah, it seems that Scott’s approach was to make more of a gritty swords-and-sandals flick than a grand, majestic Old Hollywood-style extravaganza. Perhaps this is meant to appeal to more cynical moviegoers but this reviewer was particularly disappointed that after being promised large-scale 3D spectacle, in this version, the Red Sea does not so much part as recede – off-screen. In trying to differentiate itself from earlier takes on the Exodus story, Exodus: Gods and Kings ditches one of the most iconic images in favour of a more “plausible” underwater earthquake.

            Sure, this is a $140 million movie and there still is spectacle to be had. The film was mostly shot in the historic Spanish city of Almería and the Egpytian palace sets do look suitably imposing and sprawling. The highlight of the film is the sequence of the ten plagues, in which we get swarms of buzzing locusts in 3D. The first plague in Exodus: Gods and Kings, the rivers of blood, is brought about by a violent clash of a bask of monstrous crocodiles. There are also lots of flyovers of ancient Egypt and while the CGI does mostly look good and certainly took large amounts of effort to complete, it’s always clear that what we’re looking at is computer-generated, resulting in the nagging sense of a lack of authenticity.

            Much has been made of the “whitewashed” cast – suffice it to say that you wouldn’t find anyone who looked a lot like Christian Bale or Joel Edgerton in Ancient Egypt. Scott has defended this by saying the big-budget film would not get made without A-list stars in the leading roles. Fair enough, but for this reviewer at least, this further affects the authenticity of the film and pulls one out of it somewhat – not to the extent of the film adaptations of Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender, but still in that unfortunate vein.

            Christian Bale is now the second former Batman to play Moses, after Batman Forever’s Val Kilmer voiced the titular Prince of Egypt. More emphasis is placed on Moses as a warrior, the film opening with a battle sequence in which the Egyptian army storms a Hittite encampment. Through most of the film, Moses comes off as weary and confused, with the heavy implication that his encounters with God might merely be delusional episodes. However, he’s still plenty heroic and steadfast and there’s enough of an old-school leader in this interpretation despite the modern “flawed hero” approach. Joel Edgerton seems visibly unsure of how over the top to go with his portrayal of Ramesses, conflicted as to how much scenery he is allowed to chew without going all-out ridiculous. In the end, this pales in comparison to the clash of titans between Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. The “brothers-turned-enemies” relationship was also drawn more compellingly in The Prince of Egypt.

            The supporting cast barely registers, with Sigourney Weaver getting a total of around five minutes of screen time. Ben Mendelsohn’s campy turn as Hegep is entertaining but seems slightly out of place, even given the flamboyance associated with Ancient Egyptian royalty. As with most of Ridley Scott’s films, there will probably be an extended director’s cut released and perhaps we will get more characterisation in that version. At 154 minutes, this theatrical cut is still something of a drag. The “event film” of the holiday season has its awe-inspiring moments but alas, they are few and far between.

Summary: “Underwhelming epic” sounds like an oxymoron, but that is the best way to describe Exodus: Gods and Kings.  
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong