The CW’s Flash! A review (part one)

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup

Tuesday: the Flash

Part One

 

From Wikipedia (as I said before, if they are going to do the work FOR me …):

CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASONS ONE & TWO

 

Season One: After witnessing his mother’s (Michelle Harrison) supernatural murder and his father’s (John Wesley Shipp) wrongful conviction for the crime, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) is taken in by Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) and his family. Allen becomes a brilliant but socially awkward crime scene investigator for the Central City Police Department. His obsession with his tragic past causes him to become an outcast among his peers; he investigates cold cases, paranormal occurrences, and cutting-edge scientific advancements that may shed light on his mother’s murder. No one believes his description of the crime—that a ball of lightning with the face of a man invaded their home that night—and Allen is fiercely driven to vindicate himself and to clear his father’s name. Fourteen years after his mother’s death, an advanced particle accelerator malfunctions during its public unveiling, bathing the city center with a previously unknown form of radiation during a severe thunderstorm. Allen is struck by lightning from the storm and doused with chemicals in his lab. Awakening after a nine-month coma, he discovers he has the ability to move at superhuman speeds. Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the disgraced designer of the failed particle accelerator, describes Barry’s special nature as “metahuman”; Allen soon discovers that he is not the only one who was changed by the radiation. Allen vows to use his gifts to protect Central City from the escalating violence of metahuman criminals. He is aided by a few close friends and associates who guard his secrets.

Season Two: Six months after the events of the first season, after a singularity event, the Flash is recognized as Central City’s hero. However, the event brings an evil from a parallel universe to Central City in the form of the speedster Zoom (Teddy Sears; voiced by Tony Todd; Ryan Handley in costume) who seeks to eliminate everyone connected to the Speed Force throughout the multiverse. Harrison Wells’ parallel universe counterpart, and his daughter Jesse (Violett Beane), work to help Barry and his friends stop Zoom. Joe and his daughter, Iris (Candice Patton), struggle with their shared painful past related to their family, especially after the arrival of Iris’s brother Wally West (Keiynan Lonsdale), whom Francine West (Vanessa A. Williams) gave birth to shortly after abandoning her family. After Zoom kills Barry’s father, the season concludes with Barry travelling back in time to save his mother’s life from the Reverse-Flash.

 

***

 

If I were ever asked to create a television show based on the Flash, I would refuse. This show has already done it. I. Love. This. Show.

Every character. Every Villain, Every plotline. Its tone. Its mood.

Everything.

 

When I decided to finally watch the DC-CW programs, this was my first pick. That caused some problems: Arrow had already been on for two seasons and its cast’s appearances in Flash spoiled some Arrow plotlines (“So-and-so just took over Queen Industries.” “I’m sorry to hear about the death of – fill in the blank”), but it didn’t ruin Arrow for me. Knowing what was going to happen to this character or that plot line didn’t bother me.

 

The Flash was the first superhero I discovered. Every six year old knows who Batman and Superman are, but the Flash was only on a few Filmation cartoons from the 1960s rerun in the mornings. When I was old enough to discover comic books, the characters Flash and Green Lantern quickly became my favorites (they were at one time both featured in the Flash comic book.

The comic book was simple without being simplistic. His abilities were easy to explain and easy to illustrate to this grade schooler. So were his rouges gallery: Captain Cold shoots ice from his cold gun; Heat Wave shoots fire from his gun. Got it.

Try explaining the Penguin or Brainiac to the same group of kids …

The comic and its characters were always fun and light – not childish, just light-hearted. The villains robbed banks and jewelry stores. Stories were (usually) done in one issue – rarely causing the reader to try to find the conclusion over the next month. (They did a particular continued story back in 1976 where Flash’s wife disappeared. It was a three-parter and it took me until 2001 before I found it on Ebay. After 25 years I finally found out how the story ended; as well as the continued Green Lantern back-up feature, too).

 

The show captures that joy and light-heartedness, even when facing serious subjects.

 

The producers changed some of the background of the characters.  But the changes are not overwhelming nor are they insulting to we old-timers! It sticks pretty close to the Flash’s Silver Age origin.

With some exceptions: Barry’s parents were alive and well during “my” time and showed up frequently in the comic. Barry’s father being accused of killing his mother was a modern take on the character in the comics of the 2000s.

The TV show went with Barry’s father supposedly murdering his wife. Barry being “adopted” by the Wests was an invention of the TV show. So was the explosion of the particle accelerator that led to his powers (the lightning strike and the resulting chemical explosion WERE part of the original story of the Silver Age Flash).

The coma, being healed and then trained and helped in the use of his powers by Caitlin Snow, Cisco Ramon and Dr. Harrison Wells were all invented by the TV producers for the show.

But that is fine! If they want to make it canon I would not object! Considering now they are changing superhero origins on nearly a monthly basis; this would be one of the better changes!

 

A review and critique of the characters, the actors who portray them and the plots will come next time…

 

 

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

 

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The CW’s Supergirl, a review (part two)

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup

Monday: Supergirl

Part Two

My review of Supergirl begins here.

 

I love the show, I do, but it is not without its problems …

Cat Grant (a character from the Modern Age (post-1986) of Superman) is one of the few characters that tend to plod down the story. She’s not a villain, in fact she is key in getting the world to love Supergirl and not fear her, but is still cold and self-centered CEO.  She is shallow almost to the point of being flighty. The staff of Catco (including Kara) sycophantically acquiesce to her every whim for fear of being fired and black-balled from the industry. It is good in small doses, but like Spider-Man’s J Jonah Jameson, the character wears thin pretty quickly.

Of course, a woman who works her way to the top in her field HAS to be tough and cold, I suppose. That seems to be their message. Maybe I don’t agree with that; maybe that’s why I role my eyes when the character stomps out of the elevator onto her first scene of every episode. She has the power of an Oprah without the humanity. Cat Grant would never give away a fleet of cars.

Attempts to humanize her are forgotten or fall flat. Her interest in Kara being a foster child, for example. The one line (“that is not uninteresting.” – I paraphrase), brings the hope of a non-two-dimensional moment. Her adult son comes to National City and mother and child try to make amends. We get to see how she became the way she is through the visit of her unloving and shrewish mother.

It is quickly forgotten by the next episode.

When kidnapped by a supervillain, she begs for her life for the sake of her children. By this point I do not know if she is sincere or just buying time…

This is no slight on Calista Flockhart – she does a wonderful job with what she has. She looks like Holly Go Lightly but talks and acts like Maude.

But with Cat Grant, a little goes a long way.

Calista Flockhart will only have a few cameos in Season Two, which may or may not be a good thing – if they keep the character as is, small doses is best.

 

I think they really missed the boat on the relationship with fellow nerd Winn (played by Jeremy Jordan). He was in love with Kara before she became Supergirl.  He revealed his feelings but it was glossed over in a few episodes. Now they are back to being good friends. Too bad. That could have been explored more – he loved Kara before she donned the cape and big red S. Has his affection changed now that she is Supergirl? Does he still love Supergirl, or are his affections aimed at Kara only? He never said, “I wish we could go back to where we were. I wish I could talk to Kara when she’s not Supergirl.” I think they missed a good thing there.

Kara’s maybe-romance with Jimmy Olsen (played excellently by Mehcad Brooks) continues to slowly bloom.

Speaking of Jimmy: knowing Supergirl’s identity and being Superman’s Pal gives the character a worldliness that Brooks plays quite well. He half-smiles at Cat Grant’s – er – cattiness. If he could he would turn his back and wink at the camera; just like Superman did in the 1960s cartoons. Once you’ve faced down Brainiac, not much unnerves you…

 

So now that the show is under the CW umbrella, what can we expect?

It was established on the wonderfully fun Flash-Supergirl meeting in the episode “World’s Finest” that Supergirl and her show take place in another dimension. Whether that is thrown out to make all DC-CW shows one world remains to be seen. With Flash and Legends of Tomorrow constantly tinkering with alternate realities, it can easily be done.

The first season was on CBS which meant it tried to be all things to all people. Now it can focus on a narrower audience. The three other Berlanti Production shows have a total of seven seasons between them all. And the most common denominator is the epic season-long fight with a specific super-villain, culminating in a senses-shattering free-for-all at season’s end/sweeps. It has almost become a joke. From Quenton Lance in Arrow (I paraphrase): “Someone’s threatening to destroy Starling City? It must be May!”

Supergirl had an epic villain (Non), but it was not the main focus of the season. In fact in a few shows he seemed forgotten. But the season-long story arc will likely happen with Season Two. Because of the nature of the heroes and villains, it might be earth-shattering and not as vanilla as it seemed on CBS.

That may not be fair. We take Arrow’s villains seriously because the characters are human. Flash is the same, only a little less due to the character’s powers. There is no way to forget that Supergirl is fantasy and that creates a disconnect that doesn’t exist in the other shows. Ra’s al Ghul is thus a scarier villain than a White Martian (being a more well-rounded character played by a superb actor aside…).

That being said Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow did it correctly. Other things happened during the season, too. There was story progression; not one long episode with no progression and no enjoyment – where you could skips months of programs and not lose any of the plot (kaff-agentsofshield-kaff).

Season Two will introduce a character names Maggie Sawyer from the National City police department.  Will she be an ally or an antagonist like Joe West on Flash or Quenton Lance on Arrow?

The press is all over TV’s Wonder Woman Lynda Carter appearing as the US President. Will she have a regular role or just appear occasionally?

Another item the press is gaga over is Superman’s larger role in the next Season. In Season One he is shown only in vague visions. Good move. This is Kara’s show. He would only have up-staged her at this point. He does contact Kara by texting her (“Need help?” “Are you all right?”), which was another good move: the show didn’t ignore him, but he wasn’t a deux ex machina saving the day every other episode, either. Hopefully he won’t steal Season Two.

 

Also in Season Two we will meet Mon-El, a member of the Legion of Super Heroes who started off as another youngster sent to earth from another planet. Unfortunately, he had amnesia and could not remember where he came from. Having the same powers as Superboy, he assumed, using comic book logic, that this stranger was his brother! We will see how Supergirl treats the story.

Because of what they did with “For the Man Who Has Everything” though, I’m not worried.

supergirl-cast-2

Up Next: the Flash

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

 

The CW’s Supergirl, a review

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup

Monday: Supergirl

Part One

From Wikipedia (why should I do all the work?):

CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE

Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) was sent to Earth from the doomed planet Krypton as a 12-year-old by her parents Zor-El (Robert Gant) and Alura (Laura Benanti). Alura gave her instructions to protect her infant cousin Kal-El, and informed her that she, like her cousin, would have extraordinary powers under Earth’s yellow sun.

En route to Earth, Kara’s spacecraft was diverted by a shock wave from Krypton’s explosion and forced into the Phantom Zone, where it stayed for 24 years. During this period, time stopped for Kara so, when the spacecraft eventually escaped the Phantom Zone, she still appeared to be a 13-year-old girl. By the time the spacecraft crash landed on Earth, Kal-El had grown up and become Superman. After helping her out of the craft, Superman took Kara to be adopted by his friends, the Danvers family. The main series begins more than a decade later when the now 24-year-old Kara is learning to embrace her powers after previously hiding them.

Kara hid her powers for more than a decade, believing that Earth didn’t need another hero. However, she has to reveal her powers to thwart an unexpected disaster, setting her on her own journey of heroism as National City’s protector. Kara discovers that hundreds of the criminals her mother prosecuted as a judge on Krypton are hiding on Earth, including her mother’s twin sister Astra (also played by Benanti) and Astra’s husband Non (Chris Vance), who seek to rule the world. After briefly becoming suspicious of the true agenda of her boss, Hank Henshaw (David Harewood), she and her adoptive sister, Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), secretly discover that Henshaw is actually a benevolent alien refugee, J’onn J’onzz, who has resided on Earth for over fifty years after escaping a holocaust on his homeworld of Mars. J’onn infiltrated the DEO to reform the organization as well as to watch over both Alex and Kara in addition to guiding the latter in the use of her powers due to his experience with his own abilities. Kara is also being targeted by Earth’s criminals as the result of her being related to Superman, and later on encounters an emerging community of metahumans and individuals from parallel universes. In the process, Kara accumulates her own rogues gallery who seeks to defeat and destroy her. She is aided by a few close friends and family who guard her secrets—most notably her cousin’s longtime friend, James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks)—which also serves as a major plot in high tech mogul Maxwell Lord’s (Peter Facinelli) scheme to expose Kara’s identity.

***

            I adore this show. The few things I do NOT like about it are minimal, honestly.

The show is wonderful fun. Like the Flash, Supergirl tells us how much she enjoys being a superhero. No dark and brooding angst about being a hero! What little angst there is deals with normal emotional turmoil – balancing work and play, love and commitment.  Just like the rest of us! But overall the show exudes joy.

This is even more amazing considering the content compared to other DC-CW shows: In Arrow the main villain could (and tries to) destroy Star(ling) City. In Flash the main villains want to destroy … well … the Flash. The villains in Supergirl have the power to destroy the earth and everyone in it, have lunch, and then destroy Venus for snicks and giggles. That could be absolutely terrifying! But it’s not.

Don’t take that to mean the show is lightweight, or aimed at children. It just shows how much unbridled fun the show is even during tense moments..

 

DC characters abound – from villains (Hellgrammite, White Martians) to secondary characters (Lucy Lane). All lovingly plucked from the comics.

There are plenty of DC Easter Eggs to bring a smile or to make us worry. In the comics, Hank Henshaw (here the head of the DEO) is, in the comics, the evil Superman-Cyborg. When the character from the show intimates that he has a deep dark secret, comic book fans raise their eyebrows. “Aha! He’s going to become the evil cyborg!” Is he?

The major difference to Supergirl’s comic book origins (which has been tweaked over the years) is the addition of her adopted sister Alex. It adds to the show and its characters and is not a bad idea. If DC decided to make it comic book canon, I would not object. Trouble is, in modern comics her life expectancy would be quite short.

One episode is a reworking of the best Superman story ever printed: Action Comics Annual #11’s “For the Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, with Supergirl trapped by the Black Mercy instead of the Man of Steel. When I saw the opening scene and the alien plant attached to Supergirl I about hit the floor! It was a great adaptation!

A nice non-comic book Easter egg is the casting of Dean Cain and Helen Slater as her adopted parents. Slater played Supergirl in the 1984 movie and Cain played Superman in Lois & Clark: the New Adventures of Superman. It is little things like this that bring a smile to this old cynic: Berlanti Productions gives a damn enough about the comics to give us these treats.

 

 

You can tell the cast enjoys what they are doing, too. Melissa Benoist is phenomenal as Supergirl. She portrays an innocence (and a young person’s temper and frustration) and yet she will not hesitate to let you know she could pinch your head off with her thumb and forefinger.  Frankly she is cuter as flighty and naïve Kara Danvers.  Kara is a slightly less of a She-Geek than Arrow’s Felicity Smoak, but you can’t help but compare. Imagine if Mary Tyler Moore played the role of Mary Richards at age 24. Benoist is that good.

 

The show has a few drawbacks, in my opinion: More on those next time.

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

The CW Network’s Superhero line-up!

A DC-TV Primer: the CW Network’s superhero lineup,

Introduction

Note: I have never been sure of the proper way to stylize the names of books, movies and television shows. Some say to italicize the titles of books and put the titles of TV shows and movies in quotes. Some say it is the other way around. I do not care, frankly, I never have. As long as it is consistent throughout the piece I am reading. If the next blog or article or book then does something different – it doesn’t bother me as long as it is consistent within that same text. I italicize both comic book titles and movie and TV program names in this exercise. It may be wrong, but at least it is consistent.

 

When I think of the CW Network’s lineup of DC Comics superheroes my mind goes back to the fall of 1976.

At that time DC created what we would now call an imprint line of four comic books. An “imprint” is a series of comic books that are not necessarily part of the line’s mainstream comic. The imprint books share a similar theme. There have been imprints aimed solely at children, for example. The Image imprint featured comics with mature themes and art – not for the kids – with creator-owned characters. The Milestone imprint from DC comics was set in a comic book universe outside that of Superman and Batman and featured African American characters and creators.

In 1976 four comics were published by DC with a television theme. DC-TV they called it, and the company even changed its logo for these comic books. The four comics featured television shows that aired at the time (or were about to debut): Superfriends, Welcome Back Kotter and Isis (no, not that Isis) debuted. The fourth was Shazam (the adventures of the original Captain Marvel – but DC dare not use his name on any comic book covers lest Marvel Comics finally get their sweet litigious revenge on National Comics … but that is a whole other story), a comic that had been around for a few years but was on hiatus until the Saturday morning live-action show aired. Kotter and Isis lasted ten and eight issues respectively, Shazam started their TV run with #25 and lasted through #33; after that it changed its style for the next two issues before cancellation (although the character and title continue to be revived these forty years later). Superfriends lasted for several more years – until 1981 over 47 issues – boosted not only by the successful cartoon but also by the familiarity of the characters – Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin.

Reviews and commentary of those four comics would make a fun blog series … maybe given time I will do it!

Forward to 2016. Forty years on I am tickled to see history repeat itself with another DC-TV connection.

This fall season the CW network will air a superhero program based on DC characters each weeknight Monday through Thursday (the rumor of Constantine being added on Fridays are unfortunately untrue).

DC has published comic books based on the shows – or has added some of the television regulars to their existing continuity (in the Flash comic book for example).

This blog series will be a primer for those who (like me) are finally jumping into the new DC-TV pool of programs. I hope to discuss and review all four (maybe five) shows that are soon to begin their new seasons on the CW.

Starting your viewing at this point (particularly Arrow, which begins its fifth season) will only make you … Lost, if you get my meaning.

I promise that I will use spoiler alerts. But you will generally learn nothing that you won’t be able to find out on IMDB and on the “Previously on …” front tags of each show.

***

My only child turns seven in October, right around the time the CW will begin its new season. She loves to read and play games – whether board games or on the computer.

This means that my days of staring at a parade of purple dinosaurs, child explorers and a prime-colored Australian singing quartet are done. Oh, I still have to sit through Frozen every few days, or some other Disneyanic Princess derivation, but shows aimed at children … no more.

So of course I fill my time watching TV shows about super-heroes!!

Hey, you can’t watch the Sopranos all the time …

***

I heard good things about the CW line-up from Facebook and “real” (haha) friends and I was finally able to see what all their posts and comments were about.

Netflix has the first three seasons of Arrow and the first season of Flash available for binge-watching. The entire run of Constantine is available on the CW’s website, and the network is rerunning Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow until their new seasons start. CW is only running a few episodes from seasons four and two of Arrow and Flash respectively. I hope the entire season will soon be on Netflix or elsewhere before or during the new seasons. I don’t mind keeping the shows on Tivo for a few weeks while I catch up.

The only trouble is these shows are linked.

Don’t stop reading! By that I mean that the shows cross over, but they are not one long continued story. You won’t have to jump from one program to another! So don’t panic. In comic book terms, they share the same universe.

(They WILL do have a continued storyline during November sweeps – Supergirl will be chasing a villain through all four shows during one week.)

It’s been done. Remember when Murder She Wrote and Magnum PI had a continued story? There were two (I think) great Law & Order/Homicide shared storylines too. NBC was notorious for this in the 1980s and 1990s: one example is a hurricane hitting Florida affecting the plots of the Golden Girls, Nurses and Empty Nest all in one evening’s programming.

And who can forget the universal nexus of Sam’s General Store in the Beverly Hillbillies/Petticoat Junction/Green Acres?  (Try as I might … )

Here’s what I mean:

The explosion that opened the Flash series is mentioned in Arrow. When the character Arrow (note that the TV show is italicized, the character is not) changes his costume slightly, Flash mentions it. Flash and Arrow regular Felicity Smoak had a brief romance. Heroes, side-characters and villains would pop up in each other’s programs.

I watched Flash first. By the time of Flash season one, Arrow was in season three. It did not make for confused viewing, but it gave away some of the plot points when I later watched early Arrow episodes (we meet Felicity and Diggle in Season One of Arrow – will they be allies or enemies? It was fun to watch the development, but I already knew the outcome). And there WERE some spoilers, “I’m sorry to hear about so-and-so’s death.” Arrgh!

***

I will do my reviews in the order in which the episodes will air: Supergirl first, then Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow and finally Constantine (as of the writing of this blog series, Constantine has not yet been officially added to the line-up. I’ll discuss it anyway; I am a big fan of the show having finally seen it and would LOVE to have it added).

 

DC-TV.

 

Again.

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

Beatlemania at its most … high!

A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard

Part Three: 1965 – Beatlemania at its most … high!

 

Read Part one here.

Read Part two here

 

A film chronologically showing the Beatles touring and recording during the years of Beatlemania.

52 minutes (and three years) into the film we have an interlude focusing on George Martin. With Martin’s brief bio (Goon Show producer, he explains how he “produces” a Beatle song) we see a longer segment of the Fabs working in the studio than anywhere else in the movie except at the ending.

But who is complaining? We get to hear the evolution of the song Eight Days a Week – from which the movie gets its title – beginning as a demo to rehearsing the “Oooo”s to the final song. Wonderful!

This segment has my favorite line. Ringo: “On the early records, George Martin was a god.”

“Later ones, too,” I shouted from my couch in the living room! Good for you, Ringo!

For the Mania Years (as opposed to the Studio Years), 1965 was the band’s highlight. The Beatles were the first band to do a stadium tour, including the now-legendary Shea stadium performance in front of 56,000 people (bootlegs of the show on DVD and VHS can still be found – the picture and sound quality are wonderful but WARNING: the music MAY have been reproduced by the Fabs sometime later and dubbed in).

The Fabs, in current interviews as well as old ones, discuss how awful their performances were becoming. They could not hear themselves on their monitors. Ringo said he had to watch John or Paul to see when a song ended.  Baseball stadiums used their own sound systems in which it was hard enough to hear at-bat announcements let alone rock music. The film gave an example of what the Beatles’ concert must have sounded like through that kind of system. An AM signal going through a tunnel was clearer…

But I disagree. I have always disagreed with that. The few legitimately-recorded concerts (where the producers strived for quality) – such as the Shea stadium (although some of it may have been overdubbed by the Fabs themselves), the Hollywood Bowl (the only – to date – legitimate Mania-era live performance released as an album) and 1966’s Budokan shows were excellent! Not superb, but they were great and exciting live shows!

***

The movie, as are most Beatle documentaries, is sprinkled with modern interviews as well as archived interviews, press conferences and newsreels.

Along with Paul and Ringo, we meet writers, historians, musicians and celebrities telling us their Beatle stories: why they are fans and the impact on themselves personally and professionally: Richard Curtis, Eddie Izzard, Whoopie Goldberg, Elvis Costello, Malcolm Gladwell, Dr. Kitty Oliver (who tells us about sitting in a desegregated audience for the first time during a Beatle concert), Howard Goodall (I gasped when I saw him. And of course he discussed the Fabs’ musical writing style and impact, comparing them to Shubert and Mozart – his being a Beatle fan should not have been surprising…), Jon Savage, and Sigourney Weaver.

Sigourney Weaver’s story of attending the Hollywood Bowl show is a highlight. Being a descendent of media royalty (her father, Pat Weaver, was president of NBC in the 1950s and the creator of “Today” and “the Tonight Show”), she was filmed at the concert. We hear her in 2016 telling the story and watch her as a teenager shouting for John. And she hasn’t aged a day.

Whoopie Goldberg’s comments were the most moving. “You like that white group?” She would be asked. To me, she explained, the Beatles were neither black nor white. They were just the Beatles. And it didn’t matter if you were black, white, rich, poor … everyone loved the Beatles and they helped her learn she could be however she wanted to be and it was okay – you were still a Beatle fan!

Especially moving was the story of her mother, somehow, affording two tickets to the Shea stadium show. You’ll swallow back a tear just like she did.

Throughout the movie, especially during the 1964 US tour, was the commentary of Larry Kane, a reporter who toured with the Fabs. The movie replayed his 1964 reports along with his current thoughts, opinions and reminiscences.

He was a witness to these events. At first he was cynical (he was warned by his father to not do it) but quickly became a fan and friends with the Beatles. To hear him describe being mobbed by up to 7,000 screaming teenagers is at once thrilling and terrifying…

… and touching. When his mother died in1964, for example, John and Paul were especially sympathetic. Paul then tells us of him and John losing their mothers as well. It was the only time the movie harkened back to pre-Beatle days (a clip of George Martin and the Goon Show aside).

Kane is to this movie what Shelby Foote was to Ken Burns’ “Civil War”.

***

As with 1964, there was a segment on the filming of that year’s movie, “Help”. Here is where some of the cracks begin to show.

Surprisingly, Paul admits that the band was stoned during the filming. George and John had admitted this long ago, but for Paul to say so means only one of two things: 1) either HE was stoned during the interview, or 2) the band was REALLY stoned during the filming of “Help”.

The Beatles being awarded the MBE at the end of 1965 was a strange addition – the film ignores any event that had nothing to do with the music (including, up until now, their drug use).

But the MBE segment allowed the Fabs to talk about their dissatisfaction with touring and the constant pressure of being a Beatle. They found the studio more and more liberating. Lyrics such as “was she told when she was young that pain would lead to pleasure” would hardly be heard let along understood through baseball stadium PA systems and 50,000 screaming teens (paraphrasing Elvis Costello).

As a live group, the normally unbendable Beatles bent. In 1966, they would break.

***

Part Four the last is next …

Corporate shill department: I published a fictional account of John F Kennedy meeting the Beatles, titled, appropriately enough, “The Day John F Kennedy met the Beatles”, available here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Original Material copyright 2016 Michael Curry

… and in the end … part four of a review of Eight Days a Week, the Touring Years

A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard

Part Four: 1966 and beyond…

 

Read Part one here.

Read Part two here.

Read Part three here.

 

1966 was the end of the Beatles as a touring band. The movie shows their frustration.

The year began with three months off! The Fabs are shown lounging in a pool. We see Ringo’s and John’s homes and family snapshots with their children – the only mention of their spouses and children in the entire film (and only Julian is shown).

Although John hardly lived in familial bliss, it showed the band start to drift apart physically and musically. We are introduced to George’s love of Indian music, for example.

We finally see their warts – something the film has avoided up until now. But then again, it had never affected their live performing.

The film tells us the story and shows a montage of the Butcher cover for the US album “Yesterday … and Today”.

On that subject: is this the ONLY documentary of the Beatles that does NOT even MENTION “Yesterday”?! They performed it live in 1966, but there is no clip of their singing it. Leaving out “Hey Jude” is understandable – the song is out of the movie’s timeline – but a song that has been played over seven million times? Of which there are over two thousand versions?

Wow …

The film next shows us the recording of the “Revolver” album. George Martin, Howard Goodall and the Fabs describe how their musical tastes are finally diverging. They are using Indian music and avant-garde techniques in their recordings. More importantly, they describe how hard (impossible) it will be to replicate these songs in a baseball stadium, where even an announcer’s voice sounds like white noise. “Tomorrow Never Knows?” Forget it …

There is one clip that I have never seen (it still amazes me that after over 50 years there are still film clips and photos that are truly so rare) and it shows the rot of 1966 – even the press is turning against the Fabs. In Hamburg a reporter asks the group why they are so “horrid snobby”.

“That’s your interpretation,” John says, in a tone we will hear a lot in the late 60s and early 70s usually in a bed with Yoko at his side. Paul gives a diplomatic answer (akin to “the quality of our answers reflects the quality of your questions”) which gets an applause, but his tone still has bite. Yikes! Even Paul is getting snippy!

The rest of the 1966 segment is filled with familiar Beatle lore: the protests in Tokyo, the Marcos “snub” in the Philippines and the US tour marred by protests over John’s “bigger than Jesus” remark – events even the poorest of Beatle documentaries portray (that’s not meant to be derogatory – it just means that I won’t go into detail about them here).

And again despite the complaints of their quality, Budokan (for example) is an excellent show with clear audio and video! Bootlegs of the concert exist.

The movie shows the silent film made of the last live performance in San Francisco, with the Fabs providing commentary.  George started the group’s anti-touring movement as early as the Shea stadium show, but by the time this Frisco show was finished, the other three finally agreed.

Paul McCartney has a poor cassette recording of this concert made by Tony Barrow. As bad as the sound quality (perhaps not the music) undoubted is, why didn’t he share it with the producers anyway? It can’t be any worse than the sound recording of the village fete where Paul met John …

The Mania Years were over.

***

For the next five minutes the movie does a recap of the Studio Years. They spend most of the time showing the evolution of “Strawberry Fields Forever” with the Beatles in their Carnaby-Street-pre-Sgt-Pepper clothing as well as clips of the party leading up to the recording of “All You Need is Love”. There is a photo montage of their last six albums.

A placard tells us of one last live performance on the rooftop of Apple Records in January 1969.

***

Three songs performed at the rooftop concert concluding “Let It Be” complete the film. The clips are clear, clean and sound fantastic! Despite assurances that everything Apple Corps is resolved we STILL do not have “Let It Be” in DVD. Why? I’m glad this movie managed to get permission to use more than just a brief clip: we hear nearly the entirety of “Don’t Let Me Down”, for example. Although “Let It Be” is available as a bootleg, it will be nice to finally get a clean copy.

***

“Eight Days a Week” is an excellent primer on the Beatles, their music and their live performances, along with the good and bad that came with it. It focuses on only one part of the Beatle mythos but does so thoroughly.

For other events during the Mania Years – or the Early or Studio Years – you may have to rely on documentaries such as “the Compleat Beatles” or “the Beatles Anthology”. Like those, “Eight Days a Week” is something of a white-washed version. For more dirt you may have to rely on books such as Cynthia Lennon’s books on John or former insider Peter Brown’s “The Love You Make”, of which Beatles insiders protesteth too much; if you know what I mean. Ron DiLello’s “The Longest Cocktail Party” is a rollicking fun read on the Fabs’ Apple Corp. The recent “Paul McCartney: A Life” by Phillip Norman is another warts-and-all biography. I am currently listening to the audio book and will review that in a few weeks.

Eric Idle’s “The Rutles: All You Need is Cash” is the closest anyone has come to likely capturing the real Beatles experience … from the Beatles’ viewpoint! George and John are on record as having loved it (George produced and appeared in it).

The only similar documentary is the recent “the Beatles: The First US Visit”, a re-release of a BBC documentary made in 1964 of the Fab’s US tour.

But “Eight Days a Week” has a broader scope than that made-for-television doc.  The movie is excellently done. It’s a great jumping-on point for young people first learning about their parent’s (grandparent’s?) favorite group and more about them can be learned elsewhere if their curiosity is whetted.

Old fans can bask in the Mania they may have been too young to experience. Plus there is enough “new” or unseen material to keep us interested.

5:50 into the movie is when Paul almost tears up. The movie is worth that alone.

It is available free to Hulu subscribers or on pay-per-view. It will be released in DVD sometime in the next few months.

I would buy the soundtrack if it consisted of live performances and the rehearsals. The movie rarely plays studio recordings and then mostly over commentary. If you have the Beatle’s music catalogue there will be nothing new here.

I already have the studio recording of “I Want to Hold your Hand”, thank you; but I’ll take the rehearsals of “Eight Days a Week” and the live “Nowhere Man”, please!

***

I cannot resist one personal story: when I loaded Hulu to watch it for the first time my six-year-old daughter walked into the living room and asked what I was watching. When I told her the film title she looked at me and said, “Daddy! There aren’t eight days in a week!” Which pretty much summed up her feelings about the movie.

 

I did not intend for this review to go on for four blogs; it must have meant I enjoyed writing about it as much as I enjoyed watching the movie. I hope you enjoyed it!

Corporate shill department: I published a fictional account of John F Kennedy meeting the Beatles, titled, appropriately enough, “The Day John F Kennedy met the Beatles”, available here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

Original Material copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Beatlemania, American Style! “8 Days a Week” review part two!

A review of Eight Days a Week; the Touring Years

A film by Ron Howard

Part Two: 1964 Mania, American Style

 

Read Part one here.

 

“Eight Days a Week” shows us (and proves to us) the hectic pace set by the Beatles from 1963 through 1966. During this time they toured constantly, stopping only to record singles and albums.

Other documentaries focus on the press constantly asking about their long hair (particularly in the US), but the most frequently asked questions (as shown in this film) were “How long do you think you will last?” and “What will you do when the bubble bursts?”

Because of the fear of the bubble bursting, the Beatles were not only put on a grueling tour schedule, but an equally grueling recording schedule –a new single every three months and a new album every six months. Milk it, baby, milk it!

November 22nd, 1963 was the day US President John F Kennedy was assassinated, but also the day the Beatles’ second album, “With the Beatles” was released. The movie shows each album and it’s time at #1 on the British charts. These are placed chronologically along with the performance clips.

A British radio reporter tells us about the Kennedy assassination and Paul tells us the bands reaction. None, well, not much. Diplomatically, he says they were too young to comprehend what had happened and they were too busy touring to let it really sink in.

At that point, touring America is discussed. Paul tells us they did not want to go to America until they had a #1 record. They did not want to go to America, flop, and then come home with their tails between their legs.

During clips of their shows in Paris, we learn “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was #1 in America. While the song plays in the soundtrack, we watch photos of the Fabs clowning around in their Paris hotel room.

There is much Beatle lore left out of this movie – its focus is on live performances and their records. The movies “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” were shown in clips, but only as it related to their recording and performing schedules.

There is no mention of, for example, John’s two books, their personal lives (two were married and two had children during this period) or their introduction to marijuana and LSD.

If you blink you will miss the one shot of Jimmy Nichols with the band. When Ringo had tonsillitis, Jimmy Nichols replaced him in shows in Denmark and elsewhere.

Ringo was back by the time the Fabs toured Australia to young people in the grip of a Beatlemania perhaps even larger than the American version!

During this time they were guests (and sometimes hosts) in many television shows all through Europe. Although the movie uses some of the interviews from the various television programs, it does not use the performances. Perhaps because of copyright issues; but it cements that the heart of the movie is live performances, not studio performances.

So no television performances.

With one exception.

A documentary set during the time of Beatlemania can skip Stuart Sutcliff and Yoko Ono; a documentary focusing on live performances can skip Lennon’s books of poetry and Jane Asher; but no Beatle documentary – even ones that are not Ameri-centric – can skip “the Ed Sullivan Show”.

The viewership was mentioned (half of the population of the United States watched) and bits of trivia (no reported crime in New York that evening), but the film focused on the performance itself rather than its impact.

That being said, the film does a fine job showing America in the total grip of Beatlemania with shots of fans at airports and hotels with newsreels and at-the-time interviews with the Fabs and the fans.

I finally have a complaint about the film: the first US press conference as well as footage of the Washington DC concert were colorized. Poorly so. Why? Why didn’t you colorize “Ed Sullivan” and “Hard Day’s Night”, too? Showing black-and-white footage won’t befuddle us or lose our attention. Treat us like adults, please? Ron Howard, you of all people should know … why don’t you colorize the black-and-white episodes of a certain show set in Mayberry, instead? Because you don’t have to. They are both fine as is. Leave them alone.

The only other complaint of the film? Another point that shows the producers do not have much faith in their viewers: unnecessary false audio. Documentaries showing silent films (particularly World War I docs) are bad about this too. In “8 Days a Week” it shows home movies of the Beatles swimming in a pool. We hear a “splash” at the appropriate time, but no other ambient noise. At other times the fans’ individual screams are dubbed in. At one point a girl screams Ringo’s name. It’s easy to lip-read. Yet the film-makers dub a youngster shouting “Ringo” 52 years after that clip was made. At no point while watching clips of girls screaming during Beatle concerts did I ever say, “What did she say? What’s wrong with the sound?” Again, please treat us like adults.

So, “Ed Sullivan” aside, no TV shows. During the US publicity tour, the film interludes with a brief biography of Brian Epstein and how he met the Beatles and became their manager. Bare bones – a youngster asked for a copy of their record in Eppy’s record shop, his curiosity made him seek the band out. He signed them on as clients. Back to the tour …

The Fabs move to Washington DC and then Miami (no concert footage) and back to the UK to film “A Hard Day’s Night”.

A little time is spent showing clips and some background on the film, but then back to the music and the grinding tour schedule; including an August tour of the US.

Which is a pity: Lennon didn’t like the film in retrospect. After two days following the band, the writers developed personalities for the Fabs that are still unshakeable – the smart one, the cute one, the quiet one, the lovable one.

However, one of the best lines from “A Hard Day’s Night” captures the essence of the Beatles on tour. “… so far I’ve been in a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room,” says Paul’s film-grandfather. They should have used that – sums up their touring schedule perfectly!

Something I have not heard mentioned in Beatle movies or documentaries: the controversy over segregating the Gator Bowl! There were plenty of clips of the Fabs at the time decrying segregation – “Why treat other people like animals?” “We refuse to play a segregated hall”. How much controversy did this cause in the summer of 1964? The kerfuffle over Lennon’s Jesus quip in 1966 is brought up in nearly every documentary (this one, too), but surely bigots protested their comments on segregation, too!

And the movie probably gives the Fabs a bit too much credit on this point. The Gator Bowl may have been desegregated during their show, but afterward…? And segregation certainly did not end in the south due to their American Tour of 1964; more hearty seed had already been planted and would take root in the years to come.

Moving on to 1965 next time …

***

            Corporate shill department: I published a fictional account of John F Kennedy meeting the Beatles, titled, appropriately enough, “The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles”, available here on Kindle. I hope you enjoy it!

Original Material copyright 2016 Michael Curry