24 June 2010

A Rocker and a Hard Place

As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.

Rock and roll is usually portrayed as difficult for the artists just so we can see past the revenue and the fame and the lifestyle of obscene lucre and actually empathise with such characters. Sometimes, they pull it off, as in Apatow-produced spin-off Get Him To The Greek and made-for-TV mini movie Lennon Naked.

Lennon Naked covers a turning point in John Lennon's life, when his close friend and band manager Brian Epstein died suddenly. Feeling isolated by the excesses of his family lifestyle, living in an absurdly opulent property in the countryside, Lennon began a massive upheaval as he got in touch with his estranged father and grew closer to Yoko Ono. His childhood trauma looms large throughout this film, and it takes time for Lennon to accept it.

"The following drama is based on real events, although some scenes are the invention of the writer." So begins Lennon Naked, and writer Robert Jones has immediately distanced us from our central character. The ambiguity of such a declamatory title-card just makes the audience doubt the veracity of what's being told throughout. Which scenes? Why were they invented?

Neither does it help enormously that this covers much of the same ground as last year's rather well-made profile piece, Nowhere Boy. The disparity with the earlier film only makes it more confusing- did Lennon recall the trauma of That Day In Blackpool when he was in his teens or after the Beatles disbanded? You can see why this part of Lennon's life appeals to dramatists, but putting it into every adaptation feels like each writer is trying to capitalise on what's most interesting about him to them, rather than finding new perspectives.

It's particularly disappointing to see from Jones, who co-wrote Party Animals, the fresh and excellent drama series about political researchers and lobbyists. Nevertheless, the slack is largely created by director Edmund Coulthard, who mixes in news footage of the real John Lennon with the fictionalised version here. Whatever you think of Christopher Eccleston's performance here, he's no dead ringer for Lennon, and while Coulthard was wise to avoid vocal synchronicity by having the actors do their own versions of the music, the reliance on stock footage is jarring.

Eccleston does play the tortured musician and occasional balloon liberator well, with some nice creative aging and de-aging showing Lennon from 1964 to 1971. You know just by his presence that it's an interesting role- Eccleston doesn't seem to be in nearly as many things as some of his peers, but you know his modus operandi is to work hard on roles that appeal strongly to him. Well, maybe not in the case of Gone in 60 Seconds, but his presence is still a mark of quality.

The film is all about his personal dynamics- largely with his father, and how that reflects on his treatment of his own son Julian. If there's a drawback to this, it's that he dominates the screen to the extent of excluding supporting players like former Torchwood regular Naoko Mori as Yoko Ono and Adrian Bower as Pete Shotton. Mori is near unrecognisable as the accredited Beatles-ruiner, aided by the script's objectivity in showing how it was Lennon's decision that he was finished with his band.

The one duff performance I'd pick out is Andrew Scott's as Paul McCartney. OK, so the band is largely ancillary to Lennon's story anyway, but he's distractingly off, in some way. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I was never convinced in the way I was by Eccleston. Beatles fans should also be prepared to once again see Ringo given short shrift. Come on, someone ask him what's happened in his life! There has to be something of interest there.

Lennon Naked adds to the growing pile of worthy Beatles biopics with a strong central performance by Eccleston, but in the end I just didn't think it was as good as last year's Nowhere Boy. With only a little more distance in the souce material and a little less mistrust in the film from the very beginning, this could have been something a little more memorable. It's not indispensable for Beatles fans, but it's worth a watch.

Lennon Naked was broadcast on BBC Four on June 23rd 2010. It's available to UK viewers here on BBC iPlayer until July 5th 2010.

Decades on from the Beatles, we find British rocker Aldous Snow in Get Him To The Greek, having fallen upon hard times since his original appearance in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This spin-off film sees his journey to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles for a tenth-anniversary concert, at the behest of a greedy record producer and his put-upon intern Aaron. Aaron has orders to drag Aldous to the theatre on time by fair play or foul, and so begins a trail of depravity and relapse. Really funny depravity and relapse.

That Russell Brand, eh? I remember seeing him on one of those Channel 4 turn-of-the-year panel shows saying that if he reads a script where someone is very strait-laced with short hair and no foibles, he doesn't think he'd like to play that character. Whatever his shortcomings as an actor in general, he plays himself when he's in films. And dyou know what? That works in Get Him To The Greek.

The film immediately recovers from being the spin-off that no one was really clamouring for by endearing us to what made Snow a decent gag character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and throwing in some brilliant one-liners and sight gags throughout. Other than that, there's almost complete discontinuity with the earlier film, bar a welcome cameo by Kristen Bell. Still, as story goes, you should really be too troubled- while a narrative does exist, the laughs distract you enough.

This breed of Apatow comedy is always over-written. Much more material than is needed is written and shot, hence a lot of the shots from the trailers not turning up in the final films. With Apatow at the helm, a lot of the material makes it into the final cut, resulting in slightly bloated works like Funny People. When someone like Nick Stoller is steering, you get a leaner and funnier film from the broad range of material available, just like this. Then again, it could have easily lost 10 of its 108 minutes by dispensing with a ménage à trois segue that takes all momentum out of the film right before we reach the very end.

If there's a surprise here aside from just how consistently funny it is, it's Sean Combs as Aaron's boss Sergio. That's Sean "P Diddy" Combs. He gets a laugh with pretty much everything he says or does, but although I liked him in this, I never want to see him in a film again. I'd much prefer to see him do well in this film alone than try to bottle lightning twice, like they are with that bloody Les Grossman spin-off. It's also confusing that Jonah Hill is the straight man, as well as my realisation that as Hill has become more prolific, we've seen less of Tobey Maguire, and the two look alike. Maybe that's why they're rebooting Spider-Man now...

With an appreciable lump addition to the Infant Sorrow back-catalogue started by Jason Segel in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the soundtrack complements the laughs well in Get Him To The Greek. It's raunchy as all hell and unlike the laboured efforts of She's Out Of My League to add things like "moodle" to the frat boy lexicon, this is memorable enough that everyone will know what "furry wall" is all about a long while after seeing this. Mostly down to some of the Ear Worms on the soundtrack. Despite obviously having shot more than they needed, it's not as scatter-shot as you might expect, and the result is an often-hilarious return to form for the Apatow production stables.

Get Him To The Greek is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Get Him To The Greek or Lennon Naked, why not share your comments on the films and/or my reviews below? If you would watch Spider-Man 4- Fat Spider-Man with Jonah Hill, write to Sony and Marc Webb advising them not to take it back to high-school.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Simon said...

That image is slightly horrifying.