Wednesday, November 29, 2006

All You Need is Love

As I am a longtime, big Beatles fan, I thought this was worth sharing...

Cirque du Soleil recently opened a new show to good reviews in Las Vegas that features the music of the Beatles. However, rather than simply license the Fab Four's existing catalog, the Beatles gave permission for their long-time producer, Sir George Martin (working in collaboration with his son, Giles) to "re-imagine" and remix the songs to create a special soundtrack for the production.

According to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times, the Beatles agreed to this since the project grew out of the late George Harrison's friendship with one of Cirque du Soleil's artistic directors; Harrison apparently wanted to see it happen as a last collaboration of the group, and the other members and their families wanted to honor Harrison's memory and dying wish. Though some purists were apprehensive about the Beatles' songs being adapted for a Vegas show, according to the Times, even many early critics have been pleasantly surprised and won over.

My brother recently purchased the re-mix and kindly agreed to share this review of the resulting product, the Beatles Love CD:

There are some interesting mixes here as producer (and son) Sir George Martin and Giles sample bits and pieces from the Beatles catalogue (like rap artists) and remix and amalgamate the songs with the chosen tracks for the Cirque du Soleil show.

Some of it is jarring and unexpected but one has to remember that this was background music for a visual show and just listening to it cold seems a little weird. The jarring part is the choice of songs which is interesting in itself because they don't follow the Beatles time-line or album release date periods like their other retrospect albums.

A couple of songs are left intact, some are shortened, and there are some added sound effects. However, it is real subtle to preserve the integrity of the songs. They even sample some of Beatles' conversations from the recording studio. One song is just run backwards: "Sun King" from Abbey Road's Sun King Medley (it's even listed backwards on the track listings as "Gnik Nus." On Hey Jude, during the "na na na na na na" fade-out of the song, the orchestral background part is turned off, and you just hear the naked voices of the Beatles chanting the words.

I thought the best song is the demo, acoustic version of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" that was on the Beatles Anthology 3 CD. However, Martin has added and composed a string quartet score (as he did on "Yesterday" and "Eleanor Rigby") to "Weeps," making it sound like a whole new Beatles' song.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Shaken, Not Stirred

One of my earliest movie memories is seeing the James Bond films Thunderball and You Only Live Twice on a double feature in a theater with my parents. So I imprinted on the character at an early age.

Though I'm a fan of Pierce Brosnan's Bond, I certainly understood the need to re-invigorate the franchise for a modern audience. Brosnan brought physicality and charisma back to the part (and when called for, a sense of brutality part), but the movies had gotten too bloated with special effects and big set pieces; I even thought the trademark pithy bon mots that Bond delivered after dispatching a villain were getting a bit stale and tiresome. (Mind you, I fault the filmmakers and screenwriters for this, not Brosnan--shortly before Brosnan was let go, there were reports of Brosnan meeting with Quentin Tarantino about how to spice up the next film.)

Since Casino Royale --the latest re-boot in the series--is so fresh in my mind, it may be too soon to rank it with other Bond films. But I do think overall this ranks up there among the best and most substantive in the series, certainly in recent years. And the newest Bond, Daniel Craig, is certainly the most brutal and physical of the Bonds--I don't recall seeing a Bond this sweaty or bloodied as this one. But he also gives as well as he gets, and it's probably this aspect of the new film that made the biggest impression on me. The humor is still there, but it has more to do with Bond..s bravado than the kind of winking to the audience one often got from some of the other Bonds (even Brosnan to an extent.)

The filmmakers' other main aim with Casino Royale was to give the character some emotional resonance. In this department, too, they have done a good job. The question is whether they will be able to carry this over into the next films.

Perhaps another problem with the Bond films in recent years was the need to raise the stakes so high that their plots became too unbelievable and two-dimensional. While they made for good popcorn movies, they disappeared from one..s mind quickly after leaving the theater. The Bond films that hold up the best for me are the ones that are the most grounded in reality: for these reasons, From Russia With Love and For Your Eyes Only tend to rank among my favorites (along with the early Bond films like the above mentioned Thunderball and You Only Live Twice when the series was on the cutting edge of coolness and chic). Casino Royale falls into this category as well, with Bond dealing with terrorists.

While I was fairly confident there was little doubt that Bond would continue to entertain audiences well into the 21st century, the future of the series seems to be in good hands with Craig.