By Brian Lowry, CNN
Thanksgiving weekend is theoretically all about family. Yet in terms of entertainment options — to consume with them or as a means of escaping them — the prevailing theme is heavily tilted toward nostalgia, with projects rooted in the 1960s, ’70s and ’90s.
Music plays a sizable role in all this, not surprisingly, with director Peter Jackson’s multi-part documentary “The Beatles: Get Back” making its debut on Disney+, a few days after a film devoted to another ’60s act, the Beach Boys, hit theaters and on demand with the touching “Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road.”
There are also strong musical undercurrents to the movies “Licorice Pizza,” an unorthodox look at Southern California’s San Fernando Valley during the 1970s, from directing auteur Paul Thomas Anderson; and “House of Gucci,” a salacious true-crime tale about the fight over the fashion empire that spans a period from the late ’70s (disco dominate the soundtrack) to the mid-’90s.
Finally, the weekend features a pair of made-for-TV movie reboots and revivals, with the CW’s “The Waltons’ Homecoming” — based on the 1970s TV show set in the 1930s — and USA’s “Nash Bridges,” reuniting Don Johnson and Cheech Marin two decades after the cop show cracked its last case on CBS.
That’s obviously a relatively small part of the holiday viewing feast, which includes the customary deluge of Christmas-themed movies (which seems to start earlier every year) and other nostalgic items like Disney+’s “Home Sweet Home Alone,” which strands another unlucky kid more than 30 years after the original exercise in bad parenting.
Here are a few meatier thoughts on some of these titles. And whatever you choose to watch before, during or after Thanksgiving, Bon Appetit.
“Licorice Pizza” (theaters, Nov. 26)
In a way, “Licorice Pizza” is the embodiment of nostalgia without sentiment, capturing a time and place in the 1970s when Nixon was on TV, Vin Scully called Dodger games on radio, gas lines formed because of shortages, and a boss could brazenly slap the behind of his female employee without fear of repercussions.
At its core, the movie is a peculiar love story, one involving Gary (Cooper Hoffman, the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), who’s about to turn 16, and the older Alana (Alana Haim, of the rock band), who finds direction in an otherwise unfocused life thanks to Gary’s get-rich-quick schemes, which include peddling water beds.
A few actual ’70s characters find their way into the pair’s Hollywood-heavy plot, with Bradley Cooper portraying producer Jon Peters as a wildly flamboyant lunatic who actually purchases one of the beds. Sean Penn also turns up as an actor (the name is changed, but only slightly) full of strange stories, although it’s not entirely clear that he can separate reality from his movies.
“Licorice Pizza” really doesn’t have much of a plot, playing like a series of loosely connected episodes, in a way that becomes more obvious during the second half. Nor does it really address some of the nagging questions about Alana, whose periodic tantrums are among the film’s only poorly written scenes.
Those disclaimers aside, for the most part Anderson (who has directed a number of Haim videos since his last film, “Phantom Thread”) has delivered another highly entertaining movie, capturing a very particular time but also the enduring and universal nature of relationships developing in the most unexpected ways.
The title, incidentally, comes from a chain of record stores that were popular in the ’70s but no longer exist — a fitting symbol of the desire to give this bygone era another spin.
“The Beatles: Get Back” (Nov. 25, Disney+)
Director Peter Jackson essentially lets loose “The Lord of the Rings” approach on the Beatles, in a three-part documentary that runs nearly eight hours. With access to previously unseen footage shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, the filmmaker takes a (very) deep dive into the Fab Four’s creative process as they worked on the landmark 1970 album “Let It Be.”
It’s a stunningly intimate labor of love, offering a fascinating glimpse of the group’s interpersonal dynamics — and creative tensions — in what feel like unguarded moments despite the camera’s presence. The only drawback is the exhaustive length, which in some respects requires wading through the material that operates in a lesser key, though there’s an obvious method to that madness.
While Jackson is clearly content to let the Beatles do the talking, a bit more curating certainly wouldn’t have hurt. Still, for any student of musical history, “Get Back” presents the kind of fly-on-the-wall access and insight into why the band subsequently broke up that’s pretty irresistible, even if it’s perhaps better consumed in smaller bites as opposed to one great gulp.
Then again, that’s not bad advice for this weekend in general.
As a footnote, Jackson’s ode to the Beatles comes on the heels of “Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road,” an extraordinary look back on the Beach Boys mastermind’s life and career that features all the right voices lauding him, including Bruce Springsteen and Elton John.
“He had an orchestra in his head,” John marvels. “The Beatles had [producer] George Martin to do it for them, but Brian did it himself.”
Not every musical mainstay warrants this kind of expansive treatment, but as Wilson himself wrote, wouldn’t it be nice?
“The Waltons’ Homecoming” (Nov. 28, 8 p.m. ET, CW)
Fifty years after the movie that launched the original series, Richard Thomas returns to introduce and narrate this very earnest (what else?) return to Waltons Mountain, again in TV movie form. The story hinges on whether dad will make it home for Christmas. The new cast features “Scandal’s” Bellamy Young as Olivia, with Logan Shroyer (“This is Us”) as John Boy. And yes, everyone says “goodnight.” (It’s from Warner Bros. Television, like CNN, part of WarnerMedia.)
“Nash Bridges” (Nov. 27, 9 p.m. ET, USA)
Nash and Joe are back in a movie-length adventure, with a lot of younger colleagues who tease the former about being a dinosaur and the occasional old-man gripe about things like using directional apps during a car chase.
In perhaps the most inspired wrinkle, Marin’s character has found success running a cannabis dispensary, which is certainly on brand with his Cheech & Chong comedic routes.
“Aren’t you glad you came back for this one?” Nash asks him. Whether fans will be glad remains to be seen, but the whole thing is breezy in a way that could easily go up in smoke.
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