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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Last Play at Shea
The Last Play at Shea
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // Unrated // February 8, 2011
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Preston Jones | posted February 11, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Everywhere you turn anymore, it seems as though American cities are in a great rush to demolish the old and erect the new. Buildings are expendable, civic leaders seem to think, and residents can simply comfort themselves with memories of an era now vanished from sight. Granted, much of the rush to build can be traced to sports stadiums - it seems every major city has at least one, if not more, stadium being placed on the chopping block for one reason or another - but there are constantly new apartment complexes, shopping centers, highways and what have you being built atop that which came before. It's the price of progress, but not without its drawbacks.

Although director Paul Crowder's The Last Play at Shea never truly wades into such deep, contemplative waters, it does at least dip its toe in. Centered around pop superstar Billy Joel's July 16 and July 18, 2008 farewell concerts at the venerable New York City baseball park, Crowder's film also endeavors to present a brief history of Shea Stadium, its impact on New Yorkers and how it played a role in Joel's life. As such, the documentary unfolds along parallel tracks: the rise of Shea Stadium (and, with it, the New York Mets, the best worst team in baseball) and an overview of Joel's illustrious career. Wedged into all this biographical backstory are clips from a separate concert film, Billy Joel: Live at Shea Stadium, which will be released March 8.

There's a lot to cram into Crowder's 95-minute run time, yet the film never feels too busy. Lots of famous faces sit for interviews that range from candid to shallow: Paul McCartney, Sting, Garth Brooks and Tony Bennett anchor the entertainment end, while former Mets like Ron Darling, Darryl Strawberry and Tom Seaver represent the sports side and Joel's family - ex-wife Christie Brinkley, daughter Alexa Ray and latest ex-wife Katie Lee - also turns up. Nearly all of them are able to speak to both the power of Shea Stadium on New York City's psyche as well as Joel's place in the pop pantheon. Much is made throughout the film of karma and things coming full circle; from the stadium's opening in 1964 and the Beatles' iconic performance there, through the tragedies of 9/11 and up to McCartney's triumphant return to help send Shea off in grand style.

Studded with amusing animated bits that chart the history of Shea and narrated in stentatorian tones by Alec Baldwin, the entire film is a glossy, classy tribute to New York, its heritage and one of its native sons. Perhaps most poignantly, Crowder sees Shea through to its final moments, juxtaposing the Beatles' "Let It Be" with images of the old stadium crashing down, as the new, immaculate Citi Field looms behind it. Shea Stadium was built upon a dump site, and now, it serves as a parking lot for the new, $900 million palace. But in between, boy, did that place have some fun.

The DVD

The Video:

The Last Play at Shea arrives on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that has its definite strengths and definite weaknesses. In chronicling the stadium's rich history, the filmmakers rely on a wealth of archival footage, much of which doesn't look nearly as crisp and vivid as the newly filmed interview and concert material. Still, this documentary looks as sharp as can be expected, with the kinetic concert segments fitting snugly alongside the vintage clips of the Beatles rocking the same "room."

The Audio:

Given the documentary's subject, the English, Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack only makes sense. It doesn't blow the music all out of proportion, either; the hit songs are balanced with the extensive interviews, each given equal footing. Dialogue is heard clearly and cleanly, with no distortion or drop-out. For the few moments where natural sound overwhelms what's being said, there are forced English subtitles (a nice touch that more documentarians would do well to include). An optional English, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack is included, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles.

The Extras:

Although the scant bonus features on the disc are located under the header "Deleted Scenes," what's there is actually two very brief featurettes, rather than any excised footage from the film. The first of these, the one-minute, 27-second "Billy Joel's Front Row Ticket Santa" (presented in anamorphic widescreen), highlights Joel's long-practiced tradition of awarding those with crappy seats front-row tickets before each show. The second of these, the four-minute, 51-second "An Interview with Chuck Klosterman" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) is exactly that: a brief conversation with the noted music writer and culture critic, which touches upon Joel's career vis-à-vis rock criticism.

Final Thoughts:

Everywhere you turn anymore, it seems as though American cities are in a great rush to demolish the old and erect the new. Buildings are expendable, civic leaders seem to think, and residents can simply comfort themselves with memories of an era now vanished from sight. Granted, much of the rush to build can be traced to sports stadiums - it seems every major city has at least one, if not more, stadium being placed on the chopping block for one reason or another - but there are constantly new apartment complexes, shopping centers, highways and what have you being built atop that which came before. It's the price of progress, but not without its drawbacks. Although director Paul Crowder's The Last Play at Shea never truly wades into such deep, contemplative waters, it does at least dip its toe in. Centered around pop superstar Billy Joel's July 16 and July 18, 2008 farewell concerts at the venerable New York City baseball park, Crowder's film also endeavors to present a brief history of Shea Stadium, its impact on New Yorkers and how it played a role in Joel's life. As such, the documentary unfolds along parallel tracks: the rise of Shea Stadium (and, with it, the New York Mets, the best worst team in baseball) and an overview of Joel's illustrious career. Recommended.

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