My Month in Film: March 2015

A roundup of this month’s content, plus capsule reviews of A Hard Day’s Night, Inherent Vice, and The Man with Two Brains.

Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon star in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT.

Didn’t I say I was going to do an all-Retro month? Yeah, I did. I got four movies into it before getting bored with it. So I switched back to doing recent stuff. Still, I’m glad I at least attempted it, because I felt I’d been neglecting the Retro side of things for too long.

What else? Well, you may have noticed that a quartet of Doctor Who-related reviews found their way over here. In late ’13 and early ’14, I had a case of Fiftieth Anniversary Fever and I started a Who-specific blog where I was going to review all sorts of Who-related stuff: not just the TV series but the classic stories, the audio plays, the comics, all sorts of stuff.

Well, I got four reviews into that project before life intervened, and by the time life stopped intervening, I’d lost interest in writing about Who on a regular basis. Indeed, by that point I’d established the Gallery, so I didn’t have enough time to maintain two blogs even if I had the interest (it’s difficult enough to maintain the Gallery’s comparatively leisurely schedule…). Still, I’d hoped to pick it back up once Series Eight started airing, but that…never happened.

After some umming and erring I decided to shut down the Who blog and give the reviews a new home here. They’re good pieces, and hopefully they’ll reach a wider audience here than they did before. Plus, part of my interest in horror and genre filmmaking comes from being a preteen fan of old-skool Who.

As for reviewing Doctor Who in the future, I’d like to, but trying to promise things more than a few weeks in advance is a dodgy proposition.

This month’s content

Reviews of current or recent releases

Retro reviews

Doctor Who reviews

For Cinema Axis

Podcast appearances

*     *     *

Other movies I watched this month include…

Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon star in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT.

A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964)

A lot of what I’ve got to say about A Hard Day’s Night I already said on a LAMBcast episode–scroll back up a few lines to find the link. So I’ll keep this brief.

The Beatles broke up several years before I was born, so anything I could say about what made them special and important at the time they were actually together, writing, recording and gigging, is conjecture. But it seems to me that they put various disparate elements together in a way that (even if they weren’t strictly wholly original) not many people had ever heard before. Take “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” for instance, which Lennon once lambasted as “Paul’s granny music.” But Paul’s granny music is part of what informed the Beatles aesthetic from the very beginning, along with Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Goffin and King, skiffle, and even non-musical influences such as the Goons and Morecambe and Wise.

This extends to A Hard Day’s Night. The only reason the film ever had for existing was to put the butts of Beatles fans in theater seats. I expect the majority of those fans had no idea what they were in for–probably something along the lines of an Elvis movie. Instead, they got an exciting, vibrant, dynamic piece of near-verité cinema. Richard Lester practically presents his film as a documentary, albeit a frenetic one. The most readily available comparison might have been the fledgling French New Wave–but I doubt many among the target audience were familiar with that.

Fifty years is a long time, so while A Hard Day’s Night doesn’t look quite as weird as it once must have, the energy’s still there. You walk away from the movie knowing the Beatles, knowing what it was like to be alive in Great Britain in the mid-sixties.

Joaquin Phoenix stars in INHERENT VICE.

Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)

I think more than any other recent film Inherent Vice demonstrates where the lines are between what I like and what I don’t like. Offbeat and noir-ish period piece? Should be right up my alley.

Instead, what I get is Joaquin Phoenix wandering around the 1970 California that exists in Thomas Pynchon’s head for two and a half hours. There’s nominally a point to that wandering, but it never seemed particularly urgent. The definitions of the important concepts of the story morph drastically from moment to moment. Important characters show up and then disappear, never to be referenced again.

Of course, you may argue, that’s the entire point. That’s what Pynchon does, and that’s what Paul Thomas Anderson is trying to recreate. And to that I say, well, good for them. And if that’s the sort of thing you like, good for you too. Me, I like something with a beginning, a middle, an end, a bit of a structure, some resolution, and best of all, a point.

That doesn’t mean that Inherent Vice was a complete waste of time for me. Phoenix was pretty good in it, and I thought Martin Short was a scream. But ultimately, I found it the cinematic equivalent of being high: too slow, too long, nowhere near as interesting as everyone else seems to think it is.

Steve Martin stars in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS.

The Man with Two Brains (Carl Reiner, 1983)

When I was a teenager this was one of my favorite comedies. “Those aren’t assholes! It’s pronounced azaleas.” “If the murder of twelve innocent people can help save one human life, it will have been worth it!” “Did I see you out on the boat today, kissing your brain?” And of course, the reveal of the Elevator Killer, one of the finest underrated comic moments of the ’80s. (“I don’t know. I’ve always just loved to kill…”)

I don’t find it quite as funny now–the casual misogyny really bugs me, and it’s hard to ‘ship Hfuhruhurr and Anne (I would not even begin to try to come up with a portmanteau for that pairing!). That being said, the dialog remains sharp as a tack, Steve Martin and Carl Reiner bring out the best in each other, and David Warner stretches out a bit. But Kathleen Turner steals the whole show, an impressive feat considering she’s playing second banana to Martin operating in full Jerk mode.

Also, mad props for the Donovan’s Brain reference.

Author: Lackey

Groovy, laidback, and nasty

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