Why A Hard Day’s Night is in My Top 100 and Why I’d Rather Watch Spice World

Upon my initial viewing of A Hard Day’s Night, it jumped into my top 100 and has stayed put. Likely underrated as a result of being a Beatles film, it still has a fairly strong reputation in the film community. However, over a decade prior to my first viewing of the 1964 film, I had seen and taken to Spice World, released in 1997. There are many reasons that AHDN has stronger cinematic credibility, not least in that Spice World owes virtually everything to it and would probably not exist in the form it is without it, but even watching them both again today, Spice World indisputably was my more enjoyable experience.

A Hard Day’s Night has many things going for it beside music from The Beatles. There is the look at the nature of fame at the time, especially the sensation that The Beatles would prove to be. This fame proves quite a hassle, in that the fab four are always on the run from adoring fans, but also are under the strict rules of manager Norm (Norman Rossington). You get each of the band members playing to certain conceptions about them. John is a ladies’ man, George is serious, and most importantly to the effectiveness of the story, Ringo is overlooked/underappreciated. The four have pretty strong comic timing, but Ringo is the standout with his ability to deliver some of the more emotional beats. For pure entertainment, the presence of Paul’s “very clean” grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell) is great.

But the thing that really makes AHDN stand up as a piece of cinema is the way it acts as an anti-establishment treatise at the rise of the counter-culture. A couple scenes in particular stand out in hitting home this idea, from an early scene where one gentleman of a certain class acts very entitled about conditions on the train, feeling superior to their youth and lack of refinement. The second one comes later when George ends up being talked to about marketing of some product and it exposes the way the corporate world views the youth and tries to control them. It is actually pulled off very subtly but packs a real punch.

Unlike AHDN, Spice World is not a film with a strong reputation, with only a 3.2 rating on imdb. The hate for Spice World simply blows my mind because I find it so lovable. Of course, my affection for the film isn’t hurt by Mel C (Sporty Spice), who was a key figure at this crucial point in my life, as a late teen. Hailing from The Beatles’ own Liverpool, she didn’t just win me over to the Spice Girls, she made me a Liverpool FC fan for life, which makes all the football references within the film that much more endearing now.

One of the places, surprisingly, that I think Spice World wins hands down is the music. I wouldn’t claim that the Spice Girls are a better group than The Beatles, that would be crazy talk. Still, Spice World incorporates the music a lot more smoothly, both in performance or as background. Perhaps it is the nature of their music, but it just meshes better with the various scenes. A Hard Day’s Night starts out strong with the titular track kicking off the film well and then the great train scene with I Should Have Known Better, but after that I never get a great sense of fit, and packing so many songs as performance at the end (with some repeats) feels slightly uninspired as a use of 1/6th of the film. I guess ultimately, A Hard Day’s Night is just not one of my favorite Beatles albums, so the quality of the music available for the film doesn’t measure up to the two Spice Girls albums their film pulls from.

Much of the story for Spice World is a direct take from AHDN. The band deals with the hazards of fame (tabloid backlash more than rabid fans, effectively updating the theme) and strict management (the great Richard E. Grant) that leaves them unable to really enjoy real life. Naturally they strain against this. Even more than The Beatles, they also struggle with having stereotypes of their characters (though this was a result of their own branding), never more than in a scene mirroring AHDN where they are interviewed by the press. All this is given some level of stakes in that they have a live event at the end that is put at risk by their rebellion. And both films ultimately are zany, full of the most random and often hilarious jokes. AHDN runs the risk of being a bit too unwieldy, it generally runs at such a pace that it can be hard to really settle. Spice World is much more consistent and steady with its pace and tone.

While AHDN is mostly populated by unknown actors (well, at least to me), Spice World is jam packed with cameos or other very knowing casting choices. You get Roger Moore in for a proper role, but make sure to have a key Bond joke. You get Meat Loaf in as the bus driver, but get a Meat Loaf joke in. That all these little bit parts are filled out with fairly talented people, aware of the silly thing that the film is going for, gives it a real strength.

However, probably the thing that most works for me with Spice World compared to A Hard Day’s Night is just the feminine aspect. Listening to their music again recently and watching this, I really do think about what a great presence the Spice Girls were. Their music was sexual, but compared to the sexuality on display in the pop music of the 00s up to today, of Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus, it feels less commercial and more authentic. These are adult women who are confident and empowered to enjoy their sexuality, and when it comes to sex, they make sure to say “put it on, put it on”…I can respect a sexy song about safe, consensual sex. But the very best feminine touch is the storyline with their friend Nicola (Naoko Mori), due to give birth. Not only does it emphasize the pull fame has against being able to remain close with friends, it puts a stark contrast about how superficial the trappings of fame can seem. This may not have the political power of early stirrings of the counter-culture, but it is still a strong thematic heart to an otherwise goofy film. Watching this moment I just don’t see how so many people come out of this film hating it.

I guess it comes down to what one’s top-100 is really meant to be. Does the fact that A Hard Day’s Night paved the way, that it is generally more well regarded, that it has more overtly important thematic content make it worthier than a film I see a depth in of its own and enjoy vastly more. Is the low regard for Spice World the main thing that keeps me from giving it the same billing (though I do include it in the Bondo Collection). I’m not sure, and I can’t say if this will change. What I can say is that both are extremely enjoyable and surprisingly affecting films and they make a great double feature.

Visiting The Movie Mecca

For most people, the multiplex is largely a generic, interchangable entity. Some theatres are technically more advanced or more comfortable than others, but the experience is generally very similar no matter where you are. One cinema chain has broken out from the general sense of sameness and established itself as THE theatre that film geeks aspire to visit. That chain is of course the Alamo Drafthouse.

Based in Austin (in spite its San Antonio inspired name), it was largely a Texas-only attraction until a recent expansion has added a handful of other cities to the mix. Still, for most people, going to the Drafthouse involves a trek. A few weeks back I had the occasion for such a trek while going back to Colorado to visit friends and family. It was a cruel bit of fate that the Drafthouse opened in the suburbs of Denver not long after I moved out of the state that I had spent most of my life (including a stint in Denver itself) but it did make it convenient for making my first trip there.

Pulling into the big, posh, suburban outdoor mall, miles away from the core of Denver but accessible by the city’s transit rail system, the Drafthouse stands as an imposing fortress that feels fitting of its namesake (though I’m not sure how imposing the Alamo actually is, having never been to San Antonio). I can’t say how buying a ticket from a human would go because I was distracted by the electronic kiosk as I stepped in the door that guided me painlessly through my film options and finally to reserving a specific seat in the theatre. Popular in Europe, reserved seating is virtually unheard of in the US, not that it mattered as my mid-day, mid-week screening was mostly empty.

The interior was lushly decorated with leather benches for waiting and red wallpaper, giving the appearance of somewhere both kind of fancy and also a bit retro. It certainly didn’t feel like a cookie-cutter multiplex, even if the movies on offer were the mainstream fare of any other. In this case, Only God Forgives was the only sign that this theatre caters to more refined film tastes, though the Drafthouse is known for their special event screenings as well, creating a real community. After having the seating for my film announced over PA, I went into my theatre and found my designated seat. In the case of this Drafthouse (though not apparently all of them), the seats were in pairs with little tables between that contained the menus and the little slips of paper for ordering food and drink. I opted for one of the food specials (poutine…had to try it, though I don’t think it was probably good as poutine goes nor the best the menu had to offer) and got one of the many local (Colorado that is, one of the best beer states in the country) beers and settled back.

I had picked The Heat to watch partly because I had already seen everything I had a burning passion to see. One enjoyable element was the pre-show clips. Instead of cheesy behind-the-scenes promos of movies or television, or repetitive trivia questions, each film has a customized pre-show reel of random youtube-like clips that are in some way tied to the film, whether they involve one of the actors of the film or fit into the genre. In this case there was Melissa McCarthy on Sesame Street, Sandra Bullock in some cheesy 80s TV show and clips from 70s exploitation films about female cops. This definitely is a step up from your standard fare. And of course before the show starts you are treated to the Drafthouse’s now famous angry customer voicemail/don’t use your phone message.

I do think there is a modest contradiction between the theatre’s strict enforcement of good cinema etiquette and the food and drink service aspect that can serve as a distraction from the film, but they managed it was a lot of skill. My waitress doubled as water ninja as in one case I barely even noticed as she replaced my glass (which is unfortunate if only because I shouldn’t drink that much water while watching a film). On the whole, it makes for a very enjoyable, if expensive (the tickets are normal priced but who isn’t going to order food and drink) theatre experience. They even had a nice little bar attached whose selection would make it a strong bar even if it wasn’t part of a movie theatre.

If I still lived in Denver (and this certainly made the incentive to get back to Denver stronger), I’d certainly make a lot of trips to the Drafthouse, but I’m not sure I could make it my regular cinema because it would get too expensive. I appreciate what the chain is doing in pushing toward better cinema experiences though, which will be essential as other ways of watching movies compete. The Drafthouse company also plays a role as film distributor, pushing indie and genre filmmaking forward. They certainly proved why their brand is so distinctive in the world of cine.

The Great Disconnect

In addition to just being very busy this year, I can’t help but think my diminishing output in terms of movies watched and reviews and other film content written stems from a broader disconnect I’ve felt from the film community based on a few things over the past year that just make it seem less fun and less welcoming.

I think the first thing that started to get to me was the response to Twilight. I don’t consider the book series or the films to be truly great, just very fun and more thematically redeemable than most give it credit for, but there is something unsettling about the use of the series as a default punching bag. Whether this dismissal is from critics who haven’t even seen it or from those who watched it with their minds already made up, I do start to see some truth in Mark Kermode’s allegation that it reflects an older, white, male-dominated profession’s failure to comprehend something that isn’t marketed toward them. When The Host came out, based on the book from Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when it got hammered even more, even though it is a very solid movie. These are genre films from a feminine standpoint and the male fanboys (and feminists, for different reasons) just don’t get it. That many of these same reviewers subsequently trumpet the quality of nearly every comic book film to hit the theatres removes a lot of credibility.

Oscar season was a tough one for me as my favorite among the pack was Les Miserables, which came in for no end of ridicule. I get that Tom Hooper made a daring and unusual directorial decision with the use of extreme close-ups and maybe this didn’t work for you, but that doesn’t make him an incompetent director. I found the choice to ultimately be very profound in its emotional effect, topping even his previous two stellar films (and stellar mini-series). Even worse was the reaction to Russell Crowe, this time Mark Kermode being guilty along with the others. I don’t often speak of objectivity but Crowe’s singing voice in Les Mis is objectively not bad. So many jokes have been made about the quality of his singing but aside from not being the booming performance typical of the stage play (a complaint that could be made of all the performances in the film, irrelevant because that wasn’t what the film was going for), there is nothing technically wrong with his singing from a pitch or tone perspective. It strikes me as tying more into how one feels about Crowe and the idea of Crowe singing more than his actual singing. Once again this hints at the film community as being overrun by snarky groupthink.

Of course the film that actually won the Oscar, Argo, was not spared from senseless critique as well. While it was clear that Affleck was intentionally crafting a film with a tip of the had toward classic Hollywood, so much energy was put into the lack of truth to his story’s ending, as if that has ever been a legitimate complaint about a non-documentary film (it was equally toothless when leveled against The Social Network). It seemed the whole country of Canada was up in arms by an alleged diminishment of their role, even though the film is still pretty pro-Canada. The final complaint involved the film’s view of Iranians. This is one place where I just felt like I watched a different film from those making the complaint because the one I watched made multiple efforts to contextualize and humanize the Iranians and make us sympathetic. What I didn’t see was a film converting Iranians into nameless, faceless angry mobs, except as seen through the eyes of the characters presently worrying for their lives within the film. They, unlike us, are not privileged with all of the scenes that we are.

The last straw, as it were, to get me to finally write this piece that I’d been mulling was the response to Zach Braff’s Kickstarter effort Wish I Was Here. While there is some legitimate conversation to be had about whether big name people or projects belong on Kickstarter if they could likely find funding elsewhere, too much of the tone has just reflected feelings about Zach Braff. Again, everyone is entitled to their opinion but as a Garden State and Scrubs fan, it just seems that hating Garden State has become the thing for the “cool kids” to do.

I guess I just don’t understand the point of this negativity about the mere idea of a project. I write my fair share of negative reviews but I just don’t spend a lot of time remarking on how terrible things that haven’t come out are or going on about how terrible things that came out were once I’ve finished my review. The combination of negativity and groupthink really makes the film community seem less inviting for those who turn to film because it makes them happy. Either way, I plan to keep my “Gonzo” approach to film and will continue to attempt to resist the urge to fall in line simply to fit in, especially on being negative.

Sound on Sight: The Idealistic Theology of Victor Hugo

In considering my two Blu-ray purchases of last week, I penned an article looking at Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame over at Sound on Sight. Enjoy.

The Bloggies and I

On an honest day, I’m willing to admit that I’m not aware of all internet traditions. Aware though I am of various (and frankly probably countless) blog awards out there, I never thought too much about them because I run a pretty modest venture here, even more modest now that life keeps me from watching quite so many movies. Anyway, apparently the Bloggies are one such and perhaps even a relatively important set of blog awards (Thirteenth Annual even). And apparently their nomination process is such that I got nominated for Best Entertainment Weblog.

As I’ve made no efforts to organize a nomination drive, I’m assuming someone or many someones out there who read my blog did put at least some effort in to getting this nomination and for that I’m grateful. Though a superstitious part of me suggests that continuing a policy of not knowing what is going on would keep me on this path toward success, I reckon I have to write something, if only to promote my blogging friend Vesta, whose blog The Cowardly Feminist is up for the big one, Blog of the Year, along with Best Topical Blog.

Anyway, with my only competition coming from the likes of Perez Hilton and Jezebel, I figure I probably have this in the bag. I mean, who has ever heard of those sites. So yeah, go vote or something, it’s an honor to be nominated and the real award is getting drunk at the after-party. Well, I assume there’s an after-party anyway, otherwise why bother with awards at all.

Day and Date Television

Mileage may vary on "good."

Mileage may vary on “good.”

One of the recent evolutions in the film industry, for those independent films outside the mainstream distribution channels, is day and date release across a combination of platforms, including independent cinema, video on demand and even DVD. Like film’s traditional path from cinema to home, television has historically had a clear path from weekly serialization, in a fixed time slot, with eventual syndication. This has evolved in recent years to DVD sets released many months removed or on-demand viewing days or hours removed. Slowly this has changed the nature of television viewing habits away from appointment viewing and evermore toward catch-up or marathon viewing.

With House of Cards (see my in-depth discussion of the show over at Sound on Sight), Netflix has brought this trend to its inevitable endpoint with a television form of day and date whereby an entire season, in this case 13 episodes ranging from 45-50 minutes, is available at the same time. For perhaps the first time in television (if Netflix’s streaming service can be called that simply for using the serialized structure of television), a television show exists completely beyond the concept of channel or time. Though bearing certain marks of traditional television serialization, allowing for coherent intermissions, it also indulges the marathon spirit.

Designing a television show with this manner of watching in mind brings with it certain advantages. Many a show wastes time each week with last time recaps and next time promos, in addition to having to build stronger references within each episode to remind viewers of the things that might have slipped out of mind in the past week (from the previous episode) or year (from the previous season). By having no enforced breaks, a show like House of Cards has no need to hold the viewer’s hand; if they are interested in the show, they probably watched the prior episode quite recently.

Of course, the propensity to marathon shows has always had the distinct downside of burnout risk. There can be too much familiarity with certain characters and certain stylistic touches. It makes things a lot harder on those involved in the show not to be able to reuse certain crutches (which is why the crime and medical procedurals that infest the airwaves would fail so miserably under these conditions, and frankly most sitcoms). There’s also a risk of overload, lacking sufficient breathing room between plot developments. This is especially true with House of Cards with its large cast of characters and frequently shifting plot dynamics. I watched it over the course of four days and even then it seemed like things moved too fast at times (a complaint I almost never make about films a tenth as long).

The other thing, as has been discussed in a few locations is that the marathon structure lacks the clear marks of social pacing, that is, with different people working at different paces, it can be hard to have a conversation about the show. With the standard model, there’s a general understanding which episode is current and can be discussed. The only discreet marker on something like House of Cards is the season, providing only one push per year to discuss the show, only one horizon of uncertainty from which to speculate. I’m not enough of a television person for this to matter to me, I’m so rarely involved in these conversations but it definitely risks undercutting the social power of the series.

So is it worth it in the end? Well, as a Netflix subscriber and not a cable subscriber, I’m so used to waiting on television shows that it is nice to be on the leading edge of a conversation for once. And as long as the rates don’t spike, or the remaining content wither, the addition of top-tier shows like House of Cards and Arrested Development are certainly strong incentives to remain a Netflix subscriber. It could be the thing that takes the Netflix streaming service from convenient to indispensable, which would make it a great investment for Netflix.

2013 Oscar Nominations: Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

side_oscarWell, this morning marked that annual event when, at an improbable hour in the morning, the awards with the most publicity were announced. This year I’ve done a pretty stellar job keeping up with the big films such that I’m only short three films (Zero Dark Thirty, Amour and The Impossible) in the major categories, which I will try to rectify this week, and an additional five features once you include documentary and foreign films. Having seen these and many others, I certainly have my hopes of what should win of the nominees and what should have been nominated.

Best Picture

I never really expected many of my top films (Looper, Anna Karenina, The Hunger Games) to figure in here and I did get my top pick, Les Miserables to cheer for on Oscars night. The cherry on top in this category was the exclusion of The Master, one of my least favorite films of the year but one that seemed a lock for a nomination in this category. This leaves Life of Pi as my least favorite of the bunch, and that is at best a mild lack of enthusiasm. Here the Bondo Award goes to my Oscar pick.

Best Actor

There were three here that seemed like locks in Day-Lewis, Phoenix and Jackman, and the inclusion of Cooper and Washington doesn’t really bother me. My top choice here would be Hugh Jackman but unlike his win a few years earlier, I’d be quite content with a Day-Lewis win, but miserable with a Phoenix win. Of those not nominated, Jake Gyllenhaal for End of Watch or Robert Pattinson for Cosmopolis might be considerations, but not passionately so. Not eligible this year but the Bondo Award goes to Peter Mullan for Tyrannosaur

Best Supporting Actor

Joked about just how stale the category feels, pairing five previous Oscar winners, I have no real qualms with any of them, though I’d tend to lean toward Tommy Lee Jones. The staleness is in some ways a pity as this seems one of the stronger categories with quality turns on the outside looking in from the likes of Michael Fassbender in Prometheus, Ezra Miller in The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Bradley Whitford in The Cabin in the Woods. I reckon all of these are the Academy not fully knowing what to do with comedic/genre film roles relative to more dramatic ones. The Bondo Award goes to Charles Parnell for Pariah, not eligible for the Oscar.

Best Actress

We’ve had years to talk about a great year for female parts and some about the lack of great roles and I have to figure this leans more toward the latter. Not having seen three of the performances in this category (all three of the major films I mentioned above), it is hard for me to say right now but I’d be pleased as punch if Jennifer Lawrence won, even though I’d have been tempted to nominate her for The Hunger Games instead. As for those left out, I’d actually push for Keira Knightley, who I like generally, but not for Anna Karenina but rather for Seeking A Friend For The End of the World. Not as strong a film but a less rote performance from Knightley who has become a bit too comfortable in period settings perhaps. The Bondo Award goes to Adepero Oduye for Pariah, not eligible for the Oscar.

Best Supporting Actress

This should be a runaway win for Anne Hathaway and she really deserves it. Not at all sold by any of the other nominees in this category and it would be a shock and a shame if there was an upset. I don’t have a lot of eligible picks to compete here though I would have liked to see Zoe Kazan in for Ruby Sparks or perhaps Magalyn Echikunwoke from Damsels In Distress. Here the Bondo Award mirrors my Oscar pick.

Animated Feature

With Arrietty having been up last year, my pick was really easy here for Wreck-It Ralph, already announced for the Bondo Award. It is a healthy slate with Paranorman in there along with the three other fairly average selections. Pirates is the closest thing to a shock here, though the Academy has been fond of Aardman in the past and there’s no obvious film that would take its spot.


It is hard to deny the visual splendor of Life of Pi but for brilliance in camera movement, I find Anna Karenina really hard to top in this category and it is the Bondo Award winner. Looper is a snazzy looking film as well.


Not having seen Zero Dark Thirty yet, I can’t voice outrage about the lack of inclusion of Kathryn Bigelow from this category, leaving it all-male. Considering my own top five would similarly lack female representation (based on Oscar eligibility). Either way, from a purely directing angle, I have the least concerns about Life of Pi, curiously enough, and will be happy to see Ang Lee win again, pending liking a Haneke film for the first time. The Bondo Award however goes to Rian Johnson for Looper, just edging out Joe Wright of Anna Karenina.

Documentary Feature

Pleased as punch is the best way to describe my top two docs, announced Bondo Award winner Searching For Sugar Man and The Invisible War, joined by the strong How To Survive A Plague. This leaves two unseen by me.

Original Score

Score is not a category I typically put much weight in but I am inclined to give the Bondo Award to Cloud Atlas whose Cloud Atlas Sextet pulls the score into the plot and is quite appealing.

Original Song

I don’t have a strong preference here as Suddenly from Les Miserables didn’t really stand out within that musical, but I reckon it is still the best of the bunch. Holding aside Les Miserables, which has an unfair advantage, the best soundtrack for me would be Searching For Sugar Man, and to the degree that there is an original song in the film, that might be worth consideration.

Production Design

In this category, once again I lean toward Anna Karenina, whose technical superiority puts it above Les Mis’s overall quality advantage. Working with the cinematography, the use of sets for its theatrical styling was pretty genius.

Visual Effects

Would have loved to see Looper get a nomination here over some of these but I think this one is going handily to Life of Pi, and deservedly so. It is a breathtaking vision.

Adapted Screenplay

Because I wear my bias on my sleeve, the Bondo Award for adapted screenplay goes to Lawless, which has the benefit of also doing a really good job ironing out the book’s non-linear narrative and making it a coherent linear film narrative. However, for the Oscars, I favor Argo, which bends the true story just enough to make it truly cinematic.

Original Screenplay

Sadly all the writers nominated in this category are male because in this case, I have a clear pick for a woman to include in Zoe Kazan for Ruby Sparks, the Bondo Award winner. Of course it, along with other strong candidates like Looper, The Cabin in the Woods and Damsels In Distress were not nominated, leaving a somewhat uninspired bunch (pending Zero Dark Thirty/Amour). I think I’d actually lean toward Moonrise Kingdom at the moment, though it makes me feel a bit dirty to say.

I care not about costume design, film editing, makeup, and sound stuff. I also have no opinion on foreign film category at this time, having already announced the Bondo Award for a non-eligible film (in theory). I have seen one of the shorts but can’t really comment on them. So there’s your recap with my picks for what should win the Oscar of the nominated films in most of the categories and the Bondo Award representing my unlimited desires. I’ll make sure to update if catching up with these final three films (and any others) changes things, otherwise, here’s crossing my fingers to a less infuriating Oscar night than usual.


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