<i>Help!</i> is still another prime pop artifact and delightful entertainment, and the song sequences are fab, especially the wonderful title number.
CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
U.S.; Brad Bird, 2007, Walt Disney
Lately, the jewels in the Disney Studio's animated crown have been the Pixar movies (Toy Story, Finding Nemo), and this new one, co-written and directed by Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) is a magical example. Bird's terrific script gives us Remy (Patton Oswalt), a genius young cook from the French provinces, who also happens to be a genius gourmet chef. He hooks up with a likeable doofus, the ambitious kitchen helper named Linguini (Lou Romano), to wow palates at a legendary but slipping Parisian restaurant which has already lost its super chef and two of its five stars, thanks to the acerbic and demanding critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole).
Everything works in this one (though I wish Disney-Pixar had included a Randy Newman song score). The jokes are funny, the visuals are dazzling, the characters are top-notch. It's not only delicious; it's an instant classic.
Extras: Deleted scenes, new animated shorts, featurette.
U.K.; Richard Lester, 1965, Capitol
1964's A Hard Day's Night is the official Beatles movie masterpiece -- and deserves to be -- but the 1965 follow-up, Help!, should be better remembered too. A wildly colorful spoof of James Bond and other '60s movie and TV staples, with the boys pursued by a fantastical Indian killer cult hell-bent on removing a sacred ring from Ringo's finger, it's full of playfully satiric digs. There are also surreal homages to director Richard Lester's idol silent comedy genius Buster Keaton, and seven spellbinding John Lennon-Paul McCartney songs, written and sung with the usual flawless panache and realized by Lester on screen with pop bravura and visual beauty.
The crack supporting cast includes Leo ("Rumpole") McKern as head of the killers, willowy comedienne Eleanor Bron as his sexy second, Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear as bumbling inventors responsible for the techno-gadgets, and Patrick Cargill as a snob-nabob. The big flaw here: The Beatles themselves don't have the kind of great lines and witty parts Alun Owen wrote for them in A Hard Day's Night. There they played a wisecracking John ("You're a swine"), playboy Paul ("He's very clean"), scornful George and wistful clown Ringo. Here, as often mentioned, they've become guest stars in their own movie, which hurts Help! and elevates Night.
But it's still another prime pop artifact and delightful entertainment, and the song sequences are fab, especially the wonderful title number, and the great "song in the snow" sequence to "Ticket to Ride." The others include John's Dylan-esque "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," Paul's romping "Another Girl," "The Night Before" and the mesmerizing "You're Gonna Lose that Girl." The British soundtrack album for Help! -- which has seven added songs, including "Yesterday," was always my second favorite Beatles album, after Abbey Road.
BOX SET CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
The Jack Nicholson Collection (Overall grade: A)
U.S.; Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson; 1974 - 1990, Paramount
Only two from the great tantrum-thrower Jack in this slim, but excellent collection. But they include his two classic modern film noir outings as smart-ass, cynical, easily bruised L. A. private eye J.J. Gittes, both written by Nicholson's brilliant buddy Robert Towne. Because of director Roman Polanski's legal problems, Towne was scheduled to direct The Two Jakes; Nicholson took over when arguments began raging over the initial casting of Chinatown producer Robert Evans as the second Jake. (Harvey Keitel eventually played the part.) It's sad that Polanski missed the assignment and that Jack and Bob had a falling out. But Jakes is underrated and Chinatown is a Hollywood masterpiece.
U.S.; Polanski, 1974
Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston in one of the great American films of the '70s; a Raymond Chandler-esque romance of corruption and dark mysteries, water swindles and incestuous murder. It's nearly a perfect movie.
The Two Jakes (B)
U.S.; Jack Nicholson, 1990
Disappointing, but still a neo-noir by experts, with Jack in one of his signature roles.
Extras: Featurettes, trailers.
The James Bond Ultimate Collector's Edition (A-)
U.K.-U.S.; Various directors, 1962-2006, MGM-UA
This is a real pop treasure trove, and an essential box set -- even if a number of the movies are disappointing. But the great ones are all there, including the top work of the very best Bond of them all, Sean Connery. The peak efforts include: From Russia With Love (longtime series writer Richard Maibaum's personal favorite), Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me and the most recent 007, the snazzy, thrilling Casino Royale with the bright, tough new Bond played by Daniel Craig.
All 21 "official" Bonds are remastered here, with all the Bond girls, Q gadgets, super villains and action set-pieces your heart could crave -- and there's 21 more discs of extras. For my money, the series never got better than Goldfinger. But I'll admit that Royale is a stunning return to form.
Dr. No (B)
Terence Young, 1962
From Russia With Love (A-)
Terence Young, 1963
Guy Hamilton, 1964
Terence Young, 1965
You Only Live Twice (B+)
Lewis Gilbert, 1967
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (B)
Peter Hunt, 1969
Diamonds Are Forever (B)
Guy Hamilton, 1971
Live and Let Die (B-)
Guy Hamilton, 1973
The Man with the Golden Gun (C+)
Guy Hamilton, 1974
The Spy Who Loved Me (A-)
Lewis Gilbert, 1977
Lewis Gilbert, 1979
For Your Eyes Only (C)
John Glen, 1981
John Glen, 1983
A View to a Kill (D)
John Glen, 1985
The Living Daylights (C+)
John Glen, 1987
Licence to Kill (C+)
John Glen, 1989
Martin Campbell, 1995
Tomorrow Never Dies (B-)
Roger Spottiswoode, 1997
The World is Not Enough (B-)
Michael Apted, 1999
Die Another Day (D)
Lee Tamahori, 2002
Casino Royale (A-)
Martin Campbell, 2006
OTHER NEW RELEASES
U.S.; Michael Moore, 2007, Weinstein
This is what we need Michael Moore for: to attack and make fun of the greed-crazed creeps who've kept the U. S. -- almost alone in the civilized Westerner world -- from having a decent universal health care program. This movie isn't as good as his last two, but it does its job -- and Moore even jerks a few tears before the end.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (D+)
U.S.; Dennis Dugan, 2007, Universal
Mugging heterosexuals (Adam Sandler and Kevin James) camp it up as phony gay couple.
The Day of the Triffids (C-)
U.K.; Steve Sekely & Freddie Francis (unc.), 1962, Westlake
A botched version of the classic John Wyndham British sci-fi novel about an invasion by meteors and plant life. With Howard Keel, who faced scarier horrors in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."
The Chuck Jones Collection (B)
U.S.; 2007, Chuck Jones, Lionsgate
Some non-Warner Brothers cartoon by the nonpareil Chuck Jones, including three Cricket movies and three adaptations of Rudyard Kipling tales. Not Jones' best, but still the work of a genial, generous master.
Hong Kong; Johnny To, 2005, Tartan
Action master To (Breaking News) makes sport of politics and corruption flashy and hellishly exciting with Tony Leung.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT BOX SETS
Monarchy, Set Two (Overall grade: B)
U.K.; various directors, 2007, Acorn Media
David Starkey, the royal-watching Simon Cowell of BBC prestige series hosts, turns his historical eye and acid tongue on more of the British monarchy's scandals, fatuities and glories. Elizabeth and Henry VIII were covered before; this batch starts with Charles II (who restored the crown and fathered at least 17 bastards) and runs through James II, William and Mary, Anne, three Georges and Victoria. It's no Civilisation, but it's good bitchy, snobbish fun.
Leading Ladies, Volume Two (B)
U.S.; Various directors, 1966-82, Warner Home Video
The Warners leading ladies this time include Susan Hayward, Joanne Woodward, Sandy Dennis, Jackie Bisset, Candice Bergen -- and Diane Keaton. But there are only two real classics here: Dennis in the poignant NYC high school teacher memoir (from Bel Kaufman's book) Up the Down Staircase, and Keaton in the devastating marital drama with Albert Finney, Shoot the Moon. But Big Hand is a clever all star western poker comedy, I'll Cry Tomorrow is a good weepy bio of Lillian Roth, and Rich and Famous, George Cukor's last movie and a remake of the Bette Davis-Miriam Hopkins Old Acquaintance, is a nice outing for beauties Bisset, Bergen, and Meg Ryan in her debut.
I'll Cry Tomorrow (B-)
Daniel Mann, 1955
A Big Hand for the Little Lady (B-)
Fielder Cook, 1966
Up the Down Staircase (A-)
Robert Mulligan, 1967
Rich and Famous (B-)
George Cukor, 1981
Shoot the Moon (A-)
Alan Parker, 1982
Barbara Stanwyck Signature Collection (B)
U.S.; Various directors, 1935-1953, Warner Home Video
Barbara Stanwyck, one of the toughest and saltiest of the Hollywood golden age female superstars, is best remembered these days for her primo femme fatale turn in the great Billy Wilder-James M. Cain-Raymond Chandler noir Double Indemnity. But this dandy, diverse box set shows what a range she had, and what a fine, earthy leading lady she was for decades. There are two good noirs (the little known East Side, West Side and Jeopardy, both good), a gusty lyrical western bio, a fine pre-Universal Sirk soaper, one of Robert Wise's and writer Ernest Lehman's best films (Executive Suite), and only one stinker, the appalling race car romance, To Please a Lady, which crashes both Stanwyck and Clark Gable.
Annie Oakley (B)
George Stevens, 1935
My Reputation (B)
Curtis Bernhardt, 1946
East Side, West Side (B)
Mervyn LeRoy, 1949
To Please a Lady (C+)
Clarence Brown, 1950
John Sturges, 1953
Executive Suite (A-)
Robert Wise, 1954
Extras: Commentary (on Executive Suite) by Oliver Stone; vintage cartoons; comedy and musical shorts; featurettes; and radio dramas, with the movie stars, of My Reputation and Jeopardy.