A Hard Day’s Night (1964) is so many things – joyous, silly, endearing, and riotously funny, to name a few – that it’s easy to miss just how heart-stoppingly beautiful it is. I’m not kidding. There are images in this movie, which is shot through in glorious black and white, that are as mesmerizing as anything the movies have ever given us. To me, it’s most evident in the sequence where The Beatles, preparing for a live TV event (a la their Ed Sullivan Show performance), perform “And I Love Her” in the under-lit, empty TV theater. As Paul sings the melody, his youthful, boyish face is captured on distorted video monitors in the control room show, eventually dissolving into a silhouetted image of his real face. The effect is hypnotic, almost otherworldly, like all of time has frozen just so Paul can sing his song. Time didn’t freeze, of course, and the beauty of that sequence, and of A Hard Day’s Night, would eventually give way to the tumult of the ‘60s. Eventually, the Beatles would break up. But what they created with this film was some kind of magic, and no matter how many times you watch it, that magic is still there.
Is Pixar in creative trouble? It seems silly to ask, and three years ago such a question would have been unthinkable. Yet here we are, the studio having just delivered Monsters University, its fourth franchise continuation (after Cars 2 and the two Toy Story sequels), and its third film in a row that’s failed to elicit shrieks of elation from the critical masses (currently it stands at a 78% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes). It seems absurd to raise concern over a movie doesn’t score unanimous accolades – 78% is a respectable figure by RT standards – but when you’re talking about a studio with a history as cherished as Pixar’s, it feels like it’s worth at least considering whether it doesn’t point to a larger issue.
So Man of Steel made $125 million this past weekend. Not a shock by any standard, but the film has nonetheless inspired a passionate online debate among the geek community and several critics – some catering to the geeks, some to a more traditional film audience – over its overall quality worthiness as well as specific plot elements. Points of discussion include: whether or not Superman would or would not take certain moral steps, whether he’d make an effort to avoid the amount of devastation caused by his battles with the film’s villain, Zod (Michael Shannon), whether the film itself is too dour for a comic book movie, and so forth.