Thursday, October 14, 2010


The hits just keep coming at the Aptos Weekend Classics movie series. Run, do not walk this weekend to see the inimitable Marx Brothers in Duck Soup. It's ranked #5 on the AFI's list of all-time comedies, but #1 on the far more exclusive and reliable Jensen-ometer of funniest movies ever made! (Narrowly edging out The Producers—the original version, with Zero Mostel—Annie Hall, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) Freedonia's going to war, and who better to lead the country straight to Hell than Groucho Marx as shyster politico Rufus T, Firefly, batting his eyelashes at Margaret Dumont whilst pondering how best to plunder the treasury. "If you think the country's bad off now, just wait 'til I get through with it!" he sings jauntily at his inauguration to the office of High Chancellor.

Although the film was made in 1933, with Hitler on the rise in Germany, allusions to American politicians of more recent vintage are, sadly, as timely as ever. But expect laughs, not polemics, in this hilarious satire of war, politics, jingoistic patriotism, and military machismo. 68 minutes of pure comedy bliss, and I better not find out you missed it! (Plays Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m., at Aptos Cinema, on a comedy double-feature with Mae West in She Done Him Wrong.)

Speaking of four-star movies, the cool thing about the very excellent new John Lennon drama, Nowhere Boy, is that it's not about The Beatles. That hallowed name is never even mentioned. At the end of the film, John (played with sass, heart, and deadpan bravado by Aaron Johnson, above) is about to go off to Hamburg with his band, and his Aunt Mimi dismissively remarks that she's forgotten their new name. (Up to this point, they've called themselves The Quarrymen.) John replies only with a teasing, "Do you really care?"

No, she does not; it's all the same to her what his band is called and who the current members are. But it wouldn't have been the same to us, or to history. Nowhere Boy got me to thinking that despite the conventional wisdom of the day (or this day), it wasn't just a blithe, random conjunction of timing and luck that made The Beatles what they were. In the film, we see John recruit his first band through a haze of ciggie smoke in the boys' loo: anyone who owns an instrument is in, no proficiency required. As the band acquires its sea legs at neighborhood fairs and school dances, personnel come and go, like the rotating icons on a slot machine. It's hardly ever the same lineup twice as the band self-prunes and re-invents itself.

But when John meets Paul McCartney in the film, something clicks, like a pair of oranges (or should I say Apples) synching up. After the initial sarcasm from John, the would-be Teddy-boy with the smart mouth, he drops his pose to soak up everything he can learn from the younger boy about guitar chords and musicianship. When Paul's mate, George Harrison, makes a late-inning appearance toward the end of the movie, another apple clicks into place; a few more peripheral band members will rotate in and out, but the three of them remain the core of the band, all the way to Hamburg and the destiny that awaits them there.

So, no, The Beatles were not just any garage/skiffle/rock band. There was alchemy at work when these boys first clicked and sparked. John had the drive, the dream, and the showmanship, Paul the innate musicality, the looks, and the voice, George the technical chops. They honed their style, substance, and subversive wit in the tough, steamy clubs of Hamburg, grew up together as musicians and men, and emerged two years later as The Beatles. And it couldn't have happened any other way, or with any other guys.

Btw, at the press screening for Nowhere Boy last week, I was shocked, shocked, to learn that two of my esteemed fellow scribes were completely unfamiliar with the backstory of John Lennon and The Beatles. For those of us who grew up in the '60s, Beatle bios were Chapter and Verse; we devoured them in 16 Magazine and other fan mags, and in the plethora of biographical books, authorized and otherwise, that flooded the market to cash in on their fame. That's why I was so impressed with Nowhere Boy; it gets the tone of that postwar, working-class setting and era just right.

(Above: George, John and Paul, ca 1958, as seen on

Just a reminder, Santa Cruz's favorite free film event, the Pacific Rim Film Festival, kicks off tomorrow night at the Del Mar with a gala premiere of The Chef of South Polar. (Scroll down for my mini-review, a couple of posts back.) Music, food, dance, traditional folkways and eco-politics are spotlighted at this year's fest. Now in its 22nd year, this popular event once again offers viewers a cinematic voyage of discovery around the Pacific Rim of Asia and the Americas. In a program of 18 drama and documentary films, transporting viewers to such diverse locations as Nepal, Bolivia, Korea, New Orleans, and the Marianas Islands, this cinematic sushi bar invites us to sample the exotica of other cultures, while reminding us how much we have in common, despite our cultural differences.

This year's six-day event unspools Friday, October 15, through Wednesday, October 20, at three countywide venues: the Del Mar, the Rio, and the Cabrillo College Watsonville Center. All films are presented free to the public, except for the closing-night benefit, and many screenings will be followed by a Q&A session with the filmmaker.

Insider tip: Don't miss Old Partners, an incredibly moving Korean docu-drama about an 80-year-old farmer, his 76-year-old wife, a treasured ox, and vanishing traditional folkways. You will weep like a baby. Also, check out A Village Called Versailles, an inspiring short doc about a Vietnamese settlement in New Orleans that celebrates how a community can band together for positive political action.

Read my GT PRFF preview for a complete schedule of films and showtimes.


  1. You really nailed it this week, Lisa, with one possible exception: I say "The Producers" is the funniest movie of all time, followed-up close by "Duck Soup." Anyone who has seen either of them only once needs to see both of them again to decide this vexing issue. And to laugh their pants off!
    --Bill Raney

  2. Oh, it's a tough, tough call. "The Producers"is right up there, but I have to stick with Groucho, the hero of my youth, & the boys. (Besides, the title of this post wouldn't have had the same panache if it was "The SECOND Funniest Movie Ever.")

    Anyone who has only seen either f these movies once needs to stop reading right this minute & go watch them again!