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

What's it about? The Beatles' first movie, a freewheeling, chaotic sort of affair, in which the fresh-faced cheeky chappies run around a lot, pausing periodically to belt out a tune or two, then run around again. A 50th anniversary re-release took place in July 2014.

Is it any good? Well, it inspired me to write this song. Let's sing!

It's been a hard day's night, and I'd been working like a dog
But I watched A Hard Day's Night, instead of sleeping like a log
And I thought it okay, a fun end to the day
It made me feel alright

McCartney overacts a lot, and George seems frozen with fear
And Lennon acts like a cock, you'll not be too surprised to hear
But Ringo Starr is too cool, he doesn't act like a tool
He made me feel OK

When they're singing, everything seems to be right
When they're not, everything seems a bit slight, slight, yeah

It's been a hard day's night, and I'd been working like a dog
But I watched A Hard Day's Night, instead of sleeping like a log
Not as good as the Monkees, but then nothing is ees
It made me feel alright

Yeah, captures Beatlemania at its height
It's a mostly fun sight
It made me feel alright


I don't trust you. What do others think? Regarded as a true time-capsule of a movie, capturing the Fab Four as fresh young men with the world at their feet, before the extraordinary fame, drugs, affairs and in-fighting began, and before Yoko Ono stuck her beak in. It has been praised for basically inventing the modern pop video - director Lester was awarded an MTV award in 1984 declaring him 'Father of the Music Video'. Stylistically, it borrowed many artistic elements from the French New Wave and made them mainstream. Musically, it was the first time anyone had heard Harrison playing those distinctive sounds on his Rickenbecker 12-string guitar, which sent a whole bunch of musicians (Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys etc) reeling away from the cinema to try and recreate the sound. And obviously it launched a whole bunch of new Beatles songs on an adoring public, including the phenomenally catchy title song. It's the film where George met Pattie Boyd (who had a small role as a school girl), the girl who would go on to be 'Layla' in the famous love triangle with Eric Clapton. Finally, as Roger Ebert observed, there was more than a few young men who left the theatre and didn't cut their hair again until the 70s in an effort to cultivate a mop-top. I guess it's safe to say it was pretty influential, even if it is a bit all over the place.

What does the Fonz think? I am the Walrus.

Her (Spike Jonze, 2014)

What's it about? In a futuristic-but-not-that-futuristic society, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely man who falls in love with his computer's new operating system, an Artificial Intelligence with the sultry voice of Scarlett Johansson.

Is it any good? A film to make you think. Story-wise, it's straightforward; boy meets girl, they fall in love, problems inevitably arise. But in making the girl an AI, the film provides all sorts of commentary on the world we live in today, where people communicate all the time via computer with people they have never physically met. Twombly is representative of an increasing number of people who find the virtual world more appealing that the physical one, people who can express themselves freely online, but repress their emotions in reality - Twombly's appearance even resembles a Groucho Marx 'mask'. The irony of his situation is that this reticent man himself works as a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac, penning love letters for people to express their feelings for each other, a service that exists because so many cannot articulate this face-to-face. On top of this, it tackles ideas of online dating and sex, the nature of love and what it means to be 'human' in a bitter-sweet, melancholy fashion. It's a movie about modern technology, but it's also about age-old emotions, and how the two things intertwine. So there's plenty going on here to raise it above the slight story, which will likely make you contemplate your own relationship with the online world. Do you know when to switch off and talk to 'real' people? Or are you forever in electric dreams?

Anything else I should know? A good article here, which explains the thinking behind the futuristic elements of the film, from the clothes, to the games, to the reasoning behind removing blue from the colour palette. Interesting stuff, and not all that far removed from our real future, I suspect. Also, here's a quick blast of 80s nostalgia, just because.

What does the Fonz think? The Fonz is away on holiday and it seemed too obvious to ask Siri to stand in, since loads of people have done that, so instead we have another guest reviewer.

What does HAL9000 think? I'm sorry, Declan. I'm afraid I can't tell you that.

Buy it on Amazon

Bad Neighbours (Nicholas Stoller, 2014)

What's it about? A married couple (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) with a young baby have a few misgivings when a frat house, led by alpha-male Teddy (Zac Efron), move in next door. After initial attempts to get on fail, things degenerate into all out war between them. Hilarious antics ensue, yes? Well, not really.

Is it any good? In years to come, everyone involved will no doubt look back at this a little shame-facedly and concede that maybe they should have worked a bit harder, instead of goofing off all the time. It's a shoddy, scattershot comedy, clutching desperately at a few half-formed ideas and references, and stringing them loosely together, like a student who puts down everything they know in the exam, hoping it'll do enough to pass. It must try harder. Efron emerges with some credit by threatening to rise above the lame material at times, but Rogen and Byrne's semi-improvised riffs aren't as funny as they think they are and the supporting 'comic' characters are weak. Most of those involved, including the director and writers, graduated from the Judd Apatow school of comedy, so even though Apatow isn't associated with this film, it feels like they're trying to live up to his memory and get their film on the wall next to past 'glories'. Presumably the consumption of too much cannibis and alcohol has stopped them setting their sights a bit higher. If you've seen some of those films, you'll get what you expect, and less. If you haven't, this probably isn't the best one to initiate yourself with.

I don't trust you. What do others think? I didn't much like this, but at least I didn't go as far as Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, who intimated that films like Bad Neighbours and Apatow's output might influence young men into acts of violence like that perpetrated by killer Elliot Rodger. Rogen and Apatow responded furiously, prompting a sort of apology from Hornaday, but she stuck to her original thinking about the inherent sexism of the male wish-fulfilment fantasies depicted in these comedies (ie schlubby loser shacked up happily with beautiful girl). Of course, the real comedy here is to be found in the name. Horn a day (*snigger*).

What does the Fonz think? Bad Neighbours, nobody needs Bad Neighbours.....

How to Train Your Dragon Double Bill

The first time I watched that old Disney classic, The Black Stallion, I remember thinking (like everyone else, I'm sure), how much better it would be if the boy was a Viking and the horse was a Dragon. And if Mickey Rooney wasn't in it. Over 30 years passed before we finally got that film in the form of How to Train Your Dragon (Dean DuBlois & Chris Sanders, 2010), based on the books by Cressida Cowell. Our hero is an ineffectual teenage Viking named Hiccup, struggling to live up to the expectations of his father Stoick, a Viking chief who protects their village from regular raids by fearsome dragons. Things are further complicated when Hiccup befriends, rather than slays, a wild Night Fury dragon, which he christens Toothless. Together, they try to convince the rest of the Vikings that they can live in peace with dragons, rather than fighting them. Obviously, this proves easier said that done, so they must also embark on several hair-raising adventures, particularly during the exciting climax, in a series of action sequences which are just brilliantly realised. The ace in the pack is Toothless himself, a sort of cross between playful puppy, dive-bombing bat and sleek feline killer. He's a marvellous creation, both fearsome and adorable, and the relationship between boy and dragon provides the heart in the quieter moments of character development. It's not quite as funny as it could be, with some underdeveloped comic supporting characters, but this is still a rousing action-adventure, with plenty to entertain kids and adults alike. And, thankfully, there's no sign of Mickey Rooney.

So if the first one was The Black Stallion, How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DuBlois & Sanders, 2014) is The Black Stallion Returns, right? Well, not really, because The Black Stallion Returns is pretty terrible. A better touchstone here, according to the directors, is The Empire Strikes Back, as this is intended as the middle section of a planned trilogy and introduces some serious issues to challenge our heroes with, with no guarantee of everything ending happily. Set five years on from the first film, its characters have grown believably and it has fun expanding the world of its predecessor to explore new, visually stunning lands. It doesn't quite have the charm of the first, but there's more plot, more excellent action sequences and more dragons, including a Big Stompy Smackdown between some hugely impressive beasties, which might prove a little intense for younger viewers. And, to be fair, the directors are prepared to deliver a couple of dark moments, which were hinted at in Hiccup's fate at the end of the first film, and which are here developed in plot-lines which threaten the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless, thereby giving it all a bit of emotional heft. It's a worthy sequel and another very enjoyable action-adventure. Still no sign of Mickey Rooney either, so all is well.

The critical and commercial success of both films means we will inevitably have a third instalment to look forward to and, should it deliver on the promise of the above duo, we'll have a very good animated trilogy to plunder the space on the shelf next to the Toy Story gang.

Incidentally, I could fully empathise with Hiccup because back when I was a Viking, I wasn't rated as a dragon-slayer either. My job was to gather population data following the regular dragon raids and log it on the town register. I remember one day getting an earful from the irate wife of a famous Viking explorer who had returned home from a dragon-slaying quest and found his name missing from the  list. "I'm so sorry", I said, "I must have taken Leif off my census."

Hitler Reacts to My Irish Blog Awards Nomination

With the Blog Awards Ireland competition gearing up again for 2014, I totally forgot I had promised one rival blogger that I wouldn't enter this year. Ooops!