The Beatles

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The Beatles

Help! (Capitol)

Though not as fresh and forward-looking as A Hard Day's Night, the Beatles' newly restored sophomore cinematic romp is nevertheless visually breathtaking. Watching the Liverpudlian quartet circa 1965 come alive again on rich color film stock reaffirms the group's once-in-a-lifetime magnetism. After capturing the essence of Beatlemania in AHDN, returning director Richard Lester briefly considered making a film depicting the Beatles' private life. As Lester relates in a present-day interview on the bonus disc, however, copious on-set pot intake was one of many indications that that door should stay closed. Instead, Lester harnessed his bigger budget by dropping the Beatles into the middle of an absurd James Bond parody complete with far-flung location shooting in the Austrian Alps and the Bahamas. One gets the sense that the band is just out for a goof, but Lester has the good sense to roll with it. The Beatles' collective energy drives the film, but the comedic heavy lifting is done by a solid supporting cast that includes Leo McKern as a crazed temple leader who wants to sacrifice Ringo Starr and Roy Kinnear (best known as Veruca Salt's dad in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) as the assistant to a mad British scientist fighting to stave off the empire's slow death. This slight seditious bent allows Help! to serve both bumbling nationalists and religious fanatics their just deserts with eternally youthful charm. The visual doesn't trump the music, but seeing is definitely believing.

***.5

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