Weekly Round-Up: March 20-26, 2016

  • Beach Party (1963) – The one that started it all. Delightful pop musical introducing us to the cast of kids led by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in their prime, with a terrific soundtrack featuring the two leads plus Dick Dale and His Del-Tones. This isn’t a masterpiece, but a wholly enjoyable piece of 1960s kitsch. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Thor (2011) – I couldn’t believe how much I liked this movie. The arrogant Norse god Thor is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth, but this “fish out of water” story is consistently endearing and compelling. His brother Loki is my favorite Marvel villain to date, and Natalie Portman also delivers a strong performance as a determined physicist. RECOMMENDED.
  • Eating Raoul (1982) – Still in love with this wacky comedy, one of the sweetest and cleanest movies about very adult subject matter. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • In the Realm of the Senses (1976) – A very dirty movie about very adult subject matter. This round (my third or fourth time watching), the musical moments stuck with me the most, melodies underlying the desperate passion the couple has for one another. RECOMMENDED.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Complex and moving story of a “kid from Brooklyn” becoming a powerful hero. Like Thor, this movie is heightened by strong characters and a layered narrative. RECOMMENDED.
  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) – I was reminded why people make fun of this one, but several moments (particularly the “Duel of the Fates” climax) are genuinely thrilling Star Wars moments. Definitely worth watching, even in spite of Mr. Binks. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see four weeks ago??

Bikini Beach (1964)

Bikini Beach may be the Beach Party series at its camp best, with the one-two punch of over-the-top humor and some fantastic songs. While not the very best Beach Party film, it has all the trademarks of a classic and reminds us why this series is so special.

The plot is similar in structure to all the other movies, with the beach bunnies and the hot dogs doing to the beach (this year, Bikini Beach!) for the summer. Fortunately, the narrative is diluted with overlapping and over-the-top elements, including a grumpy old man who chronicles the kids’ exploits in the local paper (the Bikini Bugle), the arrival of British rock star the Potato Bug, and Frankie’s sudden interest in drag racing.

Everything is ridiculous, which is exactly as it should be. This film series works best when we get layers upon layers of chaos, which come together beautifully in the film’s climax, as a standard fight scene where all the narrative elements come together in a battle royale rich with gags.

More than the other Beach Party films though (as far as I’ve noticed), Bikini Beach has very interesting recurring themes. We see several different binaries of young vs. old, from the old man vs. the beach kids, the British Potato Bug to the American Frankie, the senior citizens at the Sea-esta by the Sea at the drag race filled with kids. Like the cleavage nestled within a bikini, these divisions persist for most of the film, but in the finale, all comes together in climactic chaos.

And lastly, the songs. My goodness, the songs! Both songs by the Potato Bug, “Gimme Your Love” and “How About That” are standouts (with the latter featuring a wild dance breakdown by Annette), with the gorgeous “Because You’re You” shining as possibly the best Frankie-Annette love ballad.

This film barely grazes the genius of Beach Blanket Bingo, a beach adventure yet to come at the time of Bikini Beach’s release in ‘64, but it is still great entertainment, rich with fantastic songs and hilarious camp.

Muscle Beach Party (1964)

Muscle Beach Party is one of the more forgettable entries in the Beach Party saga, but it is possibly the best in terms of sheer quality. Like all the other films, it is about the same band of kids going to the beach for the summer, but the side story (of the Italian heiress trying to pluck out Frankie and make him a star) is actually pretty interesting. There is also the funny backdrop of the muscle men who have set up camp along the beach, resulting in a very entertaining fight scene at the end.

We also get the standard Frankie-Annette bickering that we have come to expect, and love, from these series. I love them so much because they often argue about whether or not to get married and, over the course of many movies and many years, we don’t see them tie the knot – they are a modern couple and don’t jump to get married like many young people did prior to the 1960s.

In addition to the expected Beach Party fare, the temptation Frankie faces is rather compelling. As an audience, we of course know he’s a talented singer, so the Italian temptress offering him a career as a pop singer is weirdly meta and it’s fun to see everyone’s reactions. Frankie’s friends rebuke him for his choices, with his friend Johnny spitting that “golden surfboards tend to sink.” What?

There’s also a hilarious visual gag of a beach gal, Candy, dancing and making the surfer boys fall off their surfboards with every sway of her hips. This comes in handy at the end, as it sends muscle men flying all over the cabana club and ensures a victory for the scrawnier beach fellas.

This all probably sounds insane if you aren’t a Beach Party fan, but all this crazy narrative makes sense within the Beach Party universe, and especially within this film. Compared to the other entries, Muscle Beach Party is a pretty “normal” film, with significantly fewer camp elements and scenes than the others. It’s the kind of movie you can be less embarrassed to like.

That said, though, Muscle Beach Party is probably one of the less memorable Beach Party films because it is so much more realistic, and the songs aren’t as good as in the other films. We are blessed to see Donna Loren in her first Beach Party appearance (singing the great “Muscle Bustle”) and it’s always fun when Dick Dale and his Del-Tones are around. This movie just makes less of an impression, but it does provide some good flashes of better elements in other beach party films. This is a movie where, for the most part, everything works, but it doesn’t resonate as strong as moments in the other, weaker, Beach Party films.