The Beatles' first movie, the black and white masterpiece A Hard Day's Night (1964), captured the young rockers at their playfully anarchic best. And they quickly followed it up with another carefree romp, Help! (1965), this time in full-blast pop art hues, here now restored on DVD to its intended palette of bright primary colors. The American-born Richard Lester helmed both films, but the second was an even greater challenge since it pretended to have a plot, and the Beatles, for their part, pretended to act. The inspired silliness of the film (much fueled by copious pot-smoking, we learn in the DVD extras) follows the boys across continents as Ringo is pursued for his unusual sacrificial ring, a monstrous bauble he can't get off his finger. The supporting cast includes the bulbous-faced Leo McKern (best known for his subsequent long-running role as "Rumpole of the Bailey") as the high priest of some cockamamie Eastern religion; Eleanor Bron as his sultry and duplicitous assistant; and Victor Spinetti as a deranged and underfunded scientist, hoping to rule the world. But the Fabulous Four remain constant in the foreground, goofing off in their ultra-hip pad, sliding all over the Swiss Alps, and soaking up rays in the Bahamas. Seven great songs punctuate this absurdist drama, and each one seems to have presented Lester with a new challenge, as he discovers different styles of matching sounds and images that anticipate everything familiar to us now on MTV. It's no wonder that the channel recognized Lester as its true father, nor that he in turn demanded a paternity test. -

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.