Monkey Business (1952, Howard Hawks)

The one where Cary Grant is married to Ginger Rogers (who gets to dance one time) and they take drugs that make them act like children. Marilyn Monroe plays a delicious secretary and gets to be the only actor on the DVD case, even though I thought both Grant and Rogers were a pretty big deal.

It’s a screwball comedy, which means there’s a funny fat posh guy (Charles Coburn) and some clueless nerdy guys and an actual monkey. Kinda funny and delightful, and kinda tiresome, like my reaction to Bringing Up Baby. One of the better comedies I saw this year though, and probably would’ve made a stronger impression if I hadn’t liked Cary Grant even better in The Philadelphia Story.

El Aura (2005, Fabián Bielinsky)

It’s been a month since I saw this, so I should finally rouse myself into writing something down.

All I knew about the director going in was that his last movie, Nine Queens, was remade as the underrated Criminal, and that after El Aura (only his second feature as director) he died of a heart attack.

This was a fine little genre film (crime/suspense being the genre) but really nothing special. Starting out with the lead character waking up from an epileptic seizure, then in the next scene showing him to be interested in planning “the perfect crime”… you don’t suppose he’ll plan the perfect crime then have a seizure in the middle of it, do ya? So the movie doesn’t strive for unpredictability, but instead it follows this nobody of a character (a not-socially-brilliant taxidermist) as he gets in over his head. The standout parts for me were the setup (our guy accidentally kills the man who was planning a heist, then assumes his identity, in a town where nobody knows who he really is) and ending (taxidermist is back in his normal life, the lone and unsuspected survivor of the totally botched robbery, and all he brought back with him is the original dead man’s dog). Side plots include the seizure thing and our guy’s never-acted-upon desire to save all the abused women he meets. Movie has a really good atmosphere, planting us in a peaceful, wooded hunting town. Was a pleasant viewing experience then. Whatever.

Curse of the Golden Flower (2006, Zhang Yimou)

The third of Zhang’s extreme action epics. More colors than you can shake a sceptre at. Maybe a step down to in quality and emotional impact from Flying Daggers level back to Hero level.

Katy liked it a bit.

Emperor Chow Yun-Fat is poisoning his wife Gong Li because she is sleeping with her stepson, the crown prince. His mom, thought to be dead, is really now the wife of the royal chemist, exiled from the kingdom, with a young daughter who is also sleeping (whoops) with the crown prince (Ye Liu, who played the awesome Snow Wolf in The Promise). Gong Li’s two sons are handsomely bearded Jie (Jay Chow, singer, of Initial D), loyal enough to his mom to betray his dad for her, and ignored prince Cheng, who wants to get in on the action. Chow sits around being kingly most of the time, with only a few good enraged moments, and Gong Li gets to act out all manner of desperation, rage, sadness, sickness and everything else.

Secret défense (1998, Jacques Rivette)

First movie of my Rivette Fest, to get acquainted with his work before seeing Out 1 in March. But Sam just told me that his late movies, like this one, have little in common with the early batch. So maybe my efforts are misdirected, but whatever the case, I enjoyed this one.

Lab rat Sandrine Bonnaire (Rivette’s Joan of Arc, also starred in Vagabond, East/West, Intimate Strangers, and Chabrol’s The Ceremony) hears from her brother Paul (Grégoire Colin, young star of The Intruder and Dreamlife of Angels) that old family friend Walser (Jerzy Radziwilowicz: Rivette’s Julien, Godard’s director in Passion, star of Man of Iron and Man of Marble) may have killed their father.

it all starts with a photo:
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angry brother:
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Rounding out a holy-shit star-studded case is their mom Francoise Fabian (of 5×2, Belle de Jour, and the title role in My Night at Maud’s) and Walser’s girlfriend Laure Marsac (of nothing in particular).

Sandrine confronts Walser and accidentally kills the girlfriend. Later, the gf’s twin sister (also Laure Marsac) shows up. Everyone is sleeping with Walser except for the brother, who’s still all hopping mad. Eventually the twin sister accidentally kills Sandrine (both deaths were caused by someone jumping in front of Walser).

dig the mobile:
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dig the sexy girl:
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Movie is well done and usually captivating, but every time Sandrine rides the train in the first half, it shows us the entire train ride. Goes beyond “setting the mood” and starts to get boring. Much improved in the second half (unlike most movies). A twisty little mystery movie… liked it.

a long train ride:
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final shot:
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Volver (2006, Pedro Almodóvar)

Penelope Cruz (All About My Mother, Sahara) is RAIMUNDA. Carmen Maura (star of Women on the Verge) is her dead mother. Lola Dueñas (one of the nurses in Talk To Her) is her divorced sister. Yohana Cobo is her daughter. Chus Lampreave (Leo’s mother in Flower of My Secret) is her aunt who lives “alone” in their home town. Blanca Portillo (the queen of Spain in Milos Forman’s next movie) is an old friend who checks up on the aunt every day, has a missing mother, and develops cancer.

Tons of plot, as usual. Cruz’s husband tries to rape his daughter, is killed. Cruz buries him by the river with prostitute neighbor’s help. Cruz’s dark secret is that daughter’s real father is Cruz’s own father, who was killed in a fire by his wife while cheating with Blanca’s mother… so Cruz’s mother not really dead but hiding with the aunt. Cruz takes over neighbor’s restaurant, runs it for a film crew and gets it back on its feet. Sister hangs out with mom, talks about family, runs illicit hairdressing business from home.

Similarities with All About My Mother are many. Theme of returning home, theme of motherhood and “us women gotta stick together”, taking care of each other and helping raise kids. Everyone’s involved in illegal businesses, friends with prostitutes, drug use (Blanca grows+smokes weed). Secret pasts and secret pregnancies. Men are barely present. No transexuals in this one. Good music scene, not as nice as the Caetano Veloso scene in Talk To Her but close. Funeral scenes, film crews and television appearances. Feels like an Almodovar movie. Imagine that.

Neat scene: sister goes to aunt’s funeral, accidentally walks into the meeting room for men instead of women. More men than we’ve ever seen in one place (including the film wrap party at the restaurant)! Feels not just like the wrong room, but the wrong movie… everyone stares uncomfortably and she’s quickly ushered back into the world of women. Cruz is great, expressive, with her lipsynched song a highlight. Opening scene with all the town’s residents cleaning off their parents’ graves. The mom hiding all over the place. Touching ending, Cruz’s mom thanks Blanca for not mentioning her on television (when searching for her own mother), and comes to stay with her “until the end”.

Katy liked it too.

Shoot The Piano Player (1960, Francois Truffaut)

Came out in late 1960, after Breathless (which Truffaut wrote), 400 Blows and Les Mistons. Dawn doesn’t like it, and the Taschen book I’m reading on Truffaut says it was largely disliked, misunderstood and ignored (and even Jules & Jim did just well enough to break even, no big comeback).

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Charlie plays piano at a small-time bar, running away from his old life as a concert pianist after his wife Therese killed herself. He’s friends with a prostitute (Clarisse) and a bartender (Lena). Charlie’s little brother Fido (a kid from 400 Blows) lives with him, and his other brothers are thieves who run into trouble after screwing over their two scary/clumsy accomplices, who chase everyone throughout the picture. In the end, Lena is killed and Charlie returns to work.

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Great bits: Charlie’s inner-thoughts voiceover, the subtitled singer in his bar, the balance between ridiculous and dangerous maintained by the gangsters, the sudden shifts in tone, the beautiful girls surrounding Charlie.

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The commentary points out all the mirrors, says Truffaut used lead actors who looked like himself (true of Jean-Pierre Leaud).

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I enjoy the movie – it’s light and short and heartfelt. But I’m also still suffering from post Children of Men trauma, and this movie’s joyful subversion of genre doesn’t hit hard enough to make an impact. Maybe when I’m in a more delicate mood I can appreciate it more.

Piranha (1978, Joe Dante)

Definitely a spoof on Jaws. Actually makes a stronger case of “don’t go in the water” than Jaws. Piranha came three years later. Writer John Sayles’ first movie! Exec-produced by Roger Corman. Remade twice, for some reason, once starring William Katt from House. Sequel was of course Piranha II: The Spawning, James Cameron’s first movie.

I’m on a Joe Dante kick. Obviously influenced by the film critics’ strange love of his work, a nostalgic desire to see Gremlins again, and the just-learned fact that Dante was born in Morristown and grew up in Parsippany.

Kevin McCarthy was great as the crazy scientist who secretly continues an army experiment to breed ravenous fresh-and-salt-water piranha. Wish I’d gotten a screen shot of him before returning the DVD.

Ambitious is the movie with a drunken, antisocial, bearded mountain man as protagonist (Bradford Dillman: Briggs in Dirty Harry 4). He and missing persons detective Heather Menzies (of the 1979 Captain America) must warn the world of the killer piranha that they themselves accidentally unleashed… and quickly, before the fish eat Bradford’s daughter at a camp downstream. Italian horror star Barbara Steele is the crazy scientist’s ex, who tries to thwart our heroes, along with Joe Dante fave Dick Miller (of the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors), Death Race 2000 director Paul Bartel, and some army guys. I didn’t notice, but Keenan Wynn of Clonus and Laserblast also appeared. The two fail to stop the fish, but at least the daughter is saved.

Movie amazingly did not suck, was more funny than anything else. Gore/action/creature effects could’ve been edited more tightly, but I guess they wanted to show off what little they had.

The Howling (1981, Joe Dante)

Reporter is stalked by serial killer who turns out to be a werewolf. Then to recover from all that, she’s sent to a retreat which turns out to be a werewolf cult. Bad news!

Her doctor is a werewolf. The stalker’s family are werewolves. Her friend is killed by a werewolf. Her husband falls for a werewolf. Her husband becomes a werewolf. Your sister is a werewolf.

Your werewolf:
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Your sister:
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Another friend buys silver bullets from an antique bookstore owner (Dante regular Dick Miller), goes to the country and whups some werewolf ass, locks everyone in the barn, sets fire to it, and has a close escape… TOO close, cuz the reporter gets bitten! They expose their story by having her wolf-out live on her next newscast (to the horror of her boss, Dante fave Kevin McCarthy), then her friend shoots her and we end.

You should’ve seen him in “Piranha”:
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Keeps silver bullets in stock:
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Fun werewolf effects, movie manages to be a little scary, is less funny than the others… mostly just a good time. Star Dee Wallace-Stone (later star of Critters and Cujo, mom in E.T., Jake Busey’s co-killer in The Frighteners) has got a good scream on her. Her buddy Dennis Dugan is currently gathering bit parts in Adam Sandler movies. Her hairy husband Chris Stone was also in Cujo (he must be the Stone in Wallace-Stone). Another Dante fave, Robert Picardo (Mark Dark in 976-EVIL), is the serial killer Eddie Quist. Elisabeth Brooks is the goth hottie. John Carradine (of The Return of Frank James, Man Hunt, and Red Zone Cuba) must’ve been the old man wandering the werewolf camp, and Slim Pickens was the sheriff.

Cujo:
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Carradine?
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The God of Cookery (1996, Stephen Chow)

Official New Year’s Eve Movie of 2006/07. Means our 2007 will be full of award-winning food, harsh competition, street fights, amazing bouncing meatballs, redemptive plastic surgery, obsessive crushes, big-money revenge schemes, meditation, and Chinese people.

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Martin says if we liked this, we need to see The God of Gamblers, The God of Gamblers II, The God of Gamblers III, The God of Beggars and The Gods Must Be Crazy. All in good time. Myself, I’d rather start with Fight Back to School (which Videodrome actually has).

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Katy liked it, and says it’s a joke on the Iron Chef show.