Part of a Late Horror Masters’ Lesser Works double-feature. Opens with a disclaimer about the treatment of the movie’s monkeys, but they never appeared to be in any convincing danger, except maybe in the final scene. No mention of the treatment of the movie’s parakeets. Monkey tricks are the primary reason to watch this movie, except for George Romero and/or Stanley Tucci completists.

Allan’s car accident:

Allan and monkey giving the same steely expression:

Moody Allan (Jason Beghe of One Missed Call Remake) is badly crippled, so his monkey-researcher friend Geoffrey (John Pankow of Talk Radio) donates a brain-eating monkey to service-animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil of The House on Sorority Row) to get Allan a furry helper buddy. Brain-eating monkey in a George Romero movie – what could go wrong?

Mad scientist Geoffrey:

Geoffrey’s boss Stephen Root:

Moody Allan is a bad influence on the monkey, who starts to murder everyone who she perceives as a threat – first setting fire to Allan’s ex (Lincoln NE’s Janine Turner of Northern Exposure) who has run off with his doctor (Stanley Tucci), then electrocuting Allan’s annoying mom (Joyce Van Patten of Bone), killing Geoffrey via drug injection, and most horribly, murdering the parakeet of Allan’s hateful catetaker (Christine Forrest, Romero’s wife). After she threatens Melanie in a rage, Allan manages to dispatch the monkey using only his neck and mouth. We also get a monkey-surgery dream sequence and blurry monkey-POV shots. Mostly dullsville compared to the space vampires. My birds reacted to the monkey chatter, but not to the parakeet.

Lawrence (who made Water For Elephants and the music video for Gone Till November) turns in a much better Hunger Games movie than the last guy did. This movie will, of course, be best remembered for bringing together both mid-2000’s Truman Capotes: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toby Jones. New additions to the movie’s revolutionary team include Jeffrey Wright (also in Only Lovers Left Alive this year) and Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman).

Chris Evans (Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies) is a scrawny wannabe soldier who doesn’t want to kick ass to show the world that America is #1, he just wants to end global bullying. Against the advice of military dude Tommy Lee Jones, scientist Stanley Tucci sticks Evans into a machine (built by Iron Man’s Dad, Dominic Cooper) that gives him awesome muscles. He gets an invincible shield (which has no magic flying powers, it’s just throwable and bouncy), then is sent on tour to sell war bonds for a year. That was unexpected.

When nazi-spinoff villain Hugo Weaving, who underwent an early version of the Captain America process which gave him mega-muscles but turned his face red, steals Thor’s magic god-box and kills Tucci, Cap goes after him. No time to fall in love with drill instructor Hayley Atwell (of The Prisoner remake), Cap is off to defeat the Red Skull and his morally uneasy scientist Toby Jones. Success, however Cap’s best friend Bucky falls to his death, and Cap falls to his presumed death until he’s dug up by Sam Jackson seventy years in the future.

Joe Johnston previously helmed similar period-adventure-hero flick The Rocketeer and the credited screenwriters (rumor has it there were many more) wrote the Narnia movies and that Peter Sellers bio-pic with Geoffrey Rush.

Just like the book, plus a bunch of good actors (hello, Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson), minus all depth or feeling, and with the worst camerawork I’ve seen in years. Ross made Pleasantville and his DP shot all the latter-day Clint Eastwood pictures, so what happened here? The soundtrack is nice, anyway.

It’s not hard to find a Shakespeare play I haven’t read/seen/acted, but that never stopped Katy from exclaiming “really???” whenever I claimed total unfamiliarity with Midsummer, so we finally rented her favorite version. I liked it… of course, it’s no Much Ado About Nothing with Emma Thompson, but what is? Less zany and complicated than I’d expected. Shakespeare could’ve learned something about comedy from Howard Hawks – or maybe it’s Hoffman, director of dullsville drama Game 6 who could learn something. Fortunately he keeps things much more animated here, seems to do a good job with the so-wide-it’s-squintingly-small-on-my-TV cinematography, though there’s mysteriously no participation by Kenneth Branagh or Michael Keaton (at the time they were busy filming Wild Wild West and doing nothing whatsoever, respectively).

Elf Ritual:

Ally, Bale, McNutty, Friel:

Okay, Dominic West (The Wire‘s McNulty) loves Pushing Daisies star Anna Friel (who doesn’t?) but her fun-hating parents insist she marry boring Christian Bale (toning things down after Velvet Goldmine) who is being stalked by Calista Ally McBeal Flockhart. Unconnected to any of that, Kevin Kline’s cheesy theater group (including Sam Rockwell) is preparing a play to be performed at the royal court. And all of this would probably end badly if not for the meddling of elf king Rupert Everett (Dunston Checks In) who sends puckish Stanley Tucci to prank fairy queen Michelle Pfeiffer, and along the way he turns Kline into a half-donkey and screws with the four lovers. Mud fights and bicycle rides ensue.

Rockwell is a woman, Kline is a ham, the guy behind them is a wall:

Convincingly elvish elf Tucci with mopey Rupert:

In the end everything is sorta normal except that Kline’s play is a hit, McNutty is allowed to be with his girl, and Bale magically loves Ally. I was surprised that McNutty and Ally gave the best performances of the four, even edging out all the magical beings (well maybe not Stanley Tucci), and Kline is excellent, bringing a touch of sadness to his mostly ridiculous comic-relief role. So where’s he been hiding this decade? Prepping for a comeback, hopefully.

Donkey-Kline and Queen Pfeiffer:

The producers (Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott) chose an interesting script (written by Stanley Tucci and his cousin) then hand-picked directors Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, who cast Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver and Campbell Scott.

So a vanity project, and an obvious one (for everyone other than Ian Holm, who is too shouty and shifty and will hopefully not use this on his actor’s reel).

Italian brothers Tucci and Shalhoub (who is actually Lebanese via Wisconsin) have a restaurant that is failing because the food is too authentic for the locals and the atmosphere is dead. They have time for one final feast, their “big night” if you will, with special guest of honor Louis Prima (so movie is maybe set in the late 40’s), invited by their across-the-street rival Ian Holm who is suddenly all buddy-buddy with them. But Holm lied (to get the restaurant to fold, so the brothers will come work for him) and the bank will be foreclosing soon. Before that though, we must have a raging party with the best food anyone has ever tasted, and the brothers must fight then make up in the end, their futures still unwritten.

Such a typical 90’s indie movie. Really nothing to complain about, we enjoyed it pretty well, but it’s also no more groundbreaking or artistically exciting than Shalhoub’s directorial debut (written/starring his sister-in-law) eight years later Made-Up.

Isabella is here, but with too small a part to liven up the movie… it’s really all about the men.

Cinematographer Ken Kelsch (an Abel Ferrara regular) here tries to emphasize the fact that Ian Holm has a mustache, without actually showing the mustache. A risky artistic move that pays off. Holm does, it is later revealed, have a mustache.

The anticlimactic ending (all serious indie movies have anticlimactic endings):