February is off to a pretty good start with 10 movies in seven days. Please read on…
A Shot in the Dark (1964) Blake Edwards (4x)
MGM DVD (1:43)
A Shot in the Dark may be the second installment in the Pink Panther series, but it has always been my personal favorite. Peter Sellers – who did not get top billing in the first film, The Pink Panther (1963) – gets to explore the character of Inspector Clouseau more, gets himself into more ridiculous (and varied) situations and gets to play against the fabulous Herbert Lom as Inspector Dreyfus. Clouseau’s investigation at the nudist camp is priceless. If you’ve never seen the film, it’s a real treat; if you’ve seen it before, you should see it again.
The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) Steve Kloves
MGM DVD (1:54)
Previously discussed here
Chungking Express (1994) Wong Kar-Wai
The Criterion Blu-ray and DVD releases of Chungking Express have been out of print for quite some time, so unless you see it on the streaming service FilmStruck, the film might be hard to find. If you do see it, you’ll understand why the discs are out of print. Chungking Express is not what you would call a mainstream movie, but it has a kind of quirky appeal that playfully nudges right up against the type of movie mainstream audiences like, expanding expectations without causing the frustration that mainstream audiences experience from watching “art” films.
Chungking Express concentrates on two Hong Kong policemen. The first, a Taiwanese cop named He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) is depressed after his girlfriend May breaks up with him on April Fool’s Day. Since He Qiwu’s birthday is May 1, he decides to wait for the girlfriend May for one month before he gets on with his life. He has a ritual of buying tins of pineapple with an expiration date of May 1, one for each of the 30 days. The story also involves a mysterious woman in a blonde wig and trenchcoat.
The second character is another cop, this one unnamed; we know him only by his badge number 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai). He also has suffered a recent breakup. The owner of a local snack bar keeps telling Cop 663 that he should find another girl, perhaps Faye (Faye Wong), the new girl working for him. Faye is secretly smitten with Cop 663, but he doesn’t know it.
I defy anyone to not like this movie. It is filled with charm, comedy, and suspense. As odd as it seems, the first part of the film contains some very interesting crime/noir elements, while the second reminds you of the screwball comedies of classic Hollywood. Yet there’s so much more to the film. The people who see Chungking Express tend to see it over and over again, which probably accounts for the discs being out of print. If I ever see one for sale (at a reasonable price), I’m going to snag it. You should, too.
Animal Crackers (1930) Victor Heeman
Universal – The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection Blu-ray (1:36)
More Marx Brothers madness with Groucho as the famed explorer Captain Jeffrey T. (“The ’T’ stands for Edgar.”) Spaulding returns from a triumphant expedition in Africa. During a party at the home of wealthy socialite Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont), a valuable painting is stolen. The film is loaded with great scenes, gags, and quotes, such as “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know,” and “We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren’t developed. But we’re going back again in a couple of weeks!”
Too Late (2015) Dennis Hauck
Netflix streaming (1:47)
I’ll have much more to say about this film later, but in talking to people, I’ve found absolutely no one who’s seen it. Should you see it? I’ll tell you more later. Stay tuned.
Prescription: Murder (TV 1968) Richard Irving
Columbo Season One DVD (1:40)
Although I used to watch them all the time as a kid, it’s extremely rare that I watch a made-for-TV movie these days. (I’m not sure there even are made-for-TV movies being made anymore, not from the major networks, anyway.) But I watched this after having a discussion with my friend Anne at Noir City 15. She reminded me how much fun the TV show Columbo is, even after all these years.
Columbo was actually not a weekly series but initially part of The NBC Mystery Movie, a weekly show that was in fact a rotation of four shows: Columbo, McCloud (starring Dennis Weaver), Hec Ramsey (starring Richard Boone) and McMillan & Wife (starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James). I remember next to nothing about Hec Ramsey, but McCloud and McMillan & Wife were both enjoyable detective shows, yet Columbo is the one everyone remembers and for good reason.
Peter Falk as Columbo is practically an national treasure delivering performance after performance as the unkempt, charmingly annoying LAPD homicide detective who’s constantly underestimated by the criminals he investigates until he flawlessly brings the guilty party to justice. Prescription: Murder was the pilot of the series and it’s a well-constructed story. Gene Barry plays a psychiatrist who kills his wife for another woman. All of the Columbo films (as far as I know) are inverted mysteries: we know from early on in each episode/film who the murderer/criminal is. The fun is in watching Columbo put the clues together. And it’s spectacular fun.
Selma (2014) Ava DuVernay
Paramount Blu-ray (2:08)
I watched Selma in preparation for our African American History Month showing of the film and was quite impressed with the period detail, the pacing, the music, and especially the acting. Although some have chided the film for the liberties it takes with historical events, both the director Ava DuVernay and U.S. Representative John Lewis have spoken out saying that the film is work of art and not a documentary. It’s a powerful film that everyone should see.
Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980) John Sayles
John Sayles wrote, directed and edited Return of the Secaucus 7, a film that sounds like either a Western, a movie about revolutionaries, or some type of sequel, but is in fact the story of a reunion of seven friends (roughly at the end of their 20s) after several years. Secaucus sounds an awful lot like The Big Chill (1983), but Secaucus came first, is less flashy, and probably more honest (and a better film), although a lot fewer people saw it. Coming at the dawn of the 80s, Secaucus is very much a film of its time, yet the themes of disenchantment and disappointment in the midst of reminiscing and good times are still relevant now.
The Bad Seed (1956) Mervyn LeRoy
Warner DVD (2:09)
Previously discussed here
Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens) (2000) Fabián Bielinsky
Last month I was blown away by Bielinsky’s second (and unfortunately final) feature, El Aura (2005). Nueve Reinas was his first feature, a crime thriller/noir about Marcos, a seasoned con artist (Ricardo Darín, left) who decides to take a younger, less experienced con man named Juan (Gastón Pauls, right) under his wing, but only for a day. As luck would have it, a potentially profitable scheme falls into their laps: Marcos finds a former associate who needs Marcos to sell a fake set of rare stamps called “The Nine Queens” to a rich Spanish mark before he leaves the country. Just when you think you know where Nueve Reinas is going, it surprises you right up until the end. You may not buy the ending, which I can totally understand, but the journey is one you wouldn’t trade for anything.
In the introduction to the film on FilmStruck, Eddie Muller talks about the star of the film Ricardo Darín. Darín is practically an institution in Argentina, having been nominated for the Silver Condor Award (the Argentine equivalent of the Oscar) twelve times, winning the award five times. In just two films, Darín has become one of my favorite current actors. In two completely different roles, he is absolutely believable and compelling. According to Muller, Darín refuses to work in Hollywood because they offer him nothing but drug lord roles. Darín, keep doing what you’re doing, sir. I know I’ll keep watching and I’m not alone.
That’s going to do it for the first week of February. Let me know if you plan to see any of the films I’ve mentioned here. I hope you will.
Photos: IMCDB, Cinapse, Hollywood Reporter, A Hero Never Dies, Cinemagraphe, New York Review of Books, IndieWire, The Critical Cinephile,