Movie roundup.

Today’s Google Homepage Quote of the Day is from my beloved Dorothy Parker: “If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.”

This week Z and I have been dutifully adhering to a schedule that designates 9am-1pm as the Official Workday, which means that I am now Playing Official Hooky. I had a hard time extricating myself from a dream in which madame_urushiol was teaching me to shoot a rifle and got a somewhat late start. I can’t start Officially Using My Brain until the coffee cup is empty.

My late start is due, no doubt, to the fact that when I should have been going to sleep last night, I couldn’t put down David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green, kindly sent to me by bcjennyo. I won’t review it just yet, but it may be my favorite book to date by one of my favorite contemporary writers. I hang on his every word like he’s the spellbinding date I never met.

Z and I have made a tentative plan not to spend every single evening sipping drinks in front of a television screen, but we’ve had such a good run of DVDs lately that it’s hard to tear ourselves away. Briefly:

The Shanghai Gesture (1941): Ona Munson in the most incredible yellowface ever—seriously, she would rock the West Village’s Halloween parade—as Mother Gin Sling, proprietress of a Shanghai “House of Vice.” Apparently the house vices in the play on which the film is based were too much for the censors, so here Mother Gin Sling oversees a huge room shaped like an inverted wedding cake (to suggest a descent into hell?) where people play roulette in the bottom ring. But the vice is hardly the point; it’s Ona Munson’s hair. (See the film and you’ll know what I mean.) Also starring Gene Tierney as the feisty Victoria, a.k.a. “Poppy,” who in the play is a nymphomaniac but in the film is simply insane. So it’s family-friendly.

God of Gamblers (1989): Chow Yun-Fat is wonderful as the uber-suave God of Gamblers who, courtesy of that legendary narrative device Bump On The Head, loses his memory and reverts to the mentality of a giddy 12-year-old. He’s picked up by a group of hard-luck riffraff who parade him around town as, in the words of the Netflix disc sleeve, the “Retarded God of Gamblers.” Obviously, hilarity ensues. In addition, the subtitles are a brilliant experiment in surreality.

Stage Door (1937): Um, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and Lucille Ball all in the same film. Enough said, really. I laughed, I cried (well, no, I didn’t actually cry), and I realized Meg Ryan learned everything she knows from Ms. Ginger playing drunk. A new favorite.

Grand Hotel (1932): Again, the ensemble cast makes watching this movie a no-brainer—Greta Garbo as a weird Russian ballerina, Joan Crawford as a sexy but kind stenographer, John Barrymore as a hotel thief with a heart of gold, and Lionel Barrymore as a broken-down factory bookkeeper with some terminal disease drinking himself to death in style at the eponymous Grand Hotel of Weimar Berlin. Everyone is magnificent. Joan Crawford bears an uncanny resemblance to Gillian Anderson. Lionel Barrymore broke my heart. And Garbo is Garbo. Also, there’s a great behind-the-scenes special feature on the DVD about how Garbo and John Barrymore, after a briefly chilly introduction on the first day of shooting, couldn’t stop making out with each other in between takes. Classic.

Okay, I’d better pull out a book before truant officer Z catches me. And my coffee’s gone.

12 thoughts on “Movie roundup.

  1. Grand Hotel has been one of my favorite movies since I was a kid. The first time I saw it, I didn’t know that any of the people in it were famous, I just liked the story and the different kinds of people being portrayed. Once I found out about the individual cast members, I was even more impressed.

  2. I’m so glad you liked Black Swan Green. I loved it so much. Have you ever read Jonathan Coe? If not, you must. He and Mitchell are both fabulous, and The Rotters’ Club reminded me very much of Black Swan Green.

      • Generally, his books are standalone, so it doesn’t matter where you start, but The Closed Circle (his newest) is a sequel to The Rotters’ Club. I think The Winshaw Legacy is my favorite, but The Rotters’ Club is more along the lines of Black Swan Green in theme and setting.

  3. I wish I could hook up with Kat Hepburn. Sigh. She was so amazing.

    I have an odd connection to Howard Hughes and seem to mimic his sensibilities and insanities. Bleh.

  4. You’ve been watching some seriously good movies! I haven’t seen God of Gamblers, but the others are great. Of course, I’d watch anything with Garbo just to watch Garbo.

    • I have a haphazard and incomplete catalog of my books there, under zugenia. I joined when you could still get a lifetime membership for $10. It’s a great way to kill time with malicious ferocity.

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