In the Name of Love…(and in honor of my wedding!)

So its been a while since I’ve done any of these smaller reviews, and since love is most definitely in the air, (and in honor of my getting married a few days ago) I thought I’d do some more with a nod to the romance genre. These, are all films from the list of 1001 movies, mind you, the label “Romance” has been placed on them (sometimes appropriately, sometimes inexplicably) by the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, not by me, so my apologies for any confusion (Natural Born Killers, and Abre Los Ojos, I’m looking in your general direction). Hope you enjoy!

Tirez Sur Le Pianiste AKA Shoot the Piano Player (1960)

Francois Truffaut’s second full length film after the fantastic “The 400 Blows”, wasn’t quite as good as his first outing, nor was it as iconic as his most famous, and most romanticized film, Jules et Jim, which is really the film of his that should have been on this genre list rather than Shoot the Piano Player. Jules et Jim is a portrait of the romance that can happen between men and women, between friends, and can turn from light and positive, to smothering and destructive. All that aside, Shoot the Piano Player is far from a bad film, it just doesn’t stand up as well next to the heavyweights that surround it.

Giulietta Degli Spiriti AKA Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

Once again, this film doesn’t quite fit into the tidy little mold of “Romance” that the book sort of lumps it into. Rather, Juliet of the Spirits, seeks to illustrate the freedom of cutting the strings of dependency and exiting a bad relationship. The titular Juliet, trapped in a bad relationship with a distant, and unfaithful husband and judging family, sees in her free-spirited, sexually open neighbor, a chance at being happy by herself. The looping, colorful visuals and the almost song-like nature of the films structure make Juliet of the Spirits a lot of fun to watch. This is my favorite of all of Federico Fellini’s films. Definitely worthy of its place on this list.

Harold and Maude (1971)

By removing the initial motivators of attraction (the age limitations, and socially acceptable standards of beauty), we are able to focus entirely on the real magic of a successful relationship…the relating. Struggling for attention from his parents and peers, Harold manages to find someone, Maude, who causes him to see the world in a completely different way than he normally does, and teaches him to stretch his wings and live beyond the rules that govern everyday life. Aside from teaching this 20-something young man how to deal with other people, the 70-something Maude teaches him all about his own sexuality, both in theory as well as in practice. This off beat little film, fits very well into this “romance” category.

“I wanna be Maude when I grow up.” – Ashley

Manhattan (1979)

This Woody Allen film is one of a select few of his films that I really, really like. Not only does it (famously) make New York seem like a grand, vibrant, and teeming place full of possibilities (most Woody Allen films I feel rely solely on crazy characters), but it also doesn’t make the opposite mistake of making it seem like a mad-cap thing, a ridiculous parody of itself, full of assholes and caricatures of real people. Allen really gets it right in this film.

Tootsie (1982)

Mrs. Doubtfire, but much funnier!

“Almost as good as Mrs. Doubtfire.” – Ashley

The Princess Bride (1987)

I may be a little biased. I grew up with this film and am not able to see it for any of its flaws. Not only is this film a great romance, it has so much more to offer as a movie. Adventure, humor, fractured storytelling, Fred Savage, it has everything!!! This movie really is pretty fantastic and holds up well under scrutiny, it’s a shame there aren’t more films like it out there.

“Romacticomisy!” – Ashley

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

While this isn’t nearly my favorite Rob Reiner movie (This Is Spinal Tap), it does, however, stand on its own as a very good one. It’s tried and true story of a couple of people who discover that after years of being friends and butting heads about the little things in life, they are actually in love with one another and have been secretly (secret to themselves as well as everyone else) been pining away after one another the whole time.

“Awww…” – Ashley

Say Anything (1989)

As pop culture aficionado, Chuck Klosterman, wrote in his book Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, every girl dreams about taking Lloyd Dobler home to meet her parents. Or more accurately, they’re interested in the idea of Lloyd Dobler rather than any actual flesh and blood guy that may or may not share similarities with him. While this could very well be true, there is something to the romanticized tale of the young man who does everything he can to win the object of his affection. Top it all off with socially relevant, and timeless crafting of soundtrack and you’ve got yourself a Cameron Crowe movie before everyone knew what that even was.

“Mmmm….John Cusack.” – Ashley

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Based more on the gothic style of Edward Gorey, rather than the more recent works of Tim Burton with the computer generated color spectrum of Milton Bradley board games, Edward Scissorhands is Burton at his stylistic peak. The film puts the normalcy of suburbia under the microscope attempting to find the flaws in beauty and vice versa.

“Ugly haircuts!” – Ashley

Groundhog Day (1993)

Hilarious. Hi. Lar. I. Ous! Do yourself a favor if you haven’t seen this movie, and rent, buy, borrow, or steal it. Bill Murray at his comedic finest, and for once something Andie McDowell is good in. Or more to the point, she isn’t bad in it. Chris Elliot, whether or not you love him or hate him (I personally love him), plays well off of Murray’s short fuse. The small town gags, time travel humor, and of course Ned Ryerson pay off again and again. Totally one of my favorite comedies of all time, oh and I guess it’s got some romance in it too.

“Oh, my gosh!  When the little groundhog is driving the truck…Adorable!” – Ashley

The Piano (1993)

Jane Campion is a rather hard nut for me to crack. While I didn’t fall in love with the piano, I didn’t dislike it either. It actually falls in the middle in terms of appreciation of the three films of hers that I’ve seen. I liked Holy Smoke! better, and absolutely regret seeing In The Cut (the flop with Meg Ryan trying to be luridly sexy. FYI, it doesn’t work.) Still the love story is there. Between both Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunter’s characters, as well as between Hunter’s Ada, and the piano she loves so dearly. Unfortunately, like a lot of love stories, this one has a healthy bit of tragedy mixed into it.

Natural Born Killers (1994)

While this film does contain a romance that most certainly moves the story forward, and provides conflict for the main characters (Mickey and Mallory Knox), the film itself is more an analysis of our dependence upon and love affair with television, pop-culture, and mass media as a whole. The rather juvenile and simple love story at the heart of the film is intended to be as such and as a result can’t really be considered a “romance” as it were. All that aside, I do really respect this film, all it has to say, and the skill of craftsmanship that went into creating it. It’s just that calling it a romance is like calling Die Hard a Christmas movie, it is…but it isn’t.

“Shot on every film stock available.” – Ashley

Chong Qing Sen Lin AKA Chungking Express (1994)

The first of two Wong Kar Wai movies on this list (the second being In The Mood For Love), both of which deal with the idealism and theory of love. In Chungking Express, it’s the romanticizing of the love that has passed by, and focuses on the memories and impressions of two love struck cops as they pine over the relationships that have passed them by. The real magic and whimsy of this film comes in through the cinematography and camera work. The sheer color used in this film puts most Technicolor films to shame. Hong Kong never looked so good as it does here, and it never seemed quite as magical either.

Braveheart (1995)

This is it. This is pointed to as the last great Mel Gibson movie before he decided to show the world just how crazy he actually was. Everyone I’ve ever met who’s seen it seems to be helpless against its charms. While it is good, it is not the knockout that everyone said it was before I saw it for the first time. Gibson’s typical formula of sappy sentimentality and buckets of blood and guts is certainly shocking at times, and tries to tug at the heart-strings at others, but it really ends up seeming a little too melodramatic overall. Good not great, but certainly better than The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, or his often publicized rants about religion, race, his wife, and the attractiveness of the officers that are simply trying to do their jobs and arrest him. I’d say do yourself a favor and watch Lethal Weapon, or the second Mad Max instead.

“Another movie about how awesome the British are!” – Ashley (said with a straight face)

Clueless (1995)

I wrote this movie off when it first came out, but since then i’ve seen it and it’s actually a pretty decent re-telling of Jane Austen’s Emma (although to be honest I had to look that up. I was under the mistaken impression that it was based on Shakespeare). Alicia Silverstone, and Paul Rudd (yup, that Paul Rudd), manage to skewer the early 90’s pretty successfully, although I’m guessing a lot of my new-found affection for it is based on nostalgia rather than an actual interest in the early 90’s. The movie features a laundry list of B level stars who, look familiar and you know you’ve seen in other places, however none of whom are really worth that much excitement (Donald Faison, Brittany Murphy, Breckin Meyer, and Jeremy Sisto, most notably).

“Like, oh my god, you totally made out with your step-brother!” – Ashley

Shine (1996)

Again we have a film that doesn’t fit into the romance category quite right. Don’t get me wrong, there is indeed a romance. That side of the story is shadowed by the larger story of the man (David Helfgott played by the capable Geoffrey Rush) and his tumultuous relationship with his music. As with the recent biography, The Kings Speech, Geoffrey Rush proves himself as an actor capable of doing so much with the time he is given on-screen. The steps of going from his passion through his breakdown, and the long hard journey back again seems utterly believable and not at all melodramatic, which is especially remarkable considering the story features, child abuse, hardship, concentration camps, war, sibling rivalry, poverty, defeat, and redemption. A remarkable achievement indeed.

Abre Los Ojos AKA Open Your Eyes (1997)

I saw this film after seeing it’s much over hyped remake, Vanilla Sky. That may have lessened the impact of the big reveal at the end by quite a lot, but I have to admit that neither film really did all that much for me. Both were okay. Both had the same interesting concept at its core, and both had Penelope Cruz playing the exact same role, but neither really had that spark that most good, and all great science fiction movies have. That concept that blows your mind, even if just a little. The romance in this case tends more towards the obsession end than most of these other films, and as a result it never really knows whether it’s more of a “Fatal Attraction” or more of a high concept “Blade Runner” type movie. In terms of its addition to the list of 1001 greatest movies ever, at least they didn’t pick Vanilla Sky. Yuck!

Titanic (1997)

In terms of ticket sales, record-breaking box office, risk of failure, and even scale of the production, Titanic deserves to be on this list. Where films like D.W. Griffith’s “Intolorance”, and Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” ended up failing, Titanic really, against all odds, succeeded. The film rocketed the careers of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet into the stratosphere, and cemented the reputation of director James Cameron as a director who can deliver on the scale of something like “Gone with the Wind” or “Ben-Hur”. As far as story goes, it is a fun story, but not in my opinion worth all the hullaballoo that it’s generated. Instead go see, Aliens for action combined with a strong mother/daughter relationship, or Terminator for a strong action combined with romance movie. I even liked The Abyss better, if you want a sort of action, sort of underwater space alien movie with a hint of romance. I pretty much like everything James Cameron has done without question except for Titanic which was just okay, and Avatar which was just a bloated piece of shit.

Rushmore (1998)

By far this is the most beloved Wes Anderson movie the world has ever known, by almost everyone but me. For my money, I’d take The Royal Tenenbaums any day of the week, month, year, or decade. That isn’t to say that Rushmore is bad, or that it’s craftsmanship isn’t up to snuff. I just happen to connect with and enjoy each of Anderson’s other movies far more than this one. The story, simple as it may be, involves romance but isn’t really focused on it. Max (played by the pretty awesome Jason Schwartzman) finds himself infatuated with one of his teachers at the prestigious Rushmore Academy. Coincidentally, that same teacher is the object of the attention and affections of one of Max’s mentors Herman Blume (one of Anderson’s regulars, Bill Murray). The one-ups-man-ship that follows goes to ridiculous degrees, but ultimately both characters have to learn to find love without Rosemary, the teacher in question, who is interested in neither of them.

“More like Less Anderson!” – Ashley

There’s Something About Mary (1998)

Certainly the most famous of the Farrelly Brother’s films, this is alas, not my favorite of theirs. My pick would be Dumb and Dumber which would have fit equally well into the genre of romance. Where as with Dumb and Dumber, I laughed so hard that I had trouble breathing, with Mary I only really chuckled a few times. I haven’t seen it since it was originally out in theaters, but I really haven’t had the desire. I kinda like Ben Stiller, and I do like Chris Elliott, but they are no team Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Go see Dumb and Dumber!

“Which creepy guy is a girl to choose?” – Ashley

Dut Yeung Nin Wa AKA In the Mood for Love (2000)

All of the words that get thrown around when talking about beautiful, touching movies, can easily be applied to this film, In the Mood for Love, and they still seem like they don’t do it justice. Sumptuous, lush, vibrant, gorgeous, breathtaking…I could go on, but I think you get the idea, the film had an impact on me. The story of two people who are neighbors, each of whose spouses are cheating on them, find comfort in the friendship and love that develops between them. It’s entirely accurate to say that, though it’s slowly paced and a little difficult to start, once you get going, you will be hooked. This is the love affair that was only hinted at in Brief Encounter, and grazed in Lost in Translation. Quite possibly the most beautiful looking movie I have ever seen. Just talking about my memories of it makes me want to get it down off of my DVD shelf and watch it again.

“Gasp!” – Ashley

Wo Hu Cang Long AKA Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

A little bit long for my taste, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is still a pretty awesome, gorgeous and sweeping kung fu movie. The romance in this film is two-fold. Firstly there is the forbidden romance between master Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat son!) and his colleague in kung fu skill Yu Shu Lien (the always exceptional Michelle Yeoh). Secondly there is the love that can only come from impetuous youth, here in the form of a skilled and impetuous assassin and the desert bandit who tested her limits. Both romances unfold during the quest for the stolen sword “Green Destiny”, as well as the assassination plot that threatens all involved…blah, blah, blah….IT HAS CHOW YUN-FAT! One of the coolest people ever to live, and exist, and be alive. See it!

“Sometimes a bitch just gotta run on a tree!” – Ashley

Y Tu Mama Tambien AKA And Your Mother Too (2001)

This coming-of-age come (no pun intended) sexual-awakening movie also serves as a portrait of the Mexico City of today. A place that despite the long distances that it has come, still has a long way to go in order to close the disperate gaps between the social and economic classes. Two young men, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) aren’t so much vying for the love of Ana, (the young woman who teaches them about their sexuality) as they are trying to one-up each other in boasting and peacockery. We watch these young men start down the road to maturity, starting as selfish, inexperienced children, and heading towards, fully grown, stronger adults. Y Tu Mama Tambien is a document of a modern-day Mexico, it’s citizens, and two young men in transition, and is well worth a watch.

Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain AKA Amelie (2001)

If the joie de vivre of post war Paris, and the existential longing for love and meaning found during the French new wave of the 60’s were to have a baby it would be named Amelie (or Le Fabuleux Destin D’Amelie Poulain in French). I was floored by this movie the first time I saw it. During the whole last 20 minutes or so I held my breath and, as they say, it may have gotten a bit dusty in the theater by the end. Audrey Tautou, as the beautiful, yet lonely, ingenue Amelie is perfectly cast. Director in his own right, Mathieu Kassovitz, plays her counterpart Nino, who together with Tautou, and a whole cast of Jean Pierre Jeunet regulars, brings just enough quirkiness and humor to balance out the sappy sentimentality, and potentially maudlin subject. Amelie is as light and happy as the typical french concertina music that permeates the soundtrack. A joy for the eyes, ears, and heart.

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“Beautiful, shy girl finds love in a photo booth.” – Ashley

Moulin Rouge (2001)

Yet another film taking place in the city of lights, a favorite location for romances, Moulin Rouge is a blending of old and new. The tradition of musicals blended with the song-smithing, pro-tools tinkering and visual flair of today. Following up his huge music driven success, Romeo + Juliet, director Baz Luhrman again uses hyper-kinetic imagery and aesthetic to amp up the style of 1800’s Paris. For each step forward he takes in terms of style from his last film, he takes a step backward in terms of appropriate talent of his lead actor and actress. That is to say, though both Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman are accomplished actors in their own rights, but they don’t quite have the singing and dancing chops of some of the actors of old. That aside, a colorful cast of secondary characters, engaging set pieces, and a well crafted romance more than make up for whatever minor shortfalls the main actors have when it comes to performance. The kaleidoscopic frenzy that the, cinematography, songs, and story add up to becomes its own sort of metronome-esque pace, and once that rhythm takes hold you don’t want it to let go.

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“Tuberculosis: The Musical!” – Ashley

So there you have it. Another 25 little reviews of films that I’d seen previous to starting this undertaking done and out of the way. I hope you’ve enjoyed them despite their brevity, or maybe because of it, and please forgive me for getting sentimental…I did just get married after all!

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – 1961

Director – Blake Edwards

Starring – Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, and Mickey Rooney

I’ve heard for years about Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Nothing concrete mind you, nothing in-depth about the plot, the themes, the writing, or any of the lead or supporting actors.  Apparently, what I had been hearing about was Audrey Hepburn.  Her style, her grace, and most of all her fashion sense.  While by and large Audrey is most definitely deserving of all the acclaim she has garnered over the years, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is definitely it’s own beast, above and beyond such things.

For those, like me, who have only been privy to random rumblings about minor aspects of this film, here is a breakdown of the story.  Audrey Hepburn plays the young, beautiful, quirky, carefree, flakey, and wholly unreliable Holly Golightly, a character who wrote the book on what real-life actresses like Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel, and Chloe Sevigny have built plenty of their roles on.  Her charm and magnetism carries her through life, drawing people to her both for good and ill.  She seems to live in a bubble protecting her from any real sort of responsibility, keeping her real thoughts and feelings at an arm’s-length from anyone who might try to get close to her.  Mind you that doesn’t stop anyone from trying, prospective suitors, friends, and even family, keep trying to reel her back into reality, and are forever willing to forgive her for struggling to keep them away.

Even the square-jawed, perfectly coiffed, understanding, new neighbor, Paul Varjack (played by a George Peppard with super Technicolor blue eyes), runs into the same brick wall that everyone else does.  Where everyone else eventually gets the hint, Paul maintains his pursuit of Holly despite her track record of flighty behavior, and gold-digger-esque tendencies.  Paul himself is a slave to what made him a success as well.  His claim to fame is a novel that he wrote with the support of his well-to-do mistress, without whom he would still be in dwelling in relative obscurity.

Assuming both Holly and Paul were able to maintain the same frame of mind, they would make a good couple, but Paul has grown tired of his shallow existance, and yearns for something else.  In the end, all of Holly’s qualities that attract Paul, end up keeping him at arm’s length.  The free-spirited, irresponsible behavior that seems so attractive at first, ends up actually being a bundle of paranoia and anxiety, unable to let go of a failed formula for love and success. That isn’t quite the glamorous image that is presented in the marketing of the film.

This film is much closer to the films of the seventies than it’s release date lets on.  It is more concerned with the exploration of the damaged side of the young miss Golightly, and mr. Varjack than it is with showing off the lush, lavish, fun lifestyle of the sixties.  It seeks to juxtapose the unfulfilled, unhappiness that both Paul and Holly are subject to, with the carefree party lifestyle that both are living (on the surface anyway).  In the end, non-stop drinking, lurid rendezvous’ with faceless strangers, and the absence of any sort of responsibility will only contribute to the feeling of worthlessness.  Holly’s telephone, locked away in her suitcase, is representative of her isolation from and fear of the actual relationships, commitments, and everything else encompassed by “the real world”.

On script writing duties is Truman Capote, a man who I know little about although I’m more curious than ever to read more of his work.

The director, Blake Edwards is no stranger to popular, well regarded movies.  Though this does seem to have a somewhat deeper subtext than a lot of his other movies, it does share a fair amount with some of his other films (I’m going from memory here, it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything.), most notably “The Party” from 1968.  The party scenes in both films share a certain voyeuristic quality as the audience simply observes the merriment and mayhem as it happens.  They don’t so much expound upon what we already know of our characters as much as they give us a inkling of the time and the place in which they live.  There is some humor there, but it is more descriptive than it seems on the surface.

I have to say I was surprised by how much I liked this film.  On paper, a film about two broken socialites doesn’t seem all that engaging to me.  I really like Audrey Hepburn, in everything I’ve seen her in, so it was a no-brainer that I’d like her here, but I can’t shake the image of George Peppard as Hannibal from the A-Team, so he was a bit of a harder sell at the outset.  It’s a good thing he didn’t smoke a cigar in this film or my suspension of disbelief would have been gone and it would have pulled me out of the film entirely.

Truthfully though, his character, Paul, was the real heart of the film.  While Holly, along with her sense of style, is the centerpiece of the film, Peppard does most of the heavy lifting in terms of character growth, exposition, and engagement with the audience.  Peppard is to Hepburn what Joseph Cotton is the Orson Welles in “The Third Man”.

The film’s one failing grace, and really it’s just a sign of the times in which it came out, was the overtly racist, and unflattering view of asian culture put forth in the form of Holly’s upstairs neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi played by the shitty Mickey Rooney.  Rooney’s portrayal serves no purpose except for getting cheap laughs at the expense of a people perceived as being simply ignorant, pajama-wearing, slow-witted, buffoons.  Luckily it doesn’t ruin the rest of the film, though it is unfortunate.

All in all I would say the film paints an accurate picture of loneliness, and as a bonus it crafts a realistic and satisfying ending that allows the characters to grow beyond their selfish, opulent trappings.  Overall, I’d say it’s definitely well worth the time, and worth a watch.

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“Don’t worry.  The cat’s fine.” – Ashley

Roman Holiday (1953)

Roman Holiday – 1953

Director – William Wyler

Starring – Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck

In the 1950’s while the majority of Europe was struggling to re-build after World War 2, the United States was going like gangbusters.  Everything from the automotive and manufacturing industries, to the housing market, to the film industry was experiencing a general growth spurt.  This optimistic, forward-looking outlook on the future is in stark contrast to the over-all worldview of films coming out of war-torn Europe.  

Roman Holiday, set in post-war Rome, is a light and breezy fairy tale of a story.  A product of the United States, it paints a very different picture of life in Rome than to the films that came out of the Italian Neo-Realism movement of the same time period.  Those films often dealt with the hardships of everyday life.  Balancing the need for money, food, and shelter, with the morality and reality of stealing, community-interaction, and poverty.   A film like Roman Holiday seems light-years away from this awareness of the dark-side of humanity.  The highest stakes presented in this film have to do with embarrassment, and to a slight degree, greed.

The story centers around the rebellious princess of a fictional country, played with verve, and a naive charm by Audrey Hepburn, visiting Rome on a mission of friendship.  Gregory Peck plays a down-on-his-luck, two-bit, American reporter looking to get from under the thumb of his cantankerous editor.  Looking for adventure, Princess Ann sneaks away from her security detail one night to take in a few of the sights of Rome.  Unfortunately for her though, she had been given a sedative before she left, and winds up drowsing off on a park bench.  Enter Peck’s Joe Bradley.  After a few minutes of trying to get a cab to take her home, he relents and takes her back to his place.  Eventually he figures out who she is, and sets in motion a plan to get an exclusive, candid interview from the princess.

In order to preserve the ruse that she is undercover, he pretends to simply enjoy her company and offers to show her the sights of the city.  Predictably, his feelings for her begin to change as the day goes by, and by the end he is conflicted by the dual draws of monetary stability, and newfound love.

Despite presenting a completely different tone, and perspective on the post-war situation in Italy, Roman Holiday remains a rather charming, fun, romantic movie.  Mostly thanks to Hepburn’s wide-eyed optimism and energy the film stays engaging and charming, managing to avoid any weighty issues such as the war.  In truth we never believe for a minute that these two people won’t hit it off completely, and truthfully that’s okay.  More than anything this is a love letter to the city of Rome, and we spend the entirety of the film enjoying it along with our two main characters.  Completely worth the watch, but in my opinion, Charade starring Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, and the city of Paris is a far superior film and more deserving of being on this list.