Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Love Triangles

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three films that fit the week's theme and telling us a bit about them!

Ah, the love triangle. The time-honored tradition of two men going after the same woman... or one woman falling for two different guys at the same time (yeah, it usually doesn't go the other way around). It is a situation fraught with tension. Or, at least, it can be. I can only imagine how frustrating this must be in real life, but in movies it can sometimes be fun.

The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) I suppose you COULD call this a "love square" since Katharine Hepburn's Tracy Lord has three suitors.... except that the third man (John Howard's poor George) is really never part of the "love" part of the equation. Tracy divorced C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) for his alcoholism, and now she's set to marry the respectable and utterly boring George, who worships her. But then undercover newspaper reporter Mike Connor (Jimmy Stewart) shows up and sparks fly as friendly competition picks up between all three of them (this is Kate Hepburn we're talking about, after all). Everyone knows she isn't going to end up marrying George (poor, poor George), but will she fall back in love with (read: realize she never fell out of love with) Dexter, or will she fall hard enough for the stalwart Mike? The three leads could not have been more perfectly cast (except perhaps for the two men Hepburn originally wanted, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy - of course), and despite the manic plot the whole thing is fleet-footed in that way that only comedies of the 1930s and 40s are.

Victor/Victoria (Blake Edwards, 1982) Alright, now pay attention, this one's kinda complicated. Out of work opera singer Victoria Grant (Julie Andrews) is broke and starving in Paris when she runs into Carroll Todd (Robert Preston). Together, they hatch a plan to become the toast of the town: Victoria will play the role of Victor, a female impersonator. She sings as herself, then at the end of the act, rips off her "wig" to "reveal" herself as a man! Because Julie Andrews is SO BUTCH! But then Chicago club owner King Marchand (James Garner) and his girlfriend Norma (Lesley Ann Warren, the REAL star of this movie) show up, and King falls in lust/love with Victor. I mean, Victoria. Because he's absolutely positive that there's no way she's really a man (probably because he's an American. I mean, what do the French know, right?). But Norma is convinced her beau is falling for a man, because she may be a ditz, but she's not completely.... well, no, really, she is completely dumb. But now King is caught in the middle, between a crazy dumb chick and a woman playing a man playing a woman. A lot of the very smart things Victor/Victoria has to say about gender, sexuality, love, and attraction are undercut somewhat by the fact that "Victor" really doesn't exist, but to be honest, that doesn't really matter, because Blake Edwards is in top form here, perfectly staging every single scene in this gag-filled movie musical. And the music by Henry Mancini is pretty damn great, too. Come for Julie's iconic "Le Jazz Hot", stay for the beautiful, hugely effective ballad "Crazy World". And then there's Lesley Ann Warren, doing the greatest dumb blonde routine this side of Jean Hagen in Singin' in the Rain.

3 (Tom Tykwer, 2011) What if a couple in a long-term relationship fell, independently of each other, for the same man? That is the question posed by Tom Tykwer's film, and it's a totally contemporary, worthy question. And the best part is, most "love triangles" are really Vs, with one person attracted to two others at the same time. But here, that third line gets filled in, creating a TRUE love triangle. It's a fascinating film, kind of like Tykwer's breakthrough Run Lola Run without the action sequences, but with all that energy turned into sex/sexiness.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Movies with Memorable Declaration/Confessions of Love

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in by picking three movies that fit the theme of the week and telling us a bit about them!

As Valentine's month rolls on, here we are at Thursday Movie Picks, picking movies with memorable declarations or confessions of love. You know, the grand gestures, the heartfelt speeches... the ones we all try to duplicate or better in real life but never quite manage to pull off.

In other words, prepare yourself for some giant clichés!

"I love you. And not in a friendly way, although we're great friends. And not in a misplaced affection, puppy dog way, which I'm sure is what you'll call it."
Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith, 1997) I mean, I'd fuck Ben Affleck after that speech, wouldn't you? But she leaves! Allow me to explain: Holden is a comic book artist, so is Alyssa. They meet at a comic convention and become fast friends, and of course, Holden becomes attracted to her. There's just one tiny little problem: Alyssa is a lesbian. BUT (and here is where the film really steps in it) she decides to start up a relationship with Holden anyway. It doesn't go well, but not necessarily because both of them are attracted to women. But the problematic nature of what follows doesn't diminish the power of this speech one bit.

"You complete me." "You had me at hello."
Jerry Maguire (Cameron Crowe, 1996) This one has become the biggest cliché, but deservedly so. It gets to the heart of how we love AND how we fall in love. It's kind of amazing it took until 1996 for anyone to write it like this. Jerry is a sports agent with commitment issues. Dorothy is a single mom whose sister hosts a weekly meeting of divorced women who are - to put it mildly - man-haters. They get married impulsively, have some issues, and take a break. But then Jerry comes back during the weekly meeting, mans up, and drops this bomb. And just when he's getting going, Dorothy cuts him off. She doesn't need him to say anything. Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger are on top form in this. So winning. Bonus: Dorothy's declaration of love - to her sister, although Jerry overhears - is also pretty great.

"I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."
Notting Hill (Roger Michell, 1999) This scene shouldn't work. It shouldn't. As written, it is incredibly condescending, almost irredeemable pap. But Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant pull it off, through some strange kind of likable-movie-star alchemy. Anna is a movie star who's had a string of bad relationships. William is a sad-sack book-store owner who hasn't had any luck after his divorce. They meet-cute a few times and then start seeing each other, until her fame (and his ego) gets in their way. But in an attempt to win him back, she brings by a painting and this killer little speech. He says no - to protect his heart - but realizes not long after she leaves that he was being a daft prick. That painting? Oh, just an ORIGINAL CHAGALL.

Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003) Go ahead, pick your favorite. "To me, you are perfect." "Bonita Aurelia." The kid running through the airport. Richard Curtis's Frankstein's monster of spare romantic comedy parts is lousy with memorable declarations of love. Some work better than others, but most of them work far better than they have any right to thanks to a sterling cast, a light touch, and - let's be honest - all those British accents.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - May/December Romance

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves.

Ah, romance is in the air this month for Thursday Movie Picks! This week, we're taking a look at the May/December romance: A relationship where there is a large age difference between partners, usually with one in their twilight years (hence the "December" part). Confession time: I spent the better part of the last decade in what some might describe as a May/December Romance - the gap between our ages was just over twenty years. He was still relatively young, though (it wasn't until towards the end of our relationship that he turned 50, so I wouldn't classify it as a May/December, although some might. That doesn't have an effect on my feelings towards May/December romances, though. Sometimes they're played for laughs, sometimes they're played straight, and I think that's true to how these types of relationships are in real life, too: Some are true love, and some are... well...

Gold Diggers of 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy, 1933) Yes, it's a trope nearly as old as the screen: younger girl falls (or "falls") for much older, much wealthier man. Now, I'm not saying Trixie Lorraine's a gold digger, but she sure as hell ain't messin' with no broke... OH WHO AM I KIDDING. They get married after ONE DATE. OF COURSE she's a gold digger! The plot of this pre-code musical doesn't really matter (a depression-era producer is trying to mount a show but doesn't have money, enter a secretly independently wealthy piano player whose family naturally comes to try and stop him), because it's all really an excuse to have some Busby Berkeley musical numbers. The most famous, justly, is "We're In The Money", the opening number sung by Ginger Rogers. I also love "The Shadow Waltz", which features some of the most ridiculous costumes ever created, just for ONE SHOT where the girls are shot from above to look like a flower. That Busby Berkeley. What a fucking genius.

Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003/2004) The May/December Romance gone deadly. Beatrix (Uma Thurman) was very young when she first met the much-older Bill (David Carradine) and he took her under his wing, into his league of assassins, and somewhere along the way, into his bed. But after she became pregnant she decided she had to get out of the deadly assassin's life. To say Bill didn't take kindly to that is, well, putting it too kindly. Quentin Tarantino's fourth film was chopped in two for its release, and somewhere there supposedly is a cut that puts the whole thing together into one movie. I'd watch that in a heartbeat. Part One is an action-packed samurai extravaganza and Part Two is a bit quieter and more character-based. They balance each other out nicely (or at least, I imagine they do when put together). The saga of "The Bride" is probably Tarantino's best film, more than making up for its (relative) lack of ambition with stellar editing, cinematography, casting, and music (that trailer ALONE). And also pure awesomeness.

Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008) THAT'S RIGHT, BITCHES. Let's be clear: Edward Cullen may be in the body of a teenager, but in reality he is 104 years old. ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR. Sweet, mopey Bella is a teenager. That's one hell of an age difference. Twilight may be the wettest blanket of a romance ever put on screen, taking the soggy weather of the Northwest a bit too much to heart. Pity poor Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, who have proven since that they really CAN act, when they're given actual characters to play.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Star-Crossed Lovers

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join our growing group by picking three films that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them.

All February, Thursday Movie Picks is going Valentine's Edition! Who doesn't love a good romance? This week, we are focusing on that old chestnut, the Star-Crossed Lovers. Lovers who cannot be together, whether because of earthly circumstance or fate. Basically, Romeo and Juliet. You'll swoon for these couples together, and then cry your eyes out when you realize there isn't going to be a happy ending to their romance after all. These are some of my favorites.

Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) Say what you like about Cameron's historical epic romance, but this is one of the highest grossing films of all time for a reason: It is not only stunning filmmaking on all levels (okay fine, except for the screenplay), but it never once bores during its over three-hour runtime. The Oscar-winning Best Picture is on everyone's lips again this year as stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are finally nominated for His & Hers Oscars, nearly twenty years after Leo was, rather famously, "snubbed" (I hate that word) for his work in the film. Leo's "overdue" narrative basically begins right here, with his very good work as Jack Dawson, who wins steerage tickets aboard the world's largest ship for its maiden voyage from Great Britain to America. Fortunately/Unfortunately, he saves Winslet's Rose DeWitt Bukater from jumping off the boat, and they fall in love. Ah, but she is in first class and engaged to world-class asshole Billy Zane. And well, you all know history, right? You know the fate of the Titanic, right? Doomed. From the start. But oh what a magnificent movie their story makes. A pop culture event like this doesn't happen all that often, and it's a bit sad how Titanic's reputation has dimmed over the years because of its seismic impact. If you haven't seen it in years, I urge you to do so again. Time hasn't dulled the spectacle one bit.

Shakespeare in Love (John Madden, 1998) Absolutely 100% deserved Best Picture. COME AT ME. The pleasures of Shakespeare in Love may be pure, but they are anything but simple. Tom Stoppard's marvelous screenplay revels in the written word almost as much as Shakespeare's plays do, and the actors make the already beautiful words sound rapturous coming from their lips. The story of Shakespeare overcoming writer's block when he falls in love with Lady Viola de Lesseps, which inspires him to turn his comedy Romeo & Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter into the famous Romeo & Juliet, is thrilling to watch as the lovers write some lines from the play unwittingly, and use others as foreplay. The film is an utter delight from start to finish, and has the added bonus of (pieces of) one of the best stage productions of R&J that I've ever had the pleasure to see. I could watch just this movie on a loop for the rest of time and feel completely satisfied. Even after hundreds of views, I still thrill to every stolen kiss and my eyes still well with tears during the last ten minutes. One of my All-Time Favorites.

All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955) A little bit of a change of pace. Jane Wyman's Carrie is a widow living a lonely life in the suburbs, until she gets a new gardener, Rock Hudson's Ron. Ron lives off the land and worships Thoreau, Carrie lives off her dead husband's money and has friends who drag her out to parties and country clubs. Naturally (since they are both movie stars) they fall in love, against all the odds and societal pressures and THE WORST CHILDREN IN THE HISTORY OF MOVIES. Douglas Sirk is the King of subversive melodramas, and 50s "polite society" really gets it from him in this one. Oh. And there's also this exchange, which is the funniest line ever that was absolutely not meant to be when it was written:
Ron "...he discovered that he had to make his own decisions. That he had to be a man."
Carrie "And you want me to be a man?"
Oh, dear sweet Lord. If only you knew.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A Tale of Two Sequels

The summer of 2015 saw the release of two sequels to films not many people expected to be huge hits, and which couldn't possibly be more different from each other: the a capella comedy Pitch Perfect and the Steven Soderbergh-directed Channing Tatum male stripper flick Magic Mike. It's strange that there was a time when people were worried about these films being successful, especially since both had low budgets and positive word of mouth to go along with the fact that they were both actually great movies, in their own way.

Pitch Perfect is a perfect specimen of an 00s teen comedy - endlessly quotable with a cast of breakout characters/actors, and memorable scene after memorable scene after memorable scene. Plus, a performance element that allows for a pretty stellar soundtrack (and surprise Billboard hit!). Magic Mike, meanwhile, succeeds largely because when you say "Channing Tatum stripper movie", even with the appended "directed by Steven Soderbergh", you would never in a million years think of anything that resembles what the movie actually is: Smart, sophisticated, and relatively low-key, with revelatory performances from Tatum and Matthew McConnaughey.

So I guess it makes perfect sense that their sequels are, respectively, a pale photocopy of the original and a complete and total surprise in how it flips the script on the original.

Does anyone know what film set the template that Pitch Perfect 2 follows? You know, the plot in which our heroes get thrust onto an international stage where they get too big for their britches and are beat down by hardcore European perfection before rallying using good old-fashioned American pluck and ingenuity. It's a well-worn sequel plot by now, and this isn't a particularly good version of it: Due to the arcane a capella competition rules, the Barden Bellas are stripped of their championship promotional tour after a Fat Amy-led wardrobe malfunction happened on a national stage in front of the President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama. The tour is filled by the reigning World Champions, a German group named Das Sound Machine. But the Bellas are still able to perform at the World Championships, and if they win, they aren't disgraced former champions anymore. Or something.
Elizabeth Banks directs Pitch Perfect 2 after having produced the first one, and Kay Cannon is back on scripting duties - if you can even call it that. This sequel is slavishly devoted to the original, right down to the placement of plot/character beats and specific jokes. And when brazenly calling for comparison in that way, it comes up severely lacking. BUT, individual moments do land - Rebel Wilson and Hana Mae Lee are still hilarious, the riff-off is still absurdly clever fun, and a mid-film group sing-along to "When I'm Gone" (in the place of the first film's "Party in the USA") is very affecting. But the original Pitch Perfect was a film that was so much fun it practically demanded several viewings. While it's clear that everyone involved in making Pitch Perfect 2 had lots of fun doing so, I can't say that I had much of any fun watching it. Still, the Bellas sound amazing singing Jessie J's "Flashlight", so I guess it was all worth it?

Magic Mike XXL, on the other hand, is a shockingly great sequel in that it makes me want not only another sequel, but a prequel as well. Most of the "Cock-Rockin' Kings of Tampa" were mere sketches in the original Magic Mike, but here they all come into view in ways both small and large that make me want to know more. And that's before we get to the HOT AS FUCK dancing. And Jada Pinkett-Smith as the world's greatest hype (wo)man. And Andie McDowell's one scene wonder. And Matt Bomer singing D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)" (SWOON).
Magically, XXL feels totally of a piece with the original film despite being completely different in tone and overall feel. Nothing here is as brilliant as the sequence in Magic Mike where Cody Horn's Brooke first watches Mike in his element, but well, not many films do. And the sequel more than makes up for it in sheer entertainment value. I certainly laughed much more during this than I ever did in the original. That said, though, when it comes to the sex, Magic Mike XXL was perhaps a misleading title. The film is certainly bigger, but whereas the first film proudly put all the goods out on display, in this one there is a marked decrease in the amount of bare ass. There's much more of a focus on strippers as "male entertainers" that empower women in some way, which feels a bit inauthentic, at least to these characters as we knew them in the first film. But then, the growth of these characters is a big part of the film, and they have always been slightly (self-)delusional about their position within their profession. So why am I complaining? Well, because Magic Mike XXL is good enough where I have to nitpick in order to come up with any criticism.