Sunday, July 13, 2008

Romantic Movies: Bridget Jones's Diary

Even though I'm American, I have to admit that romantic movies seem even more so when they incorporate English accents. That's particularly true with period films. But it also happens to apply to Bridget Jones's Diary, which is as contemporary as they come -- in spite of being an update of Pride and Prejudice.

Ironically, Bridget is played by Texan Renée Zellweger, who manages a spot-on English accent that allows her to seem realistic foil for her authentically English co-stars, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Firth uses upper-crust Englishness to give his character Mark Darcy a distant but oh-so-gorgeous quality, while Hugh Grant's Daniel Cleaver oozes sexy malevolence and shows us that all English men aren't prim and proper, no matter how their accents might make us think otherwise.

Watching these three characters -- dotty, lonely and odd but lovable Bridget; uptight Darcy and snake-in-the-grass Cleaver -- interact always makes me feel this is the stuff love triangles should be made of. I heard a movie critic put this movie down recently and I couldn't figure out why. To me, it's the perfect blend of comic silliness, clever writing, romance (don't miss the last scene!) and manly eye candy that makes it the perfect romantic movie.

Here's the trailer from Bridget Jones's Diary:

If you're lucky, you might even be able to find Bridget Jones's Diary as a movie download, instead of having to rent it.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Romantic Movies: Pride & Prejudice

It's hard to beat Miss Jane Austen when it comes to romance. She made a career out of chronicling it, and rightly so.

Like Emma and it's updated version, Clueless, which also were adapted from Austen novels, Pride & Prejudice captures the power of a romantic tug-of-war. Why is that so compelling that people keep making this movie over and over? Because that's what human beings do: they court and spark, to quote an old Joni Mitchell song. To use another cliché, seldom does the course of true romance run smooth, and Austen knew how to convey that in a way that sucks you in and doesn't let you go until you finish the book or the end credits roll.

There are many good movie and mini-series versions of Pride & Prejudice, but one of my favorites was the movie made in 2005, which stars Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett and Matthew Macfadyen as one of the sexiest actors ever to play Mr. Darcy ever (IMHO). (Colin Firth from a 1996 version is neck-and-neck with him, though.)

On the unsexy end of the spectrum, there's Brenda Blethyn, who played the matriarch, Mrs. Bennett. That comment isn't a reflection on the appeal of actress, who is quite lovely. Her character, however, had a voice that could strip paint. She was well-matched with Donald Sutherland, who played Elizabeth's long-suffering father who somehow cheerfully endures his wife's vapors. And they're all joined by Elizabeth's grab bag of sisters, who run the gamut from classy to bookish to downright twitty.

These and the other well-crafted characters, combined with incredible scenery and well-above-average cinematography, make for an incredible viewing experience on every level. Not only is the movie a feast for the eyes, but it also has the capacity to fill up the empty spaces in your heart and complete your inauguration into the ranks of the romantic film lovers. I challenge you to not be moved by the closing scene. If you've seen this version, you know what I mean. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and see it -- even if it's only the last 10 minutes. It will make your heart go pitty-pat.

Here's the trailer from the 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice:

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Romantic Movies: Clueless

Clueless (film)Image via WikipediaClueless is one of my favorite romantic movies because it combines two favorite genres in one: romance and teen movies. It also gets bonus points for being a stylish '90s update of the classic Jane Austen story, Emma.

This movie proves some things are eternal. Like in Austen's day, meddling friends, devotion to fashion, showing off for the object of our affection and falling in love for the first time are part and parcel of growing up. But in this case, the spot-on teenage lingo creates a fresh and delightful take on an old story. And when you add in the very specific wardrobe of richie-rich Beverly Hills teens, you have a perfect snapshot of love in a specific place in time. Most of us probably didn't have quite as much privilege and wealth while growing up as the characters in Clueless, but that doesn't matter. You can pile as many designer mini-skirts, BMWs and mansions into a story as you want, but love will always be universal.

In my opinion, Clueless would be half the movie it is without Alicia Silverstone playing the lead character, Cher. She manages to be beautiful to look at while revealing flaws that could be too obnoxious to bear in a lot of other people. Silverstone's innate charm caused her character to nearly float around on energetic, un-self-conscious self-involvement. And her own personal inexperience factored into the mix when she mistakenly pronounced "Haitians" as "Hate-ee-uns" during filming and director Amy Heckerling left it in the movie. It's just that type of vulnerability that made her well-suited for the part.

The rest of the cast is accomplished, too. Paul Rudd is the perfect choice as Cher's tormentor and the undersung Dan Hedaya plays the part of her dad to a tee. Stacy Dash also convinces us she's gleefully self-involved, as does bad boy Jeremy Sisto. Together, these accomplished actors; which also included Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, Justin Walker, Wallace Shawn and Twink Kaplan; created a classic romantic movie that has every right to sit proudly beside any of the other adaptations of Jane Austen's work.

Here's the trailer:

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Romantic Movies: Tootsie

TootsieImage via Wikipedia
In honor of the passing of Sydney Pollack on May 26, 2008 at 73, I thought I'd write about the first movie I ever saw him in: Tootsie.

Why am I including a comedy in a blog about romantic movies? Because the twisted love story between Dustin Hoffman's character Michael Dorsey and Jessica Lange's character Julie Nichols was one of the better-crafted romantic plots ever put on film. It takes a lot of skill to put a man in a dress, have a woman fall in love with him in spite of his cross-dressing and then have her forgive him when she finds out that the woman who made her worry she was a lesbian was a man after all.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie deals with this ambiguity and features Sydney Pollack as Michael Dorsey's agent, George Fields. In trying to understand why Michael was on the brink of desperation, he ran through a variety of questions about his and other people's genders that you have to see to really appreciate. His comedic timing was impeccable -- especially since he didn't even want to play the role. Hoffman begged him repeatedly to play his agent before production began, but Pollack still refused. So Dustin took to sending him flowers every day with a note that read, "Please be my agent. Love, Dorothy." Eventually Pollack caved in and he agreed to take the role.

A clever and well-written script, plus stellar performances by Sydney Pollack, Dustin Hoffman and Jessica Lange are just some of many reasons to see this movie if you never have or to take another look if you've seen it before. Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman and Charles Durning also were great, and Bill Murray's performance is not to be missed. (He ad-libbed most of his lines.) This reliable comedy is great to have on the shelf, because you know if you need a laugh, it won't disappoint.

Here's Sydney Pollack being brilliant as the agent in Tootsie:

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Romantic Movies: Spanglish

Spanglish (film)Image via Wikipedia
If you're not an Adam Sandler fan, put your prejudice aside as you read this review of the very romantic movie, Spanglish. The reason I say that is because this isn't your usual Adam Sandler role. From what I understand, the character Sandler plays in Spanglish is actually much more like his true personality than the usual goofball we see on screen. If that's the case, Sandler is probably someone we'd all want to know.

But just because Sandler embodies a more toned down version of his usual movie persona, that doesn't mean Spanglish isn't funny. It is. And it gets even funnier with repeated viewings. After all, it was written by Sandler's real-life neighbor James L. Brooks who also brought Jerry McGuire and As Good as It Gets to the screen.

Spanglish also stars the underrated Téa Leoni, who in my opinion is the best female physical comedian since Lucille Ball. In fact, I dare say that Leoni brings a subtlety to her work that Ball didn't have. (See her in Woody Allen's Hollywood Endings for another chance to experience how talented she is.)

Sandler and Leoni are also joined by a stellar cast, which includes the radiant Paz Vega in her first American movie. To get an idea of how amazing she was in this role, consider that the non-English-speaking Vega learned the language right alongside her character. I can't imagine what it was like to star in a movie and not even know the language. Don't try this at home, kids!

Also lending considerable talent to the project was Cloris Leachman of Mary Tyler Moore fame. Like Leoni, her performance has a subtlety that comes from a marriage of experience and natural comedic ability. Her boozy but still very sympathetic character couldn't have been pulled off by too many actresses. And the three children in the movie, played by Sarah Steele, Ian Hyland and Victoria Luna, weren't just there to fill space. Each delivered a totally professional performance that added to the whole.

If I were pressed to condense this review to a cliché consisting of just a few words, I would probably call Spanglish a story about a love triangle. But that wouldn't do at all because there are triangles intersecting triangles and various other shapes in this movie, with a little salsa and nouvelle cuisine thrown on top for good measure. In the end, this movie defies description; that's one of its great surprises.

Here's the trailer:

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Romantic Movies: The Lake House

The Lake House (film)Image via WikipediaThere's just something so romantic about unrequited love or a romance that's denied the right to flourish for one reason or another. That's probably a pretty sick perspective, but it's true -- at least for me.

This is one of the reasons that The Lake House (a remake of the foreign film, Il Mare) is so appealing. These two people try so hard to get together but they're literally separated by a wall of time that pushes them apart, even though they both live in the house designed by Keanu Reeve's character's father. Naturally, this resistance factor makes them want to be together all the more. And as an audience member, you're right there with them -- cheering and hoping everything will somehow work out all right.

But this isn't your everyday romantic movie. There's a complex existential aspect that makes this movie a romance, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in a 2,000-piece crossword puzzle. As a result, it took at least three viewings for me to unravel the structure and all the ins-and-outs. A lot of work? I suppose. But it was worth it in my estimation.

Without giving away the ending, I'll say that by the time the movie is through, you not only will feel satisfied; you might just have a new respect for the fact that anything is possible. To quote the title of another of Sandra Bullock's movies, there's a certain practical magic going on here. When you watch this movie, you might even feel some of it will rub off on you.

Here's the trailer:

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