Asked by Anonymous
Thanks for the rec, I’ll check it out!
Movies: Moonstruck (1987)
Starring: Cher, Nicholas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello,
Synopsis: Loretta is an Italian American widow who lives with her parents and her grandfather. One night, her boyfriend Johnny takes her out to dinner before he goes to Sicily to attend to his dying mother. At dinner he proposes to her. He asks her to plan the wedding while he’s in Sicily, and they’ll have it when he gets back (very romantic *eyeroll*) and also requests that she invite his estranged brother, Ronny to the wedding so that he can settle their differences once and for all.
Loretta believes that her first marriage was cut short (due to her husband’s death) by bad luck because she never had a wedding- just a simple city hall ceremony. So she tries to inject a bit of romance into her plans to marry Johnny- in spite of the fact that he’s not there. She goes to the bakery where Ronny works and invites him to the wedding as requested. She also learns the reason for his feud with Johnny. Ronny is upset to see her but eventually she convinces him to talk. The next thing she knows they’re in bed together.
In the morning she’s regretful but and tells Ronny she can’t see him again. He has fallen in love with her, but he agrees on one condition: that she accompany him to the opera that night. That will allow him one evening in his life in which he is able to share the thing he loves with the person he loves. She agrees.
She’s deeply moved by the performance of La Boheme that she sees, and upset when she catches her father at the opera with his mistress! This naturally upsets her and reminds her that she too has been unfaithful. But she’s caught: she’s committed herself to Johnny, but in spite of the fact that she’s trying not to, she’s falling in love with Ronny.
My Thoughts: This is a romance between Ronny and Loretta, but it’s also a movie about other couples. Loretta parents are having problems: her father is cheating on her mother. Her mother still loves her father and tells Loretta that it’s good that she doesn’t really love Johnny because “when you love them, they drive you crazy because they know they can”. We also see her mother have the opportunity to repay her father in kind. But will she? It’s hard to imagine Loretta and Johnny having any of these problems because it’s hard to imagine Loretta caring all that deeply if he does have an affair.
It’s also about family. Johnny and Ronny are family who have had a falling out. In trying to patch things up between them Loretta accidentally gives them reason for the falling out to be much worse! Johnny’s absence is due to his dying mother, who he refuses to tell about Loretta. That in itself says something about their relationship!
Loretta is a character who is ruled by her head. By profession she’s an accountant. She’s very used to adding things up and seeing how they balance. Yet in her love life she finds that hard. Johnny seems like the safe, dependable choice. He’s nice, financially stable, they get along well. There’s no reason not to marry other than the fact that she doesn’t love him. Meanwhile Ronny is passionate and impulsive. They argue- because they care about one another, unlike her and Johnny. As her mother says, they drive each other crazy, “because they can”.
Movie: The World of Suzie Wong (1960)
Starring: William Holden, Nancy Kwan
Synopsis: Robert Lomax is an American architect who gives up his job and moves to Hong Kong to see if he can make it as a painter.Due to his limited means he takes up residence in a hotel in the Wan Chai district (at the time notorious for underground criminal activity, prostitution and night life). It’s in the bar next door that he runs into a young woman whom he’d first encountered on the ferry. At the time she’d seemed very proper and of a high social status. However, now she admits that her real name is Suzie Wong and she’s a prostitute. Robert asks Suzie to model for him and as she does they talk. He learns that she was forced into prostitution as a way to survive when she was only ten years old.They begin to fall in love, though Robert resists his feelings.
Meanwhile, Robert also becomes involved with the British and American residents of Hong Kong. When he sets up a bank account, the banker’s secretary/daughter, Kay, falls for him. On paper Kay is an appropriate, respectable match. But heart lies with Suzie in spite of the numerous social, racial, and class differences that threaten their relationship.
My Thoughts: This film has been accused of depicting Suzie as a stereotype of a naive Asian girl. I can see where that accusation might come from. Nancy Kwan is petite, attractive, and often uses grammatically incorrect English (which might have been how her lines were written in the script for all I know) and this sounds like someone who has learned the language by ear as a second language which Suzie is. In some ways Suzie does come across as very innocent and naive. But that’s very much at odds with her life experience: not only was she forced into prostitution as a child, but she’s also a mother herself. In fact it’s her worldliness as well as her innocence that make Robert hesitate to enter into a relationship with her. At some points he points out the difference in their respective cultures and experiences as a problem. But at other times he says it’s the way she earns her living- yet he doesn’t make enough money as an artist to support them.
The depiction of the native population of Hong Kong vs. the white population is also frequently criticized. Some have said that the Asian character in general come off as naive or comical. However I don’t think that most of the white characters come off better necessarily. They tend to be hypocritical and unfeeling. Robert is guilty of this to an extent but with Suzie’s help, he overcomes it.
In many ways it is a movie of it’s time both in terms of race and gender issues. You have to make some allowance for that as you watch, if you choose to do so. If it’s a problem then watch something else. It’s one reason why I was hesitant to recommend it at first. But it’s a beautifully shot film that features locations around Hong Kong and is an important historical record of Hong Kong in the early 1960’s. However perhaps of more interest to follower of this blog, It is also a very sweet, touching story of a very unlikely couple.
Movie: At Middleton (2013)
Starring: Andy Garcia, Vera Farmiga, Taissa Farmiga, Spenser Lofranco
Synopsis: Middleton is a small, elite liberal arts school where Edith Martin’s daughter, Audrey plans to go next year. It’s also one school on a list for George Hartman’s son, Conrad, who has very little interest in the whole college thing. Or anything for that matter. These four meet on a tour group where, as often happens, the parents embarrass their teenagers. When Edith’s questions to the tour guide aren’t what Audrey wants to hear, she says something hurtful to her mother who hangs behind the tour to gather herself. Meanwhile, George, a heart surgeon, has just gotten an important call about a dying patient on his cell phone, has moved away from the group to take it. It’s only a few minutes before George and Edith realize they’ve lost the group. As they try to find it, they get a chance to see Middleton in a way a tour would never allow. They wander around the picturesque campus, talk about their lives, their kids, their respective spouses. But when they unintentionally crash a drama class they find themselves onstage doing an improv in which they’re supposed to be a married couple. All of a sudden their own marital issues spill out. and their growing feelings for one another. Their day continues and they end up getting an education about themselves, and a sense that whatever happens at the end of the day, their lives won’t be the same as they were before.
My Thoughts: This was a romantic comedy that I’d describe as “bittersweet”. In terms of plot and tone it’s similar to the "Before" trilogy. It follows these two characters over the course of a transformative day. We can’t say for sure what the future holds for these characters, but we know that they will be different somehow. We get to know their children as well, though the focus is very much on the parents. Audrey is a type-A overachiever who wants to go to Middleton to study with the noted Dr. Emerson, who does’t usually take on Freshman as an adviser but since she’s got so many AP credits, she’s technically not a Freshman…. Meanwhile Conrad has no idea what he wants and does’t really care. His father wants him to be open to things. Interestingly, Audrey is played by Taissa Farmiga, Vera Farmiga’s younger sister in real life. Because Vera is 21 years older, they’re very believable as mother and daughter and bring an interesting chemistry and tension to their scenes together. Edith and George also have a what I would call an elegant chemistry. A few reviewers commented that it’s unlikely that they’d fall in love. But when it comes to love, who is to say what’s likely?
Movie: Enough Said (2013)
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Toni Collette, Catherine Keener, Ben Falcone,
Plot: Eva is a a long divorced massage therapist. She has an amicable enough relationship with her ex husband though she can’t really recall why she married him. She adores her daughter who will be going away to college across the country in the fall. One day, her friends take her to a party where she meets Marianne, a poet, who is looking for a massage therapist. At the same party she meets Albert, a guy who seems nice. She is surprised when Albert asks for her number but she agrees to a date. She quickly finds that while Albert isn’t conventionally handsome he makes her laugh and has a good heart.
Meanwhile: Eva has been bonding with her new massage client Marianne. They’re both divorced, and though Marianne has a daughter the same age as Eva’s, with her ex, she’s nothing but critical of him. While Eva doesn’t know why she married her ex-husband, Marianne doesn’t even know why she ever liked hers!
Eventually Eva figures out that Albert is Marianne’s ex-husband. She’s afraid of being hurt in love again, so instead of telling the truth, she finds out more about the things Marianne believes destroyed their marriage; looking for potential deal breakers in her own relationship with Albert. But seek and you shall find. Will Eva’s insider’s perspective into life with Albert ruin what they have together?
My Thoughts: This movie is a comedy made slightly bittersweet by the fact that it was one of Gandolfini’s final film roles. But it’s still a great movie.
It’s been said that beginning a new relationship after a divorce is the triumph of hope over experience. Eva is afraid to hope. She has real feeling for Albert. But she knows that once upon a time her feelings for her ex were real too. That fell apart. So this could too- but if she has a secret source, from whom she can learn about all Albert’s faults, then maybe she can fix him so that he’s someone she can be with. Of course Eva misses what’s obvious to the audience: one woman’s trash can be another woman’s treasure. In a breif conversation with her ex-husband’s new wife, Eva learns that something that her ex-husband did that drove her crazy doesn’t bother his new wife at all. She says “Well, then I guess it’s a good thing you’re married to him now, and I’m not”. Likewise it’s a good thing that Albert is no longer married to Marianne because the things that were deal breakers for Marianne, might be no big deal for Eva. It all comes down to a fact that should be obvious but that we often forget: Sometimes couples that don’t work out are both good people who are unsuited to each other. But they might be well suited to someone else.
Movie: The Phantom Lover
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Jacqueline Wu, Huang Lei,
Synopsis: In 1930’s China a troupe of actors arrive at a partially burned out opera house. Since the troupe is nearly bankrupt this is the best they’re able to do. Ma, the caretaker of the building tells ambitious young actor Wei Qing what happened to the theater. We see the events in flashback.
Ten year earlier this had been a celebrated theater where star Song Danping produced and starred in musicalized adaptations of western works. He was most famous for his performance in Romeo and Juliet. Song Danping fell in love with Wan Yin, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. Wan Yin’s father wanted to advance his business and so when the son of a government official wanted to marry her, he accepted the offer without consulting with Wan Yin. Not that it would have made any difference if he had: a romance between an actor and a upper class girl would have been taboo at the time so her love with Song Danping was forbidden regardless. The lovers made plans to elope, However, Song Danping never received a letter her was supposed to get and Wan Yin was caught trying to escape. Wan Yin’s fiance Zhao Yum, sent men to destroy Song Danping. They threw acid in his face and set fire to the theater. It was assumed that Song Danping was one of the many who died in the fire that night and his death was ruled an accident though the body was never found. Wan Yin married Zhao Yum, who beat her on their wedding night for not being a virgin. The marriage was annulled. Her family would not accept her back into their household and eventually they left town. Destitute, Wan Yin eventually lost her mind.
Wei Qing is intrigued by this story and believes the sad music that is sometimes played in the building to be Song Danping’s spirit. However, there are more immediate concerns. The troupe’s opening performance is a disaster and they can’t even pay the rent on the dilapidated theater. One evening, a mysterious, hooded man comes to Wei Qing. It’s Song Danping, who did not die in the fire, but was burned by both the fire and the acid thrown in his face and was badly scarred . The sad music heard at night is played for his beloved Wan Yin, who comes to hear it on the full moon (believing it’s a ghost playing). Because of his deformity, Song Danping is afraid of letting his relationship with Wan Yin be any closer: afraid of scaring her, afraid of rejection. In Wei Qing he sees an opportunity: a talented young man whom he can train to perform the role of Romeo just as he did. His plan involves Wei Qing’s performance serving as an ultimate declaration of love to Wan Yin, and perhaps also a way to take revenge on Zhao Yum.
My Thoughts: This film is really equal parts The Phantom of the Opera ( the lovelorn deformed Song Danping haunting the theater) and Romeo and Juliet (the forbidden romance between Song Danping and Wan Yin thwarted through parental opposition, bad luck and mixed messages). It also has a bit of Cyrano de Bergerac mixed in (Wei Qing stands in for the deformed Song Danping delivering an artistic expression of love, to Song Danping’s beloved). So I’d say that if you’re a fan of any of the above take a look.
Some suspension of disbelief is involved. We’re meant to believe that Song Danping is a musical and dramatic genius when most of what he sings are bland but pretty pop songs in his Romeo and Juliet musical (that’s supposed to be a western style opera but isn’t). We see the audience completely entranced by the performance when it seems fine for what it is (a pop musical) but nothing you’d see onstage in a Chinese opera house in the 1920’s or a western opera house for that matter. But if you can just go along with it some of it is pretty. The love theme sounds nicer when it’s played on the piano than it does with the vocals- it has an eerier sound… But that’s just my opinion.
The film is a remake of a 1937 Chinese film called Song at Midnight that I have not seen. That film was remade in the 1960’s as a two parter called The Mid-Nightmare. This is the third time this story (or rather this combined adaptation of several other stories!) has been made into a film.
Movie: Now and Forever (2002)
Starring: Mia Kirshner, Adam Beach, Theresa Russell
Synopsis: Angela and John have been best friends since they were little kids. As teenagers, John’s feelings for Angela have turned romantic, but she doesn’t think she deserves him. She gets involved with TJ, who turns out to be an abusive thug. John rescues her from him and helps her escape. She goes to Hollywood to try her luck as an actress and John misses her terribly. John is a Native American of the Cree tribe and his father, Ghost Fox, is a spiritual leader. He assures John that his destiny lies with Angela and that all will unfold as it should. Several years pass and Angela finds success as an actress. She doesn’t hear from John and he seems to disappear as well. But when she is diagnosed with a rare disease, she returns to her old home, and wait for her life to end in peace. That’s when John shows up, to fulfill the destiny they set in motion years earlier.
My Thoughts: This movie certainly isn’t without it’s faults. For example, TJ is little more than a typical movie villain, and the portrayal of Ghost Fox is sort of a cliche of a wise, Native American shaman type. But this movie went in a direction that I didn’t anticipate. I’m trying not to give too much away. But it blends a gritty and brutal reality with a romantic connection that endures beyond all distance and logic. The magical elements of the story contrast with the grittier elements well.
Movie: A Case of You (2013)
Starring: Justin Long, Evan Rachel Wood, Sam Rockwell, Sienna Miller, Vince Vaughn, Brendan Fraser, Busy Phillips, Peter Dinklage
Synopsis: Sam is a writer. He wants to write his own work but for now he’s writing novelizations of movies, video games and television shows. Hey, it pays the bills. He often goes to a coffee shop down the street from his apartment to work. He goes for the coffee and for the barista, Birdie. But when the free spirited Birdie’s habit of getting into work late gets her fired, Sam realizes that he needs another way to get to see her. His roommate suggests he check out her facebook and send her a message. Sam takes it a tad further. He decides to not only use her facebook to find a meeting place, but also to make himself into her ideal mate. She lists French cooking as an interest; so he’ll turn himself into a chef extraordinaire. If she like the guitar, that’s what he’ll learn to play. So he when he does meet up with Birdie again, she’s amazed at how much they have in common! But as their relationship develops Sam feels like he’s cheating somehow. Does Birdie really love him or does she love the guy she’s got so much in common with? He knows her favorite music, her favorite books, her hobbies. Can she say the same about him? And if she can’t, does that mean what they have isn’t really love?
My Thoughts: I suppose Sam’s efforts woo Birdie can be seen as stalking if you’re inclined to look at it that way. But it’s harmless. He has no intention of hurting her, he just wants to have dinner with her. We certainly don’t get the sense that Sam is dangerous in any way. Just shy and a bit insecure. If Birdie asked him to back off he’d probably apologize and do just that. So a scenario that could seem creepy comes of as charming because of the way the character is written and acted. .
You could say that this movie is really about getting to know someone in an age where all our basic information from relationship status to political views are easily accessed online. But that’s not really the focus. For Sam, Birdie’s facebook profile is just a means to an end. In most ways this is a conventional romantic comedy. It’s sweet and funny. There’s a moment or two when it veers from the formula (in an amusing way) but for the most part it delivers what it promises: 90 minutes of charm and romance, with a lesson or two learned along the way.
Movies: Camille (1936)
Starring: Greta Garbo, Robert Taylor, Lionel Barrymoore
Synopsis: Marguerite Gautier is born to a lower class family, however as a grown woman she is known as Dame Camille, one of Paris’ most celebrated courtesans. Her finances are taken care of by the wealthy Baron de Varville but her livelihood is jeopardized when she falls in love with the handsome young Armand. He returns her affections and she willing gives up her life of luxury to be with him. However, one day Armand’s father comes to her, and begs her to give Armand up if she loves him. He explains that her past as a kept woman and a prostitute will ruin any future prospects Armand has in Paris. Camille is devastated but she sees that Armand’s father is right- she would hold Armand back. So she attempts to convince Armand that she doesn’t love him. She returns to Paris and tries to resume her old life, even though it takes a serious toll upon her health. But Armand won’t be easily dissuaded, believing that Camille still loves him.
My Thoughts: This film is based on the novel La Dame Aux Camilias by Alexandra Dumas, fils. It was inspired by the life and death of the author’s onetime mistress Marie Duplessis. The novel has inspired many adaptations in various media. Among some of the most popular are the opera La Traviata, and the film Moulin Rouge. There have been many other film adaptations of the novel, but this one remains the most iconic. The image of Greta Garbo in Robert Taylor’s arms in the final scene has taken on an aura of quintessential old Hollywood romantic glamour. The movie itself holds up well. Obviously screen acting styles have changed in the last 80 years or so. But Garbo still has a magnetic quality on the screen, and you become emotionally invested in the story, surrounded by lovely costumes and sets.
Movie: Meet Joe Black (1998)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Claire Forlani, Marcia Gay Harden
Synopsis: Life has been pretty good to Bill Parrish. He’s a billionaire media mogul. He is very close to to his two grown daughters, the eldest of whom is planning to throw him a gala 65th birthday party. All in all he can’t complain.
His younger daughter, Susan is a doctor who is considering marriage to one of her father’s coworkers. But her feelings for her boyfriend are lukewarm. Bill advises her not to rush into anything, in case lightening strikes. It does one morning when she meets a handsome young man in a coffee shop. They chat for a few minutes but she doesn’t get his name. They both leave and a few minutes later he is killed in a car accident. When next we see this young man, his body has been borrowed by Death. The Grim Reaper. Whatever you want to call him. He was planning on taking Bill Parrish the night that Bill advised Susan to wait for true love. However he was intrigued by Bill’s advice to his daughter and wants a better understanding of what Bill spoke of. He and Bill strike a deal: as long as Bill is willing to act as Death’s host and guide, Death won’t take him. Bill introduces his new guest to the family as “Joe Black”.
At first Susan is confused by Joe. Is he the man she met at the coffee shop? Is he someone else? But soon she begins to fall in love with him. Now that he’s subject to human desires, Joe falls in love with Susan too. So much so that he wants to take her with him. When Bill discovers the relationship he must convince Joe to recognize that true love involves sacrifice.
My Thoughts: This is a remake of the 1934 film Death Takes a Holiday which I reviewed a few posts back. However the story is expanded and the tone is very different. For one thing it’s set in the US in contemporary times. For another, Death doesn’t “take a holiday” out of curiosity. He comes to take Bill with him. He stays because Bill piques his interest, and he needs a human body to do it- the young man from the coffee shop is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Susan in less ethereal and fey than her counterpart in Death Takes a Holiday. She’s not enamored of anything otherworldly. Actually, as a doctor, she can be looked at as an enemy to death! Her life’s work is healing the sick so they don’t die! Her romance with Joe Black is ironic in this way.
Sacrifice is also a far bigger theme in this film. Both Bill and Joe love Susan (albeit in very different ways) and both come to realize that their love will involve some sort of sacrifice. Susan is in an odd position of not knowing much of what’s going on. She can’t understand why her father is so opposed to her relationship to this guy who seems perfectly nice. She can’t understand why Joe is so mysterious and even naive in certain ways. But she’s OK with not understanding, which is really the only way she’s like Grazia in Death Takes A Holiday.
Movies: Stardust (2007)
Starring: Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Ben Barnes, Robert DeNiro, Sienna Miller, Mark Strong, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais, Nathaniel Parker, Peter O’Toole, Henry Cavill.
Synopsis: The small British village of Wall is so named because it lies right near wall at the border of the magical kingdom of Stormhold. A guard is posted 24/7 to stop anyone from crossing. That doesn’t stop Drustan Torn from crossing one night and having a fling with an enslaved princess named Una. Nine months later the Wall guard delivers him a baby with a note saying the baby boy is named Tristan.
Eighteen years later the king of Stormhold is on his deathbed. He announces that his heir will be the one of his sons to retrieve a ruby that he throws out the window. His sons are all willing to kill for the throne and go after it. The ruby collides with a star when it’s thrown, knocking it out of the sky.
Meanwhile, back in Wall, Tristan is 18 and hopelessly infatuated with the vain, selfish Victoria. He vows to get her the star if she will marry him. Just before he leaves his father tells him about his mother and gives him a Babylon candle that she left for him which will take him wherever he wants to go. Still thinking of Victoria and the fallen star he ends up in a crater in Stormhold next to the fallen star: who has fallen to earth in the form of a young woman named Yvainne with an injured leg and sarcastic tongue. She just wants to go back home. Instead Tristan ties her up and starts to bring her home to Victoria.
What he doesn’t get know is that three witches also saw Yvainne fall and and want to eat her heart to replenish their youth and beauty (if you have the heart of a star you’re more or less immortal apparently).
This is just the beginning of an adventure that takes Tristan and Yvainne through the magic and wonder of Stormhold, where they encounter long buried secrets from the past, as well as the danger posed by several power hungry princes and three heart hungry witches. Yvainne has celestial wisdom but isn’t always worldly and can be too trusting. Tristan is naive as well. But by the time they make it to back to Wall, they will be very different people.
My Thoughts: All of this may seem confusing as I try to summarize it, but when you watch the film it really isn’t, I swear! It is based on a novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman (of whom I am a huge fan!). The book is a darker, more adult, fairy tale with sex and violence. The film gives the material a different tone. Apparently Gaiman felt that the tone of the novel wouldn’t translate well to screen so he, the director and the screenwriter decided to go in a different direction rather than try to replicate the novel faithfully and fall short. The result is something more whimsical and even outright funny. The director described it as The Princess Bride with a Midnight Run overtone.
I loved the novel and I love the film in a very different way. It’s a period film with steampunk influenced visuals. Charlie Cox comes off as very naive as Tristan, which is necessary. Claire Danes is an interesting choice for Yvainne. Victoria is played by Sienna Miller who beautiful in the more conventional sense. Claire Danes has a more unique, unconventional beauty that contrasts with it. With her wide eyes, strong features and small frame she sometimes looks a bit otherworldly. Especially if she’s glowing, which is what stars do when they’re happy. Michelle Pfieffer is campy and great as Lamia, the witch out to capture Yvainne and share her heart with her two sisters. She goes from beautiful to hideous and back again several times. Robert DeNiro also makes an appearance as the cross-dressing sky pirate named Captain Shakespeare. And yes, the reason the narrator sounds like Ian McKellen is because it is! This is an adventure that you can get lost in for two hours or so. It has some laughs and is very much about the nature of true love, when it comes down to it (Yvainne’s declaration of love for Tristan is rather classic) IMO).
Movie: Yanks (1979)
Starring: Richard Gere, Vanessa Redgrave, William Devane, Lisa Eichhorn and Tom Melody
Synopsis: In early 1942 until the 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy over a million Americans landed in Britain, either to serve on other battle fronts or work at the US military bases in England. The film takes place in a small town in Northern England, where a US base is being established. The town is soon flooded with Americans troops. A lot of these are young, rambunctious men, with a lot more cash and resources than the Brits, a lot of hormones, and not very responsible or respectful. Naturally this creates an atmosphere of tension with the locals. Sergeant First Class Matt Dyson is one of these Americans stationed in town. He meets the lovely Jean Moreton while at the movies one day, and falls for her. She initially rebuffs his advances - her fiance Ken is fighting overseas, and even though she has doubts about their relationship she doesn’t want to betray him. But Matt is something she’s not used to: he’s brash in some ways, but is also respectful and content to keep the relationship platonic until she’s ready for something more.
Meanwhile, worldly,aristocratic Helen lives on an estate where Matt’s friend Captain John often visits her.. Her husband is away at sea. His wife is across the ocean. It doesn’t take to long before sparks fly. And Matt’s other pal Danny, soon falls for Jean’s friend Mollie.
These three romances illustrate the struggles between love and loyalty that wartime often creates. It also means tragic separations as well as fresh starts and new changes at love.
My Thoughts: The tensions between the British and American characters in this film is are intense. It’s almost as if they forget that they are actually on the same side! For the most part the film is focused on the Matt/Jean romance (the other romances are more like subplots) and the events in the town where the film takes place rather than events in the world at large. However there are moments when struggles that exist elsewhere come into play. For example, the racial segregation and issues in the US Army, and by extension the wider race problems in the US, come into play at one point. It’s an emotional movie and a hopeful one. At the end most of the characters face an uncertain future: the war means that life can change in an instant. So the character learn to live and love from one moment to the next.
Movie: Aurora Borealis (2005)
Starring: Joshua Jackson, Juliette Lewis, Donald Sutherland, Louise Fletcher, Steven Pasquale
Synopsis: Duncan is a twenty something, who has never really gotten over his father’s death ten years earlier. He lives in Minneapolis, where he’s lived his whole life and is unemployed. When his grandparents, Ron and Ruth, move to the city to be near Duncan and his brother, Duncan does’t want to visit them. Their grandfather is Ronald is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and Duncan doesn’t want to see him like that. However his brother guilts him into visiting their new apartment, where Duncan actually ends up getting a job as a handyman. He also meets Kate, Ron’s home healthcare worker, and they hit it off right away. Duncan takes on some responsibility (for perhaps the first time in his life) in taking care of his grandfather. However Ron sees that Duncan is still tied to his past and fears moving on from the town that he grew up in. When Kate is presented with an opportunity in California, she asks Duncan to come with her. Duncan loves Kate. He wants to be with her and believes that they have a real shot at a future together. But he also has ghosts and past trauma that he needs to put to rest, before he can move on and be with the woman he loves.
My Thoughts: I’d never heard of this movie and I rented the DVD on the library because it looked like it could be halfway decent. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking it. For one thing, even though when we initially meet Duncan he’s rather immature and selfish, we still like him. He’s got a sense of humor and his heart is in the right place. He just needs people in his life that are willing to help him out of the rut he’s in. Ron and Kate both play a role in that. Ron knows that his life is coming to an end. He’s had decent run- he and Ruth enjoyed a long, happy marriage. They lost their son, but they are close to both of their grandsons, as well as their great grandchildren (Duncan’s brother’s kids). He wants Duncan to have a fulfilling life as well. Meanwhile Kate has (arguably) more selfish reasons for wanting to push Duncan out of his rut: she’s in love with him and she wants a life with him. But that can’t happen if Duncan is stuck in the past. I think that Kate is a character who could have been a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, helping Duncan with his growth without being much of a character herself. But there’s more to her than that. She’s got some issues too, that Duncan calls her on. In this case she’s right- Duncan does need to movie on, but she has trouble settling down. Until she meets someone she wants to settle down with. In a way this is about two romances. We see Ron and Ruth’s love story come to an end, as Ron deteriorates. But we also see his last act as allowing Duncan and Kate’s love story to begin.
Movie: Death Takes A Holiday (1934)
Starring: Fredric March, Evelyn Venable, Guy Standing
Synopsis: Death- The Grim Reaper- has spent years wondering why people are so afraid of him. He appreciates the beauty of the world, but it sure doesn’t appreciate him back! In order to find out why people are so reluctant to leave the world (even after a long life), Death decides to take a vacation. He plans to live as a human, among humans for a few days. Duke Lambert has a guest coming to visit him and his family at their villa. It’s a perfect excuse to pose as Prince Sirki, whom no one in the family knows. Prince Sirki is a bit odd perhaps but charming.
Duke Lambert’s son, Corrado is in love with a girl named Grazia. Even though Grazia loves Corrado she is reluctant to marry him for reasons she can’t quite explain, except to say that she feels “far away” from him somehow. However when she meets Prince Sirki, Grazia feels drawn to him, and completely unafraid, even when she sees him in his true form. Death loves Grazia as well, and for the first time he realizes why people fear leaving the world, and why they beg for more time: it’s because they are reluctant to leave the people they love. But now he faces a decision; does he take Grazia with him when he leaves, or sacrifice his own happiness so that she can live.
My Thoughts: This was based on a play by Alberto Casella with which I’m not very familiar. It’s also It was remade in 1971 TV film starring Yvette Mimieux, Monte Markham, and Myrna Loy. In 1998 it was remade again as Meet Joe Black (which I’m planning a post on shortly). It was also adapted as a musical by Maury Yeston in 2011.
I think that the reason that this resonates as a story is because it really tackles what makes us human? All Death has ever experienced of the world is the fear we have on leaving it- but naturally he’s perplexed. What can be so great that we dread leaving it so much? Aren’t all people really just biding their time until he comes anyway? After all, he’s bound to come for everyone sooner or later. The answer turns out to be twofold: we are reluctant to be torn away from the people we love, but once we’ve truly loved, then even death isn’t so fearsome.
Grazia as a character is a bit odd. She seems rather ethereal and otherworldly from the beginning. She also courts Death in a sense- like by encouraging Corrado to drive faster than is safe, because she says it feels like flying. She falls in love with Prince Sirki, and when she sees him in his “true form” she says he looks exactly the same as always to her. She seems almost caught in a world where she doesn’t belong and is often on the verge of escaping. Perhaps that’s when Death appeals to her so much, and her to him.
One reviewer called this film “delicately morbid” which I think is a very apt description. We can see it in many different ways: we can interpret Grazia as a dark, suicidal character for loving Death so much (though that’s not really how she’s presented), we can also see Death as a kindly friend, who has been misinterpreted as an enemy. He has wisdom to offer humans but they have wisdom to offer him too. He’s naive in someways, in spite of being an all powerful entity. As he says “I am a great power, and yet I am humble before you”
Movie: Dangerous Beauty (1998)
Starring: Catherine McCormack, Rufus Sewell, Oliver Platt, Jacqueline Bisset, Naomi Watts
Synopsis: Veronica Franco is a intelligent, slightly tomboyish young woman in Venice. She is in love with Marco, and he with her. However they are forbidden to marry because Veronica’s family cannot produce a sufficient dowry. Marco is pushed to marry a foreign noblewoman instead. Veronica considers entering a convent but her mother has a better idea that will secure the entire family’s financial future: Veronica will become a courtesan. At first Veronica refuses. However when she learns that courtesans have access to education and libraries the idea begins to sound more appealing. She quickly becomes the most celebrated courtesan in Venice. She is in demand as much for her brains and her beauty. Meanwhile Marco is jealous. He is unhappy in his new marriage and hates the idea of his friends and relatives receiving Veronica’s “favors”. He asks her to stop seeing clients and accept his exclusive financial support. She rejects the idea, unwilling to sacrifice her independence for a sort of faux-wife status. However she does spend a lot of time with Marco, neglecting her business and other clients. When war breaks out, Venice needs the aid of France and Veronica is asked to seduces the French king. She soon becomes entangled in the city’s political alliances. But when the plague comes, and accusations of witchcraft abound, Veronica is faced with a new, even greater, danger.
My Thoughts: This film is based on a true story. I don’t know how much is true, because I don’t know much about the real Veronica Franco, but if you’re interested you can learn more here. Just to avoid confusion, the film was also released under the title A Destiny of Her Own in some regions, and was re-titled The Honest Courtesan for the UK video release. However, Dangerous Beauty is the title by which it’s best known.
I really like Veronica as a heroine for a period romance because she’s glamorous and romantic but also smart and fiercely independent. Faced with a very restricted society she takes her life into her own hands in the only way she’s allowed. While we tend to view prostitution as degrading, it’s Veronica’s only way of getting an education and being with the man she loves. More than that she’s able to be with him on her own terms: not as a mistress or a wife, but as she dictates. She deals with fear, superstition and jealousy but she holds her own.