Project Valentine, Day 27: A Walk to Remember


The penultimate entry of Project Valentine has arrived.  Penultimate is a good word, with too few opportunities to use it in daily life.  I think I may have made that same observation on the penultimate day of Project Horror, but I don't want to look it up right now.  I need to write this up and post it so I can watch the Oscars on DVR.  See you in hell, musical numbers!  I've got a Fast Forward button!

When I asked my Facebook friends for movie ideas for Project Valentine, I had a whole range of suggestions, but two movies in particular received far more votes than any others.  Tonight's movie is the runner up, A Walk to Remember, starring Shane West and Mandy Moore.

So, a lot of you sure must have liked this movie, huh?  Well, OK.  I... didn't dislike it, exactly.  I'll get to that in a minute.  First, the plot.  Shane West plays Landon Carter, a baaaad boy.  He drives a muscle car!  He has a token black friend!  When he is busted for a prank gone wrong, his principal convinces the authorities not to press charges in exchange for Landon doing community service, including performing in the school play.  Take that, drama geeks who were vying for the lead!  Your passion and commitment don't matter when there's a baaaad boy to be rehabilitated!  Mandy Moore plays Jamie Sullivan, the reverend's daughter.  All of the things that Landon does as his punishment, she does for fun.  She is a good girl.  Have you seen a high school movie before?  OK, then you know that the leads in the play always fall in love.  Always.  (Or at the very least, they have sex, as in the case of Teen Wolf.)  Their relationship faces obstacles along the way - he is embarrassed to let his friends know about her, and her father is very suspicious of him.  As they work through these problems and grow closer, she reveals her secret to him.  SPOILERS FOLLOW.  Jamie has leukemia, and has only a short time to live.  In the time she has left, he helps her to make the dreams on her list come true, including being married in the same chapel her parents were married in.  She helps him heal his relationship with his father and set goals of his own.  And they live happily ever after, for like two or three months.

I see why this movie appeals to people.  It's a romance against the odds, it's got archetypal characters, and an uplifting ending.   Maybe that's what seems strange about this movie to me now that I've watched it as part of Project Valentine.  I've watched 27 movies so far this month, and very, very few of them have unambiguously happy endings.  This one, even with a death, makes its way into happy ending territory.  You know when you give up soda for Lent, and then on Easter you drink a big root beer and it makes you ill because your body has forgotten how to handle it?  My brain has forgotten how to handle a happy ending.  I guess this movie is cinematic comfort food.  You don't expect anything all that original, but it feels good while you're taking it in.  I get it.

Remember in Mike Tyson's Punch Out, how you always knew when to dodge Piston Honda's punches because he telegraphed them with his eyebrows?  This movie was like one big twitching eyebrow.  "Promise not to fall in love with me" = cuz I'm'a die.  "I'm not gonna tell you the first item on my list" = I'm totally gonna tell you the first item on my list later.  "You told me I could spend the time I have the way I want" = there's not much time left.

I am torn.  This is not a movie that I can praise on its objective merits.  And I'm just not that big of a fan of high school romances in general.  I mean, look back at when you were in high school.  I know that the feelings ran very strong, but can you honestly say that you were at your romantic peak?  Thirty-five year-old me has moves that seventeen year-old me never even dreamed of.  But I am also remembering my wife's words that sparked this whole project: "You know, you might end up liking some of them if you give them a chance, instead of being a cynical ass."  And so help me, I did kind of like this one, corny as it may have been.  It helps, too, that Mandy Moore has since done some really fun work like the movie Saved! and on Scrubs.

RATING - Three telescopes out of five
LESSON - This sentiment may be cliched, but I'm choosing to play it straight and just say this: what greater gift do we have in this life than to find somebody to love, and who loves us in return?  When you find that person, love them fully and wholly, because you never know how much time you have.

Project Valentine, Day 26: Beauty and the Beast


I cheated a little bit for today's entry.  Several months ago, for Courtney's birthday, I gave her season tickets for us to go to the series of touring Broadway musicals that would be coming through Lubbock this year.  Upper mezzanine, Saturday matinee - that's how I roll.  It's been a really fun thing to do together!  We ditch the kids, go to the show, and then we usually all eat out for dinner after.  So far, we've seen Fiddler on the Roof, The Aluminum Show, and today's performance of Beauty and the Beast.  (We'll see our last one in April, Legally Blonde.)  Anyway, this wasn't a movie, but I figured it fit the criteria of Project Valentine closely enough for it to count.

I enjoy (most) Disney movies and productions a lot.  That said...  I would like you to think of your favorite movie.  Now make an estimate of how many times you have seen that movie.  Got it?  OK, now I want you to multiply that number by 50, and that is how many times you will watch every single Disney movie in your DVD collection once you have children.  And then a new Pixar movie will come out, and you will watch it that many times, too.  Your enthusiasm  for Disney movies will be dimmed, to say the least.  In fact, you know why I'm just now writing up a show that ended hours ago?  Because the kids wanted to watch Mulan before bed, and Ava went to sleep on my lap.  So anyway, I love Disney shows, but if I offer some criticism, it comes from a place of love.

Remember in my review of Damage, how I said that when you watch a bunch of a certain type of movie, you see trends emerging that you may not have otherwise seen?  Here are some things that I have noticed about Disney princess movies.
  1. Disney princesses seldom have mothers, and sometimes have no living parents at all. 
    Snow White: Dead parents, evil stepmother
    Cinderella: Dead parents, evil stepmother
    Aurora: Parents alive, but raised by fairies
    Ariel: Mother MIA, possibly deceased
    Belle: Mother MIA, possibly deceased
    Jasmine: Mother MIA, possibly deceased
    Pocahontas: Mother MIA, possibly deceased (maybe - it's been a long time since I've seen it)
    Rapunzel: Kidnapped as an infant, raised by her kidnapper
  2. They chafe at the life presented to them, and buck tradition.
    Snow White: Shacks up with seven blue collar workers
    Cinderella: Makes clothes for wildlife, no matter what you think about it
    Aurora: Just had to touch that motherfucking spinning wheel
    Ariel: Into forbidden love, dangerous adventures, and collecting ephemera. Not punctual
    Belle: Sings a whole song about how provincial her town is, reads! (gasp)
    Jasmine: Hates the thought of marriage
    Pocahontas: Doesn't want to go through with arranged marriage, digs white guys
    Mulan: Cross-dresser, joins a profession she's not allowed into
    Rapunzel: Just wants to go outside, MOM!
  3. If it's a movie where the villain dies, it's always done in a way that allows the hero to keep his hands clean.
    Snow White: Evil Queen falls and is crushed by boulder
    Sleeping Beauty: Prince Phillip throws his sword from afar, killing Maleficent without having to get close
    The Little Mermaid: Prince Eric straight up steers a ship into Ursula
    Beauty and the Beast: Gaston falls to his death
    Aladdin: Jafar becomes a genie and is confined to a lamp.
    Mulan: Mushu fires a bundle of rockets at Shan Yu
    Tangled: Gothel ages years and years in a single instant and then falls out a tall window
    Lion King: Not a princess movie, but Scar falls from a cliff and is attacked by hyenas
Mix a handful of these ingredients and you've got a Disney Princess movie.  Oh, and songs.  Acceptable topics for songs include:
  • More than I appear to be
  • I want much more out of life
  • I am your friend/I can help you

OK, none of that really matters to this review, but at least now your head is filled with the same thoughts that mine was filled with when I went into this show.  And really, everybody knows this story already, right?  I don't really need to recap this one for you, do I?  Belle is a beautiful but restless girl who lives in rural France with her father, a kooky inventor.  The loutish Gaston wants to marry her, but she has other plans for her life.  Her dad gets lost in the woods and is taken prisoner by a horrible beast, who used to be a selfish prince, but has been cursed, along with his entire household.  Belle exchanges herself in return for her dad's freedom and ends up falling in love with the beast, which transforms him back.  This only serves to confirm my theory, mentioned several times during Project Valentine, that the best way to find true love is to spend time with somebody who you hate at first.

This was actually the third time I've seen a stage production of B&tB.  The touring show came to Lubbock about ten years ago, and the music department at my church staged it about four or five years ago.  Today's production was very good, very enjoyable, but I'm still going to put it at the bottom of the three productions.  The set design was much more abstract than the others.  It was good for evoking a mood, but not really my taste.  Also, the costumes for the beast's estate members were not great.  If I had never seen this before, it really wouldn't be all that clear that they are supposed to be items, except for Lumiere the candlestick.  Babette, the featherduster, really looked nothing like a featherduster, and the woman who turned into a wardrobe really looked nothing like a wardrobe.  And yes, I realize how difficult it is to make a person look like a featherduster or a wardrobe, but the other productions didn't seem to have a problem with it.

That said, it was still well staged, and the leads were all very talented.  Liz Shivener played Belle, and had the perfect voice for it.  The character of Gaston is a lot of fun in the hands of the right actor, and Nathan Hackmann knocked it out.  The stage show has a few additional songs that aren't in the movie that keep it a little more interesting for parents who have worn out their copy of the DVD.  Best of all, it was two and a half hours of sitting next to Courtney with my arm around her.

RATING - Four Beauty and the Beast Season 2 DVD sets out of five

LESSON - Don't judge a book by its cover.  Also, creative gifts (like an entire library for a girl who likes books) go a long way towards winning points.
BONUS -  Enjoy these pictures of Hipster Disney Princesses!


Project Valentine, Day 25: Love Story

Homestretch!  We're in our last block of movies of Project Valentine now.  The final four.  At this point, I'm ready to finish the month just so I can get back on a normal sleep schedule again - I'm exhausted from staying up so late each night.  I couldn't think of a better name, so I have designated this block of movies as Heavyweights; these are movies that were suggested to me by multiple people.  Now, when I solicited suggestions, I got lots of them, and obviously I haven't used them all, although I tried to incorporate several.  But among those suggestions, there were a few that had several supporters, especially the two that I'm going to end the month with.

Today, I watched Love Story, the #9 entry on AFI's 100 Years, 100 Passions list.  Also?  The screen debut of Tommy Lee Jones.  Also?  Nominated for Best Picture of 1970, but defeated by Patton, which if you know me you will know is one of my favorite films of all time.  So instead of wrting about Love Story tonight, I will be listing all of the reasons Patton is awesome.
  1. The opening monologue in front of the American flag.
  2. Casting Karl Malden as Gen. Omar Bradley
  3. "Rommel, you magnificent bastard!  I read your book!"
Oh, fine.  I'll write about Love Story.  (But I'll be thinking about you the whole time, Patton!  You know I love you best!)

Ryan O'Neal plays Oliver Barrett IV, a Harvard student from a very wealthy family.  At the school library, he meets Jenny Cavalleri (Ali McGraw), a confrontational Radcliffe student.  The two hit it off, fall deeply in love, and decide to marry, despite his parents' objections.  Oliver is accepted to Harvard law school, but Jenny must work to support them, because his father has cut them off.  He graduates near the top of his class and is hired by a prestigious NYC firm.  Now that the couple is doing well, they decide to have a baby, but are unable to conceive.  A consultation with their doctor reveals that Jenny has only a short time left to live.  As she undergoes therapy, the medical bills grow larger than Oliver's ability to pay them, and he is forced to swallow his pride and ask his father for money, but won't tell him why.  After Jenny dies in his arms, he leaves the hospital to see his father waiting for him and offering an apology.  He responds with a line that Jenny spoke to him earlier in the movie after a fight: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."

I liked the sum of this movie more than I liked its individual parts.  It's entirely melodramatic, and the character of Jenny is annoying as hell (their first three conversations pretty much consist of nothing except her grilling him with question after sarcastic question).  "Love means never having to say you're sorry" may just be one of the worst pieces of relationship advice of all time.  And yet, taken as a whole, this was an enjoyable story to watch.   Despite not identifying with their characters, I was still rooting for them as a couple, and there are a few scenes early in their relationship that made me laugh in a good way.  I especially liked this exchange from their first conversation:
Jennifer: You look stupid and rich.
Oliver: Well, what if I'm smart and poor?
Jennifer: I'm smart and poor.
Oliver: Well what makes you so smart?
Jennifer: I wouldn't go out for coffee with you that's what.
Oliver: Well what if I wasn't even gonna ask you to go out for coffee with me?
Jennifer: Well that's what makes you stupid.

One thing you don't have to have seen the movie to appreciate, although it helps, is that Roger Ebert coined the term Ali McGraw disease after seeing it.  Ali McGraw disease is a "Movie illness in which the only symptom is that the sufferer grows more beautiful as death approaches."  Zing!

RATING - Forty years after its release, Love Story doesn't feel that original anymore, but it holds up.  I give it four Pattons out of five.

LESSON - Love means never having to say you're sorry.  Also, Patton is awesome.

Project Valentine, Day 24: Damage


When you watch so many movies of one type in a row, you really strongly notice similarities between them that you may not have otherwise seen.  When I planned to have a four day block of Sexytime, I thought that it would be a nice little break, filled with sexy people having sexy sex.  What I noticed, after four days of movies, is that for the most part, moviemakers only make movies about people having lots of sexy sex if those people are also somehow very damaged goods.  Secretary: cutter.  Last Tango in Paris: borderline abusive recent widower.  9 ½ Weeks: sneering control freak.  And tonight, Damage.  I really should have known - I mean, the word "damage" is right there in the title.

The main character of Damage is Stephen Fleming, a British cabinet minister.  He is married with two children, the oldest of whom is a journalist whose star is on the rise and who has a girlfriend he has recently become serious with.  When Fleming meets the girlfriend, Anna, they begin a passionate affair together.  He becomes deeply obsessed with Anna, while finding out dark secrets from her past and struggling with jealousy.  I don't have to spoil the ending to tell you that this isn't going to end well, right?

I can't make too many funnies about this movie, because it's pretty heavy, but I will say that of all the movies I've watched so far this month it had the most intense and erotic love scenes.  The cast is excellent, too: Jeremy Irons, Miranda Richardson, and Juliette Binoche.  (Two out of three have done voicework in award-winning animated movies, too.  I just think that's neat.)

RATING - Not a happy movie by any stretch, but a very good one.  I give it four apartment keys out of five.

LESSON - Consider how the actions you take affect the people you love.

BONUS - Here is my favorite Yo La Tengo song, also called "Damage."


Project Valentine, Day 23: 9½ Weeks


This is the movie that every guy my age lied about seeing when I was in junior high school.  And now, 20+ years later, I've seen it, too!

9 ½ Weeks is about Elizabeth (Kim Basinger), an art gallery assistant who meets John (Mickey Rourke) while shopping one day.  After they run into each other again, they begin seeing each other, and he begins making her explore her sexual and submissive side.  As the acts he initiates become more and more envelope-pushing, she must decide whether the excitement of their relationship is worth the growing discomfort she feels.

All in all, I did like this movie, although it wasn't perfect.  While Courtney and I watched it, about the only thing that I actually said to her was, "Man, this is one '80s movie."  The sex scenes play like early music videos, right down to the lighting.

Mickey Rourke, in my mind, is now the roided up hulk of The Wrestler, so it was especially strange seeing him young and svelte again.  Although he was definitely good-looking back in the day, the guy he's playing is an absolute creeper.  That was one bit that seemed unlikely to me - I just couldn't believe she'd have stuck around as long as she did.

Of course, this movie's most famous scene is the one where Rourke has Basinger keep her eyes closed while he feeds her all different kinds of foods.  It's really a hot scene, but here's the difference ten years makes...  When I was 25, I would have been all, "Shit yeah, I'm trying that."  Now that I'm 35, I'm all, "I wonder who gets to clean all that up."  Yes, I've been married for nearly 9 years, why do you ask?

RATING - I give this movie 4 Before and After Rourkes out of 5.

LESSON - Mix it up, keep it fun.

Project Valentine, Day 22: Last Tango in Paris


I did not like this movie.

You know how sometimes you watch a movie that's acknowledged as a classic, and you understand the reasoning behind that assessment, but you just can't get on board with it at all?  That's how I felt watching Last Tango in Paris.

Marlon Brando plays Paul, a recent widower who owns a hotel in Paris.  He meets Jeanne when they are both looking at the same apartment, and they have an anonymous sexual encounter.  They continue to meet there and have a passionate affair, but Paul insists that they never tell each other any personal information - not even names.  The longer the affair continues, the farther Paul pushes Jeanne's boundaries until at last he is ready to break their final boundary - he tells her about his past, admits that he loves her and wants to know her name.

That's a very toned-down plot synopsis, and I'm leaving it purposely vague so that I don't spoil what narrative surprises the film does have in case you ever decide to see it.  Why didn't I care for it?  A couple of reasons.  First, for a movie with many, many sex scenes, this is one of the least erotic movies I've ever seen.  I get it - the point of it isn't to be sexy, it's about catharsis, but still...

Also, and I know that among my film geek friends this borders on sacrilege, there's the problem of Marlon Brando.  IMDB tells me that he was in 44 movies, and I'll admit that I've only seen 7 of them, mostly from his later career.  Maybe I need to plumb his earlier work some more so that I get the whole "greatest actor of his generation" hype.  I think The Godfather is one of the greatest movies ever made, and God only knows how Francis Ford Coppola managed to rein Brando in for that one (especially when he completely failed to rein him in for Apocalypse Now), but watching him mumble his way through his improvised dialogue or staring at the cue cards that he had taped around the set takes me right out of the viewing experience.  Don't get me wrong, I love Apocalypse Now and Brando's performance in it, but watching him in it is basically watching an exercise in self-indulgence.  Again, I get that the point of Last Tango is a catharsis for Paul, but the lines Brando improvises cross from cathartic into, I dunno... juvenile.  "That's your happiness and my hap-penis!"  Come on.

I'm glad that I saw this, since it's one of those landmark movies, but I don't think I'll be returning to it again.  Don't even get me started on the all too literal Chekhov's gun.

RATING - Two sticks of butter out of five
LESSON - Mutual respect is necessary for a relationship to last.

Project Valentine, Day 21: Secretary


Oh, thank God I'm done with the Ugh, Let's Watch Julia Roberts block.  I was accused of selecting her worst movies on purpose, but that really wasn't what I set out to do.  I just wanted to choose movies that would fit the romance category, and that I could make work around my Netflix queue!

Anyway, it's behind me now.  Four Roberts movies in a row have left me feeling a little deflated.  How to get my mojo back?  With four days of steamy movies.  Gentlemen, put on your smoking jackets.  Ladies, get out your garter belts.  The next four days at Look What Danny Made! are... Sexytime!

The next few days, I'll be watching some movies I haven't seen before, but I decided to kick things off with one that I liked enough to see again, Secretary.  In this movie, Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lee Holloway, who has recently been released from a treatment facility where she received therapy for cutting.  She's awkward and uncertain about herself, but learns to type and finds a secretarial job for an attorney named E. Edward Grey (played by James Spader).  Grey is bothered by Lee's typos, habits, and appearance, and corrects her, often sternly.  Instead of withdrawing from the criticism, though, Lee thrives on it.  She begins to excel at her work, while still making intentional mistakes from time to time so that Grey will continue to correct her.  For his part, Grey finds that he is becoming more and more attracted to her submissiveness.  His corrections become more kinky, including spankings.  Eventually, he feels things have gone too far, and fires her in a fit of shame.  This prompts Lee to prove her love, and her obedience, to him once and for all, so that they can live happily (and submissively) ever after.

First things first - this movie covers some ground that not everybody is going to be comfortable with.  It even addresses that in the context of the movie, by having another character confront Lee and tell her to familiarize herself with the feminist struggle.  The dom-sub relationship between Edward and Lee is obviously one that wouldn't work for everybody.  I mean, I'm married to a redhead - there's no chance it's ever happening here!  And lastly, as an example of an employer-employee relationship, it's clearly out of bounds anyplace except in a movie.

That said, where this movie succeeds is in showing how this kind of relationship does work for some people.  Lee never truly comes alive until she has Edward's orders to follow.  She is a broken character from a broken family, and choice causes her to shut down.  Though it seems counter-intuitive, she wants somebody to take the burden of choices off of her, and feels loved as a result.  Their relationship fills a specific need for each of them.

What's interesting is that the submission in this movie is sexualized, but not actually sexual.  Clear as mud, right?  During the movie, Lee has another suitor, a boy who she went to high school with (played by Jeremy Davies).  The movie's only sex scene is between him and Lee, and it's entirely devoid of heat.  Lee and Edward are never shown having sex, but the sparks between them are there in a big way, and when they end up together, there is real love between them.

I don't think that everybody would like this movie.  Even aside from the kink, it's kind of a quirky film.  But if you are willing to accept a different romantic point of view for a while, I think you may enjoy it.  The only real downside of the movie is Jeremy Davies.  Although he's perfect for the role he plays (a greasy, twitchy little spaz), I've never liked the guy very much, namely because he always plays a greasy, twitchy little spaz, often with a dose of cowardice thrown in.

RATING - I give this one five riding crops out of five.

LESSON - Sometimes the hottest things you can do for your relationship have nothing to do with sex.

Project Valentine, Day 20: Eat Pray Love


Alternate titles for Eat Pray Love:  Eyeroll Snooze Snore.  Eat Pray Loathe.  Around the World in 80 Guys.

You know, as I reach the end of Ugh, Let's Watch Julia Roberts, I realize that I may have estimated her unfairly.  The kinds of movies that she appears in made me think that she was trying to play romantic heroines, but maybe her goal was something different all along.  Eat Pray Love, along with Something to Talk About and Notting Hill shows that J.Ro. is in fact very talented at playing a certain kind of character, and that is the unlikeable rich person with problems the rest of us can't identify with.

I've mentioned this already, but it bears repeating after four days of watching her.  I've seen nearly a week of Julia Roberts getting dumped, dumped on, and going through the wringer, and I still haven't been able to muster a shred of sympathy for the characters she plays, because she just brings so much unpleasantness to them.  And if I never again hear/see that wide open-mouthed guffaw that she somehow brings into every movie, it'll be too soon.

Anyway, Eat Pray Love is adapted from the very successful, Oprah-approved memoir of the same name, about a woman who decides one day that she doesn't love her husband anymore and divorces him even though he's willing to fight for their marriage and make changes to keep her.  Then she cons her publisher into paying her an advance so she can spend a year travelling the world and "finding herself."

She begins her journey in Italy, where she wants to discover the pleasure of nourishing her body.  And at last, I stand corrected - I can now identify with a Julia Roberts character.  One time, when I was staying with a friend in NYC, I went on a World Eating Tour.  I walked down a street, and every time I passed a shop that sold a different ethnic cuisine I stopped and ate something.  Good times.  *burp*  There's this thing she does, and I hesitate even to point it out, because it's exactly the kind of thing that makes my wife say I analyze these things too much.  Each time she's about to eat something, she furtively casts her eyes left and right very quickly, as though to see whether anybody is watching, and then smiles her private little smile and takes another bite.  In fact, the smile is a near constant while she's in Italy.  It's not a smile of actual happiness.  It's the smile of an above-it-all observer, who treats the people she's seeing as though they are her own personal anthropology experiment.

Next stop, India, so that she can discover the spiritual life and nourish her soul.  An admirable goal, to be sure.  I'm not passing judgment on any faith, but I do find it interesting that every time bourgie white people in the movies are seeking spiritual enlightenment, they find it by turning to Eastern religions.  Again, nothing wrong with it, but part of me wonders if the people of India don't ever reach a point where they're like, "Great, another busload of people who are going to treat us like curiosities..."

She enrolls in an ashram and begins her course of spiritual study.  At the ashram, as in Italy, we see that people just can't wait to befriend and spill their guts to her.  One guy, Richard from Texas, stands out because he is one of the most rare of screen creatures - the Manic Pixie Dream Guy.  Much like MPDGirls, he is the kind of character who would not exist in real life, but shows up for the sole purpose of spurring the main character along in her quest.  He gives her the nickname Groceries, because she likes to eat or something, so it takes a whole lot of groceries to feed her.  See what he did there?  She does not return the favor by nicknaming him Annoying-Ass Buttinsky, though she really should have.

The last part of her journey is to Bali, where she studies how to find inner balance with a traditional medicine man.  Well, she starts to, anyway.  Then she meets a charming Brazilian man who she falls in love with, and totally neglects her training to lead him on for a while.  Then she decides that she doesn't need a man to find her balance.  But then she decides that she really does, so the movie ends with her and her new guy riding into the sunset together.

A lot of people have credited the book that this movie was adapted from with changing their lives.  If so, that's great!  I... have some problems.  Maybe the story reads differently in the book, but the character Roberts plays in the movie never seems to get past a very surface-level commitment to the people she has journeyed to be with.  She's not there to do anything other than pick and choose the parts of her host's culture that suit her need for validation.  She's a cultural dilettante who thinks she's become deeper along the way because she learned some new platitudes to spout.
RATING - Some pretty scenery earns this one more point than I would have otherwise given it.  Two gaping maws out of five.

LESSON - If you are a self-centered navel-gazer, all the travels in the world won't change your nature.

Project Valentine, Day 19: Runaway Bride


I just realized that this is the third Julia Roberts movie I've reviewed, and all of them so far are from the mid-to-late '90s.  It seems like that's when she was doing the bulk of her romantic and rom-com output.  Somewhere around 2001, she decided she was an IMPORTANT ACTRESS and started making movies with a message (or at least where she could play something different, or do voiceover work).  Somewhere around 2009, she changed her mind again, and that's what we'll talk about tomorrow night.

Tonight, though, we get to see the reunion of Roberts and Gere, the team that brought you Pretty Woman!

Gere, who deserves better, plays Ike Graham, a reporter/columnist.  His writing gets the womenfolk all riled up, which we are shown through the simply hilarious device of having perfect strangers walk up to him on the street and slap his face.  When one of Maggie Carpenter's (Roberts) jilted exes sends Ike a story about her, and how she has stood up multiple men at the altar, he runs the story but is fired for some factual inaccuracies.  In a quest to get his job back, he goes to her hometown to do his own story on her.  He gets to town just in time to see the preparations for her fourth wedding, to a coach played by Christopher Meloni, who also deserves better.  Although Maggie is very suspicious of Ike, he works his way into the townspeople's good graces, and eventually into hers.  From there, of course, it's just a matter of time until they fall in love, right?  She breaks her fourth engagement, then runs away from her wedding to Ike, before showing up at his apartment and marrying him in a private ceremony.

This is my least favorite Julia Roberts movie ever, for so many reasons.

First, in case you don't remember what I wrote in my review of His Girl Friday, here it is:
I'm also picking up on one of the big cliches of romantic comedies: if you want to find the person who you're going to fall in love with, just find the person who you hate the most and stick around long enough.  Voila!  Love connection!
Seriously, it has got to be the most tired and overused plot device there is.

Second, allow me to quote directly from a comment my friend Kyle made on that same review:
One of the things that still strikes me as...I don't know, unsettling for lack of a better word, is how many classic RomComs revolve around one person trying to steal the love interest of another with no regard for that person's feelings or the questionable nature of basically dropping an atomic turd on someone else's relationship.
What he said.  (Also, click on Kyle's name above if you'd like to be taken to his blog.)  I know that movies are not where we turn for realism, but I also don't understand why we are asked again and again not just to identify with, but to love characters who do really lousy crap like this.

Third, maybe I'm being hypersensitive here, but it bothers me that the audience is expected to laugh off repeated scenes of complete strangers randomly assaulting a man on the street simply because they disagree with him.  I don't care if it's mainly little old ladies, I don't care that the character of Ike is supposedly a jerk, I don't care about any of that.  I mean, I get the joke, and I know it's supposed to show how he angers up the blood of otherwise peaceful people, but it's just not that funny.  Say that you were watching a movie about a female journalist, and men walked up to her on the street and slapped her out of the blue.  Still funny?

Fourth, there's a scene where one character mentions Eggs Benedict, and Ike finishes the sentence with "Arnold."  Guys, that joke was old when I was a kid.  I remember it from a Brady Bunch rerun.  Seriously, anybody who laughs at that line has never seen a movie, TV show, or cartoon in their life.

Fifth, maybe you've heard the saying "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."  (Or to quote our illustrious former president, "There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.")  Anyway, I would amend that to add, "Fool me a third time, go fuck yourself."  Maggie is supposed to be a sweet, spirited, but confused woman?  No.  Anybody who could do what she does in this movie as many times as she does in this movie doesn't qualify as sweet or confused.  They are heartless and callous.  The scene where Ike shames the townspeople for teasing her about her cold feet is atrocious.  You've known her for like a week, pal.  How about you shut the hell up and let the people who have been burned by her again and again get some closure.

RATING - Runaway Bride gets one happy couple out of five.  Hey, just like in the movie!!!

LESSON - It is reckless and cruel to play fast and loose with the hearts of people whom you supposedly love.

Project Valentine, Day 18: Notting Hill


I decided to finally see this for two reasons, neither of which has to do with the movie itself, and both of which had to do with goofy in-jokes with my friends.

First:  My friend Greg and I used to have this game which was entirely stupid, but which never stopped making us laugh.  We would take bits of dialogue from movies, or nursery rhymes, or whatever else came into our minds and then deliver them in Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice.  It really doesn't come across well in type, but just try it.  Say "Don't run with scissahs!" and see if it doesn't put a smile on your face.  Anyway, I always felt like my funniest one ever was putting on the Austrian accent and saying, "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."  Trust me.

Second:  Rhys Ifans, who plays Hugh Grant's roommate, is the comedic highlight of this movie.  This made me think of a time in college when my friend Kyle demanded an English guy in the dining hall to tell him, "Is everything funnier in England?  Because it looks that way in the movies."  That's really nothing to do with Notting Hill.  I guess you had to be there, because at the time it was hilarious.

I liked this more than I like most Julia Roberts movies, and that's because it's also a Hugh Grant movie.  He's not the greatest actor in the world, and truthfully, he's been in more mediocre movies than really good ones, but he's just so charming, you know?  Every now and then, an actor takes part in something that you enjoy so much that you're willing to give them a lifetime pass, no matter how much dreck they take part in afterwards, for instance, Claire Danes and "My So-Called Life."  For Grant, the movie About A Boy is his lifetime pass for me.  (Seriously, if you haven't seen that movie, please do make plans to see it.  I love it.)  Julia Roberts is kind of a guest star in this movie, which made it much more palatable.

Plot - Grant plays Will, a divorced man who owns a bookstore specializing in travel books.  He lives with Spike, an eccentric and slobby Welshman.  World famous movie star Anna Scott (Roberts) comes into his shop one day, which leads to a conversation and romantic interest.  She joins him as a date to his sister's birthday party, surprising Will's friends both with her presence and her friendliness.  As the relationship begins to grow, though, Will and Anna find that their lives are simply too different to be compatible, and when Spike's careless talk ends up bringing a crowd of paparazzi to Will's doorstep, she feels betrayed and breaks things off.  Will spends the next year getting over her before finding out that she's back in London for another movie shoot.  They meet each other, obstacles arise, they end up together, the end.

There's a scene in this movie when Roberts' character approaches a table full of men in a restaurant and puts them down for speaking poorly about her a few moments earlier.  Maybe I'm too cynical, but it seemed like this scene was filmed specifically with people like me in mind.  "See?!  If you hate on this movie or say bad things about the people in it, you're no better than those boors in the restaurant, who Julia Roberts so handily emasculated!"  But the problem with a Julia Roberts performance is that, with the exception of a few things, she draws from the same little bag of tricks for every single role she plays.  She hasn't expanded at all since Pretty Woman.  You know the scene in PW when she returns to the store that wouldn't sell her stuff earlier and tells them off in that very even, calm, revenge-served-cold voice?  That's the exact same delivery she used in the scene I just described.  It's the exact same delivery she used in Erin Brockovich when she's just served the PG&E executives water from the polluted town.  It worked once, in the PW scene, but she just keeps going back to that well again and again, and it makes for very unsympathetic characters.

But then, I'm probably just a hater who deserves to get embarrassed at a restaurant.

RATING - Julia Roberts aside, I actually did like this movie a lot.  It's a complete fantasy, but really, who hasn't imagined some scenario where they meet their favorite star and the star finds them irresistible?  (Wassup, Amy Poehler?  Call me!)  I give this one four Walk of Fame Stars out of five.  (By the way, you should totally click on those stars to get a bigger view of them.)
LESSON - Thinking of a different lesson each day has sort of become a chore.  I'm committed to doing it, because it was a condition of the project, but I'm finding that few of these movies are applicable to mine and Courtney's relationship, or that the lesson is some variation of, "Just follow your heart!  That's what I do!"  I guess the lesson from today's movie would be to make sure that you and your partner have matching expectations of your relationship.

Project Valentine, Day 17: Something to Talk About


Tonight we leave behind our "Dude, That's So Gay" block of movies and begin four grueling nights of "Ugh, Let's Watch Julia Roberts."  Perhaps you guessed from the name of this section that I don't like Julia Roberts.  I'm not really going to get into why, since I imagine there will be plenty of that in the movie reviews themselves, but it really just comes down to the fact that sometimes you've got a huge hate-on for a celeb, and she's one of mine.  You know the real reason I'm following the gay romance movies with Julia Roberts movies?  It's because if there was ever somebody who stood a chance of turning me off of women, it's her.

Now, unless you think I'm all negativity tonight, I'm going to tell you something that I love.  I love Netflix.  As much as I hate Julia Roberts, that's how much I love Netflix.  I love Netflix so much that I wanna take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant (to steal a joke from 30 Rock).  Ah, but who can disappoint you most?  Say it with me:  the ones who you love.

I knew nothing about Something to Talk About, aside from the fact that it starred J.Ro., but I added it to my Project Valentine line-up because Netflix had it categorized as a romantic comedy.  Really, it's a "romantic" "comedy."  No, it's not even really that - I just wanted to make my little quotation marks joke.  This movie was neither romantic nor a comedy.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating, I challenge anybody who has seen this movie to point out exactly one romantic scene to me.  I'll bet the closest you can come is probably the one where Roberts's character reminisces about losing her virginity, and then the dude she's with makes a move on her, and then they both decide not to take it any further.  Even that scene could only be called romantic if you stretch; it's mostly just awkward and depressing.  There's no romance in this movie, but more on that in a minute.

There's also not really any comedy.  I mean, sure, there's some broad comedy (Ha!  Did you see her kick that guy in the nuts?!  Whoa!  She food poisoned her husband on purpose!  Wacky!), but what the filmmakers intended for viewers to take as comedy was mostly just awful people treating each other horribly.  Watch the movie's trailer in your DVD extra features, and it contains literally every single "laugh" moment in the movie.  The trailer at least has the benefit of editing and background music to punctuate the laughs and let you know they're supposed to be funny.  The movie itself presents these as dramatic moments, though, which just leaves you feeling kind of uncomfortable and strange when you watch it.

Having watched the trailer, though, I guess that I can't blame Netflix for categorizing this as a rom-com.  That's how it was marketed, and that's even how IMDB lists it.  Here's the truth about Something to Talk About:  it is a movie about relationships falling apart.  The central relationship is the one played by Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid, but you've also got a longtime marriage falling apart (Roberts's parents), parent-child relationships falling apart (Roberts and her dad, Roberts and her daughter), and friendships falling apart (Roberts and pretty much every member of the women's charity league that she's a member of).  Like I said earlier, no romance.

And why are all these relationships falling apart?  Like I also said earlier, because they're all awful people treating each other horribly.  Husbands cheat on wives, parents belittle children (that is, when they can be bothered to remember they exist), employers needlessly berate employees, friends sleep with other friends' husbands, wives withhold affection and intentionally put their husbands in the hospital, and on and on and on.  Seriously, there is not one likable character in this thing, including the kid.  Hell, especially the whiny, horribly-accented kid.

I've come all this way without even really telling you what the movie's about.  There's a married couple with a kid, the husband cheats, the wife leaves him and makes a big scene about it, people ride horses, and they decide to have a peaceful divorce for the sake of their kid.  The end.  Now you don't have to see it.

RATING - I give this movie one horse face out of five.  Not because there's horses in it, because Julia Roberts is in it.

LESSON - Address the problems in your relationship, don't let them fester until they are beyond repair.  Also, avoid exposure to awful people who treat others horribly.

Project Valentine, Day 16: Kissing Jessica Stein


Tonight is the end of the Dude, That's So Gay block of movies, and I'm closing it up with one recommended by my friend Rachel.  Actually, I'd originally planned to fill this spot with another movie that I had picked at semi-random from Netflix's Gay & Lesbian romances section.  It doesn't matter what it was.  (OK, it was Personal Best, starring Mariel Hemingway.  I have no excuse, except that I wanted to see Mariel Hemingway young and naked.)  But Rachel lobbied so passionately for Kissing Jessica Stein that I called an audible and changed the lineup.  I'm glad I did.  I enjoyed this movie much more than I think I would have enjoyed a movie about the American women's track team that had to miss the 1980 Olympics because of the US boycott.  (I was too young to remember that, but I do remember the USSR boycotting the LA games four years later.  Way to act like little bitches, Olympic Committees of both nations!)

Kissing Jessica Stein opens with a scene of Jessica in Temple with her parents and grandmother on Yom Kippur, being hounded by her mother about being in her late 20s and not married.  Already, I loved this movie.  The opening scene tells you almost everything you need to know about her, without coming across as clumsy exposition.  Jessica goes on a series of terrible dates that her mother sets up for her; at a dinner party with friends, she regales them with stories of how awful each date was until Josh (a former boyfriend and current co-worker) tells her that the reason she doesn't find love is that she isn't open to it.  This makes Jessica examine herself, and when a personal ad quoting one of her favorite poets shows up in the newspaper she works at, she answers it.  The catch?  The ad was in the "women seeking women" section.

The ad was placed by Helen, a bisexual art gallery curator who is tired of tawdry relationships with men.  The two meet for drinks and they click, despite Jessica's uncertainty and neuroses.  Their relationship grows stronger, but Jessica still struggles to figure out how to let people in her life know about what she and Helen have, and how to become more expressive in their sex life.  A conversation between Jessica and her mother gives her the confidence to attend her brother's wedding with Helen as her date, and the two women move in together soon after.

I don't really want to spoil the ending for you, but one of my main impressions from the movie stems from its ending, so here goes.  Jessica and Helen fall into a rut; Helen wants much more sex in their relationship and feels that they have become nothing more than best friends and roommates, but Jessica is happy with how things are.  They break up.  The movie's final scenes show Jessica running into Josh at a bookstore and possibly rekindling their relationship, Helen waking in the arms of her new girlfriend, and the two women meeting at a cafe and talking like friends.

Really, it's a sweet ending, but I do have a problem with it.  The whole movie up to this point has been about Jessica's emotional journey towards accepting herself and letting another person in.  The end basically hits the reset button on everything that's just happened.  OK, that's not entirely true, but that's how it felt.  I know that sexual orientation can be a fluid thing, and that people experiment at different times of their lives, but it felt like a little bit like a cheat here, you know?  "Yes, the pretty girl is playing at having a girlfriend for a while, but don't worry - she'll be back!"

That said, the character does have some growth.  By the end, she's learned to slow down, embrace new things, and let people in.  She and Helen both have an important new friendship.  I guess that I just wanted this movie to have a happily-ever-after for them, because both of the female leads were really appealing performers, and were cute together.

Other things I liked... Jon Hamm is in this movie!  Turns out that he's been involved with the actress who plays Jessica since the late '90s.  His role is blink-and-you'll-miss-it, but it's still fun seeing him show up.  In Helen and Jessica's first meeting, Helen talks about how she has one boyfriend who she calls when she's hungry, one who she calls when she's horny, etc.  Jessica's response?  "Who do you call when you get sick?"  I love it - even in the 2000's, nice Jewish girls know to look for a doctor.  On that note, I also loved the Jewish grandmothers at the wedding, planning out Jessica and Helen's life for them.

The one thing I couldn't get past?  This movie was set in NYC in 2002, and it shows two young people using newspaper personals.  That was so out of place, that it actually took me a second to remember, "Oh yeah, people used to pay to have personal ads printed in the paper.  Strange..."  I mean, I've been married since 2002, and even I had used Internet personals before the turn of the century.

OK, despite my nitpicks, I really liked this movie.  It was cute without being cutesy, and sweet without being saccharine.  There were some great laughs, and I really cared about what would happen to these two girls.

RATING - I give this one five bowls of chicken noodle soup out of five.

LESSON - If you're in a relationship, go all in or don't bother.

And that's it for Dude, That's So Gay!  I wasn't sure what the reaction would be like over these last few days, so I thank you for joining me in a quest to show that love is love.  Tomorrow starts four days of Julia Roberts movies, but until then I leave you with this...


Project Valentine, Day 15: The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love


I had never heard of The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love until my friend, teacher, and judo sparring partner Steve Moss recommended adding it to Project Valentine.  Thanks for the recommendation!

First impression - this movie was filled with faces that I almost, but not quite, recognized.  Nicole Ari Parker was probably the biggest name in it, and I really only knew her from Boogie Nights, which came out 14 years ago.  In fact, the most recognizable actress was Dale Dickey, who played Patty the Daytime Hooker on My Name is Earl.  Of course, many great movies have unknown casts, so I mention that separately of my other first impression, which is this - I almost, but not quite, enjoyed this movie.

The story centers around Randy Dean, a high school senior.  She is not a successful student, has only one real friend, and lives with her aunt and her aunt's girlfriend.  Randy works part time at a gas station where, from time to time, her married girlfriend visits her for trysts in the ladies room.  One day Evie, a popular girl at school, stops at the station believing that she has car trouble, and recognizes Randy from school.  The girls begin a friendship which eventually grows into a romance.  Their relationship is tested as problems mount around them:  Evie's friends reject her when she reveals her relationship, Randy's aunt is furious to discover how poorly she's doing in school, and Evie's mother puts pressure on her about everything.  The two girls run away together and, in a very ambiguous last scene, stand together face to face in a motel room doorway while their families and friends shout at them from outside.

I can't entirely peg why I didn't fully enjoy this movie, but I have an idea.  If we accept that no two relationships are exactly the same, we can at least also accept that many relationships have similar experiences.  Gay or straight, the experience of first teenage love is one that we all went through.  That's why, even though there's such a thing as suspension of disbelief when you're watching a movie, you still can't help but notice when a movie doesn't play something like this exactly right.  It's a shared experience that everybody has had in one form or another, and people will notice if the details are off.  Although I thought that Two Girls in Love did get some of the experience of first love right (the electricity of taking somebody's hand for the first time, the nervousness and trepidation when you are getting to know each other), there were too many details that just didn't fit for me.

Things I did like - Nicole Ari Parker is gorgeous, and I can easily see why anybody would fall in love with her.  Frank, Randy's gay best friend, was a small role but had one of the funniest lines in the movie.  A copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" is shared by the girls in the movie, and is one of the things they build their relationship around, and in that final scene where they are standing and facing each other, they both quote from "Song of Myself" to each other, and it's a really pretty and nicely done moment.

This movie reminded me in many ways of another early '90s teen romance, the Australian film FlirtingFlirting revolves around a hetero couple, but still tells the story of a teen romance dealing with issues of race, differing social class, and acceptance, while throwing in some pretty funny scenes.  It's also got Nicole Kidman in a very early role.

RATING - This movie's heart was in the right place, and was sweet, but it just didn't grab me.  I give it two copies of "Leaves of Grass" out of five.
SIDENOTE - As much as I do enjoy Walt Whitman, I am unable to hear the title of "Leaves of Grass" without thinking of Homer Simpson shouting, "Damn you, Walt Whitman! I-hate-you-Walt-freaking-Whitman! 'Leaves of Grass', my ass!" while kicking Whitman's tombstone.

LESSON - I'm having a hard time finding the lesson in this movie.  Follow your heart?  The heart wants what it wants?  I dunno...

Project Valentine, Day 14: The Wedding Banquet


I had no idea when I added this movie to my list, but it was directed by Ang Lee, who also directed the movie I watched last night, Brokeback Mountain.  To tell the truth, the movie that I always associate with Lee is Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it turns out that most of his filmography is made up of relationship dramas.  And Hulk, which I guess is not without its lessons for people in a relationship ("You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...").

I'm going to give a longer than usual plot summary, both because this movie isn't very well known and because some of the points I want to talk about depend upon it.  The Wedding Banquet starts as a comedy, but takes a turn for the dramatic about halfway through.  Wai-Tung is a Chinese-American landlord who lives in New York City with his boyfriend Simon.  His parents live in Taiwan, and are very traditional; he has never come out to them.  His mother worries that he is in his late 20s without being married, and tries to set him up with various matchmaking services (which also sets up one of the movie's funniest scenes).  His father, a retired general, is in failing health and wants a grandchild before he dies.  When Wei-Wei, one of Wai-Tung's tenants, loses her job (making her unable to pay rent and also invalidating her work visa), she faces both eviction and deportation back to China.  Simon recommends a solution to both Wai-Tung's and Wei-Wei's problems - a green card marriage.  When word reaches Wei-Tung's parents, they insist on visiting for the wedding, and are heartbroken by the hasty courthouse ceremony.

Here's where the movie starts to play as a drama.  While the family is out "celebrating" the wedding at a restaurant, the restaurateur recognizes Wei-Tung's father, the retired general.  He was the general's driver for twenty years, and insists upon being given the honor of giving the newlyweds the most lavish wedding banquet ever seen.


The bride and groom drink heavily during the banquet and drunkenly have sex that night.  Because this is a movie, she gets pregnant from their single encounter.  This, combined with Wei-Tung's parents' extended stay, takes a heavy toll on all of the relationships, Simon and Wei-Tung, Wei-Tung and Wei-Wei, the parents and the newlyweds...  This is what the rest of the movie explores and ultimately resolves.

I really think that most people would enjoy this movie.  Ask yourself this - have I ever laughed at a romantic comedy that revolved around misunderstandings and attempts to cover things up?  If the answer is yes, you will enjoy the first half of this movie.  Have you ever identified with a family drama?  Then you will enjoy the second half of this movie.

Did you ever see the documentary The Celluloid Closet?  It's an interesting look at the history of gay portrayals in cinema.  In early Hollywood up through the 1950s, the most you could do was imply or make coded references.  In fact, the exercise scene in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes gets a lot of mention for its pretty outright homoerotic nature.  Then there was a phase through the 1970s and 80s where you could be more forward with gay portrayals, but gays were almost always played either as broad stereotypes or perverse villains.  Then you hit the 90s and had a decade of AIDS dramas.  And this is what interested me most about The Wedding Banquet - it was made in 1993, and is unusual for a movie of that time.  Simon and Wei-Tung aren't shrieking queens or AIDS victims, they're believable portrayals of two people struggling with real problems.

The parents, traditional as they may be, are not played for stereotypes, either.  They don't entirely understand their son, but they really do want him to be happy, and the way they know how to judge happiness is in terms of the values they've always lived with.  In fact, my favorite scene in the entire movie is one between Simon and the father near the very end.  It's so good, and I want to tell it to you so much, but I'm not going to because on the chance that you ever see this movie I want to leave at least that one bit unspoiled for you.  I will only say that it is a really great scene of unconditional parental love.

If you like more relationship-centered romances, take a chance on this movie.  It's virtually unheard of, so as soon as Netflix gets it back in the mail from me, you stand a good chance of getting it with next to no wait!

RATING - This movie gets four red envelopes out of five.  The reason I don't give it a perfect five is because one late scene pulls out a romantic comedy trope that is so cliched that it even figured into a major plot point on the series Sex & the City.  Aside from that, though, this movie was a pleasant surprise.
LESSON -Family traditions can seem to be an encumbrance sometimes, but they can also become part of a rich heritage that strengthens your relationship.

Project Valentine, Day 13: Brokeback Mountain

Man, all of these late nights are starting to add up.

Since I spent three of the last four days watching Twilight movies, it seemed like a natural next step to watch a few days of gay-themed movies.  Too easy, I know.  Anyway, tonight starts the next block of Project Valentine - Dude, That's So Gay.

I feel like I have to get something out of the way up front.  I am going to watch every movie on my list with an open mind and an open heart.  That said, this is still Look What Danny Made!, and sometimes jokes just have to get made.  I joke equally because I love equally.

Because it's probably one of the most visible and talked about movies of the last decade, Brokeback Mountain is the movie I've chosen to lead off with.  I've seen it before, but that was a few years ago, so I feel like I'm still coming to it with fresh eyes.

Now, before I get into the movie, I have to tell you what I thought of the very first time I heard its plot described.  Are there any other South Park watchers here?  Maybe you remember in one of the early, early episodes when an independent film festival comes to town, and Cartman refuses to go see any of them because "all independent movies are about gay cowboys eating pudding."  And then this happens...

So anyway, that's what came to mind when I first heard of Brokeback Mountain.

This movie is the story of two young cowboys who are hired as shepherds for a summer on Brokeback Mountain.  They fall in love, and the movie follows the course of their relationship over the next twenty years, during which time each is married, has children, and struggles with his desires for a different life.

I apologize - I'm not going to do this movie justice in my review tonight.  I'm afraid I'm just too sleepy, so I've got to keep it a little shorter than usual.  I'll say this - a few times a decade, a movie comes out that is so pivotal and so influential, that it becomes a focal point for all kinds of attention that its makers probably never even intended.  I think that this movie was one of those, and when that happens, amidst all of the discussion, hype, and attention, you sometimes grow tired of hearing about it, and forget that the movie which started it all is a very good movie.  Brokeback Mountain is a very good movie.

I'm not saying anything new here, but watching Heath Ledger in this makes me sad all over again for his early death.  The guy had a lifetime of great performances ahead of him.  I've never, ever liked Randy Quaid, not even in the National Lampoon movies, but I'll say that he's pretty well suited to play a jerk, which he has the chance to do in this movie.

RATING - I give this one five sheep out of five.
LESSON - Happiness lies in following where your heart takes you, and the sorrow of not following it will reach beyond just yourself.

Project Valentine, Day 12: Wuthering Heights


Today's entry didn't go entirely as I'd hoped.  I was originally planning to conclude the My Creepy Valentine block of movies with a movie recommended to me by my friend Steven.  I had it at the top of my Netflix instant streaming queue and everything!  It was there when I woke up this morning, but by the time I sat down to start the movie, it had become unavailable, with no warning at all!  Freaking Netflix...  I'm going to consider how to take my revenge on you while I write this blog post.

So, like I said, first choice was out, which left me with a dilemma.  I'm in the middle of My Creepy Valentine - that's a pretty specific criteria!  True, I created the block just so I'd have an excuse to watch the three Twilight movies, but I'm OCD enough that I still had to keep my project split into groups of four movies so that it divides evenly into 28.  See, that way I can make the act of watching a movie a day seem less like fun and more like work!  My mind turned to gothic romance, and of course the quintessential gothic romance is Wuthering Heights.

A quick look at Wikipedia tells me that this story has been adapted for radio, film, and TV nearly three dozen times.  The one that I watched tonight was a two-part Masterpiece Theater adaptation made in 2009.  I've never read the book (though I enjoyed this movie enough that I just downloaded it to my Nook), and I've never seen any other version, so I'm not sure how faithful this one was, but I would definitely recommend it.

The plot of this one is pretty sprawling.  I mean, not in a bad way, just in a way that makes it impossible to summarize tidily.  To briefly recap, though, Heathcliff was an orphan taken into a wealthy family.  He has two adoptive siblings, the cruel Hindley and the beautiful Catherine.  Heathcliff and Catherine fall in love, but he is never accepted by anybody except their father.  Once the father passes away and Hindley returns home, Catherine is courted by another man, whom she eventually marries.  Heathcliff, spurned, takes vengeance on all around him.  I'm making so many English Lit majors cringe right now.  Just know that this is a very abbreviated version of the story, with many significant details omitted.  The big theme to take from it is unrequited love.

If the word "antihero" didn't exist, it would have to be created just to describe the character of Heathcliff.  You guys, he is seriously the TITS.  I can think of only one other character who got married just to spite somebody else, and that's Scarlet O'Hara.  Let's catalog his revenge: believes that he cursed Hindley's wife to death, vanished for three years, took advantage of Hindley's drunkenness and gambling addiction to destroy him, toyed with Catherine's affections after she was already married, and then married her sister-in-law just to twist the knife.  Then, just for good measure, he waits until she's been dead 18 years and forces her daughter into marrying his son.  He's a jerk, but the dude is committed!  Although I could never do it myself, I just really can't help but be in awe of a character who, if you asked why he got married, would answer, "Because fuck you, that's why."  Are you paying attention, Twilight?  This is how you do a bad boy.

But here's the other great thing about Heathcliff in this particular adaptation - he's played by Tom Hardy, who rocked the screen last summer in Inception (and also had the single best line in that movie, "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.").  He's also going to play Bane in the next Batman movie, which I can't wait to see!

RATING - Loved this one.  I can't believe I'm 35 and have never read or seen this.  I give it five leatherbound copies of Ivanhoe out of five.

LESSON - Old hurts can cut deeply, and can affect all around you.  Love wisely and love well.  And seriously, think twice before you cross a guy named Heathcliff.

Project Valentine, Day 11: Eclipse


Special thanks to my friend Kirsten Welch for making tonight's installment possible.  You see, the first two Twilight movies are in regular rotation on cable, so I DVR'd them at the beginning of Project Valentine.  Eclipse, though, is still only available on DVD, and she generously loaned me her copy.  Thank you, spider monkey.  (STILL FUNNY.)

I have no vampire snacks tonight, but I did eat red meat for dinner.  Totally counts, right?  Hopefully I won't need the attitude adjustment tonight, though, because I'm told that the series gets better as it goes along.

So, to summarize the Twilight series so far:

In tonight's installment, Victoria...  Wait!  What?  They Second Becky'd us with Victoria!  OK, well, tonight the part of Victoria will be played by Bryce Dallas Howard, who is nowhere near as hot as the other redhead who was playing her before.  You're off to a rocky start, Eclipse.  Anyway, she's putting together an army of newborn vampires to try and avenge the death of her mate James in the first movie.  Because when you hear the word "newborn," the things that come to mind are unstoppable power and strength, right?  While that's going on, Bella graduates high school and finds out that Jacob still has a thang for her.  Then she's all, "I love you, but I love him more, but I'm gonna smooch on both of you.  That cool?"  Then the Cullens and werewolves form an uneasy alliance to defeat the vampire army, which they do, after a training montage.  Then Bella and Edward decide on a date for their wedding, and prepare themselves to go tell Bella's dad.

So my friends were right.  Of the three movies, this one was best.  Congratulations, Eclipse!  You are the world's tallest dwarf!  These are the things I liked:
  • We got glimpses into the pasts of several of the vampires, which finally made them a little more interesting.
  • Vampire and werewolf unity.  It's as though the Jets and the Sharks decided it was time to get together and do something about Officer Krupke.  (I seriously love throwing things like that into my reviews, in the hope that some tween girl will Google "Twilight," end up here, and be like, "Ummm, what's a Krupke?  Isn't it one of those new coffeemakers that uses pods?")
  • You know the kinds of crushes that girls get on Edward and Jacob?  As it turns out, one of my first idols also had a role in Eclipse - Peter Murphy of Bauhaus!  Whoever was responsible for that bit of casting is a genius.
  • Thanks to Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart was not the most wooden performer in this movie!
These are the things I did not like:
  • Bella, we get it.  You're ready to get vamped.  Play a different record already, sister.
  • As a father of a far better-looking than average daughter, I say this:  Vampire or not, you better go ask dad for permission before you propose.  Punk.
  • And the thing that I like least... now that I've come this far, my OCD pretty much compels me to see the fourth movie when it comes out.
Until that movie comes out, though, let's see how another vampire magnet would handle Edward's attentions.  It's kind of long, but definitely worth watching.

RATING - The best of the three so far, but still not good enough to score more than three engagement rings out of five.
LESSON - This is less of a lesson for my marriage and more of a lesson that I will pass along to my sons.  Boys, no woman is worth this much trouble.  Move on and find yourself somebody with less drama.  And ask her dad before you propose to her.  I raised you better than that.