Monday, 11 February 2019

Feature - Five Filmic Valentines

I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of the world alone. Arwen - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
There's no love like movie love. Whether it's gently warming your heart or deliciously rending it into tiny pieces and then scattering all the bits like a shower of bloody confetti, nothing does it better than the silver screen. So with Valentine's Day imminent, here are five cinema offerings, one of which is bound to match your mood on the big/bad/inconsequential/fabulous/notorious day. 

1. The Bittersweet Valentine - Twelfth Night (1996)
My love for this classic romantic comedy was shared with a friend who's sadly no longer with us, so it has an added poignancy for me now. Shakespeare's gender-bending romp is captured beautifully in this adaptation, with Helana Bonham Carter falling for Imogen Stubbs, who's pretending to be a man. Toby Stephens has already fallen for Helena Bonham Carter, but is getting uncomfortably distracted by Imogen Stubbs, even though he's been fooled by that pretending to be a man business. And puritanical old Nigel Hawthorne is convinced that Helena Bonham Carter has fallen for him, causing him to act in a very strange way (stalker in yellow stockings, if you will). The youngsters' love trials all get resolved very romantically, while the older characters discover all over again how cruel affairs of the heart can be. If Hawthorne doesn't break your heart, then Richard E. Grant surely will. Gender-fluidity, melancholy and madness - it's all been done since, but no one's done it better than the Bard. This version proves it beyond doubt.

Bittersweet Alternative - Call Me By Your Name (2017)

2. The Beautifully Doomed Valentine - Moulin Rouge! (2001)
You know from the opening line of the film that someone's going to kark it before the end, so you can't say you haven't been warned. Before that fateful moment, however, there's sublime romance, some very silly comedy and people in Paris 1900 declaring their love by singing Elton John and Madonna songs at each other. Baz Luhrmann has never been more - ehhh - Baz Luhrmann-y than in this extravagant bout of romantic craziness, i.e. there's much visual excess and lurching from one emotion to another so sharply it risks causing motion-sickness. But when Ewan McGregor's poet tunefully informs Nicole Kidman's courtesan that 'my gift is my song and this one's for you', your heart will melt. (And if it doesn't - Oi, Tin Man, go see the Wizard.)

Beautifully Doomed Alternative - The Great Gatsby (2013)  

3. The Dysfunctional Valentine - 500 Days of Summer (2009)
In Moulin Rouge love conquered all and then death conquered love. In 500 Days, however, love is a messed-up business from the start. You're made aware from the title that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's passion for Zooey Deschanel has a sell-buy date and the film never lets you forget it, with its zipping back and forth day-wise through their time together. This relationship was always going to be messy - Summer is flighty as a butterfly and Tom is too much wedded to the notion of 'the one', so he's basically laying his own heart on the chopping-block and then appearing surprised when the axe falls. The film is much wittier and more fun than I'm making it sound, with a Woody Allen vibe and arch nods to those cool classics of the French New Wave (I'm looking at you, A Bout de Souffle). Question is - will Tom learn from his dalliance with Summer and get a little bit more real? The ending provides a hint...

Dysfunctional Alternative - Blue Valentine (2010)  WARNING: While undeniably well-made-and-acted, this one should never be watched while you're feeling romantically bruised. It's bleak with a capital B, L, E, A and K.

4. The Sexy Valentine - Secretary (2002)
There are all sorts of 'shady' goings-on (that's a movie pun) in this spanktastically erotic comedy - and yes, the film is as provocative as its poster suggests. It's also a classy and complex psycho-sexual drama, with Maggie Gyllenhaal's self-harming temp and James Spader's repressed boss discovering a mutually enjoyable way of working through their respective issues. In addition Secretary is both very funny and much more romantic than you might expect. How well it bears up post-#MeToo with our modern re-evaluation of workplace relationships, I can't honestly say - it's been a few years since I watched it. But when better than the day of the February Lovefest to find out? (One thing I recall clearly is the look of lascivious delight on Maggie Gyllenhaal's face as she - to borrow from the poster - assumes the position. So if it's working for both of these consenting adults, who am I to criticise?)

Sexy Alternative - Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

5. The Happy Ending Valentine - Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

I saw a preview screening of Slumdog before there was any kind of buzz surrounding it. Subsequent poster taglines hailed it as 'the feelgood movie of the year', possibly forgetting that the story includes police-cell torture, race riots, familial bereavement, implied child mutilation and literal wading through shit (along with the metaphorical kind), before our hero comes anywhere near getting the girl. Having said that it's also a gorgeous piece of magical realism, structured around Dev Patel's attempts to win Frieda Pinto via the unlikely strategy of appearing on India's Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. And whatever horrors there are during the run-time, the film boasts the feed-good ending of that and most other years. Romantic joy has never been harder-earned, but it's all the more sweet as a result.

Happy Ending Alternative - WALL-E (2008) 

There you are - just a few alternative Valentine movie-treat suggestions courtesy of Filmic Forays. (Don't mention it - it's all part of the service.) Whatever your current rating on the loved-up-ometer, here's wishing you cinematic hearts and flowers in advance of February 14th. And may you fall in love with (or at) the flicks all over again.

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