Tuesday, February 23, 2010


If you've ever gotten yourself in a full lip lock with your partner in the middle of a downpour you know uncomfortable doesn't begin to describe the experience. But in the movies it's an eye-catching, romantic visual: the dripping hair, the smeared make-up, and the soaking clothes movingly capture that spur-of-the-moment passion in ways that almost always stir an audience. So directors go for it, constantly twisting and re-tooling this standard scene for new-market audiences. Here's a few of the best and most creative.


Holly and Paul,searching for her "no-name" cat in a Manhattan alley, finally express how they feel about  each other as "Moon River" soars on the soundtrack. True, Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard weren't the first movie couple to pucker-up in the rain, but this spontaneous kiss in such an unlovely location generated such huge audience reaction it set a trend that hasn't stopped to this day.
More alley romance. In the first of the "Spider-Man" series (the second was the best) nothing beats this scene of blossoming arachnid love. As Spidey is hanging upside down in an alley during a steady drizzle Mary Jane slowly peels his mask just far enough for a deep, wet kiss. We hold our breath, to see what's next, if she'll remove the mask.  Suddenly there's a hiss and off he goes, leaving her looking up in the rain with the memory of a kiss she will hold forever.

This old fashioned romantic scene is so classic it could have come right from silent movies. On a chaperoned date, John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara sneak away to find a private, secluded spot. As the storm rises, the wind whips her flaming-red hair and the rain soaks through his shirt. Then he pulls her into his arms for a wordless, forbidden kiss.  

That ampersand in the title tells us we're in for a 21st century version of this enduring love story -- and it works. Boy does it work, as this smoldering scene shows. Darcy and Elizabeth, in love-hate, are soaking from a summer thunderstorm that gives sound effects to their relationship. "You're the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry," Keira Knightley forcefully (but not so honestly) snarls at Matthew Macfadyen in her best Jane Austenise. Every angry word brings them closer, face to face, with palpable yearning. This has become one of my favorite scenes because it's the kiss that's not a kiss, the kiss that doesn't happen. But the way director Joe Wright shows it to us with just the right magnetic force between the two of them, and just the right amount of hesitation at the same time, makes the audience feel that it does.


Perpetual winner of MTV "best kiss" polls, this slobbery weep-fest openly, and gladly, wears its shameless heart on its sleeve. And this key scene shows it all. Allie, in a state of angry longing, challenges Noah as he's hauling his boat out of the water during a thunderstorm. "Why didn't you write me? I waited for you for  seven years." "It wasn't over," he replies. "It still isn't over," and passionately he lifts her into his arms.
A poll I read ( yes, real people take such polls and studios pay them well) said the approval rating for "The Notebook" is a full three points higher for females than for males. Not a surprise, except that's a huge, gigantic difference, higher than almost any chick-flick, and, even more surprising, it holds across women of all age groups. Women buy the DVD and watch it again and again and again. There's meaning in this, somewhere, somehow about communication between the sexes. So guys, bite the bullet: watch it and pay attention. 

Monday, February 15, 2010


Gary Marshall's "Valentine's Day"opened to huge box office over the weekend, and to almost unanimous critical pans. So the MLB salutes this big-buck winner by listing some of its top notch, negative reviews -- some funny takes that are actually more entertaining than the movie.

For context, critics do this all the time. When a massive audience pays no attention to their reviews of pop blockbusters (like"Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen," "GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra") they stem off a sense of impotency by flexing a whole lot of creative-writing muscle, extending themselves to put out a good review for a bad movie. It's writing for pure pleasure, piling up jokes and metaphors, and adding an extra dash of meanness to exact revenge for that wasted time in the theater.

Pauline Kael panned "The Sound of Music" as "The Sound of Money"(which finished her job at Redbook magazine).

 Roger Ebert hated the "Ace Ventura" movies with "... he has to snort long and loudly, in order to gather his mucous supply, which he seems to be drawing not only from the sinus area but from every inner bodily crevice. The fundamental principle of this series is that less is not more, and more is not enough."

John Simon went off on a three paragraph riff about Barbara Streisand in "A Star is Born:" "... her clothes, a screen credit states, came out of her closet... so she insists on wearing the most ridiculous glad rags, especially on horseback where she looks like a takeoff on Brando in his "Missouri Breaks" granny outfit."

But nothing in recent memory has brought such a fun glut of critical carping as "Valentine's Day." The MLB selected just a few:

Andrew O'Hehir, SALON
After calling the movie "teeth grindingly, mind-warping boring" he lets it all out: "... it feels like hours, or years, or geological epochs. Generations of mice lived and died under the theater seats, spawning aspartame-poisoned new generations while I was watching this.
Prairie Miller, NEWSBLAZE
As Hathaway moonlights on the sly during work hours as a phone sex operator to make ends meet and pay for her health insurance and outstanding student loan, her dirty talk is so lame PG that the actual phone sex industry may end up losing business.

(lengthy, I know, but it sure makes the point)

Here's the set-up: Ashton loves Alba, while his best friend, Jennifer Garner, is in love with Patrick Dempsey, who lives in the same building as teenager Taylor Swift, who's in love with Taylor Lautner, who goes to the same high school as Emma Roberts, who's contemplating sex with boyfriend Carter Jenkins. Emma also baby-sits 10-year-old Bryce Robinson, who is sure he's found "the one," while his long-married grandparents Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine consider renewing their vows.

Stay with me here, we're not finished yet. Across town, Topher Grace (if only Mila Kunis had shown up we could have had a "70s Show" reunion) and Anne Hathaway are getting serious, Eric Dane's football career is suddenly in question, which means his agent Queen Latifah has issues, to say nothing of his publicist Jessica Biel, whose anti-Valentine's Day party is in jeopardy too. Meanwhile local TV sportscaster Jamie Foxx is forced to spend the day reporting on romance thanks to his heartless boss Kathy Bates, when he really needs Biel to score him an interview with Dane. Flying high above all these entanglements are flirty seatmates Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts on a transatlantic, or should I say transromantic, flight bound for L.A., though considering the mess below who would want to land.

Manohla Dargis, THE NEW YORK TIMES
This might not be the Titanic of romantic comedies (it's tugboat size), but it's a disaster: cynically made, barely directed, terribly written. But quick: there's still time to escape.

Okay blogsters, you've been counseled, informed and pre-warned.
Let me know what you think of the movie.

Friday, February 12, 2010

ST. V Day Chick Flicks -- MLB style

Valentine’s Day? Requests poured in (well one) for the MLB’s take on … chick flicks.

I'll admit, I’m a chick-flick masochist; a reveler in the male pain induced by estrogen-laden movies that spin the ladies into paroxysms of weak-kneed sobbing. No, the MLB doesn't get all femmy and  sentimental. And, unlike most guys, I don’t see chick flicks as foreplay: “Dear John” – Loved it, honey. Ready to go back to your place?”
Dear John
For the MLB it’s actually worse: I go by myself. It's a movie quest, a journey to understand why the shameless jerking of tears is attractive and appealing. CF’s are supposed to be enormous fun. But too many, like the recent “Dear John,” aren’t only boring, they're as romantic as going with my girlfriend to shop for curtains. Yet, when it opened on Super Bowl weekend -- a smart counter-marketing move -- it topped the box-office.   
So this is a short list (we'll revisit the genre later): not the obvious titles, or the biggest money-makers, or those femme-porn fantasies that send guys bolting down the aisles to spend half the movie texting in the bathroom. Just, good movies.

My volume of Preston Sturges’ screenplays is the funniest book I’ve ever read, bar none. Through the 1940s, this writer/director created a series of smash comedies that spanned almost a decade, a string of successes rivaling Hitchcock in the 1950s, and Pixar and Clint Eastwood in the 2000s. When he calls two people in love “ a fine specimen of suckersapien,” he’s right-on and you know you’re in for smart and funny.   
“The Lady Eve” is his best. Barabra Stanwyk is cougar, con-woman par excellence “Eve,” and Henry Fonda is Charles Poncefort Pike, heir to the Pike beer fortune. An unlikely love pair. But as she fleeces him time after time – “I need him like an ax needs a turkey” – she finds herself … well, in love. Won’t reveal more except the ending scene and final lines are classic. Get the Criterion Collection DVD and be rewarded by one funny viewing after another.

When I thought of chick flick blogs, this was the first movie I thought of. Haven’t seen it since it showed on PBS in 1985, but the effect of this intense drama about the emotional and sexual awakening in a young girl was persistent, staying with me for all these years. Is this what it’s like for women? Is this what they really go through?
Based on Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” (an icon of modern short-story writing) and directed by Joyce Chopra, Laura Dern plays 15 year-old Connie who meets up with the much older “Friend” (Treat Williams).
His menacing smooth talk gives new meaning to Bruce Springsteen’s line “ from your front porch to my front seat, the door’s open but the ride ain’t free.” Seeing it recently, Connie’s anguish and fear was as effective as I remembered, but the sense of her growing potency as a self-aware adult was a process I had missed. The years have not diminished this film's richness and power.

Chick Flick Discussion: “An Education” (2009) is another story about a teen-older man affair with a whole different take.

Writer/director Audrey Wells’ (“Under the Tuscan Sun”) reverses gender for this remake of Cyrano de Bergerac (and “Roxanne”) and comes up with a terrific screenplay. Dowdy veterinarian, Abby (Janeane Garofalo), falls for Brian (Ben Chaplin) over the phone and, since she feels so insecure about her appearance, sends tall, blond friend Noelle (Uma Thurman) to stand in for her on a date. What lifts this romantic comedy above the usual high syrup goo of the genre is Garofalo’s smart openness – “if you’re trapped in a biosphere for  2 or 3 years, who would you bring, Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year or Playboy’s Playmate of the Year?”
Abby is intelligent and strong, great qualities for her job, yet with men she’s vulnerable. The scene where she tells Brian who she really is, generates one of my favorite lines. As she compares her appearance to Noelle's, thus challenging the way most men dichotomize women, she confronts him: “What you say you love comes in this package, not that one.”

Most Ernst Lubitsch movies capture that one-of-a-kind, sophisticated allure historically known as the Lubitsch Touch. But this charming comedy goes beyond touch; it captivates and delights to the point where Pauline Kael called it "pure perfection." James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play sniping co-workers who respond to a personal add in a newspaper, not-knowing each is writing to the other.

Beauty comes from all directions in this movie: the dialogue and characters, the acting, the romantic chemistry between the two leads, and the directing. Lubitsch keeps us identified with the specific view of each character every step of the way. As for the new version, "You've Got Mail," it sent this cinephile into an apoplexic state of movie-remake appallment.

We're kissing in the rain, just kissing in the rain...
Best kissing scenes from modern movies
so many, many vampires, so few good movies

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Best Kissing Scenes: The Classics, Part 2

One surprise the Movie List Blogster discovered watching so much kissing lately is how few, as a matter of fact, none, of these scenes come from big-name, modern directors -- the likes of Scorsese, Spielberg, Robert Altman, and Ridley Scott aren't to be found. But classic directors? Hawks, Ford, Fred Zinnemann have filmed iconic kisses, scenes that stay in our collective memory Accident? By design? A trend of modern psychology? What do you think?
Then there's the undisputed leader, with more scenes than any other director:
Master of Suspense -- Master of Romance
The always moving, ever turning continuous close-up of Cary Grant
and Ingrid Bergman going from balcony to bedroom in kiss after 
kiss, after extended kiss.

And again. The turning, ever moving, continuous close-up of Cary and Eva Marie Saint in a cramped train compartment. Of course Hitchcock cuts to a train going through a tunnel.
The full-face, silent, slow motion "clinch." Grace Kelly moves ever closer to a reclining, sleepy, broken legged James Stewart. It's not a dream, it just feels to good to be true.
TO CATCH A THIEF                 
Grant and Kelly -- a grown-up fairy tale of the rich and beautiful. High price jewels, gorgeous gowns, an exquisite Riviera hotel room with a balcony over looking the sea. And that kiss under the fireworks. That backdrop of explosions as Freudian-symbol hilarity stick this scene in your memory.
Check out the Ford at Fox DVD collection -- particularly the box set of Silent Epics. It's  a testament to the artistic power of the silents. The lasting influence of those images is never more evident than in this wind-blown, passion-lock between John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara.

Hawks had a bet with Ernest Hemingway(or so the story goes) that he could take the writer's worst book and make it into a good movie. Hemingway chose this novel and one of the most seductive and romantic moments in movies was born.

Charter-boat captain Humphrey Bogart and nightclub singer Lauren Bacall in a Martinque hotel during WWII. A kiss, and another and kiss again, as if testing each other out. "It's even better when you help," she tells him. Leaving, she says what every man wants to hear. "You don't have to say anything, don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? Just put your lips together and blow."



Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Best Kissing Scenes: The Classics, Part 1

Movies are basically so, so simple; just sex and violence – a visual form of human nature’s the most primal instincts  – Eros and Thanatos, the visceral urge to create and destroy. Read your Freud. Then read the best and most insightful film critic, Pauline Kael, who titled one of her books Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. What’s simpler than that?

So it came as no surprise when the MLB got many, many requests for best kissing scenes. Two heads, projected on a screen as big as the side of a house, framed in a perfect diagonal, eyes closed, lips pressed: Can any visual be more sensual? (Maybe watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance, but that’s another blog). Audiences have craved good kissing scenes since movies began (“The May Irwin Kiss” in 1896 – no, it doesn’t make the list). And today, screenplay after screenplay write for that kiss, stars know such scenes can make a career, and every year polls ask audiences to vote on the best kissing scenes.
As the song goes, “if you want to know if you love him so, it’s in his kiss.” These scenes prove how true that is.

Three decades of silent film during the 20th century brought us plenty of romantic kissing scenes; but nothing tops Louise Brooks (yep, Rudolph Valentino is a distant second). Of her many movies, this dancer from Kansas with the the-girl-next-door looks and bobbed hair, became world famous for her role as the phenomenal Lulu, a self-described tramp, using her sexuality to control and manipulate men (she seems to love only her pimp).  Made in Germany and directed by G.W. Pabst, “PB” was hot, racy stuff even in the openly sexual pre- Hayes Code year of 1929. And it’s just as good today.

It’s out on DVD from the Criterion Collection, but the MLB was able to catch a quality-print-theater screening many years ago. I came out in a wordless, seductive haze. In this scene, Lulu, just out of the bathtub and in her robe, is seducing her stepson (she’s murdered his father, sort of, maybe) to go away with her. Is she really in love with him? Using him to get away from the cops? Both? Neither? The palpable, organic sexuality of this scene comes from the natural way Lulu moves forward to wrap her arms around him, pressing her body to his in a passionate kiss. "You're a fool to fall in love with me," she seems to be saying. "It won't end happily." He doesn't care. Neither do we. We have no choice but to go along.

There's so much high-power romance in GWTW it's hard to decide on the best scene. The MLB picked  this one because, well... just look at it. The Atlanta sky, aflame in orange and red, frames Rhett and Scarlett’s simmering passion. “There’s a soldier of the South who loves you Scarlett.” Their heads fill the screen, Rhett meets her lips and the swoon factor shoots through the roof. This iconic image became the gold standard for posters and the covers of romance novels for decades. Part of why “Gone With the Wind” still reigns as the domestic box office champ.

"Kiss me as if it were the last time," Ingrid Bergman lovingly pleas to Humphrey Bogart during their time together in Paris. He does: a kiss of desire, love, and pain. No kiss is just a kiss when it's done this way.
In 2009 this scene was elected "best kiss" by a poll
United Kingdom dental patients. Honest to God.

Pidge and Tramp chewing the same strand of spaghetti as they are serenaded by the sweet accordion stylings of “Bella Notte.” You hardly notice they’re animated canines. This classic scene of sharing a back alley, moonlit bowl of pasta is the sweetest kiss in movies.
Added note: Marlon Brando does a hilarious take on this in "The Missouri Breaks." He's on one end of a carrot, his horse is in the other. You can take it from there.

                                                                                  Talk about classic: Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster horizontal on a Hawaiian beach, lustily in each other’s arms, as the surf ebbs and flows over their full body clutch. “Nobody ever kissed me the way you do,” Kerr breathlessly swoons. Imagine, it was her part because Joan Crawford dropped out.

Kissing Scene Classics, Part 2 
Then, "Notebook" fans come alive, wet kisses in the rain.
Later, kissing scenes from modern films