Category Archives: Film

Rom-Coms to the Rescue!


A scene from Don Jon


Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes the news that romantic comedies can save your relationship!


This news, heralded in multiple places, comes as a shock to many men, who routinely put down the films their girlfriends and wives like. It boosts the usefulness of rom-coms far above the CGI trappings of movies like the Transformers franchise. And the comparison that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character makes in the movie Don Jon, that romcoms are like internet porn? Not even close, man.


Honestly, though, not all the movies couples watched were romantic comedies. On Golden Pond, for example, is a story about family. And that’s the point.


Here’s what the study, at the University of Rochester in upstate New York, involved, according to The Express:


“Participants in the study attended a 10-minute lecture on the importance of relationship awareness and how watching ­couples in films can draw attention to our own behaviour. Then the 174 couples watched the 1967 rom-com, Two For The Road, about the joys and strains of a 12- year marriage.


“Afterwards, each couple met to ­discuss what they had seen and make ­comparisons with their own ­relationship. As ­homework, they were given a list of 47 films, from ­classics such as Gone With The Wind to the ­latest ­adaptation of Leo ­Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, to watch each week during the study and then discuss.


“Films included some obvious romances and tear-­jerkers such as A Star Is Born (1954), ­Indecent Proposal (1993), Steel ­Magnolias (1989) and The Way We Were (1973). There was the odd comedy ­surprise like Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), and the oldest film was Made For Each Other (1939).


“Professor of psychology Ronald Rogge said: ‘People have a pretty good sense of what they might be doing right and wrong. You might not be able to get your husband into a couples’ group, especially if you are happy, but watching a movie and having a discussion about it, that’s not so scary.’”


So while romantic comedies were part and parcel of the assignment, the real focus was on watching films about relationships, and then discussing them with regard to the couple’s own relationship. In other words, “Talk, people!”. Those conversations resulted in a reduction in the divorce rate from 24% to only 11%. Couples engaged in the study were less likely to divorce. Whether they had healthy, abuse-free marriages, however, was not researched. All we know is that they were half as likely to file for divorce.


Still, it’s worth a shot, right? The study in its entirety is online, including the list of films. Go ahead, check it out, keep Netflix busy. It could be a lot less expensive – counselors, attorneys, anguish, kids’ emotional pain, time, money, and so on – than divorce. And you can do it yourself!


For married heterosexual couples, this is the ultimate DIY.



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The Anti-Bella

The next hero


Isabella was the number one most popular name for baby girls born in the US in 2011. Its popularity derives in no small part from Isabella (“Bella”) Swan, the heroine of the Twilight series, whose fifth and final movie will come out next year. From the books to the kitsch to the films, we’ve tolerated a surfeit of Bella-bilia for years, along with posters of the two hunks who head up Team Edward and Team Jacob.

Observers have agonized over the adoration of this Bella character, passive to an extraordinary extent (while she’s still human, anyway), who puts up with a stalker boyfriend (yeah, he’s also a vampire) and a boy who wants so desperately to be more than a friend that he cannot seem to leave her alone despite her lack of romantic interest. Her dad, the local cop, is oblivious to the very real dangers surrounding his daughter – her mom has remarried and conveniently moved to Florida. Dysfunctional, much?

Now someone’s nipping at Bella’s heels as the latest tween and teen admiration figure, a character who’s got more courage in her little finger than Bella on her best day, who can catch small animals to eat without needing vampire fangs.

Will the infant girl name of choice soon be Katniss?

The Hunger Games, the first book of a trilogy by Suzanne Collins — a trilogy hailed as “mesmerizing” – has been made into a film that will release on March 23rd. Whether the next two books in the series are made into movies depends on whether “Hunger Games” catches fire. I hope it does. Not just because it’s a great trilogy, but because I’d like young girls to be presented with a better role model than Bella. That’s Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss lives in a post-apocalyptic North America where a centralized government holds absolute power. Every year, each of the twelve districts in the country of Panem must send two children aged 12 to 18 – one female, one male – to enter the televised Hunger Games, a “Survivor”-style contest where death comes to all but one. Katniss volunteers herself as a replacement for her younger sister. As the Games’ contestants try to survive, making allies and enemies, avoiding traps and false promises, Katniss and Peeta (her district’s male entrant) manage to alter the rules and attract support where they least suspect it.

Katniss is a refreshing change from Bella. She doesn’t wait for events, she enters them. Bella’s vampire beau, Edward, saved her from a marauding truck. Peeta, the boy who claims to love Katniss, is just as stuck in the games as she is. No superpowers here. Just wits. Wits and a frenetic desire to live.

Yes, live. As a human, with all her pain, fear and hope. Contrast that to Bella, who wants to be morphed into a vampire in order to spend eternity with Edward, who would really rather she stay human. Excuse me? Is this the best Bella can do, hang around for eternity with the yummy Edward? Even Arwen the immortal elf did better than that, in Lord of the Rings.

So, yes, bring on Katniss, her bow and arrows, her love for her little sister (“Greater love hath no man…”), her fierce determination to retain her beating heart, her panting breath, and show the Capitol what courage is.

Perhaps by 2015, newborn infant girls will bear the name Katniss.

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Filed under Books, Film, Hunger Games, Katniss, Love, Suzanne Collins, Twilight, Vampire

Where Ya From, Again?

Exactly where did this woman grow up?


Warning: This is peeve post. There, now, full steam ahead.

There’s a new contender for Worst British Accent in Film, the award previously held over decades by Dick Van Dyke, that lovable pseudo-Cockney of Mary Poppins. Considering that everyone else in that film was actually British (including Julie Andrews, its star), and the book it was based on was set in London and written by an author living in that city (though she grew up in Australia), why the producers decided on an American chimney sweep is unfathomable. I’m not suggesting that they ought to have sought out Lawrence Olivier, but at least Sir Larry would have done justice to the Bow Bells accent.

The new mangler? Anne Hathaway.

Now, I like Anne Hathaway as much as any woman whose daughter adored The Princess Diaries. She’s a very good actress with much natural grace, and she’s made amazing choices in her films. She was wonderful opposite Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada – an intimidating turn, after all. Playing a much-rehabbed sister of the bride in Rachel Getting Married was a risky choice that paid off fabulously. I look forward to seeing her as Catwoman in The Dark Night Rises.

But as an English student? In One Day? When everyone – and I don’t use that word loosely – everyone surrounding her is some kind of Brit?

It’s not like the UK is devoid of female actors of the appropriate age. Emily Blunt, Keira Knightley, Rosamund Pike, Carey Mulligan, any one of them could have done a great job with One Day’s Emma. But no, the producers needed greater wattage, so the job went to Hathaway. Who does terrific stuff with it, she really does, only . . . where the hell is the woman supposed to be from?

The accent doesn’t have multiple layers. Instead, it lurches from one set of sounds to another. At times she’s perfectly American, this supposedly English rose Emma. At times she does a decent, upperclass RP accent. Then there’s the sudden left turn to Scots or Northumberland, as when she says “oot” for “out”.

(I happen to live in a part of the country where oldtimers do this, too, only in a southern US accent. It’s a hoot.)

Her R’s are similarly wobbly, and at times she sound positively West Country. No sooner do you get used to one set of sounds than, oops, there it goes again, the amazing Technicolor accent.

I am all for Anne Hathaway or another actor, or any person, for all that, going after a role as a challenge. They should stretch. Try something completely different.

But if the producers are too cash-strapped to afford accent lessons before the shoot, actors need to reserve some funds for to invest in their own accent. They’ll pay off, they really will.

In some future post, British actors assuming – and that word is used very loosely – American accents. With a reminder that Jimmy Cagney’s been off the screen for a long, long time.

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Filed under Accent, Anne Hathaway, England, Film, Movies

Eat Drink Man Woman

One of the film's last scenes, with yet another set of stellar dishes


“It’s Sunday torture.”

Going to church? No, it’s the weekly dinner prepared by semi-retired master chef Chu for his three daughters in this lovely 1994 Taiwanese film by Ang Lee (perhaps better known in the West for directing Sense and Sensibility, written by and starring Emma Thompson). Although the daughters still live at home, their presence is mandated each Sunday at the table, which groans with gorgeous, delicious food made by their dad.

It is through his food that the widowed Chu communicates with his daughters and expresses his love. But it’s an act of increasing desperation: Chu is losing his sense of taste, a tragedy for such a master. It’s the physical manifestation of the emotional, for his taste for life is slipping, as well. His daughters are drifting away. He knows they must, but the pull is harsh. The eldest, Jia-Jen, teaches high school and has converted to Christianity. Chu’s best friend comments that Jia-Jen has found the right man for her in Jesus, but she yearns for a physical relationship and finally meets that in a fellow teacher.

The middle sister, Jia-Chien (of the three, she most resembles her dead mother), has a high-powered job as an airline executive, and is offered a transfer to work in Amsterdam. Her ex-beau has become a friend with benefits, yet Jia-Chien knows she’s stuck. She wants to take the Amsterdam job, but hesitates to leave her father . . . and then there’s the handsome troubleshooter who’s just sauntered into the office.

The youngest daughter, Jia-Ning, is still in school. She works part-time at a Wendy’s, where she meets a co-worker’s discarded boyfriend. Jia-Ning offers sympathy. The young man responds. They discover they share many interests. But how can she, as a youngest daughter, leave her father?

Then there’s the neighbor’s mother newly returned from America, who’s got her eye on Chu as a prospective second husband. Of all the characters in this film, she’s the least sympathetic. We laugh at her, though, and wonder: is she what Chu needs to put savor into his life?

This is a family film in the best sense. Much is unsaid, much misunderstood. Connections are made, lost, and remade. The three sisters discover (as the two sisters did in Sense and Sensibility) what each lacks in her life. As one sister says (the same line was used in S&S), “What do you know of my heart?” – an excellent question, as she finds no one can know her heart if she will not reveal it. Chu rediscovers his taste and his zest for life through a remarkable and unforeseen transformation.

For foodies, this wonderful, warm film carries an added bonus: the visuals of dumpling-making, fish-steaming, the construction of layered dishes and the deconstruction of chickens that later attain divinity by being smoked. The first long segment of food preparation took a week to film and involved Chu as well as the hands of professional chefs. You will never again look at Chinese food without recalling this film’s beauty.

If you haven’t yet seen Eat Drink Man Woman, do. Those two hours will become cherished memories.

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Filed under Ang Lee, China, Cooking, Family, Film, Love, Movies, Relationships