HDD's Michael Palmer offers his picks for Valentine's Day.
by Michael S. Palmer
It is a most dangerous time of the year. A medieval religious holiday has been co-opted in the name of love and self-worth. Oh, and to sell candy, cards, and flowers. Much like the DeBeers diamond ring wedding proposal -- should you find yourself in or approaching any stage of romantic entanglement -- you are expected to deliver.
Now, it may be too late to change cultural conventions and expectations, but if movies are any part of your impending Valentine's Day plans, I offer ten Blu-rays you'll both enjoy watching on the big day.
First a WARNING (a.k.a. What Not To Watch). I'm sure most of you already know this, but avoid Nicholas Sparks at all costs. I'd rather get audited by the IRS than watch 'The Notebook', 'Dear John', 'A Walk to Remember', or the two other old people ones. Next, beware anything about Sisterhoods or mobile Pants. And finally, in terms of stars to avoid, generally speaking Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lopez, Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock (although 'The Proposal' is pretty fun), sometimes Julia Roberts, and always Katherine Heigl may very well lead you down a path to suffering (Obviously, each have done quality work, but beware their lesser titles).
And now, The Ten Valentine's Blu-rays for Both of You:
Like many so-called Romantic Comedies, 'Stardust' is about a young man in love with the wrong girl, and through trying to woo her, he meets the right girl. But this post-modern fairy tale succeeds because it deftly combines so many different tones. Evil witches, magic potions, and sword fights may be expected, but look out for ghosts cracking one-liners and a cross-dressing air pirate. It's funny, scary, witty, and in the end, heart-melting.
Is your lovely lady a child or teen of the 1980s? If so, then 'Say Anything' is for you in terms of nostalgia alone. John Cusak stars as a young man who falls for a girl who should be out of his league. It's the ultimate underdog-getting-the-girl story (great for guys, as we've all fallen for someone who didn't return the feelings). But it's also a film about wooing a woman with the Grand Gesture (perfect for how many see Valentine's Day). Oh, and let no one forget this iconic (yes, this is the one with the boom box over the head scene that was shot down the street from HDD Editor-in-Chief Mike Attebery's house) rom-com was also Cameron Crowe's filmmaking debut.
Sex, love, and violence. William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has it all. It is, of course, The Classic Love Story; the structural ancestor of just about every successful romance. Here, we have Baz Luhrman's Shakespeare on Speed version from 1996. The ladies will love Leo; boys, you have Claire Danes. The Blu-ray has a decent HD picture and a boisterous DTS-HD MA soundtrack, which mashes up a gothic, orchestral score with pop music. It's fast-paced, easy to understand despite the complex and poetic language, and there's even a car chase thrown in for good measure. Oh, and the best part… right now it's the HDD Deal of the Week!
7) 'Easy A'
'Easy A' is the only movie on this list that isn't about a single relationship, but Emma Stone is so good in this hilarious, insightful flick, your girlfriend/fiancée/wife/partner will love her. The future Spider-Man starlet pays Olive Pendergast, a whip-smart girl who pretends to sleep with a friend so the bigots in the school will stop making fun of his homosexuality. The plan works perfectly, for him, but as is so often the case, there are different cultural rules for girls. There really aren't enough nice things to say about this smart, funny film.
Definitely a non-traditional love story, but if 'Wall-E' were a Christmas film, it could turn most Grinches into Santa Clauses. Following a classic 'Pinocchio' structure, Wall-E is a curious little robot who travels across the universe to save the woman-robot of his dreams [feel free to insert robot love jokes HERE]. Like all Pixar films, 'Wall-E' is a stunning Blu-ray filled with scene after scene of wonderful comedic gags. It just so happens to be very touching. Men, you'll get extra points based on the cuteness factor alone.
I'm not sure if it happens in high school, or college, but most women love Jane Austin. There's something so utterly romantic about female protagonists who refuse to be shackled by society's cultural handcuffs, and a handsome rogue. However, many Austin film adaptations are dreadfully slow and boring in the same way Shakespeare can be stuffy, talky, costume dramas. But director Joe Wright makes his version of 'Pride & Prejudice' fun for all. Not only is this film beautiful and visually striking (he has some impressive single-take scenes) in high-definition, but he also manages to capture, in very modern terms, the tension, challenges, and joys of finding love in 19th Century England. It also features beautiful Keira Knightley. By the end, you too will be cheering at the TV for Mr. Darcy to sweep Elizabeth off her feet.
Ahh, the Brits. The accent alone makes anyone sound smarter, and perhaps seem more attractive (this is probably only true for Americans). Here we have a movie that, were it made in America, would end up like 'Valentine's Day': stiff, on the nose, and filled with unlikeable characters. But, in the hands of screenwriter and first-time director Richard Curtis, 'Love Actually" exudes so much fun and romance, it makes even the most pessimistic viewer believe everyone, everywhere, will find his or her one true love (and the process will be filled with witty one-liners and Keira Knightley's luscious neck.).
'Amelie' and its star, Audrey Tautou, are utterly charming. This energetic and stunning film follows a young woman who gets pleasure from bringing joy and love into the lives of others. This film is beyond amazing. It's funny and heartfelt. What makes this fanciful romance particularly boy-friendly is that it was shot and designed almost as if it were an action film. Meaning, most romantic comedies are flatly framed and simply made. They're more akin to plays and sitcoms than true Cinema. But 'Amelie' is an evocative and visual experience, and the sound design is immersive and engaging. So, Fellas, your Girl can swoon over the love (and the prestige of enjoying "foreign cinema") and you can marvel over your system's demo experience. I call that a win-win.
The shame for U.S. audiences is that we haven't gotten our own release of 'Amelie' yet, so beware which edition you pick up. Some feature a 1080i video presentation and no English subtitles. I believe the link above is to the Canadian 1080p release with subtitles.
There really is nothing like 'Moulin Rouge!'. It's a tragedy / comedy /musical set in 1900 at a Parisian Cabaret featuring modern pop love songs (and even a little Nirvana). It's a sumptuous, silly, visual ride; so kinetic, it's hard to take your eyes off the screen. It throws genres and arch types around like the rules don't matter. And for this film, they don't. All that matters is you want the penniless Writer to win the love of the beautiful Courtesan in order to save her from the heartless Duke. I never expected to like this movie, but it's so fun I couldn't help but go along with all the craziness. And before you know it, as the comedy elements fade away, we are left with characters we want to see win, hurtling through the final act towards the tragic ending we know must come. Forward-thinking Beaus would be advised to bring tissues for tearful Ladies.
And now, the number one Valentine's Day Blu-ray for All…
'Casablanca' remains the king of all romances. It's got dirty cops and gambling and booze and dames and Nazis! But more important, it has a complicated relationship between the coolest man in the world (Bogie, of course) and the woman who broke his heart. The question is, what will a selfish man do when asked to do something purely altruistic? This must-own Blu-ray features stunning black & white photography and a great script, and reminds film fans how in the right hands, a Hollywood B-picture can become one of the best movies of all time.
As always, there are certainly more films to mention than what's considered on this list of favorites -- so many appropriate films aren't available on Blu-ray Disc just yet -- so I encourage readers to hit up the forums to add titles and/or arrange your own list.
Tell us, what's the go-to Blu-ray you bust out when it time to go a wooing? Or, what other Romantic films, classic or otherwise are you or your dates dying to see on Blu-ray? I definitely want to see 'Notorious' ASAP.