Tag: romance (page 2 of 2)

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Amélie

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/amelie.mp3]

If one were to look up ‘charming’ in the dictionary, the definition would read something like this:

1. pleasing; delightful. 2. using charm; exercising magic power.

Of course, that’s an English dictionary. If one were to look up ‘charming’ in a French dictionary, I imagine you would likely see a picture of Audrey Tautou in her title role of the comedic romance Amélie. And knowing her, the picture would wink at you.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions

The full title of the film, translated from French, is “The Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain” and we catch up with her in Paris where she works as a waitress. Her life has been somewhat odd, to say the least, and sadness and tragedy are all around her. But Amélie is unwilling to let such little things ruin her sunny disposition. A chance discovery behind a loose tile in her bathroom launches her on a transformative journey that soon sees her affecting the lives of those she encounters for the singular purpose of bringing joy. She is just as comfortable and as happy being a matchmaker as she is a prank-playing vigilante. The one life Amélie seems incapable of repairing, however, is her own — it will take someone as singularly steeped in imagination and quirkiness as herself to draw her out of her Technicolor shell. The young man who collects the discarded photographs of strangers from passport photo booths, for example.

Technicolor is no exaggeration. The color palate of this film leaps directly off of the screen. Paris is portrayed with a great deal of splendor and whimsy, though director Jean-Pierre Jeunet got a little bit of stick for not including more minorities. This is a minor quibble, compared to the volume of praise he’s rightly earned for the vibrant colors that permeate this film. Clever editing has underscored the tint of Amélie’s world without making the people look discolored. Unlike other tricks used to supersaturate a movie, like those in Revenge of the Fallen for example, these Parisians don’t look at all like they have cheap spray-on tans.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions
I wish I had a better shot of this moment.

As pretty as the film might be, it absolutely would not work without the singular and unforgettable performance of Audrey Tautou. She inhabits the unique character Amélie with an innocent pixiness that makes her incredibly endearing. Many of the things she does are things that might not to occur to a “normal” person, but in her mind they make perfect sense and not once does Tautou convey any sort of confusion or even hesitation when it comes to her behavior. It’s a refreshing and unapologetic blast of optimism and goodwill in a cinema and culture dominated by “escapism” that tends more towards realism than surrealism. And isn’t escapism about escaping from the real world? Or at least, shouldn’t it be?

Amélie certainly thinks so, and challenges us to do the same thing as its blithely child-like protagonist. Not necessarily the introversion and pouring salt into people’s liquor, but finding joy in the little things during the course of our everyday lives. There’s no need for Amélie to boot up an expensive multi-player shoot-em-up experience or troll the Internet in search of the human contact she’s loathe to admit needing, when she gains just as much pleasure from skipping stones, sticking her hand in a sack of grain or wondering just how many people in her neighborhood are experiencing orgasms at a particular moment. As much as it’s necessary for her to occasionally emerge from the world she’s built herself inside her head, it’s still a world full of vibrant color and unabashed joy that has a universal appeal and, as much as some marketers would have you believe otherwise, is incapable of being captured in bottle, package or pill form.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions
Is this image showing Amélie, or us?

This movie’s title doesn’t mean it’s just about someone named Amélie. In a way, this movie is Amélie. It has a spring in its step, an overall lightness of tone undeterred by the harsh reality it runs into on occasion and an attitude that refuses to turn things down or conform to societal norms. It never crosses that line into ‘crass’ or ‘gross’ humor that seems required of so many American comedies. Oh, there are bits about sex aplenty in Amélie and it is definitely an adult comedy, but it’s every bit as smart as it is funny. And therein lies its greatest strength, in my opinion.

Rather than take your intelligence or imagination for granted, Amélie takes it by the hand and pulls it through the streets, breathlessly telling us everything we could be seeing if we just opened our eyes. There’s a sequence in the film itself that parallels this overall sentiment. We all have blind spots, where wonders and benefits and whimsy sit unnoticed, and the moments when those spots are illuminated need not be so rare. As much as the film wants to teach us this, it’s something Amélie herself needs to learn and so we’re learning right along with her. Despite the lightness of the movie’s tone, its meaning is pretty dense, in that there is a lot of it. With only a little smile and some whimsical music from an excellent soundtrack behind her, Amélie says a great deal more in a single moment than some other films can over the course of two hours.

Courtesy Claudie Ossard Productions
“Obtenons dangereux!”

It’s not often that a movie takes on a life of its own in one’s headspace like this. Amélie isn’t trying to make you think in some socially conscious or disturbing way, however. It doesn’t come into your head bearing portents of doom or badly-written pamphlets full of shoddy logic. She brings mulled wine and her famous plum cake, just to make you smile. It’s a deeply personal and intimate movie that has the good sense never to take itself too seriously or dwell overmuch on its subject matter. Yet, at the same time, its whimsical lightness of tone completely belies the way it affects its viewer. For my part, at least, I found myself touched, encouraged, enchanted and delighted. The sort of feeling Amélie engenders is difficult to quantify and I for one wish I could bottle the feelings it’s given me. Not because I want to make a million dollars, though the money certainly wouldn’t hurt — I just want to feel this way more often. There’s too much darkness in the world, too much dour doom and gloom. If you’re as sick of it as I am, put Amélie on your Netflix queue. I guarantee that, among other things, you’ll never crack a fresh crème brûlée the same way again.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Brokeback Mountain

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/brokeback.mp3]

Here’s a fun fact you might not have known about me. I grew up in house full of women. It was my mother and my two sisters, and when I was a young boy my grandmother moved in with us as well. Being surrounded by women, it’s probably no surprised I was exposed to more than my share of romance stories. A good romance is one that puts two individuals in a situation where a real and visceral connection is made, an emotional and physical attraction that’s nearly addictive in its intoxication, and then makes thing interestng by putting obstacles between the individuals. On that level, friends, let me say that Brokeback Mountain works. The individuals just happen to be gay shepherds. That’s shepherds, not cowboys.

Courtesy Alberta Film Entertainment

The year is 1963. Ennis Del Mar, a downtrodden and stoic ranch hand, finds a job herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain along with former rodeo rider Jack Twist. The two bond on the long nights up on the mountain and eventually fall in love. Their summer is cut short due to their boss seeing them together and they go their separate ways, Ennis marrying his long-time fiancée Alma while Jack tries to break back into rodeo, only to meet his future wife, Lureen. The men start their families but never manage to put their feelings for one another behind them, and meet after four years for a fishing trip that becomes the first of many. As much as Jack wants to build a life for them together, Ennis refuses, afraid of the potentially lethal backlash that could occur and claim both their lives. Over the years, it becomes clear that neither man is anywhere near happy in their daily lives, and the only thing that keeps them going is those trips together up to Brokeback.

This is a story that is steeped in atmosphere. From the scenery to the aesthetic of cars and clothes, we not only see the passage of time, but we can feel it. The way in which the years roll by, while glossing over things in places which I’ll address later, helps contribute to the film’s atmospheric density. This is also helped by good writing of very human characters, which leads me to the acting.

Courtesy Alberta Film Entertainment
Miss Hathaway is an actress I’ve yet to dislike in a role.

All four lead actors in this film are absolutely stellar. Michelle Williams gives real emotion to her portrayal of the wife fully aware of her husband’s true passions, and when we see her come to the full realization of her rejection, Williams shows us the depth of the wound without saying a word. Anne Hathaway, showing just how talented she is when she’s not being a princess, is a woman who gradually moves more distant from both her husband and the person she was when they met and fell in love, a very real change that unfortunately comes over more people than it really should. Jake Gyllenhal inhabits Jake with electrifying passion while the late Heath Ledger’s quiet intensity and silent angst power through the film. When these two are together, the chemistry is palpable and their awkwardness about the situation feels just as real as their feelings.

Enough gushing, as Brokeback Mountain has a few issues and I wouldn’t be able to call myself anything approaching a “critic” with a straight face if I didn’t point them out. As much as these actors give their all, the movie moves at such a pace that we really don’t experience a great deal of depth in them. Oh, they’re developed and they don’t feel as laughably two-dimensional as some others I could name, but there’s a lot more that could have been done with them if this hadn’t been a film. In other words, we’re not in the shallow end of the pool but we’re not swimming in the ocean, either. Brokeback Mountain probably could have surmounted this problem in the form of a novel, or an HBO mini-series. I doubt PBS would have touched the tent scene with a ten-foot pole. Insert pun about poles here, insert pun about inserting things here, we’re walking, we’re walking. (Sorry, Cleo, I love that joke).

Courtesy Alberta Film Entertainment

While I brought it up facetiously, I would like to point out some of the hypocracy that Brokeback Mountain alludes to in terms of the attitude towards homosexuals. Imagine, if you will, that gender roles were reversed in our world. Homosexuality is the norm, and people only couple with others of the same sex. Now, imagine you fall in love with someone of the opposite sex. The impulses, emotions and conventions that many people in this world take for granted are suddenly taboo, and you are under threat of death every single day because people can’t wrap their minds around your “strangeness”. That’s the sort of world gay men and women live in every hour of every day. Now, some places are better than others, things are improving in terms of accepting these people as, well, people, but for every pride parade or happy common-law couple, there’s someone living a lie because Bubba Ray is so eager to please Jaysus he keeps a hangin’ rope in his shed next to the special belt he uses to beat his wife. And Bubba Ray’s a stockbroker who lives in a suburb and goes to church every single Sunday in a $10,000 suit. But I digress.

Brokeback Mountain is a film about passion. The vistas and scenery captured beautifully in this film are powerful, sensual images that are the perfect backdrop for people falling in love. You couldn’t ask for a more evocative setting. The score perfectly fits the deep melancholy and quiet tragedy of this situation and the lifes of these people as they slowly but inevitably unravel. Director Ang Lee is able to balance the surrealness of some scenes with very real emotional power in others, driving home the fact that these are all human beings involved in this, and none of them are unholy abominations bent on undermining the sanctity of marriage or utterly destroying the individuality or another person. They make decisions, they try to be happy, they screw up and try to deal with the aftermath of their mistakes. There’s a reason this film won three Oscars, in the areas I just mentioned.

Courtesy Alberta Film Entertainment

At the end of the day, Brokeback Mountain isn’t telling us anything we haven’t heard before. The power and beauty of it, however, is the unashamed way in which it approaches its subject matter and the unflinching way its point is driven home. More than being a rather extreme interpretation of the ‘bromance’ and a taut, well-acted if somewhat glossed-over tale of star-crossed lovers and rule-abiding rebels, Brokeback Mountain is a cautionary tale. It’s one that’s been out there for some time, but that doesn’t stop it from being a damn good one. The lesson to be learned in this, dear reader, is this: Life is too short to be miserable, and if you are in a situation where you are mired in misery every day, where you are being forced to try and be someone you’re not, get out. Get out while you’re still alive.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

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