Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Love and Death, or, What Movies Are For!

Back a few months ago Entertainment Weekly had themselves a big old list-fest, in which they compiled a bunch of lists of pop-culture stuff. At the time I commented on their teevee shows, and the movies and books lists. They did a whole bunch of these, but there are two lists I wanted to comment on at the time, and hey, I can still comment on them.

First up, they did a list of Romantic Gestures of the Last 25 Years. Here's that list, with some comment:

The spectral Patrick Swayze lifts a coin across the room for Demi Moore in Ghost (1990).

I haven't seen this movie in a long, long time, but I really liked it back in the day. I wonder how it's aged? I think that the movie got taken a little more seriously than it should have; I found it a perfectly nice piece of supernatural melodrama. This was a good moment in the movie.

:: Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep's hair in Out of Africa (1985).

I haven't seen this movie, even though I have a copy floating around here somewhere.

:: John Cusack blasts Peter Gabriel outside Ione Skye's window in 1989's Say Anything...

This image has become pretty iconic, hasn't it? My adoration of this movie is long established, but it's still, for me, one of the most romantic love stories ever made. I love how chivalrous Lloyd Dobler is, how it's not just something he does because it's the way the script is written but because the script knows that this is hard-wired into his very being. For me, though, the most romantic part of the film comes when Diane Court comes back to Lloyd after the breakup and tells him that she needs him. He asks if she really needs him or just someone, and before she can answer, he just says "It doesn't matter" and takes her back anyway.

:: Heath Ledger finds and keeps the shirts Jake Gyllenhaal had saved from their first trip to Brokeback Mountain (2005).

I haven't seen the movie, but the short story is all kinds of brilliant – however many years of searing emotional life captured in less than thirty pages.

:: The beauty (Molly Ringwald) gives the rebel (Judd Nelson) her earring in The Breakfast Club (1985).

Yeah, sure. But I've always had mixed feelings about the way Andrew (Emilio Estevez) comes to his attraction to Ally Sheedy. I'd have preferred it if somehow they could have had him attracted to her "goth" side, as opposed to the makeover that, however cute, isn't her. Does anybody think that she's going to maintain that look on Monday morning when she's back at school?

:: Leonardo DiCaprio draws Kate Winslet in the nude in Titanic (1997).

Oh, heavens, yes. I know we're all supposed to hate this movie now, but this is just one beautifully executed moment. DiCaprio is so good in this scene (the whole movie, really): he starts out easily enough, since he's drawn lots of nudes; but then he becomes terribly nervous when it's the girl he loves nude before him. And then he shifts again, once he manages to focus his attention on the task at hand: capturing her in pencil strokes. Plus, the scene has the movie's musical highlight: the solo piano version of "My Heart Will Go On", played without a lot of lame embellishment by James Horner himself.

(By the way, when Lovejoy comes into the stateroom to see if Rose is there and behaving herself, why didn't Jack just hide in a closet while Rose sat in a chair pretending to read a book or something? That might have been more productive than leading Lovejoy on a chase through the ship. And when they decide that they have to tell everyone about the iceberg, why did Jack have to go along? I know, so he could be there for Lovejoy to plant the diamond in his pocket, but that's the point in the movie where I can always feel the Heavy Hand of Plot pushing us along.)

:: Ewan McGregor breaks into ''Your Song'' while wooing Nicole Kidman in 2001's Moulin Rouge (2001).

:: Larenz Tate offers an impromptu beat poem to Nia Long in Love Jones (1997).

:: Amélie (Audrey Tautou) setting up a wild goose chase for her beloved Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) all through Paris in Amélie (2001).

Haven't seen these.

:: Glen Hansard buys Marketa Irglova a piano before he leaves to find his other true love in London in Once (2007).

I hadn't seen this before I saw the movie, but now I have, and I must say: this is a wonderful moment, but the really incandescent moment in this movie is much earlier, when they've just met and play an impromptu duet in a music store.

:: Julie Delpy sings a song (''Waltz'') she wrote about him to Ethan Hawke right Before Sunset (2004).

A good moment. I should watch these movies again soon. I wonder if they'll ever revisit these characters again?

:: Zhang Ziyi leaps into the clouds for her true love at the end of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).

I really need to see this all the way through.

:: Richard Gere climbs up the fire escape to Julia Roberts' window in Pretty Woman (1990).

Hmmmm. It's a pretty corny end to a pretty corny movie. A fun movie, sure, but one of the best romantic moments of the last twenty-five years of movies? I dunno.

:: After her beloved Pedro (Marco Leonardi) dies making love to her in Like Water for Chocolate, Tita (Lumi Cavazos) eats matches, literally igniting her inner flame and burning her whole ranch to the ground.

Yes. Another movie I should watch again.

:: Ellen Page as Juno (2007) leaves orange Tic-Tacs in Michael Cera's mailbox to make up with him.

You know what? The names of these characters are so perfect for the characters themselves. "Juno" is a perfect name for a girl who's something of an outsider but who's content to be that; and "Bleeker" is a perfect last name for the gangly kid who somehow blunders into losing his virginity with a girl named Juno.

:: Joey Lauren Adams buys Ben Affleck a painting in a diner in Chasing Amy (1997).

Note to self: watch Kevin Smith's movies.

:: Steve Carell, i.e., The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), sells his toys on eBay to build his life with Katherine Keener.

I was surprised how sympathetic this movie was to its characters. It didn't go the cheap and easy route of making us laugh at the Steve Carell character; nor did it require him to completely change his life to be with the woman he falls for. He makes some changes, but he doesn't alter everything. (Plus, the Bollywood-style ending cracks me up more than anything else in the movie.)

:: The Beast gives his library to Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991).

I'd go earlier, actually: when he manages to set aside anger to say "You're welcome" when she thanks him for saving her life. But then, I tend to find romance in the very small moments when the seed of love is planted, rather than in the big gestures that show it in full flower.

:: Billy Crystal hunts down Meg Ryan on New Year’s Eve in When Harry Met Sally (1989).

Well, duh. I've always wondered, by the way, if the original script had the bit about "I love the little crinkle you get above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts". If so, did they have to look at actresses on the basis of whether or not they had that little crinkle above their nose? Or did Billy Crystal notice that while filming and throw that in there?

:: Daniel-Day Lewis unbuttons Michelle Pfeiffer's glove in The Age of Innocence (1993).

I don't really remember this moment, since it's well over ten years since I saw this movie.

:: Adam Sandler and Billy Idol serenade Drew Barrymore on a plane in The Wedding Singer (1998).

Didn't see this. I've heard good things about it, so maybe I should. I never liked Adam Sandler until Spanglish, in which I liked him very much (even though I didn't like the movie itself).

:: Ralph Fiennes carries Kristen Scott Thomas out of the cave in The English Patient (1996).

I think I owe this movie a reappraisal since I read the book and found it amazing.

:: Colin Firth buys Renée Zellweger a new diary at the end of Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).

:: Campbell Scott gives Kyra Sedgwick a garage door opener in Singles (1992).

:: As his fascist punk pals look on, Daniel Day-Lewis secretly licks the ear of his Pakistani lover (Gordan Warnecke) in 1985's My Beautiful Laundrette.

I haven't seen these. But hey, here are some moments I find pretty iconically [that's not so much an actual word -Ed.] romantic from the last twenty-five years:

:: Ashitaka carries a wounded San out of Iron Town in Princess Mononoke.

:: James Bond holds a terrified Vesper in the shower in Casino Royale.

:: Jude sings "I've Just Seen a Face" in the bowling alley in Across the Universe.

:: John Book (Harrison Ford) teaches Rachel Lapp to dance to "Wonderful World" in Witness. The last shot of this scene, after Eli takes Rachel away, has Book dropping his sweat-covered brow to his shirt sleeve in a gesture of physical heat and embarrased realization that he's done something he probably shouldn't have. This remains Harrison Ford's finest achievement as an actor.

:: President Andrew Shepard tries to send Sydney Ellen Wade a bouquet of flowers in The American President.

:: Will Turner literally gives his heart to Elizabeth in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. (I liked At World's End a great deal, and never found it a "mess".)

:: Thinking death is soon to come, Samwise Gamgee remembers Rosie Cotton and the flowers in her hair in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

:: Young Anakin Skywalker asks the girl who's just walked into his master's shop if she's an angel.

OK, those are the romantic scenes. Now let's tackle EW's list of Great Death Scenes:

:: Steve Buscemi + a woodchipper + the pure white snow of 1996's Fargo = arguably the most hilarious ooky death on film.

Well, sure! Nobody looks at woodchippers the same way since this movie came out. But was anybody else surprised that it apparently takes a good deal of effort to get a body through a woodchipper? I heard that this movie had a "putting a guy through a woodchipper" scene before I saw it, and I kind of figured it would be over in seconds; guy goes in, bloody goo flies out the other side.

:: The T-1000 pulls a Wicked Witch of the West (via a vat of molten metal) at the end of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991).

Yup, that's a good villain demise, right there.

:: Bill Murray throws a toaster in the tub, steps in front of a moving truck, and swan dives off a bell tower in Groundhog Day (1993).

Gods, if only they'd cast someone other than Andie MacDowell in this movie! I've always found something very off-putting about her.

:: The heroines of 1991's Thelma and Louise drive over the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Roger Ebert made the case that the way this scene is edited hurts the film by fading to credits too quickly. I tend to agree.

:: Mel Gibson, sans intestines, bellows ''Freeeeedommmmmm!'' in Braveheart (1995).

Well, that happens a minute or so before he dies, really. His actual death has him seeing his beloved Murron wandering through the crowd, holding his gaze, while the axe descends toward his neck.

Al Pacino's Scarface (1983) introduces seemingly half of Miami to his ''leetle friend'' before getting a bullet in the back of the brain.

I haven't seen this and have little intention to do so, since mob stories aren't my cup of tea, and I've heard this movie described either as brilliant or a giant turd with nothing in between.

:: Samuel L. Jackson is speechifying to the rest of the cast of 1999's Deep Blue Sea about survival when a super-shark leaps out of the water and — CHOMP! — no more Samuel L. Jackson.

This is the only good thing about this movie. The rest of it's a forgettable exercise in gore. OK if you like gore, I suppose. I'm not opposed to gore, but that's this movie's entire purpose. It's like going to an ice cream parlor and being told, "We're out of ice cream so here's a bowl of hot fudge." Ewwwww.

:: Bruce Davison gently coaxes his AIDS-stricken lover to ''let go'' in Longtime Companion (1990).

Haven't seen this.

:: Chris Sarandon uses The Machine to suck 50 years of Cary Elwes' life away in 1987's The Princess Bride.

OK, that's a decent scene. But we're talking death scenes here, not mostly death scenes. So I disqualify it on that basis. We're looking for all dead, not mostly dead.

:: Gollum follows the Ring of Power right into the scorching depths of Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

Watch the movie again, EW! Gollum doesn't follow the Ring, he precedes it. I've always been of two minds on this scene, anyway, as Peter Jackson filmed it. I don't mind Frodo coming back at Gollum for one final attempt to get the Ring, but what makes it so amazing in the book is that what happens is that Gollum is so ecstatic about regaining The Precious that he completely loses perspective and doesn't realize he's gone right over the edge. I'd have preferred the movie to retain that aspect of things by maybe having Gollum holding the Ring, grinning, preparing to slip it on his finger – and only then realizing that he's about to land in the pool of lava.

:: Warring exes Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner fall to their doom on a chandelier in 1989's The War of the Roses.

OK, I guess.

:: A human sacrifice watches his own heart get ripped from his chest in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).

OK, again, it's not a "death scene" if the guy isn't dead after the thing happens that we're talking about. It's the lowering into the lava that does him in. Mola Ram's death scene is a nice villain death, but there's a subtlety there that's often missed: if you listen to the sound in the film closely, every time someone is awakened from the Black Sleep of Kali by fire there's a very specific "burning hiss" sound. This sound is heard when Mola Ram tries to grab onto the glowing Sankara Stone just before it drops to the river, implying that at that moment Mola Ram awakens from his own Black Sleep, realizes what he's been doing...and then plummets to the hungry crocodiles. But anyway....

:: Darth Vader, after defying the Emperor and saving Luke Skywalker's life, decides he wants to see his son's face with his own eyes at the climactic end of Return of the Jedi (1983).

Oh, absolutely. And John Williams does something typically brilliant by having a single harp plucking out the Imperial March as Vader expires.

:: Scar (Jeremy Irons) tosses Mufasa (James Earl Jones) into a wildebeest stampede in his quest to become The Lion King (1994).

I'm not as big a fan of this movie as some, but this is one amazing moment. There's always someone evil in Disney movies, but this is really evil.

:: Jennifer Jason Leigh is quite literally pulled apart by two semi-trucks at the end of 1986's The Hitcher.

Haven't seen this. Doesn't sound like my thing, either.

:: With his dying breath in L.A. Confidential (1997), Kevin Spacey speaks two words to his killer — ''Rolo Tomasi.''

I liked this movie a lot. I don't recall the exact details of Spacey's demise, but good movie.

:: Will Ferrell crosses Dr. Evil, gets very badly burned, shot, and then shot again — all off camera — in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997).


:: Jack telling Rose not to say her goodbyes before freezing to death in Titanic (1997).

Wow, are there a lot of well-done deaths in this movie! I always liked how we don't see Jack die; we see him talking, and next time we see him, he's gone. Plus, the other deaths on the ship: the old couple cuddling in bed for the last time, the last bedtime story for the children, Captain Smith alone on the bridge. Why do we all have to hate this movie, again?

:: First, Emil (Paul McCrane), is doused with a horrifically disfiguring batch of toxic waste. Then he's literally liquidated by his boss's car in 1997's RoboCop. Bad day.

Yup, that was a great moment.

:: Lucy Liu losing her head to Uma Thurman's blade in Kill Bill Vol. One (2003).
:: The Bride killing Bill at the end of Kill Bill Vol. Two (2004).

I haven't seen Kill Bill yet.

:: Martin Sheen going splat! after getting tossed off a roof in The Departed (2006).

Again, a movie I'm not likely to see.

:: Cedric Diggory dying by Voldemort's wand in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005).

Well, I don't know about this one. Half-Blood Prince is likely to outdo this particular death, I think.

:: Dan Hedaya stubbornly refuses to die in Blood Simple (1984).

:: An underwear clad Paige (Paris Hilton) is chased through a factory warehouse and eventually killed by a wooden spear thrown through her forehead in 2005's House of Wax.

I haven't seen either of these.

So what would I add?

:: The Apollo 1 fire at the beginning of Apollo 13. All you really see is one astronaut's hand, desperately pounding at the hatch that can't open.

:: Michael Ironside gets his arms pulled off in Total Recall. This is one of my favorite "gross-out" bad guy deaths ever in a movie.

:: They don't count because they're only "near death" scenes, but two amazing acts of self-sacrifice in The Abyss: Lindsey (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) allows herself to drown so Briggman can swim her back to the Deep Core, and later on, Briggman goes on a one-way journey to defuse the nuke dropped to the bottom of the deepest trench on Earth. I love The Abyss.

:: Aragorn declares the honor of the Dead restored in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and the thousands of dead warriors finally pass to the death that has been denied them for a thousand years.

:: Dr. Whatsisname, the guy whose research on the arm left behind by the original Terminator would lead to Skynet, sacrifices his own life to save John and Sarah Connor.

:: Harry (Bruce Willis) in Armageddon detonates a nuclear bomb manually to destroy the asteroid threatening Earth; not to be outdone, an entire space shuttle full of astronauts do exactly the same thing in Deep Impact, one of them noting "Hey, look at the bright side. We'll all have junior high schools named after us." (One of my greatest weaknesses as a human being is that even though I know Armageddon is total crap, I can't not watch the thing when it's on. A few weeks ago it came on one of the local sports-free channels at the same time as a Bills game in which the Bills were playing badly. I kept clicking back to Armageddon, but hey, bad SF is always better than bad football.)

So, what love and death scenes to you all like?

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