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Digital Watch

His and Hers Valentine's Day DVDs 2004

By Jeffrey M. Anderson and Lara São Pedro

Valentine's Day is something of a major holiday for my wife and I and, of course, movies are a big part of it. But much like choosing a scary movie at Halloween, Valentine's Day has more than a few choices in regards to romantic movies. Though we very often agree, my wife and I sometimes have different ideas in that arena. So two years ago, we began this back-and-forth Valentine's Day discussion so as to be fair to both sexes.

HIS: My first choice is Never Been Kissed (1999, Fox), a lovely little gem that overcomes its lack of logic with its sheer charm, mostly carried on the shoulders of the adorable Drew Barrymore. She plays Josie, a copy editor for the Chicago Sun-Times (not surprisingly, Roger Ebert liked the movie) who gets her first assignment going undercover to high school. Unfortunately, she was never the most popular kid in class and has a lot of baggage to get through before she can endure the horror again. A cool older brother (David Arquette) and a crush on a teacher (Michael Vartan, later on Alias) help. John C. Reilly gives a terrific, understated performance as Josie's overworked boss.

HERS: You know how much I love Michael Vartan, and I agree that Never Been Kissed has its romantic moments. But having to watch Drew endure the mean cliques, the cafeteria scenes, the obnoxious assistant, the terrible makeup, and the rest of the high school awkwardness just made me squirm. I far prefer Drew in the vastly underrated Ever After (1998, Fox), the smart retelling of the Cinderella story with the dreamy Dougray Scott as our prince. This is one of the first romantic stories little girls embrace and here it's fleshed out with the back-story of how Cinderella came to such a hard life. Her story is explained in the context of history and filled with complex and full characters, including a prince that is drawn to more than just his princess' beauty. The script also has great wit and an ending that takes us further than the story we all know and love.

HIS: That's a good one, too, but it has its cruel spots. Watching Angelica Huston as the evil stepmother treat Drew so badly can be tough. Drew is wonderful in practically anything, though, and I think she deserves the title of "America's Sweetheart" more so than Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan.

My second choice is Howard Hawks' To Have and Have Not (1944, Warner Bros.), which just recently came out on DVD. As you know, Bogart fell madly in love with the 19 year-old Lauren Bacall during the filming -- and it shows. She reveals a self-assertiveness that many movie heroines do not have, and you can sense them relating to each other as equals, and enjoying the hell out of each other. The movie came out of a bet that Hawks made with author Ernest Hemingway -- that he could make a good movie out of Hemingway's worst book. William Faulkner and Jules Furthman co-wrote the screenplay, and Hawks turned it into a Casablanca-like story of romance and intrigue in a small fishing village. It was mostly filmed on the studio lot, but it has a romantic, exotic feel thanks to the lovely black-and-white cinematography. Walter Brennan co-stars in one of his best roles as Bogey's drunken pal, and Hoagy Carmichael provides a couple of tunes at the local piano bar. Bogey and Bacall made three other films together, The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948), but this is the most potent.

HERS: Well, I think you know that's one of my favorites... given that we worked lines from one of the key scenes into our wedding vows! The obvious spark between them, paired with the sharp dialogue and Hoagy Carmichael's background music, makes it a nearly perfect film.

So, then, while I'm thinking about our wedding, I'll recommend another of my favorites Babe (1995, Universal), the story of a young pig who surpasses his destiny is a Valentines film for young and old alike. Our pig, Babe, doesn't have a girlfriend, or sacrifice himself for love, or follow any other of the tired romance plotlines, but his story is all about love just the same. As James Cromwell playing the bewildered and reserved Farmer Hoggett sings to Babe when he's sick: "If I had words I'd make a day for you. I'd sing you a morning golden and true..."

HIS: And we used that song during our wedding ceremony, so it's kind of a personal classic for us.

The more I think about it, the more I like 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002, Miramax) from the underrated San Francisco director Michael Lehmann (Heathers, The Truth About Cats and Dogs). Josh Hartnett plays a promiscuous dot-com employee who gives up both sex and masturbation for Lent. His co-workers begin wagering on him and sexy women try to seduce him, but his biggest problem comes when he falls in love with adorable Shannyn Sossamon (who works as an internet porn-site "nanny"). The scene in which they become intimate for the first time with the use of a feather could be one of the most erotic scenes Hollywood has shown in some time. Hartnett gives a terrific comic performance, staring blankly and quivering under the weight of his sexual frustration, and the two lovers have a nice chemistry together as they go on their initial sexless dates.

HERS: I actually liked that film much more than I expected to. Hartnett and Sossamon are not my ideal screen couple though. For me Natalie Wood and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955, Warner Bros.) broke the mold. Dean and Wood play troubled teens that find a safe place to be themselves when they are together -- not having to play the roles that everyone expects of them. Dean's screen presence is legend, but Wood matches his intensity here and their chemistry pulls you into the screen. Match this with the 50's style, the cars, and a superb supporting cast and you can watch this film again and again. This is no Sixteen Candles (1984).

HIS: Wood was nominated for an Oscar for that one, too. It couldn't have been easy to share a scene with Dean and remain visible. But teenagers are fairly common in movies. For my next pick, I'm looking to cinema's greatest on-screen married couple, which Hollywood doesn't bother to show very often. In The Thin Man (1934, Warner Bros.), William Powell and Myrna Loy play an exotic San Francisco duo, he a retired detective who enjoys a good martini but keeps getting tugged back into business, and she a wealthy heiress who can match wits with her husband any time. Powell and Loy's chemistry is nearly unmatched in the history of movies; even the wordless looks they give one another sting with meaning. It helps that the dialogue, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (based on Dashiell Hammett's novel), snaps and crackles and that director Woody "One Shot" Van Dyke shot the movie so quickly that things didn't have a chance to get stale. It was such a huge box office hit that it spawned five sequels, but only this original is available on DVD.

HERS: I love all of the Thin Man films, their style, their class, and the neck nuzzling familiarity that Powell and Loy develop throughout. However, the ultimate romance mixed with firecracker dialogue is His Girl Friday (1940, Columbia/TriStar). Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell play a recently divorced couple of reporters who are thrown together one last time to compete for the scoop of the year, and possibly rekindle their spark while they're at it. Who could resist Cary Grant doing verbal back-flips to win you back? With the exception of a ridiculous hat Russell is forced to wear, this is a nearly perfect film.

HIS: I'd say it's a perfect film, and another by my favorite American director Howard Hawks. Moving forward to the 1980s, Steve Martin gives another excellent comic performance, both physically and verbally, in Roxanne (1987, Columbia/TriStar). Martin wrote the screenplay, based on "Cyrano de Bergerac," and plays a small town firefighter with a long nose who falls for a beautiful astrologer (Daryl Hannah). But she has eyes for a well-built dunderhead (Rick Rossovich) who works under Martin. Martin helps him -- temporarily -- win over the fair maiden with his well-chosen (and funny) words. Fred Willard, Shelley Duvall and Michael J. Pollard supply amusing support. With Fred Schepisi's beautiful, airy widescreen direction, the film moves at a brisk clip, and Martin finds true depth in a man who masks a broken heart with humor.

HERS: It's another new twist on an old story. And what makes that film for me are the strong friendships between Martin and all the various supporting characters.

And finally, what's Valentine's Day without Hugh Grant? I recommend that you find a small theatre someplace that is still playing Love Actually and go laugh yourselves silly. There are at least 8 romantic tales that intertwine in this British romp that was buried in the end-of-year Oscar rush in November and should probably have been held for a more timely February release. Penned by Richard Curtis of Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) fame, a stellar ensemble cast shows us the many ways that love is all around. Bring someone you want to smooch and have a wonderful Valentine's Day.

HIS: It's actually more of a Christmas movie. But I suppose if you're in the mood for love, the season doesn't really matter. (The movie will be released April 27 on DVD.)

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