Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My List of Hotties

Maybe this will be considered offensive, but at least it’s not cheesecake as such. No bare chests or coy poses with underwear showing. And this is purely in the spirit of admiring beauty that just happens to be male.

As I roam the net in search of interesting topics and illustrations, sometimes I happen upon publicity photos of hot-looking guys. For instance, this one, of Sean Bean, whom I just saw play the arch villain in “National Treasure.” He looked attractive in that movie, but he was a villain, after all. I didn’t have moral permission to love him. Then I found this shot of him from a while back, when he played “Richard Sharpe,” a more heroic character. And frankly, Sean Bean was looking good. This photo makes you understand the 19th century fetish for fancy military uniforms.

I confess that movie star Matthew McConaughey leaves me cold. Not because he doesn’t have a great body that he’s always willing to display in movies. In fact, it’s hard to find a good shot of him that isn’t bare-chested. Although I eventually did. No, it’s because I’ve only seen him in roles where he comes across as being annoyingly live-for-the-moment, and thus not my type. Is my type a 19th century guttersnipe turned professional soldier? Well, not really. But it definitely isn’t a surfer dude. So here's Matthew all covered up. Do you still see his charm?

On the other hand, Adrian Grenier comes across as eminently huggable. He's cute. Love the curly hair, the serious eyelashes, and the brilliant smile. I know so little about him that I thought his name was Adam, not Adrian. He’s a young hottie. Twenty years from now, maybe he’ll look like Sting, another attractive male who started off looking lovable by sheer dint of hopping around in videos. But as he settled into his stride, his serious demeanor has made him look extremely unapproachable and humorless. Or maybe he’s just squinting, because by god, no rock musician is ever seen wearing glasses.

Josh Holloway of “Lost.” Hot. Very hot. Plays a sympathetic but flawed character. No, I’m not drooling. That would be unbecoming a true admirer of the male form. I am happy that he’s married and living in beautiful Hawaii and working on a hit TV show and that this is probably the highlight of his career. His big break could have happened when he was 60 and bitter. But he’s young and handsome and enjoying life (I hope) because the world has opened up to him. You go, guy.

Is it disrespectful to mention George Clooney? Ever since he finally made it big, he's been busy proving that he's much more than a pretty face. Good thing, too, since it took all of his youth to grow beyond his stunning handsomeness into something more, a genuine movie star. Burt Lancaster had a similar fire to act in notable drama, not just play around in pretty-boy adventure tales. Both men succeeded. George, I admire you and it's not just that you look like you were born to wear a tux.

There are other hotties. But enough for now. Enjoy the view.
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

“Somewhere in Time” Revisited

“Somewhere in Time” is a preeminent romantic movie, one that predictably makes lists when romance readers are asked for recommendations. But it doesn’t show up on most of the easily-accessed top 50 or 100 movies of all time lists on the net. I looked in vain. Various Julia Roberts comedies and Hugh Grant comedies and Cary Grant comedies hogged the top spots on one list. Mainstream movies like “Titanic” and “Gone With the Wind” or thrillers like “Vertigo” were high on others. I’ve decided that many of the people compiling these lists think that “romance” and “romantic comedy” are the same. Or “romance” and “romantic thriller.” They are not. I also suspect this is partially a male-female divide. I mean, what woman really thinks that “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is primarily a romance? But I swear, it was on one of those lists. “Somewhere in Time” belongs on a more specialized romance movie list, the kind that is dominated by what used to be called “women’s pictures.” Ever heard of “Miracle in the Rain,” for instance? Or “Now, Voyager”? These are romantic movies that focus on the romance, and on the intense romantic feelings of the protagonists, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else. Like romance novels.

“Somewhere in Time” was a flop when it first came out in 1980. Vincent Canby of the New York Times subjected it to such a scathing review that Christopher Reeve could still quote it from memory 20 years later. Ouch. But the movie has slowly garnered a following, because it has the reputation of being a satisfyingly romantic movie. And it delivers. The story is about a modern young man who goes back in time and falls in love with an actress in 1912. It doesn’t end with marriage and babies and a white picket fence, but it does end happily.

I am not blind to the movie’s faults. Reeve is clearly still too bulked up from playing Superman to be wearing such a tight suit (very seventies). In fact, he shows some of the awkwardness of being far too handsome, and the awkwardness of wearing the wrong suit helps diminish it somewhat. But that does make him more a figure of boyish eagerness than of manly desire. Which is okay, really, since the story is about him being this woman’s eager but clueless suitor. All he knows about, or seems to, is how to be charming. And how to make love with reverent tenderness. Which is saying a lot. Every moment he spends with Jane Seymour is tender, attentive, gallant. Yes, he wants her. But his pushiness is all eagerness, not aggression. And that’s why their spending the day talking to each other can be a montage, because they don’t have anything they need to say to each other, not really. They’re focused on being in love. He just wants to worship her. And consume her. And he does so very nicely. Tender love stories like this are rare. “Somewhere in Time” is unapologetically lyrical as well, more of an emotional experience than a detailed story.

On the other hand, a lot of the movie is stilted and very artificial. Reeve is not believable as a burnt-out playwright. He looks too fresh and young. A very thin contrivance, the cliché that he has broken up with his girlfriend and is having trouble writing his current play, is what sends him looking for his true love. This doesn’t tie in with his briefly-noted past, or with his behavior during the rest of the movie. And so it goes. The scenes with the boy Arthur and the grown-up hotel servant Arthur are barely convincing. Most movie scenes with little children are pretty bad, and these were par for the course. These are plot devices that five more minutes of screen time could have made convincing, and it’s a shame that they didn’t. But the critics didn’t savage the story for its awkward moments, they hated it because it so carefully and reverently followed the romance. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said the movie was boring and too solemn. But then again, he bemoaned the movie’s lack of slyness and fun. Slyness and fun? Are those the qualities romance fans look for in a romantic story? No, those are what guys look for in chick flicks so they don’t have to get embarrassed by serious emotions.

Yet this romantic movie has worn well. Not a single romantic scene is tacky and dated. You can’t really tell that this movie was done in the 1970s, because there isno gratuitous nude scene or excess on camera lovemaking. As Reeve says in the 20th anniversary edition, showing the sex act would have been in bad taste. And the movie doesn’t do bad taste. Jane Seymour is a beautiful woman and she has youthful appeal in this story as well. She and Reeve have chemistry. Even though he is supposedly older than she, he plays younger and more naive, possibly because success has come so easily to him, whereas she may have come up through the school of hard knocks. Yet, they are well-matched and their scenes together do seem romantic and special and precious.

It was a revelation to learn how hard the moviemakers worked to achieve every romantic aspect of the movie. That they deliberately shot part of the film with a different brand of film, to achieve a different visual tone, shows the care and love with which everybody involved worked on this film. And the music is overwhlemingly romantic. Too much so, according to critics. I guess the movie’s initial lack of success broke the hearts of all involved. But they have been vindicated over time, as “Somewhere in Time” retains a strong following, and now that I have finally seen it, I’m one of its fans too. There aren’t many movies that allow a love story to be the most important thing, that have the courage to talk about love reverently. This one does.
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Confessions of a (Former) Harrison Ford Junkie

Okay, I admit it, I used to have a major crush on Harrison Ford. I loved Carrie Fisher in the first Star Wars when she was being totally sarcastic to Han Solo. I related to her intelligence and sharp wit. But I absolutely adored Harrison Ford as Han Solo being a smartass back at her even more. They both struck me as totally believable, she as a bright woman who showed it, and he as an archetype of the reluctant hero with the heart of gold. But he also was the hero who won’t give an inch when it comes to sentiment because mentally he still belongs to the all-boys club he joined when he was ten years old. That’s the kind of man we used to accept as a grown-up romance hero. In The Empire Strikes Back, when Princess Leia says she loves him and he replies “I know,” I thought, oh, thanks a lot. I wrench open my guts in an extreme moment in front of our enemies and all you do is acknowledge it? Be frozen for a long time, Han Solo.

But I forgave him soon enough, when as Deckard in Blade Runner he tried to save the life of the replicant beauty he pushed around but also loved. His Indiana Jones persona was far less emotionally involved with women, and it showed. But then, Indiana Jones was a grown-up version of the old Saturday afternoon movie serials aimed at young boys. They certainly didn’t want any icky romantic feelings in their adventures. So he was pushing me away all during the years he was drawing me in.

Witness, a movie that was a tense thriller rather than a romance, ironically showed Harrison Ford at the height of both his romantic powers and his romantic repression. He and his Amish love mostly gaze at each other. It’s a doomed attraction and they both know it. But Ford had figured out how to show enough love and longing in his gaze, and acclaimed Shakespearean actress-to-be Kelly McGillis was a beautiful object of desire. It’s mesmerizing even today.

Harrison Ford has flirted with romance since then, most notably in Working Girl. As a Wall Street exec he is both sympathetic and sweet to Melanie Griffith’s ambitious but insecure gal with moxie. I briefly adored Sabrina, a flop remake that was nevertheless quite convincing at moments. I liked it so much I went out and bought the tape and played the few intense scenes over and over. Harrison Ford’s later attempts to be romantic, such as Six Days, Seven Nights and Random Hearts, seemed unconvincing. I think audiences were more in love with his action hero hijinks all along. Of course, Anne Heche being a declared lesbian at the time that Six Days, Seven Nights came out did not help make the romance in that movie convincing. Even if actors know the difference between their roles and their real lives, we the audience tend not to. Still, my fascination with Harrison Ford as a romantic lead didn’t lessen until the millenium was nearly upon us. Finally it occurred to me that he always was more credible when he had little to say and do about love. I crossed him off my list of movie hotties.

But I had always wanted to see Harrison Ford in the World War II romance, Hanover Street, that he did early in his career. It sounded like just the kind of modest little romance that might be wonderful. I finally rented it, and oh, was I sorry. The passage of time has not been kind to this movie with its 1979 hair and clothing that supposedly takes place in London in the 1940s. The heroine’s exceedingly heavy eye makeup is always getting in the way. Harrison Ford doesn’t have the makeup problem, but what he does have is an utter inability to make himself believable as a man in love with this woman. Oh, he says all the right things. But they sound hollow.

Why? Not really the fault of the actors so much as of the script. If the writer/director (call him an auteur, but call it a mistake) had bothered to create fully rounded characters before throwing them into a romantic clinch at the end of the very first scene, some of the relationship would have been plausible. Both main characters are blank slates emotionally and remain so. It’s too much work for the audience to imagine feelings and personalities that the actors have not conveyed. Harrison Ford is a pilot from Chicago. And we know nothing else about him. He behaves like a wiseass in briefings, but we don’t know why. We don’t know why he falls in love at the very moment the movie opens, during a rude power play with Lesley-Anne Down on the street. And why does she succumb to his advances? Happy marriages are a sealed unit, so something is wrong in her marriage, and nobody is talking about it. Christopher Plummer plays the husband and he’s the most convincing actor in the movie. I actually winced away from the bedroom scenes between Harrison Ford and Lesley-Anne Down. I felt I did not know these people and did not want to see them having sex. Especially adulterous sex, once we learn that she has a loving husband and an adorable little girl. Oh, phooey. This is not the stuff of romantic fantasy. Maybe it was in the past, when people were more trapped in marriage. But with divorce freely available today and careers for women finally happening, this heroine’s passivity and yet her lack of honor grate. This movie is a tarnished fairy tale with a hollow core. Probably its best moment is when Ford’s character renounces his lover to send her back to her husband, with whom he has formed a comrades-in-action bond. But it’s spoiled by all the mascara running down Lesley-Anne Down’s face.

If anything could have killed my long-held passion for Harrison Ford, it was Hanover Street. On the other hand, I was already over him by the time I finally caught up with this stinker. But here’s my current worry. Harrison Ford has a big movie coming out this summer, the trumpeted last in the Indiana Jones series, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He’s in his middle sixties now and showing his age, and my concern is that his longtime audience has completely unrealistic expectations. Are we expecting him to still be young? The baby boom isn’t going into old age gently. And Harrison Ford is from the tail end of the generation prior to it (born in 1942), even older than the baby boom. Is all his whip-cracking going to seem like the behavior of a geezer? We want too much from our fantasy figures. So me being over him is perhaps just another stupid fan behavior, too. Maybe that accounts for his sarcastic attitude all along.
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Old Guy, Young Girl, Ick

We just don’t see that kind of romance anymore, do we? The ones with 36-year-old heroes and 17-year-old heroines? (Okay, maybe we still do in historical romances. It’s been a long time since I read any, so let me know.) I remember that as the age difference in Dr. Syn, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, a novel based on Russell Thorndike’s smuggler character. I was totally grossed out at the very idea of a teenager being with an old guy like that. Patrick McGoohan’s portrayal of the character for Disney made it more palatable, since he was young and handsome, not the implied old codger of 36. Then I learned that it used to be common for men to spend their youth making a place in the world, and only later look to marry. When they did, they chose the young, fresh-faced girls. Most of the older women were already married, and the rest were already losing their teeth. Also, girls were considered far more biddable. A widow might have money and property, but she also had a mind of her own by then.

The cover of My Love, My Enemy (classic romance title!) by Jan Cox Speas depicts a grown woman and a rather dour man. But this story is about a spunky teenaged heroine who has a romance with a grown man, thirtyish at least, during the Regency period. And it’s actually a rather light-hearted tale, well worth checking out in used book stores. True, the hero talks more sense to her father than he does to the heroine. But that was the historical reality, and it also was common enough in contemporary romances not so long ago. Today we don’t see that kind of marriage much in our culture or in romances. Girls have better things to do than just hang around the house waiting for a daddy figure to show up. Parents send them to college and help launch them into careers, not into complete economic dependency on an older man.

Women still do marry significantly older men, but usually it’s a trophy wife situation or a marriage of elderly people who happen to have a big age gap. Neither situation is typically seen in romances today, although they may show up in mainstream bestseller fiction. The fact that nobody writes or publishes such themes as romances suggests that they simply are not a fantasy most women hold. They may fantasize about wealth and good looks, but part of the package is also youth, or at the very least, sexy maturity. There have been many romantic suspense stories involving hard-bitten cops and serious-about-their-career female DAs, and retired secret agents and scientists, and the like, none of whom are exactly young anymore. But a big age gap is rare. And a hero over age 50 is rare unless the heroine is nearly the same age.

In real life, although most teenage girls in our country are not being sold into marriage with much-older men anymore, plenty are having sex (and babies) with boys their own age or a few significant years older. (That’s another unequal situation, though slightly less icky since both people involved are often below the age of consent.) What we don’t see are a lot of teen marriages or teen love relationships that continue into adulthood, or fictional depictions of same. We see serial relationships instead. And while there are some teenage romance novels, they don’t generally end in marriage. We definitely don’t have contemporary romances aimed at adults anymore that feature teenage heroines. In romances written for adult women today, the heroines are in their twenties or even their thirties, and sometimes older.

But the topic of teenage love is not ignored. The reunion storyline is based on a frustrated teenage relationship that comes to fruition when the hero and hero meet up as adults. Typically, the heroine was a lovestruck teen and the hero was just old enough to have scruples about getting involved. He either attempted to discourage a relationship, or refused one that she unwisely tried to force, or he managed to completely disguise his own interest in her through outright hostility. Years later, meeting as adults, none of these issues apply, and they can finally act on their sexual attraction as well as explore who they are as people in a way their mental inequality did not allow before. Even so, they are never far apart in chronological age, only in experience and maturity when they first met.

Another version of a teenage love in adult romances today this is the story that pivots on memories of a prom night consummation of a teenage romance. After prom night, as the characters recall once they meet again, they broke up or were parted. But they had been age equals at the time, and it was their youth and their divergent paths that usually parted them. (Also meddling or downright hostile relatives.) By the time they meet again, they’re both mature enough to recognize that they hadn’t been ready for marriage at age 18. Again, these romances all take place between equals in maturity, not between an adult man and a teenage girl.

Even when heroines today are marrying very rich men in otherwise extremely unequal matches such as The Tycoon’s Bartered Bride (I made that one up) and contemporary romances of that ilk, the hero and heroine have only a small age difference. They may be separated by life experience, cultural differences, and wealth and power, but the worldly hero isn’t taking advantage of the innocence of a young, inexperienced girl. Romance heroines today mostly are adult women. No more old guy, young girl, ick.
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.