Monday, June 17, 2013

7. Pride and Prejudice

1995; dir. Simon Langton; starring Jennifer Ehle, Colin Firth
My views: 20

Yes, I know, technically this is a mini-series and not a movie, but I made the executive decision to count mini-series as movies when I was keeping track, and this is too fabulous to be omitted from the blog on a technicality.  This is basically perfection in six 50-minute episodes.  That means I spent 100 of the hours from 2003 to 2012 watching Pride and Prejudice, which might sound excessive to some, but I would gladly devote another 100 hours of my life to it.  By the end of this post, I hope you will have some idea as to why, but the best way to understand is to just go and watch it.

Funnily enough, the first thing I ever knew about Pride and Prejudice was that my dad really liked it.  He and my mom taped it and talked about it a lot, but I didn't get it at all.  I remember trying to watch it with them when I was younger, but always falling asleep in the middle without really knowing what was going on.  I didn't actually sit through the whole thing until 2005, but once I did, I was hooked.  I was enchanted by the story, the character development, and the dialogue.  And before I knew it, this had essentially become my family's theme movie.  We're all completely obsessed with it, and we now own 3 copies on DVD in addition to the video taped copy so that my sister and I could each take a DVD with us to college while still leaving one for everyone else.

I know that Pride and Prejudice is one of the most beloved stories ever written, but I always feel like it belongs to my family and me.  Perhaps other people feel this way as well, and that's part of the reason it's become such a popular story.  Anyway, I've always thought of myself as Jane Bennet, partly because I'm the oldest child and because my given name happens to be Jane, but also because I usually think the best of people and give them the benefit of the doubt.  I'm not quite as good at this as Miss Bennet is, but in my defense, she is a fictional character.  I've also always thought of my sister as Elizabeth Bennet because she's awesome and has definite opinions about people and things, but isn't afraid to admit it when she misjudges them.  The close relationship I share with my sister is also reflected in the conversations between Jane and Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice, although I do think that I'll be the one teaching her 10 children to embroider cushions and play their instruments very ill, but no analogy is perfect.  We named our dogs Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, and Bingley seems to prefer me while Darcy prefers my sister, so that further enforces our perceived roles.  Fitting our brother into the story is a little more difficult, since if the Bennets had a brother a lot of their problems would be solved, but I kind of think of him as Lydia, since he's the youngest and the most lively and outgoing.  However, if we're honest with ourselves, I think we're all more a combination of Mary and Kitty than anything else.  Our parents are thankfully nothing like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, but they like to pretend they are sometimes, so whenever I'm going anywhere my mom says, "Take every opportunity of enjoying yourself," and whenever anyone mentions lace my dad has to strenuously object.

But it's not just my parents trying to be Mr. and Mrs. Bennet; we all recite this mini-series constantly.  There are so many incredible lines, and they apply remarkably frequently.  I'm pretty sure Mrs. Philips is the character we quote the most, between "Oh, now I understand!" and "Hearts, Mr. Collins, hearts!" but we reference them all a lot.  It's particularly amusing when my dad does his Lady Catherine impression: "She would be in nobody's way in that part of the house."  I think we all really appreciate good dialogue, and even beyond that, all of the actors read their lines with such perfect expression that it's extremely fun to imitate them, particularly the more melodramatic characters.

That's one of the main reasons I prefer this version of Pride and Prejudice to the others that I've seen: the casting is flawless.  Jennifer Ehle is Elizabeth Bennet.  Colin Firth is Mr. Darcy.  Crispin Bonham-Carter is Mr. Bingley, and by far the most likable version of Mr. Bingley I've ever encountered on screen, which I love because the book Mr. Bingley is supposed to be likable, and a lot of times he's portrayed in films as kind of a doofus.  Alison Steadman is Mrs. Bennet.  David Bamber is Mr. Collins.  I could go on, but it's kind of a big cast, and you get the point.  They all adapt the perfect mannerisms and expressions to fit the characters that Jane Austen created.  I'm also a huge fan of the supporting characters.  Most other film versions cut out a lot of the minor characters, often because they don't want to be this long, but I love that this version chooses to leave them in and develop them.  That's part of the reason I can watch it so many times and never get bored: there is so much background character development going on that I missed the first few times I watched it.  I especially like what they did with Mr. Hearst, Maria Lucas, and my personal favorite: Mary's crush on Mr. Collins.  This brings me to the flawless editing, which allows the audience to see the background stories unfold as well as the main stories, and clearly shows us each relevant character's reaction to every important development for just the right amount of time.

Finally, I'm pretty sure that this is the best film adaptation of a book that I've ever seen.  In my experience, when books are adapted to the screen, it is almost always the case that the film comes out lacking.  Often important character development is sacrificed in favor of action scenes, as in the - in my opinion - highly disappointing Harry Potter films.  Occasionally, apart from character names and a vaguely similar plot, the book and the film are barely recognizable as the same story.  I understand that films are different from books, but have always wondered why people who make films based on books can't take the spirit of the original story and transfer it to film.  Granted, I didn't read Pride and Prejudice until after I had seen this, so perhaps my opinion is biased, but I think the people who made this mini-series finally accomplished what I'd always wanted filmmakers to do: stay true to the story without feeling like they couldn't change anything about it.  Many if not most of the lines in this mini-series are direct word-for-word quotes from the book, which is fabulous, but the other lines are all in the spirit of the book, which is even better.  A few scenes were added and changed, but all for a very good reason, and all allowing the characters to remain true to their original counterparts.  The reason for this, of course, is that the filmmakers were very devoted to the original story, which hardly ever happens.  I'm extremely glad it did in this case.

Friday, June 7, 2013

8. The Sure Thing

1985; dir. Rob Reiner; starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga
My views: 19

This is another movie my mom had to talk me into watching.  I really had no interest in seeing it, but she got it from the library in 2004 and convinced me to sit through it.  And, like almost all the movies my mom talks me into watching, I fell in love with it.  In 2006 alone I watched it 8 times, I've now seen it a total of 20 times (because I've watched it once this year), and I haven't gotten tired of it yet.  I truly think it's the best teen/young adult movie ever made, and I'm constantly surprised at how few people have even heard of it.

The script is brilliant.  Is it just me, or do all Rob Reiner films have great lines?  From "Get Cowboy Guy a beer" and "I bought some of those hangers you like so much" to "Who invented liquid soap and why?" this movie is full of quotes that I can always use to crack myself up while other people stare at me because for some unfathomable reason, no one has seen this movie.  I guess they don't have moms who talk them into watching it.  Beyond the fantastic script, there's the remarkable chemistry between the two young (at the time) stars.  At first they hate each other as they seem to have nothing in common, but as they get to know each other better they start falling for one another in spite of themselves.  It's a plot that's been done a million times, but very rarely is it done this well.  John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga play off each other wonderfully, and both demonstrate flawless comedic timing, particularly in the scene where they're stranded in the middle of nowhere in the rain with no money trying to break into a deserted trailer, and Daphne Zuniga's character, Alison, suddenly remembers that she has a credit card.  "Credit cards work on a completely different kind of lock!" "I don't think you understand. I have a credit card!" Then her face falls. "Oh. My dad told me specifically that I could only use it in case of an emergency."  And with rain dripping down his whole body, he looks at her with a completely straight face and says, "Well, maybe one will come up."

I also love how the two completely different characters manage to bring out the best in each other, and how he prompts her to become a little more laid back while she prompts him to be a little more self-disciplined, without either of them really trying to change the other.  But honestly, one of my favorite things about this movie, and the reason I think everyone needs to watch it at some point, is because it has a message which I think is far too often overlooked in our society: namely, that having casual sex with as many people as possible is not the be all and end all of human existence.  This is contrary to what many TV shows and movies and books tell us, and certainly contrary to what John Cusack's character, Gib, believes at the beginning of this movie.  After all, it's called The Sure Thing because he's traveling across the country to sleep with a girl he's never met because his best friend from high school promises that she's a sure thing: no questions asked, no strings attached, no guilt involved.  But on his way there, through all of his adventures with Alison, he starts to realize that there's more to life than one-night stands.  The way he goes through this journey, and the way the movie portrays this without shoving any message down our throats, is kind of incredible.  When I talked about Beauty and the Beast I said I liked movies where the characters get to know each other before falling in love, and this film emphasizes the importance of that even more.

I'm not even kidding, if you haven't seen this movie, track it down and watch it immediately, particularly if you are a teenager or college student.  You won't be disappointed.  If you are, you can leave an angry comment, but you won't be.  And stay tuned for my top 7 most-watched movies, all of which I saw at least 20 times from 2003-2012.