A recent column provided a trio of family movie night choices that could be viewed in the comfort of our own homes. With that being the safest place to be right now, we’ll continue with classic film reviews of movies you can enjoy without having to leave your couch.
In my days of radio, I used to have a feature called “a twin spin,” in which I played two songs from the same artist. Using that as a model, I’ll give you a theme, two choices and where you can find them. At the end, in typical cinema fashion, I give you a glimpse of “coming attractions” too.
This week's theme is date night.
“An Ideal Husband” (1999)
Oliver Parker's film adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play is often unheard of or overlooked. Considering that it is “English,” that is not uncommon, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying a wonderfully spun story about blackmail and secrets.
And let’s not forget romance and comedy.
It's set in London in the late 1800s, with Sir Robert Chiltern, a high-ranking cabinet member in Parliament, (portrayed beautifully by Jeremy Northam of "The Crown") as a stellar example of an English gentlemen. Married to Gertrude (the highly versatile Cate Blanchett), he is what all politicians should strive to be. Of course, there is a skeleton in the closet, known by Mrs. Laura Cheveley (Julianne Moore), who enters his world with an agenda of her own.
While the spider weaves her web, Chiltern’s fate is up to his friend and confidant, Lord Goring. The womanizing, resolute bachelor, who only admits to being 32, is played by the scene-stealing Rupert Everett (whom younger viewers may recognize as the voice of Prince Charming in “Shrek 2”). It is up to Goring to rescue his friend, and, at the same time, figure out his own love life.
Though it may not sound like it, the film is actually hysterical. It will take a little time to catch the way they talk (a little more proper English than most Americans are used to), but once you do, you will realize that Goring doesn’t have a serious line in the film and the ensuing effect of his comments will make you chuckle through the 97-minute runtime.
Parker’s direction (he also wrote the screenplay) is expertly paced like a play. The shots and reaction shots give viewers an exciting back-and-forth routine, and the facial expressions from the cast of talented actors will sell the entertaining and engaging story. The lighting, makeup and costumes will completely transport the audience to turn-of-the-last-century London, and Everett’s monologue in the climax of the film will showcase his full range of talents.
The film is rated PG-13 for a brief scene of nudity at the very beginning of the film and can be rented from Prime for $2.99.
“When Harry Met Sally” (1989)
One can’t review rom-coms without mentioning the ultimate film in the genre, Rob Reiner’s 1989 classic “When Harry Met Sally.” Most people are familiar with the concept (Can men and women truly be friends?) and the diner scene (more on that in a moment), but one needs to see the film to completely understand why it set the bar for all future romantic comedies.
The film opens in the late 1970s, where Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) are about to share a car ride from Chicago to New York. The banter and conversation between the two set the stage for the remainder of the 95-minute movie.
Reiner brings Nora Ephron’s Oscar-nominated screenplay to life, laced with quick wit and realistic situations that anyone who has dated can appreciate. The characters’ last names are indicative of their personalities, as Crystal’s Harry and Ryan’s Sally give us the ins and outs of twenty-somethings relationships. It also should be noted that the main characters reflect the director and the writer’s actual personalities, which is what makes them so believable.
By the same token, the conversations between the characters are insightful and real … replete with the comedic timing that Crystal has perfected. Ryan plays off him extremely well, making it appear as if they really were two people engaged in a relationship. They become best friends throughout the story, however, the element of sex always throws a wrench into the question that drives the whole film.
Crystal and Ryan have tremendous on-screen chemistry and the film’s other characters blend in wonderfully. Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher are Jess and Marie, the best friends of Harry and Sally, respectively. They offer insight, advice at times, and allow for exposition to keep the film flowing. An excellent example is the batting cage scene, expertly performed by Crystal and Kirby as they discuss intimate details of an encounter Harry had with a woman.
Speaking of intimate details, the famous deli scene where Harry and Sally discuss “faking it” is the crown jewel of the film from a comedy standpoint. Through most of the movie, Ryan reacts to Crystal's comments, but this time, she takes the scene and gives viewers the film's signature moment. Depending on whom you are watching the movie with, it may be a little uncomfortable, however, it is a tremendously funny scene … and the closing line (delivered by the director’s mother as an extra) is quite possibly the most quoted line of the film. The deli where they filmed the scene is an actual place, and the table has a plaque hoping patrons have “what she had.”
“When Harry Met Sally” is rated R for language and content, but don’t let that shy you away from this incredibly entertaining film. It also can be found on Prime, and rents for $3.99.
There's nothing quite like curling up with that special someone and enjoying a good rom-com, so watch one (or both) for a relaxing summer evening.
Next week, stay tuned for action films.
• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor at McHenry County College. He looks forward to resuming the role of host for the Second Monday Film Series at Classic Cinemas in Woodstock.