Wednesday, September 29, 2021


This review originally written for in 2014.

Imagine a time when we all thought Julie Taymor was going to be a bold, important voice in world cinema. It wasn't that long ago. In 1999, she was the heir apparent to Baz Luhrmann, a mad-hatted Kenneth Branagh with a grasp of classic drama and a vivid aesthetic that combined art house gravitas with midnight movie hallucinations. She had come off a successful, innovative stage adaptation of Disney's Lion King to direct a film version of one of Shakespeare's least known and oddest plays, Titus Andronicus, shortened here to Titus. It's bloody and melodramatic and twisted and mythical and Taymor's envisioning of it is magic.

Anthony Hopkins stars as Andronicus, a Roman general who returns home a champion after defeating the Goths. He brings their queen, Tamora (the fiercest Jessica Lange you ever did see), and her sons as tribute to the newly crowned emperor Saturninus (Alan Cumming), but when the ruler is denied Adronicus' daughter Lavinia (Breaking Bad's Laura Fraser) as a bride, things go south rather quickly. Lavinia is betrothed to Saturninus' younger brother Bassianus (James Frain, True Blood). The spiteful and spurned Emperor marries Tamora instead, setting the stage for the vengeful queen to turn her attention on Andronicus' family and, presumably, Rome itself.

Titus is a bizarre play, full of extremes. Villains rage hard and the wronged wail in unquenchable pain. Bad deeds are undertaken with a dark imagination. Tamara's sons (one of TV's most recent Draculas, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and star of The Americans, Matthew Rhys) are depicted as animals straight out of a 1980s heavy metal video, and they visit unspeakable horrors upon Lavinia. Tamara's lover Aaron (Harry Lennix, Dollhouse [review]), a Moor amongst the white aristocrats, schemes and plots and double crosses, all the while remaining unrepentant. (Lennix is amazing in his final scenes, spitting vitriol all over the screen.) The biggest perversion, however, is saved for Andronicus, who cooks up something wicked for his tormentors.

Taymor doesn't shy away from the grotesquery, nor does she iron out Shakespeare's more clunky plot devices. Severed heads and limbs are common props, and in one crucial scene, Tamara and her sons disguise themselves as Revenge, Rape, and Murder personified in order to make Andronicus think he is hallucinating. Taymor outfits them in goofy costumes, entering the scene via one of her gonzo interstitials, playing on the dark humor and absurdity with a relish few filmmakers could manage. Her overall approach is to push everything as over the top as possible, blending timeframes, cultures, and techniques to create an elaborate costume ball. The production team, which includes the great Dante Ferretti (Fellini's Satyricon), worked overtime to pack every scene with detail. Like Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, you are expected to gorge yourself on everything you see, and to emerge from the viewing exhausted.

Titus is still quite fantastic. Some of the special effects show their age, but even those work because they come off as stagey and rickety and play like a nod to the tale's theatrical origins. As indulgent as it sometimes can be, and with the bulk of the original text intact, Titus is still engrossing and far from feeling bloated. Though nearly three hours long, it passes in a blink.

Julie Taymor went on to make the middling biopic Frida a few years later, before helming the terrible bomb Across the Universe and her now infamous Spider-Man musical on Broadway. The Tempest [review], her 2010 return to Shakespeare, showed she could curtail some of the excess the had overtaken the preceding productions, but the movie possesses little of the vision that makes Titus so vital and invigorating. It remains to be seen if her film debut was just a fluke--she may still have another trick up her sleeve--but even if that's how things turn out, what a hell of a fluke it is.

Sunday, September 26, 2021


When Criterion announced they were releasing an edition of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s 2000 film Love & Basketball, I think a lot of people were surprised. But it wasn’t all that shocking if you’d been paying attention over the last couple of years. Love & Baskeball had been bubbling up through the public consciousness, a sleeper hit ready to rise, a perfect example of how a familiar tale can feel fresh again when filtered through a unique point of view and featuring underrepresented faces. 

It’s easy to surmise how Love & Basketball maybe slipped by on original release. Setting other cultural factors aside, there is just something so simple and direct about this film it was easy to underestimate. Starting with the title. It’s pretty plain, and so lacking in ostentation, one might think that is all there is to this film. What’s it about? It’s about love. And it’s about basketball. 

And it’s on us as an audience for thinking that’s not enough.

Because sure, Prince-Bythewood’s feature is about those two things, but it’s also about how the necessary (love) often clashes with the important (basketball), especially when the two people falling in love are so focused on that one important thing.

In this case, those two people are Monica and Quincy, played at a young age by Kyla Pratt and Glenndon Chatman, and then for the rest of the film by Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. We follow them across many years, structured into four quarters just like a basketball game: their first meeting at age 11, their senior year in high school, freshman year in college, and then adulthood, looking at the early flushes of success and grown-up disappointments that divide and unite. Which sounds like not very much but it’s really a lot, particularly as we consider the dynamics of gender as it pertains to sports and then how the unpredictable nature of the game can disrupt happy feelings. 

Even forgetting all that, though, any relationship story is about human complications, and that’s what Love & Basketball has an abundance of. Parental issues, jealousy, doubt, injury, sacrifice, distraction. In some ways, Monica and Quincy are heading in the same direction, and in others, they can’t see how many obstacles will cause their paths to diverge. What makes these two stand apart from your usual rom-com or dramatic leads, though, even when they are childishly teasing one another, is how kind they can be, how present. Fundamentally, we can see on the screen how connected they are, and even when they mess up, Prince-Bythewood’s script isn’t afraid to dig down into the messiness of it all and grapple with real emotions.

Of course, any romantic movie is dependent on the chemistry between its two leads, and while Epps is the better actor here by a noticeable margin, Lathan really comes alive when they are working together. This again lends to our investment in them as a couple, and the believability of their love affair. Something about the two of them together brings out the best in one another, the way a great relationship, working or otherwise, should.

Though, that does bring up the one flaw I’d say Love & Basketball has: it’s not that great when it comes to the basketball. The games we see are not very exciting, and the practice sequences don’t communicate the fire that would drive young players to give it everything they have. The crucial games are almost an afterthought, with a lot of action taking place out of frame. Which might seem like a small note, but we are supposed to believe that this pair is exceptional and wanting to see them succeed should be paid off by actually showing the triumph happen, not just the tragedy. 

There is a similar problem—and some similar success—in Prince-Bythewood’s 1991 short Stitches. The story of a struggling female comedian suffers as most movies about stand-up comedy do from completely tanking the comic scenes. The material just isn’t funny, particularly as Prince-Bythewood bends the jokes to match up with the trauma the comedian suffered in the past. It’s a solid concept, with the comedy acting as the basketball did in Love & Basketball, giving the character something to focus her life on, acting out a kind of therapy on stage. Once again, the real-life emotion is stronger than the outside pursuit, but Prince-Bythewood manages to get close to the bullseye in bringing this complex character to life. (1997’s Progress is also included here, the director’s short juxtaposing 1967 racial violence with 1997 black-on-black crime.)

It’s interesting to see the early thematic seeds and storytelling techniques spread across nearly a decade, and how much Gina Prince-Bythewood has figured out by the time cameras rolled on Love & Basketball. The drama is not perfect in every way, sure, but it doesn’t have to be, not when the observations are so fresh and the romance so real. Also, don’t be surprised if you find yourself seeking out Spotify playlists featuring the songs from the soundtrack. Sonically, Love & Basketball provides a well-chosen journey through two decades of R&B and hip-hop.

This disc provided by the Criterion Collection for purposes of review.


This review originally written for in 2006.

"I'll wear my heart on my sleeve like a wet, red stain."

The life of Dorothy Parker, as portrayed in Alan Rudolph's 1994 biopic Mrs. Parker & the Vicious Circle, is like one long, drunken night. It starts off fun, with witty bons mots tossed out between refills, but as the morning approaches and the bottle gets harder to find, those laughs are soon replaced by tears.

The real Dorothy Parker was a writer in the '20s and '30s known for writing verse with a caustic wit. In a weird way, she's almost like an early Sarah Silverman, setting up her reader with a sweet intro and then hitting them with a devastating punchline. Only her interests were far more tangled up in the emotional affairs of men and women and not so much with social taboos. She wasn't looking to shock nearly as much as she was looking to break your heart by showing you her own. Yet, both women have a yen for exposing the dirty mess that lies inside pretty packages. Parker wrote for magazines like Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, producing original work as well as reviewing plays and other people's books. In the mid-1930s, she moved to Hollywood like most writers of her time and worked on several movies, including the 1937 version of A Star is Born and Hitchcock's Saboteur.

I say she was known for her verse, but she was actually best known for being part of the Algonquin Round Table, a regular meeting of artistic types that took place in the restaurant of the Algonquin Hotel in New York. Sporting the sharpest tongues of their day, these folks drank the night away while trading wry verbal jabs. This is the period that Alan Rudolph and his co-writer Randy Sue Coburn mainly concern themselves with. The film is about Parker's struggles as a writer and as a woman searching for love. It's also about drinking to dull the pain.

Jennifer Jason Leigh was born to play Dorothy Parker, and it's arguably the best performance of her career. She presents a woman who is hard to decipher. The slow delivery of her clever words could just be a drunken slur, but she's also using it to mask her loneliness. Every moment of life hurts, and every word is an effort. She is doomed to pursue the wrong men, be it her dope-fiend husband Eddie (Andrew McCarthy), the cavalier journalist Charles MacArthur (Matthew Broderick), or the man who appears to be her soulmate but who never takes her to bed, the droll Robert Benchley (Campbell Scott). All three of those men are married, and only one of them to her.

Dorothy's relationship with Benchley is the most important one. They have a real connection, never at a loss for words and always able to count on each other. Campbell Scott is a good match for Jason Leigh. He stands tall in Benchley's stoic humor, timing his delivery in the same slow-gin manner as hers. In the first half of the movie, it's his hurt that is out front. He isn't about to leave his wife (Jennifer Beals), and something is keeping him from taking the plunge. So, he stands back and watches Parker with other men, the self-loathing clear in his haunted eyes. Halfway through the movie, Dorothy catches him eyeing another girl in a speakeasy. She asks him why they never "misbehaved," and he gives her a couple of intellectual excuses. Here the worm turns. Unhappy with his answer, she practically pushes Benchley into the arms of the other woman, and now the lovelorn weariness will become her cross to bear.

Mrs. Parker & the Vicious Circle isn't all doom and gloom, however. We see several of the raucous bull sessions that the Algonquin legend is built on, and there are many parties with the likes of Harpo Marx and F. Scott Fitzgerald popping in for cameos. And actually, speaking of cameos, there are a lot of actors who would later become more famous that I forgot got some of their earliest work in this film, possibly because I didn't know who they were at the time. Gwyneth Paltrow, Lili Taylor, Heather Graham, Rebecca Miller (director of The Ballad of Jack & Rose), and Stanley Tucci all have small parts in Mrs. Parker & the Vicious Circle, and if you keep your eyes pealed, Cyndi Lauper even makes an appearance. (Jon Favreau is listed among the cast, but I never spotted him.)

Even so, all of this happiness is a front, and eventually there will be a morning after, as seen in flash forwards to scenes in Hollywood and later in New York, when Dorothy has returned there to live in obscurity. These scenes are shot in black-and-white, setting them apart from the "present day" of the movie. Black-and-white is also used for the scenes of Dorothy sitting alone and reciting her poetry. Those are splendid interludes in the film, both adding to the emotional weight of the main action and giving viewers a real taste of Dorothy Parker's writing. Too often biopics about writers or artists pass without giving much of a sense of the subject's work. Mrs. Parker & the Vicious Circle shows how Dorothy Parker's life and her writing were inextricably linked, and it leaves its audience with an affinity for the woman and her craft.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021


This review was originally written in 2008 for

Audrey Hepburn's second film was the first of hers I saw, though if I recall I watched Sabrina for Humphrey Bogart, whom had become a bit of an obsession by then. I was also starting to learn a little something about director Billy Wilder through a blooming interest in film noir, so it was an unexpected twist in my movie-going plot that these two gentlemen would be upstaged by the gamine up in the tree of this romantic comedy.

Sabrina (Hepburn) is the chauffeur's daughter, a gawky teen who hides in the bushes spying on David Larrabee (William Holden), the youngest and the wildest son of the rich Larrabee family. By contrast, David's older brother, Linus (Bogart), is all stuffed shirts and responsibility. He runs the family company and is more likely to race through numbers and statistics than he is to race the roadster that David is so fond of. Ironically, it's only Linus that notices Sabrina, finding her in the throes of a dramatic suicide over David's cluelessness. Sure, Linus doesn't realize that this silly kid is being serious, but at least he knows her name.

All of this takes place on the eve of Sabrina's departure for Paris, where she will spend two years at a cooking school learning all about soufflés while also learning all the ways of the world that a girl can only acquire in France. She returns to Long Island a sophisticated seductress, ready to claim David as her own. The one wrinkle: Linus has promised David to the daughter of a sugar cane magnate so the Larrabees can get their hands on all the sugar they need for a new plastic compound they are pioneering. Seeing the thrice-married David about to go off message yet again, Linus runs interference, pretending to entertain his baby brother's fickle yearnings while keeping Sabrina occupied. Of course, no numbers or charts can prepare him for Cupid's arrow, and a legitimate love affair blooms in the unlikeliest of places.

Bogart is at his hound-dog best in this picture. Put the man in a tailored suit and take him out of the rough-and-tumble urban and wilderness environments he is better known for, and he actually cuts quite a dashing figure as an aging Prince Charming. Sure, there is a disparity in the years between him and Audrey Hepburn, but it doesn't seem nearly as pronounced as the age gap between her and some of her other leading men. (Wilder would pair her with Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon three years later, and it's never quite right; the pair are loving in two entirely different afternoons.) Perhaps it's Bogart's subtle vulnerability that makes it work. His Linus is a lonely man who may know plastics and even how to negotiate social mores as if they were boardroom gambits, but whom has ignored his heart as a result. Just as much as Sabrina needs to be rescued from that cad David, Linus needs someone to rescue him from himself. If there is a bit of a fatherly air to his schooling of the ingénue, the ingénue must also play mother to a boy who is still emotionally underdeveloped. Just look at the scene where Linus tries to dress up in his old college sweater: it's like he's swapped places with Sabrina, trying to look young much in the same way she's trying to appear grown up.

Audrey Hepburn is as delightful as can be in the film. To her acting credit, she is almost capable of entirely conquering her own natural glamour to make the teenaged Sabrina appear gawky and naïve. This also allows her to pull off the character's return from Paris, where she must first look like a little girl playing dress up only to reveal she truly is sophisticated in spite of herself. As romances go, one couldn't ask for a smarter director than Billy Wilder, who realizes that when falling in love, the reactions we show to one another aren't nearly as telling as the ones we think no one sees. When the David-Sabrina-Linus triangle begins, we can chart the various emotional upheavals on the dancefloor by the way a character's face changes amidst the turn of a slow dance. Thus, an unsuspecting Sabrina can enter a spin out of love and come around to face us again in love.

As with most Billy Wilder movies, Sabrina moves at a brisk pace, teasing the viewer along in ways that are never obvious or manipulative, even when we should be able to see the romantic outcome a mile off. Wilder co-wrote the screenplay with Ernest Lehman and Samuel Taylor, who originally wrote Sabrina as a stageplay, and he knows where all the pieces go. The director has an inherent storytelling instinct for when the narrative can be diverted into a humorous aside and when it needs to get down to serious business. At its core, Sabrina is a Cinderella story, but the fun twist is that the husband she's going to meet at the ball is not the one she expects, and as the audience, we get to go along for the ride as Sabrina figures it all out.

Monday, September 20, 2021


This review was originally written in 2014 for

As I type, it's a week before Halloween, and I've just finished watching the scariest horror movie of the season: the Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour.

It's with a chilled quiet and gritted teeth that I make light, whistling by the graveyard, dancing to keep from crying. Because if you can watch Citizenfour and not be shaken down to your very core, you're made of tougher stuff than I. Cinematic analysis at this point seems unnecessary, regardless of how much there may be to criticize in the technique (and really, not much). Laura Poitras' film is so vital, so substantial to the world right now, any conscientious critic will just want to underline how important it is that everyone see it, how crucial to avoid throwing it on the scrap heap of the well-meaning political and activist documentaries that have flooded the market since 9/11. Citizenfour is an historical document of confounding significance. It's a glimpse behind the closed doors of a moment in time that has otherwise only been revealed in the abstract.

Poitras, who previously made enough of a splash with the movies Flag Wars and The Oath to earn a place on a U.S. government watch list monitoring her travels, is one of two journalists, along with The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, to be contacted an anonymous source called himself "Citizenfour" in late 2012/early 2013 regarding access to information that would implicate the White House, the NSA, tech companies, and a variety of other American institutions in an overreaching initiative to mine the privacy data of the common populace. That source was, of course, Edward Snowden. Citizenfour shows how that communication transpired, leading to the fateful meeting with Snowden in Hong Kong to go over the documents he had procured and prepare a plan for releasing the information to the public. This is the core of Citizenfour, and the actual timeframe is only a couple of weeks. Given the ongoing ramifications of the event, it's kind of crazy to be reminded how quickly it all happened.

Poitras follows the exposure and the aftermath, chasing the ripples Snowden made right up until this past spring, when likely she had to put a cap on it and take Citizenfour into the editing suite. The narrative she shapes from the combined recording of the reportage and of the evidence being reported has the tension of a high-grade thriller but also the damning effect of being true.

There are two takeaways from Citizenfour. First, Edward Snowden is a fascinating and admirable individual. Regardless of smear campaigns in the press or the Obama administration's attempts to recategorize his whistleblowing as treason or espionage, Snowden in action--at least as presented here--is forthright and articulate regarding his intentions. He simultaneously attempts to keep the story from being framed around him and accepts not only that it will end up that way, but that the consequences will be severe. Poitras is careful to show his humanity, at times catching unguarded vanity, but also real sadness. In those days when he literally only had one single window from which to view the whole world, most of us would have found it hard to keep our resolve from being crushed. When Snowden is the most likable is in those rare moments when he is most normal, when the stereotypical IT guy emerges to snicker at his allies for being such rubes when it comes to technology.

The second takeaway is that the American public's casual acceptance of the exposed truths as both inevitable and, frankly, already here, is just as damaging, if not moreso, as the government's most nefarious actions. It's almost another horrific joke to consider how unnecessary the scrambling over the leaks and the attempted discrediting of Snowden was. With a citizenry that has already accepted that there is nothing they can do, no retaliation need be required. Hell, there is no more disheartening evidence to verify Snowden's fear that one man's efforts wouldn't be swallowed whole by the culture of celebrity than, as of this writing, the one piece of trivia on Citizenfour's IMDB page is about his sexuality. (Yes, there are certain aspects of Snowden's personality that Poitras could have explored to challenge the would-be assassination of his character, but to expect her to is to miss the point of her stated approach.)

I'd like to believe it's not too late. Horror movies usually end on a new morning, right? The survivors getting out of the haunted house? Citizenfour can't provide that sunrise, so instead it ends on the promise of an even more haunting revelation to come, presumably to encourage the rest of us to make that new dawn occur before there is no turning back and all sense of freedom and privacy is lost. Which is why I can't stress enough how everyone must see this movie, and why my fingers are permanently crossed in hope that it works.

Sunday, September 19, 2021


This review was originally written for in 2007

Needle Park was a real area in New York City where junkies congregated, forming their own city within the larger city, getting by on the hustle and the routine of cop/shoot/cop. The Panic in Needle Park is a 1971 film about this area, adapted from a book by James Mills. It's written by two of the finest writers in journalistic literature at that time, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, and they apply the same feeling of honest reportage that had earned them their reputation to this screenplay. From there, director Jerry Schatzberg (Scarecrow, Honeysuckle Rose) picked up the gauntlet and shot the movie in a verite style that anticipates the hand-held documentary approach cop shows like Homicide: Life on the Street and NYPD Blue would use two decades later. This makes The Panic in Needle Park a raw, honest film about the junkie lifestyle, and how love can be corrupted when it burns in the center of a heroin spoon.

Al Pacino plays Bobby, your standard hustler who spends his days kidding others in order to keep telling lies to himself. When we first meet him, he's slinging marijuana and claiming to only be shooting up occasionally. Helen (Kitty Winn, The Exorcist) is the sickly girlfriend of one of Bobby's customers (Raul Julia), and during one of her many stays in the hospital, the boyfriend runs out on her. Acting on unspoken affection, Bobby picks her up when she's discharged, and from there, a love affair quietly begins.

Things start easily enough, and it would seem that Bobby gets by pretty well. The addicts form their own little community, and amongst them, he appears to have his feet firmly on the ground. He's definitely a charismatic guy, and how could he not be? He's played by Al Pacino, for gosh sake. His manner draws Helen in, probably because she lacks any consistency in her own life. We don't know what happened to her to make her this way--both characters pretty much start at ground zero and don't speak of the past--but the two fit in a way that you don't often see in even straightforward love stories.

Eventually, though, Bobby is going to push the boundaries of their relationship. The crucial scene comes when he asks Helen to go uptown and score for him. She looks him dead in the eye and calls him on it: he's testing her to see what lengths she'll go to in their relationship. It's shortly after this that she tries heroin for the first time. Helen never explains why she sneaks a hit from Bobby's stash, but it's presumably to be closer to him. It's the one thing he cares about more than her. He won't even make love to her when he's stoned. It's like she's conquering the mistress by taking her to bed.

The Panic in Needle Park is told in a loping matter, the plot coming in great big chunks like an asteroid storm rather than a carefully arranged line. It's an ambling gait, though, and never a rambling one. The illusion is that it's accidental, when really the writing and editing is very precise. Realism is the order of the day. Schatzberg doesn't come off as an assertive director, his style is too natural, and he lets his actors be natural. It's one of those movies where the people seem to just exist on the screen rather than a collection of actors performing. It was only Pacino's second movie, and he already looks at home on camera.

This naturalism is a bit of a sucker punch for the audience, because it allows Schatzberg to sneak the more harrowing elements into the picture and catch us off guard. The drug scenes are casually gruesome in a way that is chillingly effective. There is no exploitation of the drug culture in The Panic in Needle Park, no romantic images of junkies getting off and having a grand time. Whenever we see a needle breaking skin, it's usually penetrating a scabrous or bruised vein, and the stupor that follows is anything but attractive. Likewise, when the random outbreak of violence enters into the scene, Schatzberg makes sure we feel the impact of it, as well. His on-the-spot shooting style suddenly grows more manic, moving in tight on the action, often losing focus altogether. It makes those moments seem more vicious, like there was no way to stop them.

The Panic in Needle Park grows more grisly as it goes. The "panic" referred to is actually a term for a period of time when there aren't a lot of drugs on the market. It makes people desperate and forces them to turn on each other. For Bobby and Helen, that means finding new ways to score. They tend to choose opposite directions for how to get ahold of their junk, and it will be the test of their relationship if they can stay together. Didion and Dunne avoid moralizing, and they mainly avoid being heavy handed about the more extreme consequences of addiction. (I say mainly because bringing that puppy into it, guys, steps close to the line.) The downward slide is disconcerting enough without also giving us the loud thump of the couple hitting rock bottom--which is also probably why the movie still feels fresh and timely after all these years. The Panic in Needle Park is as much about the relationship as it is the habit, anyway, and the writers serve both masters well. The movie ends with a perfect little snippet of a scene, striking the right kind of resonance, saying it all without having to say too much.

Saturday, September 18, 2021


This review was originally written in 2011 for 

This one is for the saps. And I say that as a card-carrying member, who types this with eyes still glassy from watching An Affair to Remember. It's a sappy movie, and it doesn't get any less sappy with age. Though, I must say, I think the older I get, the more I like it. I don't know if I am gathering a greater capacity for cheesy emotion instead of wisdom as I trundle on into the autumn of my years, but it's possible.

Immortalized as the ultimate chick flick in Nora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle, this 1957 movie from writer/director Leo McCarey (The Awful Truth [review]) is apparently not supposed to appeal to members of my gender, but frankly, boys could learn an awful lot from Cary Grant's masculine example in this film. Grant plays Nickie Ferrante, last of the famous international playboys. When Nickie boards a transatlantic cruise to meet his fiancée (Neva Patterson) in New York, it makes the news programs around the world. Could the notorious gadabout really be settling down? Certainly his future wife's multimillion-dollar fortune is enticement even if love is not.

On the trip, Nickie meets Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr), a former nightclub singer also sailing to meet her fiancé (Richard Denning). Terry is devoted to the man who took her out of smoky bars in order to make her a proper woman, and so she easily rebuffs Nickie's charms. It's a new experience for him, and the lothario is flummoxed. The chemistry that exists between these two is one unlike anything they've felt before, and no matter how much they try to pull apart, they always end up right back together. After a sidetrip to meet Nickie's adoring grandmother (Cathleen Nesbitt) during a port stop, the two can't deny it any longer. They also can't deny that they are in a sticky situation as far as their mutual engagements, so they make a plan to take six months to disengage. Nickie, in particular, is going to break away from the old ways, take a shot at reviving his artistic aspirations and being a painter, and prove he can make his way in the world in order to be deserving of Terry's hand.

The pact the pair makes is the one Ephron famously borrowed for her Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan vehicle. In six months, at 5 p.m., if they are successful in their endeavors, Nickie and Terry will meet each other at the top of the Empire State Building and then go to be married. It takes approximately half of the movie to get to the point where the deal is struck, a seemingly lopsided structural decision, but one that is integral to making An Affair to Remember more than your typical sudsy romance.

In the first hour of the movie, Nickie and Terry really fall in love. I am not sure I fully appreciated how real their interactions on the ship come off in any of my prior viewings. McCarey doesn't go for any of the obvious tricks in bringing his lovers together, instead he exercises tremendous restraint. The whole of An Affair to Remember has an air of calm, and in that calm, McCarey is able to foment feelings of desire, longing, and eventually sadness just by letting the actors be themselves. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr reportedly improvised a lot of their dialogue in the courtship scenes, and it shows. At times, they seem genuinely surprised at the things that come out of each other's mouth, and the natural interchange between the two makes for honest romantic yearning. You're not just going to believe they are in love with each other, but that they actually like one another, as well.

McCarey maintains this restraint through the entire picture, even when it would have been easy to go for the emotional jugular. The meeting at the Empire State Building doesn't go off as planned, for reasons I won't get into for those who may have never seen An Affair to Remember before. Suffice to say, there is plenty of pain and misunderstanding, and even though the audience is privy to more information than Nickie, there are some things that McCarey teases out slowly. The big revelation of how bad off Terry really is, in particular, could have been handled with far more fanfare. McCarey doesn't even turn up the score, letting the moment come silently, and cutting away as soon as he's sure we've figured it out. Clumsier films would have lingered, tried to tug our heartstrings with excessive force.

Instead, the director saves his biggest moments for the final scene, which itself is still played very carefully, isolated to one room, without the actors raising their voices or explaining too much. A heartfelt look will do far more than false words ever can, and the devastation on Cary Grant's face when the reality of the situation becomes clear is easily one of the actor's finest moments. It's when the tears hit my eyes, that's for sure.

So, call me a sap, I don't care. I've never been a closeted romantic, anyway. An Affair to Remember has outlasted all the scoffing it's gotten from the likes of you in the past, and it's gonna keep truckin' long after both of us have shuffled off this mortal coil. Maybe one day you'll wise up, and like Nickie Ferrante at the end of the movie, realize what a stinker you've been.

Then again, maybe not. Just because I'm a romantic doesn't mean I'm not also a realist.