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An Alternative Valentine's Day Film Roundup

Sick of traditional romance? These top five film lists, featuring horror, marriages and furry friends could be the perfect compliment to your Valentine's Day.

A VERY SCARY VALENTINE'S:

So you're sitting at home crying in your wine,
Johnny doesn't love you, you've no Valentine?

Well, buck up. You think you've got unrequited love? At least you don't have webbed hands or being brought back from the dead being held against you.  

Monsters in the history of cinema have proven time and again they'd kill for love, and where does it get them? Chased by men with pitchforks, staked, or shot off a building. That's gratitude for you.

King Kong (1933) - I'm starting with the ultimate example of Belle et La Bete-style unrequited love. There are three well known versions of this movie, and I'll always recommend the original from 1933. Poor baby was just misunderstood, and clearly appreciated a good silk frock when he saw one.  

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) - When you reanimate something from mix and match male body parts, you'd think a mate would be essential to that plan. The good doctor was clearly not thinking very far ahead. Actually quite a sad movie, and brilliantly filmed by genius director James Whale. The wonderful spoof on this movie Young Frankenstein is equally recommended if you're more interested in laughing the 14th into submission.  

Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) - How is a creature to know girls can't breathe underwater? One of the most iconic monsters in one of the best movies of the genre, just wants to be left alone, preferably with the delightful and hot researcher Kay Lawrence.  

Slither (2006) - Firmly planted in the "ooh, gross" school of monster movies, this underrated Nathan Fillion- and Elizabeth Banks-starring alien infestation film puts new meaning to the statement "My husband is turning into a monster before my eyes!" Funny and scary at the same time, this is a great option for broken hearted horror fans who want distraction. This ick will do the trick. 

Phantom of the Opera (1925) - Gorgeous silent film starring the acting genius Lon Chaney, this classic has the prerequisite girlie recoil, and misunderstood monster… Although truly it brings attention to the argument of interior vs. exterior beauty and how responsible we are for our own self esteem. Shouldn't Valentine's Day be about loving ourselves, as well?  

All in all, if we want to feel grateful, watching these films will certainly pave the way. We could always have it worse. The only thing I envy any of these characters is Elsa Lanchester's hair.  

More unrequited love of the monstrous kind: AVP: Alien vs Predator, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Belle et La Bette, Dracula, Hellraiser, No Such Thing, I Walked with a Zombie (1943), American Werewolf in London.

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A VERY MARRIED VALENTINE'S: 

What is Valentine's Day really about? Lots of cynics and perpetually confused spouses ask that question as they consider purchasing some shallow love token. "But isn't my undying love enough?" they ask. New lovers and those in the first flower of infatuation are also trapped on the 14th. "Will they be getting me something expensive, and I should reciprocate? Are we there yet?" For them, even if they get butterflies missing in longer termed relationships, Valentine's will be awkward no matter what.  

What everyone out dating or searching for their better half is really looking for is that elusive mix of life long love and friendship a committed or married couple shares. So, Cinema Siren suggests watching not the sappy romances, or the romcoms that make your partners gag. This year, why not take inspiration from the best married characters of the silver screen?

High Noon (1952) - An amazing oft-copied classic if you've never seen it, this movie shows examples of both standing behind your beliefs and loving compromise. There will always be moments where a united front will save you, sometimes metaphorically and sometimes literally. Good lesson, gorgeous photography and great acting.  

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) - Stanley Kramer's classic where two married couples who argue, disagree and respect each other through it all. The movie was littered with Oscar noms but Hepburn won for best actress and William Rose for best screenplay. You'll appreciate how the actors portray the deep and long term love they feel for one another, as juxtaposed with the new romance the younger leads have for each other. Something to look forward to, and work toward.

The Thin Man (1934) - This first movie, as with all in the series, stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, crime solving marrieds who (dipsomaniacal as they may be…) use wit and flirtation to enjoy and clearly stay in love. Obviously a wire-haired terrier and a trust fund come in handy as well.  

Julie and Julia (2009) - Another Meryl-morph, her portrayal of Julia Child is impressive, but the relationship she shares with her husband and lifelong bestie Paul Child is the reason to watch this film. Here's to husbands who root for their wives to take over the world. He wasn't afraid of her power, and that's a beautiful thing to see, celebrate in your own relationships, or look for in the future.

Serenity (2005) - I know, I know… any excuse to include this movie in a list. Cinema Siren loves Joss Whedon's follow-up to his film vastly underrated series and cult favorite Firefly. It has everything you'd want in a Valentine's movie, romance, spaceships, mayhem and tight pants. It also has, with Wash and Zoe, one of the best married couples in recent movie memory. Whedon has always written strong female leads, but he balances Zoe and Wash's very different strengths, and shows characters who actually continue to choose to work and play together. 

Honorable mention goes to Chris and Don: A Love Story which is a gorgeous documentary about Christopher Isherwood (who created Berlin Stories, the basis for all incarnations of Cabaret) and portrait artist Don Bachardy and their life together. It is a joyful celebration of couple-hood and beautiful representation of a committed gay relationship.  

Feeling romantic in the first two years of a relationship is a piece of cake; a veritable bed of roses. Try it after 30 years together, or after losing everything, or fighting side by side in a world war. Now that's something to aspire to, and an impressive feat worthy of celebrating!

More married on film: The Incredibles, Shall We Dance (1996 original Japanese film), The Family Stone, Juno, Beetlejuice, Mrs. Miniver, Rebecca, On Golden Pond, Pat and Mike (1952), Madame Curie, The King's Speech.

*   *   *
A VERY HAIRY VALENTINE'S: 

Let's face it. Valentine's Day can be challenging even when everything is going swimmingly. What about when we are down?

When we feel there's no love in the world for us? When all else fails we have our creature comforts. In a 2002 study at State University of New York in Buffalo, researchers discovered a stressful task was more ameliorated by having a pet than a spouse or family member nearby. At Walter Reed Medical Center, they've used dogs to help soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder, and their use has reduced veteran suicide rates.

Some of Cinema Siren's best friends are humans, but the pure love of the fluffy unconditional kind puts things in proper perspective no matter what else is going on in our lives. Whether it's horses, cats, dogs or other friends with fur, there is a bond between people and animals that heals, and mends broken spirits and hearts. That's powerful stuff, and we shouldn't forget them on Valentine's Day!   

War Horse (2011) - You can still catch this film on the big screen, and it is a great example of a boy and the horse who share an unbreakable bond. Of course National Velvet is another great horse flick, (and there are many others), but in this film, much like in Lassie Come Home, Joey (as the horse is named) fights seemingly insurmountable odds to survive and return to his childhood friend. How and if they are reunited is worth a trip to the second tier theaters showing the film in advance of the Oscars on February 26th.

Lassie Come Home (1943) - Child actors Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor play pet lovers to a collie that braves dangers and the unknown from Scotland to Yorkshire to find his master. One of the animal movie classics of all time, and a must see, but also a reminder of the dedication animals have and connection they share with their human friends.  

Born Free (1966) - This British drama is about real life couple Joy and George Adamson who raised Elsa, an orphaned lioness, and released her into the wilds of Kenya. It changed the lives of actors who played the Adamsons, real life married couple Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who became animal rights activists and created the Born Free Foundation. An inspirational story that will make any day brighter, and shows what love in action can do.  

Harry and Tonto (1974) - This movie, that won Art Carney the best actor Oscar, is about an aging guy who takes his life on the road with his cat, Tonto. It's a wonderful quirky film written and directed by Paul Mazursky (he was nominated for a screenplay Oscar) that reminds us to stay open and keep moving forward, and that our pets will go with us, on a downward spiral, meteoric rise or anywhere in between.   

Best in Show (2000) - In honor of the Siren mother, who, in the 1970s, bred wire-haired dachshunds and raised the champion of Italy ("Bergerac's Torch-Bearer"), I offer this Christopher Guest mockumentary about dog breeders, dog shows, and the various perspectives they have on the potential champions in their lives. Harlan Pepper (Guest) and his hound dog, Christy Cummings (a pre-Glee Jane Lynch) and the poodle she shows, and lots of other great character actors are featured. A hilarious but heartfelt representation of human/animal partnership!

It's nice to know on a holiday where everyone is scrambling to buy something appropriate we can just reach down and scratch our Valentine under the neck and it will be as appreciated. 

Other animal-centric films to consider: Babe, National Velvet, Turner and Hooch, Dr. Dolittle (1967), The Incredible Journey (1963), The Black Stallion, Beethoven, My Friend Flicka (1943), Benji.


About this column: Leslie Combemale, "Cinema Siren", is a movie lover and aficionado in Northern Virginia. Alongside Michael Barry, she owns ArtInsights, an animation and film art gallery in Reston Town Center. She has a background in film and art history. She often is invited to present at conventions such as the San Diego Comic Con, where she has been a panelist for The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster and the Harry Potter Fandom discussion. See more of her reviews and interviews on www.artinsightsmagazine.com.

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