Feb 12, 2015

Strange Love: 4 Unconventional Romantic Movies

To commemorate the coming Valentine's Day, I'm sharing with you 4 movie recommendations that could make any movie date you have planned more interesting. Love stories don't have to come in a dainty little package of clichés and predictable twists. If you agree, then you've come to the right place! The following films - personal favorites - are far from from ordinary and predictable because that's just how love is -- extraordinary and unpredictable. 

These 4 carefully curated films come in a variety of genres, from art-house to horror, but all of them feature a romantic plot or subplot - perfect for this month's theme. Click on READ MORE to know what these movies are.

1. For the couple who loves vampire romances: Thirst (2009)

Before anything else, let me first say that I hate the Twilight series and how it bastardized the already paling vampire genre. It was because of that franchise that I avoided anything associated with vampires for a while but then I came upon the dark gem of a love story that is Thirst and so my love for the genre was resurrected.

From the acclaimed director of Oldboy, Park Chan-wook, Thirst tells the decadent tale of a Catholic priest, Sang-hyun, who becomes a vampire. The already complex situation becomes even more twisted when Sang-hyun finds himself entangled in a steamy affair with his friend's wife, Tae-ju. Their complicated love story will send you on a rollercoaster ride through murder, intrigue, religious crises and, finally, the film's unforgettable finale.

 Fun facts:
  • Thirst won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival
  • This film is loosely based on Thérèse Raquin, a 19th century novel by Émile Zola
  • It is the first mainstream Korean movie to feature full-frontal male nudity

2. For the couple who enjoys romantic comedies (with depth): Ruby Sparks (2012)

I stumbled upon Ruby Sparks while looking for films by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the directorial team behind Little Miss Sunshine. I loved the humor and symbolisms in the latter film so much that I wanted to see the other works of its directors -- and I was in for another delightful treat in Ruby Sparks!

Lighthearted, witty and insightful, Ruby Sparks is the story of a young novelist, Calvin, who falls in love with the eponymous Ruby Sparks, a fictional character he created for a writing assignment. Calvin is shocked when he discovers one morning that Ruby has come to life. What unfolds next is a touching exploration of love, relationships and human frailty, and a clever deconstruction of the "dream girl/boy" myth.

Fun Facts:
  • Ruby and Calvin are played by real-life boyfriend and girlfriend Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan
  • Zoe Kazan wrote the story for the film
  • Antonio Banderas accepted his role for the film for an opportunity to work with Annette Bening 

3. For singles with a penchant for art-house films: Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Only Lovers Left Alive, my favorite in the entire selection, is so multi-layered and genre-bending that I can't find the right words to describe it! I'll just borrow this synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes, but even this can't do justice to the magic, mystery and mad genius of this movie:
"Set against the romantic desolation of Detroit and Tangier, an underground musician, deeply depressed by the direction of human activities, reunites with his resilient and enigmatic lover. Their love story has already endured several centuries at least, but their debauched idyll is soon disrupted by her wild and uncontrollable younger sister. Can these wise but fragile outsiders continue to survive as the modern world collapses around them?
I'm recommending Only Lovers Left Alive to singles because, well, this should be watched alone - preferably with headphones and/or a glass of wine in a darkened room - so you can totally immerse yourself in the story, conversations, imagery, music and atmosphere.

Fun Facts:
  • Only Lovers Left Alive was nominated for the Palm d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival
  • It took director Jim Jarmusch 7 years to finally get the funding necessary for the film 
  • The word 'vampire' isn't mentioned anywhere in the movie

4. For the barkada or gang who enjoys horror movies: Julia's Eyes (2012)

There's always room for horror movies in any shared movie-watching experience. In keeping with this month's romantic theme, I recommend watching Julia's Eyes, preferably in the company of friends so you can all have a good time screaming together. The movie premise is quite traditional but the execution, acting and general atmosphere make Julia's Eyes a chilling masterpiece. I don't get frightened easily but this movie has some really creepy scenes and spine-tingling twists.

Produced by one of my favorite filmmakers, Guillermo del Toro, Julia's Eyes (original Spanish title: Los ojos de Julia) follows the woman of the title, Julia, who goes on a desperate quest to uncover the truth about her twin sister Sara's mysterious death. As she delves deeper into her investigation, Julia finds herself caught in a complex web of obsession, deceit and murder.

Fun Fact:
  • Julia is played by actress Belén Rueda who also starred in The Orphanage (El Orfanato) another great horror movie produced by Guillermo del Toro

BONUS: For anyone who wants a trippy, completely different love story: Natural Born Killers 

When it was released in 1994 Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers caused an uproar for its glamorization of violence and for supposedly inciting copycat killings. On one level, it's a dark commentary of sensationalism in the media and modern society's fascination with crime and celebrity obsession. On another level it's a bizarre story of two misfits -- Mickey and Mallory -- whose lust for violence is rivaled only by their love of each other. 

Natural Born Killers is wicked, trippy and ultimately unforgettable. It is one of my top favorite love stories of all time that's why I had to put it here as a bonus :D I recommend you watch this movie if only for the unique, psychedelic cinematography, quirky characters and also if you can tolerate violence and blood on the screen.  

Fun Facts:
  • The original screenplay was written by Quentin Tarantino but it was heavily revised by Oliver Stone and his team that, in the end, Tarantino was only given credit for the story
  • Coca Cola agreed to a product placement deal without knowing what Natural Born Killers was about and was later outraged when the movie was finally released 
  • Real prisoners were used in the film's prison riot scene

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