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Superhero Woes

My current viewing project is to try to get a little grounding in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m not a huge fan of superhero movies. I’m intrigued by some of the characters. I like the concept of juggling identities, of dealing with having special abilities and wrestling with moral dilemmas. It’s just that the movies tend to be fairly boring to me because they often dispense with that stuff and end up just being about people running around and hitting each other.

For instance, I love the character of Captain America. I love the concept, and I particularly love the reasons they chose this 90-pound weakling to turn into a supersoldier, that he already had the heart. He just needed a body that could keep up with his heart. My pastor even used this story as a sermon illustration — the scene in which they prove which guy should be chosen for the program by throwing a grenade. Steve throws himself on it to protect everyone else, while the big, strong guy that one person wanted for the program runs and hides. But I totally tune out during the climactic fight scene. It’s just a bunch of hitting.

Last weekend, I started a project of trying to watch the critical movies for the overall storyline, plus the ones I find interesting, going in internal chronological order (in order in the story world, not in release order). Since I’d already seen Captain America, I watched Captain Marvel, and I really liked it. For once, I didn’t zone out during the action sequence because it all came out of character. It was about her reclaiming her power, both literally and metaphorically, and the metaphor part was what made it work because that part was something a lot of people in the audience (especially women) could relate to. Watching that movie made me realize the problem with Captain America’s action sequence. He didn’t really have anything he needed to learn. He didn’t have to grow. He was already there. We already knew he was capable of sacrificing himself for others. I’ve griped about how I wished he could have stayed in the WWII setting longer, but now I think I get why they moved him ahead. For him to have good conflict, he needs something to bounce off, so he needs the other characters and he needs a world where he doesn’t really fit, a situation where he has to choose between gray areas of good rather than clear good vs. evil. I guess when I get to more movies with him I’ll find out if that’s where they’re going with it.

Then I watched the first Iron Man, and I didn’t like that one as much, mostly because I’m pretty much done with the genius jerk character type. That does give plenty of room for a character arc since he has to grow a lot, but in this case, his growth came fairly early in the story, and just because what he’d been doing actually affected him. It’s like the guy who only takes women’s rights seriously once he has a daughter and sees what she has to deal with.

I think the first Avengers movie is up next for me. I’ve already watched the first Thor (again, I liked the characters, got bored during the action sequences) and that’s the next critical one. I’m skipping the second Iron Man and Hulk for now. They’re not on the “critical” list, and I don’t care all that much about them.

My issue with superhero stuff is fairly recent. I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s because of what happened when filmmakers had the use of CGI to make the big fight scenes really big, but I used to run home from the bus stop after school so I could catch the syndicated reruns of the old Batman TV series. I watched the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Wonder Woman TV series in the 70s and the Saturday-morning Shazaam/Isis hour. I saw the big-screen Superman movies, the Batman movies from the late 80s/90s and the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. But around the time they started the MCU stuff, I just completely lost interest in superhero stuff, possibly because I felt overloaded by it. There was just so much all of a sudden, between the Marvel and DC stuff, and it seemed like there wasn’t a lot of anything else, so I just resisted it all. It does look like there’s some good stuff in there, so now that I have Disney+ I’m giving it a shot.

Anyway, it looks like I’ve got enough to keep me busy until more new Star Wars stuff shows up.

movies

Recent Viewing

I finally got around to getting Disney+, and I’m going to have a lot of watching to do. There were a lot of things I was interested in seeing, but the first thing I ended up watching was The Emperor’s New Groove because I was just in the mood for that sort of thing. It’s a hysterically funny movie with a lot of heart.

I’m currently catching up on The Mandalorian and really enjoying it. I like that it’s in relatively small bites. I’m not much of a binge watcher, but it’s nice to be able to watch about 40 minutes of something, take a break and watch another 40 minutes. The series gives me Firefly vibes, but then Firefly was basically the original Star Wars from Han Solo’s perspective. It’s all that space Western esthetic. In some respects, this show is like Have Gun, Will Travel in space.

I like the idea of the tough guy who has a strong moral code that keeps causing him trouble, and I especially like when a guy like that ditches everything to protect a child. I’m almost done with the first season, and it’s going to be sad when I run out of episodes.

Meanwhile, I found an interesting fantasy movie on Amazon last month. I’d put it in my watchlist as potential “Fantasy Cheese,” but when looking for something to watch, the reviews for it really intrigued me because it sounded very different from what I expected. The movie is I Am Dragon, and instead of being the kind of Fantasy Cheese that used to show on the SciFi channel on Saturday nights, it’s a Russian fantasy/romance that’s sort of a Beauty and the Beast story, but with dragons. It’s in Russian with subtitles (the reviews said to avoid the dubbed version because the voice acting is terrible, while you get the real emotion hearing the original performances and reading the subtitles), and is beautifully filmed and acted. There are some gorgeous visuals.

It’s set in very early Russia (back when it was still essentially a Viking land — yeah, the original Rus were Vikings). The people have to make offerings to a dragon, sending maidens in white out into a lake in boats and singing the song to summon the dragon that will come pick one to take. The betrothed of the chosen maiden sets out to slay the dragon. The dragon is no longer a problem, but some bits of the ritual make their way into wedding traditions. Generations later, a descendant of the dragonslayer is marrying a spoiled, shallow princess, and he wants to honor his heritage by doing the full ritual — and then a dragon shows up. Oops. The movie follows this princess and what happens when she finds herself a prisoner on the dragon’s island and meets a mysterious fellow prisoner. There’s a nice character growth arc as she finds inner strength and turns out to be pretty clever. It’s definitely a romance with not a lot of action, but if you like romance with your fantasy, character-based stories, pretty people (a rather hot guy who seldom wears a shirt), and are willing to read subtitles, this one is worth a watch. I might even end up watching this one again, just to look at the pretty. The way they film the ritual that summons the dragon is really beautiful and evocative.

I think I’m going to attempt to get into the Marvel movies. I’ve seen the original Captain America and wanted to follow his story, but there’s a lot to get through to set up the other movies where he appears. I’ll try it in small doses. I have very mixed feelings about superhero movies. I like the characters and am intrigued by the character side of things — how they get powers, how they deal with that transformation, the moral and ethical dilemmas, handling the secret identities, the clash between the secret identity and the real identity (and which is real?), etc. But most of these movies devolve into people running around and hitting each other, and then I get bored. So we’ll see how this goes. It’ll take me forever to get through all these movies at the rate I watch. I’ve seen suggested viewing orders that include everything, including the TV series, and I’ve seen some lists of only the ones that are critical to following the main story. I may start with the “critical” ones and fill in later if I’m interested.

movies

The Romantic Fantasy Journey Stages

A few weeks ago, I watched a movie that involved a man and a woman reluctantly paired up on a quest, and my immediate thought was “Yes, this is what I like,” but then I couldn’t think of that many others — and I realized I’d worked on a book that was essentially this, but I did it wrong.

So, since it’s my firm belief that if it’s worth analyzing, it’s worth overanalyzing, I went back and watched the movies I could think of that seemed to fit the trope (and realized that a couple I thought fit the trope actually didn’t and I was remembering them wrong).

It was a little eerie seeing just how well all these things fell into a pattern. And so, I present the stages of the fantasy romantic journey. I’m drawing upon Stardust (the movie, though I plan to reread the book to see how it works), Anastasia (animated version), Tangled, Frozen, plus that The Crown and the Dragon movie that kicked off this musing. Spoilers for all of the above below (though I am trying to avoid giving away the actual endings).

1) The Deal — character A needs to get somewhere and needs character B to do so (or will need character B at the destination). Character B isn’t keen on the idea, but character A has something character B needs, and so a deal is struck.

For instance, in Stardust, Tristan needs to bring the woman he (thinks he) loves the fallen star, who happens to be Yvaine. Yvaine has no interest in being brought as a prize, but Tristan has a Babylon candle that can return her to her place in the sky, so she reluctantly agrees to go with him. Or in Anastasia, Dmitri needs a girl who can pose as the lost grand duchess so he can take her to Paris and collect the reward. Anya needs to get out of Russia and to Paris to follow the only clue she has to find her family. They make a deal to help each other.

2) Bickering — they may have struck a deal, but at least one person still isn’t happy to be there as they set out on the journey. The two people generally have very different worldviews and different ideas about how things should be done. One person may be able to see past the other’s facade and figure out exactly what’s going on with them, which doesn’t go over well. Or person B, who doesn’t want to be on this trip, tries to talk person A out of it. All of this results in conflict and bickering.

Rapunzel refuses to return Flynn Rider’s satchel unless he takes her to see the lanterns, so he tries to scare her out of facing the outside world so he doesn’t have to take the trip. In Frozen, Kristoff criticizes Anna for getting engaged to someone she met that day and says she doesn’t know anything about love. Tristan and Yvaine are on different schedules, and he doesn’t grasp why a star would want to sleep during the day. Meanwhile, she needles him about the idiocy of giving a captive woman as a gift to try to win someone’s love.

3) Attack — Their first encounter with the enemy or with the forces against them. They have a narrow escape, either by teaming up or by one of them taking a risk to save the other.

Tristan and Yvaine are caught by the witch who wants Yvaine’s heart to restore her youth and power, Rapunzel and Flynn are chased by the guards, Kristoff and Anna are set upon by wolves, the train Anya and Dmitri are on is sabotaged.

4) Bonding — In the aftermath of their narrow escape (possibly starting during it), the two start to overcome their differences. They see each other in a new way after seeing each other in action. There’s some vulnerability as they open up to each other.

This is where Flynn confesses that his real name is Eugene and he’s a nobody orphan who created the persona of Flynn Rider while Rapunzel reveals her magic powers to heal his wound. Yvaine gently tells Tristan that she doesn’t think he should have to do great deeds to earn someone’s love.

5) Resuming the Journey — Once they’ve rested and recovered, they continue on their way, now functioning as a team instead of bickering. There may be some element of training going on, either them learning from each other or one or both of them getting instruction from someone else.

During this phase, we get The Dance. Yeah, that’s a weirdly specific thing that doesn’t seem to fit, but there always seems to be a scene involving dancing around this point. I don’t make the rules. I just observe them.

Tristan and Yvaine dance on the deck of the sky ship, Dmitri and Anya dance on the deck of the ship taking them to France. Rapunzel and Eugene are part of a big group dance at the festival, Kristoff and Anna are surrounded by dancing trolls, and the main characters in The Crown and the Dragon spend an evening at the castle of an old friend of his, where there’s a celebration going on and they end up dancing. She realizes her feelings when she gets jealous about him dancing with someone else, and then they have a moment while dancing together.

In most of these cases, the dance is part of a larger community rather than a totally private moment and is when someone else notices that there’s something going on between them, even if they’re not ready to admit it yet.

6) Departure — At or near the end of the journey, one character leaves or seems to leave the other character. Generally, it’s either a case of not getting in the other character’s way because that person is a princess/the chosen one/promised to another/has some greater role to play. Or it may be that person needing to wrap up some unfinished business from their old life before committing to a new life with their traveling companion. Sometimes, the person who left gets captured, so it looks like they abandoned the other person.

So, we have Kristoff dropping Anna off with the hope that her fiancé Hans can save her with a true love’s kiss, Dmitri skipping out because he’s realized Anya really is the lost princess and can’t be with someone like him, Tristan ducking out to ditch Victoria before being with Yvaine for good, and Flynn handing the stolen crown over to his partners in crime before giving up the life of “Flynn Rider,” only to be captured and imprisoned.

7) Return for the Final Battle — The character who left has a change of heart or realizes the danger the other person is in and returns, just in time to join the fight against the enemy, or at least help make victory possible.

One thing I found interesting is that the Attack is generally the midpoint of the story, even though it’s fairly early in the sequence. That’s because if you slot these stages into the hero’s journey format, the Deal comes during the “Tests, Enemies, and Allies” part of the hero’s journey. The hero has already been seen in the Ordinary World, has had the Call to Adventure and Refusal of the Call, has met with the Mentor and has Crossed the First Threshold before running into person B as the first ally they meet. There’s also a pretty lengthy prologue giving the backstory in all these movies. It’s in the book of Stardust, too, but that’s Neil Gaiman. I’m not sure most novelists would be able to get away with taking that long to get to the meat of the action. Then again, that may be me thinking in romance terms, where you want the hero and heroine to meet as soon as possible. If things are happening and there’s conflict, you may be able to delay the part where they team up for the journey.

The Attack equates to the Ordeal in the hero’s journey, and the Bonding is the Reward segment. The rest matches up pretty well to the hero’s journey, with the departure/return equating to the Resurrection.

For more action, you can repeat the Attack/Bond/Resume the Journey sequence a couple of times (maybe more in a long book), escalating each time. Frozen has Anna and Kristoff fending off the wolf attack before resuming the journey as a team, then escaping from the snow monster before having a moment of awareness before he takes her to meet his “family” and they’re surrounded by the dancing trolls who think they belong together. Anastasia has Dmitri and Anya escaping the train disaster, then her accepting his teaching before they dance together and have a moment, and then Rasputin tries to lure her into jumping overboard, but Dmitri saves her, and then they go on to Paris together (and are out on the town with dancing).

There’s no consistent pattern in which person — A, the one who wants the journey, or B, the one “hired” for it — is the one to depart and return, though it does always seem to be the guy who leaves and comes back. The departure and return may be part of that character’s arc, but isn’t always the main character’s symbolic death/resurrection. For instance, Rapunzel is the main character of Tangled, the one who gets the call to adventure and crosses the threshold, etc., but it’s Flynn/Eugene who literally becomes a different person as a result of her influence as he drops his fake persona and goes back to his real name. Unless, I suppose, you flip the story (and ignore that this is a Disney Princess movie) and consider Flynn to be the true protagonist, with his opening theft his “ordinary world” and his call to adventure being her request to take her to see the lights.

The pattern also seems to fit the road trip romantic comedies like It Happened One Night or Leap Year, but instead of an Attack, they have some sort of travel disaster, and the Departure/Return thing seems to be a back and forth between the characters, with the guy doing the initial departure at the end of the journey, since the journey has been about reuniting her with the person she loves, so he completes the journey and walks away, but then at the end she’s the one who realizes she’s with the wrong person and comes back to the guy she traveled with. I bet Romancing the Stone fits, too.

And now I need to figure out how to use this in the story I’m playing with. You’d think that having this structure would make it easier, but in a way it makes it feel harder because I have to figure out how it might fit each of these things. What does one have that the other needs? What will they bicker about? Who’ll depart and come back? Why?

What remains unsolved is how this trope ended up on the Evil Overlord List that was developed in the mid-90s, since the earlier films I thought might have been the source ended up not fitting the trope at all. I’d mis-remembered how much of the movie Sorsha spent traveling with Madmartigan in Willow. It’s a journey movie, and there’s romance, but it’s not really a romantic journey movie. And Dragonslayer ended up having almost no journey component, and though there’s romance, it’s not a case of the bickering pair forming the team that defeats the villain (though a dancing scene is pivotal in their relationship developing). I guess the bickering couple that teams up to defeat the Evil Overlord started in books (I can think of a few pre-90s examples) and in romantic comedies, and then was adopted into fantasy, which was known for quests. Why not a romcom road trip quest?

Books, My Books, movies

Gray Days, Old Houses, and Christmas Reads

We’ve had actual winter-like weather lately, with cold, gray days, so I’ve followed my personal policy of declaring days like that to be reading days. I’ve spent time curled up under a blanket on the sofa, reading Christmassy books. I’m enjoying doing that more than I’ve enjoyed watching Christmas movies. I can lose myself in a book, but I get sidetracked when watching something.

I think it also helps that the books are a bit more to my taste. It seems that the Christmas romantic comedy book is a big thing in the UK. The “chick lit” trend never really died there the way it did in the US, so you can still get that kind of book that’s got a romance, but it’s more about the heroine’s life in general, dealing with work, family, friends, etc. And now there are a lot of those set during the Christmas season, not necessarily about Christmas, but against that backdrop and the way the holiday tends to amplify existing issues.

I wonder if the Brits have their own versions of the holiday movies, like the Lifetime and Hallmark movies in the US. Are there movies about the high-strung career woman from London having to spend the holiday in the quaint little village where she grew up so she can help save the family bakery? That might be a fun change of pace.

A lot of the books seem to be about saving the historic family home — the medieval or Tudor manor—which I guess is similar to the American version of saving the family farm. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for the “saving the crumbling medieval manor” type plot, given that I find the maintenance on my 1984-built house overwhelming. It’s fun to read about, but I imagine wouldn’t be as much fun in real life.

I burned out on the movies I tried to watch because I just couldn’t take the “return to hometown and get together with guy from high school” story yet again. Having to move back to my small hometown is the sort of thing I have nightmares about, and I’ve seen the guys I graduated with. Nope. I was sad in school that no one wanted to date me, but I really dodged a bullet there. I have a couple of old favorites that I know don’t have that plot, so I may give those a shot. When I’m not reading and listening to Christmas music.

In book-related news, I’ve done a paperback version of Spindled, the book I serialized on the blog earlier this year. You might still be able to get delivery by Christmas if you’re a Prime member. It should eventually be available through places other than Amazon, but that will take time to get through the system. You can order it here.

movies

Romantic Comedy Trends

My attempt at my traditional Labor Day rom-com weekend fizzled because I wasn’t really in the mood for watching movies. I mostly ended up watching episodes of The Office, which kind of count because I was at the part of the series when Jim and Pam finally get together and Angela and Dwight were breaking up. I did watch My Man Godfrey Monday night, a classic screwball comedy, but that was largely because I needed 1930s references for something I was working on.

I didn’t really want to sit and watch anything for the length of a movie. A half hour or so (including the deleted scenes) was about the right length before I wanted to read a book instead.

But I did put together a list of various movies to watch when I am in the mood for that sort of thing, maybe in the fall when it gets dark earlier and I don’t want to sit outside and read. I scrolled through the list on IMDB of everything tagged both comedy and romance and picked out the ones that sound good that I haven’t seen, which isn’t a lot.

Looking at that list showed some interesting patterns. This kind of movie comes in waves. There was a big golden age in the 1930s and early 1940s when the screwball comedies were big. To a large extent, that was a response to the Depression. People wanted fun, uplifting movies, but there was also an underlying theme, usually with the couple consisting of a wealthy woman isolated from the ills of the world and working man who helps her wise up. The movies showed that the wealthy could be brought down to earth to appreciate what everyone else was going through and that an honest working man could win the “princess.” So, yeah, probably pure fantasy.

There was another wave in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the battle of the sexes comedies exemplified by the Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies, though there were some outliers like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The next golden age was in the late 1980s through the 1990s. That was the era of Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and then Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore. It sort of held on through the early part of the 2000s, with Amy Adams looking like she’d be a contender, but then the genre began fizzling out. At the same time, starting in the late 1990s we had the rise of the male-oriented rom-coms that went more in the gross-out direction, starting with There’s Something About Mary and going on to things like 40-Year-Old Virgin. The movies became mostly about overgrown man-child types who were forced to grow up by humorless harpies. Then the women-led films started trying to outgross the guys, and it pretty much killed the more traditional romantic comedies.

I can’t really find a clear theme for this age like there was in the previous clusters. There’s no thematic link between movies like When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Working Girl, Four Weddings and a Funeral, etc. There was a lot of variety during this era, a lot of challenging the formula and telling the familiar story in different ways.

Oddly, some of my favorite movies came toward the end. That’s when we got films like The Holiday, Enchanted, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. And some slightly more obscure films that I love, like I Capture the Castle, I’m With Lucy, and The Very Thought of You. For a while, it looked like Henry Thomas (yes, the little boy from ET, all grown up) would end up being the Tom Hanks of his generation because he kept popping up as the love interest, and he was quite good at being the ordinary guy who deserves the girl, but then he seems to have fallen off the radar.

Now it seems like there’s been a revival, but not on the big screen. Netflix has been making a lot of romantic comedies. From what I can tell, they tend toward the teen movie, but there are still plenty that fit the classic mold. I don’t watch enough to make having a lot of streaming services worthwhile, but I may have to get Netflix for a few months to check out what they’ve been doing.

I did come up with a story idea for a rom-com, though. I may have to write it up as a screenplay because Netflix and Ron Howard are doing regular screenwriting contests, with a different kind of film each quarter. I should be ready when they want a romantic comedy.

movies

The Chick-flick Holiday

It’s Labor Day weekend (almost), and I’ve had such a productive week, getting my main task done, that I’m going to take the holiday. I’ll probably do a little work-related stuff, some things that almost count as “fun,” but otherwise, my traditional way of observing this holiday is with chick flicks.

That started the year I was gearing up to write the first Enchanted, Inc. book. Since I was trying to capture that “girl in the city” tone, I spent that weekend watching a lot of romantic comedies. There was Bridget Jones’s Diary (since I was pitching the book as “Bridget Jones meets Harry Potter”), When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail for the New York settings, and then Kate and Leopold for New York plus a hint of magic (interestingly, the guy who wrote Kate and Leopold was the screenwriter for the Enchanted, Inc. movie that didn’t make it beyond the script stage).

I continued the tradition the next year because I was gearing up to write the second book in the series, and I happened to be watching a movie on cable when a friend called. We spent the afternoon on the phone, watching the same movie together, and we did it again the next year.

I haven’t necessarily done it every year. I don’t force myself to do things for fun that I don’t want to do, so if I’m in the mood for something else, I do something else.

I think this would be a good year to continue the tradition. I’m in the mood for something light, fluffy, and fun. I just don’t know what. Do I want to see if I can find something I haven’t seen on Amazon Prime? Watch an old favorite? Modern setting or costume romantic comedy (like a Jane Austen movie or A Room with a View)?

There’s something so reassuring about an old favorite, and I’ve been burned by trying something new that ends up not being what I expected it to be (or wanted it to be). The last time I tried something on Amazon that looked like a romantic comedy with an amazing cast, it turned out to be a rather depressing dark comedy about someone losing everything. Fun!

Then again, there are only so many times you can watch something without getting distracted because it’s too familiar, and I don’t want to wear out any favorites. Maybe I’ll try something new but have an old favorite in the mix.

The menu is set. I found the chili con queso recipe for one of my favorite restaurants, and I have avocados, so it’s going to be chips, guac, and queso for dinner. I’ll do boiled shrimp another night to balance it out, health-wise.

I may not take Monday as a full holiday because I have a lot to accomplish in the next month or so. I have a huge to-do list, and I’ve told myself that I get to take a vacation (well, a holiday, since I won’t likely be going anywhere) in October when I get it all done. I need to take some time when I don’t think about work. I’ll take long walks, bake, and read, maybe do some other creative stuff. That’s a good motivation for checking things off my to-do list each day.

movies

Empire of Dreams

I celebrated “Star Wars Day” (May the Fourth be With You) yesterday by watching part of the Empire of Dreams documentary (it’s two and a half hours long and I was sleepy, so I got up to the release of the movie. I’ll watch the aftermath later). It was fascinating seeing what went into getting the movie made and all the various iterations the story went through.

One thing in the documentary is clips from actual auditions. You get to see some of the actors who were considered for the roles. For instance, William Katt, who’d go on to be the Greatest American Hero, seemed to have been close to being cast as Luke. The dialogue in the auditions was absolutely ridiculous, and Mark Hamill really did seem to be the one who did the best job of delivering it in a way that sounded sincere and natural. They were initially just using Harrison Ford (who already knew George Lucas) as someone for the various people auditioning to play against, but then decided they liked his take on Han Solo.

You also get to see the footage of Darth Vader with Dave Prowse doing the dialogue, before they dubbed in James Earl Jones. Anthony Daniels was originally cast mostly to wear the suit for C-3P0 — he was slim enough to fit it and had experience as a mime artist. They were auditioning people to do the voice. He mentioned that someone known as a “man of a thousand voices” who did cartoons was brought in to read, but he told them they should keep the performance they had. That implies that Mel Blanc could have been C-3P0, and it’s largely due to him that we got the version we did. Now I’m trying to imagine 3P0 sounding like Bugs Bunny.

The special effects guys were having trouble figuring out how to do the big space battle, so George Lucas edited together clips from WWII movies to fit what he had in mind, and they then were able to maneuver the models to recreate those scenes. They showed some of the original footage side-by-side with the Star Wars version. It was fascinating.

And during all this, they had no idea what was going to happen with that film. They were all braced for utter disaster, sure that it would be a complete flop.

I guess that’s an object lesson in going after your dreams and being true to your vision even when everyone around you is being critical and dismissive.

movies

Comfort Viewing

Earlier this week, I gave my list of comfort reads. Today, I’ll share some comfort viewing ideas. If you’re like me, right now concentrating is sometimes difficult, which makes reading harder. Curling up on the sofa and watching something reassuring may be what you need.

As with books, each person is going to have a different definition of comfort viewing or low-stress. I think repeat viewing also changes the equation. There are intense things that work as comfort viewing if you know the outcome and aren’t on the edge of your seat. For me, that includes things like the Star Wars movies. They’re actually pretty intense if you’ve never seen them before, but when you can recite the lines along with the characters, they can work as comfort viewing.

At the top of my list would probably be the movie version of Stardust. I love that movie so much. It’s funny and romantic, with a good dose of swashbuckling adventure.

The Princess Bride is also perfect for times like these. It even has the framing story of the grandfather telling the story and reassuring us when things get tense. If you’re holed up with other people, have a quote-along.

Movie musicals are great (and now I wish I had more on DVD). The Sound of Music has lovely scenery and good music everyone can sing along with (though I also rather like the recent British live TV version that was on PBS). Into the Woods is fun (I may actually prefer the stage version, which is available on DVD and to rent from Amazon, but the movie works, too). My Fair Lady is another favorite.

In a similar vein are all the Disney musicals and “princess” movies, either live-action or animated. Some of Pixar, but they tend to make me cry and I don’t need that right now.

I recommended the book Cold Comfort Farm, and the movie may actually be even better. The cast is utterly amazing. But be prepared to go around saying things like, “I saw something nasty in the woodshed” and “There’ll be no butter in hell” for days.

Less funny but still somewhat reassuring is I Capture the Castle, a lovely coming-of-age story set in the 30s. I think it got an R-rating in the US because there’s some non-sexual full nudity (a scene that’s in the book but that might have been a bad idea to include in the movie because it moved it out of the “family” category for ratings), but the rest of it is pretty safe. Another one with an amazing cast, including some young actors who are now much better-known. It was an early role for Romola Garai, and there’s a very young Henry Cavill. On the other extreme, the romantic hero is a very grown-up Henry Thomas (the little boy from ET).

And while we’re in the 30s, there’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. It can get a little heavy at times (since it’s set right before WWII) but is mostly funny and ultimately hopeful. It feels like the kind of screwball comedy they made in the 30s (it’s based on a book from that era and the movie is much better than the book). Another one with a brilliant cast. Just writing about it makes me want to watch it again.

For TV shows, in case you want to really binge, Pushing Daisies (which I believe is on Amazon Prime) is a sweet two-season show with musical numbers and a candy-colored reality.

I just discovered that Jim Henson’s The Storyteller is on Prime Video. This was a short-run series from the 80s in which the Henson creature shop is used to dramatize fairy tales, as told by a storyteller (played by John Hurt) and his dog (a Muppet). They seem to have done some remastering, as this is a widescreen version, which is unusual for things from that era. You’ll see a number of now-familiar faces in the cast. If you like fairy tales, you need to see this.

Of course, the One True Pride and Prejudice (the miniseries from the mid-90s) is a good option, as are most of the other Jane Austen adaptations. I’d probably avoid the most recent Mansfield Park. Look for the one with Jonny Lee Miller instead (that one’s on hoopla, if your library system offers it).

I keep rewatching the Once Upon a Time spinoff set in Wonderland, which is available for free streaming on the ABC web site and Roku app. It’s a short run, just 13 episodes (I believe, maybe 12?) that tells a complete story, and I find that the writing and pacing are much tighter than in the main show, which went totally off the rails.

Parks and Recreation is on Amazon Prime, and it’s a sweet comedy. The first season is a bit rocky, as they hadn’t yet found their groove, but it really takes off in season 2.

I don’t know where it’s currently streaming, but Galavant is sort of like if The Princess Bride was a musical and on in half-hour installments. The music is by the composer who’s done so many of the recent Disney movies.

That should keep you occupied for a few hours. Any other suggestions?

movies

Back to Middle Earth

I did my Lord of the Rings movie marathon over the weekend, watching the films for the first time in nearly 10 years. The last time I recall watching them was when I was gearing up to write No Quest for the Wicked and I watched them to make a list of quest story tropes to play with for when I put a quest in modern Manhattan (that book was so much fun to write). I thought I was checking the extended editions out of the library, since the illustration with the listing was the extended edition box set, but they just turned out to be the Blu Ray versions of the edition I already had. I would like to see the extended editions at some point, since I suspect a lot of what got added was the character stuff, and that’s the part I like. I have a feeling some of my friends have a set I can borrow, so maybe next winter I’ll do another viewing.

I also need to re-read the books. I first read them when I was in sixth grade and was utterly captivated. I tore through them. I re-read them in college and found them to be a bit of a slog. I wonder what I’d think of them now. As I rewatched the movies, I was trying to remember what it was that captivated me so much when I first read the books. I think a lot of it was the characters. The hobbits were really relatable to a kid, perhaps less so to an adult, and maybe that was the difference in reading between the ages of 11 and 21. I liked the relationships among the characters. I loved the Shire and Rivendell. I recall that my favorite part of the series was the first book, before things got really awful and dire. I think a lot of the stuff I liked in that book got cut from the movie.

I kind of feel like the movies went overkill on “epic.” It got almost too big to care too much. I was really involved in the character moments and found myself tuning out when it was massive CGI army of good guys vs. massive CGI army of bad guys. Even in smaller fights, they went to overkill in a way that I felt undermined the situation, like in a case when a swarm of at least 50 orcs attacks Aragorn while he’s on his own, and he manages to hold them off until backup arrives. Really, he’s just fighting about six of them, probably the ones who were stuntmen in costume, while the rest are CGI that don’t interact with him at all. If they’d only shown the six stuntmen, it would have actually been a more engaging fight, one I could imagine him winning with great effort. When he’s outnumbered at least fifty to one and they can’t easily beat him by just swarming over him, I figure he has plot armor and am not too worried about the outcome.

I do think that, in general, they did a good job of translating the books to film. The imagery is just about perfect (though I think the Ringwraiths in the 70s animated version were scarier). I just wish it hadn’t been so focused on massive battles. That was also the flaw in the Hobbit movies.

But I’m kind of a weirdo in that I’d have been okay with a story that was just hobbits living happily in the shire and maybe having some minor adventures, like traveling to Rivendell and hanging out with elves, then going home.

movies

Fun Fantasy Movies

Since I had a free couple of nights and I was enjoying my newly repaired living room, I thought I’d do a couple of movie nights over the weekend. And then I ran into a problem: there’s very little of the sort of thing I want to watch, and I’ve already got those things more or less memorized.

I wanted a kind of romantic fantasy adventure — something that’s more about a small group of characters than about an epic cast of thousands, as fantasy tends to go these days. Basically, I want Stardust, but that I haven’t seen a gazillion times and almost have memorized. Or The Princess Bride, and ditto. If you go back to the 80s and don’t mind bad (to current eyes) special effects, there’s Ladyhawke (but I wish we could get the edition with the music from the European release because the US music is so out of whack with that movie) or Willow. A couple of the “fantasy cheese” movies they used to show on Saturday nights on SyFy kind of fit, but they can also be rather painful.

And that seems to be about it. I did a lot of scrolling and searching on Amazon Prime and a few other services and didn’t come up with much of anything. I ended up watching Thor on Friday night because I figured that his backstory would be more fantasy-like (it was), and there was romance and action, but it didn’t quite scratch the itch. For Saturday night, I rewatched the Disney live-action Cinderella, which is pretty much my “happy place” movie. I guess the big carriage chase sort of tips it into the “adventure” category, so it might loosely fit what I’m looking for.

It does seem like the fantasy genre has gone to where it’s either a fairly dark epic with lots of battles, like Lord of the Rings, or it’s fairy tales done by Disney. I like the Disney fairy tales, but they’re not quite what I’m looking for.

A live-action version of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty might be fun — and not from Maleficent’s perspective where she’s the real victim (ugh). Do it more like Cinderella, where it was a new telling of the same tale, with a few nods to the Disney cartoon, rather than a direct remake of the Disney cartoon. Flesh out the relationships and characters, maybe have Philip and Aurora meet a few more times (they can have been running into each other in the woods throughout their lives), and then there’s the potential for an epic action sequence near the end with the battle with the dragon.

Are there any romantic fantasy adventure films I’m missing? Something along the lines of Stardust?