Archive for movies

writing, TV, movies

Do We Really Need Villains?

Before Christmas, I wrote a post about low and high tension stories and whether you really need to have edge-of-your-seat tension for a book. Sometimes you just want to go on a fun journey (literal or metaphorical) without having to worry about the hero’s fate. In the same post, I talked about the requirement that the hero be proactive and defeat the villain, while it can sometimes be really satisfying if the villain causes their own downfall, without the hero doing anything to cause that downfall.

Now I’ve been wondering, do we actually need a villain?

My latest bit of joy has been the new version of All Creatures Great and Small that’s been on PBS. I rewatched the first season the week after Christmas and the second season is on now. This is a show that goes beyond cozy to downright cuddly. It’s the story of a young veterinarian from Glasgow who gets a job in the late 1930s working for a practice in Yorkshire, where they treat both pets and farm animals. His boss is gruff and demanding but turns out to be decent at heart (he mostly just likes animals more than he likes people), and he sometimes has to deal with difficult personalities but there isn’t really a villain in the story. The interpersonal conflict generally comes from people who have good intentions but disagree about the right way to deal with a situation or from people who have an emotional involvement that clouds their judgment. Otherwise, there’s a lot of “man vs. nature” conflict in figuring out what’s wrong with an animal and how to fix it — or how to deal with it if it can’t be fixed. There is some personality clashing within the vet practice, especially once the boss’s younger brother joins them, since he has a very different attitude about life (at first, you might expect him to be a bit of a rival to our hero, but they become best friends). The closest thing to a “villain” is a rival vet, but they aren’t trying to hurt each other. They “defeat” the rival by trying to do a better job of diagnosing and curing a farmer’s cow. Nobody’s really mean. There’s no evil at all, and it’s quite refreshing. This is a show I can just sit and watch without doing crosswords or knitting, so it keeps my attention even without all that conflict.

In fact, I find it ironic that the show that’s on before it has felt the need to shoehorn in a villain. That’s Around the World in 80 Days, and you’d think that just trying to deal with all the stuff they’re facing on this great journey would be enough conflict, but they’ve thrown in an enemy who’s trying to sabotage them. And I can’t watch that show without also doing something like crosswords or knitting because it doesn’t entirely hold my interest.

Another no-villain thing I’ve seen lately is Encanto, the Disney movie. It’s about a family in a Columbian village. The family all has magical powers they use to help the village, but one of the daughters has missed out on a magical gift and has realized that things are going wrong (hmm, where have I seen something along those lines before, the person without a magical gift who solves things for the magical people …). There’s conflict within the family, but there’s no villain, no evil person causing the problems. It’s just good people trying to do their best and sometimes going about that the wrong way. There are still a lot of emotional stakes. There’s even tension and action, all without a villain.

I’m reading a fantasy novel right now that may not have an actual villain in it. There are some not so great people, but they’re not what I’d call a villain, not someone that they have to defeat to save the day. I’m only about halfway through, so it could change, but mostly it seems like the force they’re having to fight is nature. So, it can be done (though this is an established author).

The series I’m developing does need a villain, so I can’t play with this concept here, but now I have a mental challenge to see if I can come up with a story with no villain.


Christmas in the City

Skaters at Rockefeller Center
Some city Christmas magic from my trip to New York to research Damsel Under Stress

On Twitter, I’ve been playing around with what the opposite of the standard Hallmark Christmas movie would be, reversing or inverting all the tropes. So, instead of the city girl with a corporate career and a successful, wealthy boyfriend going to her hometown for Christmas to help save her family business and deciding to ditch her career and boyfriend and get back together with her high school boyfriend, you might have the small-town girl working for her family’s business and dating her high school boyfriend who goes to the city, where she ends up getting a corporate career and successful, wealthy boyfriend.

There are also the movies where the big-city girl has to go to a small town that she’s not from, where she discovers the wonder of Christmas and finds it all so magical. I can kind of see someone going to her hometown and being touched by traditions she remembers from childhood, but it seems less likely to me that a city girl would ditch everything for a small town she’s not from.

Really, I don’t get their fascination with small towns. I’m from a small town and have no desire to go back to one. Though I think we might disagree on the definition of “small town.” The town I’m from had a population of about 3,000 when I lived there. They’re a bit above 5,000 now. The “small” towns in these movies are more what I’d call a small city. I can somewhat see the appeal of moving from a major metro area to a smaller city that’s still an actual city and that isn’t part of a major metro area. But if we’re talking about a place where Christmas is particularly magical, I’ve had small-town Christmases and big-city Christmases, and the city wins, hands down. I guess if you’re from a city in the South, you might be charmed by a New England village where you get to take a sleigh ride, but it’s still not going to be a case of “Wow, I had no idea Christmas could be so magical!” unless she was living under a rock in the city.

In most small towns, Christmas amounts to some sad, weathered plastic tinsel and lights on the lampposts of the downtown area and a Christmas parade in which Santa rides on a fire truck. There might be a tree-lighting ceremony in a park. And these things happen early in December, not a day or two before Christmas. There are smaller towns that do bigger things for Christmas, but they do this for tourism purposes and bring in a lot of people from outside the area. One lone visitor wouldn’t stand out among the crowds enough to be adopted by the friendly locals (and that’s another thing — in my small-town experience, the locals are friendly to each other but suspicious of outsiders).

The “small town” in my area that comes closest to the Hallmark Christmas ideal isn’t truly a small town. It’s a former small town that has become a big city in the heart of a major metro area. It still has the quaint old downtown Main Street, and they do it up big for Christmas, but beyond that is major suburban sprawl. At Christmas, the downtown area gets really crowded and has a lot of traffic. People come in busloads, and they book vacation packages at the big resort hotels in the town. It is really festive and Christmassy, but it’s not a truly “small town” experience.

There’s a lot more Christmas stuff going on in big cities than in most small towns. Just about every city in the metro area has a light display, a parade, and a tree-lighting ceremony. There are holiday markets, outdoor concerts, outdoor ice rinks, and concerts involving big-name groups and artists. If I have to watch a production of The Nutcracker, I’d much rather watch the New York City Ballet than the kids at Miss Edna’s Dance ’n’ Twirl. You could do a different Christmas thing every night in December. When I was in high school in a small town, we had church youth group excursions to the big city, in which we’d load up the church van and go to Dallas to go to one of the big malls for Christmas shopping and ice skating. I think it’s far more likely that someone from a small town would go to the city and think everything was so magical than the reverse.

I’m not sure where Hallmark got this small town fetish, but their older movies don’t have it. If you look before 2016 or so, a lot of them take place in cities. No one has to give up their careers or get back with their high school boyfriends. I watched one last weekend, Naughty or Nice, that has the heroine living in the suburbs of a city, and she stays there and stays with her lawyer boyfriend. From around the same time, there’s It’s Christmas Carol, a retelling of A Christmas Carol in which a high-powered professional in Chicago becomes nicer but stays in her career. That one also has Carrie Fisher as all the ghosts, carrying around and drinking from a champagne bottle.

I’d toyed with drafting a Christmas story during this month as a way to keep the writing habit while I’m working on research, but then the month got away from me, and now it’s a week until Christmas. Instead of adding work, I’m going to take next week off, so no posts (especially since my scheduling doesn’t seem to be working). I may do a “year in review” post the week after Christmas, but I’m mostly going to take it easy, bake, and snark at Christmas movies.


Fantasy and Frozen

I’ve scheduled this post a couple of times, and it never seems to post, so it’s originally from right before Thanksgiving. Maybe my server just hates Frozen.

I’ve been watching movies that give me a “fall” vibe, so I rewatched Frozen 2 recently. It’s got an autumn setting and plenty of pretty fall forest imagery. And I came to the realization while watching that I might like it a bit better than the original film. It doesn’t have any one song as iconic as a couple of the songs in the first one, but I think I like the story better, maybe because it’s more of a fantasy story and less of a Disney princess story. As much as the first one tried to interrogate the usual Disney princess tropes (like mocking the idea of marrying someone you’ve just met after you sing a duet together), it was still pretty princessy. In the second, I feel like there’s more worldbuilding and some actual development of the magic instead of there just being magic because it’s a fairy tale. Maybe that’s the distinction: the first one was more of a fairy tale, while the second was a fantasy story that actually developed the culture and history of the world and looked into what the magic was all about. We seldom learn much about the world where a Disney princess movie is set. There’s little culture or history. We just know there’s a prince.

I found myself thinking that you could take the story of this film and make a decent “serious” live-action fantasy — not in the way that Disney has been doing live-action remakes, but making a different movie with the same core story. Take out Olaf, the musical numbers, and the cutesy stuff like pretending the reindeer are talking — basically, the stuff aimed at kids — and treat the history and the battles more realistically, and you could have something that fits in the Lord of the Rings mold. Thinking about how I’d rewrite it, I think I’d pretty much ignore the first movie and just start with the given that there’s the queen with ice powers and her more extroverted sister, then bad stuff happens in their kingdom and they have to go on a quest to resolve it by facing their family’s history. I might make Kristoff one of the reindeer herders, so Anna meets and gets to know him on the quest rather than them being in an established relationship with all the waffling about proposing. Or possibly he’s someone she meets on the journey to get to the place where the enchanted forest is. Have real battle scenes in the flashbacks and real fighting in the present. CGI could make the water horse look really cool.

I noticed that on Disney+ you can get a version dubbed in Norwegian. I’ll have to try watching these movies that way when I’m a little more advanced in my language study. Right now, I can read a lot pretty well, but I can’t seem to understand much when I hear the language spoken. I don’t even pick up many words on the train announcements on Slow TV (real-time videos of train journeys in Norway — you can watch it online, and it’s nice and relaxing. They just put a camera in a train, so it’s like being on a train ride, watching the scenery go by). They’re using words that are in my vocabulary, but I don’t pick up on them when I hear them. The only time I’ve been able to actually follow and understand what a Norwegian was saying was in a video I saw of a speech by the current king of Norway. I could understand him, but he apparently is considered to have an American accent, since he spent a good chunk of his childhood and went to elementary school in the US during WWII. Maybe watching a movie with a familiar story in that language will help me tune my ear into it. I don’t think I can count on running into the king if I ever go there to travel, so I need to be able to understand what I hear. Most people there do speak good English, but it’s good to be able to understand some of what you’re hearing. That also makes eavesdropping more entertaining.


History vs. Fiction

After reading about and watching The Princess Bride last week, I followed it up by watching Lady Jane. Cary Elwes mentions that movie a couple of times in his book about The Princess Bride. That was the role that got him noticed so that he was cast in The Princess Bride, and it was filmed at one of the locations that was also used in The Princess Bride. It’s been sitting on my watchlist for a long time, but I’d been putting off watching it because the previous time I saw part of it, it was a painful experience.

Back when the History Channel had actual history-related content, they used to have a program called something like Movies in History, in which they’d show a film based on a historical person or event, then have historians talk about the actual history, comparing it to what was depicted in the movie. I loved this because I often would look up the real history after seeing a movie, and this was in the early 90s, before Google and Wikipedia, so looking up the real history required going to the library and looking in the encyclopedia or finding a book, and that was before my neighborhood had a library branch, so I had to drive downtown. When I was in college, I’d even look up the microfilm for newspapers at the time of the event (it was convenient living across the street from the main research library) so I could see how the event was covered in the news at that time. Seeing movies through this program saved me the trip to the library (unless I was still curious enough to want to read a whole book on the subject, but it at least dealt with the immediate curiosity so it could wait until my next trip to the library).

Lady Jane came on this program during the early 90s when I still only knew Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride and Helena Bonham Carter from A Room with a View. I was familiar with the history in general, so I knew about (spoiler!) the royal cousin who was made queen very briefly before Mary took the throne and had her executed, but I didn’t know a lot of details. I’d heard of the movie but hadn’t seen it and stumbled upon it partway through while channel surfing. The movie plays out like a tragic romance, with the couple in a marriage arranged by their parents, hating each other at first and then falling madly in love, then having a brief moment of hope that they could do great things leading the kingdom before their tragic end. Lady Jane was depicted as serious and scholarly, and we had her and a slightly younger version of Westley bonding over intellectual discussions of religious doctrine, so this movie was totally my jam. When the movie ends with the idea that they may have been executed, but they were going to be together in heaven, I was sobbing. It was a great romantic tearjerker.

And then the historian came on and ruined everything by talking about how it was all false. They hated each other, never fell in love, never really spent any time together. She even refused to see him before their execution. They also wouldn’t have had any impulse for reform while she was queen, since that wasn’t a way people would have even thought at that time. It ruined the movie because it was such a disappointment. I’ve since found other information that while it is true that they didn’t spend any time together and probably were not in love, her reason for refusing to see him before the execution was that she thought there was no point since they were about to be reunited in heaven. Also, the word “Jane” was carved into the cell of the Tower where he was kept before his execution. So, maybe not a love story, but it’s possible that if they hadn’t been executed so young they might have worked out. It is true that she was very studious and was considered one of the most highly educated women of her time.

I didn’t get nearly as weepy on this viewing, and I watched it with the idea that it was basically a historical romance using characters and situations that existed. It also helps to imagine the novel My Lady Jane, which puts a fantasy twist on the story and gives it a happy ending. It’s amusing seeing such a young Helena Bonham Carter, long before she went into Tim Burton mode. The costuming and scenery are lovely, and I had fun playing “name the location.” There are a few scenes set in the same courtyard where Princess Buttercup is introduced to the people, and there’s an exterior set at a castle I’ve visited but that doesn’t actually play a role in this story. They’re pretending that part of that castle is also part of that other manor house, even though they’re in different parts of the country. Aside from the two young leads, most of the cast were from the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Patrick Stewart (pre Star Trek) as Lady Jane’s father, so it’s very well-acted.

If you like costume dramas and tragic romance, this one can be entertaining. Just ignore the history.

Books, movies

As You Wish

The last time I went to the library, I brought with me the sheet from my memo cube on which I write down the books I want to get at the library. These are generally things I’ve seen mentioned online and looked up in the library’s catalog system. For fiction, I’ll write down the author’s name and title, but for nonfiction I’ll often just write down the call number. I had one of those on this trip and had forgotten what book I’d looked up. I assumed it was a book relating to that project I’ve been developing. Then I got to the library, found the book, and was surprised to see that it was As You Wish, the memoir about the making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (who played Westley/The Man in Black/The Dread Pirate Roberts in the movie).

That’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I can just about quote the entire film, and yet I still enjoy it every time I see it. This book adds another layer of enjoyment to the movie with stories about how the project came about, how various cast members joined the project, and bits about things that happened during production, with some follow-up about what happened when the movie was released and times the cast members have reunited.

It’s a delight to learn that this really was a project of the heart. The story was something William Goldman came up with initially to amuse his daughters and that he wrote for love. Rob Reiner wanted to make the film because he loved the book so much and wanted to do it justice. Many of the cast members (including Elwes) were also fans of the book. Meanwhile, the cast and crew all came to love each other. The way Elwes talks about Andre the Giant makes me feel a real loss that I didn’t get to know him. Reiner was like the dad of the project, a genuinely caring boss who looked out for his people. “Westley” and “Buttercup” had crushes on each other in real life, which helped create their chemistry (it sounds like neither acted on it, or possibly even admitted it until later, and they just became really good friends).

It’s also interesting to learn how little movie trickery there was. That infamous sword fight was not done using stunt men. It was all the actors, who spent months training for it. Every bit of down time during the production was spent on training and practice. The only time a stunt man was involved was for the acrobatic flips. The rest was all them, and it really is good fencing, from the footwork to the way they use their blades.

I got weirdly emotional while reading this, to the point I actually cried when they came to the end of filming and people were saying their goodbyes, feeling a bit sad that this wonderful experience was ending. Then I laughed at myself, since this ending came more than 30 years ago, and if it hadn’t ended, I wouldn’t be reading this book because there would have been no movie.

I was a bit surprised to learn that the movie was initially considered a disappointment upon its release. It didn’t do very well at theaters and only took off later on home video. I’m one of the few who actually saw it in the theater in that initial release. I don’t remember having heard of it, but I went with friends (or, more accurately, I was included in a group of friends who went to see it because I was the one with a car) and the friends picked the movie. I loved it instantly. I remember describing it as a spoof that was also the gold standard of the kind of thing it was spoofing. Everyone I knew had seen it and incorporated lines into normal conversation. But I guess I was living in a bubble at that time rather than in the mainstream of popular culture, since I was in college and living on the honors floor (the nerd floor) of the dorm.

In a way, there are parallels to Enchanted, Inc., in that it was mis-categorized and barely promoted, but it’s endured and people are still discovering it. It hasn’t yet become a pop culture phenomenon that’s widely quoted, but maybe someday …

After reading this book, I had to watch the movie again, and I found that it made me love the movie even more. As familiar as it is, I noticed new things from watching it so intently to look for things mentioned in the book. Often, learning how things were done ruins the magic, but in this case, it seems to have enhanced the magic. I’ve never been all that affected by the relationship between Westley and Buttercup. This isn’t the movie I turn to when I’m in the mood for romance. But I got it this time, possibly from knowing the actors fancied each other. I could see how that colored their dynamic. It helps that the last time I’d seen this movie, it was at church when the pastor was doing a series of sermons tied to movies. We had a movie night at the church, then Sunday the sermon used that movie as an example. For this one, it was about steadfast love, that Westley was so devoted to Buttercup he even resisted letting death separate them, while she had absolute faith he would come for her. The romance genre is mostly about the couple overcoming their internal conflicts to develop a relationship, and since that part is glossed over in the opening here, I hadn’t thought of it as too romantic. But there is a different kind of romance involved with a couple that’s already together who manage to hold on to their love in spite of external conflicts. Their love is a quiet assurance. It’s the rock amid all the other drama.

If you love the movie, I recommend reading this book. And then you’ll want to watch the movie again.


Pixar Therapy

I recently read a book on dealing with stress and burnout, and one of the things they recommended was completing the stress cycle. The physical responses we have to stress are fight, flight, or freeze, but we can’t respond that way to most of the things that stress us out in the modern world (or we’d get in trouble if we did). If you run into a lion while hunting, you’d run back to your village, and then you and the other villagers might fight it. You’d have a cathartic moment when you knew you were safe and your body could move out of the stress response. You don’t really get the same cycle of stress and release when your coworker gets annoying in a meeting, so you stay in a state of stress.

One way to deal with this stress is through exercise, letting your body feel like there’s been a fight or flight so it can relax. Another way is to work through emotions. Have a good laugh or cry. Watching a tearjerker movie can work you through the cycle because if it’s done well, it covers a full emotional journey that comes to a satisfying conclusion. Reading that, I realized that would make Pixar films actually work as therapy. You go on an emotional journey that makes you laugh and cry and come out feeling transformed (and they’re very conscious about doing that).

So, last weekend, I opted for some Pixar therapy on my movie night and watched Onward, the movie that kind of fell between the cracks because it was released a couple of weeks before the pandemic kicked in and movie theaters closed. It was utterly delightful and a perfect example of that laugh/cry emotional journey.

The story is set in a high-fantasy world that’s moved into modern times, like what would happen if a Dungeons & Dragons setting got electricity and technology but forgot about magic. It’s a modern American suburb, but with mushroom tract houses and trolls running the toll booths on the turnpikes. In this world are two teen elf brothers whose father died while the older was very young and before the younger was even born. The younger feels deeply the lack of a father and has very little confidence. The older is a fantasy geek who wishes for the kind of life from the old days before people forgot their magical heritage. On the younger’s 16th birthday, they get a wizard’s staff, a magical stone, and spell that will allow them to spend one day with their father. They get the lower half reconstituted, but then things go wrong, and they’ll need another stone to get the rest of their father so they can actually talk to him. Off they go on an epic quest with their father’s legs, relying on the older brother’s knowledge of fantasy and the younger brother’s latent magical abilities, but the longer it takes them to get what they need to complete the spell, the less time they’ll have with their father.

This movie is laugh-out-loud funny, both using and poking fun at established fantasy tropes, while at its heart it’s a serious and emotional story about loss, family bonds, parenthood, and finding confidence. During the big, climactic sequence, I was alternating between laughing and sobbing. It’s perfectly cast, with Tom Holland (Spider-Man) as the timid younger brother and Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) as the brash older brother. I suspect the animators were inspired by the actors because you can see their facial expressions and mannerisms in the animated elf characters. I’m sure there were little details I missed in all the fantasy worldbuilding, so I’m sure I’ll be watching this one again.

This one might be either rough or cathartic for people who’ve lost a parent, depending on where you are in the grieving process. It might help a kid who’s lost a parent process their feelings, or it could just rub on the emotional raw spot, so be aware of this before watching.

It gave me just the right emotional journey I was looking for, and the balance between deep and silly was so good that I’m going to have to analyze the writing to figure out how to pull that off.

TV, movies

The Mini-Break

That break was just what I needed. I didn’t do anything particularly exciting, but it was a nice little reset. I caught up on housework, did some cooking, took care of some shopping and errands, and otherwise I mostly rested. I didn’t set an alarm in the mornings, and although I didn’t sleep that much later than I usually do, it was nice sleeping that fifteen or so minutes later without guilt. I made a fancy “brunch” type breakfast on Saturday morning (though it got interrupted by a phone call). I did a lot of reading, did some knitting, and watched some movies/TV.

I’ve been watching the series Community, which I somehow missed while it was on. I know I was aware of it, but I’m not sure why I chose not to watch it. I think it must have been on at the same time as I had ballet class, and it didn’t sound like the sort of thing I was interested enough in to bother recording. Really, there’s no way to describe what this show is about or like that accurately reflects what it is. It’s sort of about life at a quirky community college, but that’s not really it. The inciting incident is that a hotshot (and kind of sleazy) lawyer gets disbarred when it turns out that he didn’t actually get a bachelor’s degree, so now he’s going back to community college to catch up so he can get his license back. He tries to hit on an attractive classmate, finds out she’s struggling in Spanish class, claims to be fluent, and offers to tutor her. She’s onto his ploy and foils it by inviting other members of the class to join in a study group. Even after his ruse is exposed, they decide to keep studying together. The series is about this study group as they become friends and deal with school.

But even that doesn’t describe what it’s really about. It’s this weird blend of snarky and sweet as this group of deeply flawed people gradually learns to be better, but somehow it never comes across as A Very Special Episode in which they learn A Valuable Lesson. As the series progresses, it becomes rather surreal, with the occasional realistic, relatable episode. There are pop-culture references, fantasy sequences, random musical numbers, epic paintball games that play out like popular movies, animated bits, and other weirdness. The characters who seem to have it all together turn out to be a mess, the characters who are a mess have their moments to save the day, and it’s all utterly addictive.

Traditionally, I celebrate Labor Day weekend with chick flicks. I wasn’t entirely in the mood for that, so I didn’t do any kind of marathon, but I did watch one when I discovered that one of my unsung favorites that was part of how this tradition kicked off was on Amazon Prime: I’m With Lucy. I like this one because it’s got an unconventional structure and is nonlinear. A woman on her way to her wedding is trying to convince her friend to let her introduce her to a guy at the reception. The friend says she doesn’t do setups. The bride says she spent a year accepting all the blind dates and setups she got, and that’s why she’s getting married now. We then see all those blind dates, but we don’t see them in order. We see bits of each and bounce around among them, with no idea which of these guys she’s going to end up with. The dates that start badly end up going well, and vice versa, which keeps you off-balance. Watching it this time around, I found myself surprised that it flew totally under the radar. I didn’t see it until it was on one of the cable channels on a Saturday afternoon. I never even heard of it when it was released (hmm, looks like it played at a film festival then went straight to video in the US), but it’s got a great cast and really good New York settings. It’s not quite on a par with When Harry Met Sally in quality, but it scratches the same itch.

I went back to work on Monday, doing some brainstorming to figure out what I need to revise for the book (but otherwise taking it easy), so I was eager to get going on Tuesday. The changes I’m making seem to be working. I’ve made it through most of the parts that needed to be revised, and now I’m moving forward with the new content.

I’ll have to finish this book before I get another good break. I’m planning to ease off during the fall as I focus on developing a new possible series, and I’ll give myself plenty of time to enjoy doing my favorite fall things.


Don’t Go Near the Water

I discovered last week that the original Jaws was on Amazon Prime, and since I’d never seen it (believe it or not), I decided I should watch it. There have been a lot of memes relating to the pandemic comparing it to Jaws, and while I more or less got the jokes, I didn’t have a full understanding of all the cultural references.

Strangely enough, although I hadn’t seen the original, I had seen Jaws 2 multiple times. I made my dad take my friend and me to the base theater to see it when it came out. I had decided that I was quite mature and able to handle a scary movie, and I wanted to test myself. It was actually more silly than scary, and for that reason it became a popular slumber party movie. It was just scary enough to have a few screams, but it was so silly that there was no chance of having nightmares or being truly frightened. That was how I ended up seeing it at least two more times. The only thing I remember about that movie is that there’s a scene with an indoor swimming pool, and the camera zooms in on the pool as though something is going to happen there. At slumber parties, we’d all start singing the Jaws theme, as though the shark was going to appear in the indoor pool somehow — and as silly as that movie was, that wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.

But the original was supposed to be a far better movie and is considered a classic. So last Friday I made popcorn (to get the proper movie theater experience) and watched Jaws. I knew a lot about it and had seen clips, so I suspect the full impact of the shock didn’t quite work. I’m not a big beach person (though I did see a shark very close to shore on one of my few beach vacations — close enough, though small enough, that someone caught it in a handheld net), so it’s not as though this was going to affect my life all that much.

My friends have found it amusing that my main reaction to the iconic opening scene, in which the girl skinny dipping in the ocean gets attacked by the shark, focused on the fact that she ran along the beach, shedding her clothing on her way to the water. I knew she was going to die, but I still imagined her shivering and dripping as she went back along the beach, looking for each item of clothing she’d flung away. It was summer, but it was cool enough that she was wearing a sweater while sitting by a bonfire earlier. If the shark hadn’t killed her, she’d have died of hypothermia while she searched for her clothes in the darkness.

I found the first half of the movie the most interesting, largely because of seeing the way the town reacted to the threat of the shark. Those memes that compare the town’s response to the pandemic response were pretty spot-on. First, it’s not a threat at all, the danger is something else. When there’s proof it’s something else, ignore the scientist and keep covering it up. When it’s obvious there’s danger and more have died, people rush right into the danger. Then declare it’s all over before you’re sure it’s over and force people to go into the dangerous situation just to prove it’s over.

That was also where the suspense worked best because we seldom saw much of the shark. It was hinted at, just shadows under the water and that ominous music. Apparently that was because the mechanical shark didn’t work well, so they had to work around it. They used the shark more in the second half, and it was pretty cheesy looking, so the second half, when we saw the shark, was less scary. That made me wonder how that movie would have come out if it were made today, when the shark would have been CGI. The first half wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if they’d been able to show as much of the shark as they wanted to.

The other problem with the second half was that it was essentially a fishing trip, and watching other people fish isn’t all that interesting to me.

I didn’t have shark-related nightmares afterward, though I did have a nightmare about being on a crowded beach. I guess crowds are scarier to me than sharks are.

I can see where that movie was groundbreaking for its time. It’s just not really my cup of tea. It was interesting hearing that theme in context. One cool trick John Williams used was that the rest of the score was pretty light and sunny, proper beach music. That made the dark, ominous shark music stand out more in contrast. I hadn’t heard the rest of the score before.

I followed that up with a viewing of the original Muppet Movie the next night. That’s a lot more my speed, but it did get me pondering whether there’s any kind of Muppet Cinematic Universe or whether the Muppets are merely a repertory company who sometimes play characters who are fictional versions of themselves. But that may be fodder for another post.


Wrapping up the Avengers

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been watching all (well, most of) the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and I’ve found myself oddly captivated. They’re really eating into my brain. I watched Avengers: Endgame Monday night, so I’m pretty much done with that arc. While I’ve enjoyed these films, I have to say that I think I’m more intrigued by the possibilities for these stories than I am by the actual movies.

These are great characters, and they’re perfectly cast, with the actors truly embodying the characters. I haven’t read the comic books, so I don’t know how well they compare to that. But they just seem right to me, with what we see on the screen mostly matching what the movies tell us about them. But my frustration is that the really good stuff (at least, the stuff I was interested in) seemed to mostly happen offscreen. In that last movie, we finally got a lot of good, emotional character moments, with the characters on their own and dealing with things or interacting with each other when it wasn’t a life-or-death manner. That was the sort of thing we needed more of along the way because we needed to establish those relationships for the stuff that happened in the last two movies to really have impact.

One thing I feel like they skipped was Steve Rogers (Captain America) adapting to modern times. We went straight from him realizing he was in the 21st century, having skipped straight from World War II at the end of his first movie, to having been around for a bit at the beginning of the first Avengers movie. There were a couple of lines referring to him being more old-fashioned or straitlaced, then a joke about him actually getting a pop culture reference, and then they practically forgot he was from the 1940s.

I also felt like they skipped over the team building process for the Avengers. We had some contrived conflict when they first came together, then they had to work together to save the day, and the next time we see them, they’re a well-oiled machine. Characters who’d barely interacted were acting like best friends and working seamlessly together. That’s the part that would have been fun to see. How did Thor and Captain America become good friends and an effective fighting team? If we’d seen a little more about how that relationship developed, one of the big moments in Endgame would have had a lot more impact.

In some cases, I wasn’t sure what the relationship was supposed to be. I saw some commentaries on Civil War about how terrible it was that Tony and Steve were at odds because it destroyed their wonderful friendship. I hadn’t realized they were supposed to have been friends. It would have helped if we’d seen some development of their relationship and where their points of conflict were because there was a lot of potential material there. As it was, I was on Team Steve and felt like the others had all forgotten what they knew about him, but I didn’t feel any great loss for whatever relationship there was between Tony and Steve.

I really feel robbed that we didn’t get the story of what came after Civil War, when Steve, Natasha, Sam, and Wanda were apparently rogue and on the run. That would have made an amazing movie. I guess they were impatient to get to Infinity War and had a packed schedule, but I wish they’d managed to squeeze that one in—just a good adventure movie about trying to deal with the things the other heroes weren’t able to deal with while avoiding getting caught.

Unfortunately, when my brain feels like something is incomplete, it wants to complete it, so even though I don’t know enough about this universe to really write something, my brain is trying to mentally write the stuff we didn’t get to see while also rewriting what we did see. I can’t afford to use up that much mental energy on something like this! Maybe it’ll find a way to pull out the elements I like and rework it into my own story, but I’m not sure I could pull off rewriting the Avengers but filing off the serial numbers and putting it into my own universe to make my own story that covers the stuff I wanted to see.

Now that I’m more or less caught up (there’s still a Spider-Man movie, but it’s not urgent), I can start on the new Disney Plus series. I watched the first WandaVision last night, and the sitcom format may be too much for me. While other kids hid behind the sofa for things like Daleks, it was things like I Love Lucy and Gilligan’s Island that sent me behind the sofa, unable to bear the cringeworthy embarrassment of the sitcom misunderstandings and other idiot plotting. I know there’s more going on, so I’ll stick with it, but it may be more tense for me than all those invincible villains.


Watching Superheroes

Over the past few months, I’ve been catching up on the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. I hadn’t seen any of them other than the first Guardians of the Galaxy at the theater. I was familiar with some of the characters from previous TV series and movies but am not a comics reader. It’s not a snob thing, it’s just that the comics style of storytelling doesn’t work well for me. I’m getting close to the end (so far, and then there are the follow-up TV series). This week’s movie is Black Panther. Then there are a couple more Avengers films.

I skipped the second and third Iron Man movies because I just don’t like that character. I can tolerate him somewhat in small doses in movies with other characters, but I don’t enjoy him as the focus. I’m more of a Captain America gal, and as of Civil War, that makes me even more firmly anti-Iron Man.

But that conflict between the characters is actually something that bugs me. Just about all of the movies in which there’s more than one superhero involve a fight between the heroes. It reminds me of the inevitable “who would win in a fight?” discussions that tend to come up in forums. What if Iron Man and Thor fought? How about Captain America and Thor? What about Iron Man vs. the Hulk? Hulk vs. Thor? Iron Man vs. Captain America? Maybe that’s something that comes up in the comic books, but all I can think is that they’re all supposed to be heroes and working together, so they’re wasting their time and energy fighting each other. The one time I’ll kind of accept it is Thor vs. Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok, since in that case Hulk wasn’t in his right mind and had been forced to fight. As soon as he came back to his senses, he worked with Thor. Otherwise, it just seems like self-indulgent “who could beat up whom?” fanboyism that wastes valuable screen time. There may also be some lazy writing in there, like they don’t know what to do about a midpoint action sequence that doesn’t defeat either the villains or the heroes, so they make it a hero vs. hero fight.

I think my favorite of the movies so far has been Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It played out more like a spy thriller, and there wasn’t really any hero vs. hero action, aside from the fact that Cap’s own organization seemed to be after him. But he wasn’t against any of the other Avengers. I also rather liked Doctor Strange, but that’s probably because it was more of a fantasy film than a “superhero” film. Ant Man was a lot of fun. I still tend to get bored during the big, climactic action sequences. I think they go a bit too over the top because they get so ridiculous that I don’t really care anymore. Maybe more focus on the people without all the crazy CGI would help.

Still, this has been a fun project, a good way to spend Friday nights. I make popcorn, curl up on the sofa, and pretend I’m at a movie theater, except I’m in my pajamas. I don’t know what I’ll do when I finish, but with the two follow-up series, I’ll have material to keep me going for ages. Maybe a rewatch of all the old Disney stuff.