Archive for movies


Spooky Stories

The neighborhood association had to postpone the movie night in the park because it got awfully chilly and there were high winds that would have been bad with a movie screen, so I stayed in and watched a BBC adaptation of “The Turn of the Screw.” I’d read the story when I was researching Rebel Mechanics, since it was about a governess and in my very early preparation I was thinking of doing something more gothic (that didn’t last long because Lord Henry refused to be a brooding gothic hero type).

I don’t like horror, but I do love a good ghost story, especially an ambiguous ghost story — is it a ghost or is she nuts, or is something else going on? I guess you could say I like gothic, not horror. I’m all about the atmosphere. Give me windswept moors, old houses with secrets, creaking staircases, dense fog, mysterious men you’re not sure you can trust. I’m a sucker for those old books with women in floaty nightgowns fleeing spooky castles. In fact, my favorite nightgown is made from a pattern for a Halloween costume for a gothic heroine. When I wear it, I feel like I need to be running from a castle on a foggy night.

This version of “The Turn of the Screw” was interesting in part because it was essentially a Downton Abbey prequel. It was made a couple of years before Downton Abbey, and the main character — the governess — was played by Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary). There was a framing story in which the governess is in an asylum and telling her story, and the curious psychiatrist who was trying to get the story out of her was played by Dan Stevens (Matthew). They had a really nice chemistry in their scenes, so I wonder if this film had anything to do with the Downton Abbey casting.

The story is about a governess who comes to work at a spooky old house, where she’s in charge of a couple of really creepy kids. Are the kids in danger from some outside force, or are the kids just evil?

Another good “creepy house” movie is The Others, about a woman and her children in an old manor on the Channel Islands just after the Nazi occupation. I can’t say much about it without giving away the twist, but the atmosphere is really spooky. I have to admit that I still enjoy the Disney cartoon version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Or there’s the ghostly romantic comedy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

In a way, spooky ghost stories are more appropriate to Halloween than all the monsters and mayhem, since Halloween is “All Hallows Eve,” which is a time when supposedly the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead becomes thin. In the church, All Hallows (or All Saints) is the day to honor the members who came before us and who have died in the past year. It’s a time for metaphorical hauntings, even if you’re not into the literal kind.

And I think I’ve just added an item to my literary bucket list. I need to write a spooky house story.


Revisiting When Harry Met Sally

I was reminded this summer that it was the 30th anniversary of When Harry Met Sally …, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. I remember it having a huge impact on me when I first saw it. It was the summer just before my senior year of college, so I wasn’t too far from the experience of leaving college to start a new adult life, I was planning to be a journalist, like Sally, and I was trying to imagine what my adult life would look like. That summer, I had heard from a high school friend who’d tracked me down, so I think I had fantasies brewing about a Harry and Sally thing happening (it didn’t — I never heard from him after that, other than running into him at a class reunion).

I hadn’t rewatched the movie in a long time, and I was in the mood for that sort of thing, so I watched it last weekend. It’s interesting how much my perspective has changed since I’m now a lot older than the characters. The friends-to-lovers thing was one of my romantic fantasies when I was younger and is still a favorite in romantic books, but I’m not sure how well it actually works in real life. Even in the books, there’s an element of attraction from the start in the friendship, or else there’s a time gap and the element of attraction hits when they’re reunited. In reality, it can be really awkward to try to make that transition, and it’s even more awkward when the feelings aren’t mutual — and if you’ve managed to remain platonic friends for a long time, the feelings probably aren’t mutual. One person may develop feelings, but the other is going along in platonic mode, either utterly oblivious or pretending to be.

Even with Harry and Sally, while they’d met earlier with zero interest, so they’d known each other a long time, it was only a little more than a year between them becoming friends and the big kiss at the end, and there were hints of sexual tension and attraction brewing long before that. It was more of a slow burn starting in friendship mode than a longtime friends into lovers situation. Realizing that has made me really rethink how that fantasy plays out in fiction and makes me feel better about the times when a friend became interested in me and it really freaked me out and made me uncomfortable. All those times I had my own Harry and Sally fantasy, it involved someone I was already interested in and wished would see me a different way, but when the shoe was on the other foot, I wasn’t all that keen, which makes me glad I didn’t make any moves on the people I was interested in who clearly didn’t see me that way.

But mostly I enjoy that movie now for the settings, especially all the gorgeous fall scenes, the jazz music, and the group of friends. Princess Leia may be one of my role models, but this is my favorite Carrie Fisher role because it allowed her to unleash the snark and be funny. I love how her character goes from being the one who’s a real mess at the beginning to being the one who’s sane and settled and dealing with her friend who’s a mess at the end.

It’s also a little alarming seeing how much of my wardrobe my senior year of college resembled Sally’s wardrobe in the movie. I’m not sure if I was trying to copy that look or if that was just what was in style and available then. I remember a lot of menswear-influenced jackets, and I even had a hat. Unfortunately, I was living in Austin at the time, so we didn’t really get the kind of fall weather that made that sort of thing very comfortable.

I wish we could get more films like that now, with actual grown-ups in a romantic comedy with sharp dialogue and fleshed-out characters. So many of the scenes, I felt like I was eavesdropping on actual conversations rather than watching a “scene,” which made the movie feel more real, not as artificial as so many romantic comedies can be.


Steampunk at the Movies

When I first had the idea for the book that became Rebel Mechanics, I started preparing to write it by reading every steampunk book I could find, just to see what the genre was like and what had been done with it. I determined that there were three primary approaches to a steampunk world.

One was alternate history — it was our world and our Victorian era, but technological development, and sometimes other factors, had gone a different way so that the steampunky elements and retrofuturistic technology existed.

The other was secondary world — it’s a fantasy world (like Narnia, Middle Earth, Westeros, etc.) that looks a bit like our Victorian era, but with stempunky twists.

The third was post-apocalyptic — in the future, society has been destroyed and has rebuilt to approximately a Victorian level of technology/culture, with twists that make it steampunky rather than the way our Victorian era was.

I obviously went with alternate history, but one of the steampunk series I liked the best took the post-apocalyptic approach — the Hungry Cities series by Philip Reeve, starting with the book Mortal Engines.

I was pleased and hopeful when I heard that they were making a movie out of that first book because if it did well, it might open the door to movie interest for the Rebel Mechanics books. Alas, the movie was rather a bomb, in spite of having Peter Jackson (of the Lord of the Rings movies) involved. I didn’t get around to seeing it at the theater, but out of curiosity I checked the DVD out of the library.

And ouch. It’s been about ten years since I read the books, so I don’t remember a lot of plot details, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t basically Star Wars. Some of the imagery was wonderful, bringing to life this weird world where the cities are mobile, on giant tank-like treads, scouring the earth for resources, and with some of the larger cities preying on smaller, less powerful cities. But so much of it also looked like a cheap Disney Channel production, especially when any characters were talking. And yet it didn’t seem like the movie was aimed at teens because the characters were significantly aged up (they’re 17 in the book, but one of the actors was pushing 30 when it was made, and the characters seemed to be treated like they were 20-something). I felt like the movie skipped on explaining anything that was going on, and like I said, the end sequence was basically the battle against the Death Star from Star Wars (or possibly the similar sequence from The Force Awakens).

The worse thing was, it was rather boring. Midway through the movie, I ended up looking up the entire cast and their histories on IMDB, and then got sidetracked in random web surfing. That’s a bad sign.

I had thought while reading the books that there was no way this would be filmable. It turns out that the stuff I thought would be impossible to film worked out rather well. But somehow they managed to miss the point of the books while writing the script and turned interesting characters into generic tropes. Great visuals can’t compensate for that.

So, if you love steampunk and were looking for a good steampunk movie, this isn’t it, and I’m afraid this movie might have killed steampunk on film, for a while, at least.


Ghost in the House

Since I needed to amp up the romance in the book I’m working on, I decided to watch a romantic movie last weekend to try to get more in the mood. I pulled one off my shelf that kind of fit into the same general category of contemporary fantasy, Just Like Heaven. I’d seen it at the theater when it came out, and I’d read the book it was based on. I have the DVD from when the local Blockbuster went out of business and sold off its stock, but I hadn’t actually watched it since I bought it.

This is an interesting premise for a romantic comedy. A widower has subleased a nice San Francisco apartment and wants to do nothing more than sit on the sofa, drink beer, watch his wedding video, and be left alone when a strange woman shows up in the apartment, acting like it’s her apartment and he’s an intruder — except when she goes to call the police, she can’t pick up the phone. She seems to be a ghost, though she insists she’s still alive, but nothing he tries that’s supposed to get rid of a ghost works, and she delights in tormenting him. But their relationship begins to change when he decides to help her figure out who she is, what happened to her, and what’s going on with her. Once they learn all that, they realize they’re running out of time to save her.

The fact that they can’t physically touch for most of the movie makes this almost like one of the old romantic comedies from the days of the production code. The whole relationship has to be developed emotionally rather than relying on shortcuts like sex scenes, and they have to build the sexual tension from proximity and awareness. Reese Witherspoon has way too much fun as the sassy, obnoxious ghost, and Mark Ruffalo does the baffled Everyman thing well. The only thing that would have kept this movie from being made in the 1940s is the technology, which may be why I like it.

It’s also a rare example of a movie being better than the book it’s based on. The book is extremely creepy in ways I can’t describe without spoiling the movie. Let’s just say that an event that’s just one quick sequence in the movie is an extended part of the book, and by extending it more than a few minutes, it gets icky.

It looks like this one is only streaming on Vudu as part of a service, but it’s a rental stream at most of the other outlets. I’m not sure I’d pay to rent it, but it is a nice, sweet romantic comedy of the sort they don’t make anymore. It kind of shows where I stand on romance at the moment that I was mostly sighing over the fabulous San Francisco apartment. That aspect of the movie has to have been pure fantasy, even back in 2005. You’d have to be a multimillionaire to afford a place like that.


Superhero Movies

This week’s movie/sermon combo was Captain America. This was one of the two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I’d seen (the first Guardians of the Galaxy was the other). I watched it when it was on cable while Agent Carter was running, since I wanted to get her backstory. I checked the DVD out of the library to watch it again to refresh myself before the sermon.

I guessed correctly what the pastor would discuss: the idea that it’s your heart that’s what’s important. The scripture used for the sermon was the story of how David was chosen to be king of Israel, with Samuel wanting to choose the handsome oldest brother and God telling him that He doesn’t see as men see, but looks at the heart. The movie clip used to illustrate the sermon was the part where Tommy Lee Jones’s character throws the grenade into the group of candidates, thinking he’s going to prove his point about the big, strong guy being the man for the super soldier program. Instead, that guy immediately ducks behind a car. It’s scrawny weakling Steve Rogers who throws himself on the grenade to save all his fellow soldiers (it turns out to have been a dummy grenade and a test).

The pastor didn’t mention it, but I thought there was also a good point in the follow-up scene when the scientist is talking to Steve the night before the treatment and talks about how people who are strong naturally may not really appreciate strength, while the weaker man would. That fits the spiritual message about knowing that what you have is a gift, and not the result of what you’ve done.

As for the movie, I love the characters, the casting was brilliant, and I can get on board with the concept, but I found the actual movie kind of boring. It’s a similar problem I have with most superhero movies (and why I’ve seen so few). I think it has to do with some of the same reasons I don’t really like comic books and graphic novels. I’m very verbal, and I don’t seem to process visual information well. If there aren’t any words, it doesn’t mean a lot to me. Anything with a lot of non-verbal action sequences, just fight-fight-fight, is a blur to me and I get bored. I noticed that while watching this movie. I was engaged when the characters were talking, but I’d zone out in the action sequences. I recall being the same way when seeing Wonder Woman. I liked the movie up to the last big action sequence, and then was bored.

There have been exceptions that I’ll have to analyze. For instance, WALL-E was practically a silent movie, but I was totally engaged, and I love The Terminator, which is one big chase scene. Maybe it’s just that I don’t like fight scenes, but then I loved the sword fight in The Princess Bride — but it was loaded with dialogue. There’s just something about superhero fight scenes that I find boring — usually two super-strong people punching each other and doing impossible stunts. I suspect I’m not the target audience for these things.

But if I were to get into a superhero, I think Captain America might be it. Steve Rogers is basically my type. I just wish they’d kept him in the WWII era longer because I find that more interesting, and I like the other characters from that era (which is why I loved the Agent Carter series). But I guess they had to move him to the present right away to do the Avengers movie. I’d be somewhat interested in seeing what they did with Captain America in the present, but that would require seeing the Avengers movies, which would require seeing all the others to get the backstory leading into the Avengers movie, and that’s getting to be just a bit too much homework to see what happens to one character. Maybe when they do the Disney streaming service and I can watch them all gradually I’ll give it a try.

The next movie they’re doing is We Bought a Zoo, which I know nothing about, so I guess I’ll go to the Friday-night screening.


Twu Wuv

Last weekend, I watched The Princess Bride again for the first time in years. They’re doing a sermon series relating to movies this summer at my church, discussing some of the spiritual lessons we can learn from a group of movies chosen by the teens in the church, and they’re doing screenings of those movies at the church. I have The Princess Bride on DVD, but I thought it would be fun to watch it with a group, and there was popcorn, so I went to that showing.

Although this is one of my all-time favorite movies, I’ve never been overly thrilled with the romance part of it. I don’t even really see it as a romance, in spite of all the talk about True Love. I enjoy it mostly because it’s the rare thing that is both a hilarious spoof and a near-perfect example of the thing that it’s spoofing. It manages to make fun of the tropes of the fairytale fantasy adventure while actually carrying out the tropes brilliantly. I love the humor, the quotable lines, the swashbuckling, and the emotion in the more serious moments. The performances are all quite good. I’m still astonished that Cary Elwes never became a big-name leading man. He manages to pull off the tricky combination of snark and emotional sincerity, and there’s some quite amazing physical acting during the part when Westley is still not back to full strength and he doesn’t have a lot of control over his body. I suppose he’s done well enough in working steadily from his early 20s into his 50s, but aside from this and Men in Tights, he’s never really been a leading man (which could have been his choice — he may have wanted to be more of a character actor).

But the romance has never really worked for me, mostly because the “romance” part takes place largely offscreen in the prologue. Basically, she abuses him, he puts up with it, and they fall in love. I can maybe see what she sees in him, since he tolerates her abuse and follows her orders. We can see that he loves her, but we never get any indication as to why. We don’t know what he sees in her. We’re just told that it’s True Love. I think that’s part of the fairytale spoof, since that’s how it goes in the stories. They fall instantly in love for no apparent reason (usually in the stories, the guy falls so madly in love with one look at the girl that he’s willing to put his life on the line to win her), and that love is strong enough to be magical. The book is actually a little snarky about it and ends with the hint that things may not go so wonderfully after that one perfect kiss.

But I did kind of get it better after this weekend’s viewing and the sermon. Westley’s love for Buttercup is unconditional and unshakable. He has absolute faith in the power of True Love, and that’s what sustains him and even saves his life more than once. He’s spared by the Dread Pirate Roberts because of his declaration of true love, then he’s brought back from being mostly dead because true love is what earns his miracle. Meanwhile, Buttercup’s faith wavers. She gives up on Westley as dead when she gets word that his ship was attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts and becomes engaged to the prince. Then, in spite of seeing how skilled Westley is in being able to beat the swordsman, the giant, and the mastermind and survive all the dangers of the Fire Swamp, she bargains for their safety, agreeing to marry the prince in exchange for Westley’s life. It’s a sacrifice, but it’s also a lack of faith in him. It actually makes for a neat religious metaphor, with God’s unfailing love and humanity’s fickleness and loss of faith.

What matters in that story is the fact that Westley’s love is so deep and powerful that it sustains him through everything he experiences, in spite of Buttercup’s general uselessness. The depth of his love is what’s so romantic about the story.

Though, when it comes to romantic fantasy, Stardust is my preference.

This week, the sermon is on Captain America. I’ve seen it on TV, but I checked it out of the library to rewatch (they showed it Sunday night, since it’s a holiday this week, and I didn’t want to go out). The preacher’s been making Avengers references in his sermons for a while, so this should be interesting.


Revisiting Star Wars

Since Saturday was Star Wars day (“May the Fourth be with you”), I rewatched the original movie for the first time in ages. I’m not sure how long it’s been. It holds up really well. I even think the somewhat more primitive special effects look pretty good because they look a lot more real than all the slick CGI stuff.

I have that movie more or less memorized, but I still got really tense during parts of it, as if I didn’t know what was going to happen. I guess that says something, when you can recite the lines along with the actors, but you still find yourself holding your breath about whether or not the good guys are going to win this time around. I’m not even sure how they did that. I suspect it has a lot to do with all the emotional subtext, with the music and the editing that trigger your brain to feel tense.

There’s a part of me that almost wishes it had been left with this little gem of a movie rather than building a whole mythology because the mythology doesn’t quite work for me. It made something that was just a lot of fun into something pseudo portentious. Plus, a lot of that mythology was added retroactively, and the series then had to try to make it fit, but it doesn’t always fit well. For instance, making Luke and Leia twin siblings. That was not originally intended (Alan Dean Foster wrote a romance into Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and Lucas made changes to that book based on the idea that it would be the sequel if the first movie was successful, but he didn’t change the romance). The first movie is clearly setting up a romantic triangle and that revelation came totally out of the blue later. Then there’s the issue of “hiding” Luke from his father by giving him his father’s last name and taking him to live with his father’s stepbrother. They’re lucky that Vader apparently put home way behind him and never checked up on what was going on with those people and never seemed to have considered that Padme had her baby(s) before she died.

At the same time, there are moments that really seem to fit the overall continuity even though they couldn’t possibly have been planned, so it’s fun to look at them in that light. Like Ben’s reaction when Luke mentions that R2-D2 was looking for Obi Wan Kenobi. I guess they roll ‘droids off an assembly line, so there could have been others like R2, but Ben does a double take, looking at R2 again with a look of realization on his face, as though realizing that this actually is the R2 unit he once knew.

I think in the fall, before the next movie comes out, I’m going to have to watch the whole series chronologically. Although I haven’t written any space opera (well, not that’s come close to being publishable), this series has been a huge influence on my desire to write and tell stories, and it’s a fun universe to visit.

Books, movies

Jane Austen Sick Days

I suppose I should be making some kind of Oscars commentary this morning, but I didn’t watch the ceremony, and I hadn’t seen any of the nominated movies. I think I saw three movies last year. Instead, I was watching the miniseries of War and Peace from a few years ago, mostly to laugh at the costumes (it’s set in the early 1800s in Russia, but a lot of the women’s dresses were more 1930s movie star or 1990s bridesmaid).

I guess I fell into that because I was out of Jane Austen stuff to watch. When you’re sick, as I’ve been for the past few days, Jane Austen is the perfect source for things to read or watch. You don’t have to worry about characters dying, unless it’s a troublesome elderly relative dying offscreen to leave someone a fortune. You don’t have to worry about someone suffering more than a broken heart or the cold they get from getting caught in the rain. If someone we like gets jilted, we can rest assured that the jilter will be smacked upside the head with karma. The people we like and want to end up together will come out well and end up together, while the people we don’t like will get what’s coming to them.

And all of this will happen in lovely dresses on nice, sunny days (unless the weather is needed for a plot point, like that rain to make someone sick). They may talk about needing money, but no one starves, and there are plenty of rich friends and relatives around to help ease the way.

I’m reading a biography of Jane Austen right now, and it seems like a lot of that was wish fulfillment on her part because life was hard and bad things did happen. In her books, she was smoothing over the rough edges, even as she was unleashing the snark and using her pen to create karma that the real world didn’t provide.

Now that I’ve made it through all that Amazon Prime has to offer, I need to get the hoopla app on my Roku up and running because I get that service through my library, and they seem to have the latest Northanger Abbey, which might be even more fun now, since Cathy is played by a young Felicity Jones, and after seeing her in Rogue One, that means I’ll be wanting Cathy to blow stuff up. But that may have to wait until the next time I’m sick. I’m on the mend now and less in need of comfort viewing.

By the way, War and Peace isn’t good comfort viewing if you’re actually paying attention and not just snarking at the clothes or admiring the men’s uniforms. Way too much emotional turmoil, though there is some satisfying karma.


More Christmas Movies

I got through my last crazy holiday weekend. From here on out, other than choir rehearsal Wednesday and Christmas Eve services, any activities are optional.

This weekend, I turned to Amazon Prime Video for my holiday movie fix, and it was a partial fail. The movies I watched were quite good, but not really what I was looking for in terms of a “put on my snowflake flannel PJs, turn on the Christmas lights, and drink cocoa” kind of evening.

First was a movie called A Christmas in New York, which was described as being like Love Actually. The only thing in common with Love Actually is that it told multiple stories. The “Christmas” part just meant there were a few decorations around. It could have been set just about anywhere because it took place entirely inside a hotel. The movie was about one night in a hotel, peeking in on what was going on with some of the people staying in the hotel that night. It was very “stagey,” with the kind of scenes you do for scene studies in acting classes, so I wonder if that’s how it started, and then they turned it into a movie. The acting really was quite good. It was a case of giving good actors some pretty basic material and then letting them run with it. It was just nothing like Love Actually and had zero Christmas feeling.

Which made me start thinking: What is it about Love Actually that makes it what it is? I think a lot of it is the quirkiness and how they made a lot of unexpected choices. Like, in a storyline about a widower and his stepson coping with the loss of a wife/mother, instead of going with something more conventional, they had it focus on the boy’s crush on a classmate and coming up with plans for showing his feelings. Along the way, they did grow together (I noticed on this viewing that the boy goes from calling the stepfather by his name at the beginning to calling him “Dad” at the end of the movie). The story about the husband straying in his marriage gets odd doses of humor from the world’s slowest sales clerk when he’s trying to buy his secretary an expensive gift without his wife catching him and from the wife having to face her children inexplicably dressed as a lobster and an octopus for the school Christmas program immediately after realizing he hadn’t bought the expensive gold necklace for her.

The other movie I watched was The Man Who Invented Christmas, the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol (I suspect it was heavily fictionalized). It’s a really good movie, but not very Christmassy because he’s writing the story earlier in the year to be published at Christmas. I loved the way it depicts the creative process — Dickens will be surrounded by his characters, who are all talking to him, and everything’s going great, and then someone knocks on his door and all the characters vanish. That’s so much what it feels like, though in my case it’s more likely to be a phone ringing. As depicted here, Dickens himself goes on a bit of a Christmas past/present/future journey about his own life during the course of writing the story, with Scrooge always alongside to nag at him, and he has to come to terms with a lot of things before he can write the redemptive ending. Like the other movie, there’s some great acting. All the scenes of Dickens and Scrooge going at it are so much fun when it pretty much means throwing Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer in a room and letting them go (the more I see of Dan Stevens in other things, the more I understand his desire to leave Downton Abbey. He must have been so bored). Someday I think I’ll have to do a double feature of this and Finding Neverland, with the theme of the flights of fancy that are part of the creative process.

Next Sunday night I think I’m going to do my annual viewing of The Holiday, and I’ll have to maybe find a few other things to watch on Saturday. Otherwise, it looks like my evenings this week are spoken for, so that may be it for holiday movies this year.


Revisiting Love Actually

When I got out my DVD of Love Actually, I realized how long it must have been since I watched it because it was the “full screen” edition. I vaguely recalled that being the only option I found when I bought it, but I didn’t remember it being an issue for me. I got the widescreen TV in 2006, but it’s possible that the TV automatically adjusted the picture to fit. I got the Blu-Ray player that shows it in the square instead of fitting the screen in 2011, so it’s been at least that long. I think I may have caught bits and pieces when the movie came on TV, but I haven’t watched the whole movie in at least seven years. Since then, I’ve read the various think pieces, deconstructions, and criticisms, so it was interesting to look at the movie in that light.

I think a lot of the “magic” of the movie for me involved the circumstances in which I first saw it. It had been a difficult week for me. I was in the middle of the first draft of the book that became Enchanted, Inc., and while that was a relatively easy book to write, I was at the hard part after I’d passed the stuff I’d known for a long time and I was having to figure things out. Meanwhile, I’d had to sing for the funeral of a friend that week, someone who was in the choir and who’d been fighting brain cancer for a few years. I got together with friends on Saturday for a girls’ day out. The theater was in one of those shopping centers that’s new but built to be kind of like an old town square, and it’s near downtown, so it really did feel like an old downtown area. We met up for a matinee, got pink girly drinks at the theater’s bar, and then after the movie we went to dinner, did some window shopping, and ended up at Starbucks, where we sat by the fireplace and had hot cocoa. I think a lot of what was going on with me in the movie was getting a good cathartic cry that I hadn’t allowed myself at the funeral since I was singing, and then all the lovely Christmas atmosphere in the movie also spilled into reality with the day we had.

As for the movie, one of the things I like about it is that it’s a mixed bag. When things aren’t going great, sometimes the perfect, happy world of a Christmas movie is a jarring contrast to your life. Having parts of the story be upsetting or depressing makes it not be quite so bad, but there are still happy parts, so the movie isn’t entirely depressing. This is a good holiday season movie to watch when you’re in a funny mood.

There were parts that always bugged me. For instance, I don’t really like the part with the friend obsessed with his best friend’s bride. I’ve never bought into the fictional notion that all feelings must be expressed and acted upon. He’d already had to admit that it wasn’t that he hated her but that he’d had to avoid her out of self-preservation. Going to their house to tell her he loved her, even though he said it was no expectation, was kind of a crappy thing to do as a friend. Be an adult and just deal with the fact that you can’t get everything you want.

The prime minister story line has not aged well. Basically, a woman gets fired because her boss has the hots for her and gets jealous when someone else pays attention to her, but it’s all okay because he learns that she was actually being sexually harassed. In the #MeToo era, it’s hard to see that story as at all romantic.

It struck me on this viewing that the whole movie is very “male gaze,” which is odd for a movie whose primary audience is probably heavily female. Not only is there a lot of nudity or near-nudity (the male nudity is played more like a joke), but few of the women in the movie have any agency. They’re basically prizes to be won, with little consideration for what they actually feel. Since we don’t really get the woman’s point of view until the end, when we maybe learn she likes him, too, it’s all about what he wants. In the few story lines where the women have a perspective, they’re mostly at the mercy of the men in their lives.

But the parts that are good and charming are really good and charming. I may not like the rest of the bride storyline, but I do love the wedding scene. I think it’s a bit much that the Colin Firth character proposes to a woman he’s never actually had a conversation with, but I like their scenes, where they’re saying the same things without realizing it because of the language barrier, and the proposal scene, while illogical, makes me teary-eyed. Emma Thompson proves how much of an acting goddess she is in the scene when she’s expecting the gold necklace she found earlier and gets a CD instead and realizes her husband gave the gold necklace to someone else. I think the best story line is with the Liam Neeson character and his stepson. It’s even sadder now realizing that not many years after this movie, he really was widowed. Although it’s sort of about the boy’s love for the girl in his class he wants to win (yet another woman as prize), I think it’s really about them and their relationship with each other in the aftermath of their loss. Their scenes are so sweet. It’s also a fun storyline because it sets up so many inside jokes for Phineas and Ferb (the boy went on to be the voice of Ferb on the cartoon, and the girl was Vanessa). There was a sequel scene done for one of those fundraising telethons that really ties a neat bow on it.

I did get my cathartic cry the first time I saw the movie, and this time around, in spite of my ongoing mental critique, I will admit that it got very hard for me to see my knitting.

There have been a lot of imitators trying to do the same kind of thing with Christmas and with other holidays, but there really was something about this movie.