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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.