Wednesday, January 3, 2024

someone else's comfort movies

So John Scalzi spent the month of December writing essays on 31 movies he considers December "comfort watches," that is, movies he likes to curl up with on a cold day and see again for the Nth time. You can read the essays laid out in his blog.

It isn't surprising he should do this - Scalzi started out his writing career as a film critic, and I guess he really still is one at heart. His insights into these movies' virtues are quite thoughtful, and mostly free of his usual snark. What I found I didn't share was his taste in movies. It took all 31 days before he came up with one that I'd call a "comfort watch" in his sense, The Princess Bride.

I did, however, watch, or try watching, some of the movies on his list that I hadn't seen before, though my plan to try all of them crashed when he posted no. 8, The Godfather, a movie I had already seen and detested. If he calls that a comfort movie, his tastes are just too different from mine. I only watched The Godfather because it was supposed to be a Great Movie, a motivation that has rarely worked out well for me.

Here's my classification of his results.

Movies I'd already seen and loved
31. The Princess Bride. I've rewatched this many times, and not just because my first viewing was ideal: a pre-release sneak preview, in a theater packed with other fans of the book, some of whom were friends of mine. Cary Elwes, Billy Crystal, and don't forget Peter Falk, in particular, were utterly perfect in their roles.

Movies I'd already seen and thought, "eh, ok"
2. The Emperor's New Groove.
12. Josie and the Pussycats. Music mediocre, women-bonding plot appealing, corporate-conspiracy-to-manipulate-teenagers plot stupid.
14. Crazy Rich Asians. I tried watching this rom-com a second time a while ago, and liked it a lot less than the first time. Why does he invite her to meet his family in Singapore without telling her a thing about them? The premise is just nuts, and the execution is clumsy.
16. Hail, Caesar! Absolutely terrific trailer which was diluted to failure when expanded to full movie length. Seems to be nothing more than an excuse to show Hollywood epic films of the 50s being staged. OK if you want that; I'm not interested.
17. The Nightmare Before Christmas.
19. Hidden Figures. Like Scalzi, I watched this one because I'm a moonshot space program buff who knew nothing about this aspect of it: the black women computers. Very informative movie.
21. A Knight's Tale.
26. Sleepless in Seattle. Rom-com whose implausibility outweighs its appeal.

Movies I'd already seen and hated
8. The Godfather. Three hours of men pointlessly killing each other.
11. Tootsie. Scalzi thinks that Dustin Hoffman's character being a jerk as a man is the point of the movie, but I couldn't stand being in his company.
23. Tangled. Bottom-of-the-barrel Disney. They can spend all this money on animation, why none on fixing the slackness in the plot?
25. The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Judged purely as movies, ignoring the adaptation, I found these visually impressive but tedious and pompous in the watching. To get that reaction from adapting my favorite novel of all time requires absolutely epic incompetence.
29. The Nice Guys. More jerks I didn't want to spend a movie in the company of.

Movies I watched because Scalzi listed them which I liked
9. Bolt. I doubt I'll ever rewatch it, but this Disney animated movie, which I'd never even heard of, about the love between a girl and her dog, is really touching the way that Toy Story was touching.
13. The 13th Warrior. I hadn't even known there was a movie version of Crichton's Eaters of the Dead. There's a lot of ruthless slaughter of bad guys in this movie, but the plot rolls along well and the male bonding between the naive Arab ambassador and the hard-bitten Vikings is superbly done.
28. Return to Me. As Scalzi says: extremely gentle rom-com with characters who all like each other (except for the obligatory bad dates). But the Duchovny rom-com I want to see is his new one, What Happens Later.

Movies I watched because Scalzi listed them which I thought OK
4. While You Were Sleeping. Rom-com whose plot is continuously hideously embarrassing. (Sandra Bullock is mistakenly identified as fiancee of man in coma. His family are so delighted to meet her that she doesn't have the heart to correct the error.) My problem is that when I come across an embarrassing scene in a streaming movie I have to turn it off to recover. This one was so full of such scenes, it took me about a week to get through it.
5. Invictus. I don't watch sports, and I knew nothing about rugby except "a form of football", but like some other sports movies this was kind of inspiring.
10. Noelle. This wants to be a warm-hearted Christmas movie, but the "Santa Claus is real" premise is too rickety. Much of it is a "fish out of water" scenario in which Santa's daughter visits Phoenix, of which (having spent her life at the North Pole) she's so ignorant she can't pronounce "Arizona." But her people skills are great, so at the end she inherits the job of Santa; yay woman power, but it's done kind of dutifully.

Movies I rewatched because Scalzi listed them
18. Die Hard. Action thriller which is really about the characters and the dialogue, both well-written and well-acted, which puts it several steps above the average action thriller.
30. Pride and Prejudice (2005). Better than I remembered it the first time, but still far inferior to the cluster of late-1990s Austen movies. Not as crisp, and at the end turns totally soggy.

Movies I watched because Scalzi listed them which I turned off because the remake was superior
7. Much Ado About Nothing (1993). Not terrible, but the Joss Whedon version is oh so much better. Branagh and Thompson are too declamatory; they forget they're not on stage. Kate Beckinsale, who's usually great in period films, is Hero and is totally inert.
24. A Christmas Carol (1984). Sorry, but The Muppet Christmas Carol outclasses this.

Movies I watched because Scalzi listed them which I turned off almost immediately
1. The Holiday. Sucky rom-com. How can a movie with both Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet be dull and badly made? But it was. I turned it off at the point when Diaz asks Jude Law, whom she's just met, to boink her.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. This was so alienating I wanted to be on a different planet.
6. Down With Love. I like some extremely stylized movies (Raising Arizona), but this one's style was not for me.

Movies I still might watch
20. Addams Family Values. As a fan of the original cartoons and the 1964 tv show, I thought the Addams Family movie was disappointing, and I had no desire to go on. But Scalzi says this second one found its groove better than the predecessor.
22. Stranger Than Fiction. This one's been somewhere down on my want-to-see list for some time.

Movies I have no intention of watching
15. Speed Racer
27. Pacific Rim

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