I'm nobody special.

Drove back from a friend’s wedding on Whidbey Island this morning. Very romantic occasion! Sometimes I just need a wedding, and people going on and on about their feelings for each other, and reading vows, and singing each other songs, and dancing, and feeding each other cake, to restore my faith that romance, the kind I write about, is real. Congratulations, guys!

This afternoon, Sonia and I went to Captain America. Overall, I loved it. Two big pluses and a small minus:

1+) This was a movie that really lived by “Show, don’t tell.” A lot of stories tell me that the hero is the hero because he’s a good person, and that the villain is the villain because he’s evil, all the way to the bone.

I’ve been rereading some of the later Harry Potter books, for instance. I adore the books, don’t get me wrong, but they’re very eager to tell me that Harry can defeat Voldemort because unlike Voldemort, he loves deeply. The problem is, when Harry is actually described feeling an emotion, it is almost consistently anger, hatred, or a desire for revenge. I don’t object to that per se, but it doesn’t sell the story I’m being told.

In this telling of Steve Rogers’s origin story, he was chosen to be Captain America because he’s a good man. Because he puts others first, because he always tries to do what’s right, because he hates bullying, because he never gives up. Because he cares, deeply. And we are shown that again and again.

He isn’t just decent when it’s time for the big things: in every interaction Steve has, right down to his first scene–an interaction with a disrespectful movie patron–he shows that same decency, courage, and willingness to put himself on the line for others. And it’s clearly shown that it’s his history of being a good guy when it comes to the small stuff that makes him able to be a good guy when it comes to the big stuff.

We’re also shown the Red Skull consistently, in every interaction, being arrogant, selfish, greedy, and pointlessly cruel. So when we got to the big power moment where the Red Skull says, “What have you got that I don’t?” and Captain America says, “I’m nobody special”…I was cheering! Because I had been shown exactly what the Cap had that the Red Skull didn’t.

2+) A lot of superhero movies focus on the single superhero whose name appears in the title, and his personal heroism. The same goes for action movies in general–there’s a tendency to focus on one man, and his ability to single-handedly defeat much greater opponents. Captain America has a team! And friends, and superior officers, and allies from other Allied countries…the list goes on.

Captain America, dusty, a torn motorcycle jacket over his uniform, gets three cheers from a bunch of grimy soldiers and a smile from Agent Carter in a flight jacket

Captain America is a symbol. He has the ability to inspire others, to bring out the best in people. In almost every shot that featured him doing something amazing, his team was right behind him, backing him up, making what he did possible. He’s a leader, but not a lone wolf.

This movie was full of heroes of all kinds: not just the Cap, but his best friend Bucky, his army unit, the scientists who modified his genes, every Allied soldier who volunteered to fight the Nazis, the women who bought war bonds, the girls who entertained the troops…every single character in this movie who wasn’t a Nazi, the Red Skull or one of his men was a hero in their own way.

Even the little kid taken hostage by a Hydra agent for Captain America’s good behavior and then thrown off a dock was a hero: “Go get him!” the kid yells. “I can swim!”

3-) The romance. Why can’t action movies seem to get romance right? I loved Agent Carter, don’t get me wrong. She was a great character. But the romance was definitely a weak link in an otherwise very strong movie. First they trotted out some tired “I’ve never talked to a woman before” clichés. Then they ignored several opportunities to have the Cap and Agent Carter discuss potential real connections between them (for example, they both had to struggle to be allowed to do their part for the war effort, him because of his physical weakness and her because she’s an attractive woman) in favor of run-of-the-mill flirtation. They threw in some meaningful looks, and then they told me that it was a betrayal for him to kiss another woman and that their love was epic.

I want to think, “Man, if they can plan an attack on a mountain fortress this well together, imagine what they’d be like in bed!” Instead, most of the time, all I’m given is “Wouldn’t they be good in bed?” If you want the romance to work, if you want me to really believe that these people love each other deeply and belong together, the relationship has to have other things besides romance in it.

So often the relationships in action movies that really sell me are the ones between the hero and his best friend or sidekick. They have a history. I see them understanding how each other thinks, working together to solve problems. I see them risking their lives for each other, trusting each other absolutely in a tight spot. I see them giving each other strength. I even see them hanging out, sharing private jokes, enjoying each other’s company.

Of course, sometimes the relationship that sells me is between the hero and his nemesis. They have a history. They can’t focus on anything but each other when they’re in the same room. They define who each other is, motivate each other to be the best and the worst they can be.

I believe that those relationships mean something to the characters.

But when it comes to the hero and his girlfriend, most of the time all there is is the romance. Those speaking glances, snappy comebacks, and sizzling attraction are the only thing drawing the characters together.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a relationship that starts with casual attraction, moves to dating, and builds from there. It happens all the time and it’s great. But if you want me to believe that when the hero thinks he’s going to die, the person he wants to spend his last moments talking to is the heroine, even though they only met a few months before–then you have to do better.

Which is why I love romance, of course. Because it gives me the whole package.

Have you seen the Captain America movie? Did you like it? And what’s your favorite full, complex h/h relationship?

David Tennant was originally cast in this movie and left the production

Burke and Hare contemporary engravingsSo I sincerely apologize if any of you have seen this movie and loved it. My mother always taught me that it’s not nice to say ick about what other people are eating, and I really believe that. So if you liked Burke & Hare with Simon Pegg, please don’t read this.

Sonia and I just walked out of the movie about halfway through. I am so bitterly disappointed. I was in a great mood going in (and had had a couple glasses of wine) and I love Simon Pegg and I love grave-robbing (not as a hobby, you understand, but as a topic of historical interest) so I was really predisposed to love this movie. And I absolutely couldn’t stand it.

I think my main complaint is that there was NOTHING about this comedy that felt specific. To the topic, to the characters, to ANYTHING. This movie could have been set in the 80s and it would have had the exact same complement of jokes:

1. People talking in “hilarious” working class Scottish accents.
2. A woman drinking until she fell with her face in a dish of oatmeal.
3. A fat guy having a fat body. Hilarious! Oh wait no, that’s just HOW PEOPLE LOOK SOMETIMES WHAT IS INHERENTLY FUNNY ABOUT THAT.
4. The word “whore” said in a “funny” accent.

Oh and this one is at least historically specific but I’ve seen it already in 8,000,000 historical comedies:

5. Someone emptying a chamber pot out a window. This hasn’t been funny since THE SIXTIES.

The jokes were just so stale and so easy, and the whole setting looked like it was borrowed from the Masterpiece Theater wardrobe closet (and you know I love low-budget costume dramas, but there was seriously NOTHING fresh about the historical setting, NOTHING), there was such a huge cast of incredibly talented people who were completely and utterly wasted…

I can’t remember the last time I felt this generally appalled about a movie. X-Files 2: I Want to Believe, maybe?

To learn more about Burke and Hare and how incredibly ludicrous their story actually was in actual real life, see this recap.

To see Burke and Hare comedy done right, see this Kate Beaton comic.

Redemption arcs ftw

I went to see Thor yesterday! I really loved it. Among other things, I thought it did a fantastic job of creating established relationships and a sense of history–I really believed Thor and Loki were brothers, that Thor and his friends were lifelong friends, &c. It really felt like people knew each other.

Also, not surprisingly, I fell madly in love with Loki.

Thor Loki poster reading "God of Mischief"

I just wanted Thor to give him a big hug and make everything better! And it made me realize something else I love about romance: in a superhero movie, when there’s a person who’s sweet and good, and a person who’s angry and troubled, they’re probably going to end up archnemeses. In a romance, they’ll end up married.

(Speaking of superheroes, you all need to see Kate Beaton’s Lois Lane comics! While I actually really love Clark and Lois as a couple, these made me laugh hysterically.)

I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly

I went and saw the new Jane Eyre movie with a couple of friends last night. Has anyone else seen it yet? I cannot recommend it enough. You know that movie that plays in your head when you read a book? It felt like they were filming directly from that. But then at the same time, it felt like I was reading the book for the first time, experiencing it in a whole new way and seeing things about it I never saw before.

First, exciting news: A Lily Among Thorns is now available for pre-order at Amazon! The Kindle version doesn’t seem to be up yet, but I’ll let you know when it is.

Jane Eyre 2011 poster

I went and saw the new Jane Eyre movie with a couple of friends last night. Has anyone else seen it yet? I cannot recommend it enough. You know that movie that plays in your head when you read a book? It felt like they were filming directly from that. But then at the same time, it felt like I was reading the book for the first time, experiencing it in a whole new way and seeing things about it I never saw before.

And they captured exactly the right feeling between Jane and Mr. Rochester: that they’re both kind of weird and intense and don’t really tell each other very much, but they still somehow have this intense emotional connection.

I also love the lighting in the movie. You don’t often get a sense in period films of just how dark it could be when flame was the only way of lighting a house. But in this movie, at nighttime, it was dark. Completely dark. The way that they filmed light and dark and fire, the way they filmed certain scenes like it was a horror movie (which it is, really, the Gothic novel is proto-horror, but you don’t always see that in adaptations) added so perfectly to the sense of isolation and the menace of the unknown and hidden that is so important to the book.

Plus, the costumes were great. Sometimes I wish someone would do a Jane Eyre adaptation in Regency clothes, because that is when the book is set, but it’s such a Victorian novel that I understand why they don’t.

What’s your favorite movie adaptation of a book? If you have a least favorite movie adaptation, I’d love to hear about that too!

No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die! (Also, some news.)

So first, some news: the release date of A Lily among Thorns has been pushed back to September.

I know it sucks to have to wait longer, and I’m sorry to tell you this so late in the game. But this means that the e-book and the paperback will come out at the same time, which I think in the end is good for the book. And I really want this book to have the best chance that it can, so I’m actually pretty happy, but I do apologize to folks who were excited about getting the book in the next couple of months. I really appreciate your patience through all of the changes that have happened with this book! I can only hope that you’ll find it worth the wait.

And now for something completely different! Yesterday I was working on this post for favoritethingEVER.com about The Persuaders!. In it, I quoted something Roger Moore said in a British TV special about him. There was another quote that stuck with me:

“Sean played the throwaway line not quite as deliberately as I do. I sort of tip the audience off and say ‘here comes a joke.’ It was a surprise coming from Sean. That was the difference between us.”

This one took me a while to work out. At first I was dubious. Their Bonds are so different! How could this one tiny thing be the key? But I shouldn’t have doubted Roger Moore.

Because this one tiny thing turns Bond from a guy who laughs in the face of danger into a guy who laughs at his own dumb jokes in the face of danger. Which to me is exactly what’s so great about Moore’s Bond and (of course this is purely a personal preference) ratchets him up from “moderately sexy” to “someone please fetch my fainting couch.”

Roger Moore smirking behind a martini glass

I’ve realized over the past few years how important it is to me that a hero enjoy himself. Because for me, a huge part of the romantic fantasy is feeling like I would enjoy myself with him.

Which doesn’t mean he has to be happy. I love angst as much as the next girl, I just prefer that my hero take some time out to have fun in between his moments of self-doubt/ennui/crushing remorse/whatever (e.g. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

(If you want me to love a hero who doesn’t have fun, the easiest way to do it is to make him so broody/serious that I enjoy affectionately laughing at him, e.g. Angel from Buffy. Or Batman.)

Who is your favorite Bond? Why? Does that correspond to your favorite type of hero in a romance? (Just please, don’t insult Roger Moore’s acting skills in your comment! There seems to be a lot of that going around and I’m starting to feel a wee bit protective…)

Now I want a hat with a veil

Happy new year, everyone!

On New Year’s Day, Gwen Mitchell and I went to see “The King’s Speech.” I’m a sucker for:

1) Helena Bonham-Carter
2) historical costume
3) World War II
4) cross-class friendships
5) heroes who are underappreciated by their families
6) stories about disabilities.

Therefore, this movie was perfect for me. I loved it. Also, I was concerned they were going to ignore the future Duke of Windsor’s Nazi sympathies (which were the real reason he was forced to abdicate), and while they certainly focused on the Wallis Simpson stuff, they did bring it up several times so I was pleased.

Plus I saw a preview for the new Jane Eyre movie and it looked AWESOME. The actress is the gymnast girl from In Treatment and I thought she was very talented.

I also spent the last week or so reading Fingersmith by Sarah Waters which I ADORED. It’s a sort of Dickensian-thieves’-kitchen gritty historical novel with a lesbian love story. I was recently reading a conversation on historical accuracy on Courtney Milan’s blog and keep coming back to this comment by Robin:

When I think of some authors whose historical world-building seems most successful to me, it’s not as much the “correctness” of specific details (although dates, places, and well-known historical events are easy to get right and less tolerable to me when they are not), as much as feeling of transportation to a fictional world characterized by a cogent but still translatable “otherness” (i.e. verisimilitude). In that place, I feel as if I am placed into an entire universe that extends far beyond what the author shows me, one that remains consistent no matter which direction the narrative turns.

This is a perfect description of the amazing historical world created in Fingersmith, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction, especially Victorian historicals.

And finally, if you want to know more about my favorite band the Headstones and their musical genius, I did a post about them for favoritethingEVER.com.

I hope the new year brings all of you lots of amazing stuff to read. Tell me a book (besides mine of course) that you are looking forward to in 2011!