Six Movies I Wish I’d Written

Having finished Fox Fire, I’m forging straight on to my next novel. I’ve been writing off and on for fun since High School, but I have almost no experience in actually finishing novels (I love being able to put “almost” in front of that now). This next is called Chasing Clouds, and it is a romantic comedy for Young Adults, with a fantasy twist.

Chasing Clouds is going to be short, paced like a movie – which means the inspiring moments most often come while watching some of my favorites.

movie poster for 500 days of summer
500 Days of Summer

#6 500 Days of Summer

As the movie will tell you in the beginning, this is not a love story. It’s a moving on story. It’s a story on how to deal. Without giving too many spoilers; you get to see Summer from the hero’s perspective in several ways, through different lenses. We see how he fell for her, how he hated her, how he missed her, and how she was totally bad for him… and good for him. Plus it’s super funny – a Romantic Comedy for guys.

Why I Wish I’d Written It: The comedic element. The non-traditional format; the story is non-linear, showing which “Day” it is with each new scene, telling us how long it’s been since the first day he met Summer. The theme of the movie as it follows this character, being a romantic movie that guys can totally identify with that isn’t just about “winning the day and the girl”.

movie poster for stardust
Stardust

#5 Stardust

Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s YA Novel, this is a bright-eyed young man who is swept up in an epic fantasy adventure, all in the name of love. Neil is one of my favorite authors, first because of his pure skill with words, but secondly because of the beauty in his ability to genre-bend.

Why I Wish I’d Written It: I love the Romantic Twist, as we watch the hero grow up. The plot itself, the magical elements of the setting, are seamlessly tied up in the romance which develops throughout the story. This delivers an emotional punch that I am, frankly, jealous of.

dvd cover for hitch
Hitch

#4 Hitch

My favorite modern romantic comedy. That genre (distinctive from “chick flicks”) is a dying art, and Hitch is one of the best examples of the past decade. Not only do we get to see a likable side of Will Smith that we don’t get from his usual “Swagger Sci-Fi Hero” characters… but the movie is exceptionally well-written. It takes the basic idiot plot (where the emotional pinch is supplied by a character’s dishonesty) and makes it into something plausible and believable. This is one of the classics of our generation, a movie I’m sure will be watched for ages.

Why I Wish I’d Written It: It’s constant laughs from the very start, and remains engaging throughout. The dialog is fun and snappy. We get to see a vulnerable side to all four of the characters who we are hoping to see end up happy, which endears us to them. (I guess Sara’s friend is another, so that makes 5 people we’re invested in.) It accomplishes all of this in record time. Best of all, I just love the mood; it’s a great UP movie.

blueray cover for source code
Source Code

#3 Source Code

Newest movie on this list, Source Code was a delightful surprise. I expected just another thriller, something Bourne-esque. I got a whole lot more from it. This movie started off interesting, and had me at the edge of my seat. It’s like Groundhog’s Day meets the Twilight Zone, or the Matrix, and somehow squeezes a charming romance into everything that is going on. I was sobbing by the end; always an endearing quality for a movie, especially when that sob is a happy one.

Why I Wish I’d Written It: The concept is different, the thriller element mixes well with the romance, and it pulls off a 9/11 patriotic element without coming off cheesy, which I was surprised to find myself totally loving.

dvd cover for stranger than fiction
Stranger than Fiction

#2 Stranger than Fiction

The narrations about the hero’s life grabbed me from the get-go, especially the fun little quips about Harold’s watch. I love the atmosphere created by the music and the little computer menus that hover around Harold. I was never the biggest Will Ferrel fan, but this movie caught me by surprise when I found that I really loved his character and performance. Another movie that gets me sobbing pretty hard-core, especially a moment toward the end with the author hitting her keyboard. If you go watch it, you’ll know what I mean.

Why I Wish I’d Written It: The concept is fantastic; a man can hear the voice of the author who is narrating his life, and through the narrative discovers that his death is eminent. Once again, I LOVE a good genre-bend. There are a lot of really adorable endearing moments, especially when Harold brings Ana “Flours”.

dvd cover for definitely maybe
Definitely, Maybe

#1. Definitely, Maybe

Ryan Reynolds plays William Hayes, who is going through a divorce. His daughter wants to know the story of how her mother and father met, so he decides to tell her the whole story from the beginning – changing the names of the girls he dated so that she’ll have to guess which one is her mother.

I have this thing where I’ve always enjoyed watching Ryan Reynolds on screen, but that he always gets these crap parts. This is a movie where he doesn’t. He gets to play the lead role, he fits into that role perfectly, and the story is wonderfully written. While it is clearly a Romantic Comedy, I love how the story becomes about so much more; his relationship with his daughter.

All of the movies on this list are some of my favorites of all-time, but this movie retains the most re-watch-ability. Lines like, “Dad? I can’t believe you smoked… and drank… and were such a slut. But I still love you,” get me every time. Having been through divorce, it’s a powerful moment when you can feel that love from someone close again.

Why I Wish I’d Written It: We really get to grow with the hero, to watch his development as he charges into the world as a confident graduate with huge ambitions, and learns that the world (and romance) doesn’t work the way he expected. The bonding story with he and his daughter is moving, and in the end I am totally convinced that he ended up with the right one.

Story Lessons from Thanksgiving Movies

Umm… Spoiler Warning. Just sayin.

Sara and I have (for the most part) gone without TV this month. We decided that there were things we wanted to get accomplished, and that TV was indeed serving as a distraction. So we shut it off for the month, with some built-in exceptions. (E.G. I had just begun a Lord of the Rings watch-through for the first time in years, and wasn’t finished yet. I had also ordered the 1408 DVD for my Halloween treat, and missed the opportunity to watch it during October.)

This Thanksgiving Break, I wrote over 27,000 words, most toward my current novel. In the moments that I wasn’t stuffing my face, sleeping, or writing, I needed a break. The gym was closed, (don’t laugh at me, I go to the gym to get a break, release stress, and listen to audio books) and there weren’t exactly many options open to us. We made a few exceptions and watched some movies.

Movies are one of my favorite ways to get a break from writing, because I can experience a totally different story from beginning to end in just an hour and a half. I can experience setting, character, and plot and if the movie is good – I have a good time.

The Adjustment Bureau

I started things off right with the Adjustment Bureau. I’d already seen this in the theater, and loved it from beginning to end. Basically it’s a Romance with an almost-Matrixy feel, involving these men wearing suits and bowler hats who control the future of human society. Matt Damon’s character (David) discovers these men at work (through a slip-up), and is told that he has to stay away from a girl he likes because “the plan says so”. It’s a classic love vs. fate plotline.

A professional critic wrote a review that warned that the ending was cheesy, and I’ll have to say… yeah, I agree. But it’s the good kind of cheese, the kind that you want extra on that pizza that Kevin orders just for him. It’s the kind of cheese that makes me feel warm and good inside, and I love it.

What I learned from the Adjustment Bureau: People are writing stories that I would have totally come up with, and they’re getting made into movies. I do not have singular tastes, and I should trust my ideas more.

Temple Grandin

Next, I watched Temple Grandin with my family. It is based on the true life story of Temple Grandin, a doctor of animal science, widely known for her voice on the experience of being autistic. I have been looking forward to this movie for a long time, and was not disappointed; it was riveting, and very educational for anyone who is curious about how autism works.

What I learned from Temple Grandin: Mostly that I just really respect the lady, and that I want to read her book “Emergence” as soon as I can. Since this was based on a real-life story, the only plotting lesson I could learn is that life really can supply some of the best inspiration for conflict and opposition.

Return to Me

I’m a guy that likes Romances. Usually I prefer Romantic Comedies, but I can watch something more sentimental if it has some wit to it. I’d borrowed Return to Me months ago from my sister, and eventually got too busy with the wedding for movies. Now seemed like the best time to watch it. She warned me that it was a bit cheesy, but that she loved the old men in the movie. I actually thought it was a really touching story. However (and it’s this part that usually gets me into trouble), the reason the story was so corny was because the conflict at the end was so unbelievable. The whole thing hinges on Grace being unable to confess that she’s had a heart transplant, even though it would have fit really easily into some of the conversations they had.

I’m sorry, what? You can’t tell this guy you really connect with that you had a Heart Transplant? What’s worse is that they continue on this path to drive the entire climax of the film, because when she finally does tell him (after finding out that her new heart was his late wife’s), he walks off. Everything we’ve seen about this character has shown him to be a man in emotional control, who is respectful and considerate and all the things we know most men struggle with. So he walks off without so much of a “Whoa, this is a bit heavy… I might need some time to digest this, babe.”

Now let me come back to what I was saying originally. I thought the movie was charming. It was, for the most part, a great balance of sentimentality with a dash of witty humor. I loved the characters. I loved the dialogue. If these two were mine and Sara’s friends, it would have made a REALLY cute dinner story to tell folks.

I really enjoyed… almost the entire movie. It was just the ending that fell apart, all because the conflict was so impossible to believe. Not only that, but the “Character can’t tell the truth about something” conflict is a horrible choice, and smacks of Disney TV movies.

Hitch

If you want to see an example of this kind of conflict done RIGHT, watch Hitch. You’ll notice that the conflict was built out of a lot more than just “Hitch didn’t tell her what he does for a living”. It had all sorts of problems; the paparazzi, Alfred’s insecurity, Sara’s strong personality and desire to defend her friend, the fact that their relationship has been relatively short, and the nature of Hitch’s job ALL lead together to make the conflict work.

All the same, if you’re constructing a romance, I would strongly encourage you to look for a different conflict than “this character can’t tell the truth for some reason”.

Cool Runnings

Cool Runnings was one of my very favorite movies as a kid. I haven’t seen it since I was about 10, and I never had the opportunity to watch it until recently when it was found in Sara’s collection. Even then, she put it in and I walked in partway through and got caught up in it. I don’t know why I didn’t put it in myself… I think part of me was afraid the same thing would happen as when I watched Three Ninjas when I was older and realized it was a really, really dumb film. That killed one of my favorite movie experiences, and I didn’t want to taint Cool Runnings in my memory.

Whatever your opinion about cheesy Live-Action movie films from the 90s, this film is still awesome. It was about a laugh a minute, and I absolutely love the ending. The movie peppers in conflict throughout, so that instead of getting one huge showdown of hero vs. villain at the end, we watch the team overcome adversity time and time again.

I loved it! I don’t think stories always need to have everything converge at the end. This felt authentic, despite the funny jokes in bad accents, overall silliness, and corny moving speeches from John Candy. Once again, I felt that the sled-breaking in the end felt somewhat fateful, like a slice of life and deus ex machina all rolled into one. But that’s okay. I could believe it would happen.

So the convergence of all these lessons comes to this; If you want to write any idea or genre and you don’t know if it will be well-received, just go for it. Just avoid the “can’t tell the truth” as a major conflict, and make the heroine’s heart act up and put her in the hospital instead. Makes more sense anyway.

Scott Pilgrim’s Symbols: Breaking Down the Allegory

picture of DVD cover
Amazon Link for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World DVD

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is an allegorical, multi-watch movie. Some of the absurd humor will strike you immediately the first time, but some of the deeper messages and layered symbolic humor will hit you on subsequent viewings.

An Allegory is a story where symbolism is taken to the extreme. Instead of having one symbol, (like a sword that stands for Love, or Self-Respect), there are symbols upon symbols. The setting itself, the conflicts in the plot, sometimes entire characters are often representative symbols.

Example – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Aslan represents Christ, Narnia is another world which he saves through selfless sacrifice. The personal stories of Edmund, Tumnus, and Lucy represent Christ’s power to influence people’s lives, give them a second chance, and make them into better people.

In Symbolism, we call the thing acting as the symbol the vehicle, and what it represents is the tenor. For example;

  • The Vehicle – the flaming red sword
  • The Tenor – The Power of Love

In Scott Pilgrim, the situation is very similar. Here are a few symbollic examples from the movie that may help you break down the allegory in your future viewings of the movie.

picture of cover for Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
Amazon Link to Volume 1 - Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley

FIGHT! – When Scott is confronted by Ramona’s evil exes, this suggests that symbolically, he is fighting an inner battle. Here is the totally hot girl of his dreams, and he’s been living like a loser. Is he good enough for her?

Continue? 10, 9, 8… – When Scott and Knives have just finished playing the Ninja arcade game, she asks “Do you want to keep going?” This represents the situation Scott is in. He knows he should break up with Knives, but he is having a hard time coming out and saying it. Some of the set-up for this symbol comes from Scott’s conversation with his roommate Wallace earlier. Wallace demanded that Scott “break up with Knives, today”, to which Scott replied “But it’s haaaaard!”

Ramona Joins the Fight – Against Ex #4, Ramona joins in the fight. This suggests that Scott may have felt insecure at the news that Ramona had experimented with her sexuality. “You had a sexy phase?” In order to get past this tricky bit of Ramona’s history, Scott needs to involve her in his personal battle.

The Extra Life – The tenor of this symbol is self-evident. Scott says it out loud when he is asked, “What are you doing?” and he answers, “Getting a Life.”

Leveling Up, Experience Points/Money – These experience points are gained throughout the movie until Scott “Levels Up”. Each time he defeats an ex, these rewards are given. This is what we call the vehicle in the symbol. The tenor, or what the symbol represents, is Scott Pilgrim’s progress in his journey to regain his Self-Respect. We can assume this because of the evidence in Scott’s second attempt at fighting Gideon. He gets points for making amends with his friends, and for taking himself seriously when confronted instead of babbling meekly.

The Second Battle – If my analysis of the two symbols above are true, then we might be able to assume that the entire Second Battle is a result of Scott Pilgrim’s change of heart. He’s learned that he’s been something of a wanna-be-lady-killer-jerky-jerk, and judging Ramona for her faults. During the second battle he prioritizes making amends, and fighting for himself – meaning he is focused on becoming a better person.

The Power of Self-Respect – With the second sword, Scott puts up a better fight, comes at Gideon with a more powerful two-handed blow instead of the flailing one-armed strike from earlier (when he fought with the Power of Love). Yet, just as before, the sword eventually shatters. Nobody’s confidence is impenetrable, everyone doubts themselves eventually. This leads to the next symbol on the list…

Two Player Mode! – When Knives joins in the fight against Gideon, we could translate this symbol a few ways. Perhaps Scott and Knives found a way to remain good friends. Maybe they found closure and that helped Scott move on in his personal battle. What do you think?

Nega Scott – At the end of the game, Scott faces off against himself. Instead of a fight, they make plans to get banana pancakes together later (As far as I can tell from the dialogue, lol!). This represents Scott making amends with himself, forgiving himself after he’s done what he can to make restitution and repair the damage he has caused in other people’s lives.

This blog is a follow-up of this previous post:

Scott Pilgrim’s Symbolism

Scott Pilgrim’s Symbolism

Scottie Earned the Power of Self-Respect

Scott Pilgrim is a movie that appeals not only to a certain audience via interest (video games and anime), but also through taste (humor type), and life experience.

This isn’t that far off from every other story portrayed through books, movies, or other means. We bring our personal experiences to the table in everything we do, especially when we communicate. Fiction is communication that transcends time and space. (You are reading this at a different time and place from where I originally wrote it – example stolen by Stephen King in his memoir.)

Signs and Symbols are things given meaning on the level of the person and the community. A flag can be a symbol of freedom, and a rose a symbol of love. However, to the person who had been shoved into a rose bush at a young age and come out damaged, a rose might represent pain and violence.

picture of Scott vs. Matthew Patel
My name is Matthew Patel, and I am Ramona's first evil ex-boyfriend.

There is Symbolism in just about every moment of Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgrim is literally dating a High Schooler, still rebounding from his big heartbreak a year before. Is he literally headbutting people so hard that they burst?

Probably not. When someone enters a new relationship and meets that person’s ex, they are confronted by that history. Not in a literal way, but still in a real way. That person has to confront their worth and face the idea that this ex may be better than them in some way.

  • “Short Answer? Being a vegan just makes you better than most people.”
  • “She’s with Gideon now.” “Aww, it’s probably just because he’s better than you.”

Is Scott literally fighting these exes to win her heart? No, he is confronted by her past because he has recently entered into a relationship with her. This explains a lot of why Ramona doesn’t do the fighting. In fact, the question “Why doesn’t Ramona fight?” may lead to some interesting answers.

Ex #4 – in this scene, Ramona does participate in the fighting. This is partially because Scott can’t bring himself to hit a girl, and partially because the gender implications of the relationship have changed things up a little bit. In the end what is important is that Scott needed a little help from Ramona to reconcile this tricky part of her history.

At the end of the movie, we find out about Ramona’s chip. Once again, this cannot be literal, not by our current scientific knowledge. Instead it suggests she was symbolically held captive. Have you ever known a girl who had an ex, the one who was just so sly and subtly coercive that he always seems to worm his way back into her life, and won’t let her alone so she can move on?

Enter Gideon.

Having just come out of a relationship with a controlling guy, Ramona pits her new “nice guy”, up against her own history. She needs to analyze this new guy in every way to make sure that he will not treat her the same way, later on down the road.

There is a strong moral taught through the movie on honesty and dating. One should not date another person just because they are “good enough for now”, or just to avoid being alone. This is exactly the trap Scott falls into when he dates Knives – it is a common trap for those who have been heartbroken to run into the arms of others; relationships that they already know will go nowhere. We usually call it “rebound”, and rebounds hurt people. Usually the person rebounding does not realize what they are doing – they are acting from instinct, a fear of being alone.

A picture of Scott facing Nega Scott
Scott vs. NEGA Scott

In this way, the climactic moment of the movie comes in the moment where Scott confronts Gideon for himself. He has looked at himself and realized his mistake in being a “ladykiller wannabe jerky-jerk”, which helps him make restitution to Kim, Knives, Ramona (who has broken a few hearts herself), and in the end – himself (NEGA Scott).

The literal and the symbolic come together in the stories of the three main characters (Scott, Ramona and Knives) in several common themes that teach honesty in dating, how to deal with the pain of break-ups, and how to accept ourselves and move on, having reconciled the past.

EDIT: For a more specific Break-Down of the Symbols in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, here is the follow-up post:

Scott Pilgrim’s Symbols: Breaking Down the Allegory