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.

Book Review: Hard Magic by Larry Correia

book cover of Hard Magic
Click here for the Amazon page.

Overall Rating: 5 stars (Loved It!)

This book blew me away.

In a world that suddenly got magic in the mid-1800s, we follow a group of magical heroes led by General Pershing against the Immortal Emperor Tokugawa. We follow Jake Sullivan, and ex-convict and a “Heavy” who can spike gravity. There’s also Faye, a teleporting country bumpkin girl who seeks to avenge her grandfather. Some people sport super strength, telekinesis, healing, or the ability to influence others’ minds… the list of powers goes on.

If MHI was an homage to B monster movies, this might have begun as an homage to those 30s and 40s noir films, with the smart-mouth Private Eye in his black fedora. Seriously, I read Monster Hunter International and liked it, but this book was on a whole other level. Correia’s writing style has become more smooth and complex. In addition, the wide cast of characters were all very deep and convincing.

This is where I believe artists live to contradict themselves. I’ve met Larry, and Correia spouts long and hard about being a “Pulp Writer”, claiming that his books will win no award for literary quality. He may be right about that, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t DESERVE an award. Somewhere along the line, focused entirely on entertaining people, Larry Correia touched my soul.

I read the audio version, and I started looking for excuses to do chores around the house so I could keep listening. I went for walks, runs, washed dishes, cleaned floors that were already sparkling, cooked meals for a week ahead of time, and unpacked boxes that had hitherto been condemned to the closet. I found myself laughing, choking up, and getting adrenaline pumped along with the book.

And yet what other book can make you cry, at the same time as having a teleporting ninja-fight aboard a flying dirigible? Probably something else by Larry Correia.

I’m calling your bluff, Correia, on being merely a “pulp writer”. Literary critics can go to hell. This is the kind of thing I read for.

Content

Age: Marketed to Adults

Language: Yep, expect a few SOBs and F-bombs.

Violence: I did mention this is a book by Larry Correia, right?

Sex: Mentioned, but not written.

Book Review: Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

book cover for peeps
Click here for the Amazon page.

Overall Rating: 3 stars (Liked It)

When I first saw this on the shelf and read the summary on the back, I couldn’t help but think, “Ooooh! Vampires meets Scott Pilgrim!”

And so, naturally, I picked it up.

Cal is a carrier of a parasite which infected all of his ex-girlfriends. They have all become vampires, parasite-positives, or “Peeps” for short. Cal may just be a carrier, but he’s got the strength, the night-vision, the craving for meat, and the horniness of a Peep. After catching all of his ex-girlfriends for the Night Watch, he is charged with finding the girl who infected him in the first place.

Cal is also a biology major, and just a little bit nerdy. Between chapters he gives mini-biology lessons on parasites, which are usually quite entertaining, and a little icky. He makes vampires scary in a completely different way, by relating them to intestinal worms.

The book doesn’t earn one of the highest ratings from me, but it was very entertaining and I read it in two sittings. I appreciated that, while sex is a common theme to the story, it successfully avoided being explicit, or in making me tired of the subject (which generally happens very quickly for me). It also avoids being gushy, which seems to be the weakness of most vampire stories, especially those marketed to teens.

So the book earned three stars simply because when I post this up on Goodreads, I won’t be able to give it three-and-four quarters, and I don’t quite feel like it earned an even four. Even so, if it sounds like something that’s up your alley, I highly recommend it as a fun read and an interestingly original take on teen-vampire stories.

 

Book Review: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

cover image for Behemoth
Click here for the Amazon page

Overall Rating: 5 stars (Loved It!)

Behemoth is Book 2 of the Leviathan Trilogy.

Behemoth picks up on a cheerful front with Aleksandyr giving Daryn his (her) first fencing lesson. I liked that the book had me laughing from page 1, and looking forward to the kind of high-adventure I’ve come to expect from the series. The fabricated beasts and large, clunky diesel engines give the world a distinct flavor that I love returning to. It’s a feeling that I hadn’t realized I’d missed, and one only a fantastic series can provide.

One of the things I love about this series is the real history we are getting, attached to a fantastical world of flying whale-ships and steam-punk mechas. Westerfeld ends each installment with an afterword that explains the differences between what happened in World War I and his alternate-history take. I really appreciate that he clarifies the changes he made for the purpose of fiction.

This has been fascinating to me, since honestly I don’t know much about World War I. It seems like history class, the discovery channel, and the book shelves are all preoccupied with World War II, and the two are very different. I love how Westerfeld conveys a complex mixture of thoughts and beliefs by Europeans at that time, giving readers the beginnings of a broad outlook which we can apply to our study, if we so desire to learn more about the war.

If you’ve read any of Westerfeld’s other books (I read Peeps after this one, and am getting ready to start on the Pretties), you might come to expect a certain sexual tension from his them. However, the Leviathan series reads a little more innocently, like a higher-aged middle-grade book.

I’ve had a few favorites so far, with “I Don’t Want to Kill You” being my favorite read of the year, and “The Graveyard Book” becoming one of my favorite reads of all-time. This has become one of my favorite series, starting with Leviathan in January and with Goliath (the last installment of the series) coming out on September 20th.

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

cover of the graveyard book by neil gaiman
Click here for the Amazon link

Overall Rating: 5 stars (Loved It!)

Hands down, one of the very best books I’ve read… not just this year, but ever! The Graveyard Book is gripping from the first moment, and sends chills down your spine. At the same time, it is written in such a way that it should be read aloud, and shared by the entire family.

The Graveyard Book begins with a baby, who narrowly escapes the man who murdered his entire family. The baby is taken in by the Owens – a pair of ghosts who had never been able to have a child of their own.

The problem with writing a review about a book THIS good is that you feel wholly inadequate to really describe it. It’s hard to put words to how great the entire experience of this book is. So instead, I’ll include a personal experience with the book.

I was reading the Audible version, read by Neil himself (coincidentally, @neilhimself is his Twitter handle if you’d like to follow him). I had three wisdom teeth taken out, and the dentist allowed me to listen to my Ipod during the surgery. So, hopped up on Nitrus Oxide, Neil Gaiman became like my father figure – reading softly to me as they pounded on my jaw with a tiny jack-hammer. It was incredibly calming, although I’ll admit I had to rewind and listen to those parts again… I wasn’t paying too much attention to the story. Just Neil’s voice. =)

So pick up this one. If you only pick up one of my recommendations, this should be it. It’ll thrill you, chill you, make you laugh, and cause your eyes to sting. Well done, Neil.

Content

Age: Marketed to Children and Young Adults

Language: No.

Violence: Yes, but not at all graphic.

Sex: No.

Book Review: Servant of a Dark God by John Brown

cover of servant of a dark god by john brown
Click here for the Amazon page

Overall Rating: 4 stars (Really Liked It!)

I’m coming to the party kind of late on this one. Servant of a Dark God made its debut two years ago. The sequel, Curse of a Dark God, is in the works.

I met John Brown at LTUE when he did a presentation titled “How do Get and Develop Killer Story Ideas”. It was, to this date, one of the most helpful writing presentations I’ve seen. But back to his BOOK:

Servant of a Dark God is an Epic Fantasy, with quite a few Dark-Fantasy elements. It follows several character viewpoints, my favorite of which is Hunger; a kind of anti-hero composed of dirt, roots and multiple souls. Talen is the most frequent viewpoint; a young man raised with prejudice against Sleth (unofficial magic users), who begins to find out that his family has a long history of… Slething? Slethnessmanship?

The book is a fantastic read, and moves along quickly. There is never a moment in the book where something isn’t moving, or something isn’t at risk. Some of the familiar Epic Fantasy tropes are there, such as the young protagonist with undiscovered power. They provide an easy way to root yourself into the book, so you can hold tight when John twists them on their head.

I love a good Epic Fantasy once in a while, and John Brown delivers. Fantastic debut!

Content

Age: Marketed to Adults

Language: Nope.

Violence: Yes.

Sex: Mentioned. A conversation between two teenage boys. (Come on, we know teenage boys…)