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Joyful Girl

Andrea Blythe's blog about writing, reading, and everything else

Entries by tag: movies

New-to-me movies watched in June
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1. Maleficent (2014)
2. Joe (2013)
3. The Purge (2013)
4. Evil Dead (2013)


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Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
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Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder provides a guide to screenwriting from an industry perspective, focusing on what a writer needs to do to prep for the act of writing. These techniques include creating a logline (or one-line), watching and analyzing movies in your chosen genre, creating a beat sheet, and building a board to layout scenes as a form of outlining. Skipping over actually writing process, he then reveals some screenplay "rules" and somethings to look for during edits if the finished draft isn't working.

The Importance of Structure

I've heard a lot of praise for this book, both from screenwriters and from novelists, and a lot of this praise is in regards to Snyder's discussion of structure. As both a novelist and a screenwriter, I found this valuable. Understanding the beat points of a story helps a lot in the actual writing process. The beats* let the writer know where important points of action should fall within the story, such as the catalyst that leads the heroine into adventure. (The Save the Cat! website includes a breakdown of the beats in a variety of popular movies, along with other valuable tools, which is awesome.)

Structure is especially vital to screenwriting, where space (i.e. movie length) is limited. Snyder talks about specific page numbers where certain plot points should fall (midpoint on page 55, for example). In the movie industry, these specific plot points are the kinds of things executives and decision makers are looking for, especially from new writers.

For the novelist, this strict structure seems less relevant, but there's oodles of more leeway. Though it can help create a framework around which to build the giant story that is a novel.

Simple Tools

Another great piece of advice Snyder gives for both kinds of writing is being able to sum up the story in a single sentence or two, called a logline. The logline should state the heroine's objective, highlight obstacles, and have a hook. For example:

Legally BlondeWhen a blonde sorority queen is dumped by her boyfriend, she decides to follow him to law school to get him back and, once there, learns she has more legal savvy than she ever imagined. (from IMDB)

The simple summary helps the writer (screenwriter or novelist) get clear on their story before writing, provides an anchor as they work through actually writing, and gives them an easy, simply summary to use if they get the chance to pitch to an agent. Kristen Lamb has a great discussion of this bit of advice on her blog.

The book is full of simple to follow advice like this (if not always easy to execute).

What Drove Me Bananas

Save the Cat! is written in a snappy, conversational tone, which is great because it makes it an easy read. But it also came off sounding pompous, like I could see his smug smile reverberating through the text, and sometimes grated on my nerves. It's clear Snyder had a preference, he wrote and mostly enjoyed family and romantic comedies. So, it's when he talks about the genres he's not into and is less comfortable with that I found myself wanting to rage and beat him over the head with his own book.

Clearly, this was a bias on Snyder's part. He doesn't get these kinds of flicks and seems to not be hot on ind flicks. That's fine, but it annoys the frack out of me that he's including this bias as part of his "rules" and it distracted me from focusing on the valuable tools he was teaching.

Ranty Bit #1 - One of Snyder's "rules" is the Double Mumbo Jumbo rule, which states that only one type of magic is aloud in a single storyline. Essentially, don't confuse the viewer/reader by throwing in many different kinds of magic — decide on the rules for your world and stick to them. Makes sense.

But the example he used, Spider-Man, made steam come out of my ears. He basically wrote, here's a guy, bit by a radioactive spider and gains spider-like abilities, then you have the Green Goblin begin to gain his own superpowers using a completely different method, and it's mixing different kinds of magic!

At which point, I began to mentally shout at the book. It's a COMIC BOOK universe, I told the book. Both superhero and super villain are changed by the SAME kind of "magic", both are changed by a kind of mad-science, which is logical given the rules of the universe! Who would you have be the villain of Spiderman?? Joe Schmoe robber? By you're own rules, Snyder, you demand that he bad guy be BIGGER AND BADDER than the hero! ... and it went on from there.

Ranty Bit #2 - In his discussion about structure, knowing that young screenwriters will bring it up as a non-structured movie that worked, Snyder mentions Memento. He calls the movie existential and boring. "Fuck Memento," he writes. "I know how much it earned."

This pissed me off on two levels.

One, both Snyder and the young screenwriters are wrong. Even though it presents its story in reverse chronology, Memento is highly structured. It has to be. The movie wouldn't work without structure. I took a screenwriting class once and watched a teacher lay the structure out, following the same beats that Snyder recommends screenwriters use. (I may even break down the structure on my blog at some point, if I get a chance to rewatch the movie.)

Two, Snyder seems to take the assumption that box office earnings equals a successful movie. In his dismissal of Memento, he skips over to discuss a movie he's more comfortable with, Miss Congeniality, which follows a clear traditional structure and earned $106 million at the U.S. box offices. His comparison is absurd, since Memento was an indy flick and never intended to be a blockbuster movie.

Besides, box office earnings don't mean a movie was profitable. As CNBC writes in their article on the 15 Most Profitable Movies of All Time, "A profitable movie doesn’t just do well at the box office. Toy Story 3, for example, is the highest-grossing movie of 2010 so far, with a worldwide take of over $600 million. However, its budget was $200 million, meaning that it has only made three times its investment. Even the mighty Titanic, the second highest grossing film of all time, could only realize a 900% return on its budget."

Let's take a look at Memento and Miss Congeniality. As noted, Miss Congeniality made over $100 million, while Memento made only around $25 million at the box office. From that point of view, there's a clear winner.

However, Memento only cost around $9 million to make and Miss Congeniality cost $45 million.

If I do my math right, this means Memento had a return on investment of around 278%.

Miss Congeniality meanwhile had a slightly lower return of around 236%

It's all WAY more complicated than that of course, but if you look at the real profitability of the movies, it's clear that Memento is a far more financially successful movie than Snyder made it sound to be.

Taking Action

Ultimately, none of these annoyances detract from the core tools and the value of any writing or advice book is whether it inspires the reader to actually take action and get to work. After reading Save the Cat!, I immediately jumped to work. I started creating loglines for all the novel ideas I've been working on and planning and I bought a board to lay out the scenes and acts in a tactile manner (I've been needed a new way to approach my current novel). The book also has me thinking about all the screenplay ideas I have on hold. I've learned oodles of valuable tools and my creative juices are flowing, so this book is a win.

If you've read Save the Cat!, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments. Did you find the tools in the book useful?

New-to-me movies watched in May
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1. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
2. This is the End (2013)
3. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)
4. Godzilla (2014)
5. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)


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Originally published at Andrea Blythe. You can comment here or there.

Movie Review: The World’s End
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Being a HUGE fan of Shaun of the Dead (the hilarious spoof of the zombie classic Dawn of the Dead), I was über-excited to learn about Edgar Wright and Simon Peg’s most recent foray in to genre, The World’s End. Reality being reality and life being lifelike, I wasn’t able to see The World’s End in theaters and only managed to finally watch it this past weekend.

Short analysis: I loved it.

Longer analysis: This story of five friends meeting up in their hometown to perform the epic pubcrawl they failed to complete as younger men, only to find the town they knew invaded by replicant-style robots, hit all the right notes for me.

Like with Shaun of the Dead, this movie plays manages to lovingly spoof the genre while offering up characters to care about and just a bit of heart. It maybe didn’t pull off the relationships between the characters as well as Shaun of the Dead did, but it was still a fun movie, with lots of action and humor.

Plus booze — there was lots of beer drinking and drunkenness.*

One of the most impressive things, in terms of acting, was how well each of the characters portrayed being drunk. It’s apparently one of the hardest things to do in acting and each of them pulled it off just about perfectly. Watching the characters do the Slow Blink at about level 7 on the drunkeness scale reminded me of my

For those interested, here’s the video of Simon Peg showing Conan O’Brian the twelve stages of drunkenness:

*Actually, I wasn’t clear on how these drunken, untrained gents managed to fight as skillfully as they do in this movie — at some points it was almost too slick — but that didn’t stop from the entertainment value for one second.

Great movie.

Originally published at Andrea Blythe. You can comment here or there.

New-to-me Movies in January
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My movie watching habits have changed significantly over the past several months. It used to be that I would go to the theaters about 2-4 times a month to see new movies. Now I’m lucky if I go once a month, mostly due to financial reasons. Also, when I get access to Netflix (while housesitting), I tend to not want to watch new-to-me movies and go for TV shows instead.

For example, last month I watched significant amounts of Doctor Who (season three and most of four) and The X-Files (rewatched all of season one). So I’m thinking I might start posting my TV watching thoughts more often, though I’m not how I want to approach that yet. In the meantime…,

January Movies:

1. 2 Guns (2013)
2. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

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Originally published at Andrea Blythe. You can comment here or there.

Favorite Movies Watched in 2013
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STATS: Total (new-to-me) Movies Watched = 67, of which
27 were General (Drama/Action/Etc.)
17 were Scifi/Fantasy
10 were Horror
5 were Animated
4 were Comedy
4 were Documentaries
5 were Foreign (non-English)
In addition, I watched a total of 9 short films.


2013 Favorite Movies

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Pacific Rim (2013)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
Django Unchained (2012)
Stoker (2013)

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
I loved The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which is a fantastic adaptation of the book. The political tension in the film had me on edge and is so well done.

Runner Up: Pacific Rim was also fantastically fun with some really great leading characters.

Best Horror Movie
I just loved The Cabin in the Woods for it’s sheer fun, humor, and gore (that ending sequence, OMG).

But for technical, eerie horror Rosemary’s Baby is also at the top of my list.

Best Animated Movie
Wreck-It Ralph — The old video game throw backs (awe, Q-Bert, how I miss you) and the friendship between Ralph and Vaneilope make this a winner for me.

Honorable Mention: Night of the Living Dead Reanimated (2009), which may not be the best, but deserves a mention for creativity, as it brings together artists from all over the world to recreate the visual elements of the classic 1968 zombie flick.

Best Comedy
It may seem odd that I’m choosing an old silent movie for top place, but Buster Keaton charms me every time and Sherlock Jr. had me laughing out loud throughout the story. So creative and inventive for any time.

Best Documentary
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was a great exploration of the artists life.

Best Foreign Film
I have to give Amour (2012) the honor here, because though it’s terribly sad and hard to watch, it also has the most moving acting performance I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing cinematography and a beautiful film all around.

Runner Up: Blancanieves (2012) is a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale in black and white, silent film format. Plus, bullfighting. The ending is strange and sad, but it’s a fascinating movie.

Best Short Film
Paperman (2012) is an adorable little animation that is practically perfect in every way.

What movies did you see and love this year?

Originally published at Andrea Blythe. You can comment here or there.

New-to-me Movies Seen in December
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1. Frozen (2013)
2. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
3. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
4. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

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Originally published at Joyful Girl. You can comment here or there.

New-to-me Movies Watched in November
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1. Pooh’s Heffalump Halloween Movie (2005)
2. The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

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Originally published at Joyful Girl. You can comment here or there.

The Girl on Fire
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Catching Fire posterLast night, I forgo-ed writing to go to the premiere party for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at The Tech Museum’s Hackworth IMAX Dome (the dome is amazing in and of itself, eight stories tall and astounding to watch movies on). The party was fun with chocolate fondu fountains and a very creepy looking pig-shaped cake. In honor of the movie, a group presented sword and fighting demonstrations, as well as an archery demonstration. Before the movie, the staff also asked trivia questions and offered tee shirts and posters as prizes. (^_^)

Note: Spoilers from the first movie are likely to show up here.

Catching Fire after the first Hunger Games ending, with Katniss and Peeta both as heroes and in a constant state of threat by the government. The tension is present from the beginning, because we know Katniss defied President Snow with her berries trick and he is very pissed off about it. What follows is a political struggle as Katniss and Peeta decide whether to do as they’re told or to fight back.

Jennifer Lawrence was amazing. She can show so much of Katniss’ inner conflict without saying a single word. In fact, everyone in this movie did an amazing job, each one approaching their roles with respect for their characters. The director allows a few brief moments of quiet from time to time, in which the characters can just be themselves and all the worry and fear comes through.

The tension at the beginning is powerful and the action in the games is exciting (one of the game threats gave me chills). Since this is the second book in an ongoing story, things did fully wrap up, but paused in preparation for the third movie to come in 2014.

Catching Fire was a fantastic adaptation of the book and proves once again why book-to-movie adaptation is so fascinating to me. Books being the wordy things they are, tend to have more dialog, longer speeches, more explanation. As a reader seeing a movie of a favorite book, it’s tempting to want every scene and every bit of dialog included in the movie. But movies are different creative creatures entirely, and it’s often better to simplify, strip away a bulk of the words.

I remember reading Catching Fire and wondering how some of the scenes would be pulled off. In the book, the moments were dramatic and powerful and full of dialog and multiple scenes. Yet, the movie managed to pull out the heart of these scenes, make them powerful and moving, and all while having them be shorter. The scenes rely on trusting the actors to pull it off and the cinematographer to find the right distance. It’s fascinating to see this work.

The third and final book, Mockingjay, will be following the Hollywood trend these days and be split into two movies in order to suck all the money they can out of viewers. I have no idea how this will be pulled off (I never do). It has me a little worries (always does). But based on the first two movies, my hopes are high.


Me blissfully unaware that Katniss is taking aim at my spine.


Archery demonstration inside The Tech.


Originally published at Joyful Girl. You can comment here or there.

Proust Questionnaire

Several years ago, I used to spend a ridiculous number of hours watching Inside the Actors’ Studio, hosted by James Lipton. The show had a blend of celebrity, study of craft, and personal exploration, all combined with Lipton’s unique soft-spoken tone, that made it fascinating.

At the end of every episode, he asks ten questions, an adapted version of the Proust Questionnaire. I am always fascinated by the answers given and couldn’t help thinking what I would say should I ever become a director and appear on the show.

Here are my answers to those ten questions as I would give them today.

1. What is your favorite word?

I have many words and phrases at catch my attention and linger. Some due to meanings, some just because of how they sound. At the moment, “indubitably” comes to mind as a favorite. I like the playful way the syllables fall of the tongue. It’s a fun way of saying, “Absolutely. Yes.”

2. What is your least favorite word?

Should. I don’t like the way “should” tends to put me into a state of arguing with reality, which just causes frustration.

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

I’m tempted to say “everything,” though that would be an untrue exaggeration, because not everything can be pleasing or enlightening in life. But every time I take a deep breath and think about the world and all its interconnections, I very much want to believe in the beauty of things.

4. What turns you off?

Humiliation. The feeling that I am being judged negatively by others.

5. What is your favorite curse word?

F*ck. Sometimes it’s the only word that fits, and it’s hands down the best curse word in the English language. Here is evidence.

6. What sound or noise do you love?

My niece’s squealing laugh. The patter of rain on my window. The crunch-pop sound of snow beneath my feet.

7. What sound or noise do you hate?

The screaming of car brakes. Nothing good comes from that.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Explorer. I imagine this in the sense of seeking out new realms as yet unseen (providing the conquer, destroy, and colonize aspect could be taken out of the process), of which there is not much left on Earth. In which case what’s left is space (the final frontier), so maybe a more accurate answer is Astronaut.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Coal miner. I don’t like the idea of the dirt, grit, or dark.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

“You did good.”

Post inspired by Daily Prompt: Inside the Actor’s Studio.

* * * *

In other news, the first trailer for Maleficent, staring Angelina Jolie, is out. I am cautiously optimistic.

Originally published at Joyful Girl. You can comment here or there.

New-to-Me Movies Watched in October
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Due to a crossing the Atlantic forth and back last month, this list is a bit longer than usual. (^_^)

1. Taxi Driver (1976)
2. White House Down (2013)
3. Blancanieves / Snow White (Spain, 2012)
4. Tteu-Geoun Ann-Yeong / Rockin On Heaven’s Door (South Korea, 2013)
5. Duck Soup (1933)
6. Now You See Me (2013)
7. Stoker (2013)
8. The Monster Squad (1987)
9. The Conjuring (2013)
10. Insidious (2010)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

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Originally published at Joyful Girl. You can comment here or there.

Five Halloween Movies (that are kid friendly)
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Happy Halloween!

This, my friends is my favorite holiday. I love a good scare, the costume, the creepy decorations, the delight of believing in the ghost in the attic or the monster under the bed even if for just one night.

My sister is less enthused. Anything to scary gives her anxiety. My baby niece is also getting to an age where she’s paying attention and could get frightened of what’s on the screen.

So my family has had to modify our scary movie watching quite a bit (at least during the daylight hours). Here is a list if Halloween-ish movies that we love and can all watch together.

Note: None of these movies are terribly scary, but each kid will react different (I remember being terrified of Labyrinth as a kid). Judge this list based on what you know of your own kids and their readiness level.

1. Hocus Pocus (1993)

“Three hundred years ago the Sanderson sisters bewitched people.” These witches might be silly and rather stupid, but they’re a lot of fun to watch cavorting around the modern era. There’s plenty of corniness, but also some great jokes and a dance number. Bette Midler and her fellow witches are all great.

This is a favorite of my family and one that’s almost always one TV during the Halloween season.

2. The Monster Squad (1987)

A group of kids, obsessed with horror comics, have created their own monster squad to battle evil. Little do they know, Dracula and the other classic monsters are real and are coming to town to find a secret amulet that will allow evil to rule the world.

This one doesn’t translate as well. The humor is cornier and the story is silly, but it’s still a fun movie.

I remember watching it as a kid and not knowing what a virgin was and thinking it was a nationality (because the virgin has to read from a German book to stop evil). Also while it’s never specified, the virgin in case apparently has to be a girl.

Still, gotta love the appearance of all the classic baddies at the same time. It’s ridiculous and absurd and fun.

3. The Witches (1990)

A young boy goes to a retreat by the sea shore with his grandma, and discovers that it is has become host to a gathering of purple eyed witches (with Angelica Huston as the head witch). When the boy gets caught by the witches, he is turned into a mouse and has to convince his grandmother to help him stop their nefarious plans.

The monster makeup when the witches peel off their human skin is fantastic and some scenes are genuinely delightfully gross. Great dark fantasy movie.

4. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Mel Brooks retelling the classic Frankenstein story in the most hilarious way possible. When Dr. Frankenstein’s heir inherits a castle in Transylvania, he can’t help but follow the same experiment and bring the monster to life once again. The black and white filming, fantastic comedic timing, and Brook’s genius all make for a fun homage to a classic movie monster.

5. Beetle Juice (1988)

This is probably belongs at the top of the list in all its weird, hilarious awesomeness. For those who don’t know, the story involves a couple who die suddenly in an accident and are trapped within their house, haunting it. The realm of the dead is twisted and strange with the dead locked in their bodies as they were when they died. When a family moves in and starts restructuring their dream home, they call on Beetlejuice to help them get rid of them and end up with more than they bargained for.

This is probably the best (or at least my favorite) movie on the list.


I know there are plenty of others that I missed. The Adams Family movies come most immediately to mind and there are many others, I’m sure.

What are your favorite not-so-scary Halloween themed movies?

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

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