a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Film Question --

I'm looking for examples of movies in which the main character, who we assume to be the good guy all along, is revealed in the end to actually be the villain.

I guess "The Usual Suspects" would sort of be an example. "Memento", in a way. Maybe "Angel Heart". Others?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscar Picks

It's a tough call this year. For every race that seems clear, there's one in which any of the five nominees could win, including Best Picture.

So here are my predictions. I make no guarantees, though if you use them to win an Oscar pool, I want 10%.

Also, I still haven't seen Dreamgirls, Babel or Letters From Iwo Jima. So most of the time I'm talking out of my ass.

BEST PICTURE. I really believe that the winner of this category is liable to get less than 30% of the vote. I think The Departed could win, but then again everyone is likely to vote for Scorcese for Best Director, and decide that The Departed (though a pretty good movie) isn't necessarily great enough to vote for for Best Director AND Best Picture. And since no one will vote for The Departed for Best Picture and NOT vote for Marty for Best Director, it's Best Picture where The Departed will suffer.

The Queen just feels a little small and British. Letters From Iwo Jima just never feels like it has enough enthusiastic support. Babel could win, because Crash won last year, but then again Babel might lose because Crash won last year. So I'm going to pick Little Miss Sunshine, because even though it wasn't the Best Picture of the year, it worked, they've been giving it a good Oscar spin, and it just feels like the kind of year that it could sneak in and win.

BEST DIRECTOR. Bet on Martin Scorcese. Because it's time, and it's better than almost giving it to him for Gangs of New York.

BEST ACTOR. The obvious choice is Forest Whitaker, but the movie never made much of a splash, and it's more of a supporting role. Still, Ryan Gosling probably won't get it, while it doesn't feel like Will Smith or Leo DiCaprio's year. Peter O'Toole could have snuck in, but Venus made less of a splash than Last King of Scotland. And Whitaker is apparently a great guy. Forest Whitaker.

BEST ACTRESS. It's going to be Helen Mirren, in a walk.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR. If there was the sense that Eddie Murphy had turned the corner into being a serious actor, he'd probably win, but I really think Norbit is going to hurt way more than it helps; I think people will feel that his just being nominated will be enough. Mark Wahlberg isn't going to win, Djimon Hounsou and Jackie Earle Haley won't win, so Alan Arkin can just sneak right in and take it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS. This is tough, because Jennifer Hudson is getting all the buzz, but at the end of the day, she sort of seems typecast in the role, and I'm not sure anyone actually expects her to have much of an acting career in general. But the two women in Babel are unlikely to win, while Cate Blanchett has one already. I wouldn't be suprised if Abigail Breslin snuck in and won, but if I have to choose, Jennifer Hudson will probably get it.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY. The other nominees (The Queen, Babel, Pan's Labyrinth, Letters From Iwo Jima) are all solid, but look for Little Miss Sunshine to get this; out of all it's nominations, it's the one it is most likely to nail down.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY. Look for The Departed to win over Borat, Children of Men, Little Children and Notes on a Scandal.


I think maybe The Lives of Others is going to sneak in and beat Pan's Labyrinth.

BEST DOCUMENTARY. They are going to give it to An Inconvenient Truth.

BEST ART DIRECTION. Dreamgirls could win, but my bet is Pan's Labyrinth.

Because it deserves it, and because it should get something, Children of Men.

BEST FILM EDITING. Because it definitely deserves something, United 93.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE. I don't know. The Queen, maybe.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG. Probably "Listen", from Dreamgirls, since it is the only one that actually got much airplay.

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS. Easy. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

It's going to be Pan's Labyrinth here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #20

Five more movies openly fairly widely this weekend, on a total of over 9000 screens.

Always interesting to me is checking to see where these screens come from. Opening weekends are fine, but it's also key for a movie to hang around in theaters as long as possible. Theaters don't mind keeping movies around for months, if they are still doing okay, because a theater gets a higher percentage of the box office in those later weeks.

If a movie is shedding screens early, it's really tanking.

This weekend, Hannibal Rising is already losing 1407 screens (almost half its total) after just 2 weeks. Because I Said So and The Messengers are both losing over 500 each after 3 weeks. Epic Movie is dropping over 800 screens after 4 weeks; it only has about 500 screens left. Night at the Museum is losing 670 screens, about 1/3 of its total, though it is entering week 10, so that's very respectable. Blood and Chocolate drops 168 screens; now it is only playing on 8.

Most Oscar-nominated movies are already shedding screens, even though this is Oscar weekend. Dreamgirls is losing 444 screens, down to 593, despite being favored to win at least 3 awards.

Opening this weekend:

THE NUMBER 23 (2759 screens). I read this script a couple of years ago, and didn't think it worked at all. When I heard that Joel Schumacher was directing Jim Carrey in it, I hoped they fixed the problems, but apparently they didn't, because the L.A. Times gave it a terrible review today. They've been advertising the hell out of it, and people will likely turn out because it's Carrey and they are selling it as scary. Look for it to do about $17 million this weekend, then tank next weekend when word gets around.

RENO 911! MIAMI (2703 screens). Comedies will always do fairly well, but is anyone really excited about paying to see a feature length TV skit? People like to laugh, so maybe $9.4 million this weekend.

THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (2155 screens). This is actually getting decent reviews, but I've seen the commercial and I feel like I've seen the movie. Plus Billy Bob isn't much of a draw, unless he's playing Bad Santa. $7.8 million.

THE ABANDONED (1000 screens). Will lose a big chunk of its potential audience to The Number 23, though this is likely the scarier movie. Call it $3.8 million.

AMAZING GRACE (791 screens). I've seen the commercial for this, and I still have no idea what it's about. Which is good (commercials shouldn't ruin the movie) and bad (it would be nice if a commercial at least made a film look particularly interesting). It's getting solid reviews, but I can't see it making more than about $3.5 million.

Look for Ghost Rider to finish #1 again, though it'll drop at least 50%.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sometimes Even Big-Name Actors Go Straight To DVD

So I caught up with two movies this week that essentially went straight to DVD; despite some big names in the cast, neither likely played in your local theater.

The first is a movie called Haven, which stars Orlando Bloom and Bill Paxton, which should have been enough to get it a major release. Instead, it had only a token theatrical release (it played in 57 theaters, and made only $142, 483).

Haven is problematic but interesting; there are a lot of things to like about it, though it has some real flaws. The first flaw is the structure; though eventually this is an ensemble tale, for the first half-hour this is largely the tale of Bill Paxton and his teenage daughter, who come to the Cayman Islands because Bill is hiding out from federal agents looking to bust him for some sort of money-laundering thing he is involved in. Unfortunately, they picked the worst characters to focus on early; Paxton isn't given much to do, and though the story weight falls on his daughter (played by BLUE CAR's Agnes Bruckner) she comes across as uninteresting, and the film almost lost me early.

But then, after only a brief glimpse of Orlando Bloom in the opening scene, at the 28 minute mark this suddenly becomes his movie, and the movie finally becomes interesting. Bloom gets to play a character with a little edge to him for once, and though the movie would have benefitted from even more attention to his character and story, suddenly the tale becomes twisty and engrossing.

Writer director Frank E. Flowers has a good feel for suddenly not only expanding his story to encompass a wide range of characters, as well as for giving even minor characters some nice touches that define them in this world. The result still doesn't entirely work, but this wouldn't be a bad rental.

On the other end of the spectrum is Man About Town, starring Ben Affleck, Rebecca Romijn, Gina Gershon and others, and it's easily one of the worst movies I've seen in a long, long time. Writer/director Mike Binder has done good work in the past (The Upside of Anger, even Indian Summer) but Man About Town is a bad, bad knockoff of JERRY MAGUIRE, without any of that film's charm, humor, drama or romance.

Binder bounces around from drama to slapstick comedy without doing either well at all; Affleck never comes close to finding a handle on his character, and the result is almost painful to watch. Run, run away.

Banging Away

Not much going on. Work is in a lull, though hopefully it'll pick up.

I've been using the time to bang out my low-budget thriller, which is coming along pretty well. I'm doing a draft that's somewhere between a rough draft and a polished one; I haven't done a whole lot of rewriting yet, but because I brainstormed most of the story first, it is all flowing pretty well, and coming out as I intended it to.

Otherwise, I've also started knocking out DVD reviews for a website, in exchange for free DVDs. I figured it was an easy way to force myself to watch movies that I might otherwise skip and listen to all the commentaries (plus I'm a sucker for free DVDs). And there are endless things to learn, even from mediocre or bad films.

Though I can honestly say that I didn't learn much from the director's commentary to "Flicka".

The Oscars are coming up this weekend, and no one seems to be doing anything partywise (at least nothing that we've been invited to). For several years when I lived in Manhattan, I used to go to the annual Variety Club Oscar party, which was in a random movie theater. They rigged it to show the Oscars on the big screen to a full house, which is a great way to watch them, and all the admission money went to charity. I haven't heard of anyone doing anything like that out here.

Anyhow, if anyone is throwing an Oscar shindig and has a couple of empty chairs, I'll weigh any offers. I'd throw together something here, but the parking sucks, the apartment is a mess and my wife could probably use the change of scenery anyway :-)

On a random note, I've become re-addicted to American Idol (damn it), though wow were the guys last night an unimpressive bunch. Hopefully the girls will be a lot better tonight.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #19

So with a holiday weekend upon us, the releases are getting more high-profile. There are five movies opening in wide release this weekend, pretty much hitting all segments of the audience.

The following predictions are for the 4-day weekend:

GHOST RIDER (3619 screens). On the plus side, it's a big budget comic book movie with Nic Cage. On the downside, Cage is no longer assured box office at all, while the commercials I've seen for this movie really don't do a good job selling it. Plus they didn't screen it for critics, which can't be a good thing. I think it'll be #1, but it could have made a ton of money if they'd made a good movie that looked interesting. Call it $29.7 million.

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (3139 screens). It sort of looks like Narnia light, but there isn't a lot else out for the kids. $25.3 million.

MUSIC AND LYRICS (2955 screens). The studio is doing a good job selling this: it looks cute and funny, and the stars have been all over the place shilling it. The one movie opening today that I might actually go out and see. $20.2 million.

TYLER PERRY'S DADDY'S LITTLE GIRLS (2111 screens). You know you've made it when your name is in the title, and Tyler Perry definitely has his fan base. This isn't a broad comedy featuring Madea, though, so I don't think it'll be that huge, but people will go. $17.7 million.

BREACH (1487 screens). This looks very serious and earnest, while Ryan Phillippe still can't open a movie, and there are a lot of serious, earnest Oscar contenders around. $7.2 million.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Slow Week

Not much going on that is particularly blogworthy, movie-wise. I haven't been out to the cinema in weeks, or caught anything on DVD.

I have a couple of cool scripts by good pro writers (of movies under construction now) on my pile of stuff-to-read, but I haven't gotten a chance to read them yet.

Yesterday I did have my 7th wedding anniversary. We actually celebrated earlier in the week; we drove down to San Diego on Monday night, had a night dinner at Croce's (owned by Jim's widow) where we listened to some great jazz. We spent the night in a hotel nearby, then drove up the coast on Tuesday.

The highlight was stopping off to stretch our legs at Oceanside Harbor, wandering randomly onto a fishing pier, and finding a fisherman who was happily feeding all of his bait (squid) to the sea lion that had settled in under the pier.

Otherwise, I'm still thoroughly brainstorming-out my lowish-budget thriller, which is coming together well in my head. I did a little writing the other day, but I'm only about 6 pages into it. Still, I have high hopes.

Helping is the reading gig I recently took for a major company's new straight-to-DVD arm, which is looking to do a slew of $4-$7 million movies a year. So I'm reading a lot of surprisingly-solid low budget thrillers for that, which helps me get into the mood for my own script, while I'm also getting paid. Win-win.

So life lurches on....

Saturday, February 10, 2007


So, in my quest to become less of a selfish person, I donated blood today.

For the first time ever. I know, I know.

I used to have a thing about blood, and needles. And blood. My blood, coming out of my body.

But other people's blood, too. A few years ago, my wife broke a coffee mug, and gashed her arm badly. Blood all over. Urgh.

Also not helping was a tale my mother told, about a time she gave blood. She was lying there, and she saw blood shooting into the air. She thought that was strange. And then she realized it was coming from her.

But today, I went to the Red Cross with my wife, who had an appointment for herself (she'd given at a blood drive at work last year, and the Red Cross called and asked her to give more). She didn't pressure me at all into giving. But once there, I sucked it up and did it. And I feel better for it.

A little pain, a little time. But I did read 66 pages of a script. And they give you juice and snacks afterward. Can't beat that.

So I think it'll be a regular thing. A bonding thing with my wife, too. Which is sort of cool.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #17/18

I didn't do one of these last week, because I was so underwhelmed with the films that were opening. This is the dumping ground the year, the time when the bad movies come out, see their shadows, and march into the multiplexes anyway.

Last week, it was THE MESSENGERS and BECAUSE I SAID SO. Both got largely dire reviews, and yet each made over $13 million their opening weekend, despite the presence of the Super Bowl.

In fact, 2007 has been typically dire all along. Rotten Tomatoes, which helpfully turns critics' thumbs up or thumbs down into a percentage of how many actually liked the film, reports these percentages for this year's wide releases:


Only FREEDOM WRITERS (67%) and ALPHA DOG (54%) bested the 27% mark for wide releases.

Granted, these movies are suffering in part because critics were spoiled by all of the end-of-the-year Oscar bait. But that doesn't excuse the fact that there isn't a single movie that has come out in the past 6 weeks that I have been tempted to see.

This week, things aren't getting much better. There are two high-profile movies opening on over 3000 screens: HANNIBAL RISING and NORBIT.

HANNIBAL RISING is apparently brutal, poorly-told and pointless, while the fact that neither HANNIBAL nor RED DRAGON were very good should cut down on the interest to see this movie; the fact that Anthony Hopkins isn't in it certainly won't help either. Still, it'll do a bit. Call it $15.2 million for the first three days.

NORBIT is already getting flak from the black community about its stereotypical portrait of a big loud black woman, while people are wondering if it'll taint Eddie's Oscar chances. The movie has also gotten really bad reviews (it is currently at 10% on Rotten Tomatoes; Hannibal Rising is at 21%. Neither has gotten a single good review from a major critic). Still, audiences want to laugh, and they want Eddie to be funny. I think they'll turn out. $23.7 million.

I'm not going to see eother of them.

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Bag of Money

So sometimes, as I'm brainstorming things for a script, I like to post questions here, because the more hands the merrier.

These are today's pressing questions:

A) How much money can one plausibly fit in a large duffel bag? It doesn't have to be $20 bills, it could be $100s. If I said that there was $580,000 in the bag, would that seem unrealistic? How heavy would $580,000 in $100 bills be? (I know there's a lot of arcane knowledge out there that will save me the need to actually try to cram 5800 bills in a bag).

B) What's an interesting source for $580,000 in a duffel bag? I want it to be something different from money from a drug deal or cash from a bank robbery, though it should definitely be something shady. It should also be something simple that doesn't require a lot of huge backstory. In basic terms, some of my supporting characters are looking for a duffel bag of cash that disappeared when one of their cohorts was killed.

Let fly.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Oscars

Though I recognize that the Oscars are a little silly, in that quantifying movies or performances as the best is inherently impossible (and that mass vote isn't a particularly great determining factor), I still love to watch them. Sexy outfits, the opportunity for Oscar pools, and the fact that it does bring attention to worthy movies. What's not to like?

Plus any awards show that nominates more screenwriters (10 screenplays, 20 different writers nominated) than directors is all right with me :-)

Anyhow, now that the nomination dust has settled, a few thoughts:

-- Entertainment Weekly accurately picked 19 of the 20 acting nominees; the only one they got wrong was Mark Wahlberg, who took Jack Nicholson's slot. Which is interesting; it used to be that over-the-top performances by legends always got a nomination, if not a win (a la Al Pacino's in Scent of a Woman). Could it be that the voters are starting to reward more subtlety? One can only hope.

-- Not only is there a nominee who rose up through American Idol, but Ryan Gosling was a Musketeer with Britney Spears. There's something scary about this, but since Gosling is a good actor that makes it easy to accept.

-- Look for Scorcese to get his Oscar this year. Best picture is pretty wide-open though. I've heard mixed things about Iwo Jima, Babel doesn't seem to have the devout fans that Crash had, voters for Scorcese might go to something other than the Departed for best pic, and The Queen just seems sort of staid and small. Could Little Miss Sunshine sneak in and win it? It's the only one most voters might actually watch twice.

-- Oddly, the only Best Picture nominee that got nominated for a Best Actor or Actress Oscar was The Queen. None of them were nominated for Cinematography (the Cinematography nominees? Black Dahlia, Children of Men, The Illusionist, Pan's Labyrinth, The Prestige) or Art Direction (Dreamgirls, Good Shepherd, Pan's Labyrinth, Dead Man's Chest, The Prestige).

-- The rules for Best Foreign Language Film are a little strange, if Letters From Iwo Jima and Apocalypto weren't even eligible to be nominated. Maybe it's time to rename the category.

-- If the Dreamgirls backlash continues, Abigail Breslin could get Best Supporting Actress. The only younger nominees ever were Tatum O'Neal (who won for Paper Moon), Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Quinn Cumming in The Goodbye Girl. Good company, though none really did much after those roles.

-- The screenwriting rules are a little strange, if Letters From Iwo Jima can be considered an original script even though it was based on a real event, and Borat is considered an adaptation because the character was previously done on TV.

-- If Letters From Iwo Jima wins Best Picture, Paul Haggis will have had a hand in writing three Best Picture winners in a row. And he once wrote for The Facts of Life. When you are coming up through the ranks, no job is too small.

-- The Best Makeup nominees are Pan's Labyrinth, Apocalypto... and Click. Apparently it was a slow year for makeup.

-- Gimmes for the Oscar Pool? Scorcese, Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Pan's Labyrinth as Best Foreign Film and Makeup. Dead Man's Chest for Best Visual Effects, Cars for Animated Feature. Other than that, you're on your own.

A Great Scene I Love

There's a great scene in MALICE when Bill Pullman, trying to figure out what the hell has happened, has just learned that his wife's mother isn't dead, so he goes to talk to her.

The ultimate point of the whole scene is that Bill Pullman's character finally realizes exactly what is going on, and there are a lot of really ways that the whole sequence could have been written.

MALICE is credited to Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank, and who's to say who penned the scene (maybe both had a little hand in it), but it's almost the perfect scene.

First of all, Anne Bancroft plays the mother, with a great little Boston accent.

The script starts off with Pullman giving her some scotch; he knows she's a drunk, and he's obviously trying to get the upper hand. She happily drinks some, but it's quickly clear that Pullman is way out of his league.

The authors do a great job layering in exposition (we learn about Nicole Kidman's childhood, her father, her pre-Pullman days) in involving fashion; Pullman pulls info out of her like we want to, while she enjoys giving it to him while still making him work a little for it.

But there's all this other stuff occurring in the screen as well. The best is a magic trick that Bancroft performs throughout the scene, having Pullman pick a card, then shuffle the deck, then trying to get him to bet money on whether or not she's going to know what the card is, all while Pullman is trying to pry more info out of her.

The button on the scene is when she pulls the card from her pocket and throws it at him.

Good writing, good acting, and what could have been a throwaway exposition scene turns into one of the script's most memorable. Bancroft blows so much life into her character that one wishes there were a whole film based around her, and she's only in the movie for about 6 minutes.

Great stuff, the kind that reminds one what we should be looking to do when we write.