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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wallowing In Movies

When I lived in Manhattan, in my bachelor days, I used to have days in which I'd do nothing but see movies, knocking off two or three at a clip. One day I saw 6 -- in 6 different theaters -- still a personal record.

Now that I'm married, and always have stuff to do, such days rarely happen.

But yesterday I took most of the day off. After checking out possible areas worth renting an apartment in in the Studio City area (we're out of our current apartment at the end of the year, because they are renovating all the apartments in the complex), we headed over to the multiplex.

And saw two movies. Not only that, but two very different, very good movies.

*** No Spoilers ***

"Dan In Real Life" is being sold as a family comedy; the commercials all seem to feature the scene in which Steve Carell is freaking out because his teenage daughter is driving badly.

Not only has this scene been cut from the movie, it makes no sense that it was in the movie in the first place, given when the story between Carell and his older daughter boils down to. But I digress.

The movie is more of a comedy for grown-ups, and I'm not even going to talk about the main storyline (since none of the ads bother to). Suffice it to say that Carell is put in an impossible romantic situation in the middle of a shore weekend involving his whole family, and how he deals with it is full of humor and pain and a lot of satisfying moments.

Writer-director Peter Hedges (who wrote What's Eating Gilbert Grape and About a Boy, and if you like those two movies you'll undoubtedly like this one) has a perfect feel for awkward moments between people, and for breathing life into characters and relationships -- even minor ones -- in just a few strokes. Tonally, this is pitch perfect throughout, and worth seeing.

Then we wandered into (okay, we snuck into, but we dropped $10 on the concession stand, so win-win for everyone except the studio that released it, but since I do work for them I should be seeing this for free anyway) Michael Clayton, which is also a good movie, though an odd one to pair up with Dan in Real Life, because it's hard to imagine the character of Michael Clayton and the character Steve Carell plays even having a conversation in real life.

But George Clooney inhabits Clayton well, and the story, which essentially explores people who do shitty things because they get paid well for it, is involving throughout. The plot falls a little short here and there (the ending in particularly feels a little rushed), but the performances are dead-on, and writer-director Tony Gilroy nails most of it.

Both films are the kind of movie that Hollywood should be making more of.


Over the weekend, SAW IV made an impressive estimated $32.1 million, while DAN IN REAL LIFE did a solid $12 million.

MICHAEL CLAYTON is hanging in, dropping only 24% while making another $5 million, though its per-screen average is under $2000 now.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED expanded, but didn't do all that well; the $1.7 million it made was only an average of about $2400 per screen. LARS AND THE REAL GIRL did almost a million, but it only averaged $3200 per screen, not that great.

The Kevin Bacon-starring RAILS AND TIES only made about $10,000 total in 5 theaters, while the Anthony Hopkins-directed SLIPSTREAM made only about $6000 in 6 theaters. So they won't be coming soon to a theater near you.

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD made a very solid $73,000 in two Manhattan theaters.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Weekend Box Office #55

Just a couple of movies opening wide this weekend:

SAW IV (3183 theaters). Pretty much an unstoppable force, and it should win the weekend handily. Figure $30.2 million.

DAN IN REAL LIFE (1921 theaters). The commercials don't have much of a hook, other than to make it look like a genial comedy with Steve Carell in it. But the reviews are pretty good. $10.7 million.

Also, THE DARJEELING LIMITED is expanding to 698 theaters, and apparently all the prints now have the tied-in short "Hotel Chevalier" running before the film. More Natalie Portman.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


So there are all these articles out now about how all these writers are pounding away, trying to get drafts done before the strike looms.

But the frenzy extends to readers as well.

Apparently no one is sitting around doing nothing this week. Everyone has scripts that need to be read, and read now.

All of which has been exascerbated by the fact that, earlier this week, I agreed to do a very (very) low-paid, semi-official, no-credit rewrite of a script for a production company that I occasionally do work for. But even that has to be done before the strike hits.

It's writing, which is cool, and on some levels I'm enjoying just banging out a pass. But the rewrite is turning out to be more extensive than I thought. Particularly for the money I'm getting.

Not complaining, just swamped.

Anyhow, don't expect a huge amount of posts from me this week, though I'll knock out one about the weekend movies tomorrow.

Let's hope there's not a strike though, because that's not going to help anyone.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Corpses of Movies Litter the Multiplex

So it really wasn't a good weekend for new releases.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT did do about $16 million, though that was below some expectations, and mediocre for this kind of movie. Solid, but not spectacular.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS did an impressive $5.1 million in only 564 theaters.

THE GAME PLAN and WHY DID I GET MARRIED? continued to do well. MICHAEL CLAYTON dropped only 32%, which is encouraging.

Otherwise, carnage.

GONE BABY GONE made only $6 million, despite playing on over three times as many screens as NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

THE COMEBACKS made only $5.9 million, averaging only about $2000 per theater. Awful.

RENDITION completely tanked, with only $4.1 million from 2250 theaters. Huge bomb. So was THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE, which despite playing in over 1100 theaters made only $1.6 million.

The biggest flops were SARAH LANDON AND THE PARANORMAL HOUR and the animated TEN COMMANDMENTS, which made about $560,000 and $480,000 -- averaging a respective $499 and $578 a screen.

If they had done five times as much business, they still would have been flops. As it is, they are two of the worst-performing wide releases of all time.

RESERVATION ROAD tanked on only 13 screens, while WRISTCUTTERS averaged an encouraging $12,000 each in three theaters.

What's the message learned this weekend? People don't want to see dour dramas, bad comedies, family movies without a hook, or cheesy-looking animated movies with Christian Slater(!) doing the voice of Moses.


I saw WE OWN THE NIGHT over the weekend, for one of the best/worst of reasons: the wife and I went to the multiplex to see INTO THE WILD, it was sold out, and WE OWN THE NIGHT was only movie starting in the next 45 minutes that we remotely wanted to see.

I liked the movie. It's melodramatic and hamfisted in spots, and Joaquin and Mark Wahlberg mumble too much, and there are a slew of dumb story points. But I got drawn into the tale anyway, and there are some great sequences here, particularly a car chase through the rain, which is one of the most visceral, harrowing things I've seen in a long time.

Worth checking out if it's your kind of thing, though the climax doesn;t really work that well.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Weekend Box Office #54

There's a pile of movies opening wide this weekend; if you consider INTO THE WILD (which is expanding wide), there are a record 8 movies opening on at least 500 screens, with the other 7 opening on over 800. And if you count A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 3D, that's 9.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2855 theaters). This should be the big movie this weekend, even though the one review I saw (in the LA Times) was underwhelmed. Look for it to do about $18.7 million this weekend, and then drop a lot next weekend when SAW IV opens.

THE COMEBACKS (2812 theaters). The commercials for this just look really, really stupid. People will go see it in hopes that it'll be funny, but I think it'll underperform. $8.2 million.

RENDITION (2250 theaters). It has a great cast, and Reese is plugging the heck out of it, but it looks depressing and dramatic, and reviews have been okay without really raving about it. Figure $7.9 million.

GONE BABY GONE (1713 theaters). It has a catchy title and Morgan Freeman, though I'm amused that the ads aren't playing up the fact that Ben Affleck directed it. $8.4 million.

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE (1142 theaters). The script for those was one of those supposedly-great scripts circulating around Hollyhwood, though I never read it. Reviews are fairly solid, and the cast is good, though this isn't many screens. $6.1 million.

SARAH LANDON AND THE PARANORMAL HOUR (1115 theaters). I have no idea what this is, or how it might hook in its intended teen audiences. Maybe they'll buy a ticket to this and sneak into the vampire movie. $1 million.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (830 theaters). A cheesy-looking animated version of the classic Biblical tale. It'll be interesting to see if it can draw a religious family audience, or whether they'll just go rent some DVDs instead. $2.4 million.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 3D (564 theaters). Could do a little something. $2.1 million.

Also opening is RESERVATION ROAD on 13 screens, which is getting mixed reviews. WRISTCUTTERS (3 screens) is getting some good reviews, but I'm not sure it'll ever go that wide.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Choosing The Movies We Choose To See

So buried in the comments in the post below, which largely center on whether it is racist to have never seen a Tyler Perry movie, is a larger-arcing question -- why do we choose the movies we choose to see?

When I was younger and living in Manhattan, I literally saw 12-20 movies a month in theaters, which pretty much encompassed anything that had any possibility of being good.

Now I'm down to 1-2 a month in theaters, maybe more in the early summer and the end of the year, when there is stuff crying out to be seen. In other words, I've sort of morphed into an approximation of an average filmgoer.

And pretty much my pool of movies I want to see is this:

1) Movies that are supposed to be at least very good, or entertaining, or just plain really funny. But the bar is fairly high here.

2) Movies starring people I like, or from directors I like, or with subject matter than might interest me, or which promise to be funny enough to counter their not being that good, or in which Natalie Portman is naked. In all of these instances, the bar is lower -- I might go see a mediocre (or worse) example of one of these films.

When it comes to Tyler Perry movies, it isn't a matter of race. It's a matter of their not being good enough to break into category #1 (so far) and because he hasn't made a movie that really hits my #2 yet.

Not because it's full of black people, but because of the subject matter. I'm not big on wacky movies about men dressed up as women (Tyler Perry's usual m.o.), unless they are great. The current WHY DID I GET MARRIED? is about couples getting together to talk about their marital problems. Cast this with white people, and it would probably be horrific -- hell, I'm more likely to see it with the current cast.

The problem with Hollywood is that they know about the #1 and #2 thing, and I think too often they see #1 as elusive -- they won't want to count on their movie being great, or even very good. So that's why they fill their movies up with stars, or remake TV shows or movies that people are familiar with, or go for the big spectacle stuff, because they are trying to hit as many people's #2 as they can. Unfortunately, again, in this category, films don't need to be great to make money.

The day that audiences just stick with #1 -- only seeing movies that are great, or at least very good -- is the day Hollywood will change the way they do business. But it'll never happen.


Weekend autopsy:

Give WHY DID I GET MARRIED? credit though; it made $21.3 million over the weekend, to get first place in a runaway. Though the reviews (when they finally came; they didn't screen the film for critics) make it clear that this isn't the Perry film that is going to make many people's #1 category.

THE GAME PLAN did $11 million to take second; it's another #2 category type hit. People will see mediocre if it brings enough funny.

Despite good reviews, WE OWN THE NIGHT and MICHAEL CLAYTON each did between $10 and $11 million; again, quality isn't everything. Sadly.

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE opened with a disappointing $6.1 million. THE FINAL SEASON did a horrific $664,000 in over 1000 theaters.

In limited release, SLEUTH didn't do very well. I'm not sure why not.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Weekend Box Office #53

Another passle of movies opening this weekend, some looking pretty good.

MICHAEL CLAYTON (2511 theaters, up from 15). This is opening wide, and I have a feeling that it'll be number one; it has a vibe of a must-see movie that the others don't have as much. Call it $17.5 million for the weekend.

WE OWN THE NIGHT (2362 theaters). This is getting solid reviews, but the vague good brother/bad brother storyline seems very familiar. It should do about $11.8 million this weekend.

TYLER PERRY'S WHY DID I GET MARRIED (2011 theaters). Tyler Perry is a force of nature; he has his fan base, who apparently don't care that his movies aren't actually all that good. Figure this one will do about $12.7 million for the weekend.

ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE (1951 theaters). I actually saw ELIZABETH with my wife on our first date, so I guess we should see the sequel. Feels too serious to pull in really big numbers though. $10.3 million for the weekend.

THE FINAL SEASON (1011 theaters). There is a dearth of family films out now, but it's hard to believe that too many people will care about this baseball tale, which has no real hook to it. $2.7 million.

In limited release, the remake of SLEUTH opens in 9 theaters, while LARS AND THE REAL GIRL opens in 7.

Notable expansions are ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (from 364 theaters to 954), JESSE JAMES (from 61 to 163), INTO THE WILD (135 to 153) and THE DARJEELING LIMITED (19 theaters to 95).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Screenwriting Book

For the past few days, to fulfill my hour-a-day-of-screenwriting pledge (while waiting for my Internet co-worker to lob back some more brainstorming notes on our evolving structure), I have busied myself by reading a book on screenwriting.

Yeah, it counts. My rules.

Every year or so I do this, because I find it helps. I look for good screenwriting books, and then read them at the perfect time -- when I'm brainstorming a new piece, working out the structure, and looking for things to help inspire me along the end.

This current book is perfect.

It's called Writing Drama, by Yves Lavandier, and it's probably not for the beginning writer. It's a dense book, that essentially covers everything about the nuts and bolts of drama and screenwriting.

Lavandier has read all the other really good books that you should be reading and haven't read yet, though he doesn't really distill them as much as accumulate a lot of good ideas -- this book is almost 600 pages long.

I'm hamstrung a bit because I haven't seen a lot of the movies he talks about along the way, yet that turns out to be a minor point, because he makes it clear what the references indicate.

The book was originally published in France, but Lavandier isn't a pro-European film, anti-Hollywood guy. Instead, he believes in storytelling, in great stories told right, and he thinks that generally Hollyhwood has figured out how to do it better.

It's a good read, just because as I pore through it, I'm thinking about the script I'm writing now, and what it is lacking, and what it needs, and what about the structure already works.

Worth seeking out, if you are into a little self-education.

59 straight days, through yesterday.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Jesse James

So I drug my bones out to a movie theater this weekend, and I saw The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Which I guarantee probably isn't getting spelled out on many marquees.

The title is accurate though. The movie is long. Long. Long.

In many respects, it's also a great movie. It's a beautiful-looking film, the acting (particularly Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck) is very sharp, and the tale manages the difficult task of weaving an involving tale out of the intersection of these two characters, even as we know where it is heading.

But boy, does it take a while to get there. The movie is about 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and in no hurry. I largely enjoyed it, but I still looked at my watch a half-dozen times.

Writer-director Andrew Dominik (Chopper) has clearly made the movie that he set out to make, and it's clear why it is getting some good reviews. It's really not for all audiences though. It's one of those movies where most people, though appreciating the filmmaking, simply aren't going to have the patience to wait out a tale that could have been told in an hour's less time. At least 10 people walked out of the showing I was in.

It's still an interesting effort though, and it's worth checking out. Though you've been warned.


The Heartbreak Kid only brought in an estimated $14 million over the weekend, about half of what industry expectations for it were. It didn't even win the weekend, coming in behind the Game Plan.

One problem is that the movie honestly didn't look like it was going to be much fun.

Still, it fared better than The Seeker, which only made about $3.7 million, the second-lowest total ever for a movie opening in over 3000 theaters. (The record-holder is a movie called Hoot, which did about $3.3 in May 2006).

Feel The Noise only did $3.4 million, though on a third of the screens that The Seeker had.

In limited release, Michael Clayton opened strong prior to going wide this weekend. The Darjeeling Limited is also doing well, bringing in over a half million dollars from only 19 theaters. Lust, Caution averaged over $21,000 each in 17 theaters.

Into the Wild is expanding well; it made almost $1.3 million, on only 135 screens. Jesse James did okay, not great.

Across the Universe is holding okay, though The Jane Austen Book Club's expansion went poorly, averaging only about $1250 a screen. In the Valley of Elah only averaged $1394.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Weekend Box Office #52

Last weekend I didn't see anything. This weekend I'm determined to change that.

Opening wide:

THE HEARTBREAK KID (3229 theaters). On the plus side, it's the Farrelly Brothers going back to R-rated comedy. On the downside, the commercials look a bit one-note, and reviews haven't been great. I think it'll do a solid but somewhat-disappointing (given that the expectations are higher) $18.9 million for the weekend.

THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING (3141 theaters). I guess there are fans of this young-adult book, but the commercial has no real hook, and the reviews have been unenthusiastic. Still, this is a lot of theaters. $10.4 million.

FEEL THE NOISE (1015 theaters). The scariest words I've ever seen on a film ad: "From producer Jennifer Lopez". Didn't screen for critics. $4.1 million.


In limited release, IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH is still pushing on, expanding another 213 screens to 975, despite mediocre numbers so far. THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB is taking its shot, expanding from 41 theaters to 1187. Look for Jane Austen to struggle to make $3 million, Elah to struggle to make $2 million.

INTO THE WILD jumps from 33 screens to 135. JESSE JAMES goes from 5 to 61. THE DARJEELING LIMITED expands from 2 to 19.

MICHAEL CLAYTON is opening in 15 theaters, and is getting very good reviews.

My current shortlist (limited to films in my neighborhood that I might see this weekend): Into the Wild, In the Valley of Elah, 3:10 to Yuma.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Taking Notes

So aside from giving notes on other people's scripts, I also take them on mine.

In theory, it's something of a paradox. If I'm such a great note-giver, then how come I can't immediately see the flaws in my own scripts?

The answer is that I can see some, but not all of them. Even I need a fresh eye, or lots of eyes, to tell me what's not working.

Monday night, I brought the third act of my thriller into my screenwriting group. The rules there are simple: the actors read the pages, and afterward the other writers throw out thoughts.

It's something of an iffy process, especially with third acts, because the other writers aren't as familiar with what has come before. Even though I included a recap, there's a lot of new stuff in act 2 that no one has seen.

Like everyone, on some level I went in Monday night hoping that all the writers would be so mesmerized by my climax that they'd have no notes. That they'd just look at each other, admit it all worked, and go on to the next thing.

Didn't happen. At all. They tore it apart. Which is course is really what I'm glad happened.

Though Monday night was tough in that I got a slew of notes that conflicted with each other. You see, the thriller ends with a pair of quick reversals and then a huge twist.

Some of the people didn't like the twist, because they think it invalidates too much of the script that came before it.

Some people like the twist, but thought more characters needed to die off before the third act. There was a lot of disagreement over which characters should be around at the end.

Most hated the way I handled the reversals. Too out of the blue, not enough motivation for things that were happening.

The rule in the group is that the writer doesn't talk during all these notes. He doesn't defend, or argue. He just sits there, and writes everything down, whether he agrees with it or not.

It's a great rule.

Because even though I didn't agree with all the notes -- I knew I'd set things up that writers were complaining hadn't been, because they hadn't seen those pages -- I wrote every one of them down.

Because every note has value. Every note reflects something that isn't clicking with someone. And even if the person giving you the note has misunderstood something, that could be a problem too.

So over the last few days, I've distilled the notes, and run them through my brain. Tried to figure out what it was that people weren't responding too, where my intentions were falling short, and whether maybe indeed the climax would work better if I did C and D rather than A and B.

I filtered the notes through what I wanted to do with the script. Not following them blindly, or ignoring them blindly, but taking everything into consideration.

The rewrite is going well.

It's nice being on both sides of the process. I think it has improved my writing immensely.

My string of consecutive days screenwriting for at least an hour a day is up to 52, through yesterday.


I also caught up with special edition DVDs for two older films, through my DVD reviewing gig.

THE GRADUATE, which I hadn't seen in a while, still holds up extremely well. Though it's amazing how little real plot the film has (and the original trailer, included on the DVD, gives away every single major plot beat), every single scene has memorable touches, while Mike Nichols' visual sense adds so much. It's also amusing how many memorable things in the movie (detailed by Dustin Hoffman in the extras) were just accidents or things randomly discovered along the way, rather than being planned out.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Al Pacino movie CRUISING, which was lambasted when it came out for its superficial treatment of the gay leather bar lifestyle. But the bigger problem is that the murder mystery at the heart of it isn't interesting, Pacino's undercover investigation into it really doesn't contain any detective work on his part, while it is completely unclear what is going on in Pacino's head at any time during the film.

It's awful -- and William Friedkin, who wrote and directed it, really could have used some notes.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


So I was tagged by Kristen with yet another meme.

This one asks: List 5 things you do, did or like that some may consider "totally lame", but that you are totally proud of.

Yikes. That's my whole life.

1) In high school, I was a mathlete. Not only that, but I won awards, four plaques which I still have. One year I was first place in Suffolk County, Long Island, sometime in the faraway past. We may not have gotten laid, but we did have fun.

2) I used to play bridge, a lot. In high school, I'd get together with the guys, and drink wine coolers (a lameness category all its own, but that was a phase) and play bridge in the basement of twins Martin and Norman. In college, I taught everyone in the commuter room how to play. The funny thing is that I wasn't a particularly great player, so now there are lots of people out there playing bad bridge because of me.

3) I keep up with pop culture, way too much. I watch "Best Week Ever" and "The Soup" every Friday, just to see what crap celebrities did during the week that they can make fun of. Did you hear that Britney lost custody of her kids?

4) I'm the only straight man in the world who likes Broadway showtunes.

5) I hang onto underpants too long. I have some pairs that probably date back decades, though my wife tries to throw them out when I'm not looking. Hey, if they aren't stained and they give my boys a home, what's a hole or two?

At this point, Kristen is probably sorry she tagged me.

Share. What's some lameness in your life?

Monday, October 01, 2007


This year, I know not one but two of the ten Nicholl Fellowship Finalists.

One is Brett, over at A Bucket of Love, who will undoubtedly be more insufferable than usual now ;-) I did give him notes on this script, once upon a time, though who knows if any made it into this draft.

The other is Lisa Gold, who is in my scriptwriting group. I can't take any credit for hers; though we have been tearing it apart in group for months, the draft that got her this far is the pre-torn-apart one.

If you've looking for an edge for next year, both scripts are essentially period dramas; both have WWII combat sequences.

Of course, what they both have in common is that they are very well-written. Good job, both of you.

Somewhat Depressed

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a New York Mets fan. Since about 1972.

I grew up going to Mets games for my birthday. In my post-college years, living in Manhattan, I used to take the 7 train out regularly (and yeah, sometimes I read scripts on the train. Or in my seat in the stadium, if I was alone).

I suffered through a lot of bad years, and some very good ones. But this year is the worst.

18 days ago, the Mets were in first place by 7 games. No one had ever blown a bigger lead in September. No one had ever blown a 7-game lead with fewer than 20-odd games to go.

The Mets promptly went out and lost 13 of their last 17 games.

In the final week of the season, with 7 games to play against teams with losing records, 3 wins turns out would have won them first place. 2 wins would have at least gotten them into a one-game playoff against the Phillies.

Instead they only won 1 game. Most of the games they lost weren't even very close.

The pitching staff collapsed. Future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine got only one out yesterday, before being pulled after letting 8 of the first 9 hitters reach base. The bullpen was appalling. All-world leadoff man Jose Reyes forgot how to hit.

Even today's LA Times has a photo of a depressed Mets fan on the cover.

Oh well. I'm getting over it.

Go Cubs. Go Indians.


THE GAME PLAN wound up being number 1 for the weekend, validating the fact that Americans will go see anything if they think it might be funny. It did an estimated $22.7 million for the weekend.

THE KINGDOM made a solid $17.7 million. FEAST OF LOVE flopped with only $1.7 million.

In limited release, INTO THE WILD continued its solid expansion, averaging over $20,000 in 33 theaters. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE had a decent per-screen average of a little over $6000, bringing in just over $2 million in 339 theaters.

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH only averaged $2000 a theater, and probably won't expand past the 762 screens it's on now. JESSE JAMES did another $18,000 per on its five screens.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED brought in over $140,000 from just two Manhattan theaters. LUST, CAUTION made about $61,000 from a single theater.