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

Monday, June 30, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

I've read a lot of thrillers and horror scripts over the last few years, and many of them come to the inevitable point where the main character(s) could really use some outside help, but are unable to summon it.

The modern-day complication is that pretty much everyone has a cellphone, which has to be accounted for so that the possibility that it can actually be used can be eliminated.

Unfortunately, there seem to only be a few ways to tackle this, and most of them have become cliched, very familiar and fairly uninspired.

Too many people fall back on simply having themain characters BE OUT OF CELLPHONE RANGE, which can work if they are in the middle of the desert or out in the wilderness. But I've read a scary number of lazy scripts where characters find they have no cell phone reception, despite being in the middle of a suburban area. The last script the characters had this problem, they were locked in a high school.

An alternative is to DISPOSE OF THE CELL PHONE, either by having it destroyed or lost along the way. But easily the most cliched scene now is the workaholic guy whose wife/girlfriend/buddy throws his cellphone out the car window, so that they won't constantly be on it for what is supposed to be a restful holiday weekend. Never mind that most people have so much info on their phones now that this comes off as an immature, stupid act that would simply serve to piss the cellphone owner off.

Occasionally the problem is a DEAD BATTERY, though this is handled in melodramatic fashion, with the battery dying at just the wrong moment.

The other one that keeps cropping up is the LEFT BEHIND CELLPHONE, usually marked by an early scene in which someone tries to call the main character, only to have the requisite shot of the phone ringing where the characters were before, but no longer are now.


It's time to come up with some inspired ways to eliminate the cellphone logic hole. If you've got one in your script, see if you can eliminate it in some interesting, clever way.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Weekend Box Office #90

This is the first time I've been a day late in my weekend preview for a while. But my wife has been home battling a virus, and that's a distraction.

She's doing better though.

Otherwise, I think I'm over the hump in being swamped; I still have work, but I don't feel buried under pressing deadlines.

Hopefully I'll be able to do some major digging back into my screenplay this week, though now I'm concerned about its possible resemblance to an upcoming Ricky Gervais/Greg Kinnear script called GHOST TOWN. If anyone has a line on the script, let me know.

This weekend:

WALL-E (3992 theaters). Is anyone more reliable than Pixar? This has gotten a lot of very solid reviews, and should do well. My guess? $71.1 million for the weekend.

WANTED (3175 theaters). It sort of looks like action claptrap, but reviews haven't been entirely dismissive, and I'm sure there will be people checking this out. $31.2 million.


I've been wading my way through a box of DVDs, and I can report that 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS and 2 DAYS is small, European and rivetting throughout.

Meanwhile, I wanted to like BE KIND REWIND, but it just isn't really all that funny, despite an amiable tone.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Incredible Hulk

Saw this yesterday.

It's pretty solid, particularly early on. I liked the way they acknowledge the origin stuff without spending a lot of time on it, while they do a good job putting Bruce Banner and his needs front and center.

The special effects are solid, and make this worth seeing on the big screen. There are some logic quibbles at times, like how this huge big green monster keeps disappearing after confrontations without no one seeming to know in which direction he went, while the fact that the final battle probably kills countless people is rather glossed-over as well.

Still, I was entertained enough.


I also saw PERSEPOLIS on DVD. Animated, very different, and worth checking out.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Weekend Box Office #89

Still swamped with work, which is good, because the economy sucks.

This weekend, two comedies are pitted against each other. Neither got very good reviews from today's LA Times, though. I have higher hopes for GET SMART than I do for THE LOVE GURU, which honestly just seems dumb; it might be funny, but the commercials certainly aren't convincing me.

If anyone sees either movie this weekend, pop back in and leave a comment about whether it's worth seeing. Though with temperatures around 105 here today, the air conditioning alone might make it worth it.

GET SMART (3911 theaters). This at least looks actiony, while I generally like Steve Carell, and the former Rock should also bring people in. $45.5 million for the weekend.

THE LOVE GURU (3012 theaters). Mike Myers can often make me laugh, but still... $17.8 million.

Monday, June 16, 2008

When Casting Is A Spoiler

So the other night I was watching the DVD of a movie called "Cleaner", directed by Renny Harlin and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Ed Harris and Luis Guzman. It was a random arrival for my online-DVD-reviews-in-exchange-for-free-DVDs gig.

It's not a bad movie, and it does some things well. But it went straight to DVD basically because it doesn't do enough of them well enough for it to really have deserved a theatrical release, though I'm sure Jackson didn't know that was going to happen when he signed on.

And Jackson almost makes the movie work; he's very watchable, as always.


The problem is that though this is essentially a mystery, in which Jackson is trying to figure out who tricked him into cleaning up a crime scene, it is really painfully obvious for most of the film who the bad guy is going to be.

It's going to be Ed Harris' character, ex-cop Jackson's buddy and former cop partner. How do we know this?

Because it's such a nothing part that there's no reason why Ed Harris would do the movie unless he was going to turn out to be the killer.

For the first 80% of the film, Harris just occasionally wanders in, and really has nothing to do. The writer doesn't even attempt to really give him a storyline to make this seem like an Ed Harris-worthy part; he's just a minor character.

As if.

So it's distracting, because when we're supposed to be being misled into thinking that maybe Luis Guzman is the bad eye, our eye is firmly on Ed Harris throughout, waiting for him to come out of the shadows for the requisite showdown ending.

Sure enough.

This happens on LAW AND ORDER a lot too. Some B or C-list actress will pop up in a guest starring role, and initially it'll seem like they are just a family member. But of course they are always more important than we should initially think -- except we know that they are going to be the key character, so it doesn't really work.

Just once I'd like to see a really clever bait-and-switch, where we see a guy in the they-are-only-in-the-movie-because-they-are-the-bad-guy part, and it turns out that they aren't the bad guy, and in fact it is a nothing role. Just to shake up people's expectations a bit.


THE INCREDIBLE HULK made an estimated $54.5 million this past weekend, so I was friggin' close.

THE HAPPENING made an estimated $30.5 million, a lot more than I thought. So M. Night is going to get to keep making movies. Here's hoping he knocks one out of the park soon, though I think he could really use some screenwriting help, either by co-writing or simply by getting someone else to pen one of his scripts.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Weekend Box Office #88

So I'm absolutely swamped with work. No time to write, no time to see any movies this weekend. Not that the reviews have been that great anyway.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (3505 theaters). The few reviews I've seen have been okay, and it'll probably do something, though I think the failed version of a few years ago knocked the bloom off this rose. $53.4 million.

THE HAPPENING (2986 theaters). I think M. Night has talent, and wish he'd stop blaming critics; the bottom line is that every movie he has done since THE SIXTH SENSE has been seriously flawed. Apparently this film isn't great, but it's supposedly better than LADY IN THE WATER, which will at least reverse his slide of every movie he makes somehow being worse than the one before. $21.1 million.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Breaking My Story

So I've fallen off the writing wagon again.

I strung together about 10 straight days of at least an hour a day, but then life swarmed in and knocked me off track.

Now I'm trying to scramble back on, Indiana Jones style.

The problem is that I'm working on a new script, that I have a rough idea of the story of; it's a fairly high-concept buddy comedy. I know where it starts, I know where it winds up, I know stuff that happens along the way.

Not enough stuff, though.

And therein lies the problem. Because I've always been a writer who too-often wrote by the seat of his pants. Who just never worked out enough of the story beforehand.

Which works, if you have a zillion hours to give to writing, as I did in my single days.

My Nicholl semi-finalist script was written in the most time-consuming way possible. Literally, I wrote draft after draft, throwing out things that weren't working, and bending the story in a new direction, and then another one, and then another one.

The draft I wound up with is a solid script, but it took at least 20 full drafts, and I left endless excised sequences littered on the side of the road.

It's not the most time-effective way to write. At all.

My second-favorite script I actually wrote as a serialized treatment/story first, sending chunks to a friend in e-mails, so that when I finally typed it up the first draft was much, much closer to where it needed to be.

Since then I've tried to be outline guy, but the irony with my screenwriting group is that it doesn't really facilitate this. Because I need to come up with 25 pages every month or so, even if I'm in outlining phase.

So I knocked out a first act of this buddy comedy, and everyone loved it. The problem is that I really don't have solid concrete sequences for acts two and three, just basic ideas.

I hadn't really "broken" the story. And it really needs to be broken.

So that's what I'm working on now, just trying to figure out the basics. Who my characters are, what they want, how they are pursuing this need, what their flaws are, what their arc is, what their journey is, what conflicts they face along the way.

Figuring out how the story best serves this -- and how all this will best serve the story.

You know, basic ingredient stuff. In theory, it's much easier to figure out now than when I've written 40 pages that are ultimately not going to work.

The problem is that I write best when I'm actually in a scene, writing. That's when my mind comes up with great stuff, just being in the moment.

What I need to do is translate that to when I'm just sitting there with a pad of paper, beating out the plot.

It's one of my admitted flaws as a writer. Not taking the time to just sit down, pre-writing, and ask the important questions about my screenplay and what its basic story elements are.

So that's where I am now, a process that is cluttered by the fact that in 13 days I need to bring in another 25 pages. It'll probably be the first 25 again, reworked and hopefully setting up a story that has been worked out a lot more than it is now.

But that's writing.


Last weekend, KUNG FU PANDA made an impressive $60.2 million. YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN also did well, making $38.5 million.

I like Adam Sandler, though I wish he'd make better movies, though clearly there's no real economic reason to.

SEX AND THE CITY came back to Earth, dropping 62.8% in its second week, though its opening was the biggest for a romantic comedy ever, and it crossed the $100 million line yesterday, on day 11.

It'll be interesting to see how Hollywood tries to recapture this female audience (surprise! it exists!) in the future. A lot may depend on how THE WOMEN does this fall.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Weekend Box Office #87

So we're getting to the point of summer in which grosses are getting tougher to predict, particularly when the movies get mixed reviews, as is the case this week.

KUNG FU PANDA (4114 theaters). It's not Pixar and it hasn't gotten raves, so I'm not sure how much adult business it will do. The commercials are somewhat funny, and I'm sure the family business will be there. Call it $40.3 million for the weekend.

YOU DON'T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN (3462 theaters). This is really sort of a weird premise, the amusing bit with him kicking a guy in the face is now overplayed, and I'm not sure the basic idea here is enough to lure bog audiences. Call it $17.7 million.

Otherwise... life goes on.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Indy 4

So maybe it was because I went in with considerably lowered expectations (I have friends who hated, hated, hated this movie), but I didn't hate INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL.

In fact, I was entertained in a turn-off-your brain kind of way.


Though I think I can see what a lot of people don't like about this movie. It's basically just a stew, made up of bits and pieces from the other movies.

Chases, fights, fights during chases, people swinging on things, scenery-chewing one-note bad guys (Cate Blanchett won't be getting an Oscar nom for this cardboard performance), the same old plot of some Indy trying to keep some ancient object with magical powers out of the hands of the bad guys, here Russians who drive around in vehicles marked with a big red star, even when they're in South America.

Shia LaBoeuf isn't bad, and he has some good banter with Harrison Ford. But Shia doesn't have the edge that really would have made him convincing as the knife-wielding greaser tough-guy he's supposed to be; he feels more like a kid in a Halloween costume.

And if it's really a spoiler to you going in that he's going to turn out to be Indy's son, then you haven't seen any movies before. Though the movie really does fall way short in mining any real emotion out of this, or out of the reunion between Indy and Marion, or out of the fact that Indy is now rather old, even though Harrison Ford does fine in the role.

The plot is also rather silly, basically just an excuse to have a bunch of chases, even though a lot of them don't make much sense logistically.

So how could I generally like it?

Because Indiana Jones movies really aren't about logic. They're based on the old adventure serials, where wild stuff happens, and a lot of it isn't remotely convincing but what the hell, it's fun. And despite what some major critics have said, there is a lot of fun stuff here, including a well-choreographed chase through a jungle.

It's not a movie I'll likely see in a theater again or buy on DVD, though if it comes on TV I might find myself drawn in for a stretch. But for Indiana Jones fans who don't expect this to be another RAIDERS, it's certainly roughly on the level of the other two movies.

So, a soft recommendation. I'll give it a B-.