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

Monday, July 28, 2008

Chasing The Good Idea

So I've been in something of a writing rut recently.

Mostly it's a time management problem. Work is busy, and when I'm busy, I don't have the time to write, while I'm so burned out thinking about other people's scripts that I don't want to tackle mine.

(My mother is right, I should have become an accountant).

I took the weekend off to take my wife south for her birthday, and we had a relaxing time knocking around the area about 25 miles north of San Diego.

We did go to the Del Mar track for a while, but honestly it's not the most user-friendly track; it's a long walk from parking (even with the tram, which doesn't actually go to the parking lot that most people wind up in) while the betting lines are huge as well. We wound up taking off after a couple of hours, and blowing off Gnarls Barkley, rather than fighting the crowd to see a concert where it wasn't even clear where the concert was being held.

Santa Anita is better.

Anyhow, the point really is that on the way down I pitched my wife this thriller idea I've been toying with for a little while, a violent, definitely-R tale that I wasn't sure what her reaction to would be. Because there's some dark stuff in there.

Not only did she like it, but she helped me brainstorm an even darker ending. Heh.

So I've been wrestling for a while with the question of what to focus on banging out this summer. I was working on a comedy, and it's first 40 pages got a good reaction in group, but I pulled it back because I really needed to go back and work out the plot, before I wrote myself into a corner.

I'm also concerned about its possible resemblance to the upcoming Ricky Gervais film GHOST TOWN, written by David Koepp and John Kamps. If anyone has a line on that script, let me know.

So I'm leaving the comedy on the hydraulic lift for a while, and I'm going to try and bang out this thriller, which is one of the rare things I've set out to write that doesn't have some sort of supernatural/fantasy element to it.

I'm going to try and reinstitute the old hour-a-day thing, though maybe not today, because I have a pile of work left over from not doing it over the weekend. Sigh.


THE DARK KNIGHT did a solid $75 million for the weekend, breaking the ten-day record by some huge margin. Good for it. I still haven't seen it yh I wwillet, but I will.

STEPBROTHERS did a strong $30 million. X-FILES only did about $10 million.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Weekend Box Office #94

So thanks for all the suggestions, though ultimately we don't take any of them.

We're going to go down and stay at Cardiff-By-The-Sea, about 25 miles north of San Diego. Maybe hit the Del Mar Racetrack on Saturday, both for the horses and for Gnarls Barkley playing there afterward.

This weekend at theaters:

THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (3185 theaters). The reviews I've seen haven't been good, while there doesn't seem to be much of a hook to this; it looks like sort of a serial killer tale/FBI procedural, which isn't necessarily the way to bring back the fans. I don't think it's going to do all that well, considering its summer movie placement. $13.8 million for the weekend.

STEP BROTHERS (3094 theaters). They are advertising the hell out of it, and it looks like dumb fun, though it's going to lose a lot of the potential family audience because it's rated R for "pervasive language". Figure it'll do about $18.5 million.

Of course, the big question is about how much THE DARK KNIGHT will do on weekend two. Movies like this often drop big, but this film will likely helped by the fact that a lot of people didn't see it last weekend because of the big lines or because it was sold out, word of mouth has been great, and it seems to be the kind of movie that people will see multiple times.

My guess is a remarkable $102.5 million second weekend. What's yours?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm Looking For a Weekend Getaway

I want to take the wife somewhere out of LA this weekend for her birthday, and we're looking for something interesting and different. Probably just a one-night stayover somewhere, on Saturday night.

The coast is too tourist-swamped, San Diego's full of Comic-Conners, and we're on something of a budget. I'd also not like to drive more than two hours.

Just thought I'd throw it out there, and see if anyone had any tips about somewhere cool to investigate. Post a comment here, or shoot me an e-mail.


Yeah, DARK KNIGHT made over $158 for its first three days. I'm an idiot for not seeing that coming.

I didn't see DARK KNIGHT -- I hate lines, and winding up in a crappy seat -- so the wife and I went to see HELLBOY 2 instead. Entertaining, and solid enough for what it is. DARK KNIGHT completely swamped it though; even though HELLBOY 2 probably got a little bounce from people shut out of sold-out DARK KNIGHT shows, it still dropped 70% over the weekend.

MAMMA MIA made $27 million, though expect that to drop fast, as word-of-mouth has been fairly dire.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weekend Box Office #93

It's going to be a busy weekend at the cinemas.

THE DARK KNIGHT (4366 theaters). I haven't heard anything but good buzz for this, and only the sense that it is rather bleak and doesn't seem like a kids' movie is going to keep it from putting up mega-huge numbers this weekend. Still, my guess is that it'll do about $89 million.

MAMMA MIA! (2976 theaters). I was semi-into seeing this, but the LA Times review today was underenthused. I have a feeling that when push comes to shove, the date-nighters might go to see The Dark Knight. Still, figure it'll do about $15.4 million.

SPACE CHIMPS (2511 theaters). Never underestimate a kids' movie, though its audience seems limited to those who have already seen Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E and don't want to see them again. $5.1 million.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

So Why Did "Meet Dave" Flop?

I was going to do a piece on this the other day, and then the LA Times had an article yesterday that touched on a few things as well, including the fact that the head of Fox hates sci-fi comedies (he thinks they always bomb, never mind "Men In Black"). He was the one who wanted that aspect downplayed in the advertising, despite the fact that that's the hook here, which was a fatal mistake.

I read this script in December, 2004 (when it was called "Starship Dave" -- a much better title -- and here's an except from my comments:

STARSHIP DAVE is takes a very high-concept idea - tiny humanoid aliens come to Earth in a spaceship disguised as a man, and wind up wooing a human woman - and generally does a good job finding the laughs in it. Though the story is a bit thin at times, screenwriters Rob Greenberg and Bill Corbett have a lot of fun with the fish-out-of-water elements of the tale, the conflicting personalities of the alien crew and the awkwardly funny central romance add a lot, while the premise offers a lot of slapstick opportunities for a good comic actor. The result could use some punching up of the plot and some of the laughs, but there is a lot to like here, and there is a commercial film in the material."

And I stand by that -- it is a commercial idea, and it could have been a funny movie. And though the movie is apparently on the low side of mediocre, I don't think it was the mostly-bad reviews that did it in; they certainly didn't hurt Norbit. So what then?

THEY SOLD IT POORLY. The concept of the script really is a funny one, about these little people in a spaceship disguised as a man, trying to figure out how to interact with the world. But there was little sense of this in the advertising, which just sort of offered up a vague sense of the movie, without anything to make one want to check it out. A concern that spins into --

IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE A FAMILY MOVIE. But the problem with this is that there's nothing in the commercials that really screams "This is for kids", and families are reluctant to take kids to movies if they don't have a really good sense of what they are going to be about. An Eddie Murphy movie like "Daddy Day Care" was a hit because they made it very clear in the commercials that it was going to be a goofy slapstick family comedy with men fumbling with little kids and some parenthood messages in it. Box office.

IT DIDN'T LOOK ALL THAT FUNNY. This is another offshoot of not selling it right. The script I read was full of amusing little ideas, but the main thing that one takes away from the commercials is Eddie Murphy eating a lot of hotdogs, while a guy in his mouth ducks. Sort of dumb, and not particularly funny.

MAKING A GOOD MOVIE PROBABLY WOULD HAVE HELPED. At least with word of mouth, and making this catch on. And with providing fodder for funnier commercials. Though I'm not sure where they went wrong with the movie, other than to say that Eddie Murphy's recent non-track-record for making funny movies is becoming an increasing sign that his attachment to a film isn't making the movies better, and may be making them worse.

EDDIE MURPHY NO LONGER HAS A BUILT-IN AUDIENCE. This is also a key thing. Eddie Murphy was once an edgy, R-rated guy; now he makes dumb comedies for family audiences. And these movies succeed or fail entirely based on whether or not the movie has a high concept -- it's not because he's starring in it, it's not even really how well they are executed, it's whether or not it looks like a possible fun time at the movies. And though they could have made this look like a fun time at the movies, they forgot to do that.

Don't underestimate the lure of the fun time at the movies. That's one reason Hellboy 2 outdrew this 7-to-1 opening weekend; even though Hellboy 2 is a big comic-book movie, its commercials were funnier than Meet Dave's ever were.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weekend Box Office #92

So this is a tough weekend to call; there are three pretty-big movies opening, and any of them could wind up number one.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (3204 theaters). They are doing a good job promoting this movie, to make people (like me) who didn't see the first one interested in seeing the sequel, which I think will outgross the original. $30.2 million first three days.

MEET DAVE (3011 theaters). Eddie Murphy has completely lost his comic edge, but this movie looks harmless enough, though reviews haven't been great. I read the script a few years ago, and liked it, though I don't recognize much of it from the commercials I've seen. $26.7 million.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (2811 theaters). I think this may nab the number one spot, because it looks like a fun, visually-interesting adventure. But the LA Times calls it "tame", and though the 3D version is supposed to be a lot better, it's only in about 600 theaters, which are liable to be a lot more crowded than the 2D theaters showing this film. $38.2 million.

So that's my order. Journey, Hellboy, Meet Dave (though Hancock may be in that mix too). Feel free to post your predictions for order and $.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some Writers Need An Editor... Badly

So yesterday I read a 165-page, woefully-overwritten screenplay, with huge mobs of typos and spelling mistakes roaming its pages.

This thing is embarrassing. "Boston" is misspelled as "Bostin", twice. "Adolf Hitler" is misspelled "Adolph" time after time.

Apostrophes are salted in where they have no right being, and missing from where they should be. It's so bad that a key word in the title is misspelled, both in the title and throughout the script, yet I have absolutely no idea whether this is intentional or not.

On imbd, the title is correctly spelled, though.

Yeah, it's on imdb. As a film about to go into production. Maybe.

Because this mess of a script is written by a hip, finger-snapping Oscar-winning writer-director. I can't write his name -- I'm probably not even supposed to be alluding to reading this script, which is currently making the rounds -- but you can probably guess who it is.

Let's keep it between us.

A lot of people reading scripts by well-known writers can get into bad writing habits, because well-known writers can get away with things that unknown writers have a harder trouble doing.

Shane Black (who isn't the writer referred to above) can write whatever sort of witty aside he wants in a script, and he gets a pass, though mostly it works because he's such a good writer that it's clear whatever he is doing that he is in firm control of everything on the page. And no one is going to care if he misspells a word or two or thirty -- though he probably won't.

But there's no excuse for sending something out that is in this bad a shape. Especially something that is nominally a spec, that you are trying to get someone to give you a lot of money to make.

Because what the script should be saying to them is: "Yes, this story is different, and it's all over the place tonally, and it's unclear whether the same audience who would like this long, well-written part over here would actually like that incredibly-brutal other part over there. But shit, it's so well-written throughout, so polished and crisp that obviously I can pull it off".

Instead, the message it is giving is: "I couldn't care enough to actually reread this -- or get someone else to reread it -- and I don't have any real explanation why I'm spelling words like that -- but I promise the movie will be good. Really."

Looking beyond the typos and spelling problems, the script isn't bad. It's way overwritten, and certain sections need to be tightened down a lot, and it is all over the place tonally but there is some good stuff here.

(And no, you can't have a copy. I no longer have a copy).

But it's a borderline script, that he's been trying to get someone to greenlight for a while. The perfect example of a script where the writing needs to be spot on, to convince the people with the money that you are in firm, professional control of everything.

Instead, he has given them another reason to say no by having a script that constantly knocks one's brain out of the story by leaving around a forest of poor punctuation and egregious spelling mistakes to trip over and get lost in.

I don't get it. But then again, it's Hollywood.

Saturday, July 05, 2008


So I saw this yesterday, and it's an odd movie.

*** No Real Spoilers here, but there will be in the comments ***

The first half is sort of a comedy/superhero/drama, and is pretty much the movie they are selling in the commercials. In fact, I wish I'd never seen a commercial, because they give a lot away.

But then in the middle, when they basically resolve the first-half storyline and need to take the story in another direction, there's really a huge tone shift. Suddenly it's a lot more of an adult film, much more of a drama, more violent, and not very light any more.

I thought a lot of it worked, but aside from the tone shift, what really didn't work for me is the fact that it feels like they rush through it. They introduce an interesting idea that they could spend a whole movie really exploring, but here they rush through it in about a half hour, all the way up to the somewhat-flat, lame-villain climax, and then the movie is over.

Overall, I'd recommend the movie, because a lot here works, but there are a lot of good talking points about what they did in the second half of the film here.

If you've seen the movie, let's talk about it in the comments section. If you haven't, you probably don't want to read the comments, because that's where all the spoilers are going to be.


After HANCOCK, the wife and I went to see WANTED (we dropped $19.50 on the snack bar in between, so it wasn't really like sneaking in), and I was surprised at what a solid action movie it is, including an eye-popping sequence on a train. The tale hangs together well, and is well worth checking out.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Weekend Box Office #91

Nice long holiday weekend. I've got my workload down to a manageable level, so I'm taking the day off today, and hitting the coast with the wife.

I also plan to see some movies this weekend --I'm falling behind.

HANCOCK (3965 theaters). This actually opened on Wednesday (Tuesday night in some theaters) and it's doing pretty well, despite the fact that occording to a lot of critics the movie takes a weird twist halfway through that's not reflected in the commercials and doesn't really work. It's gotten more bad reviews than good, but I still hope to see it this weekend, and then I'll weigh in. Figure it'll do about $66.4 million for the 3-day weekend, though it'll be interesting to see what the word of mouth is and how that affects things.

KIT KITTREDGE: AN AMERICAN GIRL (1843 theaters). This must have one of the most limited audiences of any movie that has come out for a while; I'm not sure there are enough little girls thrilled about this movie to put up big numbers. $5.2 million for the weekend.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Funny Games" Hurt My Brain

So I watched FUNNY GAMES on DVD; it's a recent remake of a 1997 Austrian film of the same name.

The original is supposed to be pretty good, which probably explains how they lured Tim Roth and Naomi Watts to star in this, as a couple menaced by a pair of preppy sociopaths.

The movie remake does a few things right, but basically it's a bit too nihilistic and one-note to really work well; it would be a classic case of torture-porn, except most of the real violence occurs offscreen.

The first thing ironically worth mentioning is that, in God apparently responding to my last post about cellphones, this film actually does a good job with the whole cellphone thing.

Here, early on, one of the sociopaths "accidentally" knocks Naomi Watts' cellphone into a sink full of water, disabling it. Later on, as Watts and Roth try to dry it out to get it to work, their obsessive use of a hair dryer makes for a fairly good sequence. It feels real, as does most of the movie, for better or for worse.

Unfortunately, there's one jaw-dropping moment that doesn't feel real, that really inspired this post.

With about 20 minutes to go, and the violence escalating, Naomi Watts has a familiar thriller moment in which she is able to get her hands on a shotgun, and kill one of the bad guys.

Go Naomi.

Unfortunately, the surviving bad guy reaches into a chair, pulls out a remote, REWINDS THE MOVIE WE ARE WATCHING, and stops her from grabbing the shotgun, saving his friend. WTF?

Seriously. This happens.

Nowhere else in the movie (except for a few places when one of the sociopaths stares at or talks to the camera) is there any sense that this has any fantasy aspect to it at all; indeed, as mentioned, it's all very creepy-realistic.

Nowhere after this moment do the characters discuss what happened, or explain the remote, or use it again.

I suppose if writer/director Michael Haneke (remaking his own movie) had done a commentary, he might have tried to explain how it was a nod to the complicity of the audience in watching all the violence and blah blah blah.

It doesn't matter. It's a stupid device, that pulled me out of the film. It subverts the logic of the movie and makes me dislike it all just a little bit more.

One for my imaginary file of THINGS YOU DON'T DO IN A MOVIE.