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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Weekend Box Office #116

So most of these movies opened yesterday. There's something about Christmas that drives people out of the house and to the theaters.

The new wide-release movies, and estimates for the 4-day weekend:

BEDTIME STORIES (3681 theaters). This looks like it is skewing pretty young for Adam Sandler's usual audience, though my niece and nephew were excited about seeing it. $45.2 million for the weekend.

MARLEY AND ME (3480 theaters). Never estimate the power of a comedy involving a dog, especially one that looks grown-up-friendly. $56.7 million.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2988 theaters). It's length will hurt it, and reviews have been a little mixed. $31.2 million.

VALKYRIE (2711 theaters). I saw this yesterday, and it's okay, though rather slow and talky. I don't think it'll do that well, particularly when word gets around that it's not very action-packed. $25.2 million.

THE SPIRIT (2509 theaters). Lack of stars and no-profile hero aren't going to add up to all that much. $9.7 million.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Driving Miss Daisy

So I watched this movie the other night, as part of immersing myself in a genre of film that myself and a writing partner are pondering writing.

What's hurting my brain is that, on a lot of pure storytelling levels, this movie just isn't very good.

The first act works fine, setting up the characters, and what they want, and the push-and-pull between Daisy and Hoak. Her need to keep control of her life, her way of spinning every situation so that even if she compromises, it seems to be on her terms. His finally getting her in the car.

But then the movie loses all shape.

There are some great scenes along the way, but it's just all very random. The only real structure is that 25 years are passing, and I guess they are slowly getting closer, but it's all rather wispy.

Ultimately, I think it's a good example of how a pair of great characters (and great actors) can make up for a lot of other ills. We like the dynamic between the two of them, and we're willing to briefly visit with them every couple of years in screen-time, even if nothing much has happened to them in the interim.

But it must have been a pretty thin year when it won the Oscar for Best Picture.

And I'm not sure why it's considered a comedy (it even won the Golden Globe in that category). Because there are some laughs here, but this is really a character drama enlivened by touches of humor, and the second half is pretty dry.

It's interesting to watch and tear apart, though.


On a snowy weekend that choked off the box office a bit, YES MAN did $18.3 million, SEVEN POUNDS did $14.8, and DESPEREAUX did $10.1. So I was ballpark for once.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weekend Box Office #115

Weighing in on the fullscreen vs. widescreen discussion that has taken over the comments in the previous post, I say go with the widescreen.

Though if it's a movie you really want to see, which format it's in shouldn't be a deal breaker.

If your TV is that small, just sit closer to the screen.


Opening this weekend:

YES MAN (3434 theaters). This looks like exactly the kind of dumb-funny movie that people are looking for this time of year. Prediction: $23.2 million for the weekend.

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX (3104 theaters). The title is a little clunky, and it doesn't seem to have the cachet that makes animated movies open big, though there's probably a little family audience for it. $9.8 million.

SEVEN POUNDS (2758 theaters). They are trying to keep the plot a secret, but word is that it's a major downer. I think a lot of people were underwhelmed by I AM LEGEND and HANCOCK, and that they might wait for the word-of-mouth on this, which might not be that great. $15.1 million.


SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE bounces from 169 theaters to 589 theaters this weekend. Look for it to do about $5.2 million, and keep building.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Links, Milk, Etc

So the time has come to redo all my sidebar links, which are embarrassingly out of date (sorry, Emily).

Anyone who has a blog they want to get on there, shoot me an e-mail.


I saw Milk yesterday afternoon. It's a solid, solid film, with a great performance by Sean Penn.

Stunningly, it was the first movie I'd seen in a theater in at least five months, likely the longest stretch that I hadn't been in a movie theater probably since I was about 4.

Blame the economy, blame high ticket prices, blame the lack of gotta-see-it-now movies. In fact, though we went to a multiplex, Milk was the only movie there that I had any real interest in seeing. Quantum of Solace was a distant second, mostly because I keep hearing that it just isn't much fun.


THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL did a solid $31 million over the weekend. NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS limped in with only $3.5; I apparently vastly overestimated its appeal.

DELGO did only $916,000, finishing behind even something called RAB BE BANA DI JODI, which did $1.25 million (!) in only 105 theaters. Apparently there's a real market out there for films catering to specific cultural groups.

In very limited release, DOUBT, GRAN TORINO, THE READER and CHE all opened with very solid per-theater numbers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekend Box Office #114

Only a few things opening wide this weekend:

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (3560 theaters). The commercials look interesting, and there isn't much competition. Prediction: $44.3 million.

DELGO (2160 theaters). That's a lot of theaters for an animated movie that isn't on my radar at all. $2.1 million.

NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS (1671 theaters). It'll be interesting to see how a holiday movie with Hispanic characters does. $10.8 million.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Unlikely-Friends Movie

So as part of trying to put together an assignment pitch with a co-writer, we're watching -- and reading -- a lot of films/scripts that fall into the unlikely friends genre.

Not exactly buddy comedies. More like two people of different worlds being thrown together, with some humor, but with a dramatic understory.


I read the script for the upcoming GRAN TORINO, and it's okay: good dialogue, story slow to kick in, not really sure about the ending. It's coming out Friday in limited release, and though the National Board of Review gave it best script, I think reviews may be a little mixed.

I also read the script for THE SOLOIST, by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and it's better; it's coming out early next year sometime, with Robert Downey Jr and Jamie Foxx.

It's becoming clear that for these stories to work, it's all about the characters, and the dialogue; the writers of GRAN TORINO and THE SOLOIST really do bring a distinct voice to the piece. But story is important too; even though neither film has a huge amount of plot to work with, both do a good job (though THE SOLOIST does it better) of using little dramatic moments and needs to keep goosing the story along.

Any more examples of this kind of film that anyone can think of, throw them out there. We're trying to immerse ourselves in the question of what films in this genre do right, and do wrong.


Clearly I overestimated PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, which stumbled in with a meager $4 million this past weekend. Though I had seen at least one good review somewhere, I hadn't seen the commercial for it until after I made my guess -- and then I realized how cheesy it looked, without having any real name actors to compensate.

CADILLAC RECORDS did about $3.6 million, on about a quarter of the screens that PUNISHER had. NOBEL SON completely tanked, with only $371,000 from 893 theaters, about 200 more screens than CADILLAC RECORDS had.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Weekend Box Office #113

So not a huge amount that is new in theaters this weekend; this is the weekend that is traditionally the calm before the holiday storm.

PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2508 theaters). This is getting solid reviews, though I'm not sure what the wanna-see factor really is. Call it $11.8 million for the weekend.

NOBEL SON (893 theaters). Looks like quirky fun, but this is the kind of movie that needed great reviews, and I'm not seeing them. $1.7 million.

CADILLAC RECORDS (686 theaters). This is supposed to be a bit formulaic, but the music (and Beyonce) should be something of a draw. $3.7 million.


On the limited-release front, MILK goes from 36 theaters to 99, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE goes from 49 to 78, and FROST/NIXON opens in 3 theaters. All will be playing in a lot more theaters by the end of the month.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Some Movies Just Shouldn't Try To Be Funny

So the other day I watched (on DVD) FINDING AMANDA, which stars Matthew Broderick as a TV writer who is hiding his serious gambling problem (he likes the horses) from his wife.

When he learns that his niece (played by Brittany Snow) is turning tricks in Las Vegas, Broderick volunteers to go get her and to put her into rehab, though actually it's just an excuse for him to go to Vegas and gamble more.

He finds her, but doesn't stop her as she turns more tricks, while she likes her job, which is painted here as being a pretty drama-free for a pretty young girl to make some good money (at times it's practically a recruitment ad). Indeed, even at the end there's every implication that she is going to stick with it.

This could easily have been a serious character piece, a la LEAVING LAS VEGAS, but instead the filmmakers keep trying to make it a wacky comedy, complete with strident "ha ha isn't this funny" music and Broderick pulling every comic-reaction face he has learned from his 80 years in the business.

(Okay, he isn't that old. But he's starting to look his age. Apparently the picture in the attic got accidentally sold in a garage sale. Obscure reference. Okay, moving on).

The problem with FINDING AMANDA is that there just isn't anything funny to this story at all. At all. It just feels like a train wreck, pretty much all the way through. Even when Steve Coogan shows up, he doesn't have anything funny to do.

There have been a lot of movies that have blended comedy and drama successfully. Let's take BEVERLY HILLS COP, which has a serious basic storyline -- tracking down the killer of your friend -- and layers a lot of funny scenes on top of it.

Because the humor comes from the comic conflicts. Eddie Murphy in LA, reacting with the pretentious peeople there. Eddie Murphy jiving with the bad guys. Eddie messing with the uptight LA cops.

FINDING AMANDA has no layer of funny. It's all just sort of icky, even to me, who is no blushing rose.

And the revelation in writer/director Peter Tolan's commentary that it is sort of based on a true story (he had a gambling problem, it was the daughter of a friend who was hooking) just makes it feel like he is in denial.

Trying to blend genres is fine -- but it needs to work.

Monday, December 01, 2008

And the Number One Movie is... Four Christmases. Sigh.

This is the problem with Hollywood.

I haven't seen Four Christmases, but it has gotten some of the most god-awful reviews of any major Hollywood movie that has come out for a long time.

And yet it made an estimated $46.7 million over its first 5 days.

Because, sadly, this is exactly the kind of movie Hollywood wants to make. High concept tales that can be described in a sentence, that seem fun, and that stars A-list actors who seem fun too.

The kind of movie where EVEN IF IT SUCKS it'll still make a lot of money.

Sadly, that's probably the best advice to give anyone who is looking to sell a screenplay: write a movie that's high concept actor bait, that will draw an audience even if it sucks.

Even if, at the end of the day, you might not actually want it on your resume.


TWILIGHT, BOLT and QUANTUM OF SOLACE finished 2-3-4 for the holiday weekend. AUSTRALIA only did about $20 million for the 5 days, while TRANSPORTER 3 did $18.5.


I ate a lot of my mother-in-law's turkey, did a little work, and pondered what I'm going to write next.

Then I wound up swapping with an ailing writer to bring 25 pages into group tonight, so I'll bring the almost-last chunk of my violent thriller in, and force two actors to read the sex scene.

Then I'm going to write something that my parents can actually go see.