Premise: A recently fired salesman comes home to find out he’s been kicked out of his house by his wife. So he takes his things, which she’s left outside, sets them up in the front lawn, and starts living there.
About: As many of you know, this is my favorite script! So I decided to finally review the damned thing! What a novel idea, right? To actually review the script that I like the most. So yes, the rumors are true. First time screenwriter/director Dan Rush will be directing Will Ferrell in the movie. Producer Wyck Godfrey describes the movie (which starts shooting March 1st) as Leaving Las Vegas with the humor of Bad Santa. I thought about that long and hard and determined that that’s a pretty accurate way to describe it. As a side note, this script finished Top 15 (I believe) on the 2007 Black List.
Writer: Dan Rush (based on short story “Why Don’t You Dance” by Raymond Carver)
Details: 110 pages (Draft 4/4/08)
Some people have asked why this script is number one on my list. They argue that it’s a very ordinary if not quirky tale about a guy who sits on his ass for 90% of the movie. Well as I’ve always argued, the one thing you can’t control as a writer, the one x-factor you’re helpless against, is if the person who’s reading your script identifies with the subject matter. A guy who doesn’t like vampires is never going to like Twilight. A girl who doesn’t like coming-of-age movies is never going to like Garden State. There are movies with universal themes that can sometimes pull people in no matter what the subject matter is, but for the most part, if the person isn’t into what you’ve chosen to write about, you’re dead to them from page 1.
To take that notion even further, to truly connect with a reader, you must create a character that the reader feels is, in many ways, them. This is probably obvious. If you go back to the movies that have moved you the most, chances are, there was some key element of the main character that you yourself were experiencing in your own life. The more intense and life-affecting that element is, the more drawn in you became. Like subject matter, this is something you have no control over as a writer. Some people are going to identify with your character, others will not. Of course you can shape and mold your character to be relatable, likable, sympathetic, and altogether impossible to dislike. But it won’t be the same as if the reader connects with the very core of that person. When a reader discovers a character who they feel is them, they don’t read your story, they experience it.
Everything Must Go came along at a time when things weren’t exactly going my way. Without getting into specifics, there were several situations that made me feel like the world had turned against me. And the way I decided to deal with this misfortune was to basically say, “Fuck You.” I planted my feet firmly in the ground, crossed my arms, and told the world I wasn’t moving. That stance led to an interesting journey that was at many times very painful, but ultimately allowed me to discover a part of myself I never knew. When Nick Porter, the main character in “Everything Must Go,” refuses to be kicked out of his house by his wife and, in protest, starts living in his front yard, I felt like I had met a kindred spirit, a man who understood exactly what I was going through.
The 40-something Nick isn’t happy he fucked up his life. It just happened. A regional sales manager at the kind of company you’d forget two minutes after I told you, Nick’s past has been embattled with alcoholism. Although he’s doing better, a past “incident” at work has convinced his superiors it’s time to let him go. Confused, angry, beat-up, Nick heads home, hoping for some support from his wife, only to find out when he gets there, that she’s gone. And the doors are locked. And the locks have been changed. And all of his things (furniture, clothes, stereo, poker table) have been dumped “violently” on his front lawn. In a span of a couple of hours, Nick’s entire life has imploded.
This brings up the question, when you can’t go home and you can’t go to work, where do you go? Well, Nick decides not to go anywhere. In a display of defiance, he sets up all of his furniture and things right there on the front lawn….and starts living there. It’s his big “Fuck You” to the forces that be.
To make things easier, Nick positions his chair right next to his mini-fridge stuffed with as much beer as it will hold. He then simply begins watching people in the neighborhood go about their lives. This is where the meat of the story is, as Nick begins interacting with the spectrum of unique characters that reside on his block and who he’s never really paid attention to up to this point. These include his annoying stickler neighbor, a pregnant woman who just moved in across the street, and a loner 13 year old boy.
This was yet another area where my personal experiences helped me identify with Nick. A while back, I had lived in an apartment complex for about three years. For the most part, I kept to myself, and didn’t know anybody. When I finally moved out, I spent three days lugging my things down to my car. In those three days, I met nearly everyone in the complex. Some of the nicest coolest people I’ve ever met in my life! And the irony was, I was never going to see them again! This is similar to the experience Nick goes through. I felt like Nick Porter and I were the same person.
Nick interacts with these people with varying degrees of success. His sole purpose seems to be to keep his fridge stacked with beer, an increasingly difficult goal because his wife has frozen his bank account, his company has come to take his car, and the police show up to inform him that he’s not allowed to have his things on the front lawn, as it’s a violation of city code. With literally nowhere to go, Nick is on the brink of being homeless.
But luckily he stumbles into a loophole. The Texas Code allows anyone to hold a yard sale for a maximum of six days. So by throwing up a yard sale sign, Nick buys himself roughly one week (ticking time bomb) to figure out what to do with his life. The funny thing is, the yard sale actually begins to attract customers. However Nick refuses to sell any of his personal things, despite that fact that he’s dirt broke.
And that’s where the power of Everything Must Go comes from. The yard sale becomes a stand in for who Nick Porter is - all the things he's accumulated up to this point in his life. That coffee table you put your feet up on every day for seven years? That overpriced television you spent four months of overtime saving up for. The stereo you'd turn on every night after mixing a whiskey sour. These are the things that defined your life for the past 15 years. Imagine if you had to give them away. How difficult that would be. Watching Nick struggle with this, and eventually accept it, is one of the more powerful moments I’ve ever experienced while reading a script.
Everything Must Go is not a “perfect” screenplay. I’m sure there are things you can pick apart in it. You could even make the argument that the main character is passive the whole way through (although I’d argue that because he’s taking a stand, he’s being active). Still, the things it does right, it does exceptionally well. As if everything else wasn’t awesome enough, the script even throws in a shocking little twist ending. All of that combined with the personal connection I felt for Nick Porter is why I have this at number 1. I can’t wait to see the finished film.
Note: I know I was initially skeptical about Will Ferrell playing the part of Nick, but the more I think about it, the more I think the casting works. The script is dark, but with glorious moments of black humor. Throwing a serious actor in there may not have allowed those sparks of humor to shine, and this script needs those beats to add some levity. The key is going to be how much ham Ferrel throws in the oven. If he underplays it, it could be awesome. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
What I learned: Sympathy sympathy sympathy. Quickest way to have us fall for your characters is to put them in an unfortunate situation. Maybe your female hero just lost her baby. Maybe your hero just lost his house in a fire. Maybe your character just got dumped by the love of his life. When we see a character who life is pissing on, we immediately sympathize with them and want them to do well. But an extension of that rule is this, make sure your sympathy is proportionately related to how potentially unlikable your hero would be under normal circumstances. So for example. Nick is a soulless, selfish, snarky alcoholic. That’s not exactly “fall in love with him” material. So what Rush does here, is he creates multiple situations to create sympathy. Nick didn’t just get fired. That wouldn’t be enough. He also loses his wife, is locked out of his house, and has his car taken away. We need that many sympathetic things to like Nick.
The Hangover (***) - The trailers didn't inspire a great deal of faith in this being much more than a low budget one-joke comedy, so I skipped out on seeing it the first weekend, and then never had an opportunity to catch it after the word of mouth spread that this was actually pretty good. Just for bringing back the low-budget, R-rated ensemble raunchy comedy as a viable genre, it deserves high marks. There's a point in the second act where the pace starts to lag a bit, but the film weathers that. The premise of three guys trying to piece together what happened at the bachelor party the night before even as they search for the missing groom proves fertile ground for comedy. Verdict: Should have seen it in theatres.
Year One (*) - Wow. I like Jack Black and Michael Cera, so I assumed that the vastly negative reviews couldn't have been all right. When I finally watched it, I couldn't believe it misfired. If I was brought into save this turkey with a rewrite I would have no idea where to begin. Verdict: Glad I waited for DVD
The Proposal (***) - I have come to detest both green card hijinks and the trope of people racing to the airport at the end of the movie in my romantic comedies, so this should have landed right in my crosshairs. However, Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds elevate this formula romantic comedy with their fun performances and Betty White steals the movie. It's a decent date film, but I don't feel like I missed out by waiting a few extra months. Verdict: Glad I waited.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (no stars) - Worst Movie of the Year. Period. Two and a half hours of Bay-hem. I'm not sure where to begin with this. There's the ludicrous notion of Sam dying and saving Optimus Prime via a pep talk in robot heaven, the completely dropped storyline that is the inexplicable hottie-who-is-really a Decepticon, the fact that one scene perfectly illustrates Bay's Madonna/whore complex to such a degree that I actually feel sorry for Megan Fox, and the overriding issue that never before has two-and-a-half hours of action felt so boring and directionless. It's amazing to me that co-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (with an assist from Ehren Kruger) scripted both this and the summer's best movie in Star Trek. Saddest of all, I expected most of this and went because I figured, "If I'm gonna see it, it might as well be on the big screen." From now on, I think I'll be satisfied with my 42-inch plasma. At least I only had to pay half-price for this one. Verdict: Wish I'd waited for DVD.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (***) - It's been about five months since I saw it and little of the film has stuck with me save for the death of a beloved character. I recall walking out satisfied, though. Verdict: Money well spent.
Funny People (**1/2) - I really wanted to like this one. It features what is probably Adam Sandler's best performance in a long time as a comedian facing his own mortality. It even gives Seth Rogan a chance to stretch himself. Unfortunately, this film is really two movies stitched together and the second film isn't nearly as compelling as the first. The problem with Judd Apatow being so successful is that no one has the clout to save him from his own worst instincts. For more on my thoughts about this, check out this entry. Verdict: Should have waited for DVD.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (no stars) - Scholars will spend years debating which of Summer '09's offerings was truly the worst: this, Transformers, or Wolverine. Like those films, this script was clearly a victim of the Writer's Strike. It's so terrible that it almost crosses into "watchably bad" territory, something that Wolverine and Transformers could only dream of. In the end, I pretty much expected this is what I'd get but I went for two reasons: 1) it was family night at the movies and I wasn't paying, and 2) the presence of Rachel Nichols. (Side note: Nichols is also featured in this summer's best movie, Star Trek, as a green cadet whom Kirk romances. Like the TF scribes, she double-dipped in the best and worst.) For more of my venom about this, go here. Verdict: I didn't even pay and I want my money back. Wish I'd waited for DVD.
District 9 (***) - I'm looking forward to viewing this again to see if it holds up. Despite my nitpicking, I did enjoy this film, which starts as a mockumentary about a man sent to relocate aliens to a new ghetto and turns into something much more. Verdict: Money well spent.
September - I saw nothing in theatres and DVD has yet to catch up to the film's I elected to wait on.
Zombieland (***1/2) - It's not without its flaws, as I said here, but Zombieland is a fun ride with enough wit and originality to keep you entertained. If you missed it in theatres, catch it on DVD and don't let anyone ruin the cameo for you. Verdict: Money well spent.
Paranormal Activity (***) - I enjoyed PA, but I don't have much to say about it afterwards. It's greatest strength is probably its atmosphere and the natural performances of the actors. This is the sort of film that needs to be seen opening weekend in a crowded theatre, where the suspense feeds off of the tension of an entire crowd holding its breath. I've got issues with the very final seconds of the film, but damn if it wasn't tense in the moments leading up to that. Verdict: Money well spent.
The Blind Side (***) - As I've said before, I've got a hunch I'll find this film forgettable in a few years, but it entertained me while I was there. Verdict: Money well spent.
Avatar (***) - I'm left with some mixed feelings over this one. There's no denying Cameron's technical achievements. After a few minutes, one completely accepts his CG aliens as three-dimensional characters. Unfortunately one can't always say the same for his human players as it would be generous to say that Giovanni Ribisi's corporate sleaze and Stephen Lang's Col. Shoot-em-up approach two dimensions. One also wishes that that the story was as innovative as the visuals. The first act is burdened with some clunky exposition and the second act is very reminiscent of Dances with Wolves. The third act is the Ewok climax of Return of the Jedi done right. Unlike in Star Wars, here the concept of an indigenous people defending their homeland from a technologically superior force actually gets pulled off in a plausible manner. The story kept moving despite the long length and I was entertained, but I can't help but feel that the film will seem less remarkable as the technology becomes more commonplace, as opposed to earlier Cameron masterworks like Terminator 2 and Aliens. Verdict: Worth the $12 plus the extra fee for 3-D.
Sherlock Holmes (***) - Robert Downey Jr. is the reason to see this reinvention of Sherlock Holmes, as his performance elevates a script that's (understandably, to a degree) overburdened with exposition. The trap one can fall into when writing Holmes is that his long monologues of deductive reasoning very quickly can turn into on-the-nose exposition. In the hands of a lesser actor, two hours of this would have been hard to take. Another weakness is that since obviously the filmmakers aren't going to mix a Holmes movie with a vampire concept, it's clear from the start that the supernatural elements are a feint to be eventually debunked. Had the film taken the approach that Holmes didn't believe a word of this rubbish either, then it might have worked to show the story through his eyes with both him and the audience aware that the real mystery is what the supernatural elements are meant to hide. For me, it wasn't fully successful and also suffers from a rather unwritten role for Rachel McAdams that turns out to be little more than a feature-length tease for the next picture. Still, Downey's on a hot streak and is enough to redeem this film's faults. I wouldn't recommend anyone take any lessons in scripting from this film, but I wouldn't tell you to stay away either. Verdict: Worth the $12
So the tally comes to:
Worth the $12 - 14
Money well saved/Glad I waited for DVD - 9
Wish I waited for DVD - 6
Should have seen in theatres - 2
So I saw 20 films in the theatre and only wanted my money back for just over a quarter of them. On top of that, of the 11 movies I saw on DVD, only 2 of them were good enough that I wished I hadn't waited. That means nearly 80% of the time my instincts were right about what was so bad that it couldn't wait 4 months and save $12. On top of that, most of those movies I saw in the theatre and wanted my money back for were ones I was sure would be bad when I went in.
The long and the short of it is, I think I'm going to be seeing a lot more of 2010's films on DVD than on the big screen, at least so long as the quality of the offerings remains the same. In the meantime, I still have several 2009 movies I'm waiting to grab on DVD. A look at my Netflix queue reveals the following films should be reaching my Blu-Ray player in the next few months:
The Hurt Locker
The Final Destination
This is It
The Invention of Lying
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Where the Wild Things Are
500 Days of Summer
The Time Traveler's Wife
I will be stunned if more than two of those earn the "Wish I'd seen it in Theatres" ranking.
10) Nothing – How pathetic is it when a whole year goes by and I can’t even recommend ten movies?
9) Star Trek – Star Trek is back! These days, whenever a moviegoer plops down in the cinema for a summer blockbuster and hates the experience, they’re often bombarded with the tried and true, “You’re supposed to turn your mind off and just enjoy it!” I hate that reasoning. It assumes that we have some knob on our bodies we can adjust to help us enjoy different kinds of movies. Like it’s our fault that we didn’t enjoy the film. As I’ve grown older, these summer movies, these films that cater to the lowest common denominator (ahem, Transformers 2) seem to install this attitude. If you didn’t like it, then *you're* the problem. Then Star Trek comes along and shows us what a summer movie is supposed to be. It doesn’t ask you to do anything to enjoy it. It just plays out enjoyably. Star Trek probably made a lot of execs grown. "Fuck, now we have to actually make good movies next summer."
8) The Hurt Locker – When I started watching The Hurt Locker, I was shocked by how into it I was. It didn’t take me long to figure out why. You know how I always talk about the importance of “ticking time bombs” in scripts? Well this movie was built around *literal* ticking time bombs. And not in the cheesy McGyver way, but rather inside a specific world we hadn’t seen before. Genius! It also had a brash leading mean who brought back memories of Lethal Weapon Mel Gibson or Star Wars Harrison Ford. A guy who didn’t give a shit, who was fearless. Holy shit! I was convinced I was watching the best film of the year. – But then something happened. The Hurt Locker lost its way. It made the classic screenwriting mistake. It eliminated a clear goal for the protagonist. We started getting this introspective artsy character piece that was supposed to be profound, but instead just left us wondering, when the hell is the next bomb going to blow up? And when exactly did our kick ass main character turn emo? Ugh! Where had my movie gone? I also think they made a key mistake towards the end. The final bomb is strapped to a man…*we didn’t know.” Therefore we had no personal investment in whether he lived or died. So why did I care if our hero saved him or not? I kept thinking, “Imagine if this bomb was strapped to that boy instead.” That’s an ending I would’ve been biting my nails on. The Hurt Locker still makes my Top 10 because the first half is so strong and because competition wasn’t that fierce. But man, I think about what could’ve been…
7) Paranormal Activity – I have a love/hate relationship with improvised movies. I hate them because when they’re bad, they’re worse than a high school play. I love them because improvisation stifles predictability. Logical screenwriting structure is thrown out the window to favor what the actors are feeling in the moment, and these moments tend to be the only time I’m surprised when I watch a film anymore. Because the writer is stifled, I no longer know what to expect. Done well, this can be thrilling. Paranormal Activity was one of those times where it was done well. We’re not talking Deniro and Streep here, but I thought the actors did a convincing job. I loved the slow build up, the resistance to too many scares. It made the scary moments pack that much more of a punch. I’m not sure if I’ll get blasted for this choice, because I don’t know if the Paranormal Activity backlash has started yet (Is it 2 months or 3 months after surprise hits? I'm never clear on this). But I liked PA a lot.
6) The Hangover – The Hangover is the perfect comedy. I don’t mean it’s the best comedy ever or even that it should be put in the same sentence as classics like Dumb and Dumber or Caddyshack. I mean it’s the kind of comedy idea that you hear and you immediately know it’s a movie. I’ve stated this before but when I read the script, I knew immediately it was going to be a hit. They couldn’t screw it up. Even when Phillips and his boys fiddled with the jokes, even when they took out some of the cool nuances of the original draft, they still couldn’t mess it up. Because the premise and the structure were so sound. Now did I think the movie was as good as the script? No. I thought the Tyson stuff was silly (never a fan of bringing in “real-life” celebrities for cheap laughs) and I didn’t like the addition of the baby. But it never mattered. This was going to be a good movie no matter how much they fucked with it.
5) Inglorious Basterds – Had you told me that one of my favorite films of the year would be a Quentin Tarantino movie, I would’ve laughed in your face. Then probably spit in it. I’ve never been a huge fan of Tarantino because I prefer for the story to be the star, not the director. But I’ve warmed up to Quentin over the years, mainly because I realized we need more people like him. We need the anti-establishment or else all we’ll get is establishment. And I can’t imagine how establishment establishment will get if it has no competition. Basterds has the best opening scene I’ve seen in a film in as long as I can remember (maybe of all time). The way that scene is crafted is just so magnificent. The way we shift points of view, the way we’re carefully fed information, the dread we feel, the importance put on the most mundane things (milk), the introduction of a such a great actor, the seemingly endlessness of it. We have no idea where it’s going to end up, all we know is that it’s going to be horrible. And we’re crawling out of our clothes wondering when it’s going to happen. Does the rest of the movie live up to that scene? No. I’d offer myself as a slave to Tarantino if he promises never to put Eli Roth in a film again. And don’t get me started on Brad Pitt’s acting. But this movie was so outrageous, so different, so unpredictable, and had such a great cinematic touch, that I cannot deny it a place in the Top 10.
4) Sunshine Cleaning – I love Amy Adams. I love Amy Adams so much I watched Julie and Julia, where some horrible callous hairdresser gave her the worst hairstyle in the world. I enjoy the innocence and non-presumptuous she brings to every role. She’s the anti-actress, the way actresses are supposed to be: invisible. This quirky independent film didn’t fall into all the usual quirky independent traps – namely patting itself on its back for being so quirky and independent (ahem – Away We Go). Sunshine Cleaning was always about the story, and the story covered a subject matter we’d never seen on film before: a cleaning business for crime scenes. The contrast between the beautiful simplicity of this girl trying to make it in the world and the horrifying messiness of these crime scenes she has to clean up is wonderful. And what a great symbolic gesture it was to her own struggle to clean up her life. An unassuming but surprising little gem.
3) Taken – (note: I appear to be speeding towards dementia, as Taken came out in 2008 - however I will still leave it here because I have nothing else to replace it with!) Bring out the Taken bashers! I’m ready for’em. Okay look, am I going to tell you that this is some complex thought-provoking look at kidnapping? No. But Taken gets the key ingredient to this kind of film right. It uses the first act to establish a believable relationship between a daughter and a father desperate to get back into her life. That way when she gets kidnapped, we’re just as desperate to save her as Liam Neeson is. Some people have stated that the first act was too long and that the movie should’ve started with the girl getting kidnapped. Wrong-o times a billion. We wouldn’t have known her and therefore wouldn’t have given a shit if she lived or not. – Then of course you have the phone call, the single best trailer moment all year. When Liam Neeson says he’ll find him and he'll kill him, I got chills.
2) Avatar – Avatar is on a scary run. I saw that just this Monday it made 19 million dollars. On a MONDAY. This is 3 million MORE than it was making during the weekdays LAST week. How is this film making more money as it goes on? Doesn’t that, like, go against every conventional box office rule in the book? To me, it’s clear. Avatar is the experience of the decade. It’s everything the prequels were supposed to be. A brand new universe. A film that gives us something new. Groundbreaking special effects (even if they were iffy in places). There were moments in Avatar that reminded me of the feeling I had going to the movies as a child. Specifically the flying and montage sequences. Those really captured what film is supposed to be about. In hindsight, I admit that yes, the story’s simple. But everything else is so complex that it doesn’t matter. As I pointed out in my review, there are all these little faults you notice during the film, yet somehow, when you add them all up, they equal a mindblowing piece of entertainment. This is the only film of the year I’ve decided to go back and see again in the theater.
1) District 9 – I waited 2 years for this movie. You’re not supposed to go into a film with high expectations. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. But District 9 not only met my expectations. It exceeded them. Why? Well, much like my point regarding Paranormal Activity, the improvisational nature of this movie had me baffled. The film didn’t seem to be following any logical story structure I could understand. As a result, I had no idea what was coming around the corner. But the main reason I loved this film were all the key choices it made that made it feel real. First, the improvisation. People talked how people really talked. Second, the documentary angle. Digital handheld cameras and seeing people interviewed put us in a mindset that we were watching something that really happened. Third, the setting. Every single fucking alien film I know of was set in America. This was set in a place none of us have ever been. Just being outside of Hollywood's preferred environment legitimized the film. Fourth, it turned the alien invasion on its head. They didn’t come here to enslave us. They crashed here and we enslaved them. Pretty much every single cliché we identify with these kinds of films is broken. And I haven’t even mentioned the effects, which were fucking amazing for 30 million dollars. The ship looked real, the aliens looked real, the weapons looked real. This movie did next to nothing wrong.
Didn’t see: Precious, Moon, The Road, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Big Fan, Zombieland, the Squeakel, Sherlock Homes, Bright Star
My 8 Biggest Disappointments:
500 Days Of Summer – Oh man did I dislike this movie. One of my favorite scripts of the year fell apart on the screen and I have three people to blame: Jospeh Godon-Levitt, Stupid Zooey-Deschenl, and the director. First off, I hate Zooey Deschenel. She’s a pretty girl but she’s a fucking horrible actress. Those big blue doe eyes don’t scream out “adorable” to me. They scream out "I'm a fucking deer in the headlights and don't know shit about acting." I never believe anything that comes out of her mouth. As for Gordon-Levitt, I guess he’s trying to become the next DiCaprio, but I don’t think it's working. He so underplays this part as to become nearly non-existent. I know this isn’t a Hugh Grant rom com but lighten up dammit! Looking at that hound dog face for 2 hours had me raiding the local pharmacy for industrial sized bottles of Prozac. As far as the director, the script itself had an indie sensibility but what I loved about it was that it moved. It had an energy to it. Everything was so slowed down here to the point where I felt we were underwater. Ugh, easily the biggest disappointment of the year.
Away We Go – I’m not going to say that this was a highly anticipated film of mine. But I like a good road-trip movie and I felt if Sam Mendes was going to go this far out of his comfort zone that it must be a great script. Oh God was I wrong. This film is everything that’s wrong with the independent scene and very well may be the death of all quirkiness in cinema. Oh, they’re so different! Oh, they’re having a baby but they’re both aging hippies so they need to find a place to raise a family! Oh the humanity! Oh, their aging friends talk about sex right in front of their own children! Har har har! How funny is that! I'll give you a hint. It isn't! The only thing that made me laugh in this movie was the promotional campaign. For reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, they turned their marketing agenda into “Maya Rudolph for an Oscar." You’d see interviews where the actors would say, in all seriousness, “Oh, Maya Rudolph. What can you say about her? She’s Maya Rudolph. One of the most talented actresses in the world.” Ummmm…did I miss something ? Was this not the same actress who was in four skits in five years on Saturday Night Live? This movie was a disaster on every level.
Up – This is my “bye-bye at least 5000 of my readers” post. I didn’t like this movie. I thought the first 10 minutes were easily 10 of the best minutes I’ve spent in a theater all year. But after that I felt the movie was for kiddies. I think the official moment I tuned out was the talking dogs. It was just too weird. I couldn’t buy into it. As the audience died of laughter every time one of them would go “Squirrel,” I cringed. The bird was weird and the villain felt cliché. I just wasn’t into this.
Terminator Salvation – I don’t know why I keep thinking this franchise is going to revive itself. I was excited for Terminator 3. I was excited for The Sarah Conner Chronicles. And I was excited for this. Yet each one let me down (well, I guess T3 wasn’t that bad). The thing with Salvation was that I thought McG was an underrated director who had something to prove. The addition of Christian Bale and Cameron’s new find, Worthington, only further enhanced my anticipation of the movie. Then the trailer came out and it was actually pretty badass. But McG made the same mistake so many directors make. They don’t understand story. Terminator Salvation wasn’t *about* anything. There was nothing driving the story *at all*. What is it the characters wanted? What were their goals? They were all murky and weak. And, as a result, we got a murky and weak movie. This was the death of the franchise for me. I won’t get excited about Terminator movies anymore….although the idea I heard online of sending Bale back to present-day London did sound pretty cool. :)
Extract – I’m starting to think Mike Judge had all the stars aligned for him in Office Space. It was that perfect con-flux that so rarely happens in the movie universe, where every choice resulted in perfection. Now that I’ve seen Extract, I realize that when Judge’s unique sense of humor doesn’t fall together just the way it's intended to, it’s as flat as a pancake. And Extract globs along like its characters are stuck in that extract. I’m not sure where to put the blame but I’d probably start with the casting. Bateman doesn’t quite understand the Judge universe, and although Affleck is the liveliest of the bunch, he seems to be working inside his own Affleckian universe. The other problem is that Judge forgets to emphasize the key plot point which drives the story – which is that Bateman stands to become very rich if he can sell the company. But the scene where this announcement is made comes off as an afterthought, and Bateman barely acknowledges it. Since these are the stakes that drive his character and therefore the entire movie (the idea is, if he can’t stave off this lawsuit, he stands to lose *everything*) the fact that they don’t seem important to him or the plot undermines the whole drive of the film.
Up In The Air – This wasn’t a colossal letdown but it was a letdown. I wanted to give George Clooney a chance. I really did. But that shit-eating grin he always wears combined with that bobble-head move he always does confirmed my biggest fears, that he wasn’t right for the part. Thank GOD Anna Kendrick was in this movie cause without her, it wouldn’t have been worth the price of a matinee. Taking in this movie, a couple of script problems popped up that I hadn’t noticed before. First, it doesn’t really make sense that Clooney doesn’t like Kendrick’s impersonal way of firing people. Clooney is Mr. Impersonal. That’s his entire character – living a life that allows him to be as impersonal as possible. So that he all of a sudden *cares* about the people he’s firing – I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense. I could sense that Reitman knew this and his solution was to fudge his way around it. Second, the movie limps to the finish line. Why? Because there’s no plot. Every time you write a character-driven piece that’s plot light, you better know that your ending is going to have problems. Why? Well, since the plot is essentially what your character is doing, what he's after, if there isn’t any of it, than your character has nothing to do. The last 20 minutes of this film are a wandering mess because nobody has anything to do. There’s no goal. No direction. It was unfortunate. Cause I was sure this would be in my top 10.
Invictus – I actually didn’t see this. But my disappointment lies in the fact that they made the film in the first place.
Occasionally someone will make fun of movie critics because "it's not that hard to sit there and watch movies all day" but they forget that there are a LOT of movies released each week. It is time consuming, particularly when one doesn't have the option to pick and choose the bad ones. I recall getting zero sympathy from my non-Film classmates in college when I complained about having to endure yet another "classic" my professor insisted was educational. Watching movies seems fun until you realize you have to do it three nights a week and are at the mercy of someone else's tastes.
So for these reasons I embark on my Year in Review with the acknowledgement that it is imperfect. I can't see everything and I didn't want to see everything, so if I overlooked your favorite movie, don't throw a fit.
I've decided to write the year up thusly. Movie tickets ain't cheap these days, and in a cost saving move, there were several films I decided to wait for the DVD rather than brave the theatres. Films are listed in order of their theatrical release, with the ones I saw on DVD listed in red text. After each review, I'll render a verdict as to if it was worth either the cost of full admission, or if I had been wise in waiting for DVD. Let's see how good my screening process was.
Valkyrie (*** out of four stars) - I'm cheating a bit because this actually came out last December, but I didn't see it until January. Overall I liked it. Bryan Singer's direction was tense, the supporting cast was excellent, and Tom Cruise did a good job. The non-accent didn't bother me, and any film that has you coming out of it mad with frustration at how close someone came to killing Hitler has to be a good one. Verdict: Worth the $12
The Unborn (**1/2) - Without the final twist, this might have had a shot at a solid three stars. The problem is that the ending comes with a reveal that seems to mean that everything that came before it made no sense. I rather liked the hook of the girl being haunted by her unborn twin, and it's rare to see Jewish mysticism used in horror films, so that was an interesting novelty. The cast is pretty solid, particularly Gary Oldman and Idris Elba. Star Odette Yustman is like Megan Fox's good twin - she's less skanky looking and a fair bit better at acting. Verdict: Wish I'd Waited for DVD.
My Bloody Valentine 3-D (**) - I've already covered my biggest issue with the film in this post. Nothing else in the film is exemplary enough to make up for that - save for seeing the 3-D visuals on the big screen. The fact that can't be duplicated as well on DVD is the ONLY reason my verdict is: Worth the $12.
Taken (***1/2) - This was a nice surprise, and the casting of Liam Neeson is the smartest decision the filmmakers of this story of an assassin racing to save his daughter from a human trafficking ring could have made. If you just read the script without knowing who was attached, you might be tempted to dismiss it as a potential direct-to-DVD project for Jean Claude Van Damme. There were at least three or four instances where my jaw was on the floor in disbelief at the turn the movie had just taken (for instance, Neeson coldly shooting his friend's wife.) Best of all, throughout the film it felt like the kind of movie that would have had the guts for Neeson to fail in his rescue attempt, a decision that makes either a happy or an unhappy ending much more powerful. Verdict: Should have seen it in theatres.
Push (**) - My displeasure might be colored by the fact that this script followed me around like a homeless puppy, as I had to read it for several different bosses over the years. Bored me to death, and it was pretty much miscast across the board. Verdict: Money well saved.
Friday the 13th (*) - about 22 minutes into this, I asked myself, "What am I doing here? Why did I think this would be any different from the other films?" Aside from a marginally more talented cast, I was right. Verdict: Wish I'd waited for DVD.
Fanboys (**1/2) - I'm kind of burned out on the whole mocking of Star Trek and Star Wars fans. It was novel when Kevin Smith did it, but the joke's been told and retold a lot. This film isn't immune to that, and the whole cancer subplot is rather badly executed. The main cast is decent, though, and the film is largely redeemed by the cameos - particularly Danny McBride's - and the visual appeal of Kristin Bell in a Slave Leia outfit. Still, I didn't miss anything by waiting a few months for the DVD. Verdict: Money well saved.
Watchmen (***) - I probably need to see this again to put it in it's proper context. It's not without a few pacing problems, but I think there are some really stunning visuals and great shot compositions. On top of that, Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach steals the movie and Malin Ackerman is appealing when she's not called upon to act. The downside: Matthew Goode does everything he can to sink the movie with his valim-inspired performance as Adrian Veidt. Overall I think there's more good than bad here. Verdict: Worth the $12.
The Last House on the Left (***) - I'm still conflicted about this one, as my original review indicates. I'm sort of glad that I got to experience this in the comfort of my own home and not in a theatre full of ignorant moviegoers heckling and yelling at the screen. Verdict: Glad I waited for DVD.
I Love You, Man (***1/2) - The best Judd Apatow movie that Apatow never touched. This bromance comedy clearly has the DNA of Apatow's better movies beyond featuring his regular players Paul Rudd and Jason Segal. Rudd plays a man who's never had a male best friends and finds one for the first time in Segal. Three-dimensional characterization is a major asset to a premise that could have easily been tired and hackneyed. Best of all, the script keeps the Rudd/Segal dynamic as its main focus and avoids the Apatow tendency to let the secondary characters gobble up too much screentime. Apatow's supporting players are usually reliable for laughs and good characterization, but the reason his films always feel about 15 minutes too long is because the director isn't merciless enough to cut funny bits in service of keeping the script focused. I Love You, Man uses some supporting characters to great effect - particularly Jon Favreau, Jamie Pressley and Lou Ferrigno (!) - but director John Hamburg (who shares a writing credit with Larry Levin) keeps things moving in one of the best comedies of the year. Verdict: Worth the $12
Monsters vs. Aliens (***) - A fun romp. Kids will be entertained and even if Dreamworks Animation will never hold a candle to Pixar's in terms of story, I enjoyed it. Verdict: Worth the $12.
Adventureland (***) - A decent indie comedy, and one that convinced me that Kristen Stewart actually could act when she isn't bored stiff by the script (see: Twilight). Jesse Eisenberg comes off as a bit of a poor man's Michael Cera at times, but still manages to have fun in the role. Bill Hader and Ryan Reynolds also get in a few good moments. Still, it's probably a better viewing experience at home rather than in the theatre. Verdict: Wish I'd waited for DVD.
Observe and Report (1/2 star) - I know this film has it's defenders. I am not one of them. The kindest thing I can say is that I respect Seth Rogan for trying something different. Halfway through I considered turning off the DVD. 45 minutes later, I wished I had. Verdict: Money well saved, time badly wasted.
17 Again (***) - You won't find much original in this story that can basically be called Big-in-reverse. I also can't find much that I hated, either. The cast has a ball with their roles and the story's well-paced and structured. Maybe I'd have felt differently had I paid full price for it, but it's totally watchable as a Netflix pick. Verdict: We'll go with "Money well Saved."
Wolverine (no stars) - In any other year, this would have been my pick for Worst Film of the Year. Alas, I underestimated certain other filmmakers. So bad it makes X-Men 3 look like X2. Anyone involved in any creative decisions on this film should have their filmmaking licenses revoked. Verdict: Glad I waited for DVD.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (***) - This is little more than a Scrooge rip-off with a womanizer (Matthew McConaughey) learning the error of his ways just in time to win back his childhood sweetheart (Jennifer Garner). Part of me thinks the concept is clever and another part wants to say that the lead's transformation isn't believable. It kept me entertained, so I'll be kind to it. Verdict: Glad I waited for DVD.
Star Trek (***1/2) - My favorite film of the year. J.J. Abrams and his team found a way to give Kirk and company an origin story that leaves their futures wide open without disrespecting everything that came before it. They pulled off the very difficult task of entertaining Trekkies and people who never watched Star Trek. If the opening sequence doesn't tug on your heart strings, you have no heart, and that's just the first of the surprises here. The visual effects are fantastic, but they're always in service to the story and the casting is pitch-perfect, from the bridge crew on down to Bruce Greenwood's Captain Pike and Eric Bana's Nero. Verdict: So good I paid to see it twice.
Up (***1/2) - Remember what I said about Trek's opening tugging on the heart? Up sees that and raises it a few. A while back I singled out the early montage as a masterful example of non-verbal exposition, and I think that bears repeating. This is just a really beautiful movie, and my only issue with it might be that I felt the villain was one of Pixar's weaker ones. On the other hand, without him, we'd never have the talking dogs so that's almost a fair trade. Verdict: Worth the $12.
Come back tomorrow for the rest of the year!
As you may remember, I made a plea a couple of weeks ago to send in your favorite scripts that didn’t make The Black List. For the last couple of years, The Black List has been hit by a wave of negativity, with many claiming it had “gone the way of Sundance,” and was now simply a marketing tool for the business, heavily if not solely influenced by the studios. I admit I jumped on that bandwagon for awhile but after stepping back and looking at it objectively, I realized the only reason I'd done so was because it *sounded* logical. “Of course,” I thought, “Naturally now that they’re bigger, they’re only going to choose screenplays that the bigtime players want them to choose." But I didn’t have any proof. I didn’t have anything to go by but a hunch and rumors. Sure I’ve read comments like this one on Nikki Finke’s blog…
This list unfortunately has become meaningless now. It started out with great intentions, but now has become a PR contest between agencies and management companies to get their clients scripts on this list. I’ve read many of the scripts listed here and its [sic] so abundantly clear that pressure was applied to get some of these on the list. it’s a joke.
But the anonymous assumptions he was making were about as credible as his anonymous post. By no means am I Mr. Connections. But I realized I had enough of a reach whereby I could reasonably test this theory. So I made my plea to about 150 assistants, readers, creative execs, assistant producers, producers, and agents (that’s half the number of people polled for the Black List) and informally asked them to name me their favorite scripts that *didn’t* make the Black List this year. If it was true they were solely voting for scripts they were instructed to, then surely they had some personal favorites of their own, right? It was time to find out what the real Black List was. Not this fake Hollywood puppet government that was obviously feeding us garbage material that wouldn’t have made it past an illiterate intern at an agency in the Valley.
I hate to disappoint the naysayers but prepare to be disappointed. Although conspiracy theorists will never ever give up on their theories no matter how much evidence you pile in front of them (my brother is still convinced that the entire NBA is rigged, to which I say – then how come Detroit and San Antonio, two of the smallest markets in the U.S., made it to the finals 7 times this decade?), this at least gave me some peace of mind on the issue.
You see, here’s the thing. The Black List is far too big for a really good script not to make it. There were 97 openings this year. Ninety-freaking-seven. Hollywood is OBSESSED with finding the next great script. If they do spot one, everybody hears about it. Then everybody reads it. And if they all like it, they’re not going to keep it a secret cause their boss told them to vote for “Paul Blart 2: Paul Blarter,” instead. Of course there will be isolated incidents here and there, but there are enough voters (300) and enough spots that truly deserving scripts *will* make it.
Look at who finished atop this year’s list. An unknown writer with no produced credits who sold his script to a relatively small company who hasn’t made a movie in years. If that isn’t an endorsement for supporting the little guy, I don’t know what is. And sure Sorkin finished second but that’s because he wrote a great script. We confirmed that three months ago. For those who think the list is a sell-out for doing so, let me remind you that Sorkin was also highly ranked on the very *first* Black List. Oh, and the highest selling script of the year? The Jonah Hill Hollywood friendly vehicle, "The Adventurer's Handbook" (which I believe barely beat out the price of Prisoners), didn't make it anywhere near the list. How do we explain that?
But hey, I can talk all night and I still won’t convince you. All I can do is tell you what I found. So again, I asked 150 assistants, creative execs, readers, managers, agents assistant producers, producers, etc., for their top 5 favorite scripts that didn’t make the Black List. Like the Black List, their suggestions would be completely anonymous. Since nobody really knew this was coming, and since the list has no cache, unlike the Black List, there would be little to no lobbying. If there really was this magical dearth of amazing (yet unconnected) scripts kicking around town, these are the people who would know about them. If the Black List really was a big scam, it’s time to expose it.
After informally polling all these people, this was the most common answer I received: “Umm, to be honest, all of my favorite scripts were on the list.” I’d then follow up with, “Well is there any script, any script at all you thought was great that didn’t make the list?” They’d usually answer, “There were a couple I thought were good, but nothing I would vote for.” Despite that, I was still able to get around 70 people to vote, some with a top 5, some with a top 3, some who could only think of 1. After all of that, no script received more than 7 votes. This led me to believe that people were either a) voting for something they had a personal connection with (a friend, a client, whatever). b) There were a few scripts out there that connected strongly with people on a personal level, but that weren’t mainstream. Or c) Enough people simply hadn’t read the script.
My big conclusion was that the Black List is way more accurate than people give it credit for. Am I saying that there aren’t scripts out there that should have made the list? Of course not. But the fact that those scripts aren’t on the list has more to do with the writer not getting their material out there, than the big Hollywood corporate types conspiring against the little guy.
Anyway, for better or worse, here are the Top 13 of those scripts (some of which I don’t even have the writers’ names for). If you have loglines or writers’ names for these, please send them to me ASAP so I can amend the post. Also, if you have any of these scripts, please send them in, as I’d love to take a week to review them. Also, if there’s a great script missing from the list, feel free to add it in the comments. I’d like for this list to be an evolving list. Let’s pool our resources and locate as many great reads as we can.
7 votes - Reversal by Rock Shaink
5 votes - Emergency Contact by Bear Aderhold & Thomas F.X. Sullivan -A straight laced guy finds his life thrown into turmoil after he agrees to become the "emergency contact" for a guy he barely knows.
5 votes - Fire Me by Dylan Morgan & Josh Siegal
4 votes - Priority Run by Terrance Mulloy
4 votes - Repeat After Me by Brad Bredeweg & Peter Paige
4 votes - Kristy by Anthony Jaswinski - In the vein of THE STRANGERS. A student trapped on a deserted college campus comes under attack by a malevolent group of intruders.
4 votes - Roger That by ??????
4 votes - Children of The Gun by ??????
3 votes - The Long Road Home’ by Mikko Alanne – 3
3 votes - One Night Stan by Joshua Friedlander - When Stan is given a one night "pass" from his fiance to have as much sex as he wants, all hell breaks loose.
3 votes - Love Drug by Josh Cohen - A loser longing to be rich and famous tries to make his dreams come true by inventing a pill that causes an instantaneous orgasm for the taker although the side-effects may be more than he bargained for.
3 votes - Five Star by W.J. Hortman
3 votes - Cocked and Loaded by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly
With 2 votes:
The Last First Time by Jason Fuchs
The Lucky One by will fetters
Stainless Steel Providers by Kirsten Elms
The Begotten by Caleb Claxton
Hello I Must Be Going by Sarah Koskoff
A Day In March by Roberto Bentivegna - A nuclear physicist in the 1930s who, riddled by guilt over his early atomic contributions, fakes his own death- and inspires a journalist, 20 years later, to find out what happened to him.
Weekend Dad by Nicholas Schutt
Trust by Andy Bellin & David Schwimmer
Nancy and Danny by Brad Ingelsby
Detached by Stewart Hopewell & Tim Long
Timesheet by Riley Ray Chiorando
F by Howard Rodman
In This Land Of Gilead by Elana Frink - A young doctor shepherds a pair of kids through the American wastelands. Whey they finally find a stable colony, their nomadic life is questioned – do they build a life or keep moving?
10) Catwoman - There are some who would say that no list of terrible comic book movies is complete without this turkey and you know what, we'll have to take their word for it. Neither of us could stomach the task of viewing this reported abomination, so we decided the only fair thing to do was stick it at number ten and cop to going with the herd on this one. Can anyone who's seen it make a convincing case for why it wouldn't belong here?
9) The Punisher (2003) - OK, here's the problem with Punisher. In the old days, the Punisher got attention because he was a straight up killer in a time when comic heroes were still leaving the bad guys tied up outside police HQ with little birdies spinning around their heads. As comics got darker, the Punisher got darker still, and gradually became a celebration of over the top ultra-violence. Here's the problem: movies already have all that. We see it all the time. So, for The Punisher to make the same impact as a movie that it did as a comic, you're going to have to do either absurd Icchi the Killer levels of mayhem, or go for some of that real gets-in-your-brain visceral violence like The Wrestler or American History X. So it's even lamer that they trotted out this limp noodle. This movie reminded me of the generic PI movies they show on late night cable- maybe something starring Brian Bosworth. The whole point of the Punisher is that his need for vengeance has put him totally over the edge. In this movie, he's so over the edge that he commits the following heinous acts: 1) Befriending wacky neighbors. 2) Using cold steaks to scare a criminal into thinking he's going to be tortured. 3) Blowing up villain John Travolta's prized car collection. That seems about right for someone who killed your family, right? [Review by Clint]
8) Hulk - Upon viewing Se7en, producer Arnold Kopelson reportedly told director David Fincher, "You took a perfectly good genre piece and you turned it into a foreign film." That's pretty much what seems to have happened here. One can respect Ang Lee for trying something different with his comic booky transitions, but that doesn't excuse the boring script and the rather silly action scenes.
7) Blade:Trinity - What if they made a Blade movie and Blade was totally insignificant to the story? They'd end up with this horrible misfire. Wesley Snipes seems compeltly bored in his role and writer/director David S. Goyer (you know, co-writer of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) lets Parker Posey chew the scenery (sorry... the pun was right there) like a vampire that feeds on plaster and plywood. Ryan Reynolds is the only bright spot of this film, which seems more interested in setting up a spin-off than telling a good Blade story.
6) Ghost Rider - An even better argument than the first Hulk movie for why you should not have a CGI protagonist in a live action movie. Over the course of the film, my reaction to the visuals spanned the spectrum between "shitty" and "dumb." The villain is semi-obscure comics also-ran Blackheart, the son of the devil with an inferiority complex about his dad. In the comics, he's got an arguably cool spiny demon sort of thing going on. In the movie, he's the teenage boy from American Beauty, gussied up in eyeliner. So, it basically ends up looking like an extra from DOOM versus the guy from Fallout Boy. [review by Clint]
5) X3: The Last Stand - In a word: gutless. This Brett Ratner-directed travesty kills off two major characters without fanfare in the first half, then moves to a conclusion that indiscriminately kills and depowers most of the remaining interesting characters. The only thing more infuriating than this waste of solid raw material is the fact that the two final scenes hint that all of it can be undone quickly in time for the next sequel. This prompts one to ask, why bother with this shaggy dog story then?
4) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Not just bad, but bad on many levels. As a movie, it's just painfully average. It's a by-the-numbers studio action movie that takes no chances and breaks no new ground. The addition of Tom Sawyer as a fast-talkin' Yankee secret agent reeks of the worst sort of marketing-minded executive meddling. The only thing this movie did right was the inclusion of the immortal Dorian Grey, who was notably absent from the original comics. But what really sets this movie above the rest is the vast quality gap between the source material and the film. With properties like Batman and the X-Men, there's a lot of material out there, all of varying quality, so when you introduce a clunker like X3 into the mix, you're not really diluting the pool too much. But the League had only ever been fantastic. The second volume hadn't even been completed yet when the movie came out. So, when there's only 8 or 9 issues of tight, imaginative comics to use as a point of reference, it makes this totally forgettable effort look extra-bad. Plus, the filmmaking experience was famously so painful for Sean Connery that he's sworn off acting, so it's a double shot in the gut for us geeks. It's worth noting that all these criticisms of League apply equally to another Alan Moore adaptation, From Hell, but somehow that movie failed to gall audiences in quite the same way. [review by Clint]
3) X-Men Origins: Wolverine - So bad that it makes X3 look like X2. Wolverine is one of those characters who's cooler the less we know about him. Though exploring his origins could have been interesting, he deserved better than this poorly-executed one-off that somehow boasts worst visual effects than the first X-Men movie ten years ago, at a mere three times the cost. There are far too many winks at earlier X-Men films in this prequel, and as with X3, the entire enterprise feels pointless by the end. Couldn't we just have gotten a post-X3 spinoff with Wolverine?
2) The Spirit - I said everything I needed to say about this one here.
Clint's #1 ) Captain America: Let's be honest here - the fact that any movie from the 2000's is on a list of the worst superhero movies shows how spoiled we've become. The 80's and 90's were the real golden age of awful superhero movies. Howard the Duck, Swamp-Thing, Dolph Lundgren's Punisher - these are the stuff of shlock legend. And yet, the 1990 production of Captain America manages to stand out even among this bumper crop of turkeys. This crimes this movie perpetrates against film, superheroes, and the American way are literally too many to list.
The origin sequence, where a hero explores the limits of his new-found powers, is a sure-fire hit in any superhero movie. Captain America gets it out of the way quick by getting gut-shot a couple times and spending only ONE day in the hospital. Now that's super! Cap's arch-nemesis, the Nazi mastermind Red Skull has inexplicably become Italian, and sports an accent somewhere between Chico Marx and the "You like-a da juice?" guy from SNL. Cap's slickest move is to fake motion sickness as a pretense for car theft. He does this TWICE.
And we complain about bad CGI? You don't know how good you have it, kids.
At his best, the character of Captain America simultaneously personifies everything that's good about American patriotism, and provides hope that the 90-pound weaklings of the world can aspire to greatness. This movie presents an alternate interpretation, in which he's a time-traveling fuck-up who's seeking redemption for having done absolutely nothing to combat the Nazi menace. See, back in '43, Cap got his ass handed to him as soon as he set foot on foreign soil. Now he's got to stop the bad guys before they... well... I'm sure whatever they're doing it's very bad. It involves a chip in the President's head, but they've already been running the world for 40 years, so who cares?
And that's the real problem with Captain America. Plot points are alternately delivered with the expository grace of a USA Today headline, or not delivered at all. Story details get squeezed together like the movie is playing in fast forward, only to make space for high-stakes bicycle chases in the Italian countryside. The movie becomes a parody of itself. In fact, I'm sure some enterprising grad student could make the case for Captain America as a post-modern deconstruction of the entire superhero concept. Sadly, the movie is not nearly that creative, and even if it were, it would still be extremely boring.
[Bitter Script Reader's Note: Captain America was never released to theatres, but is heavily bootlegged and notorious in comic circles. Including it on this list might skirt the criteria we used to compile this list, but I can't reject a review this excellent. The Roger Corman Fantastic Four was also very close to making this list, but in the end it was decided there was space for only one unreleased film. Fair? Probably not, but it's our list.]
[Update: as L.F. pointed out in the comments, you can see Captain America on Hulu by clicking this link.]
Bitter Script Reader's #1) Batman & Robin - I resisted putting this in the top spot because it's almost like shooting fish in a barrel to make fun of this Joel Schumacher disaster. It's so campy that it's practically a tribute to the 1960s Adam West series. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman camp it up beyond belief as Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy, while Alicia Silverstone and Chris O'Donnell given little to do beyond squeeze into their outfits. In his better moments George Clooney makes one wonder what he might have been able to do as Bruce Wayne if given a more serious script, but there's little here worth watching. The highlight of the Batman DVD boxed set was seeing Joel Schumacher sincerely apologize for this.
Now, I also promised Clint the opportunity to do a Minority Report #1 on my "Best Comic Book Movies" list, which I'm printing below:
MINORITY REPORT - Akira: If you ask people of a certain age if they've ever watched anime, a lot of them are going to say, "No, but I saw Akira." We had stuff like Speed Racer and Starblazers kicking around in America for decades, but Akira's stateside release is when we figured out that something different was going on across the Pacific. The setting is immediately interesting, the characters immediately memorable. The pace is deliberate and creepy, when it's not balls-out insane. The plot, involving a buried government experiment to weaponize the brains of children, provides fuel for some of the most imaginative action sequences ever drawn. The story seems to break down at the end, as director and original manga author Katsuhiro Otomo scrambles to pack six thick volumes worth of pseudo-metaphysical musing into 5 minutes of screen time, but I'd argue that collapse makes the movie all the more suitable for repeat viewings.
Premise: A directionless pizza delivery guy is forced into robbing a bank under an odd set of circumstances.
About: One of the bottom feeders on this year’s Black List, 30 Minutes or Less received only 5 votes. But the writing team of Sullivan and Diliberti have double dipped their laptops into the Black List, becoming the second writers to have two scripts on the list, (their other is titled "Comic Con.” I don’t think I have to tell you what that one’s about). Since Comic Con sounds a little more broad, I’m guessing that’s what got them the remake assignment on the old Richard Pryor-John Candy comedy, Brewster’s Millions (which was an adaptation of a book written all the way back in the 1900s).
Writers: Matthew Sullivan and Michael Diliberti
Details: 120 pages (July 7, 2009 draft)
Recalibrate your converters kiddies. This script is not what you think it is. I know this because I thought it was what you’re thinking it is now. And it’s not.
30 Minutes or Less is a character-driven comedy of darkness unlike any you've read before. The story is incredulous yet incredible. Like an action movie hot dog wrapped inside a dark comedy burrito. And here I thought this was going to be another high concept Paul Blart ripoff laming up the lame-line. Hello? Original idea? Busy signal.
It didn’t start off that way though. It actually started off so benignly that I thought, “If this had been in my contest (where I was only judging the first ten pages of each script) it wouldn’t have made the Top 25." It’s not that the first 10 pages were bad. They were just plain. Will, a 25 year old pizza delivery guy and fuck up du jour, is tearing through the streets of his small town trying to make it to a customer’s house before the – um – 30 minutes are up. If poor Will doesn’t get the pizza there on time, the pizza is docked from HIS OWN paycheck. Whaaaat? He gets there a few minutes late and a couple of dweebosaurauses laugh in his face as they take their free pies. It was a scam. Their house is just far enough out of the restaurant's radius so that there’s no way he can get there on time. Drat!
And lame! I don’t want a stupid comedy about delivering pizzas, motherfucker.
As if Sullivan and Dilberti could read my mind and were able to magically alter my PDF document in real-time, the pizza delivery stuff doesn’t come up for the rest of the script! Thank you thank you thank you. As Jim Carrey once said..."So you're saying there's a chance."
Just after getting to know Will, we meet Dwayne, a beefy guy whose genetic globiness/assholeness makes him a born bully. Now that he's older and doesn't have enough people to push around, he’s looking for something to do with his life. His plan is to open the town’s first Tanning Salon, which will double as a whore house (because of course it will). Problem is Dwayne needs money to do that. Fortunately, his father won the lottery five years ago. Which would be great except his father hates him and has worse spending habits than Nicolas Cage. If Dwayne’s going to inherit any of his dad’s money, he’s going to have to kill him before he spends it all. And he really wants to open that Tanning Salon, like, now.
If your question's whether to read this script, the character of Dwayne is your answer. He's a one man show. You remember that documentary, "American Movie?" With that clueless director who formulates ridiculous plans that make no sense? Dwayne is like the fatter angrier version of him. Here, Dwayne discusses with his dimwitted partner, Jay, his fear of being a target once he gets rich.
If I was willing to kill my own daddy
to get at that money, then how can I
ever trust anyone not to kill me for
the same fucking reason?
I'd never kill you. Ever.
I know you wouldn't. But what about
the rest of our crew?
That's why the first thing I'm gonna
do is hire a fleet of personal
bodyguards. And all of them are
gonna be retards.
Yes, Jay, retards. Water heads.
The type of people you rode the bus
to school with.
Why the hell would you do that?
'Cause they ain't smart enough to
want my money. And they can fuck up
anyone who does come at me with their
super strength. You see, since their
minds don't work, their bodies
compensate. I got attacked by one
in grammar school and he nearly split
my skull. I get like five or six
retards, pay 'em in quarters and
dimes...I'll be untouchable.
But listen to me, Jay...don't you
ever give one of the retards a
firearm, 'cause they're liable to
shoot themselves. And then we gotta
find a new one.
Anyway, Dwayne realizes that he can’t kill his father himself. It’ll look too suspicious. So he has to hire someone. Problem is, the only assassin he has access to is asking for a hundred grand! Where the hell are they going to get a hundred grand? This is when Dwayne thinks up his genius plan. Since him and Jay are small-time explosive experts, they'll find a random guy, strap a bomb to him, and tell him to go rob a bank! Problem solved. Right. Because that's exactly what all of us would do if we were small-time criminals. And guess who they choose to kidnap?
That’s right. Will.
Once Will is captured and given the instructions (They’ll be following him. If he tries to go to the cops they’ll blow him up. If he doesn’t get the money within 8 hours, they’ll blow him up), he goes to his best friend, Chet, a middle school teacher and someone who refused to fall into the “fuck-up” ditch, and begs him for help. Chet is none too happy that Will’s arrived at his school with a bomb strapped to his chest (kids and bombs don't mix), but after initially rebuffing the idea of riding around with a ticking time bomb a few feet from his face, he realizes he has a duty to help his friend (that's a better friend than I would be - I'll tell you that right now).
In something akin to what The Hangover would’ve been in a dark parallel universe, Will and Chet go bumbling around trying haplessly to accomplish something they're so blatantly under-equipped to handle. In fact, they’re so ill-prepared, they draw on their knowledge of moves like Heat and Lethal Weapon to make key decisions. Just about everything that can go wrong goes wrong , and what I loved about 30 Minutes or Less is that even though every situation feels totally ridiculous, the characters themselves feel real, so you actually buy into it.
As most of you know, I’m not a dialogue freak. I don't sit there and marvel at the ways characters speak to each other. But the dialogue here is fucking awesome. Even when the writers will occasionally stop the movie to have their characters spout off a whole bunch of nothing (something I tell writers never EVER to do), it's so entertaining you just go with it. The big reason why it works is because these characters are so well drawn, so unique and so solidly motivated, that they don't fall victim to what usually happens in this circumstance, which is that the writers use their characters to spout off their own problems and issues about the world. I never heard the writer's voice in any of the dialogue. I heard the *character's* voices. And that's why it worked.
At first I didn’t like the idea of splitting up the storyline between two sets of characters. I tend to go for movies told from a single point of view, as it's more like real life. But getting to know both Will and Dwayne before the actual kidnapping puts us in the unique position of seeing them as equals. Both of them are in dire need of better lives. And so in a strange way, we’re kinda rooting for both of them to succeed (well, until later that is, when Dwayne goes off the deep end). The main problem with doing this is that one storyline is always better than the other. So when you get stuck with the less interesting characters, you're always checking your watch, impatiently waiting to get back the guys you like. That never happened here because you like everyone equally - something that rarely ever happens.
The big problem with Thirty Minutes or Less is that it’s the ultimate “unpitchable” script. I was excited to tell my dad about it when I finished, but then realized, “How do I describe this exactly?” “Well, um, it’s about this pizza delivery guy who gets a bomb strapped to his body and he has to go rob a bank or else the bad guys will blow him up. But it’s not like, cliché. It’s really funny. And it’s not a straight comedy. It’s more like a dark comedy thriller robber type thing.” Thirty Minutes Or Less isn’t a script you describe. It’s a script you read. And I’m positive that’s why it didn’t place higher on the list. After being told about the script, people likely had no interest in reading it. So I’m here to tell you – this is a script you want to read!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned: This was a good reminder that even though I love the singular point of view, jumping over and seeing the other characters in their environment builds up the complexity of those characters in a way you can never achieve by looking at them only through your own character’s eyes. I still prefer following only one person, but I’ll be keeping an open mind from here on out to following multiple characters if it's appropriate.
10) Superman Returns - This might be a controversial pick. It was released to strong critical reviews and generally positive fan reaction, but as time has passed, those fans have turned on it. I think it's a rather well-done movie that occasionally goes too far in its worship of the Donner films. (There was no need to make Lex's plot a "land scheme" again. If he'd just been obsessed with getting the Kryptonian technology, that would have been motive enough and it would barely have required changing anything major.) The script's biggest weak link is that it posits a thesis in Lois's article "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman," then never really tells us what Lois's argument was. Thus, in the end, that position isn't debunked as effectively as it could have been. I know many take issue with the super-kid, and I could probably spend a whole blog post on that. Here's what I said at the time - thematically it works for this movie, and though I can see it being a problem in the sequels, I'm willing to wait to see how those future stories handle it before fully condemning it. Of course, now it looks like we'll never know.
9) Sin City - Based on co-director Frank Miller's graphic novels, this film is more a translation of the comic than the adaptation. Most shots directly duplicate frames from the various comics, and Robert Rodriguez's decision to use green screen to isolate the characters and put the environments in during post-production might be the most successful use of "green-screen filmmaking." The film looks unlike any other film out there, and though the ultra-violence might be a turn-off to some, the dark noir tone really works. Impressively, the directors not only managed to pull off the stylistic choice to include all the voiceover from Miller's comic - they got great performances out of actors who had been uneven in earlier roles. This was the start of Mickey Rourke's comeback, and the first time that Brittany Murphy didn't actively annoy me. On top of that, it was the first time Rosario Dawson impressed me, and even Jessica Alba does a good turn as stripper Nancy, bringing real vulnerability to the character. And those are the WEAKER actors in a cast that boasts Bruce Willis, Nick Stahl, and Clive Owen.
8) Spider-Man - At the time of its release, it was probably the best comic book movie since the original Superman film 24 years earlier. X-Men had already shown that it was possible to take comic book heroes seriously again, but Spider-Man goes one better by being remarkably faithful to the tone and look of the comics. The Spider-Man suit shows that superhero outfits don't need to be made out of black leather in order to look cool, while Sam Rami's direction evokes the feel and the composition of the comics. The second half gets a little goofy.. Willem Dafoe commands the screen with his over-the-top performance whenever he's out of costume, but the Green Goblin supersuit looks like something from a Saturday morning live action kids show.
7) Superman II - There are two versions available, the 1980 theatrical release mostly directed by Richard Lester, and the recently restored 2006 release directed largely by Richard Donner. The backstory: Donner shot 75% of this sequel while shooting the first film, but a dispute with producers over many issues led to his replacement and the reshooting of many parts of the film to the point where only about 30% of his material remains in the theatrical version. Though it still feels unfinished in spots, I prefer the Donner Cut for the faster pacing, the removal of many campy elements, and the restoration of some powerful scenes with Marlon Brando as Jor-El. However, in any incarnation, Superman II is a great film.
6) Batman Begins - The Batman series needed an enema after Joel Schumacher's wretched Batman & Robin in 1997, and this Christopher Nolan reboot certainly fit the bill. The hook: telling the early origins of Batman piece-by-piece, answering the questions of how he trained, where the Batmobile came from, the functionality of the costume. It's a testament to the power of this film that I've seen many, many different tellings of Bruce Wayne's parents' murder, but this was the only time that the murders hurt. It's brutal and powerful. Also, for the first time, there's a sharp distinction between how the lead actor plays Bruce Wayne and Batman.
5) Spider-Man II - The Spider-Man series gets its best villain in the form of Alfred Molina's Dr. Octopus as the continuing soap opera of Peter and his love Mary Jane develops. Though portions of the plot are reminiscent of Superman II, this is a fast, fun film that feels true to the comic. More than that, the ending makes it clear that makers saw this as a continuing story - not just an episodic series of action films.
4) X2: X-Men United - Finally! A superhero film with seemingly non-stop action. Despite the parade of characters the screenplay has to accommodate, the story never feels over-crowded. With all the exposition out of the way in the first film, director Bryan Singer is free to just tell an exciting story at breakneck pace. There are several great action scenes but standouts are the opening siege on the White House, Magneto's incredibly awesome jailbreak, and the attack on Xavier's School for the Gifted.
3) Iron Man - The best superhero movies know how to make the hero interesting rather than taking the lazy route of making the villain broad and colorful and just using the hero as a straight man to play the villain off of. (See: any Batman film produced between 1989-1997.) Iron Man is much more about Tony Stark in a way that recalls Batman Begins. Robert Downey Jr. carries this movie and even if you're not into superheroes, you'll find him entertaining. The lone weak spot might be the lack of a truly intersting villain, but when Downey is chewing the scenery, you won't care.
2) The Dark Knight - One of the few comic book movies that can be called a "film" rather than a "movie." Aside from the animated series, this is the first time that the modern Joker has truly been captured in an adaptation. Jack Nicholson was fun to watch in the 1989 Batman, but one never believed his Joker was truly insane. Heath Ledger pulls that off and gives a truly chilling performance. Christian Bale more than holds his own, but the story really belongs to Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent - Gotham's "white knight" - who pays the highest price of all.
1) Supeman - The Citizen Kane of both comic book and superhero films, and the one without which there were be no others. The best-known comic book adaptation before this was the campy 60s Batman series, whose legacy was convincing audiences and filmmakers alike that superheroes couldn't be taken seriously. The slightly less-campy Wonder Woman series in the 70s did little to change that. It wasn't until Richard Donner came along and told Superman's origins with all the seriousness of a Greek myth that the stigma was broken. I've raved about this film elsewhere, and any praise that doesn't go to Donner surely goes to Christopher Reeve for creating a Man of Steel who can be earnest without sacrificing any of his presence. Without this film, there would be no Batman series, no Spider-Man series, no X-Men and probably no Iron Man either.
Genre: Period, Espionage
Premise: An FBI agent is ordered to babysit Ernest Hemingway as he goes about running a motley spy ring in WWII Cuba.
About: At Warner Brothers with Johnny Depp's Infinitum Nihil producing, The Crook Factory made the 2009 Black List with 5 votes.
Writer: Adapted by Nicholas Meyer, based upon the novel by Dan Simmons
The spy fiction of John le Carré isn't normally the type of story that makes my dick hard, but the fiction of Ernest Hemingway has the type of prose that does. And although "The Crook Factory" ain't about the prose (it's a screenplay, baby, it's about the scenes), it is about Ernest Hemingway in pre-Communist Cuba with plenty of subterfuge and the customary spy fiction shenanigans.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn't for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius