Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Have I Seen Any Movies?

The summer I graduated High School I took off from work and just saw movies. Hundreds of them. All in cinemas (no other choice back then). I averaged three films a day in cinemas that summer - many of those films were in far off cinemas that required hours of driving from one cinema to the next with fast food meals in the car in between. I had a diary, and listed every movie I saw, where and when I saw it, and a couple of lines of what I thought about it.

When I first added the MOVIES element to the Important Updates on this blog, the plan was to start that diary all over again. Great plan, wish it would have worked. The first entries here were often the title of the movie and a line or two about what I thought of it. But some movies I wrote full reviews of, trying to figure out where they went wrong or what they did right and how all of that applied to screenwriting. And that’s where things went wrong. Because those full reviews were often mini screenwriting lessons, and I could use them either to update old Script Tips on my website or as the raw material for whole new Script Tips. Suddenly, the movie entries were more than just part of my daily diary on this blog, they were *important*. I couldn’t just jot down a sentence or two that night before going to sleep or the next morning while waiting for the coffee to kick in - I had to think each movie out and find the screenwriting lesson hidden within and analyze the good and the bad and... well, it became *work* (my least favorite four letter word). So everything depended on how much spare time I had, how much energy I had to write up the reviews, and how much I gave a crap about my website at the time.

I have notebooks filled with notes on films I have seen, but never gotten around to analyzing for valuable screenwriting lessons. Many of those notes have often found the lessons to be learned from these films, but I never found the time or energy or enthusiasm to type it all up for you folks to read... and later for “harvest” into Script Tip material. So months later I come across the movie entry in my notebook and realize that I should type it up, and that goes on the big To Do List along with everything else I never got around to. The worst thing is when I come across the entry for some awful film that is the *perfect* bad example to illustrate how some element of story can be done completely wrong - and I have some old tip that needs an example like this - but my memory of that awful film has thankfully been wiped... and writing it up would require me to see the film again. Um, do I really want to waste the time and money to see a *bad* movie again?

So I am rethinking the MOVIES and DVD update section - and hopefully from now on there will be three kinds of listings there - what I saw last night in a quick paragraph, what I saw last night in a longer review... and sometimes the full analysis of some movie which may have only gotten a quick paragraph the day after I saw it. That way it works as a diary entry... and also allows me to come back later with some details (or not). For a the next few days I’m going to try to clean out some movies recently seen with some quick reviews, starting with....

Classes On CD On Sale!

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Relationships and Cool Hand Luke.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Massive Buritto at Tortas on Ventura Blvd - so big I can not eat the whole thing.

Movies: GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST - How many movies have stolen the main concept of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Some steal it well, like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but most use the device poorly or for some silly reason that results in a terrible film. Add to that the number of actual versions of CHRISTMAS CAROL, whether they are faithful (like the Mr. Magoo cartoon version) or updates (like the brilliant Bill Murray version) and you have a plot device that is overused. But, where critics are quick to discredit a film because they’ve seen this one before, a familiar story is often an asset to the audience, provided there is some unique twist on it - like being haunted by old girlfriends who show the protag his past, present, and future romantic life. That actually seems like a fairly clever way to spin a rom-com.

But it *was* a rom-com and my hopes were not all that high for this film. Which was probably a good thing, because it was better than I thought it was going to be, mostly due to Michael Douglas doing his best version of 70's stud Robert Evans (producer of THE GODFATHER and many other great films, and sex partner of many hot actresses and starlets). Douglas is funny as hell, and a little tragic at the same time, and pretty much steals the show.

The rest of the film is okay - amusing enough - but the big problem comes with the end and McConaughey’s character - who is a completely uncaring creepy who has slept with a million women (great sight gag as there is a never-ending night club filled with every one night or one hour or 15 minute-in-the-coat-room stand he has ever had... and it juts goes on and on into infinity), but is redeemed at the end and hooks up with the one girl he loved, Jennifer Garner (looking a little wide in the hips, here, compared to the army of hot bods in McConaughey’s past - but maybe that’s a good thing). Just like in Christmas Carol, he wakes up in the morning a completely changed man - and after being a complete jerk for the previous 90 minutes it’s hard to believe the change. The movie gives us a potential love interest for Garner that is everything McConaughey is not - and the problem is, since I like Garner I wanted her to hook up with that guy and not McConaughey. The better end would have been for him to release her to the other guy. That wouldn’t have been the rom-com ending, but after a whole movie about what a jerk McConaughey is, it’s hard to actually want him to hook up with Garner. Instead, you want him to pay penance somehow - maybe become a monk with a vow of chastity.

The film earns points for digging below the surface and giving us real characters and real relationships (like his relationship with his brother played by Breckin Meyer), for fleshing out even the minor characters like the bridesmaids at his brother’s wedding (all are potential bedmates for McConaughey, but each is actually given a unique character even though their screentime is limited), for acknowledging the Christmas Carol roots of the story with some clever gags, and for actually being funny - the film is genuinely funny. Oh, and Matthew McConaughey - not my favorite actor (is he an actor?) - does a great job of playing this jerk in a way that we don’t hate him... we actually like him. He’s smooth talking and funny and can beak hearts in ways that are either so over the top they are some sort of fantasy or so clever that the woman doesn’t realize she’s been dumped. Between the script and McConaughey’s performance, you like this character who by all rights should be unlikeable. You just don’t want him marrying your sister - or Jennifer Garner. And that’s the problem.

- Bill


OJ (not that one) said...

Is Forces Of Nature in one of those notebooks? Asking about this in the context of The Ghost of Girlfriends Past kinda spoils the ending of the former, but maybe not really. Even though Roger Ebert called it "the wrong ending," that's exactly why I have a soft sport for the movie.

If you can stomach Ben Affleck, I'd recommend it for how it doesn't conform to romcom expectations (although it's certainly not perfect).

Anonymous said...

and we have Christmas Carol coming out with Jim Carrey as Scrooge

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