It’s turned into a Mish-Mash Monday, which may sound depressing but I just couldn’t bring myself to read and review The Last Witch Hunter this evening. I’m actually having an existential crisis with this script. How do you make witches scary to grown men? I know how you make them scary to little girls. But how do you make them scary in a Vin Deisel movie? Is Vin Diesel one of the witches? That could be scary. This is the catastrophic conundrum I’m in, is that this simply doesn’t make sense, this project. It’s the reason I’ve been so on the fence about reading it. One side of me says there’s no way it could ever be any good. Another wonders, what if they’ve found an ingenious clever way to make witches badasses? And that’s why this movie is getting made? Cause they found the secret! And I’m missing out on it because I’m being a little wuss-boy who refuses to crack open a screenplay. I’ll ask you guys. Are any of you interested in this project? Does this sound like a good idea or a disaster? Because right now I’m kind of imagining this is going to look exactly like Dracula Untold (???), where they had a 25 million dollar budget but tried to make it look like they had a 125 million dollar budget? Can’t say I’m wanting to see that movie.
Speaking of movies people shouldn’t see, I saw Annabelle this weekend. You know, the horror movie with the doll? I am now convinced that there are a group of writers studios call on in Hollywood that are specifically brought in to borify a script. There have been a handful of times where I’ve walked out of a movie feeling absolutely ZERO emotion from a film, but this one trumps them all. Annabelle wins the prize for the most boring 90 minutes of story ever created. I mean the screenplay was uninspired. The casting was uninspired. The directing was uninspired. They even found a way to make that creepy-looking doll uninspired. Did you know that the doll doesn’t even move the whole movie? Like it doesn’t do anything. It just lays there? I thought this was supposed to be a movie about a scary doll. How can that happen if the DOLL ISN’T SCARY? Somebody bring back Chucky.
But I did learn something from the experience. Scary movies need to be scary. That’s not a facetious line. I know I talk a lot here about the importance of a good story and good characters with “depth” and “backstory” and “flaws.” But after watching Annabelle, I realized that none of that actually matters if you don’t put a single thought into creating good scares. There were no good scares here. NONE! In an entire horror movie. You’d think you’d get one just by accident. But this entire movie amounts to waiting for the doll to do something scary and that moment never happening.
And let me take this moment to explain, at least partly, why this was the case. “Annabelle” was following a rule-set it had established in its backstory, which is that the doll itself doesn’t become a thinking moving thing. It’s merely being manipulated by a demon that has attached itself to the doll. So the invisible demon can do things like pick it up and move it, but the doll is never going to do anything beyond that.
I HATE when writers create rule-sets that prevent their movie from becoming a better movie. If you have a rule-set you’ve established, and that rule-set prevents your world from functioning in a way that’s going to make your movie more entertaining? You have to re-think the rule-set. And that’s definitely what happened here. I’m not saying the doll had to have facial expressions. But it needed to do more than get dropped on the ground. I mean come on.
I also saw myself some “A Million Ways to Die In the West,” on Itunes, a script that I actually liked. But boy did the movie not work. I mean, Seth McFarlane, bless his heart, is not an actor. He is awkward to look at. He’s awkward to listen to. He has an awkward gait when he moves. He’s also so vain that he kept his same haircut and 2014 look despite being in a movie set in the year 1880.
But the big takeaway from the film was that McFarlane spent way too much time on the relationship. There were a half dozen scenes at least where him and the romantic interest (Charlize Theron) would go do something together that had nothing to do with the plot. For example, they’d go to the fair and just hang out there for 10 screen time minutes. What did this have to do with anything? Beats me. As you all know, every scene should push the story forward, should get your characters closer to their objectives. If that’s not happeing, you probably don’t need those scenes. And if your characters don’t have any objectives in the first place, then you have much deeper structural problems.
I call these scenes, which I see ALL THE TIME in amateur scripts, “Pause Scenes.” Because it’s literally like the writer pauses the story so his characters can engage in a scene he thinks might be cool or funny. Then, when the scene is over, he unpauses the story and we continue moving forward again. This should never be the case. The idea with screenwriting is to always combine these scenarios into one. If you want to include a fun scene, find a way to make it an essential part of the story.
So earlier in A Million Ways To Die In The West, there’s a scene where our hero has to square off against some guy he owes money to. If you really want to include the Fair scene, then make it so that our hero is supposed to meet that guy there to settle their debt. Our hero also gets dumped by his girlfriend in the first act. Maybe the Fair is his first chance to talk to her again. He’s hoping to go there and get her back. This way the scene has an actual point to it, instead of it feeling floaty and unimportant.
Finally, I caught Chef, yet another directed-written by-acted vehicle and boy did it start out great. I mean I was like, “This is that fun easy-going movie you throw on on a Saturday to feel good about life.” But that structural problem I saw in the screenplay way back in my review (we don’t get to him starting the food truck – the actual PREMISE of the movie – until after the halfway point) came back and bit this thing in the ass.
Favreau is so good with dialogue and he knows he’s so good with dialogue that he thought he could dialogue us to Marmalade Heaven and we’d forget all about the plot beats. But if we watch a movie about a famous chef who decides to start a food truck and he doesn’t actually start selling food on that food truck until the final act? We’re going to be a pretty impatient audience, aren’t we?
The big killer with the script is that Favreau gave us two of the exact same set pieces. The opening act is about him serving the biggest food critic in the city, and it turning into a disaster. So how does he follow that? By giving us THE EXACT SAME SCENE. He again prepares to serve the same food critic and it again turns into a disaster. 15 minutes were put into each sequence, totaling 30 minutes of screen time. Youch!
I heard Favreau likes to write fast and that he didn’t rewrite this too much, wanting to capture that “energy” you only get with a first draft. But there’s no doubt that a couple of rewrites would’ve caught this problem and made the script a lot better as a result. Because the truth is, we needed the hero to fall hard in those first fifteen minutes, be down on his luck for the next 12-15 minutes, and then have that Food Truck option open up. Since he’s un-hirable, he gives it a shot, and you can now focus more on the core reason we came to the movie in the first place, which is to watch this down-on-his-luck chef reinvent himself.
I was actually talking with Miss Scriptshadow about the movie afterwards because she had the same issue. “Why did it take so long to get to the truck?” I told her I’d listened to an interview with Favreau where he’d made a point to say he wanted to change up the structure because whenever he goes to a movie, he knows what’s going to happen at every stage. He wanted this movie to be unpredictable even to the more seasoned movie-goers.
“Well that’s stupid,” she replied. “So he made his movie worse just so it would be harder to predict?” It was a sound observation that brought up a deeper question. As writers, in our eternal quest to keep the audience guessing, should we make a plot beat or a character different JUST TO MAKE IT DIFFERENT? Sure, Favreau’s movie would’ve been more predictable had we gotten to the food truck sooner, but wouldn’t it have been more satisfying? Wouldn’t the story have moved along quicker and therefore kept the audience more entertained? I think so. What do you guys think?
Well, that about does it for me. I’m gonna conk out. In the meantime, I’ll dream about my new movie obsession. Star Wars 7? No. Batman vs. Superman? Not a chance. I’m talking about John F&*%ING Wick. Me and Keanu have a date for October 24th. Goddamit, that dog was a gift from his dying wife!
Who’s coming with me???