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September 28, 2008

The Results Are In…

The Emmys were Sunday, and while the show itself was regarded as a disaster, I have to applaud some of the dark-horse winners: Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad and Zeljko Ivanek from Damages both did exceptional work, worthy of the accolades and awards they’ve received. Plenty of other winners deserved it, but they were mostly the obvious choices. I could go on and on about my issues with 30 Rock and disappointment with its truckload of awards, but what’s the use? If you like the show, I won’t change your mind; if you don’t, I’m the sympathetic shoulder to lean on.

Bones (Fox) — This episode marked the return of Zack, who I find I didn’t miss all that much. I liked the small amount of character de-assassination after last season’s rushed finale. I didn’t have as much of a problem with the Zack reveal as other Bones viewers — it surprised me, but it didn’t enrage me. Maybe it’s because I never had much fondness for Zack, or because they explained his motivation in a rational (but rushed) manner. And, again, because I’m not a big Zack fan, I found myself feeling sorry for the Benjamin McKenzie-esque new intern. He seemed like a nice guy, as smart and socially inept as Zack, but then he has his heart broken by Zack the Sociopath breaking out of the hospital (in a very poorly telegraphed way — sorry, Bones writers). At least they didn’t try to make us laugh or scoff at his misery, with the writers pointing out the insular nature of this group.

They’ve used Sweets as comic relief since he started, so it was nice to get a little bit of dramatic work from John Francis Daley — anyone who’s seen Freaks & Geeks knows he’s more than capable for this kind of work. That final scene with Zack was very effective, thanks to the writers not having Sweets fall back on his nerdy charm.

The mystery itself had some interesting moments — notably Brennan’s self-examination after talking to the obnoxious publisher — but overall, it returned to the show’s older mold of predictable criminals and took it one step further by even making the motivation for the murder predictable. I’m usually terrible at guessing whodunit and why, but this episode I had it called by the end of the first act — and I was right.

Eureka (Sci-Fi) — They had a decent finale after a crappy season, and they did a decent enough job of explaining What Thorne’s Deal Is, but I’ve had it with this show. The finale wasn’t bad, but it didn’t reaffirm my faith in the show’s quality, nor did it suggest any paths that would lead to its continued improvement. Sorry, Eureka. You had a good first and second season — too bad it had to end so soon.

Fringe (Fox) — This week definitely improved on last week’s colossal failure. It’s not enough to take me off the fence — for better or worse — but it combined passable entertainment with a plot that made a small amount of sense. Plus, while many elements of the episode are derivative, the aping wasn’t nearly as direct as last week’s Leech Woman, and it also wasn’t nearly as stupid…

…but it was still sorta stupid. I have to ding Astrid Farnsworth a little, because the first attempt at character development she gets — that she majored in linguistics — makes her seem like an idiot almost immediately thereafter. Seriously, she can parse Latin and come up with “South Street Station” immediately, but “hora” trips her up? “Hora,” or a variation on it, is “hour” in, like, five different languages. Come on! This might seem like a minor nitpick, but it represents of the sloppiness that’s plagued the show from the start.

Yes, sloppiness, Fringe’s biggest obstacle. Look at the three episodes so far. One reason that Olivia Dunham hasn’t yet ingratiated herself as a character is that she doesn’t have a strong personality or, really, any sense of direction. Part of the dullness stems from Anna Torv’s still-awful performance, but after three episodes, I’m almost willing to swallow my pride and say she’d give a better performer if they wrote a more solid character. So far, Dunham has stumbled into the series’ premise by accident. She spends about two scenes per episode doing actual investigation, and after that she leaves it up to Wally and Peter. Olivia Dunham was presented in the pilot as our window into this world, but she doesn’t seem to actually care about this world. But, then, neither does any other character, with the possible exception of Broyles, who’s too closed off and “mysterious” to be bothered with. We’re dealing with the world of “fringe science,” so where’s the sense of wonder? I don’t see this show as a rip-off of The X-Files because that show gave us two very strong, forceful characters off the bat. One true believer, one skeptic, forced together. Everyone on Fringe believes, but none of them care. They just do what they do because the plot tells them they have to solve the mystery before the hour ends — that’s sloppy. Even if this slovenly approach to writing doesn’t destroy the show quickly, it still begs the question: if Dunham doesn’t care, and the writers don’t care, why should we?

Another hint of bigger problems down the road came from this week’s guest star, the tormented psychic tuned into the supposed “ghost network.” So far, he’s the most interesting and likable character in the show’s brief history — a problem considering he isn’t a series regular. This speaks well of Zak Orth, the actor who played Roy, but it signals a major problem in the show. I know it’s plot-driven, I know they’re trying to avoid the manic soap opera that Alias became and Lost and Felicity always were, but… What drives these people? Broyles is driven by an obsession with The Pattern, but his reasons for the obsession remain a mystery. That’s fine, but what interests do the remaining characters have? None of them seem to care about The Pattern one way or the other, so why are they even a part of this team?

I have too many questions, but these aren’t the Lost-style mysteries that keep me watching; these are holes in the writing that will most likely make me stop watching.

Heroes (NBC) — With so much hype surrounding the return of Heroes, which squandered both creative potential and audience goodwill in its disaster of a second season, the two-hour third-season premiere could only disappoint. I didn’t expect it to blow me away, and it didn’t. However, I also didn’t expect it to be a total disaster, and in many ways… It was.

The plodding pace and stupid, stupid decisions plaguing the first hour made me lose hope altogether, but I will reluctantly admit that things picked up in the second hour. However, both hours made me realize the exact nature of Heroes’ problem:

Everyone needs to die.

Maybe that’s a little drastic, but at the very least, a significant amount of fat needs trimming. The show’s cast and number of storylines continue to bloat, while maintaining characters who have, at best, lost their initial intrigue and mystique or, at worst, have become so soul-crushingly moronic that they’re no longer relatable as humans. They’ve become pawns in slipshod, nonsensical stories. Here are a few random examples, taken solely from this third-season premiere:

Sylar — Sylar’s the poster boy for characters who should have died — and stayed dead — at the end of season one. The moment he slunk off into the sewer, I knew Heroes was worse off for it. I know Sylar has his contingent of cat-lady fans who believe, if someone just loves him enough, he’d stop being evil — but from a creative standpoint, he’s worn out his welcome. I liked him in the first season — an effective villain with a fascinating backstory. What was creepy in season one became tedious and one-note in season two, and now…

First off, the writers probably made the absolute dumbest decision by allowing Sylar to absorb Claire’s power. But they also take the blame for the character’s stupidity, as well. What kind of plan is this? “I’ll just walk into immortal Claire’s house and try to fuck with her.” Good call, dude! Also, Sylar, who has absorbed such a wide variety of powers, somehow can’t do away with the cheapest, ricketiest particle-board pantry doors ever displayed on television?

Claire Bennet — Big points off for succumbing to the following horror-movie clichés: running and hiding in an enclosed space with no other exits, stopping to admire her handiwork after stabbing Sylar (thus allowing him to get the drop on her before she could flee), not immediately killing him the instant she sees him. You might say part of her is scared, but I’ll go ahead and say another part of her is immortal. Just, like: Sylar. Ahh. Stab. Instead, she lets him do his James Bond villain routine as she backs away, terrified. None of this even approached the level of suspense of a D-list ’70s horror movie. Know why? It’s no longer the ’70s! We’ve seen it, and the poor writing and poor blocking made both Claire and Sylar seem incredibly dumb.

Peter Petrelli… OF THE FUTURE!!! — The full list of Peter Petrelli stupid moments would take up more space than this column, so I’ll pick my favorite. Try to follow this one. Peter Petrelli can travel through time. He uses this to travel back four years and shoot his brother to change the future. Then, he finds out he’s made things worse. And he just stares mournfully and lets his mother browbeat. Peter, you can still travel through time! Why not go and repair the problems he’s created, or go back to five minutes before the shooting and convince the other him to not shoot Nathan. It’s hard to argue with yourself from a day in the future.

Hiro Nakamura — Remember the ire I spewed at the House season finale, in which the writers decided to destroy the House-Wilson friendship (the only part of the show still worth watching)? It kills me to say this, but Tim Kring & Co. have done the same thing with my beloved Hiro and Ando. Worse than that, they’ve given Hiro the dumbest imaginable reason for distrusting Ando. “In a weird vision four years in the future, I see a version of you kill me with a superpower you don’t have.” In a world of shape-shifters and other deceptions, why automatically assume this is Ando? And why would this affect your present-day relationship with him? If anything, it might make Hiro work a little harder toward self-examination. “What is it about me that might make my best friend want to kill me? It couldn’t possibly be me dragging him on adventures, despite his unwillingness. Clearly he’ll just become evil one day.” And let’s not even get into the writers using the “apocalyptic future vision” crutch yet again.

Mohinder Suresh — Anyone who’s watched more than one episode of Heroes already knows that Mohinder is extremely gullible (not to mention the world’s worst “scientist”). He took it to the next level in this premiere, where he sucks some semen-resembling fluid out of Maya, analyzes it, and injects some magical fluid into himself to gain his own powers. Then he overdoes it, and if things play out the way it looks like they will, this whole subplot will devolve into a lame metaphor for addiction a la Willow’s magic addiction on the sixth season of Buffy. You guys didn’t need to give me another reason to dislike Mohinder.

And these are just the dumb characters. Don’t even get me started on the superfluous characters — Maya, Niki/Jessica/Tracy, Nathan, Micah… I’d even go so far as to say Elle Bishop is fairly pointless as a character. So if they’re going to continue me down a path of hating Hiro and Ando, if they’re going to make Claire stupid and separate her from Noah — all I have left is Parkman, who’s stuck on an African safari that may end up as this season’s “Hiro stays in feudal Japan way too long” subplot.

This is a show that’s dependent on being interested in at least some of the subplots happening. At the end of the day, it’s just another primetime soap: you have characters you love and hate, stories that are awesome and dull… After this premiere, I’m only interested in one story — Peter… OF THE PRESENT stuck in the body of Veronica Mars’ Francis Capra, hanging around with a group of thugs that includes Jamie Hector (who played Marlo Stanfield on The Wire). Everything else? Eh.

What a disaster. I hope it gets better, but don’t be surprised if I bail in the next few weeks.

The Office (NBC) — For the most part, The Office has opted to ignore summers. It hasn’t bothered me, but I have talked to some people who are a little bothered by the show’s documentary conceit ignoring summers. After all, work goes on year-round. But, come on: much as I enjoy this show, it’s a sitcom. If you’re going to nitpick the realism of the documentary style, you also have to nitpick the realism of Dwight Schrute, and the whole thing falls apart. It’s my job to take this stuff too seriously (see Heroes above), and I’m telling you not to sweat it.

Nonetheless, this year The Office writers came up with a nifty idea to cover the summer quickly — with a Dunder-Mifflin weight-loss program of epic proportions. Although it caused a lot of great, in-character chaos — Kelly’s crash diet, Dwight’s hostility toward the larger people in the office, Michael’s horrible “Michael Klump” pep-talk — it almost felt like a subplot in comparison to the relationship drama unfolding around. Of the various stories they tackled, the one that most interests me the most is the Kelly-Ryan-Darryl triangle. Combined with Ryan’s enemies list, this could end up providing some of the funniest material in the upcoming season.

I’m a little less enthusiastic about the sheer number of romantic triangles in play: Michael-Jan-Holly, Dwight-Angela-Andy, Jim-Pam-??? — if anyone wants to nitpick the realism, look no further than this. Four love triangles in one office that has maybe 20 people in it (including the warehouse)? I like all of these characters, and I don’t even mind the ideas contained in these triangles, but I do wish they could find more natural, workplace-related sources of conflict. Anything on par with Stanley’s classic outburst last season would be nice.

Raising the Bar (TNT) — This week, Raising the Bar took a pretty interesting idea — that of defending the killer of someone you’ve also defended — but didn’t do as much with it as they could have. I guess they had to make room for more exciting banter between Kellerman and Ernhardt. Still, this episode did have one big thing going for it: a recurring role for the awesome David Selby. He played several variations of Quentin Collins on Dark Shadows, the legendary ’60s soap whose mind-blowing greatness paved the way for shows like Kolchak: The Night Stalker (the original TV movie was actually directed by Dan Curtis, producer and creator of Dark Shadows) and, all the way down the line, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, whose combination of black humor and soap-opera histrionics bore more similarities to Dark Shadows than anyone wants to admit. It’s a great show, and Selby played the hell out of a character with Shakespearean complexity. He should have been a much bigger star, but alas… At least he’s on Raising the Bar now, however briefly.

Sons of Anarchy (FX) — I still don’t know where this show stands with me, but it’s compelling enough to keep me interested. Part of it is the difficulty of not having any idea where it’s going, long-term — running around trying to expand their territory is an interesting premise for an episode, but will this decision impact them in the future? Will the shootout? It had some great standalone moments — the entire subplot with Jax’s new “old lady,” feeding the dog meth — but this show rarely feels finished, operating more like a miniseries than an actual series. I don’t know why this bothers me. I guess it’s an act of endless plate-spinning that could come crashing down at any time, as opposed to plate-spinning for an hour a week, then winding it down and waiting for later.

I’ve seen too many shows sag under these conditions, which makes me appreciate shows that can balance long-term arcs with standalone episodes (Lost, Breaking Bad, Mad Men) and appreciate even more shows that can keep everything in play without anything collapsing (The Wire is the only show that did this with unwavering consistency for five seasons — every other show, no matter how good at times, has fallen apart or stayed past its expiration date). So, you know, I like this show, but it makes me worry more than it should. I guess creator Kurt Sutter’s description of the show as a modern Hamlet should give me some security that they know where they’re going, but I know Hamlet, and it doesn’t end well for anyone involved.

Supernatural (The CW) — Great job with the continuity and finding a decent motivation to have all these characters return. Meg, Henriksen, Ronald and some creepy Shining sisters (from Bobby’s past), all coming back as ghosts unleashed by… Well, Lilith, I think. They’re here to cause distracting havoc while Lilith breaks some seals that separate our wonderful, peaceful planet with an apocalyptic hellhole. Aside from my continuing doubts about Genevieve Cortese replacing Katie Cassidy as Ruby, this season will kick major ass if they stick with this arc and keep up the level of momentum.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox) — So Cromartie kidnaps Sonya Walger, who I’m tempted to call Penny because she played Penelope Widmore so memorably on Lost and has been less memorable here, as Michelle, but I’ve tried to impose a rule where I won’t refer to characters by their names from a previous show. I may not always stick to this rule, but feel free to point it out when I do. I’ve seen it on other television-related sites, and it bugs me. Anyway, Walger’s less-memorable role here is not really her fault, especially now that her character is dead.

What is memorable is how stupid and avoidable her death is. I don’t know if it’s a positive or negative that Michelle’s death is her own stupid fault. Sarah didn’t exactly force her Bataan death march through the desert; in fact, Sarah told her to stay behind until they found transportation and/or help, but Michelle refused. Was this cheap ploy by the writers to kill her Michelle off without putting the blood on Sarah’s hands? It would disappoint me if that were the case, because the writers haven’t pulled many punches so far, but it does strike me as a bit of Character Assassination Theatre to have this person barely exist, then bring her in the forefront only to be tortured by Cromartie, then die of her own stupidity.

They could have had Cromartie kill her — his “mousetrap” ruse still could have worked, if he knows of the human desire to bury loved ones. Charley would still want to take her, there would still be a bomb, it would prompt similar arguments, but the killing would make Michelle seem so dumb or, I don’t know, jealous? (Her decision to go with them definitely seemed motivated by something resembling fear of Charley and Sarah gallivanting off together.) Or maybe they could have had her, you know, wait but still die. It provides the exact same conflict with Charley and Sarah: “You never should have made me leave her alone.” Instead, it’s “You never should have let her come with us.”

On a more positive note, Cromartie’s plans are becoming a bit more sophisticated. In fact, if you look at it, he may have engineered this “mousetrap” ploy going all the way back to Ellison. Cromartie’s interactions with Ellison led him to confess to Michelle, which led her and Charley to leave town, which led them on a predictable path that the cyborg exploited. Related to that, the imagery of Charley abandoning Ellison’s Bible, while rushed a bit, was pretty effective. I don’t know if the character’s role is expanding, but this is a good setup for the future.

Similarly, I enjoyed the pier chase with John. We’re learning more about these terminators — and they’re learning more about themselves. I’m pretty sure Cromartie won’t fall for the old “dive into the ocean” routine a second time. They’re also giving us an odd “jealousy” type of angle with Cameron and Riley might not work in the long run, but in the short-term it’s a very intriguing idea, integrating this “normal” girl into the Connors’ warped family unit. I just hope they don’t make her “evil.”

Speaking of villains, relegating Shirley Manson to one short scene per episode is an excellent creative decision. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I think the character of Catherine Weaver has potential — maybe Manson will grow into the role over time, but for now, her acting leaves a bit to be desired. But commissioning Ellison to seek out some other terminator — goldmine. Continuing him on his warped religious quest while deepening the terminator mythos? What’s better than that?

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

September 7, 2008

A Smattering of Fall Premieres

The new fall season is upon us, with the return of Bones, and the premieres of cable shows Raising the Bar and Sons of Anarchy. Me? I think of cable as a summer venue, so cable shows announcing themselves in fall or midseason makes me a little uncomfortable. Not for fear of them occupying too much time — this fall, very little appeals to me, and that includes a plethora of returning shows. Some of them (Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money) I will watch, with the attentive eye of a ruthless cop who’s just waiting for his drug-addicted, petty-criminal cousin to slip up; others (House, My Name Is Earl), I’ve already discarded in my personal trash bin of failed dreams and wasted time.

Bones (Fox) — With a big two-hour premiere set mostly on location in London, it appears Fox considers Bones a hit (finally?). Or maybe they just spent the entire season’s budget, and we’ll be left with a series of episodes in which Booth and the squints get trapped in the Jeffersonian. It’s like how every year the terrorists on 24 infiltrate CTU and hold everyone captive for five straight hours so they can afford the big explosions and helicopter chases in the season finale.

Anyway, I hate to sound like a negative nelly, but the premiere — while compelling in the usual way — frustrated me a little bit for concentrating way, way, way too much on the forced “will they or won’t they?” pseudo-relationship between Brennan and Booth. Normally, I don’t mind brief flirtations with this, but the writers really laid it on thick in this premiere. And here’s the thing: David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel do have chemistry, but it’s like…sibling chemistry. They are hilarious together, as friends. As lovers, it’ll be like every single show that went to shit after the two stars hooked up. So the writers are prolonging what they seem to think is inevitable, but it’s evitable. Very, very evitable. Don’t go there, Bones writers. Keep them colleagues and friends. Brennan is like Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, learning to understand humanity by her interactions with Booth and these crimes. So I know there was that one where Data gets “drunk” and does it with Tasha Yar, but they killed her off, like, three episodes later, so it was not exactly an epic love.

If you think that’s the only rant, think again. Attention, Bones writers: for a show loaded with pithy pop-psychology jabbering (related mini-rant: use John Francis Daley in every scene, if possible — he’s a great addition to the show), what the hell was up with that subplot with Angela, Hodgins and Angela’s mystery husband? I can deal with Saroyan jumping his bones (multilayered pun intended), but that whole “fight for her honor”/”I’m bailing on this engagement because you obviously don’t trust me” thing — what a bunch of bullshit. Angela got mad at Saroyan because it’s a shitty thing for a friend to do. What kind of friend is like, “Oh dude, I slept with your ex-husband, and it was awesome,” and expects the friend to be cool with that? Even with the “history” of Angela’s odd relationship with her husband, there’s no reason for Angela to just roll over and be happy, and there’s every reason in the world for Hodgins to feel a tinge of jealousy — it has something to do with trust, but not in a significant, “I don’t trust you one iota” way. The execution of this subplot didn’t work at all.

But, um…the crime subplot was pretty good, as was the random newbie who bailed because of the over-the-top soap-opera nature of the squints. Well played, Bones.

Mad Men (AMC) — I chided Mad Men for making Duck into an unsympathetic, one-dimensional “villain” for Don, in stark contrast to this show’s usual fully realized, multidimensional characters. Now, they’ve finally ladled on some real development — but they’ve forced me to absolutely hate him. I know I was supposed to feel, in some way or another, sorry for his struggle, but the only people I have less sympathy for than drunks are drunks who abandon their dogs to go tie one on. I’m sure it was hard to be a full-blown alcoholic in the ’60s, especially working at Sterling-Cooper, but I don’t care what era you’re in: you don’t bail on your dog. Come on!

Now that that’s out of the way… I love seeing the way Peggy progresses. I know many of these characters have taken on archetypal roles, but I guess I didn’t see Peggy as emblematic of the rise of feminism. In retrospect, it seems so obvious, but I didn’t see it coming until last week, and now — wow, she’s really learning. The great thing about this progression is that it feels natural, but they don’t quite beat us over the head with any of it. Okay, maybe the whole Playtex thing could have been subtler, but it all sort of worked to illustrate the way Peggy’s environment is forming the woman she’s becoming. I’d give large sums of money to see the expression on her sister’s face if she had seen Peggy walking into that strip club. Good times!

The Middleman (ABC Family) — Well, this may have been The Middleman’s last episode, so I guess we can take comfort that it was a good one. References abound, as usual, most notably Escape from New York. The alternate universe’s Snake Plissken-looking Middleman might have been the series’ funniest sight gag to date, but what really got to me is the way Wendy learned the value of her real-universe friends from this experience. Here, she sees them all at their absolute worst, but she understands that there’s some kind of inherent, a priori goodness in them — they’ve all been wounded by their experiences, but deep down, they’re the same people she knew.

One thing I questioned — and this is one of the many things that makes me hope the show gets renewed — was the fall of Manservant Neville in the alternate timeline. There, Evil Wendy froze him because he intended to change the company into something good and positive. So, does that mean that at the same time, in Real Wendy’s universe, the kind and benevolent Manservant Neville turned evil? They didn’t portray this like a cliffhanger, but it became one in my mind.

ABC Family, renew this show or I will dedicate long-winded special-edition columns to libel Kyle XY, GRΣΣK and The Secret Life of an American Teenager.

Monk (USA) — Monk’s 100th episode was fun, with some nice trips down Memory Lane and a spectacularly over-the-top guest appearance from Will & Grace’s Eric McCormack, but it didn’t meet the expectations the show has forced me to have with its late-in-the-game quality improvement. I understand that the mystery took a backseat to the retrospective idea, which is fine. Why not just allow the In Focus mystery be the week’s mystery, instead of double-layering it with Monk trying to re-solve the solved case? It seemed like it spread the story too thin, when I would have been more than happy watching “In Focus” for an hour instead of giving us the bookends with everybody gathered for the premiere. Still, a fun episode.

Psych (USA) — I give the writers credit for not completely swiping the plot of Point Break, although inexplicable identity theft (one assumes to steal money/credit) comes about as close as one can without actually involving surfing. I can’t get too frustrated with this show, because it’s still laugh-out-loud funny, but the first two seasons had some pretty solid mysteries. This season has felt like nothing more than joke plots and movie spoofs, which is fine — they just took an unexpected turn, and I have to give a pop-culture-laden show like this a hard time for ripping off Point Break without even making a glib reference to it.

Raising the Bar (TNT) — I feel like I have to take on a defensive position after seeing a few other reviews of this show. Some were flat-out negative, but most of them just argued that this show redefines mediocrity and isn’t worth the time when there are better shows out there. I’ll agree that it won’t exactly spark a TV revolution whose lasting effects will still reverberate decades later (like Steven Bochco’s Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law), but it’s certainly not a “pass,” either.

All of this is coming from somebody who pretty much hates legal shows, all of which play courtroom scenes as over-the-top melodrama and either paint lawyers as corrupt and contemptible or insightful and messianic. The only legal series I’ve enjoyed was The WB’s comically short-lived Just Legal, effectively an action-comedy starring Don Johnson (Miami Vice) as a grizzled, bottom-feeding lawyer and Jay Baruchel (Undeclared) as an idealistic legal prodigy who can’t get a job anywhere else.

It might be a bad omen to compare Raising the Bar to a show that lasted two weeks on The WB*, but they have a lot of common ground that appeals to me. Both shows tackle this insane idea that, in this particular arena, everybody knows everybody else. Raising the Bar’s young attorneys all went to law school together, and now they’re on opposite sides. Jane Kaczmarek, as a public-defender-turned-embittered-judge, provides the Don Johnson-style crustiness, and the conflict between characters is rooted in the same themes Just Legal tackled: how do you separate personal from professional, and how do you try a case fairly in a system where everybody knows everybody else? The lawyers know the judges’ strengths and weaknesses, the judges form grudges against attorneys based on earlier cases, the law-school buddies find themselves lashing out because they’re on opposing sides of the same case. Not exactly an enviable career.

Raising the Bar has some weak spots, don’t get me wrong. Some of the aesthetic choices are a little iffy (the idea of showing empty courtrooms and offices, then dissolving to populated versions of the same settings, did nothing but make me think of how awesome a show about ghost lawyers would be), and… I don’t know, part of me thinks this is too mean to even say, but the sets looked really cheap in HD. But think about it: I have to dig pretty hard to criticize when all I have is, “The sets on a low-budget cable show look cheap.”

I have to dig less deep to crush the show’s real weak link: I don’t know if it’s the actress or character, but Melissa Sagemiller is not exactly selling her role. Shaggy-haired Zack Morris delivers “credible attorney” better than I ever could have imagined, and the other cast members — some of whom I haven’t seen before — did equally decent-to-admirable work. Sagemiller stuck out big-time, and shoving her into a “conflict of interest” relationship Mark-Paul Gosselaar doesn’t help. I hope this doesn’t last, because Raising the Bar has a lot of potential, and I hate to say it, but it would have a lot more without her.

Sons of Anarchy (FX) — I find it a little difficult to describe how I feel about this show, because it’s designed as a serial show and didn’t have much in the way of traditional dramatic structure — not that I’m calling that a bad thing. Rather, the progress from beginning to end only gave us resolutions of the kind that leave us wondering what will happen next week. Which is all well and good, but it’s less like Bones than Rescue Me. The question I have, right now, is: will this unfold like Rescue Me, having several good seasons before becoming a bit of a trainwreck, or will it be more like The Wire, telling great stories with a rich sense of place and character and coming and going without a visible decline in quality?

The series I hear it most often compared to is The Sopranos — mostly in the form of “Sopranos on motorcycles”-type comparisons. As an rabid, unabashed hater of The Sopranos, I can only say, “I hope that’s not what it becomes.” For other non-fans of The Sopranos, let me offer a few morsels explaining what I saw in Sons of Anarchy that gives it heft without leaving the HBO hit’s distinctive residue of tedium and pomposity. It offers something truly unique in the television landscape: has there ever been a weekly series that really dug into biker culture? Sons of Anarchy goes one better than that by having Jacks (Charlie Hunnam, another Undeclared alum) uncover his deceased father’s hippie manifesto, setting the stage for a battle between modern pragmatism and outdated idealism. The series may not be realistic, but like The Wire, it gives us vivid characters in a setting that makes it believable. The sheer number of “Hey! It’s that guy!” character actors populating the supporting roles gives the show a feeling of density that could be a slippery slope — it may all end up being surface gloss.

I’d like to think a little better of it. Aside from a few missteps — my personal aversion to anything hypodermic-related is only one of the things that makes me say Jacks’ pregnant, heroin-addicted ex-wife was an extraneous character and subplot — Sons of Anarchy sucked me into its universe and into its primary conflicts: Jacks versus Clay (Ron Perlman), with Gemma (Katey Segal) playing both sides like a twisted hybrid of Gertrude and Lady Macbeth. All of this, in 75 minutes, proved more compelling than the first 10 hours of The Sopranos. Whether or not it will all pay off remains to be seen, but I urge fans of ultra-depressing crime soaps to check this out. FX reruns the premiere on Sunday after The Shield.

*The WB burned off the nine or so remaining episodes late in the summer of 2006, and I assure you guys, you don’t know what you missed.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

September 14, 2008

Changing of the Guard

As fall shows continue to premiere, cable shows conclude. This week saw the premiere of Fringe and the return of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, while Monk and Psych have ended their abbreviated summer runs.

Bones (Fox) — Well, I got one of my wishes (amazing considering this episode was produced at least a month before I rambled about the premiere’s problems). The writers dealt as little as possible with fallout over Angela and Hodgins — probably for the best, although it struck me as a tad unrealistic. And yes, the writers continued to keep the Booth and Brennan non-romance in the forefront, which is horrible despite the amusing banter.

But the show did two huge things right: they stuck John Francis Daley into a prominent role, even putting him in scenes where he didn’t seem to belong, because the writers clearly recognize what he’s bringing to the table. He’s like the Fonz of Bones, and for the moment, too much of him is never a bad thing. They also added Undeclared alum Carla Gallo in what I sincerely hope will be a recurring role. She played a hyper, annoying (but in a funny way) intern who may have a blossoming relationship with Daley’s Lance Sweets. I can’t imagine this being anything less than awesome, and if all goes well, I look forward to them retitling it Lance Sweets’ Bones in the ninth season after David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel leave to pursue successful feature-film-directing careers.

Oh yeah, this show has a mystery component. This week’s was more disgusting than usual, as it involved wading through drums of liquefied outhouse sludge. It looks like the writers are doing a better job reducing the predictability. They’ve eliminated the “obvious sociopath” tell that most procedurals have, and they spent more time giving each character both a clear motive and a clear out (except, of course, for the killer). They sorta fell into the “eleventh-hour suspect” trap, but he didn’t come completely out of nowhere, so they don’t get bonus points, but no points off, either.

Burn Notice (USA) — This episode marked a definite return to form. Expanding on the previous episode’s idea that people from Michael’s past remain in his orbit (and remain just as dangerous), Tim Matheson showed up as a pseudo-mentor from Michael’s spy days. He’s supposedly been dead for several years, which helps him in his current occupation (hit man). You know what else helps? Roping people like Michael into doing the job for him, allowing him plausible deniability. Matheson plays a slippery, sociopathic weasel with gusto, and both he and Jeffrey Donovan did an excellent job of selling their shared past.

I also love the writers for turning Matheson into a father figure. They’ve established — more than once — what an asshole Michael’s father was (or, at least, that’s the way Michael sees it), so it’s natural for him to seek someone who could inhabit that kind of role. The writers addressed this with subtlety, never beating us over the head with the psych-101 aspects of the relationship. They left the psych-101 insanity for Michael’s subplot with Madeline, who is still seeking a worthwhile counselor.

I should also mention that Amy Pietz (from the late, lamented Aliens in America) guest-starred as Matheson’s hit target, and Zachery Bryan (from the late, unlamented Home Improvement) played her obnoxious, rich-kid son. Both of them did reasonably solid work in their roles, but I have to give the writers guff for one thing: they could have done a better job of establishing the conflict between Pietz and Bryan. Greed is one thing, but the guy put on a contract on her life — there has to be a little more to it than inheritance. If there isn’t, they did a sloppy job with Bryan’s character — referring to him in a title card as a “spoiled punk,” without backing that up at all. As written, his role is that of a scared little kid. One would think the kind of rich, spoiled punk who hires hit men to reclaim a small amount of his inheritance might not be so intimidated by Michael. The kind of smart-dumb characteristic that would prompt him to hire multiple hit men would kick in, making him blustery and confident, and he’d offer to throw more money at the situation and/or try to play the tough guy until Michael puts him in his place.

I know, in dealing with a crime-of-the-week format, the writers have to find economic shorthands to establish these people, but a scene or two of Pietz and Bryan together would have shed enough light on their antagonistic relationship, making the hit man premise more believable.

Eureka (Sci-Fi) — This show came so close to getting some legitimate praise out of me. They almost went a full episode without mentioning the disastrous Carter-Allison romantic subplot, but of course, they had to go and screw it up with a single tense moment. Alas… Nonetheless, although this show has lost quite a bit of its luster, this was quite an improvement over the last new episode, despite defying the usual “less Zoe = better episode” correlation. The “superhero” trying to impress Lexi was sufficient to keep my interest. I knew it’d be the ecology guy the second they showed him, but the story did what Eureka used to do best: absolute ridiculousness turning to tragedy. I’d call this the best of the season so far, but that just kinda shows how uninspired this season has been so far.

Fringe (Fox) — Although it contains a few too many shades of Tim Minear’s short-lived summer burn-off The Inside (which would have made a star of Rachel Nichols if Fox hadn’t botched the whole thing), Fringe had a lot to love. Joshua Jackson surprised me as the sarcastic super-genius, John Noble was appropriately ridiculous as his mad-scientist father and the very concept — “fringe science” and “The Pattern” and Massive Dynamic — got me going. Lance Reddick is a great bad-ass, Blair Brown… I don’t know what the hell she’s doing, exactly, but she did it well.

Still, it had enough troublesome elements to make me worry. Notice, in what I liked, I mentioned nothing about the storyline, the love story or Anna Torv. That’s just it — they didn’t sell me on the romance at all. I loved Mark Valley on Keen Eddie, but he spent most of his time here in a coma. They put the romance on the shoulders of Anna Torv, the anchor of the series, and she didn’t make me believe that everything she did — everything — was motivated by that love, which in turn diminished the impact of his betrayal and pseudo-death. The supporting cast can prop her up for so long before the entire series collapses. This series requires a strong central figure — and she didn’t bring it in the pilot. If she couldn’t bring it in the pilot, I have to wonder about her abilities in the future. Will inhabiting this world on a regular basis help her to improve, or have we seen the best of her thanks to the benefit of longer schedules and more time for reshoots?

Mad Men (AMC) — Sometimes, Mad Men hums along unnoticed, and I start to get a little restless or frustrated — and then an episode like “The Golden Violin” comes along. When this show fires on all cylinders, it’s just about the best thing on TV. But even beyond the sheer quality, the dramatic momentum kicked into overdrive. So many revelations: Jimmy Barrett knows everything — and tells both Don and Betty; Jane turns into a pawn of Roger and Joan; Ken writes a new story, and Sal’s crush on him blossoms even further, although Ken is oblivious again; and the “young guys” develop a bizarre, calypso-cum-Phil Spector song-jingle giving the “mood” of what the young, hip folks want in their coffee. Oh, and let’s not forget the symbol of the Cadillac, and possibly the greatest ending in Mad Men history: Betty tossing her cookies in the brand new, untainted car.

The only thing left hanging was that flashback. First, showing Don as a used-car salesman gave a very interesting glimpse into his “past” and, perhaps, hints at how he got into the ad game (it’s a lateral move, when you think about it), but what was up with the girl accusing him of not being Don Draper? We know he isn’t, but what’s her story? Are we going to get back to that?

Catching a glimpse of Salvatore’s hollow marriage with Kitty was very unsettling, one assumes by design. Much as I’ve been enjoying Peggy’s development this season, I’m glad they took a step back — she was barely in this one — and let some of the other cast members shine.

Each week, Mad Men veers between solidly good and pretty great, but when people rave about the show, it’s episodes like this that they’re talking about.

Monk (USA) — Not a bad episode, but haven’t we been down this road before? Remember the episode where Monk starts taking an anti-anxiety medication and starts acting like an asshole? This episode didn’t bring much more to that, except bringing forth the continuity-violating notion that Monk had a point in his childhood where he wasn’t a bundle of neuroses. (It contradicts Monk’s repeated statements that he remembers his own birth — a trauma because it was (a) messy and (b) naked.) It let Tony Shalhoub put a new spin on a familiar character, but the spin wasn’t that new.

Psych (USA) — This was the least ridiculous episode of this half-season, but not by much. Gary Cole and Alan Ruck were welcome additions, as always, but I found myself a little irritated by the “Juliet’s dating Gary Cole’s SWAT commander” subplot. My reasoning might be a little wonky, but the “relationship” between Shawn and Juliet is just so inconsistent — most of the time, it’s just goofy flirtation, but it randomly veers toward this idea that maybe Shawn wants more. They isolate these, for the most part, to individual scenes that let James Roday show he’s more than just a goofball, but in the next scene, he’s back to his goofball self and makes no outward sign of his affection for Juliet. I certainly don’t want Psych to turn into a romantic comedy, but the writers have missed several opportunities to have Shawn discuss his feelings with Gus — his best friend, confidante and conscience. As usual, it was a fun episode and worked well as a mini-finale.

Raising the Bar (TNT) — This episode impressed me more than the pilot. After the first week’s exposition, we’re getting into the nitty-gritty of what this show’s really about: the depressing ambiguity of the modern courtroom. Exemplified more by the subplot involving a teenager (Percy Daggs III from Veronica Mars) on trial for beating another student, I like that they’re tackling the notion that just because a person does something wrong for the (theoretical) right reasons…doesn’t mean he didn’t commit a crime. The main plot, in which Kellerman tries to fly in a witness from Guatemala, also underscored the theme. His accusation that Ernhardt is more interested in winning than in truth, while a little on the nose, underscores the similar — but much worse — problem of wrongful convictions. And even that leaves us with questions as to the Guatemalan’s credibility, although the show opted not to get into that. I do look forward to more challenging stories along these lines, though.

Also, good call on breaking up Kellerman and Ernhardt almost immediately. I just hope this doesn’t become an endless back-and-forth. To me, it feels like a mistake of the pilot that they corrected sooner rather than later, so kudos to that.

Sons of Anarchy (FX) — We might as well call this “Pilot Redux,” because this episode seemed to do a combination of course-correction and redevelopment. We got some new storylines — the corrupt police chief and non-corrupt deputy chief, for instance — while some of the more bizarre aspects (beating the hell out of the Korean Elvis impersonator, for instance) went unaddressed. All the corpse craziness in this episode made me wished they played this for pitch-black laughs, a la Breaking Bad, because something about the overarching seriousness in the face of ridiculous circumstances reminds me too much of what I disliked about The Sopranos. Still, I’m in it for the long haul as long as Hunnam, Perlman, Segal and the enormous supporting cast continue to deliver the goods.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox) — The scene with John, Cameron and the two trucks reminded me of exactly why I fell in love with this show last season. Creator Josh Friedman has delivered the most twisted family unit since The Addams Family, and man is he having fun showing us new ways to feel uncomfortable. Ellison’s story seemed a bit adrift last season, but his new…religious experience, for lack of a better phrase, with Cromartie makes me hope he’ll get a subplot worthy of Richard T. Jones’ talents.

On a less enthusiastic note, Shirley Manson has joined the cast as a ruthless exec looking to expand on the Turk technology, recovered by — holy shit, it’s Max Perlich, notable for his brief stint on Homicide: Life on the Street and as Whistler on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer! I’m a lot more enthusiastic about Perlich than Manson; even the world’s biggest Garbage fan (not me) has to acknowledge that she’s not what you’d call a great actress. However, the T-1000 reveal made me ignore any problems I had with her performance…for now.

I have many hopes and questions for the season. Top on my list right now is: why cast ringers like Andre Royo (The Wire) and Sonya Walger (Lost)? Their roles amounted to bit parts, but casting semi-well-known people made me assume there would be more to their characters. Time will tell, I guess.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

September 21, 2008

More Car Chases

The Burn Notice finale, combined with binge-watching The Rockford Files DVD, has made me realize something very, very important about the current television landscape: there is an alarming scarcity of car chases. Here’s the thing: car chases kick ass. They kicked ass in 1974, they kicked ass on the Burn Notice finale that aired this week, and they’ve kicked plenty of ass in between.

Although I want to believe the Los Angeles film community no longer supports weekly filming of TV-series car chases because their traffic is bad enough, I don’t think that’s quite it. I’ve driven around L.A.: if you avoid certain congested intersections and the freeways — which aren’t interesting chased locations, anyway — there’s hardly any traffic. Shut down the streets, Los Angeles. Give us the car chases we both desire and deserve.

Bones (Fox) — All right, let’s take a moment to ignore the ridiculous convenience of Booth and his son finding the finger in the birds’ nest. It’s about the journey, people, not the crappy, crappy setup, and this episode — while imperfect — had quite a lot to love. Michael Badalucco (The Practice, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) did a great job as this week’s lab assistant. Like last week’s appearance of Undeclared’s Carla Gallo, I wanted him to stick around. Unlike Gallo, I don’t think he’ll make another appearance. He definitely made the best of what they gave him, though.

More “Hey! It’s that guy!” fun: of course “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan was around, but this week’s round of suspects included Dean Norris (the DEA brother-in-law on Breaking Bad, who was also on Terminator this week), Adam Rose (Dooley on The CW’s late, lamented Aliens in America) and Devon Graye (um…Teenage Dexter on Dexter). Bones has upped the ante in getting guest stars, which might explain why they have not yet fallen prey to the “cartoonish supervillain” ending that has plagued them (and most other procedurals). Kudos to that.

The dog-fighting component of the story unsettled me a bit — especially the tragic ending, which Emily Deschanel nailed — but one of the most useful aspects of procedurals, from a sociological standpoint, is its exploration of contemporary issues through the prism of a “good guys always win” format. It seems like every other day, a new dog-fighting ring is uncovered, so sometimes it’s nice to turn to a television show that tries to get at the uncomfortable truths while still giving us a good-guy victory.

The subplot involving Sweets, Hodgins and Badalucco finally gives us some closure and some insight into Hodgins’ feelings for the moment. I’ll reluctantly admit that I’m shirking my duty as a critic who commits to memory far too much inane television minutiae, because until they mentioned it, I forgot about the sweet friendship between Hodgins and Zack. I even forgot about “King of the Lab” — what the hell? Bringing it all back, and allowing Hodgins to deal with both that and the stupid collapse of his relationship with Angela, gave us several nice moments between Hodgins and Sweets. Sweets, himself, also had some engaging moments with Parker. He still brings the funny, but they’re allowing him to remain competent, as well. Nice job, Bones writers.

Burn Notice (USA) — I can’t believe they blew up Michael’s loft! I also can’t believe how much ass this finale kicked! I give the writers, cast and crew a shitload of credit for being able to make such a balls-to-the-wall action show with what must be a modest, basic-cable budget. The location shooting in Miami helps, but they’ve done great work choreographing stunt sequences, car chases, explosions (I know the loft thing was CGI or some other kind of special effect, but they’ve had other, real explosions in past episodes). I’m not convinced Tricia Helfer is a spectacular villain — Michael Shanks, playing a crony of hers, was much more entertaining — but her assassination plot, whatever it is, has been a compelling season-long arc, and I look forward to seeing both the conclusion and whatever the writers have planned to top it. January can’t come quickly enough.

Eureka (Sci-Fi) — I sort of like the idea of giving Eureka this detailed history that Eva Thorne wants to exploit (or explore), but something hit me like a ton of bricks during this week’s episode: I don’t care. I don’t care about what she’s looking for, I don’t care about whether or not she finds it, I don’t care about Jack preventing her from finding it, or finding it first, or whatever’s going to happen. This season, Eureka has sapped all the caring from me.

I have to think about why this is and how it happened. A big part of it, I won’t deny, lies in the disastrous decision to turn Stark into little more than a bland romantic foil, prompting Ed Quinn to bail on the show. More importantly, its characters have lost their quirk, or maybe they just haven’t developed new quirks to remain interesting. Eureka garnered some early — and, at the time, deserved — comparisons to Northern Exposure, a classic show about small-town eccentrics. But remember how, even in the fourth or fifth season of Northern Exposure, we were still learning new things about those old characters, or we were watching them grow and change in new, unique ways, discovering new things about themselves on their journeys through life?

Eureka is “just a sci-fi show,” but it’s lost that nuance. Every episode has become so plot-focused, even this week’s mayoral election had more to do with rounding up this week’s group of suspects than it did with tossing the characters into a new environment. Remember Northern Exposure’s mayoral election, in which jailbird anti-establishment philosopher-poet Chris Stevens shows a surprising reverence for the democratic process? In which Holling begins to question himself, his competence and his desire to remain mayor? What did Eureka give us? The closest thing to character development came from Lexi, who is a new character we don’t know anything about. Showing Fargo scheming and Zoey being shrill and irritating? These are not new shades for them.

So the C story of What Thorne Is Up To intrigued me last week, with her curt “No,” in response to Carter demanding information. It was something unexpected, new, different. Now, I’m back to not caring. Unless it turns out to be an even goofier plug for Degree antiperspirant than this week’s “the sun’s melting — let’s use Zane’s magic cooling potion developed in the Degree-sponsored lab!”

Flashpoint (CBS) — This phenomenal episode, well-written by Tracey Forbes (who also wrote the bizarre but compelling teenage girl-game episode a few weeks ago), served as a textbook example of what this show does best — balancing heart-rending criminal portraits with action and the materials of a routine procedural. They did a better job of blending the “cop conflict” with the crime story than they have in several weeks, but the episode belonged to guest stars Tatiana Maslany and Peter Stebbings. Their portrayals lent an uncomfortable reality to the warped “family” unit the SRU stumbled upon. Then, they each went one better as their unit unraveled — Maslany grappling with the confusion of reality crashing in around her, and Stebbings feeling terror and panic as he attempts to flee. That’s not to say the regular cast brings the show down or anything, but Flashpoint has excelled in hiring exceptional guest stars, and none better than this episode. Excellent work all around. It’s so good, I can’t believe it’s on CBS.

Fringe (Fox) — I am very much on the fence, although a mild breeze could knock me onto the lawn of Sucks Ass Estates. Last week’s pilot spent much of its time establishing characters, overarching concepts and a hard-sell relationship between Olivia Dunham and John Scott (better known as Keen Eddie). The “freak-of-the-week” story, about Scott getting some sort of wacky freezing disease, took a major backseat. This is fine, until one realizes all the press has stated this show will be a standalone procedural — not driven by mythology or serialized stories. This worked for the first season of Alias, but here… It’s problematic, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I never say the least, so let’s keep rolling. Fringe has a lot of good elements, but the whole doesn’t match the sum of its parts. Much of this had to do with the plot, a generic rehash of 1960’s The Leech Woman that actually worsened that B-movie cheesefest’s plot. The Leech Woman tells the story of a depressed, middle-aged alcoholic who discovers a revolutionary — but murderous — way to make herself young again. She is driven not so much by vanity but by the psychological toll her abusive marriage has taken (the first line of the movie is her husband saying, “Well, that’s a novelty, your refusing anything with alcohol in it”). Obviously, this is filtered through the sexism and simple-minded reasoning of the era, but there is some real meat to the story, conceptually — ripe for a contemporary updating.

So what does Fringe offer? Some guy who wants to stay young for some reason, and he’s aided by his (possibly figurative) “father,” another mad scientist Walter coincidentally happens to have worked with. For all its good moments — all having to do more with character interaction and development than the failed freak-of-the-week story — this episode epitomized Homer Simpson’s observation that TV stories have no morals, they’re “just a bunch of stuff that happened.” Sometimes that’s true, but even CSI: Miami’s most ridiculous episode (“Double Jeopardy,” season four, episode 18) didn’t leave me with such an empty feeling.

Oh, and Anna Torv still leaves plenty to be desired as the anchor of this sinking ship. However, I really enjoyed the strained father-son dynamic between Walter and Peter. Walter’s walking the fine line between the creepy/odd vibe and just flat-out becoming Futurama’s Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, but for the moment, they’re doing a more interesting job with Abrams’ “daddy issues” storytelling staple than Alias did (as weird as the relationship between Sydney and Jack got).

I’ll give it another week — two if it’s lucky — but this might be the quickest show I’ve ever willingly dropped off my viewing schedule.

Mad Men (AMC) — Although I feel bad for Joan, Mad Men took a surprising misstep in not quite showing us whether or not she had the aptitude for this job. They showed us that she enjoyed it, yes, and that the tongue-wagging Maytag sponsors enjoyed her, but they glossed over whether or not she was really good. I suppose the scene where she busts in on Harry’s suggestions to recommend the upcoming As the World Turns “must-see” summer storyline. Does that show her aptitude? I guess the fact that As the World Turns is still on the air and Love of Life isn’t shows the difference, but it’s not like Love of Life got canceled two weeks later — it last until 1980.

However, the fact that she enjoyed it and understood the function of the job — as opposed to the guy Harry hired, who seemed like a total jackass — made me feel bad. Much as I enjoy the show, they do need to iron out some of their “villainy” characteristics. Maybe the guy Harry hired will blossom into a rich character, but he seems to exist like Joan’s own personal Duck Phillips: a semi-competent boob who exists to make us align with the characters the writers want us to like. The thing is, I’ve never liked Don, Joan or any number of other characters. Fascinated by them? Sure. Like them? Well, the writers have given us enough empathy to forgive plenty of their foibles, but I wouldn’t define any of them as “likable.”

Speaking of unlikable, Don’s in the doghouse. Again. I didn’t expect Betty to confront him about it so quickly. I understand that roughly a month has passed since last week’s episode, but we didn’t get to see it fester, build and boil over. Or, if we were supposed to have seen that in this episode, we didn’t get enough of it. I’m a big fan of Betty, but last season she had an internal struggle that simmered until she took a shotgun to the neighbor’s pigeons. Part of this change made her more assertive, I understand, but I sort of enjoyed her sniping about everything but the real problem. She put the screws to Don too quickly, but I guess that shows some progression on her part. I can’t fault them, even if I can’t enjoy a weekly dose of Passive-Aggression Theatre.

Raising the Bar (TNT) — I know the main goal here was to tackle a variety of issues involving paranoid schizophrenics who commit crimes, but the only thing I really liked was the end: with a not-guilty verdict on one crime and a light sentence on the other, Will gets released without having to do any kind of treatment program (inpatient or out). It’s this kind of bittersweet pseudo-conclusion that will set Raising the Bar apart from other procedurals, but they need to work on the rest of it. I’m writing this section less than 24 hours after I watched the episode, and I had to look up a synopsis to remember the subplot that found Richard trying to work things out with the woman up against the welfare-office security guard. The Will story was more memorable and more fleshed-out, but with the exception of Kellerman, it didn’t have much effect on anyone else in the cast. I know Kellerman is the glue that holds the show together, but I believed it to be an ensemble show — this episode didn’t much to utilize the full cast, and the only instance where that made the episode better was in the reduced screen-time for Melissa Sagemiller.

I’ll go ahead and attribute this to early-episode jitters. Hopefully, the writers will find their groove and do a better job of giving everyone something interesting to do.

Sons of Anarchy (FX) — A massive improvement over last week, giving us a relatively self-contained plot — the story of the raped girl — while furthering the serial subplots, bringing us back to the baby and giving us a bit more depth on “the two women in Jax’s life,” Tara and Wendy.

They also added some dimension to the gang itself: first, that they aren’t all bad (willing to go after the rapist simply because he’s a blight on Charming); second, that they’re looked to for justice before the police. This continues to build the idea that we’re headed for a “bikers vs. sheriff’s department” showdown, but it also shows that the Sons of Anarchy have more going on than gun-running and drug-dealing. It also strongly hints at what the gang was in its early days — before it got corrupted in the usual ways “organized crime” does.

The episode did have a down side, though: how could a biker vs. carny brawl possibly be bad? Here are a few ways: awkward, stilted editing and poor blocking that makes it look more like homoerotic square-dancing than a bad-ass fight. If they’re going to continue to have fight scenes — especially big-group fight scenes — they need to hire a choreographer or find a director who can inject some cleverness into the staging.

Supernatural (The CW) — Supernatural proves, once again, why it is much better than most television-watchers think. This is one of the better premieres in recent memory, ably reestablishing characters and conflicts, solving mysteries, creating a new long-term arc, but containing all of that in the traditional freak-of-the-week formula. You might recall my biggest fear — keeping Sam and Dean separated for too long — was allayed within the first 10 minutes of the episode, so let’s hope they keep them together rather than finding ways to keep them apart. I also have to admit, it surprised me how much the “Angel of the Lord” reveal satisfied me. I love the idea of Dean (Sam, too, but mostly Dean) fighting for God. It can — and almost certainly will — bring fascinating shades to the characters and the Supernatural universe in general.

I’m a little disappointed that they decided to keep the character of Ruby but place her in a different body. I don’t know if Katie Cassidy quit or if they canned her, but if it’s the latter, it seems like salt in the wound to first fire her, then have her character killed in a rather grisly fashion, then have her pop up in a different actress’s body.

It’s a small complaint, though. Mostly, I’m amazed by how thrilled I am to have this show back — and the strength of this premiere has a lot to do with that excitement.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox) — Why can’t more shows be like this? I don’t have to keep beating dead horses with Sarah Connor Chronicles. Last week, I made an offhand mention of casting Sonya Walger in a role that amounted to little more than a cameo. This week, she’s back and integrated into a new Ellison storyline. That’s right: Ellison’s actually contributing something more than vague creepiness, which addresses another brief complaint from last week. And, of course, Shirley Manson had approximately four seconds of screen time, so all three of last week’s nitpicks have been addressed and corrected.

On to new developments: I was surprised to see Zack Ward in such a tiny role. He’s coming right off the “success” of over-the-top goof-fest Postal, but audiences know him better as Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story and Dave on Titus. Like the mysterious casting of Andre Royo last season, I have to wonder if there’s an overarching plan to cast high-quality actors in more future-set storylines. They’re dropping like flies in the present, but Derek’s flashback/forward suggests more is going on with the future than meets the eye.

The idea of Sarah and Cameron infiltrating the power plant works on paper, showing that the stakes will get higher the more Sarah/John/Cameron/Derek succeed in fighting Judgment Day. The execution faltered a bit, though. For all my praise last season of getting the technical science with the Turk and Deep Fritz right — well, I’m not a nuclear technician, but meltdowns are harder to avert on The Simpsons than they were in this episode. Maybe I should give them the benefit of the doubt, but it just seems implausible that closing a valve will save everyone.

Meanwhile, John got a girlfriend, and I felt a tinge of jealousy from Cameron. It’ll be interesting to see how this new addition (I noticed she’s a regular, out of the blue) will shake up the dynamic. Or maybe she’s secretly evil. With this show, it’s kinda hard to tell. On a related note, seeing the incredibly pregnant Busy Philipps as the Connors’ new landlord got me a little excited. I don’t know if she’ll appear in more episodes or not, but she’s still hilarious, so the more, the merrier.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

September 5, 2008

Asian Street Hookers #46

I felt a strange sense of déjà vu after watching Asian Street Hookers #46. Its disastrous attempts to undermine and demean Asian culture reminded me of Screwing Asia, while its rock-bottom production values and sloppy direction made Fresh Outta High School 9 look like 2005’s Pirates.

Here’s how lazy the Asian Street Hookers series has become: they’ve all but abandoned the “hooker” pretense, referencing it only twice (in five scenes). We’re left with the implication that, while all the featured women, only two are opportunistic tramps, which is very different from being a “hooker.” For example: if they got all skanked up and walked up and down Melrose until a half-drunk embarrassment going through a hard divorce pulled up in his tan Volvo station wagon and slurred, “Wanna party?” — that’s a hooker. If they’re casually walking home from work, a guy stops them and starts rubbing their genitals and they say, “Wait a sec — that’ll cost you” — that’s the free market at work. These women aren’t hookers. Or maybe they are, appearing in tripe like this.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Sexual Velvet, Reviews

September 19, 2008

Edward Penishands

I’d like to start this review with a brief history to put this important work into its proper context. For those who do not remember, by the late ’80s the U.S.’s post-feminist malaise caused a shift in relationship dynamics. A sort of unusual emasculation of the male gender occurred, trying to reconcile the sudden, male-like aggression of the opposite sex by embracing the softer so-called “feminine side” within themselves. This spawned an archetype designated at the time as “Sensitive Ponytail Man” or “Sensitive Man of the ’90s,” currently referred to by the less cumbersome “Pussy.” This type of person went into films like Wall Street and Point Break as affirmations of their machismo and intellectual superiority, but they invariably shed a few tears before the closing credits, often waiting long after the theatre emptied out, so they could wipe their tears and let the redness fade from their cheeks before leaving the dark theatrical womb.

Of course, such a drastic change in the male psyche also dictated a change in their adult entertainment. Watching the erotica from 1985 to 1995, you’ll see a radical shift in the type of sexual endeavors portrayed — gone is the “woo ‘em, bang ‘em, leave ‘em” attitude, replaced by a gentler emphasis on foreplay. Manual stimulation and cunnilingus became rote aspects of each sex act, rather than the “classic” model of stripping down for intromission.

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September 12, 2008

Hookers and Blow

Addiction. Man’s most dangerous of foes. No other force can alter a man’s psychology and physiology so rapidly, so completely. It can render the most virile of men impotent; it can hurtle the weak among us to the precipice of death. Addiction is a force that can be stopped, with great effort and expense (both financially and spiritual), but it can never be destroyed. It always remains, in the hidden recesses of the mind, waiting for a moment of weakness to pounce and destroy again.

Brandon Iron’s tour de force Hookers and Blow explores this disease with a jarring mixture of harrowing drama and gentle humor. In casting this film, auteur Iron trusts friend and longtime co-star Joe Blow to carry the brunt of the emotional heavy lifting. Iron himself co-stars, and the two actors — ostensibly playing themselves, lending additional verisimilitude to the gritty, realistic world Iron creates — drift down a tragic path. Contrary to what you might expect from the title and DVD box cover, this is a tale of sex addiction — Iron brilliantly uses “blow” as a pun, alluding to both Blow’s name and the film’s harrowing final scene but not cocaine.

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September 26, 2008

Fuck My Mom and Me 5

I confess I had some reservations about reviewing this, the fifth in a series, when I hadn’t seen any of the previous entries. Would I be lost in the drama, or did these movies work as standalone features? I found out rather quickly that the Fuck My Mom and Me series is an anthology of shorts with little connection to one another outside the premise and the unending presence of producer/director Stoney Curtis, the semi-mythical “man behind the curtain” who interviews the female subjects before and after their love-making sessions. There is no story to speak of, so I had no problem plunging in to the depths of depravity contained in Fuck My Mom and Me 5.

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Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Sexual Velvet, Reviews

September 28, 2008

Stan McKagan Proposes a Ban on the Industry’s Midwinter of Cocks

CANOGA PARK, CA — All right, everyone. We’re going to go around the room, and I want to see an honest show of hands from the men in the audience: who thinks double-penetration is erotic? I didn’t think so. So why is it that the adult industry, over the past few years, has forced DP down our throats like so many tumescent cocks? What began as a strange fetish secreted in the darkest corner of the adult industry has become nigh unavoidable.

Let’s look at the facts. The only thing gayer than an MMF threesome is actual gay porn. An MF duo with anal might seem a little bit gay, and while I admit I don’t much enjoy anal myself, not even I can deny that some men simply prefer it, and it has less to do with latent homosexual impulses than with alarming fetishistic inclinations often brought upon by childhood traumas — men use it to announce sexual power, not to express their craving of throbbing man-wood. But let’s think about the recipe for gay porn: (1) anal sex, (2) two penises. So, whether a woman is present or not, double-penetrative MMF threesomes fit the bill.

With the millions of men in the United States with deeply repressed homosexual tendencies, often manifesting as a hate or fear of “the gays,” wouldn’t you think DP is actually contributing to the financial losses plaguing the adult industry? If I hated or feared homosexuality, the last thing I’d want to look at is two men engaged in something tantamount to a cock swordfight. Whether or not a woman’s vagina is present on the screen, the image of two engorged rods duking it out for superiority would scar my homophobic brain forever, and I’d engage in a quest to seek out only couple scenes or, at worst, MFF threesomes. No orgies, no fellatio parades — just one penis per scene, preferably seen only in the presence of a female mouth or vagina.

As somebody who is not personally offended by DP, I confess I still don’t enjoy watching it. It’s just too busy and impersonal, watching two men grope and groan as they struggle to work themselves into comfortable positions without their scrotal sacs accidentally touching, desperately trying to avoid eye contact or anything else that would create the impression of homosexuality. That level of awkwardness and emotional distance is neither erotic nor arousing. From the ground up, DP is a complete disaster.

Where did this industry-wide lust for DP come from? The audience certainly doesn’t clamor for it. Producers have dulled the cinematic landscape into what can only be described as a midwinter of cocks. The aching cold of this penis-filled world has numbed them to the fact that DP is not what their audience wants. We’re eagerly awaiting a spring thaw. I seem to be the only adult reviewer willing to say it, but believe me, producers, your audience agrees with me. Eliminate DP! Give us a springtime of pussies!


Stan McKagan
Sexual Velvet

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:00 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Sexual Velvet, Reviews

September 3, 2008


Author: Skip Woods
Genre: Action/Sci-Fi
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 3

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A retired criminal, forced into pulling off a diamond heist, uses a mind-switching technology to find a kidnapped girl, get revenge, and unravel a corporate conspiracy.


At a grungy, urban diner, CRAY sits across from EVIL DUDE. Under the table, each holds a gun on the other. They have a discussion about belief in God. In voiceover, Cray contemplates how he got here.

At the lobby bar of the Daku Hotel, Cray gets a drink and pretends to flirt with HOTTIE. A man named DUTCH hovers near an elevator. When middle-aged Japanese businessman TANAKA — who has a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist — emerges from the elevator, Cray calls on his cell phone to activate a bomb in Tanaka’s SUV. As everyone in Cray’s crew places “demon Oni masks” over their faces and preps for the explosion, six-year-old LILY, Tanaka’s granddaughter, steps out of the elevator. Cray tries to abort, but before anybody can react, the SUV explodes.

Back in the diner, Evil Dude tells Cray about a Japanese fable. As he rambles about it, the fable is visualized using a combination of modern and ancient images. A dragon is pretending to be a little girl’s grandfather, but she realizes this because of a keen intellect provided by following the seven laws of Bushido. Evil Dude asks if Cray is familiar with the seven laws. With a white flash, an animated sequence displays the first law: LOYALTY.

At a suburban house, Cray mows his lawn. He is promptly beaten up by TIX, a “big, ripped black dude wearing a sundress,” and Dutch, a gargantuan pedophile recently released from prison. They say he owes money to someone called “The Wizard,” and as they beat him down, a mysterious Prius containing two hidden occupants sits beside the street. As Cray lay, bloody and beaten, a pink-haired Japanese woman (SOFI) appears in front of him.

At a nightclub he owns, Cray talks on the phone to “The Wizard.” He proposes a solution to the financial problem. Cray goes to meet Tix and Hottie at a different nightclub, where they take him back to an atrium where “The Wizard” stands on a scissor-lift, feeding giraffes. They explain pleasantries, and THE WIZARD descends, revealing himself to be a dwarf. In the Wizard’s office, with Dutch and a photo-snapping SKATER PUNK in attendance, Cray describes his plan. Tanaka, it seems, has created a process that will manufacture fake diamonds indistinguishable from the real thing. He’ll be in the U.S. for one night only, with the diamonds in tow, and Cray and this group will hit him and his men at the Daku Hotel.

Cray meets Sofi at a bar, where it’s revealed that she is a heroin addict going through withdrawals.

At the Daku Hotel heist, after the SUV explosion, Dutch goes crazy and starts shooting at everyone and everything, turning the place into a war zone. While everyone’s engaged in gunplay, Dutch cuts off Tanaka’s hand to get the briefcase handcuffed to it. Just before he can kill Lily, Cray scoops her up and shoots Dutch, casuing him to drop the briefcase of diamonds. Lily stabs Cray with a plastic bracelet and gets away from him. As the cops approach, Cray has to get out of there. He meets up with Sofi at a motel and gives her the bad news: they have Lily. She cleans up her cuts and they take a shower together.

Cray confronts The Wizard and his crew at an upscale French restaurant. The Wizard is angry about the lack of diamonds. Cray is angry about Lily. HOTTIE #2, a plastic-surgeried clone of Hottie, introduces herself and plays a DVD on which Cray’s face is superimposed over Dutch’s during the Daku Hotel massacre. The Wizard says he’ll release it to the police if he doesn’t get the diamonds. Evil Dude joins the party, bring The Wizard a cell phone on which Tanaka threatens The Wizard, giving him 24 hours to return his “property” and the little girl.

Cray, Tix, and Dutch go to the motel where Sofi’s staying. Cray ambushes them, shoots Tix dead, wounds Dutch. Fade to another animated Bushido title: HONOR.

Sofi, we discover, was recently a Nobel-worthy scientist lecturing at the University of Tokyo. She meets with a hired mercenary called USAGI, who agrees to take on an unknown assignment. After her lecture, she dyes her hair pink and gets packed for an unknown trip. Usagi goes to speak with Lily, who turns out to be Sofi’s daughter. He tells her they’re going to America, but before they have a chance to really bond, Tanaka, Evil Dude, and some thugs burst into Sofi’s apartment. Usagi tries to fight, but he ends up getting mortally shot as Tanaka and Evil Dude grab Lily and disappear.

Sitting in the Prius, Sofi watches Cray get beat up on the lawn of his suburban house. After they leave, she helps Cray and takes him back to her motel room. She offers him $1 million, presumably to do the heist at the Daku Hotel and get Lily back.

Post-motel-ambush, Cray joins Sofi with Dutch’s wounded body. She explains that she has been working on a new technology for her father — a kind of mind-swapping technology that she can use to implant Cray’s mind into Dutch and vice-versa. With Cray’s mind now in Dutch’s body, he infiltrates The Wizard’s operation. He tries to encourage The Wizard to do an exchange with “Cray”: the diamonds for the girl. The Wizard admits he doesn’t have the girl and tells Cray to go see BINGUM and JONESY, two crooked cops, and show him their doctored video to get a favor.

Bingum and Jonesy have an operation to lace heroin in Blow-Pops to ensure children will be addicted by the time they reach high school. This offends Dutch so much, he ends up killing them both. Forced to alter their plan because of Evil Dude’s time limit, Dutch and Hottie go to see Evil Dude. Dutch asks for an extension, and Evil Dude agrees and gives them a mysterious package to deliver to The Wizard. On their way back to The Wizard, Dutch asks Hottie to stop so he can use the restroom. He takes a very long time, so Hottie goes after him. He ambushes her, they fight, and Dutch takes her back to Sofi to use the mind-swapping technology on Hottie, because she has mortally wounded Dutch’s body.

Now in the body of Hottie, Cray takes the package to The Wizard. It’s a laptop that, when turned on, displays an exact duplicate of The Wizard’s office, including The Wizard. When the real Wizard talks to it, the laptop version talks back. According to the second Wizard, The Wizard does have Lily, and Tanaka wants her back. Just then, Hottie #2 calls to inform The Wizard that Carl, the Skater Punk seen earlier, has Lily. He demands payment for her, so The Wizard says to kill him. Hottie disappears to find Hottie #2. When he does, they have a lesbian tryst, then Hottie #2 pulls a gun on him because Hottie “eats pussy like a dude.” Hottie kills her, then invites Sofi over to see Lily.

Sofi goes to a large corporation and demands that a receptionist send a company-wide e-mail. On the roof, a mysterious corporate MAN meets Hottie. Hottie proposes a trade — $20 million in exchange for all of Tanaka’s corporate secrets. The Man is aloof, but he agrees. Meanwhile, “Cray” shows up to offer another deal to The Wizard.

When Hottie and Sofi meet back at the motel, she’s surprised to find that Cray’s body, the research, and everything else in her possession is gone. Hottie tells Sofi to go back to the loft to be with Lily. Hottie spies on The Wizard and sees “Cray” dealing with The Wizard. She sneaks into The Wizard’s office and steals “Cray“‘s keys. They match a Ferrari, inside of which Hottie finds the body of Evil Dude — he’s the one who’s now in Cray.

Hottie meets up with Sofi again and discovers Tanaka’s mind is in Lily’s body. Another title: COURAGE. Cray’s brain is now in Evil Dude’s body. He tells Sofi to get out of there because Cray knows where they are. Evil Dude calls up Cray, who is dismayed to find Cray now occupies his body. But he’s okay with it because he has Sofi, and if Evil Dude wants to see Sofi alive again, he’ll switch bodies back. Evil Dude wants to meet up, he says, or else he’ll kill Tanaka-in-Lily. Cray doesn’t believe he’d do that, but to prove he’s serious about Sofi, Cray rapes her, shoots her in the head, and sends Evil Dude the photos. Enraged and horrified, Evil Dude tells Cray he just lost his only bargaining chip.

Evil Dude discovers Lily’s mind in the body of a random henchman, but he traps Tanaka’s mind inside the computer. In the time this has taken, Cray has shown up at Evil Dude’s penthouse and opens fire on them. Evil Dude runs away. Later on, he calls up Cray and proposes yet another trade. With no leverage other than their respective lack of bodies, he merely wants to trade back. A final title: JUSTICE.

Fully brought up to speed, we’re back at the diner, with Evil Dude and Cray holding the guns on each other, at a stalemate. A MAN shows up, and Evil Dude hands over the computer containing the mind-swap technology and Tanaka’s mind. As the Man returns to his limo, Evil Dude explains to Cray that the woman he raped and killed wasn’t Sofi — her mind had been transferred to Hottie, who waits in the limo for the Man. Evil Dude also points out, in voiceover as flashbacks reveal the truth of his statement, that Cray — is not his body. He has been Usagi all along, so he does not mind blowing Cray’s body away. The real Cray was actually swapped with a Japanese minion and has retired on a beach.

After this, The Wizard gives Evil Dude $1 million for killing Cray. He goes back to Sofi, and they can happily retire with the money.


I’d give this one a pass. The opening sequence creates the illusion that this will be some sort of mix of Fight Club, The Matrix, and any given Yakuza action movie. Although it retains its early veneer of pseudo-philosophical voiceovers and fetishizing Japanese culture, Hyperreal settles into a formulaic shoot-‘em-up before turning into an incoherent disaster. It distinguishes itself only through the mind-switching device, but even this lets the writer down.

Trying so hard to keep the secrets of whose mind occupies whose body forces nearly every character to assume a generic role. This doesn’t matter so much with The Wizard’s bland henchmen, but Cray and Sofi have the same problem. He reveals certain facets of these characters, but what do they amount to? Cray’s master-criminal past is much more significant to the story at hand than the fact that he appeared on a reality show and owns a failing nightclub, yet we learn more about these two details than we ever do about Cray’s criminal background. Similarly, Sofi has a heroin addiction that has no bearing on her character or the plot and is all but forgotten by the third act. Providing additional character details like these is fine, but not when he skimps on details that are necessary to make us understand the characters’ actions in the story.

This is not aided by the fact that many of the actions are contradictory, and not solely because sometimes these characters aren’t who they say they are. In retrospect, the whole point of Usagi/Cray hitting Tanaka at the hotel is to get back Lily — yet he acts surprised when she shows up and it seems to wreck his entire plan. If this was supposed to be a “steal the diamonds to use as leverage to get Lily back” plan, that’s never made clear. Late in the script, we’re led to believe it was always about grabbing Lily, so why the surprise? As the story folds in on itself, inconsistencies and contradictions like this appear in abundance, and very few of them are addressed before the story ends.

The mind-switching muddles the overall story much more than it needs to, up to the point of the big Shyamalan-style “It was Usagi all along” twist — somehow he manages the feat of both telegraphing it and masking it so much that some things, like Cray’s pretentious voiceovers in the diner, make no sense. (If it was Usagi all along, shouldn’t Usagi deliver the voiceovers? It would blow the surprise, but it doesn’t make sense any other way.) The writer doesn’t establish a firm set of “rules” for this technology (for instance, the eleventh-hour “trap Tanaka in a computer” decision comes out of nowhere) and relies far too often on red-herring characters for the mind-switching (e.g., Lily’s mind is coincidentally in the body of a henchman we’ve never seen before). Similarly, the nonlinear structure really hurts the story, rather than enhancing it. Each flashback feels like a “gotcha!” cheat instead of startling revelation, and it — combined with the lack of logic with the mind-switching — turns the convoluted gangster story into an incoherent mess.

The writer tries very, very hard to focus the appeal of the screenplay on Westerners obsessed with mindless action and/or Japanese culture. It may appeal to them, but he panders so hard that it might end up alienating them instead. Even if he does, it seems like a relatively niche market, and it doesn’t seem like the type of action movie that would appeal to a broader base.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:43 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

September 24, 2008

The Spy Next Door

Author: Joe Ballarini
Genre: Comedy/Spy Thriller
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




A bored accountant gets some excitement in his life when an international spy moves in next door.


Somewhere in the Arctic, an ESKIMO FAMILY travels on a dog sled over a frozen lake. A beam from a satellite shoots down, immediately thawing the ice, leaving the family stranded on a tiny iceberg. MR. RANDOM, a devious Austrian scientist, watches as his test succeeds. Outside his secret base in the Amazon rain forest, six black-cloaked figures rappel down the side of the building. The leader of this gang is IAN STERLING, suave, James Bond-esque spy. His entire team gets killed in the process, but Sterling manages to get inside Random’s command center, steal a hard drive, and get out. He meets the beautiful MOIRA in a fishing boat outside, and they escape.

In Rockwell, a suburb, ROY BANNER practices assertiveness in a mirror. His wife, ELLIE, reminds him to do the grocery shopping for her, then pulls him into the shower. In the kitchen, their 12-year-old son, JAKE, and six-year-old daughter, PHOEBE, fight over her MR. CHOW doll (a talking panda bear). Roy tries to convince the family to go on a dangerous vacation to Machupichu, but nobody can muster much enthusiasm. In front of the house, as Roy tries to get the kids in the car, he notices movers in the house next door. When he has his back turned, somebody parachutes into the chimney of the house.

On the way to school and work, Roy turns on a motivational-speaker CD. He notices a PAPERGIRL skipping his house for the third time and chases her. A speeding minivan on the wrong side of the road nearly hits them and, instead, crashes into a “Welcome to Rockwell” sign. Roy pulls over and, enraged, goes over to the minivan. Moira is driving the car, and Ian is in the passenger seat. In the back is WOLFGANG, their 10-year-old “son,” and SPOT, his beagle. Intimidated by Ian, Roy backs off.

At work, JERRY MAGUFFIN sympathizes and tries to help Roy out of his rut by inviting him to the Yaks Club. Driving home, Roy is still listening to the motivational CD. OLD MR. FRANKLIN, the local conspiracy nut, stops him to tell him about intercepting transmissions from something calling itself “The Organization,” which he thinks is Mafia-related. Roy feigns interest. When he gets home, he’s surprised by Ellie inviting Ian, Moira, and Wolfgang to dinner. He and Ellie get into an argument about it, but Roy loses. Roy notices that Ian has a gun and Moira seems a little too efficient with her Ginsu knives. Ellie doesn’t believe him.

The next day at work, Roy tells Jerry he did some snooping on the Sterlings and discovered they’ve never filed income taxes, despite claiming to have lived in the U.S. for 15 years. Later, Roy notices Ian’s minivan creeping around. Roy and Ian make harsh eye contact.

At a barbecue hosted by the Sterlings, we meet PAM MAGUFFIN, Jerry’s tough-cookie real-estate-agent wife. Ian and Moira charm everyone in the neighborhood — except Roy. Roy offers to help them with their taxes and asks Ian a series of trick questions, which he can’t answer. Wolfgang offers to sell HOUSEWIVES pink flamingoes so he can go to a sports camp for kids with asthma.

That night, every lawn has a pink flamingo. Roy’s awakened by noise from next door. He sees Ian walking Spot. He follows Ian, notices him digging through some neighbors’ trash cans. Then, he notices Spot staring at him. Spot begins to whir, then fire spews from his backside like a jet, heading for Roy. Roy runs away, goes back home, and gets back in bed. Ian’s there. He incapacitates Roy, then takes him back to his house. He explains everything: they’re not a real family, Spot’s not a real dog. They’re spies, with a bunch of gadgets and skills. Wolfgang is genetically engineered to be super-intelligent and is actually Ian and Moira’s boss. Roy groans at their antics and tells them they need to do a much better job of fitting in. The comment annoys Ian but inspires Wolfgang, who decides to pair them up — after all, who would be better suited to help them fit in? Neither Roy nor Ian is enthusiastic about this, but Moira sticks Roy with an “i-Ball” monitor that sees everything Roy sees, so he’s stuck doing their bidding.

The next morning, Ellie reminds Roy to go to Jake’s orthodontist appointment. Roy and Ellie attempt shower sex again, but in the middle of it, Roy remembers the camera and freaks out, confusing Ellie. Later, at work, Roy is wired on coffee and getting very paranoid. He tries to tell Jerry about Ian and to call the FBI, but Jerry doesn’t understand. He gets a note from Ian to meet him in the park. Roy goes, and he’s attacked by a character named MR. STITCH, who has a distinctive antler-shaped tattoo on his wrist. Ian rescues Roy. Afterward, Ian explains their entire motivation to Roy — Stitch was part of “The Organization,” which Ian, Moira, and Wolfgang are trying to infiltrate. They have a secret satellite command somewhere in Rockwell. Ian encourages Roy to talk to Old Mr. Franklin, because the paranoid information he digs up may help them find where this satellite is hidden.

When they go to visit Old Mr. Franklin, they find him dead. Roy knows where Old Mr. Franklin hid his information — behind his glass eye. He finds some microfilm, which Ian analyzes and turns up a code name — FF #88. Nobody knows what this code refers to. Roy realizes he’s missed Jake’s orthodontist appointment and is concerned about missing so much work; the latter is no problem, because Ian has installed a hologram to make it look like he’s sitting as his cubicle. Roy and Ian get into an argument about his family. Ian thinks he needs a clear head, but Roy cares about his family. In full view of Moira and Wolfgang (watching through the i-Ball monitor), he shouts, “I don’t have a family.” It stings his partners.

On his way home, Roy is chased by two FBI agents, BOB and DAVE. He knows the lay of the land better than they do, so he’s able to sneak back home. It only makes him more paranoid, though. Roy tries to confess everything to Ellie, but she doesn’t believe a word of it, assuming he’s making up excuses for missing Jake’s orthodontist appointment. Roy discovers that Phoebe’s Mr. Chow doll is somehow evil, part of “The Organization,” and that’s how “they” found him. The family just thinks he’s more deranged, but the doll keeps spouting evil phrases. Roy drives away in the station wagon, and he notices the back of Phoebe’s soccer jersey — FF #05.

He goes to Ian’s and tells him of the discovery, and they go to the soccer field. They send Wolfgang, who theoretically should blend in, but he’s an adult trapped in a child’s body. The girl in jersey #88 doesn’t want anything to do with him, so Roy comes up and introduces himself as Phoebe’s father. #88 tells him she’s benched because she’s no good, but the coach said she could play if she delivered a Pokémon lunchbox to a certain address. The coach approaches — and it’s Mr. Random, faking a Midwestern twang. Roy has an opportunity to take him out, but he doesn’t. Mr. Random doesn’t know Roy knows where and when #88 is delivering the box.

The spies go back to the Sterling house and prepare. Roy is frustrated because they won’t give him any decent weaponry. Meanwhile, Ian and Moira get all decked out in fancy clothes, which amuses Roy, because the meeting place is a Howard Johnson’s. Roy and Ian sneak through the air-conditioning vents and spot Mr. Random, not #88, waiting in the lobby. While they wait for Moira and Wolfgang to come up with their next move, Roy asks Ian why he does this job and suggests that maybe he’s “slipping” because he has nothing to fight for — like Roy is fighting for his family’s safety. Ian agrees and gives Roy a small gun.

They return to their hotel room to regroup, and Moira watches Ricki Lake on TV. Ricki begins holding up signs directed at Roy, which nobody but him seems to notice. They tell him to go to the lobby men’s room, so he does. Jerry’s in there, and he claims he’s working for the FBI. He tells Roy that the Sterlings are actually part of “The Organization” who are planning to kill him as soon as he leads them to the satellite. Jerry takes Roy to a helicopter he has on the roof, and they fly back to Jerry’s house. During the flight, Roy notices an antler-shaped tattoo on the back of Jerry’s neck.

At Jerry’s house, Roy aims the gun at Jerry, saying he knows he isn’t part of the FBI. Jerry knows Roy won’t shoot, but before Roy even gets the chance, a secret panel opens and out walk Mr. Stitch, Mr. Random, and Mr. Chow. Roy says he’s going to use the satellite’s ‘Oblivion’ technology to incinerate Rockwell on the Fourth of July. Then he will threaten to set it on the polar ice caps, putting a sizeable chunk of the population underwater. Turns out, the Rockwell thing was Pam’s idea — she’s another ring-leader. They tie Roy to a chair so they can figure out what to do with him.

It also turns out that the pink flamingoes are robotic, so Wolfgang sends them into Jerry’s house to attack. With them distracted, Roy uses some rocket boots to launch himself through a skylight. Pam blows up Spot with an explosive Jell-O mold. Bob and Dave, the FBI agents, pull Roy into an anonymous white van and try to get him to work for the FBI. Roy doesn’t trust them and bails. He reunites with Ian, who shoots Mr. Chow. Meanwhile, Jake has escaped from Grandma’s house. Pam grabs him and stuffs him into the Maguffin Winnebago. Roy is horrified and enraged. While Wolfgang and Moira take out guests at the Maguffin’s Tupperware party, Roy discovers that the Maguffins also have Ellie and Phoebe — and that the Winnebago is actually a tunnel-excavator. It burrows into the ground.

In the middle of the night, the Sterlings and Roy try to regroup. It occurs to Roy that the antlers signified the Yaks Club — that’s where they’re hiding out. Roy is afraid that Jerry will do something to the family, but Ian makes him realize this is a risk he needs to take. Wolfgang decks Roy out in his very own spy suit.

The group storms the Yaks Club, taking out guards, infiltrating the secret underground lair beneath the not-so-secret clubhouse. While Roy rushes off to rescue his family, the Sterlings work together to keep Jerry and Pam from shooting the ‘Oblivion’ ray. Although they are able to nab Pam, Jerry gets away — and he grabs Roy, shoves him into the helicotper, and takes off. The Sterlings also can’t stop the death ray. So now, they have to both outrun the ray and stop Jerry. They narrowly manage to do both, and Bob and Dave offer Roy a full-time job with the FBI. Roy declines — he’s the Tax Man.


Some things about this screenplay work pretty well. It moves along at a breezy clip, packing a ridiculous amount of (largely unnecessary) information and plot twists into 112 pages. The dialogue, while often problematic, is generally amusing. The very concept of a Bond-esque spy moving into a suburban neighborhood is funny, and although the plot is far too convoluted, it has its share of solid moments. It could transform into a very good, commercially appealing script, but it’s not there yet.

Here’s where it goes wrong: the big first-act twist sets up this new idea that Ian Sterling has done such a poor job of fitting in that he needs Roy to coach him. This is a funny take on the tried-and-true fish-out-of-water concept that the writer does not exploit at all. As soon as this twist is introduced, it’s forgotten, instead plunging Roy into the wild world of espionage, which isn’t nearly as funny and has been done before (and better). From that point on, it becomes much too plot-oriented. Occasional attempts at showing the characters are growing and changing are awkwardly shoehorned in, but it’s mostly just a dizzying torrent of expository dialogue, explaining and reexplaining the plot and the kinks that have popped up. Slowing down and simplifying the plot, and spending more of the second act really digging into this idea of a suave British playboy spy failing to conform to suburbia, would improve the story quite a bit. The fundamentals are there, with Roy trying to learn from Ian and vice-versa, but it’s an afterthought.

Similarly, Roy’s strained relationship with his wife and son (daughter Phoebe is ignored until Mr. Chow becomes a plot point), and his existential crisis about his station in life, could all serve to make him a much more compelling character with much more interesting conflicts. He’s a man who lives to serve his family, but he still wants more. Then he wets his beak with “more” and realizes it’s not for him. His conflicts with Ellie and Jake are fairly generic and do very little to get at the subtext of Roy’s problem. On some level, it seems like he should be a bit resentful of his family, and his major arc is realizing, when they’re endangered, how truly important they are and how much he’d sacrifice for them. Again, the fundamentals are there, but the writer does almost nothing with these shades to the Banner family.

The humor could also use a bit of punching up. The satire isn’t as sharp as it could be, concentrating mostly on references that were dated and/or overused in 2002 (Howard Johnson’s, Tupperware parties), the year this draft is dated. Some of the other pop-culture references were contemporary for 2002 but have since passed out of the zeitgeist (Pokémon, The Ricki Lake Show). However, with a solid rewrite (maybe two), The Spy Next Door could be a really entertaining action-comedy.

Since the James Bond franchise made a huge comeback (in box-office and quality) with Casino Royale, the market may be poised for a spoof. This would appeal to both fans of comedy and fans of action, since it does a reasonably good job of blending the two. Since the story also has a family element to it and doesn’t involve anything terribly risqué, it may be big with family audiences

Posted by D. B. Bates at 9:15 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

War of the Gods (a.k.a., Immortals)

Author: Charley Parlapanides & Vlas Parlapanides
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 4
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 4

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An ancient Greek peasant seeks revenge against the demonic forces that killed his mother.


In 1900 B.C., THESEUS, age 16, and his mother, SOPHIA, argue over who will eat their dwindling supply of olive paste. They’re interrupted by a blood-curdling scream. Investigating, Theseus discovers HOPLITE WARRIORS in his village, in pursuit of a demon. Theseus wanders to see if he can trap the demon himself, but instead he discovers an OLD MAN has fallen into one of his mother’s animal traps. While Sophia stitches the Old Man back up, KING PETROS leads his warriors in the countryside surrounding the village. The Old Man tells Theseus he can forge the young man a weapon if they feed and clothe him until he has recovered. Theseus and Sophia agree to this.

Going to the village fountain to fill a bucket with water, Theseus stumbles across one of the demon’s victims — and then the demon itself. It attacks Theseus, but King Petros fights it off before it can do any real damage. The demon runs away, and they find a bloodied and bruised man in his place. In the village square, they perform a “fire test” to reveal the man’s true nature — he is a demon. Sophia, a “whore” and the mother of a “bastard son,” is accused of bringing the demons to their village. Petros intervenes.

Back in their hovel, the Old Man asks about the demon execution. Theseus asks how such a thing can exist within a man, and the Old Man tells a very long story about the gods, explaining that there are the gods — symbols of good — and the Titans, essentially their evil twins. Similarly, humans symbolize good, while demons represent the mirror of evil. The forces of evil are increasing because of the power of evil. Meanwhile, King Petros assembles an army of his Hoplites and villagers to go up against the demons that are attacking.

Sophia tells Theseus that his father is a very important person, but she won’t say who, telling him instead that she will let Theseus know when he is able to fight his own battles. Encouraged to fight, Theseus tries to enlist. Petros sends him away, saying he’s too young. Meanwhile, a DEMON LORD searches for the bow of Cryptos. The Old Man shapeshifts into ZEUS, king of the gods, and returns to Mt. Olympus, where he argues with ARIES (god of war) about intervening with humans. Zeus return to the village in his Old Man form and agrees to train Theseus to be a warrior.

Several years later, Theseus has the skills of a warrior but remains in his village. The Demon Lord leads an attack on the village. It kills Sophia but not before she can give Theseus a cryptic message about who his real father is. Enraged, Theseus single-handedly fights back the demon attack. The Demon Lord notices him and tries to fight him alone. Theseus is wounded and unable to continue fighting. He is enslaved by the demons and taken to a slave ship, where he sees the beautiful DESPINA, another slave. He also witnesses the slave STELLIOS stealing a key for his shackles. Theseus confronts Stellios about this, arguing that it will cause trouble before he gets the chance to escape. He’s right — the demon guard kills one of the other slaves and intends to kill everyone else until he finds the key. Stellios steps forward and says the key was stolen by the slave the demon killed. He tricks the demon into believing this is true.

MEGALLOS, Stellios’s mute friend, signs to Theseus that the demons have enslaved humans to aid in the search of the bow of Cryptos. A new prisoner, HERON, tells them how far south into Greece the demons have gotten. Angered, Theseus convinces them to escape with him. He kills a bunch of demons, steals a set of keys, and frees a big group of slaves. They’re surrounded promptly by demon warships, but Theseus and his friends manage to escape — with the help of sea god POSEIDON, who defies Zeus’s orders when he sees Theseus in trouble and causes storms and huge waves on the sea.

When Theseus and his friends get to the shore, the Old Man is there. He tells Theseus that they must find the bow of Cryptos and get it to King Petros before the demons do, and then he must seek the Oracle of Delphi. He disappears, and Theseus’s companions argue briefly, then agree to accompany Theseus on this journey. Meanwhile, the Demon Lord is updated on progress — they haven’t found the bow, but they have found the shards of Iyisis, which the Demon Lord hails as “half their puzzle” solved.

At a village market, SOLON, a huge brute, assaults Stellios and accuses him of robbing Solon’s brother. The others threaten to attack Solon, who backs down. At a stronghold on Mt. Tartaros, King Petros says it is time to make their stand. LORD THANOS argues, but Petros can’t be swayed. In a forest, a GIANT is about to kill a man (NIKOS). Theseus orders him to stop, and the Giant says Nikos couldn’t solve his riddle. Theseus says that if he solves the riddle, he must let Nikos go free and let everyone cross. The Giant agrees, gives him a shockingly easy riddle, which Theseus solves without much effort, and the Giant keeps his word, setting down Nikos and letting them cross.

Nikos warns them not to cross into Delphi because it’s been sacked. Theseus isn’t swayed — they have to find the Oracle. Nikos seeks the Oracle, as well, so they take him into Delphi, as well. Nikos is not wrong; Delphi is a disaster area, littered with carnage and destruction. They make their way to a mountain fortress, and inside a dungeon they find the ORACLE — it’s Despina, the slave girl Theseus met earlier. As soon as they free her, Demons surround them, and the Oracle leads them on an escape path. They escape from Delphi. Meanwhile, Lord Thanos enters the Demon Lord’s tent — and shapeshifts into the Demon Lord. He implies that the Demon chase out of Delphi was some sort of ploy.

The Oracle reintroduces herself to Theseus, tells them she is Nikos’s sister, and explains how her power works. She warns Theseus of the dangerous path that his thirst for revenge has led him down. He asks Nikos to lead them to Petras — where he’s from — so they can reach the coast, then follow it from a seacraft. On the craft, the Oracle mentions to Theseus that his fate calls to him. She says he will soon face a terrible choice and will have to be brave in the face of it. She also says they must go to “the stone” Theseus’s mother mentioned while she was dying — the clue about who his father is.

They find the stone, which contains another riddle. Solving the riddle results in Theseus stuck in an underground lake hidden beneath a mountain. Inside the lake cave, Theseus finds a shield with Petros’s emblem on it. The Oracle has an amulet that fits into a small, hollowed section of the shield; when turned, it produces Zodiac signs. When pressed in the correct order, two sides of the shield spring apart, revealing the bow of Cryptos.

Almost immediately, they are attacked by more Demons. They run away, then camp out. Nikos stands guard for the night. The Oracle and Theseus make love. Stellios catches Nikos trying to steal the bow, then accuses him of being in league with the demon army. Theseus heats his sword, then presses it to Nikos’s body. He lets out a shriek and transforms into a demon. Saddened, the Oracle kills her brother. Angered, Theseus leads an assault on the demon army using the bow — but they promptly steal it from him and are about to kill the group of humans when Aries drops his war-hammer down, killing them to spare Theseus and his companions. Once he helps them escape, Aries tells Theseus to go to Petros and alert him that he must lead his men into battle as soon as possible.

Returning to Mt. Olympus, Aries is confronted by the other gods for going “too far.” Resigned, Zeus says they don’t need to interfere; if the humans fail to win this battle, he’ll wash them from the face of the earth.

Theseus’s group reaches Petros. Theseus introduces himself to his father and brings him up to speed on what is happening. The demons approach. They battle, and the demons have a major upper hand thanks to the bow of Cryptos. Petros battles the Demon Lord personally and is slain. With his dying breath, Petros urges Theseus to keep fighting. One of the demons spills a chest filled with the shards of Iyisis, which strikes fear into the gods — who watch from Mt. Olympus. The demons use the shards to kill the gods’ HUNDRED-HANDED BEAST, then use it to kill HERMES — the messenger god, who was sent from Mt. Olympus to intervene because he’s the fastest.

At this point, IAPETUS, the Titan equivalent of Zeus, appears in the battle. The gods decide to join in the fight, as well. There is a battle royale involving a variety of mythological creatures — minotaurs, Medusa, etc. — leading to a clash between Zeus and Iapetus. Zeus gets beaten handily and, with the rest of the gods, beats a hasty retreat to Mt. Olympus. The humans are also running away as quickly as possible. This leaves Theseus and his crew to fight the remaining demons and Titans. There is another epic battle, and eventually Zeus and a few other gods return to help. All the men are awed by Theseus’s courage and unwillingness to give up, even though by the end of the battle he’s at death’s door.

This fades to the Old Man telling the story of Theseus to his young son, while the Oracle looks on.


Here’s the top problem in a screenplay glutted with problems: Theseus, for all his machismo and warrior bravado, is an incredibly passive character from a narrative standpoint. Nearly everything he does in the story is dictated by others: he only wants to fight because, if he does, his mother will reveal the identity of his father; he only becomes a warrior because Zeus commands it; he only seeks the bow of Cryptos and the Oracle of Delphi because Zeus tells him to; he only seeks the shield because the Oracle tells him to. There are dozens of examples, big and small, of this behavior throughout the script, so even though we’re supposed to root for Theseus as the bad-ass to end all bad-asses, in the end he comes across as both weak-willed — because everything he does is dictated by others — and weak-minded — because he couldn’t draw these conclusions on his own. It’s an easy solution, just by having him think about things and make his own decisions, but this isn’t the screenplay’s only problem.

The screenplay contains almost wall-to-wall action sequences, with very little room to breathe. This leaves almost no time for character development beyond the broadest strokes, but the writers, to their credit, do a halfway decent job of distinguishing each of Theseus’s gang. It’s everybody outside the gang that gets short-changed. The all-powerful gods are distinguished only by their respective powers, but all of them seem to share the same “moping whiner” personalities, as they watch the carnage unfold from the safety of Mt. Olympus. The demon army and King Petros’s army are just fresh bodies for the battle sequences; not even Petros or Lord Thanos/Demon Lord have much interesting happening, which makes the “twist” that Thanos is the Demon Lord kind of worthless. He appears in one scene prior to that reveal, barely makes an impression, and doesn’t use his dual nature to much of an advantage. Last but not least, Theseus’s relationship with the Oracle is rushed and hilariously unconvincing.

The story is serviceable as a vehicle moving us from one action set-piece to another, but careful scrutiny reveals its incoherence and startling lack of originality. It’s pretty much a hodge-podge of other swords-and-sandals epics that doesn’t bring much new to the table. The closest it comes is including some actual gods fighting, something that hasn’t been seen much (possibly because it’s a fairly silly conceit, despite its roots in actual myths). Of course, many of its story problems also stem from the passive nature of Theseus, but there’s not much to get excited about even if the writers made him more active.

It might appeal to the same people who made 300 a hit, or maybe fans of action movies. There’s way too much action for it to appeal to fans of period dramas or historical epics, and the “fantasy” elements don’t have the gravitas of something like the Lord of the Rings films, so War of the Gods would be lucky to draw an audience from fans of these types of films. Its intense action and Greek setting might make it popular overseas, though.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:23 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Season of the Witch

Author: Bragi Schut
Genre: Horror
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 5

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At the height of the Black Plague, a group of knights and clergymen transport a suspected witch across France.


LaVEY DE CRECY, a Knight of the Crusades, and his mountainous Knight friend, FELSON, drag their boat ashore on the coast of France. They wander through the countryside until they come upon a farmhouse, inside of which they find a family ravaged by a terrible diseases (bubonic plague). They take two horses — still alive — and continue on their journey. Coming along the road in the other direction is SANCIERRE and a platoon of soldiers. Sancierre agrees to take them to Avignon, and along the way he explains to LaVey and Felson about the plague.

At the papal palace in Avignon, LaVey and Felson are introduced to FRA’ DeBELZAQ, a priest. He continues Sancierre’s explanation of the plague, adding that the King has fled and that they have in custody a witch who has confessed to unleashing the plague on them. DeBelzaq enlists the aid of LaVey, Felson, and Sancierre in transporting the witch to the Abbey Severac, where they can use a book of rituals to destroy her powers. DeBelzaq leads them to the witch, a harmless-looking GIRL. LaVey is appalled that they do not feed her. She lunges at him, revealing herself to be chained to the wall. LaVey shows no fear.

LaVey has his doubts that she’s an actual witch, but DeBelzaq warns him of the consequences of disobeying the Church. Haunted by his experience in the Crusades, LaVey says he does not want more innocent blood on his hands. DeBelzaq insists she is not innocent. The next morning, LaVey tells DeBelzaq that he has made a decision: he will transport her to Severac only if she receives a fair trial. DeBelzaq tells the CARDINAL, who reluctantly accepts the terms. DeBelzaq adds his fear that LaVey is facing a crisis of faith. To combat this, the Cardinal decides to send DeBelzaq with him.

LaVey does not approve of DeBelzaq’s proposed route, which will take them through the notorious Wormwood Forest. Frustrated, DeBelzaq takes them to HAGAMAN, a traveling con artist currently incarcerated in their jail. DeBelzaq agrees to release him on the condition that he lead them to Severac.

When they go to get the Girl ready, Sancierre notices the Girl’s untouched plate of food. Before he can warn them, the Girl is attacking DeBelzaq, accusing him of poisoning the food. With some effort, the men force her to stop resisting. They put her in a cage, which goes in the back of a wagon they have prepared for the journey.

As they set out for the journey, Sancierre quickly realizes they are being followed. They set a trap for him by leaving the wagon, seemingly abandoned, in the middle of the road. The RIDER stops, baffled, and the knights burst from the trees, questioning him. He is KAYLAN, an altar boy/wannabe-knight looking to make his mark by helping them transport the Girl. Distrusting of his skills, Felson tests him — he’s good with a sword and clever on his feet. With some reluctance, they agree to let him travel with them.

That night, LaVey brings the Girl some food. She tells of another girl in her village, suspected of being a witch, whose “trial” consisted of putting stones in her pockets and tossing her in a lake. When she survived, they burned her. LaVey insists that she will be tried fairly. Later, when DeBelzaq comes to relieve Sancierre from watch duty, Sancierre tells him all about his daughter, who died. Afraid the Girl will be tortured by those trying her, Sancierre attempts to kill the Girl. She lashes out and reminds him that he will have innocent blood on his hands. He doesn’t back off, so she grabs him and attempts to kill him. DeBelzaq tries to help, but she nearly kills him, as well. She escapes from the cage and disappears into the forest. The knights go after her, but she casts lightning and flames at them. Meanwhile, Sancierre begins hallucinating that his dead daughter is calling out to him. When he rushes toward the sound, he ends up impaled on Kaylan’s sword. With some struggle, Felson recovers the Girl.

At dawn, they bury Sancierre. DeBelzaq says a prayer. DeBelzaq confesses his fear that the Girl caused Sancierre to run into Kaylan’s sword. LaVey doesn’t believe this — he sees no reason for her to do this. DeBelzaq doesn’t believe evil requires reason. Later, Hagaman has led them to the crumbling remains of what used to be a bridge. He leads them along the river to a narrow bridge of rope and rickety wooden planks. With considerable effort, they cross the bridge. Kaylan nearly falls to his death, but the Girl grabs him at the last moment, somehow able to hold on to him with one hand.

Once across the bridge, LaVey realizes they’re at the edge of Wormwood Forest, the exact place they wanted to avoid. A thick fog has rolled into the valley, making it impossible to see long distances. After trying to muddle through, they decide to camp out and hope the fog dissipates overnight. In the night, Hagaman swipes a crossbow and goes after the Girl. LaVey discovers this quite quickly, but Hagaman is adamant — she caused Sancierre’s death, and she’s systematically killing them all off. LaVey doesn’t believe this, until the Girl begins howling — and her howling is greeted by the response of wolves.

Suddenly, they’re surrounded by wolves. It takes tremendous effort for the remaining knights to fight them off, but they manage to, with only one casualty — Hagaman.

The next day, the fog does dissipate, and they get through the forest. The group leads the wagon to the Abbey Severac, but when they arrive, they discover all the MONKS have died of plague. From one monk, DeBelzaq finds the Book of Solomon, the book that will supposedly rid the evil from the Girl. Before he begins reciting incantations, the Girl starts to make various admissions, revealing she knows “too much” about them — much more than she has witnessed. When DeBelzaq begins to torture her with recitations, the Girl admits that she is Lucifer. She disappears.

It occurs to LaVey and Felson that the Girl wanted to come to Abbey Severac, but they aren’t sure why. LaVey and Felson officially “knight” Kaylan while DeBelzaq blesses water. They do a room-to-room search for the Girl, and they end up in the Scriptorium, where they find a dozen dead Monks in the process of copying the Book of Solomon. These books burst into flames suddenly, and it occurs to LaVey that this is why the Girl wanted to go to the Abbey — she knew they’d have the Book and she could destroy it. Now, Zombie Monks have risen and one attempts to strangle DeBelzaq. LaVey vanquishes it, and DeBelzaq begins to recite a ritual to remove Lucifer from the Girl’s body. As he recites, more zombies come at the knights, who kill every last one of them.

When DeBelzaq is distracted by the apparent death of Felson, the Girl kills him. She’s about to grab the book when LaVey showers her hand with holy water, burning it. LaVey wants to know why she needs the book, and the Girl explains that the Book of Solomon is man’s attempt to “shift the balance” between good and evil, and if she can destroy it, evil will conquer. She tries to kill him, but, hidden somewhere, Kaylan begins to recite the ritual. She continues to strangle LaVey, who urges Kaylan to continue the ritual and let him die. Kaylan can’t do it. He’s about to hand her the book in exchange for LaVey’s life, when Felson rises up and plunges his sword through her arm, pinning her to the wall.

Kaylan continues the ritual. The Girl breaks free, but LaVey and Felson are prepared to stop her from getting to Kaylan. Both end up sacrificing themselves to ensure that Kaylan finishes the spell. He does, and Lucifer is removed from the body. Kaylan and the Girl — now unpossessed — buries LaVey, Felson, and DeBelzaq. The Girl is amazed that men would give their lives to save her. Along with the Book of Solomon, Kaylan and the Girl ride off on his horse.


The writer does a pretty good job of evoking atmosphere and period. A few of the sequences, particularly in the third act, were legitimately creepy on the page. His occasional lapses into overtly modern dialogue felt a little jarring and sloppy, because the bulk of the dialogue has a pseudo-medieval feel; however, that can be remedied with a quick polish.

The real flaws here lie in the interaction between the story and characterization. I’m a fan of this type of “line ‘em up and pick ‘em off”-type horror movie, but the characters here are very, very thin, without much in the way of distinctive personalities. They’re a group of generic, one-word descriptions (“knight,” “priest,” “swindler”). On some level, this makes sense — since all but one has died by the end — but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. LaVey’s bland crisis of faith comes closest to giving any of the characters an arc, but the change comes too quickly and leaves too many questions that don’t get answered because of his death. Because the characters aren’t interesting, their deaths have little resonance and the story, on the whole, just seems pointless.

They’re also subservient to the plot. Because of its mechanics, the natural opportunities for their personalities to shine through — in conflicts with one another or in dealing with the stress of the situations they face — go untapped, because if any of them question LaVey’s will too much, the logic of the story dictates that they’d all be dead before they got to Severac. Then, there’s a massive gush of exposition at the end — first about the Girl’s true motive for killing Sancierre and Hagaman, then about the importance of the Book of Solomon in ridding the witch, then about the importance of the Book of Solomon to the Girl/Lucifer. It either comes out in unnecessary flashbacks or in long dialogue scenes. This makes the third act tedious at times when we should be breathless with suspense.

The vague elements of this story — Crusaders forced to transport a “witch” during the time of the Black Plague — are interesting, but the execution falls flat. Finding more natural ways to reveal the exposition and individualize the characters would improve Season of the Witch quite a bit.

The gore, violence, and supernatural elements will likely appeal to horror fans, although the period setting might drive away more casual genre fans. It feels too much like a gritty horror film to appeal to costume-drama fans, but some crossover appeal might be possible.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:32 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

September 3, 2008

About the Author

Author: Sebastian Gutierrez
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]


Weak Consider


A promiscuous writer reflects on his life choices when he learns a one-night-stand attempted suicide after he criticized her writing.


In a dream sequence, we learn that GUSTAVO SERRANO is a world-famous, Nobel Prize-winning author. Gustavo, a 40-year-old Don Juan type, sits on a bed while a half-cat, half-woman does a striptease for him.

Snapping into the waking life, Gustavo is thrust on stage to do a Q&A at a college. It is clear, based on the questions he’s asked and his answers to them, that he is intelligent and articulate in both English and Spanish, although his English is poor enough that he requires the assistance of a translator, SYLVIA, mid-30s and attractive. It also becomes clear, in his responses to certain attractive college girls, that he utilizes his charm and their fascination for his own gain. This becomes clearer when he involves himself in a drug-fueled orgy with three girls from the audience.

Afterward, he has another dream, this one of writer’s block: as he sits down at a typewriter to write, his teeth begin to fall out, one after the other. He is visited by a MASKED WOMAN who interrogates him about his writer’s block and implies that he needs something more fulfilling in his life to allow him to write again. Gustavo wakes up before he can deny it. He sneaks out of the dorm room, where he runs into JUSTINE — another girl from the Q&A, but not a part of the orgy — who sneaks him into her room to keep him from getting caught on the all-girls’ campus. She is not successful, as he’s tossed out by campus security and the Q&A moderator/professor.

That evening, New York Times literary critic EMILY COOPER arrives at Gustavo’s hotel for an interview, but when they ring his room, there is no response. When she goes to the bathroom to freshen up, a faulty faucet sprays water all over her blouse. Shortly thereafter, a waitress spills wine all over it. She finally goes to a gift shop, but all she can find is a cheesy t-shirt. As a last-ditch effort, Emily calls Sylvia, who insists Gustavo should be in his hotel room, but he may have passed out, so she should knock hard.

When Emily arrives at his suite, Gustavo pretends to be the perfect gentleman and perfect host. They begin the interview, and he is pithy and insightful…until Justine walks out of his room and starts blasting MTV and acting, generally, like a brat. To combat the humiliation, when Justine reads the end of a story she had begun reading him earlier, he crushes her with a devastating critique. This causes Emily, angered, to leave.

The next day, Gustavo goes for a photo session with noted photographer GRETA, but they end up sleeping together and getting drunk, leaving Sylvia to pick up the pieces. Although Sylvia has been so frustrated by his behavior she quit the job, she returns later to get Gustavo because Justine swallowed 45 sleeping pills after writing a suicide note that is all about him.

At the hospital, Gustavo and Sylvia learn Justine is comatose and the doctors don’t know whether or not she’ll pull through. When Gustavo catches sight of Justine’s family, he panics and runs away.

In the middle of the night, Gustavo shows up at the home of JULIO LOZANO, a big Latin-American actor starring in a movie based on one of Gustavo’s books. Disconcerted but polite, Julio invites him inside. They discuss Julio’s ability to play the character, and Gustavo is very dismissive, in general, of the idea of making a movie from his books. Julio’s American wife, actress BRIDGET GIBSON, offers Gustavo their guest room. He obliges, and when she politely makes the bed, Gustavo makes several lewd comments about a sleazy movie she did, then starts grabbing her ass. Enraged, she drops him with an elbow to the face, then they call the police and have him dragged away.

Without anyone to turn to, Gustavo calls Emily Cooper — he happens to have her business card. She bails him out, and they go to a trashy motel. Gustavo has another dream, this time of trying to write under the stern discipline of a NUN. He pleads that he doesn’t have to write for her — he’s already an adult who has proven his writing ability. Emily’s in the classroom, too, and they help each other cheat on the writing exam, but the Nun catches them and sends them to MOTHER SUPERIOR (who is played by the same actress as Emily). She offers a magical pen that will allow him to write whatever he wants, as much as he wants, but as soon as he sets the pen down, he’ll never write again.

Gustavo awakens to the sound of gunshots. He gets up to find a bikini-clad Emily behind the motel, shooting a gun for fun. Emily tells Gustavo that Sylvia called her to let them know that Justine’s condition is unchanged. Gustavo admits he feels guilty, but there’s little he can do to change what happened now. He said he considered talking to the parents but opted against it because it would make him feel better, not the parents. Emily disagrees, and she drives Gustavo to Emily’s parents’ house and forces him to try to explain the situation. Justine’s MOTHER will have none of it, and her FATHER threatens him, ends up punching him square in the nose.

Back at the motel, Emily stitches up Gustavo’s nose because he refused to go to an emergency room. Things get a little intense, and he kisses her. At first she resists, but then she kisses back. Soon enough, they make love. Immediately afterward, Gustavo is shocked and horrified because he knows he’s made love to her before — he remembers everyone he’s “been inside of.”

Emily explains that 10 years ago, she and her then-boyfriend went on a vacation where they spent much of their time arguing. By coincidence, Gustavo passes her on the beach because she’s reading his book. His English was much worse back then, so she doesn’t understand him when he says he wrote the book. She tells him her name is Iris, but soon enough she catches sight of the About the Author photo of Gustavo, makes the connection, and decides to spend the night with him. Much of that night is spent talking, getting to know each other, and he’s willing to just leave her at the hotel…but she leaves the door unlocked, so when he comes back (he’s forgotten something), she’s there, waiting for him, and they make love.

Bigger confession: Emily got pregnant that night. She ended up marrying the boyfriend, but both he and the son were killed in a car accident. Later, Gustavo featured “Iris” as a minor character in one of his books, and his insight into her after only one night only continued Emily’s obsession with his work. She wanted to meet Gustavo and interview him to tell him this.

In a tricky dream sequence, it first appears that Gustavo has decided to go to Justine’s room to apologize and make amends with the coma patient, but his mother, AURORA, appears in the room. She complains about death and describes the afterlife as a somewhat boring place. They’re interrupted by two female guards, one of whom pulls out a pistol and shoots at Gustavo. He awakens with a start and discovers the “real” source of the banging — the motel room’s screen door flapping in the wind. Emily is gone, the regular door hangs wide open. He gets up and finds Emily out in the desert, sleepwalking. He brings her back to the room, tucks her in, and makes sure she doesn’t get up again. As she sleeps, he explains that he believes it is special that he’s slept with so many woman but, as far as he knows, she’s the only one he has impregnated.

The next morning, Emily awakens and finds he’s gone. It saddens her. Gustavo has gone to Sylvia’s apartment and is scrubbing her floors and cleaning up to atone. Emily goes to check out, and JEROME, the motel manager, says he’s surprised, that her “boyfriend” paid up already but said she might stay and to keep an eye on her because she sleepwalks. Emily is touched. She goes to her car and finds a note from Gustavo, saying there are things he needs to clean up and fix before he can be with her, but that he’d like to finish their interview, and to find him when she’s ready. At the edge of a beachside cliff, Emily tosses the gun over the edge, then scatters the ashes of her husband and son. Gustavo goes to Julio and Bridget to repair a fence he destroyed during his tussle with the cops.

Gustavo goes to visit Justine, for real this time. He makes his amends, then starts writing, page after page after page, until a NURSE enters and is surprised. She tries to get him to leave, but he needs his pages. Justine’s mother shows up and calls for guards or police. Gustavo slams the door and locks it to keep anyone from getting his pages. Fearing he’s backed himself into a corner, he’s pleased when Justine wakes up, although a bit terrified that it might be another dream. It isn’t, though. Her mother and the police burst in, but Justine won’t let them do anything. Gustavo calls Emily one last time before returning to his native country; he leaves a VoiceMail message.

Two years later, Gustavo is promoting his latest novel, Iris, The Sleepwalker, when Emily shows up to a book signing. She has a new baby — his baby, again. Gustavo is finally ready to own up to this.


This is a possible consider, flawed in many ways but interesting. The writer presents some vivid, mostly well-rounded characters. The dialogue is fairly witty despite feeling redundant in many places (especially earlier on). Its biggest flaw is a weak storyline that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, but then when it gets moving it has to kick into overdrive because so much time has been wasted.

Essentially, the first 45 pages could be condensed to about 10-15 without losing much. All the writer does here is establish and reestablish (1) Gustavo is intelligent, articulate, and witty, (2) he uses these strengths almost solely to sleep with young women, (3) he’s suffering from writer’s block, and (4) Sylvia is frustrated with his antics. We know all of these things by page 10, but it just keeps going, with more sex and drugs, more of Gustavo’s witty banter, more of Sylvia being annoyed. The real story doesn’t even start until the one-two punch of meeting Emily and Justine swallowing the pills. Introduce that earlier, condense everything else, and the story of Gustavo and Emily will have more room to breathe and feel a bit more organic and less rushed in its quest for the finish line.

But wait — what finish line? Nothing really drives Gustavo. He has those intermittent dreams implying, subconsciously, that he’s ready for a change, but he doesn’t do anything about this until the third act. There’s nothing really driving this narrative, even after the pill-swallowing that starts Gustavo on this sad journey. He doesn’t have any clear goals, doesn’t seem to care about angering or offending anyone. What happens to Justine makes him pause for reflection, but even then he doesn’t say or do much about it until Emily takes control of the situation. Once again, condensing and eliminating will help — the best material in this script is the relationship between Gustavo and Emily, so giving us more of that sooner will give this story more direction.

It’s a take on romantic comedies that we don’t see much lately — bleak introspection. Maybe it’s enough to reinvigorate the genre, but Gustavo’s rampant sexism might be a tough-sell for women, while the very idea of a romantic comedy might put off men who might relate to the character. Since Emily’s the one who really takes charge of the story, it might be best to tell this story from her point of view — after all, it’s as much her story as his — so that it doesn’t alienate the female audience

Posted by D. B. Bates at 7:08 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

The Cross

Author: Andrew Niccol
Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 7

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Weak Consider


In the future, citizens of an oppressed country struggle to cross a dangerous border into a land of freedom and opportunity.


A tiny, hole-in-the-wall border town, at night. YAEGER, the middle-aged head of a group called the Travel Bureau, meets with his organization on a levee at the edge of a wide river. While feigning disinterest, they monitor the progress of a chunk of floating tree trunk bobbing in the water. They aren’t the only ones — AUGUST GIDEON, commander of the border guards, also monitors this tree trunk. Noting it with suspicion, he fires on it, ripping it to shreds. Human blood, from the crosser hiding in the trunk, stains the river.

Dawn. An old bus carrying laborers passes through town. Two of them — MYLAR KLINE and his younger brother, Castro — seek shelter in a boarding house run by VERA, one of the few attractive people in this blighted area. Her eight-year-old son, HECTOR, takes an immediate shine to Mylar — and, once Mylar discovers Hector’s obsession with crossing the border, Mylar returns the affection. Vera explains to Mylar and Castro that they’ve arrived to replace workers killed by a virus. Neither seem pleased by this.

While getting water, Mylar runs into Yaeger, who introduces himself and gives Mylar a sales pitch on his river-crossing services. At the boarding house, Castro hypes up the land across the border with the help of an old photograph of a beautiful woman, supposedly from the opposing country. Mylar shrugs off his brother’s unbridled optimism. The next day, at the factory, Mylar spots Yaeger. Castro puts him off, saying they don’t need any help if they go quickly. Mylar warns him against rushing, but Castro doesn’t want the virus to take him before he has the chance to flee the country.

A guard named FRANCO drops by Vera’s boarding house with a box of fresh strawberries — a rare delicacy in this world — sent from August Gideon. Vera feels uncomfortable taking such an extravagant gift, but Franco fears returning to Gideon, so she gives them away to children of the village.

Later that night, Castro awakens Mylar and insists that they must go now. Outside, Castro shows Mylar a thick fog that masks the river. He’s stolen a polysterene pad from the factory that he intends to use as a raft. Mylar doesn’t believe it’s a good idea, but Castro goes ahead with it. Just before Mylar changes his mind, he spots something in the distance — border guards on boats, using fire to cut apart the fog. Mylar warns Castro, who doesn’t see the boats and refuses to turn around. Mylar goes after him, grabs him, punches him to keep him from continuing to cross. Meanwhile, Gideon and his guards open fire on dozens of other crossers.

As a result of his misguided attempt, Castro has contracted the lethal virus. The infirmary has no serum, but it’s a lost cause, anyway — Castro is gone. Meanwhile, Yaeger and several townspeople and Travel Bureau members gather to watch a fuzzy satellite feed of television from across the border.

Mylar has gotten Castro cremated. Ignoring his own personal safety, Mylar begins climbing the border fence, so he can scatter Castro’s ashes in the direction of the border, hoping that maybe some bits will make it across. He’s grabbed by guards and taken to Gideon. Gideon tortures him by feeding him vile, tainted soil. Townspeople gather to help pump his stomach and clean him up as soon as Gideon lets him free.

Yaeger decides to try to school Mylar in his own border-crossing philosophy, which Mylar shrugs off for two reasons: (1) Yaeger’s still on the wrong side of the border, and (2) “God doesn’t put borders” on his land. At the boarding house, Mylar opens up to Vera a little bit, saying even this crummy border town is where he came from — “earthquake country.” Vera suggests Mylar should take the Travel Bureau a bit more seriously, as they know many, many ways not to cross the border.

At the Travel Board meeting, Yaegar explains the pros and cons of the four known ways to cross the river. Because of the tainted soil, tunneling gives all manner of trouble — worst of all, the fact that it can only bring you to the river, not across it. Flying over it won’t work because nobody has aviation skills and/or the tools and supplies necessary in this backward town. Circumventing the river means going past four other guard outposts and almost certain death. This only leaves going straight across the river, which is as difficult as anything else. It’s the only option that isn’t completely impossible.

Armed with that information, Mylar makes his first legitimate attempt to cross. Exploiting the fact that he’s double-jointed, Mylar crams himself into the casing of a 27” computer monitor, which is to be shipped across the border. Gideon senses this ruse, however, and catches him in the act. As a result, this time Mylar is forced to eat two buckets of dirt. He takes the opportunity to mention that he has not killed Mylar and will not kill him, because all of his border-crossing antics just strengthen the guards’ ability to anticipate future crossing attempts.

Later, Yaeger complains that Mylar needs to keep the Travel Bureau in the loop so they can help, but Mylar insists that he intends to work alone. Yaeger also confesses Vera’s deep-seated hatred of border-crossing and border guards: her husband, ANGELO, was one of the first to ever try to cross the border by tunneling. He actually made it past the border but was killed shorly thereafter. Reluctantly, Mylar reveals his latest, greatest plan: he’ll swim across the river, under the water so as not to be seen. There’s a slight hitch with his plan, however — the river dries up every year, leaving little more than a bed of sludge from sewage systems on the other side. The river only swells during flash floods in the spring.

One night, the power goes out — a recurring problem in the village that never seems to affect the border station. Enraged, a resident called LEON — who was using a phonograph to help put his baby to sleep — stirs up trouble. Just as the guards intend to react, Mylar approaches and saves Leon’s life by calming him down and asking him to listen to reason. From his tower, Gideon watches, impressed.

Vera’s son, Hector, goes to gather some cans of paint for Mylar, but he collapses — he’s been stricken with the virus. Unable to find any serum, Vera grants Hector’s dying wish. She delivers the paint to Mylar. Mylar uses it to paint the fence. The guards have been confused into thinking Gideon, who is away at another guard station, hired this painter, to the point where they’re actually helping Mylar get across the electrified portions by turning off the juice. Once he’s lulled them into total disinterest, Mylar springs his plan into action. Slowly but surely, he crawls underneath the sewage and sludge, using a breathing tube and nothing else. Just as he’s about to reach one of the waste pipes that will ensure his security, Gideon returns and realizes what has happened. He’s still too late — he can fire off only one round, which may or may not have hit Mylar as he leaps into the pipe.

Terrified for Hector, Vera begs Gideon for help. Unfortunately, he’s as useless as anyone else — he has no serum, either.

Amazingly, Mylar comes back. He bears a secret vial of serum, which he hands off to Vera before the expected torture. Afterward, despondent, Mylar demands to be let alone. He gradually reveals that the new country isn’t any better than the old one if you don’t have papers, if you aren’t a citizen. They caught him, he stole the serum from a soldier, and then they forced him back across the border.

To Mylar’s surprise, Gideon enlists his aid in repairing the River Road. He was an engineer, and since Mylar is so defeated by his border-crossing attempt, he agrees. This pleases none of the townspeople, but Mylar no longer seems to care. While in Gideon’s office, Mylar steals a book titled International Law. Distraught by his apathy, Vera agrees to a dinner date with Gideon. During this date, Mylar reads from the book and discovers something. He subtly passes by the windows of Gideon’s home, catching Vera’s attention but not the commander’s. She cuts the date short.

Mylar explains, first to Vera, then to everyone else, what he’s discovered: the border has always followed the river. If the route of the river changed, so would the border. So if he used the materials to repair the River Road in order to reroute the river onto the path of the road, all of them would be citizens of their neighboring country. Everyone thinks he’s a lunatic, but because of his enthusiasm, they all agree to help.

Gideon is suspicious of their seeming enjoyment of the hard-labor repairing the road. None of the guards understand how they can perform the repairs by digging, instead of using TNT. Mylar claims the explanation is over their head, but really, he’s hoarding the TNT for his plans. When the flash-floods come, he intends to blow the mouth of the river, permanently flooding the road.

Mylar enlists Yaeger’s aid in this mission, and as they prepare the explosives, Yaeger tells Mylar of his heroic attempts to cross the river — but what we see is Yaeger receiving a perfect opportunity to cross but freezing up, becoming too pretrified, until it’s too late. They split up, and Mylar reminds Yaeger of a flashlight signal that they use so Yaeger knows when to blow his half of the TNT.

There’s another hitch in their plans, though — suspicious, Gideon uncovers Yaeger’s stash of dynamite and has one of his lieutenants arrest him. Gideon then seeks out Mylar to prevent him from blowing the stash. The rains come, and a freak bolt of lightning ignites Yaeger’s half of the TNT. This strengthens Mylar’s resolve to blow his own, despite Gideon’s protests that he’s too close, he’ll blow himself up. Mylar’s willing to make the sacrifice — he lights the fuse.

It works like a charm. The road is flooded, and the following morning, soldiers from the other country cross their own fences to secure the new chunk of land. Humiliated, Gideon shoots himself. Meanwhile, both Yaeger and Mylar survived, and Mylar now carries Angelo’s birth certificate as proof that he was born on the right side of the new border.


This is a weak consider, at best. It has some noble ambitions and some intriguing ideas about a futuristic dystopia, but The Cross ends up sinking itself (excuse the horrible pun) with its unsubtle attempt to tackle a contemporary hot-button issue through the prism of sci-fi.

The storyline, such as it is, builds some interesting scenarios for the impossible-to-cross river, giving Mylar quite a huge hurdle to overcome. The “let’s blow the river and change the border!” third act twist feels more like a deus ex machina and a waste of potential than anything else. It lacks the invention that this type of script requires — the implausible idea of sticking a double-jointed guy inside a large computer monitor had more cleverness to it, so one would think the final “gotcha!” ending would have more oomph than a river-rerouting. Up until that point, I was willing to overlook the other flaws because this world and some of its characters had intrigued me.

August Gideon’s character is a big problem because, other than his attraction to Vera — which comes across more as a plot device than a character trait — he has very little depth. He’s supposed to be the big villain, the personification of the impossible-to-cross bridge, but there’s no sense of quaking-in-our-boots terror. There’s also no sense of empathy for the idea that maybe he’s just a bureaucrat stuck in a miserable outpost in a country that’s falling apart. We just don’t get enough information about him to care one way or the other — we don’t know him well enough to love him, hate him, or love to hate him. He just exists, and his suicide was a major cop-out that the character, thin as he was, didn’t deserve.

As for the hot-button issue from which the script draws much of its story: I’m all for using the genre of science-fiction to create arm’s-length metaphors for contemporary problems, but this screenplay lacks the subtlety or grace required for a story like this. It’s too clearly drawn from the current strife at the U.S.-Mexico border and what some fear (or hope, depending on their perspective) the border will become, to the point where it should go one of two ways: either make it subtler (like, for instance, giving us a border that isn’t a giant, Rio Grande-esque river) or abandon it altogether and make this about a U.S.-Mexico conflict 50 years in the future. Embrace the potential political controversy, or negate it.

This script will only preach to the choir, which automatically limits the audience. The fact that it’s not an action-oriented science-fiction film will also reduce the potential audience — sci-fi is a great genre for audiences to avoid their personal woes for a couple of hours, but this is not escapist fare. This is a bleak reflection on current affairs that, even if they agree with the politics it preaches, audiences will likely avoid in droves — especially when it doesn’t provide a fair or viable solution to the current problem.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 4:31 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

September 26, 2008

An Invisible Sign of My Own

Author: Mike Ellis & Pam Falk
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




When an obsessive-compulsive woman is hired as a math teacher, she must face the fears that drive her disorder.


A woman’s voice (MONA) narrates a fairy tale: once upon a time, there was a kingdom where everybody lives forever. The kingdom runs into a population-control problem, so the KING decrees that each family must choose one member to be executed. One family can’t decide, so they request that their entire family be executed. Because of their skills as bakers, their request is refused; instead, the EXECUTIONER offers to chop off unnecessary limbs that, when added up, would equal one whole person. The family agrees to this, but the hideous sight of their injured bodies drives away their business. So the family starts a mail-order baking business and becomes a huge success.

Mona explains that her DAD told this fairy tale to her and her friends on her 10th birthday. Everyone at the party is disarmed and disturbed by this story. Mona continues to explain: Dad was a track star in college, then became a successful dermatologist at the Blue Hospital, a huge facility so named because of its blue-glass windows. Her MOM was a tourism official. At a young age, Mona showed a talent for math, which her parents encouraged even though they didn’t fully understand it. Mona and Dad raced frequently, until one day, he just gave up. After this, Mona became a quitter, quitting everything except track and math. She became a track star, with the hopes that it would bring Dad back, but when it didn’t, she quit that, too. When she met a guy she liked, Mona would eat a bar of soap, then feel queasy and leave.

At age 22, in the present, she walks through a park and knocks on each tree. She continues to explain in voiceover that the only thing she never quit was math. As Mona continues through the park, mathematical numbers and equations pop up over the active scene. Mona walks to her parents house to discover Mom has decided to kick her out. All of Mona’s possessions are packed and sitting on the lawn. Instead of leaving, Mona hops into her bed and spends the night there. Meanwhile, Mom gives Dad his daily pills, which he sticks inside a couch cushion (along with a plethora of other pills).

The next morning, Mona wakes up with mosquito bites all over her body. As Mom helps put on calamine lotion, she explains that they have enough to help Mona get an apartment and swing the first month’s rent. Mona wonders how she’ll know if something happens to Mom and Dad when she’s not home. Mom offers Mona their answering machine. Mom finds an apartment for Mona. Mona walks through each box-filled room, saying her name. Some time later, Mona receives a call from MS. GELBAND, principal of Mona’s old elementary school. They need a new math teacher, and Mom put in the good word. Before Mona can refuse the job, Ms. Gelband tells her to start Monday and hangs up. Mona is furious with Mom but has no choice — after all, she needs a job.

As Ms. Gelband shows Mona around the school, they bump into BEN SMITH, the young science teacher. Ms. Gelband flirts with Ben, but Ben seems more interested in Mona. When Ms. Gelband shows Mona the math classroom, Mona flashes back to herself, at age 9, being taught by a man named MR. JONES, who places wax numbers around his neck to indicate his mood — as Mona explains to Ms. Gelband, higher numbers indicated better moods, lower numbers worse. Ms. Gelband wonders how she knows so much about Mr. Jones; Mona grew up living next door to him. Ms. Gelband leaves Mona alone, and she redecorates the classroom in an eccentric style featuring numbers as objects of nature.

Mona begins teaching. She doesn’t like the first- or second-graders, but the third-graders are different. Mona’s introduced to the entire third-grade class, but the most important here are LISA VENUS, offbeat and sloppily dressed, and ANN DeVANNO, the bully. They’re all pretty amazed by her classroom decorations, and they’re all eager to learn. She makes each student choose a favorite number, then picks a few of them to come up to the front of the class to make a human equation. Ann thinks it’s stupid, until Mona offers to let her be the “plus” sign. After awhile, Mona’s at a loss for what to do, but she catches sight of tree branches outside that look like a “4.” She tells them to start bringing in natural materials that form the shape of numbers.

Mona goes to her parents’ house and is horrified to see her father standing in the backyard, having mowed a “Shape of Health” into the grass that he must stand in to stay healthy. The next day at school, Mona’s in the teacher’s lounge when Ben comes in. He tries to flirt with her, but she won’t say a word to him. Ms. Gelband comes in and chastises Ben for an assignment he gave for half his science class to say nurturing things to houseplants and the other to say abusive things. Mona’s a little intrigued.

Lisa brings in the first “Numbers and Materials” object: a used IV in the shape of a 0. Everyone’s excited by this except Ann, who taunts Lisa. Later, Ben catches Mona spying on his science class. Hiding, she runs in to Lisa and asks where she got the IV. Lisa explains that her mother has cancer and makes Mona guess what kind of cancer. Mona guesses wrong, so Lisa tells her it’s eye cancer, that she’ll die in less than a year, and that Lisa likes pirates. She begs Mona not to get sick. This prompts another flashback — Mona recalling her father’s giving up, which led her to begin knocking on wood when she couldn’t handle stress.

Now it’s Mona’s 23rd birthday. Mom calls to sing to her and invite her out to dinner. At the restaurant, Ben runs into Mona and her family. Mom immediately tries to make a love connection, which makes Mona so uncomfortable that she leaves. She goes to the hardware store next door, which is run by Mr. Jones, who still wears wax numbers. He argues with a tool salesman. Seeing Mr. Jones prompts another flashback: as a kid, she was the only one who figured out why he wore the numbers. He was proud of her ability to notice, but when Dad got “sick,” Jones didn’t notice, which angered Mona enough to treat him badly and egg his car every Halloween. In the present, Mona buys herself a birthday present: a huge ax. She has a dream of chopping herself in the ankle with the ax. Lisa appears, asking her why she did that. Mona wakes with a start and puts the ax in a moving box.

The next day, Mona arrives at school and panics because all the kids are acting ill. Turns out, Ben assigned them each disease symptoms to help them with a science unit. Mona finds Lisa feigning the symptoms of cancer, which saddens her. In math class, Mona displays her Numbers and Materials object — the ax, which she has hung over the blackboard to indicate a “7.” The kids are impressed. She teaches them inequalities, which quickly turns from numbers into things like “SICK > CAR CRASH.” This provokes an argument about various ailments, and Mona loses control of the class. One of the students pees at her desk. After class, Ms. Gelband arrives but doesn’t appear to notice the violent inequalities written all over the blackboard, or the ax hanging from the ceiling, or the urine puddle. She tells Mona how great she’s doing and reminds her to come to Parents’ Night.

At Parents’ Night, Mona meets Lisa’s apathetic, verbally abusive aunt. Mona goes to get some air and runs into Ben. She chastises him for the illness-faking assignment and asks about Lisa. He’s not concerned. Upset, Mona leaves. The next day, during recess, Mona confesses to Lisa that Dad is sick, to increase the bond between the two. Lisa asks disturbing questions that make her realize Dad’s illness isn’t that bad. Lisa asks to move in with Mona, but Mona says that would be unfair to the other students. They bump into Ben, whom Mona ignores.

After school, Ben finds Mona in her classroom. He follows her home, Mona knocking trees along the way. He says he’s going to a movie but that she’s not invited. She changes the subject to Lisa’s aunt, but Ben changes it back to the movies. They pass Mr. Jones, whom Mona is surprised to see zipping along happily with a #42 around his neck — the highest she’s ever seen. Mona and Ben end up at the movie theatre, and they flirt through the movie, to the consternation of the man behind them. Mona suddenly freaks out and rushes home to check her answering machine — one message, from a travel agent.

Ben’s at the door to her apartment. She reluctantly invites him in, and after more flirting, he kisses her. Mona excuses herself to go to the bathroom, then eats a bar of soap and tells Ben to go home. The next day, Ann presents her Numbers and Materials — Mr. Jones’s #42. Mona knows Ann stole it, but Ann vehemently denies it. Mona snatches it from her and Lisa offers to go with her and return it, if Mona will go with her to the Blue Hospital to see Lisa’s mom. Mona agrees, but when they get to the hardware store, Mr. Jones is nowhere in sight. Worried, they continue to the hospital. LISA’S MOM looks terrible. She sends Lisa out of the room, and she and Mona have a heart-to-heart about Lisa’s absent father. When Lisa’s Mom is gone, she’ll have no one but her abusive aunt.

Walking home, Mona finds a bunch of Mr. Jones’s numbers, on a trail leading back to his house, but he doesn’t answer the door. Mona asks Dad about it, but he’s in the middle of pouring gasoline on his Shape of Health and lighting it on fire. Mom extinguishes the flames.

In class, all hell breaks loose: one student brings in his father’s fake arm as a Numbers and Materials, and the father chases him around the class to get it back. Meanwhile, Lisa grabs Mona’s ax and starts smashing up the room because her mother died. She threatens Ann with it. Mona intervenes, but she’s distracted by Ms. Gelbard, and Ann grabs the ax. She cuts Lisa’s face and jams the ax into Mona’s ankle. At the hospital, Mona and Lisa compare their stitches. Lisa confesses that she noticed Mona’s knocking habit and wants to be just like her, especially now that she’s all alone.

At Lisa’s Mom’s funeral, Ms. Gelband fires Mona for lying about having a college degree. Mona goes back to her apartment to brood and sees Mr. Jones’s wax numbers all over the living room. She goes to Mr. Jones’s house, but he still doesn’t answer. She climbs in through the window — and finds Mr. Jones having sex with the TOOL SALESWOMAN. He’s horrified and enraged and wonders why Mona would even care, since she was such a mean little girl. Mona says she was only mean because he didn’t care about her when Dad got sick. Mr. Jones refreshes her memory, saying he did ask and she must have forgotten. It also causes her to realize that all this fear caused by her father’s “illness” was misplaced, since deep down she doesn’t believe he’s sick.

Mona finally unpacks and decorates her apartment. Ben shows up with a note from Mona. They make love. Some time later, Mona receives a package from the third-graders — a card saying “NO MS. GRAY < MS. GRAY.” Mona’s touched. She goes to Lisa’s Aunt’s house, and the aunt complains that she doesn’t want Lisa anymore. Mona does. Mona uses another student’s attorney parents to threaten Ms. Gelband over the ax incident — she gets her job back and the school will pay for her night classes until she gets a teaching certificate. With Mona and Lisa now together, Mona tells Lisa a variation on the fairy tale Dad told at the beginning.


This script has some witty, absurd banter and a predictable but well-paced and somewhat unique storyline. The writers do a deceptively good job of meshing together some complex characters and subplots, making the story flow reasonably well.

It falls apart, however, with the excruciating level of quirkiness from each and every character. Nothing against quirky characters — all people have their quirks — but there’s a very thin line between “cute and eccentric” and “scary and psychotic,” a line that An Invisible Sign of My Own obliterates. Mona is not a fun, cutesy character — Mona is frightening, especially since the plot lets her loose around children. Whatever sympathy is generated from the “trigger” of her disorder¬¨¬® — her father’s “illness” — is undone by the fact that she spends the rest of the story acting like an unchecked lunatic. Despite the background information she gives us, Mona is as closed off to the audience as she is to the characters in the story. We understand she has these problems, we understand (to some degree) what caused them, but we don’t understand why nobody seems to notice/care or why Mona has not done anything help herself. If she was about 80% less kooky, this wouldn’t seem quite so much like a serious psychosis. It becomes even more problematic when we’re expected to believe that a minor epiphany turns off all her problems like a light switch.

Mona’s the character we spend the most time with, but she’s not the only eccentric around. Mr. Jones’s mood-indicating wax numbers around the neck? Dad’s unchecked hypochondria? Ben’s unorthodox — to put it politely — teaching style? Some are stranger than others, but these characters quirks aren’t as endearing as the writers seem to think they are. The only one who tugged at my heartstrings was Lisa, whose childhood innocence and home situation makes her cancer obsession and unnatural love of Mona relatable. It’s unfortunate because, if you drastically reduced the number of odd qualities these characters have, they and their struggles are as complex and relatable as Mona’s. They’re just far too ridiculous to gain any sympathy.

It seems like it wants to appeal both to family audiences and 20-something “indie film” fans, but it misses the mark on both accounts — the irreverent and irresponsible messages (i.e., OCD can be cured quickly and easily, children in desperate situations will have loving teachers to adopt them) will drive away families, and the unsettling nature of these “quirky” characters will keep others away in droves. A comedy that could be described as “A Beautiful Mind meets Juno” might sound good on paper, in terms of both “prestige” and box-office receipts, but it will likely alienate its already-limited potential audience. Fans of the source novel may want to see it, though, as my limited search suggests that it’s a faithful adaptation.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:10 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Little Murder

Author: Gerald Di Pego
Genre: Crime/Supernatural/Thriller
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

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The ghost of one of a serial killer’s victims helps a disgraced cop track her killer.


During the chaos and looting of Hurricane Katrina, BEN CHANEY — white, mid-30s, very athletic — chases a gun-toting lowlife through the rainswept streets of New Orleans. He accidentally shoots a 15-year-old black boy. A year later, Chaney’s ex-partner ‘SANDY’ SANDOVAL visits him at the Baton Rouge Police Academy, where Chaney instructs cadets. Sandy offers Chaney the chance to return to the New Orleans police. Reluctantly, Chaney takes the assignment — staking out a crazy man named DRAG HAMMERMAN. He’s not exactly a suspect, but he’s crazy enough that they could pin a crime on him and make it stick. He may or may not be ‘The Masker,’ a serial killer whose calling-card is placing his victims (all female) in Mardi-Gras style Elizabethan masks. Detective LIPP is heading the investigation, and he doesn’t like Chaney at all — to him, Chaney is a drunk and a loser. He makes Sandy take Chaney to the house they’ll use for the stakeout, an abandoned home across the street from Drag’s.

That night, Chaney watches Drag, muttering to himself. In the middle of the night, Drag goes out. Chaney tries to follow him, but Drag keeps doing strange things — he’ll get to the end of the block, then go back to his house, then go out again, then sneak through neighbors’ yards to get back home. Chaney tries to follow him, gives up, goes back inside, and discovers Drag has put a sign in his front window: ‘GOOD NIGHT, COP.’ That night, Chaney has a nightmare about the boy he killed. He wakes up with a start, apologizing to no one. He gets up, walks through the house — and sees what looks like a body at the other end of the hall. He comes closer and sees the corpse of a YOUNG WOMAN, blood on her hair, dead. He stares, pulls out his cell phone, stops, glances back — the body’s gone.

Chaney looks across at Drag’s house. Another sign says he’s at a bar. Chaney calls the bar, the bartender tells him Drag says he’ll be at the bar until two, then come straight home. Chaney asks the bartender if he pays his bill, the bartender says he’s all right. Chaney hangs up — and the woman’s body is back. Later, he’s in the bathroom and the body appears in the tub. He closes the curtain, but behind it he can hear sobbing. Chaney tells the voice to go away — it does. Later, while in the shower, he sees the young woman’s face reflected in the mirror. Angry, he starts yelling at it — but it turns out to be a young policewoman, sent by Lipp to check on Chaney.

Chaney pours some coffee, then thinks about the funeral for the boy. He attended, with a black detective named HAYES. Chaney has to endure the hateful glares of the mourners. He tells Hayes he wants to apologize, but Hayes says nobody wants to hear it. Chaney steps out on the porch with his coffee. Two KIDS tell him the house is supposed to be haunted. This makes Chaney feel a little better. Chaney goes across to Drag’s house and introduces himself. Drag’s a nice but strange guy who narrates his life into a tape recorder, which he says will become the world’s first “reality novel.” Chaney asks about the haunting, but Drag shrugs it off. He says a musician was murdered, her brother beat her to death over money, but he got off. Drag offers him a beer, which Chaney reluctantly accepts.

Later, he’s drunk and staggering back across to his house — and the body’s back again. Chaney just steps over the body and keeps walking, but the woman — now identified as COREY — starts talking. Chaney ignores her and passes out in bed. Later that night, Sandy calls with some bad news: they’re shutting down the stakeout because another precinct arrested a prime suspect. Corey appears to him again, but Chaney wants her to go away. Eventually, she does — but not happily. The next morning, Lipp and Sandy arrive and find the telescope and binoculars smashed to bits. They blame Chaney the drunk, who denies it. He tells Sandy about the ghost, but Sandy smells the liquor on him and finds a bottle of rum under his pillow.

That night, Corey appears again. Chaney asks what she wants, and she says he needs to catch her killer. Chaney says it was her brother, but Corey knows that’s not the truth. Chaney says he can’t do anything because nobody trusts him. Corey asks why, and he goes into the story about killing the kid. After she breaks him down, Chaney starts asking questions. Corey explains that she played cello at a jazz club along with her best friend, JENNIFER. The next day, Chaney tries to dig up dirt on Corey and her brother. He finds Corey’s brother was locked in a psychiatric hospital. Lipp catches Chaney looking at Corey’s murder file and browbeats him. Chaney goes to visit Corey’s grave, then goes home and pours all his rum down the sink. He offers her some clothes — strangely, Corey can touch him, Chaney can smell her, and she can interact with everyday objects.

Chaney asks Corey to walk her through the night of her murder. It’s the only way he’ll get at the truth. Corey spills it: she was playing in Lafayette Square with her friends and was picked up by her wealthy boyfriend, PAUL MARAIS, who takes her to a country club for a late-night game of squash. She says they tied. Later, while Paul was taking a shower, Corey snuck into the locker room to surprise him — and saw Paul handing a baggie of drugs to her brother, TOM. She confronted Paul about it, suggesting that this was about Paul’s jealousy over the closeness of the siblings. Paul dropped Corey off at home, and she argued with Tom. Corey opened a window and heard Drag across the street, dancing to a Leonard Cohen song — which Corey then sings for Chaney. She says she watched out the window for a long time, thought about calling Paul — she had decided to leave him — when she heard a noise. And that was it.

Chaney goes to the abandoned building where he killed the boy. He tries to talk to his ghost — if he’s there — and apologizes, even though he gets no response. Then Chaney goes to the psychiatric hospital to talk with Tom. Chaney asks Tom to walk him through Corey’s last night. Tom says that yes, he and Corey argued about her drug use, but he got mad at went to bed. Something woke up at two in the morning, but all Tom saw was the back of a man in an elegant suit — running away. The cops got there fast, but nobody knew who called them. Tom’s a little upset — his last words to his sister were “fuck you.” Chaney asks Tom to write down what he wishes he would have said. Tom doesn’t know why, but he does it.

Chaney gives Corey Tom’s note — she’s grateful but upset. Chaney questions Drag about that night, as well. Drag recites it like a novel, but he tells a different story than Corey. Drag points out the bum leg that earned him the nickname — he doesn’t dance. Sandy drives by, sees Chaney and Drag talking, isn’t pleased. Chaney tries to smooth things over by saying Drag thinks he’s just a “new neighbor,” so Chaney’s working “undercover.” Sandy doesn’t believe it. He tells Chaney that the stakeout has to continue. Another body washed up on the river — another “Masker” murder. It’s obviously not the man they have in custody, so the search continues.

Chaney questions Paul, rattling his cage by hinting at Corey’s statements, which are different from what Paul told the police — that he won the squash game, and that he and Corey didn’t argue. Chaney goes to Corey’s jazz club, runs into a waitress, MOLLY, and asks her about the murder. She doesn’t have much information, but she thinks Paul’s paranoia might have caused problems. He was always asking her if Corey was dating other men. Molly went out with him a few times after Corey died, and they did drugs, which made him even more paranoid — borderline psychotic — but she throws some suspicion on Jennifer. Chaney goes to Drag’s house, hands him sheets of paper to let him fill out where he’s going and the times he leaves and returns. He asks Drag to drop them through the mail slot.

Chaney and Corey talk some more about the murder, and she remembers her killer said something — he spoke with an English accent, and even if he faked it, she’s certain it’s not Paul. Corey says Jennifer couldn’t have done it, either, obviously, but that she did call Jennifer and leave a message the night of her murder. Corey thinks if Chaney can get Jennifer to come to the house, Corey can talk through Chaney and convince Jennifer to take the information from Corey’s message to the police. Jennifer comes over and is creeped out by the whole situation. She files a report with the police, which brings Lipp and Sandy down on Chaney.

Later, Paul and Jennifer get together for a squash game. Paul is suspicious that Jennifer knows more than she initially led on and that this is where Chaney got his information. He asks increasingly paranoid questions, which makes Jennifer nervous. Manwhile, Chaney has broken into Paul’s house and searched his bedroom. He finds squash balls filled with an odd yellow liquid. One of Paul’s cronies finds Chaney and knocks him out. Chaney manages to get himself to his car, tries to drive home. Sandy calls to fire him, tells him to get out of the house tonight. Chaney goes back to the house, and Lipp shows up, claiming he’s there to make sure Chaney doesn’t destroy anything when he leaves. They get into a fistfight, and Chaney runs away. He calls Sandy and says he has to finish a job, then he’ll “come in.”

At a hospital, a lab tech tells Chaney the substance on the squash balls is pseudoephedrine, used in making methamphetamine. Chaney goes back to the house, makes sure it’s empty — but Drag is skulking around the yard. He’s dropping off a report. Chaney tells him he no longer has to do that. Drag tries to insist that Chaney go out drinking with him, but Chaney refuses. He meets with Jennifer at a recording studio. She noticed Paul’s weirdness and has decided to believe Chaney. Now Paul has invited her for another squash game, and she’s nervous. Chaney explains there was a drug deal going on at the country club and Paul must think Corey saw too much, which is why he killed her. Chaney tells Jennifer to play it cool, say she’ll go, but he’ll go in her place.

Drag — whose leg is magically healed, and who is dressed in an elegant suit, and who is speaking in a British accent — has stumbled upon Molly, who’s excited about becoming a part of his novel. Jennifer is waiting in Corey’s house, and she sees Drag and Molly go into his house across the street. He turns on the Leonard Cohen song.

Hiding in the shadows, Chaney watches a drug deal go down. He takes out Paul’s cronies, then confronts Paul about the murder and places him under arrest. Paul starts swinging squash balls at him, pummeling him pretty good, but they don’t stop him.

Chaney chases Paul. Jennifer watches Drag put an Elizabethan mask on Molly. She knows something bad’s going to happen. She hopes Chaney will get back soon. She sees someone write “9-1-1” on fog on a mirror. She knows Corey is there, tries to dial 911 — but her cell phone battery is dead. Drag has seen Jennifer watching his dance with Molly, and now he’s come to kill her. She struggles to defend herself.

Paul and one of his cronies chases Chaney into the garage. Chaney manages to get to his car, but the garage door won’t open. He tries to back a stolen car out through the door, but it doesn’t budge. Chaney hops out of the car, dials Jennifer on his cell phone, but she doesn’t answer.

He tries Drag’s house instead. Molly tries to pick up the phone but drops it. She tries to shut off the answering machine, but the message continues — Chaney hears the combination of Drag speaking with an English accent and the Leonard Cohen song, and he puts it together. Chaney shatters the glass main door of the country club and runs to his car. He reaches Corey’s house just in time to see Drag about to kill Jennifer. He shoots him in the chest. Grateful, Corey watches from the house — and disappears.

Later, a cop finds all the scalps from the Masker victim’s bodies, plus a bunch of additional masks. Sandy tells Chaney that Paul confessed to everything about the drug deal. Everyone’s impressed with his detective work. The next day, walking through Lafayette Square, Chaney is surprised to see a portrait of Corey, playing her cello. He hears melancholic cello music and walks away, smiling.


The idea of a ghost helping to solve their own murder is not exactly a new story (see 1990’s Ghost), and here the writer doesn’t do all that much to put a unique spin on the proceedings. It’s a gritty crime thriller set in post-Katrina New Orleans, but it’s the same bland cop-movie clichés with the same cardboard-cutout characters. Even Chaney’s alcoholic, washed-up cop who finds himself through the love of a good (if dead) woman is something that has been seen many, many times.

The script also suffers from a severe lack of action in the first and second acts. It’s a very talky, procedural-type storyline. The writer tries to enliven this with flashbacks, but at the end of the day, it’s just people sitting in a room, discussing a murder. Chaney only has one scene where he uses his detective skills in a capacity that doesn’t involve merely interviewing suspects and/or witnesses. I’m not saying don’t interview anyone — but the second act seems to be little more than six interviews in a row, with a few scenes with Drag and Sandy to break up the monotony.

Here’s the absolute low point of the story: we’re supposed to be on Chaney’s side as he pursues Corey’s killer. We’re supposed to say, “Go on, neglect the stakeout assignment you have because finding her killer is more important.” Then Chaney convinces himself it was Paul, and he puts all his eggs in the Paul basket — except it’s not Paul. It’s Drag. And if he had actually done the job he was assigned, and done it competently, they would have prevented at least one murder and he wouldn’t have put Jennifer or Molly in harm’s way. Granted, they would not have found out about Paul’s meth dealings, but when all the pieces of the puzzle are put together, it sort of makes Chaney look like an idiot for shirking his duty. (It also makes me wonder why the other detectives didn’t take Drag more seriously as a suspect.)

A better approach, which would give this a brisker pace and more action, might be to show what Chaney really wants — to get his detective groove back and earn back the respect of his colleagues. This is barely even alluded to in the script, but it would give his character a much stronger arc and would give the ending more impact. Corey should almost be a symbol of his detective instincts — she’s portrayed as real, but maybe things would be more interesting if we were questioning it. Of course, in order for that to work, he would have to be right about things in a non-accidental way. I wanted to root for Chaney, but the more that came about the case and the less that was revealed about him as a person, the more frustrating he became.

The New Orleans setting might also pique the interest of those who have not seen the city since Katrina. It’s a straightforward procedural with a bit of a romantic ghost story thrown in. Police procedurals are incredibly popular on television, but why would audiences pay $10-15 for something that isn’t much different than what they can see for free? Still, the supernatural element may bring in fans of horror movies or romantic movies. This concept has worked in the past, so it could work again. A better script would help, though.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:35 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

September 28, 2008

The Post-Credits Scene

Disclaimer: This post is in no way a reflection of my frustration at reading no fewer than three screenplays that include stupid, unnecessary post-credits scenes. It’s merely a hypothetical argument designed to help you, the screenwriter.

I’ve bitched about this before, so you you know what I’m talking about — Ferris Bueller coming out of his bathroom to whine that the movie’s over, you can go home now; the “epilogue” that finishes off the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie; Skeletor screeching “I’ll be baaaaaack!!!” at the end of Masters of the Universe. It’s the post-credits scene, which can sometimes serve a function but… Does it work in the screenplay?

Read "The Post-Credits Scene" »

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:16 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Screenwriting Articles, The Writer