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October 18, 2008

The Go-Getter (2007)

In a 2007 reflection on Cameron Crowe’s 2005 film Elizabethtown, A.V. Club film critic Nathan Rabin coined the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” to describe Kirsten Dunst’s character: “That bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Many of us have seen them before, in films like Garden State and Almost Famous (another Crowe film — coincidence?!), though the A.V. Club staff acknowledges the archetype has existed at least since the heyday of the screwball comedy. Although a long-standing crush on Zooey Deschanel caused me to beg for the The Go-Getter assignment, I feared it would succumb to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trend plaguing indie cinema. I was half-right.

In Mercer’s world, Kate (Zooey Deschanel) exists as nothing more than a voice on a phone and a spirit firmly entrenched in his fevered imagination. The film opens with Mercer (Lou Taylor Pucci) stealing her Volvo from a car wash in Eugene, Oregon; when she calls up her own cell phone to yell at him and ask why, he finds himself entranced. He’s taken her car to find his estranged half-brother. His mother has died, his father was never around to begin with, and Mercer’s desperate and alone. Hence the theft.

What follows is essentially The Catcher in the Rye redux, a storyline that plenty of indie filmmakers have pilfered (Igby Goes Down, Charlie Bartlett) with moderate success. Writer-director Martin Hynes makes the movie work by introducing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy in Mercer’s mind… And then the actual Kate shows up, forcing Mercer to reconcile his fantasy with reality. It adds an interesting layer to both characters and allows Hynes to have his cake and eat it, too.

Along Mercer’s journey across the American West, he runs into a variety of odd characters played by ringers like Judy Greer (Arrested Development), Maura Tierney (ER — it’s great to see her doing comedy again), Julio Oscar Mechoso (Grindhouse) and Bill Duke (who I saw last weekend in a Universal HD rebroadcast of the 1986 Carl Weathers classic Action Jackson). Perhaps the most compelling is Joely, played by Jena Malone (Saved), a girl Mercer hasn’t seen since junior high who, like Kate, injects an unfortunate dose of reality into Mercer’s misguided assumptions about women.

Mercer’s interactions with this menagerie of oddballs turns this into a story told in vignettes, but Hynes strings them together in such a way that his full journey packs a nice emotional punch (not to mention a few physical punches). Pucci (Thumbsucker) does a terrific job of anchoring the film with a performance that allows us to see the confusion hiding behind the wannabe-macho bravado. Deschanel (Bridge to Terabithia) has her work cut out for her, since much of her role is in voiceover, but she breaks the Manic Pixie Dream Girl mold by letting her voice reveal damage and vulnerability Mercer’s too naïve to hear.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit, but Hynes does work some directorial mojo that I didn’t care for. First, relying on the “shaky-cam” effect, which has become a cheap shorthand for “gritty,” to add intensity where none exists didn’t quite work for me. It would have been effective in a few, isolated scenes, but it’s used throughout, which I take to mean it either symbolizes Mercer’s frazzled state of mind or Hynes wants to create a “vérité” look. Either way, it doesn’t work.

Hynes also inserts a couple of fantasy sequences that are supposed to really show what’s going on in Mercer’s mind. I don’t know if Hynes lacked confidence in his script, his directing, or Pucci, but these sequences just sap the subtlety right out of his writing. It’s a shame, because he wrote a sharp, nuanced script, and everything gets across well without these scenes.

Nonetheless, these minor issues didn’t prevent me from enjoying the movie. The acting is great, and aside from the quibbles above, so is Hynes’ screenplay and directing. It’s an exceptional antidote to the usual indie relationship dramedies. I look forward to seeing what Hynes and Pucci will do next.

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

October 5, 2008

Diminishing Returns

Everyone, I have some shocking news: ratings are down. In a trend blamed largely on the writers’ strike, second-year shows are especially down, but all television shows are down overall. Networks want to blame the strike, citing the apparent no-brain that when the shows went off for too long, it didn’t occur to viewers that they’d come back this fall. Thanks for treating TV owners like a gaggle of simple-minded rubes, networks! That’ll really draw in the viewers!

Look, in the day and age of TiVo, thousands of free online TV guides, digital downloads, streaming and the thousands of other ways people can find out about — and watch — their favorite shows, it’s asinine to suggest nobody realizes the shows have come back. It’s asinine to suggest that maybe viewers forgot these shows’ alleged greatness. For the past three or four years, 24 has aired in a five-month shot from January to May, leaving a seven-month gap in between — yet it still manages to find an audience. Same deal with Lost and Medium, both of which recently attempted the same airing pattern. Basic-cable shows often air in the same way, in 13-week chunks with a nine-month break in the middle, and while they never managed the ratings of the networks, they don’t lose viewers who just forgot the show existed.

Most of the articles referencing this alleged decline use season averages — for instance, ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money had 7.1 million viewers for this week’s premiere, down one million from last season’s average, but up from its finale in December (6.5 million); Pushing Daisies did see a sharp decrease, but not as sharp as they’d like you to think. While it lost around three million viewers from its average, the premiere (6.8 million) dropped around half a million viewers from its December finale (6.3 million). However, while Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles — last season’s best new show — performed reasonably well last season, (averaging eight million and scoring slightly above average in its season finale), it debuted to 6.33 million viewers and has seen a drop of nearly one million viewers since then.

You might think that proves the network’s case — viewers just plain forgot about it. Except for one thing: Terminator started its run in January and ended in March.

I’d put it down to the quality of the shows, except Terminator is still great (and getting better), while I saw the Pushing Daisies premiere as a bit of a disappointment, and I’ve already lost interest in Dirty Sexy Money (see below). I could chalk it up to Fox’s notoriously bad promotion of its own shows, or their bastard-stepchild treatment of it, or the fact that sci-fi is a hard sell (even if it comes packaged with the Terminator brand).

The fact is, I don’t know why people aren’t watching. Maybe they don’t see what I see. Whatever the reason, it’s not because they forgot about it.

Bones (Fox) — What a lackluster episode. A nonsense story about Booth wanting a chair, making the Angela-Hodgins breakup even stupider by having Angela conflicted about the awkwardness and a meager mystery enhanced only by casting a guy who acted guilty as a ruse. Bones set itself apart from usual half-assed procedurals with strong characters and amusing writing. After last week, I guess I expected too much. I’d like to think of this as a craptacular cool-down. Hopefully they’ll put more thought into next week’s episode.

Dirty Sexy Money (ABC) — I figured its second-season premiere is the best time to let you all know that I’ve bailed on this show. Although it’s not a bad show, it started to make creative decisions that made me less and less enthusiastic about it as the weeks went by — mainly the emphasis on the Nick-Karen relationship nobody cares about. The final nail in the coffin actually came during the hiatus, when ABC announced that Samaire Armstrong’s real-life shenanigans forced them to reduce her from a regular to a recurring character until such time as they can write her off the show completely. Armstrong didn’t make or break the show, but the twins’ relationship was one of the highlights.

At the end of the day, I just watch too much TV, and this was at the bottom of the list of shows I would watch if I had more time. But I don’t, so I won’t.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW) — Paul Ben-Victor (who memorably played Vondas on The Wire but has been in no fewer than 800,000 other TV series and movies) joins the Everybody Hates Chris as a new foil for Chris; unlike Ms. Morello, he’s bigoted out of dickishness, not ignorance. The story did little more than establish new ground for Chris, so I don’t know where they intend to take the conflict, but let’s hope they give his character some more dimension (as they did with Ms. Morello). On other fronts, I’m glad to see Greg’s still kicking around, and Tanya’s subplot working in the beauty shop was pretty amusing for what little screen time it got. This was a solid, funny episode, but because of the natural focus on Chris, we didn’t get quite so much of the sharp, well-observed comedy from the vast supporting cast. But hey, there’s time for that.

Fringe (Fox) — Let me start, as Fringe often does, by laying down a straightforward idea in the most confusing possible way: for many of the same reasons, the past week’s show was both Fringe’s best and worst episode.

The good: details on “The Pattern,” giving one of the characters (Peter) a legitimate conflict to work through and resolve by episode’s end, the creepy hairless guy, the “good” vs. “bad” mind-readers. Even the overall plot, as nonsensical and unresolved as it was, kept me more interested than the usual “new spin on a shitty B-movie” storytelling.

The bad: thanks to the details on “The Pattern” and the introduction of the creepy hairless guy who may or may not be an alien or a time-traveler or something otherworldly, Fringe won’t shed its “X-Files Lite” image any time soon. Living in the shadow of such an iconic show is a double-edged sword: The X-Files’ best material makes Fringe look like something written in crayon by Young Authors participant; The X-Files’ worst leads me to assume Fringe will succumb to an enormous decline in quality and coherency, making it seem like a wasteful time investment. (The fact that Alias suffered the same fate doesn’t help Fringe’s case, either.)

The ugly: Walter’s monologue. More interesting than anything ever featured on the show, achingly delivered by John Noble, this could have been Fringe’s defining moment. But the underlying ideas — that Walter met the Observer once before, that he saved both Walter’s and Peter’s lives, and that one day he “might need” Walter — undid the good things brimming to the surface in this episode. Peter accepting the notion of The Pattern was enough; we don’t need to put these two main characters at the center of The Pattern. It makes everything both too neat and too convoluted…

Then again, that’s pretty much Fringe in a nutshell.

Heroes (NBC) — My heart sank when I saw the promo pairing Noah Bennet and Sylar. After my enormous disappointment with last week’s premiere, I wondered how much further the show could sink. That promo answered the question.

So it surprised the hell out of me that I didn’t hate the episode. Granted, I still didn’t like the Bennet-Sylar team. I don’t like anything about Mama Petrelli being Sylar’s mother, either. Christine Rose brought an alarming, incestuous quality to their scenes together that made the whole concept much more interesting than anything in the writing — but I’m still not on board. None of it’s as terrible as I expected, but it heads all of these characters down roads that will get worse before they get better.

The disappointment train continues in the Hiro/Ando subplot. Thankfully, they ignored the premiere’s “Hiro no longer trust Ando” conceit until the end of the episode, which returned us to a bit of the old-school fun and charm of their friendship. However, the Flash girl — whose name I haven’t committed to memory — managed to drag the subplot down with her. When will television producers (and actors, for that matter) realize there’s very little cuteness to smug, obnoxious characters? If they’re trying to set up a possible romance between Hiro and the Flash girl, they need to try much, much harder. Even the tedium of his romance with the Japanese princess was more rewarding.

Meanwhile, the writers self-corrected some of their mistakes pretty quickly — yanking Nathan off the crazy train (sort of), yanking Peter out of Francis Capra’s evil, shout-powered body, and letting the two villains escape. The bank-heist subplot, rote as it was, actually worked for me. The writers showed more skill in presenting these new villain characters, even the ones that died, than they have in giving new twists on characters we already know. Even Parkman’s African safari has already come to the point and will, hopefully, end within the next episode or two. Most surprisingly, the storyline with “Tracy Strauss” got suddenly and surprisingly interesting. Her sad scenes with Micah were very affecting, but the “crazy ol’ doctor” stuff is what really piqued my interest.

I’m still not sure how I feel about this show, but unlike last week, the good outweighed the bad.

King of the Hill (Fox) — I tend to like Bill-focused episodes. Although he is, by far, the most tragic character in the Hills’ universe, his unbridled, misguided optimism always dulls the black-edged comedy of his existence. In this case, he’s diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes, and a hostile, House-like doctor browbeats Bill into buying a wheelchair, which convinces everyone he knows he’s disabled. Greedy for the attention, he lets them think this, befriends some actual disabled people — and, well, it gets kind of ugly from there.

One of the great things about the way the writers attacked this episode is that it doesn’t rely on humiliating Bill repeatedly; he makes a drunken mistake (by getting up and walking in front of his new, wheelchair-bound friends) and has to pay the price, but nobody laughs at him, nor does he laugh at anyone. He wants friends, he wants attention and — in one of the show’s funniest ironies — he really did have a problem, but hanging with the athletic disabled guys got him into the shape to keep his diabetes under control. They don’t vilify Bill or his new friends; in fact, Thunder (voiced by Jake “Body by Jake/Big Brother Jake” Steinfeld) works with Hank and the alley boys to pull Bill out of his post-humiliation funk.

They also did a good job of tying this into a Peggy-Bobby subplot in which she wants him to eat healthy so he doesn’t end up like Bill. It didn’t get much screen time, but it had a surprising — and satisfying — resolution. It offset Bill’s more-obvious “beat up Dr. House” ending.

Mad Men (AMC) — A friend once grumbled that he won’t watch Mad Men because he doesn’t like the idea of 21st-century writers saying “that’s how people were” in the ’60s. I could have mocked him for coming to this conclusion without ever seeing the show. I could have mocked him because, even if nobody on the writing staff was alive in the ’60s (which might not be true — I honestly don’t know), neither was my friend. Instead, I tried to reason that this isn’t a show about “the ’60s.” It may use the period to reflect on contemporary society, but it’s not trying to say, “This is how all people were at this time in history.” It’s saying, “This is how these people were at this time in their lives.” If he forced me to cite an example, this is the episode I’d choose.

So Freddy Rumsen pisses himself just before an important pitch, leading Duck and Roger to decide he has to go. It’s interesting, again, how they use Duck as a glowering villain — he’s a teetotaler! — instead of making him into a compelling character. Granted, I love the irony of calling him a teetotaler when he’s an ex-drunk, but he does nothing here but make Don angry, and we’re forced to pick Don’s side.

Freddy, Roger and Don go for one last night on the town before they send Freddy away for “the cure” and a six-month leave of absence, which even Freddy knows is a permanent vacation. With the exception of the high theatrics of Don slugging Jimmy Barrett, it was pretty much just a depressing, quiet night between three sad drunks. And yet, I’d wager it was a pivotal night for each of them — for Freddy, the change is obvious; for Don — well, I can’t imagine punching Jimmy will end well for either of them; and Roger, after listening to Don’s drunken ramblings justifying his own amoral behavior, decides to leave his wife… For Jane. I gotta say, I didn’t see that one coming, especially after Roger’s scene with Joan. And yet, you watch the scene again and realize it makes perfect sense. Well played, Mad Men.

Pushing Daisies (ABC) — The return of Pushing Daisies marks the return of my doubts about the show continuing its success in the long term. I still love the cast (Chenoweth excepted, though she’s 10% more tolerable when I can skip through her song-and-dance crap), they have great guest stars, and this week’s mystery might have been the most well-crafted since the pilot —

But they can’t keep up the pace. At a certain point, the “talking quickly = hilarity” formula will stop paying dividends. By the end of the first season, cracks formed in the cutesy façade. They started taking it into a character-focused, soap-opera direction, which normally I like but, for some intangible reason, it just didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s because these characters are so far from reality, I have a hard time feeling the empathy. Maybe it’s because the depressing moon-eyes between Ned and Chuck got less effective each time they repeated it. It’s telling that the only character whose story remains interesting is Emerson Cod’s. He’s the closest thing to a grounded, real character they have, and the pop-up book he’s designed to help his estranged daughter find him is as depressing as it is sweet. Will they abuse this the same way they abused Ned and Chuck?

I haven’t stopped watching, but I fear Pushing Daisies’ future.

Raising the Bar (TNT) — Raising the Bar may not be the best show on television, but this week offered a textbook example of what the show wants to do — and, unlike last week, they did it pretty well. The closing bar scene between Jerry and Bobbi might have taken it from subtle to obvious, but the he finally articulated the difficulties of the criminal justice system without coming across like a whiner. The writers also focused more on this complicated case — and Jerry’s complicated defense — than on the interpersonal shenanigans. Ernhardt barely appeared in this episode, and the awkward “Bobbi’s married but flirting with Jerry and her husband’s kind of a dick” subplot actually worked for me. It was marginal enough to not distract from the cases, but it also didn’t feel extraneous. Well done.

Sons of Anarchy (FX) — I realized something about Sons of Anarchy that doesn’t bode well for its future, unless the writers get their acts together. Creator Kurt Sutter has fashioned a modern-day Hamlet story from this biker gang, but I find the story of recent ex-con Opie (Ryan Hurst) and his put-upon wife, Donna (played by Jericho’s Sprague Grayden), much more compelling than storylines that get infinitely more screen-time.

The other characters do interest me, but the situations the writers have put them in, so far, have not piqued my interest. Some subplots have worked better than others, but it shouldn’t be such a crap-shoot. More than that, they shouldn’t keep the most interesting story and character relationship on the furthest back-burner — even in an episode that featured Opie prominently, his actual conflict took a backseat to the way the others felt about Kyle coming to town.

I have the patience to see the season through, but this episode just underscored all the mistakes the writers have made thus far, and it didn’t declare any intentions of repairing them. I don’t know how I feel about that; if they don’t want to improve the show, why should anyone keep watching it?

Supernatural (The CW) — Sometimes I’m shocked by how good this show is. Actually, it shocks me more often than I’d like to admit. I always want to lump this show in with middling sci-fi/horror fare like Charmed and The Ghost Whisperer, what with its pretty-boy cast and its EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: McG credit. Over the years, though, it’s grown into something great, and episodes like this week’s remind me of just how far it’s come since its pilot.

Aided by a thoroughly bad-ass guest appearance by The X-Files’ Mitch Pileggi (who seems to be everywhere these days — not that I’m complaining), the episode took Dean back in time and explored the unusual history of the Winchester brood. They packed a whole lot of revelations into this: turns out, the Campbell side of the family were all hunters. The Yellow-Eyed Demon — who will kill the boys’ mother and torment them — comes prowling around Lawrence, making unfair “deal-with-the-Devil”-type trades to build some sort of half-human, half-demon army. That’s right, Sam’s psychic powers came straight from him and suggest he’ll go bad. Oh, and John Winchester knew nothing of the hunter ways at all, making it depressing and ironic that the lifestyle consumed him after her death. Also, the Yellow-Eyed Demon killed both of Dean’s grandparents, but not before letting Pileggi rock out as the demon-possessed old man. Then Dean’s mother had to make the deal to bring John back to life.

Got all that? In between, they shoved in a complex mystery, a metric ton of Back to the Future references, more conflict with Castiel the Bad-Ass Angel — and they kept Sam and Dean separated but it didn’t bother me a bit. I don’t know how I’ll feel if this season is all about Sam going to the dark side, but if they keep up the top-notch writing, I’ll probably love it.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox) — I want to knock some points off because of the writers’ reliance on “Cameron has a glitch, does something weird” plots, but they always handle it so well, I can’t complain.

Also, how can you go wrong with something resembling a terminator Ark? Am I crazy? I saw a bunch of caged humans — but, more importantly, a bunch of caged animals — on a big-ass boat. What are those future terminators up to? What is Shirley Manson up to? What does she really want with Ellison? What’s the deal with her “daughter”? Could she have sent herself back in time to protect the person whose identity she will steal in the future? Or are they actually going for the “Terminator Baby” thing? Busy Philipps’ pregnancy has turned into an important element in the show thus far, and I can’t imagine it ending well for anyone involved. But what’s the deal? Is her ex-boyfriend some kind of special machine? An Impregnator?

So many questions, so few answers. On to the matter at hand — the fascinating story of Cameron forgetting herself and believing she is the girl whose DNA she effectively “stole” in the future. Teaming up with guest star Leah Pipes (former star of the late but unlamented CW series Life Is Wild), who did a pretty good job as a rebellious street urchin. This might sound weird, but my one complaint about the episode is that Cameron didn’t kill her. They just had to give us the shot of her regaining consciousness, gasping for breath. It would have been much more ballsy to off her, but I’m guessing the network had some problems with that.

As for Future Cameron (or, um… Past Cameron, considering in her “lifetime,” these events took place earlier), they still managed to answer a couple of questions about her while still keeping the overall agenda mysterious. Did Future John reprogram her, or did they dig up more dirt from the machines? Time will tell…

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

October 26, 2008

No More Heroes (or Fringe)

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW) — Not their strongest effort. Not bad, but they didn’t sell me on the powerful effect this teacher had on Chris. I wouldn’t nitpick that so much if Adult Chris hadn’t called her the best teach he’d ever had — where did that come from? They really should have taken the time to build that relationship over several episodes. Bringing her in, then carrying her out, caused the whole episode to suffer.

Fringe (Fox) — So, okay, I’m done. Last week, I said that I don’t hate this show, I don’t wish it any ill will nor do I hold a grudge toward people who think it’s the greatest thing ever to air on television, but… I’m just not feeling it. I gave it a few weeks to grow on me, and while in some ways it got better, the writers continued to introduce story ideas that I disliked. Anna Torv has gotten worse, not better, in the lead role. This week, for the first time, my biggest fear came to fruition — they’ve started writing Walter as a goofy, joke-dispensing caricature instead of a brilliant, haunted man whose vague creepiness is undercut by his absurd statements. I’m out. That’s all there is to it. I won’t even say I expected more from J.J. Abrams and his pals, because I honestly didn’t… But I still don’t like the show.

Heroes (NBC) — For those sick of me railing against this show’s relentless awfulness, you’re in luck. Even if I hadn’t repeatedly trumpeted my plans to stop watching the show if things didn’t get better this week — if I’d kept quiet or decided to give it more of a chance, let’s say — I would have deleted the episode from my TiVo in disgust and never watched the show again. It was that bad.

Let’s start with the ending and work our way backwards, shall we? First, I have to say that I love Robert Forster. I was thrilled to hear he’d have a recurring role this season, but that was back when I still had hope the show would redeem itself for the second season. His swiping of powers was appropriately bad-ass, but it takes me back to one of my many complaints about last week’s episode (which, more generally, criticized the series as a whole): he has the exact same power as Peter. Yes, he takes powers, rather than merely absorbing them, but at the end of the day, his “power” is still “the ability to absorb others’ powers,” just as Parkman’s father had the ability to control minds in addition to just reading them (an aspect Parkman himself learned to use). Another problem with the power absorption: he steals Adam’s ability to heal rapidly, then steals all of Peter’s powers — which include the power to heal rapidly. Don’t try to sell me on the notion that he “needed” strength in order to handle Peter — bullshit. It was just sloppy writing attempting cleverness (giving Adam a “cool” death by calling back to the earlier notion that all of these people were part of the conglomerate that founded The Company).

So then there’s Peter and Sylar. Last week’s stupidest line came from Angela Petrelli, and it bears repeating: “We knew [the formula] couldn’t ever be used again — that’s why we divided it in thirds!” This week’s stupidest line comes from Sylar, about Angela. In the midst of his incoherent, labyrinthine explanation for why he needed to release Peter, the Heroes world’s second-dumbest Petrelli asks why he should save her, to which Sylar says, “She’s the only woman who ever accepted me for who I really am.” Careful viewers will note that, from the start of this season, all Angela has attempted to do is change who Sylar really is. Which, I guess, is evidence that Angela really is Sylar’s mother. You don’t get to be that stupid without genetic help.

The crap with Mohinder, Nathan, and Tracy was just godawful filler. I’m disappointed to report that so was the stuff with Parkman and Daphne. Now, I still like Parkman — sort of — but I seem to remember Tim Kring, reflecting on last season’s failed attempts at coupling, said something like, “Maybe we just aren’t that good at relationships.” He should’ve stuck with that opinion of himself and his writing staff, because nothing about this is working for me. The chemistry’s not there, which might be the 15-year age difference between Greg Grunberg and Brea Grant… Or it could just be the latter’s grating performance leaving me mystified as to why anyone would be smitten with her. Then again, maybe it all makes sense: he’s not in love with her so much as trying to recapture something he felt in a “pre-cog” hallucination.

Are you ready for the worst part of this week’s episode? If you watched it, you already know (and not just by process of elimination): Claire and her two mommies versus “sinister” puppetmaster Doyle. It’s time for a hypothetical. Say you’re a slovenly, misogynistic ape who has been blessed with the ability to control humans like puppet. Fate brings you an attractive woman that you once knew, who you turn into your personal love slave. Two other women come to rescue her. You mistakenly assume the teenage girl is your love slave’s niece, and the older woman is the niece’s mother. So you make the girl play a game of Russian roulette, using your puppet powers, and force her to aim the gun at your love slave and kill her, and if she actually died, you’d lose that love slave forever.

Did any part of the Russian roulette scene make sense? Seriously… At first, I thought, “Okay, no biggie — the gun’s obviously not loaded. He’s just bluffing to scare the shit out of them.” And then the gun is loaded. The gun that Doyle forced Claire to aim at Meredith — his love slave! — and pull the trigger. Maybe if we knew something about Doyle’s backstory, we’d know that he’s had plenty of love slaves, that they’re a dime a dozen, whatever. Since we know nothing about him, and frankly, the dude looks and acts hard up, he shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth by possibly making someone else shoot her to death. For no discernible reason.

On the one hand, the writers tried to ramp up the struggle Claire has been dealing with all season — will she choose the cool real mom who’s never been there for her, or will she choose the uncool stepmom who’s an actual parent? The writers dropped the ball in two ways: first, they stripped the choice right out of Claire’s hands, and second, it makes absolutely no sense for Doyle to force this choice upon her. Again, maybe if we knew something about him — that he’s some kind of sociopath who gets off on causing harm to women, for instance — they could have made this subplot plausible. Knowing nothing, left with what we do know, it’s perplexing at best. At worst, it’s just shitty writing — somehow even shittier than last week, which is why I was surprised to read on so many TV-commentary blogs and message boards that Heroes has “suddenly” redeemed itself with its first good episode of the season.

It did have one redeeming subplot, though. Aside from the tedious (as usual) time-travel explanation for Ando’s non-death, the Hiro/Ando/Usutu subplot was pretty much the only thing that went unscathed. As I said during the premiere, this show’s success depends on how well they handle each of its many subplots. When only one per week works — out of five or six, usually — that’s a big problem. One that has, at long last, made me give up this show for good. Sorry, guys, but I’m pretty sure you’ll get canceled long before you come close to being good again.

King of the Hill (Fox) — I usually like Kahn-focused episodes, especially when they involve his man-crush on Ted Wassonasong, but I have to confess that this didn’t do much for me. The alley gang’s struggle against poorly built McMansions, while funny, fell square in the center of the formula that’s kept the show running strong for 13 years — the modern world encroaching on the lives of old-fashioned rednecks. However, unlike instant classics like last season’s “Raise the Steaks” (in which Hank runs a hippie co-op because it’s the only place in town with good meat/produce), this week’s didn’t put a new or unexpected spin on the characters. Even the episode from two weeks ago, about Strickland going green, took each character to their illogical extreme. This time around, they were the straight men to crazy Ted Wassonasong and the absurd loophole finder.

Mad Men (AMC) — Okay, so the writers finally decided to address some of the weird — but believable — issues with “Dick Whitman” and “Don Draper,” and it did tie into that mystery flashback from “The Gold Violin.” Their relationship is so bizarre and interesting, it could almost make for a compelling season of television unto itself. Instead we have a depressing, deliberately paced (very similar to last week’s) take on Don’s various issues. His identity crisis, if you want to call it that, has finally come to a head, and I hope he’ll move past it. I assume Don stepping into the ocean and letting the waves crash over him symbolizes some sort of renewal or rebirth and not something annoyingly over my head.

In other news: hey, Pete’s a dick. Who saw that coming? Although I don’t mind Pete as a character, I found myself drawn more to the stories of Joan and Peggy. Although their subplots were relatively separate, the two characters have had uncomfortable parallels since the beginning, but more in this season. Joan appears to be suffering from a Don-esque identity crisis of her own and has been ever since she got a taste of Peggy’s glory when she helped out in the TV department. Suddenly, she had a purpose, a launchpad for a career — but it was yanked out from under her. Instead, Joan tries to create her identity in the usual way for women of the era: through marriage. And, of course, the disturbing “office sex” scene showed that even that isn’t working out for Joan. Meanwhile, everything’s coming up Peggy — landing the Popsicle account and a classy new office (courtesy of gone-but-not-forgotten Freddy Rumsen).

I can’t leave this without also mentioning Betty. She’s become unpleasant on so many levels, yet they’ve managed to keep her sympathetic. Maybe more empathetic than sympathetic — I certainly understand why she is the way she is, but I’m not exactly rooting for her to keep up the behavior. I still wish we could return to the halcyon days of her firing a BB gun at her neighbors’ pigeons, a cigarette dangling from her lips. Assertive Betty is fine but not when she’s entrapping “friends” into sleeping with guys she wants for herself, then chastising her for going through with it.

The Office (NBC) — Am I wrong in feeling like something was off about this episode? The setup of all the major stories — the robbery/auction, Jim bumping into Roy, etc. — was fine and dandy, the episode was funny as ever, but something just didn’t feel right. Was Michael acting too stupid? Did they spend too much time on Angela, Andy and Dwight (who, no offense to the actors involved, are just bogging down the show)? Was Jim’s behavior unbelievable even with Roy planting seeds of doubt? I’m supposed to be the one providing the insights here, but I just can’t put my finger on what didn’t work about the episode. I just know that when the credits rolled, I had kind of a blasé feeling about it, which rarely happens with me and The Office.

Pushing Daisies (ABC) — Another great episode — there’s hope for this show yet. Loved Emerson’s mother (Debra Mooney, most recognizable to me as Mrs. Wellman on Roseanne, but she’s been in a ton of stuff, notably a recent stint on Everwood) and an overly-perky Dana Davis as the Frescorts receptionist. For those keeping score, she played Monica Dawson on Heroes last season — the only tolerable new character, and therefore the only new character destined to disappear without a trace for no good reason. Lucky for her, she got out while the getting’s good, and if she can find a role where she doesn’t die midway through the episode, she ought to go far.

Going into the episode, I was slightly less enthusiastic about David Arquette. Knowing this show’s zany enthusiasm for going over-the-top, I assumed it would play to Arquette’s major weakness (going way, way, way too far to get laughs), but he was remarkably restrained. I also loved the way they tied together Ned’s struggles for friendship and acceptance paralleled Arquette’s, and their scene at the end was…much more touching than I would have believed possible. Beyond that, the way they built the entire episode around Ned’s jealousy over Chuck and Olive just clicked in ways the show hasn’t since early in its first season (with the exception of last week). I’m willing to admit the writers’ strike might have been good for these guys. They seemed to have spent the off-time really getting into the nitty-gritty of these characters. Good times!

Raising the Bar (TNT) — I pretty much watch this show for scenes like the one on the rooftop, between Kellerman and Charlie, but I have to reluctantly admit that scenes like this have been few and far between. The show tries to do some good with its stories, exploring the problems with the system and how to manipulate its broken parts to achieve real justice, but its strengths lie in its characters, which the writers forget too often. Courtroom histrionics don’t make the show good. Kellerman sitting in his apartment, poring over precedents and loopholes until he has that “Eureka!” moment — that’s what makes the show work.

Oh, and Richard’s “mad crush” on Rosalind? I’m warning you, show — I like you and all, but do not go down the road of intra-office hook-ups. Please, please just let these people work together like normal people. Remember when The West Wing tried that? Just, please, writers, go back and watch that show so you know how much better it is when these people are just friendly colleagues. Nothing kills a show faster than far-fetched romances like this.

Sons of Anarchy (FX) — Roger Ebert’s law of conservation of characters could apply to this week’s ambulance. In another of this show’s (many) sloppy moments, we had a clunky ambulance theft followed by much mockery. Anybody who’s ever watched an episode of television in their lives knew instantly that the ambulance would come in handy later in the episode. Sigh. On the plus side, they made the DEA agent creepy for the first time ever — just in time to be killed by Jax, which will create a fun rift in his relationship Tara. And they brought in Francis “Awesome” Capra as one of the Mexican gang leaders. So, while I didn’t think this was a particular great episode, I do think it’ll lead somewhere… Maybe not great, but somewhere more interesting.

Supernatural (The CW) — I’m not sure I like Supernatural setting two “light” episodes back to back, but maybe the CW is airing them out of order for some reason. This was another really funny episode with some great work from Jensen Ackles. Unlike last week’s greatness, this one won’t work as a “standalone” to bring mystified friends on board with Supernatural’s awesomeness; while hilarious, it’s much too dependent on a knowledge of Dean’s character. If you don’t know he spends most of his time as a bad-ass, most of his ‘fraidy-cat material will fall flat.

I loved that they allowed Sam to show how much he cares about Dean. As I mentioned quite frequently last season, the writers forcing rifts between the brothers (especially by physically separating them) has annoyed me. They’ve continued the trend a little bit this season, but an episode like this lets us know that they may fight, but they still care about each other. Also, special shout-out to Jack Conley, notable to Buffy/Angel fans as werewolf-hunter Kane and ridiculous demon Sahjhan (also memorable as Kim Kelly’s stepfather in one episode of Freaks & Geeks). He added an extra layer of intensity to this week’s creepy sheriff.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox) — Good news, everyone! Fox picked up the back nine. Knowing them, this means the show will get canceled after episode 14 airs, instead of after episode 10. Yay!

The writers packed this episode with revelations about every single character, which is great because while I tried to find positives in each of the Ellison/Weaver subplots, they felt directionless until this week. Now, we have expansions on her (and her “daughter”), Ellison, John, Sarah — even the damn Turk computer got some character development. Derek’s curious future lover has added even more meat to the pot, although she remains a mystery. My speculation? Just as the resistance fighters have gone to great lengths to capture and reprogram machines, the machines have gone to great lengths to capture and “reprogram” resistance fighters. For some reason, she’s working for them. I should also mention that I enjoyed the episode-ending irony that John disabled their recording device — just before Weaver ran in and made a deluge of secret admissions revealing who she is and what she’s up to.

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

October 19, 2008

Must-Miss TV

Baseball playoffs have preempted about half the Fox shows I usually cover; in their place, I offer longer, less coherent rants about old favorites Heroes, Fringe and Pushing Daisies!

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW) — I admired this episode’s attention to continuity: Julius reading Soap Opera Digest, Drew’s knowledge of feng shui (stemming from his obsession with Asian culture), Tanya’s general brattiness. This episode got a little more absurd than usual — what with the Say Anything and Cosby Show spoofs, not to mention Greg’s instantaneous transformation into a pathetic hobo — but the writers wisely built the weirdness on a solid foundation of real human emotion. Chris’ conflict with Greg was so well-developed, I didn’t mind the tacked-on Drew and Tanya subplots.

I do have a mild complaint about Orlando Jones as “Clint Huckstable.” I’ve actually loved him since his days as the “Make 7-Up Yours” spokesman, and he took what could have been a great, dead-on Bill Cosby impersonation and went a few steps over the top with it, turning it into a ridiculous caricature. As a result, it kind of dulled the sharp, somewhat aggressive satire of the Rocks versus the Huckstables. Still a very funny episode, and Jones wasn’t terrible or anything — he just went a little overboard with the Cosby-isms.

Fringe (Fox) — Poor Fringe. I’ll go a little easier on it than maybe it deserves, because I have such ambivalence. When I look at it objectively, I can say, “Yes, it is improving in both the ‘standalone’ crimes and the overall mythology.” So people who liked the show and keep liking it, I hope, will stay happy with it. Just me, though? I don’t like where it’s headed.

Two weeks ago, they dropped some mildly interesting science on us regarding The Pattern and The Observer, only some of which was pilfered wholesale from classic X-Files episodes. It ended with a cliffhanger in which creepy undead John Scott returns from the grave to kick it old-school with Olivia. In this episode, the writers provided the lamest cliffhanger resolution this side of Heroes: turns out, he’s probably still in a Massive Dynamic lab somewhere, and what Olivia keeps seeing is some sort of leftover flotsam from their dream-sharing activities in the pilot. He keeps appearing to her throughout the episode, eventually leading her to a secret office/janitor’s closet filled with notes from his own, private investigation into The Pattern.

I didn’t like one bit of this. It all makes a twisted kind of sense and furthers The Pattern while de-assassinating Mark Valley’s character, but this show has taught me that “logical” doesn’t always translate as compelling drama. Abrams and his writers should stick to their comfort zone, in the realm of wildly incoherent; it works for Lost. The story of Electro-Boy Joseph Megar was a bit more engrossing, but it still felt like some of kind of generic, rehashed comic-book plot. In the end, it didn’t do much for me, so I’m left with the same thought I have every week: I like Peter and Walter and couldn’t care about everyone and everything else.

Next week is the last new episode before baseball forces Fringe off the air; it is also, most likely, the last episode I’ll watch.

Heroes (NBC) — Stupidity, thy name is Heroes.

In the first season, the writers led us to believe the rather cool notion that natural evolution created these people’s abilities. Now, we’re finally told that the Company has developed its “synthetic” ability drug, which they used on Tracy, Niki and the never-before-seen Barbara, as well as Nathan (and probably others — I’m thinking Claire, but do I really care enough to find out?). Here’s why it approaches the stupidity of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s late-in-the-game “slayers were created via demon rape!” retroactive continuity: pretend these guys are tree-trunk-armed baseball players who can bat, pitch and field like nobody you’ve ever seen in the history of time. Truly phenomenal athletes whose stories unfold in a weekly, hour-long drama. One week, the writers give an offhanded, “Oh, by the way, these guys have been on steroids the entire time” explanation for their athletic skills. They go from amazing to “who gives a shit?” You lose interest in watching the outraged athletes trying to identify and expose the nefarious men who have caused them to unknowingly juice.

But wait, it gets worse. Angela Petrelli continues the explanation: the “formula” they used, while effective, could have dangerous consequences, which the company saw. She says something like, “We knew it couldn’t ever be used again — that’s why we divided it in thirds!” What?! I won’t waste my time diagramming the sentence to chart the full extent of its idiocy, but I will start speculating that Peter’s stupidity problem is genetic.

Remember my endless bitching about them repeating the time travel thing, how what was once very effective has had diminishing returns because they’ve used it so many damn times, and how if the writers want to solve the show’s problems, they’d stop simply repeating themselves? Insert the Pinehearst Company, a Primatech Paper for “villains” run (apparently?) by the ghost of Linderman. Gee, a mysterious company with a vested interest in ability-possessing people? Shocking new plot twist! Remember how it was kinda cool when they dropped weird Primatech hints in the first season? Diminishing returns.

Remember the devastation you felt the first time a major character was killed at the end of the episode? I do not have total recall of all things Heroes, but I distinctly remember the first couple of “oh shit, they just killed them!” cliffhangers having a visceral impact. Here’s what I thought when Hiro stabbed Ando through the chest: “I wonder how he’s going to use time travel to solve this problem.” I would ignore the ineptitude that prevented him from using time travel before having to stab him, but at this point, he may have and they’ll reveal his deception next week. I don’t know, but after the legitimate hilarity of their “we’re the worst heroes ever” conversation — the first time this season I remembered why I loved these characters — it disappoints me that they’ve headed in this direction; even when Hiro saves him, as we know he will, the rift between them will get bigger, ruining the show even more.

What about repetitive powers? Adam Monroe, introduced last season, is immortal like Claire. This season, we’ve met Tracy, whose “Ms. Freeze” ability mirrors a similar power Sylar possesses. (It’d also be a lot more fun if she said things like, “Let’s kick some ice!” or “Chilled to perfection!”) We have Usutu, who has Isaac’s “paint the future” power. Knox gains strength by feeding on people’s fear; the fear thing is reminiscent of Peter’s early ability to absorb the powers of people near him, while the super-strength is no different from Niki/Jessica. “Eric Doyle” is a puppeteer, like Parkman and his father but without the mental invasion (I guess?). The hilariously named “Flint” can create fire, just like Claire’s mom only blue!. In theory, Daphne’s Flash power is kind of cool; in practice, it’s virtually identical to Hiro’s ability to slow down time and disappear from difficult situations. I don’t know what Robert Forster’s power is supposed to be, but Angela’s dream made him look a bit like Sylar redux, just like his son Peter! Finally, Mohinder has inherited little more than super-strength with an alarming ability to cocoon people in a terrible “homage” to either Alien, The Fly or both (it comes across as more of a rip-off than an homage, I have to say). So the only reasonably interesting and unique powers are short-lived Jesse Murphy’s “yell loud enough to do damage” thing and Stephen Canfield’s black-hole-making awesomeness. Both of these characters are now dead, leaving us with no unique or interesting abilities from anyone. Thanks, Heroes!

Ready for the low point of the episode, possibly the nadir of the entire series? Wasting a fantastic guest spot from The Wire’s Andre Royo (playing the above-mentioned Canfield) in one of the most incomprehensible and moronic episode storylines in the series’ history (and that includes everything involving Mohinder and/or Maya!). So, Claire is trying to hunt down “villains.” She steals a glimpse at Noah’s file and pursues him. Then she turns into a puddle of tears upon realizing he’s not such a bad guy (this is after she tasers him for fun). This is when Noah and Sylar show up, causing Claire to rage against Daddy for working with such a horrible, horrible monster while persecuting a fairly nice guy.

Canfield creates a black hole and bails while they try to get out of it, which is awesome, and when it dies down — after Sylar “saves” her — Claire scampers away. She meets up with Canfield at the Griffith Park Carousel, and within seconds Noah shows up. Rather than explaining the nature of Sylar’s particular evil — which might have motivated Canfield to help — Noah pulls a gun on him and says he’ll shoot him if he doesn’t make a black hole that they can shove Sylar into. Suddenly, Claire is on Sylar’s side — how dare Noah try to kill such a horrible, horrible monster while offering to let a fairly nice guy go free in exchange for his help? Canfield makes a black hole and throws himself in, destroying the only interesting new character to pop up on this show since the first season. Enraged, Claire rides home with Noah and Sylar, and Sylar gives her an anti-Noah pep talk that she buys into fully, then Noah gives her the “everything I do is to protect you” speech, which has no effect on her. I guess we’re supposed to buy her sudden change of heart because he helped her earlier, but come on. Everything about this was terrible.

I don’t even have the energy to get into the ghost of Linderman talking to Daphne. Who cares? I would like to mention, briefly, the inexplicable, future-mandated luvvv between Daphne and Parkman. One of the overall themes of season one is this idea that the future has no mandate — those trying to control it for selfish reasons (like Linderman and Angela Petrelli) will always be thwarted by people who just want to do good (like Hiro, and to a stupider extent, Peter), so, just as Doc Brown says at the end of Back to the Future Part III, the future is what you make of it. The writers have since forgotten this theme; every future flash-forward is followed by characters saying, “This will happen!” and twiddling their thumbs until they can accept their fate. (Hiro and Ando are the exceptions to this rule, and the only characters who have remained likable. Coincidence?)

I promised I’d give it another week, but I don’t know if I dare. At this point, I no longer have any faith that it will get better; I’m just seeing how much worse it can get before NBC cancels its low-rated ass.

Mad Men (AMC) — They’re veering off the beaten path with Don, and I’m not sure where the writers want to go with this story; maybe they aren’t sure, either, but I like to think they’ve just done a good job of hiding it. On the plus side, his California adventure featured a hefty dose of Pete being incompetent and a surprising guest turn from Laura Ramsey (from ABC’s short-lived The Days), fresh from horror-movie purgatory. Now, back in 2004, I admired Ramsey primarily for her hotness, so it’s nice to see she’s matured into a good actress. Even if I’m too dumb to understand the secret symbolism of The Sound and the Fury or the importance of Don hanging with some creepy California bohemian intellectuals, I can say she did a good job. And is still hot.

Back at the office, Duck finally made a move after Roger’s blistering — and hilarious — evisceration of his supposed job skills. I have a bit of a better understanding of what’s happening here, although I’m not look forward to Don coming home to a brand new Sterling-Cooper. But hey, it appears he’s not coming home any time soon, so who knows? Anybody want to take any guesses as to who Don intends to meet as “Dick Whitman.” Does it have anything to do with the woman from the flashback a few weeks ago, or the person he sent the book to in the premiere?

The Office (NBC) — This is the show I fell in love with. That might sound inconsistent coming from a guy with a well-documented dislike of the sheer volume of romantic couplings (and trianglings) this show has created.

What made it work this week? The Michael-Jan relationship clicks for me, and I guess the explanation goes all the way back to Michael’s pow-wow with the office ladies a couple of seasons ago: he’s an emotionally stunted idiot-manchild who got in way, way, way over his head. He’s stumbling through a relationship with a woman who clearly dislikes him and puts up with him for her own damaged reasons, so this relationship allows them to explore more of Michael than we’d ever see if he remained single or in a relatively non-abusive relationship.

Now, the triangle with Holly doesn’t exactly work, but that hug did — big-time. Because it wasn’t about her, and if she hadn’t been around, it probably would have been Pam or Kelly or… Well, not Angela, but somebody. Ryan? It’s not about him realizing his undying love for Holly; it’s about him needing to feel comfortable and loved in some way. I am sure everything will go to hell with Holly before too long, and I look forward to the uncomfortable ride along the way.

Dwight’s stroller subplot was funny and pointless, but I really enjoyed the Jim-Pam “out of sync” stuff. In a way, it’s a little too cutesy and “perfect couple”-y, and if I worked with people like that it’d annoy the crap out of me, but I think they threw in enough of a dark edge to it to make it satisfying. Maybe it’s my bleak worldview, but I enjoy these romantic stories as long as they’re incredibly depressing or hint at a layer of tragedy beneath the bubbly surface. When everything’s fine, that’s when it drives me nuts.

Pushing Daisies (ABC) — You might expect me to complain about this week’s Olive-focused outing on account of my intense dislike of Kristin Chenoweth. It might surprise you to know that, while I still dislike her with the same approximate level of intensity, I enjoyed this week’s episode almost as much as last week’s. The writers have actually dug back into the characters’ foibles and concerns and did a better-than-expected job of using that to generate the conflict of the episode; as I suggested, if they have a half-assed mystery, they should relegate it to the background, and that’s just what they did. They kept the mystery simple, opting instead to examine the abandonment issues that, in some ways, bond Ned and Chuck. I’m also very, very glad they didn’t try to string us along with the “Will Ned tell Chuck about ‘Aunt’ Lily’s secret?” question. A lesser show would use that conflict to generate subplots for weeks, but they came out with it almost immediately — well done! Also, just like last week, they allowed Emerson to investigate a different sort of case; it was still a murder, but because the victim provided almost no information, he actually had to be a detective. Everything’s humming along, and I have to admit, the writers have renewed my faith in this show. I hope its ratings reflect the quality improvement.

Raising the Bar (TNT) — Tempestt Bledsoe is still alive and not in jail? Who knew? Seriously, thought, it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to see her back on TV. They might have relegated her to a tiny role, but it’s better than not working, I guess.

On to the actual content of the episode — I have to say, even having characters comment on the implausibility of its conclusion didn’t make it any less of a cheat. The main thing that drew me to this show was the notion that the criminal justice system is screwed up and messy, and for the first time they expanded to show the external effects on a judge. It would have been ballsy and awesome to have such a heartbreaking ending after Kellerman’s machinations and, of course, “the wink” — a slap in the face showing us the real problems that result when the bench becomes politicized. Instead, the writers deliver a charmless happy ending that frustrated me to no end. Come on, guys… I’ve cut you slack for playing the “everyone’s innocent” card every week, but this is too much.

Sons of Anarchy (FX) — This week’s episode made me realize something that might force me to go easier on this show that it deserves: I like these characters, and this setting. From the start, I liked the acting, but the writing (and fight choreography) often left me cold. The writing improved greatly last week, and is still good here, but I think we got more opportunities to see these guys just hanging around, enjoying each others’ company. Without the usual angst and sloppily constructed crime stories, we could just relax and take it all in, and I liked it. For drug-dealing, gun-running, murdering thugs, they’re fun to be around.

If the ATF stalker thing is over, though, I will be very disappointed. Not because it was such great drama, but because if that was it, what was the point? It didn’t have much build, and Jay Karnes didn’t exactly have the menace or oddness to make him a memorable short-term villain. He just came and went. If he comes back to cause more trouble, more power to him; if that was it, ugh. I have to go back to complaining about the writing.

Supernatural (The CW) — If I wanted to prove to naysayers that Supernatural rises above people’s preconceived notions as a mediocre horror show, I’d probably play them this episode. It shows off one of the show’s best qualities — its sense of humor — but it also creates an inroad for outsiders by paying homage to at least a dozen classic horror films. The problem with introducing friends to Supernatural is that the earlier episodes are a little too cutesy, but the later episodes — despite improving with each passing week — rely far too much on a mythology a first-time watcher won’t understand. This hits the sweet spot, minimizing the mythology but retaining the basis of the show — brothers hunting demons.

It also featured yet another amazing turn from Todd Stashwick, formerly of The Riches. That show just got canceled, but will it matter for Stashwick? He’s popped up in no fewer than 500 guest parts over the past few months — apparently he saw the writing on the wall — and each time, he creates a unique and compelling character. Even here, channeling Bela Lugosi, he does a spot-on imitation layered with pain and sadness. This provides an example of another thing Supernatural does well — taking the old horror myths and giving them a nice twist. It’s not as good as Buffy or Angel, but I’d argue pretty vehemently that it’s the best sci-fi/horror show on the air right now (screw Battlestar Galactica).

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

October 12, 2008

Heroes & Villains

Bones (Fox) — This week, the writers redeemed last week’s lackluster effort — just in time to go off the air for a month!

This week, Bones tries to tackle religion and faith through the prism of its characters. They’ve done shows like this before, but the attempts to tackle issues miss more often than they hit. (The show’s worst episode remains one in which they find the burnt corpse of a soldier and each character unconvincingly meditates on the Iraq War.) This episode was a solid base hit, offering a complex — but not ridiculous — mystery with an untidy but satisfying solution. More than that, it allowed us to gain a deeper insight into both Brennan and Booth, and it gave Brennan an understanding of what drives the human desire to believe in otherworldly control.

The only downside? This intern-of-the-week gimmick was funny at first, but the joke’s worn thin. Maybe they need to give the interns more interesting quirks, or maybe they just need to hire Carla Gallo or Michael Badalucco (the only interns who made an impression) and get it over with.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW) — This episode had a couple of excellent twists reminiscent of the late, lamented Freaks & Geeks. In the first, Chris is conflicted about befriending “androgynous” peer Angel, but when he decides to put his fear aside and hang with him in public, Angel is the one who’s humiliated and begs Chris to leave him alone. In the second, Greg becomes the king bad-ass of the Bronx Academy and walks around with a whole new (hilarious) attitude. The writers have, so far, done a better job of mining the trials and tribulations of high school than they did with junior high, so I hope they keep this up.

In some discouraging news, Tisha Campbell (Martin, School Daze) had what one can only hope was a one-off guest spot as Tasha’s mother. She’s as shrill and talentless as I remembered, so I sincerely hope they bring back Whoopi Goldberg as Tasha’s angst-ridden grandmother and send Ms. Campbell-Martin back to prison. This subplot only had two bright spots: the brief, hilarious return of Malvo, and Tichina Arnold’s incredible facial reactions to the insanity surrounding her. She is consistently the funniest part of this show, so it disappoints me to see her mired in such an annoying subplot.

Oh, I should also mention that Tanya’s Danny Glover crush, while a little more absurd than her Billy Ocean crush, is very funny. I can’t wait to see how she reacts when Lethal Weapon comes out.

Heroes (NBC) — I’m sick of spewing vitriol in the direction of this show, so instead I offer a series of questions this week’s episode raised that need to be answered within the next two weeks, or I walk:

  • How will Sylar’s power help Peter figure out how to fight the future? On paper, the move seems incredibly stupid, but I guess it’s no stupider than anything else Peter has done. What knowledge or insight will he gain from this?
  • Related to the above: since we now know two of Angela Petrelli’s secrets (she has the “power” to see into the future and give birth to Sylar), we have to ignore plenty of the retroactive continuity errors that have cropped up as a result. Putting them aside, let’s concentrate on the fresh continuity errors. To wit: she knows and has interacted with “Future Peter,” who we discover by the end of the episode “went bad” as a result of absorbing Sylar’s power, which gives him “the hunger” she is — in the present day — trying to eliminate in her li’l black sheep. She understands what this will do to the current Peter, how this change will affect the future, how it will destroy her son and… She doesn’t care? She’d rather try to “cure” Sylar than prevent Peter from suffering the same fate? From the more pragmatic stance that she wants to “cure” Sylar to remove his threat level, and she knows Peter will end up an equal threat — what the hell? Why did she do nothing to stop Future Peter when she had the chance? Instead, she just sniped at him for messing things up and told him to get Peter back, theoretically knowing that this meeting of minds will destroy her son’s life. So, again, why doesn’t she care?
  • Much as I want to respect the writers for attempting to present a future of moral gray areas (and cinematographic gray tones), I don’t follow the delineation of “heroes” versus “villains.” So Claire and the others are fighting fire with fire because Peter is so evil, nobody can reason with him? Future Peter acted as dumb as usual, but he had a bit of reason left; he realized he’d already changed enough to render killing Nathan futile. He knew where he had to send the present-day incarnation to get What He Needs. Sylar had the ability to feign relative normalcy (taking his “creepy” factor down to “meter-reader” levels, instead of the usual “raging sociopath”), but I got no sense that Peter was faking. Which leads to the inevitable conclusion that these former heroes have gone rogue… To what end? Because they’re bitter more people have powers? Maybe if they had shown examples of these people using their powers to inflict harm on one another, I could have accepted this fringe group of folks who only wanted to use them for good. Instead, they showed us the “fringe” group committing wanton acts of violence, while the rest of the future people just wanted to fly around so they didn’t have to cab it. Eeeevil!
  • Speaking of those people, the writers made very little effort in establishing a coherent “ability-having” infrastructure for the future. In the present, it’s been implied that powers crop up at random and are, in their way, as unique as a fingerprint (although some people do have the same abilities). In other words, you can’t inject someone with “the formula” and give them the convenient ability to fly. They may end up with Maya’s annoying black-mascara massacre power. In this episode, the writers made it seem like the future population had a big interest in beneficial powers — like flying — but zero interest in malicious powers, then immediately doubled back to say abilities were now the “weapon of choice.” So which is it, how does it work, and why do so many people have the ability to fly? I’m not saying the writers have to take us step by step through the future ability-getting market, but they should at least map it out for themselves so they can present it to us in a consistent way. I like it when a show makes my head spin for non-stupid reasons. Heroes used to do that. Sort of.
  • Why did Parkman have to see all of this, or any of this? I don’t want to sound all anti-Parkman, because he’s one of the few characters I can still tolerate, but why did he need to go on a vision quest to tell him the future ain’t pretty? It gave him some specific details but is he really going to remember them four years down the road?
  • Will any of it matter? Showing us the future has turned into a part of this show’s formula, but it does very little except say, “If you don’t do X, the future will turn out like Y.” Duh? I know Peter and Mohinder aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, but the rest of these guys ought to have a handle on it. Sylar’s a bad guy; Adam Monroe’s a bad guy. They do things that would make anyone with common sense think, with enough power, they’d kill a lot of people — for the fun! We have new villains, but we don’t need to see the tricky gray areas of their lives in the future; why not show us more of who they are in the present?

    If I can nerd out a little bit, it all reminds me of a movie called Soultaker, featured in the 10th and final season of the classic, Peabody Award-winning show Mystery Science Theater 3000. The “timeline” that provides “suspense” in Soultaker revolves around the female lead’s parents’ decision whether or not to pull the plug on her comatose daughter at midnight. Her “soul” — thrown clear of the body in a car accident — must return to the unconscious body and “wake up,” or else she’ll die. Meanwhile, the blue-collar father of her across-the-tracks boyfriend, faced with the same decision about his de-souled son, convinces the star’s crusty parents not to pull the plug. Although the two out-of-body leads don’t know this, the midnight deadline no longer has relevance — yet the director chooses to keep showing close-ups of the clock as if it matters. In Heroes, the glimpses of the future have become clock close-ups: effective at first but more nonsensical each time we see them.

    If that metaphor is too convoluted, here’s the short version: future stuff = stupid.

I want to go back to loving this show. Remember how Lost had a bit of a quality/focus problem in the second half of its second season and beginning of its third, then they pulled their heads out of their asses and made it nonstop awesome again? Why can’t Heroes’ writers do that? I’m afraid I won’t stick around long enough to find out.

King of the Hill (Fox) — This week, the writers did a terrific job of tying all three stories together. They’ve always done this consistent effortlessness, allowing even weaker subplots (like Dale’s carbon-offset business) to rest on the backs of better material, thereby elevating the whole thing. I also love when an episode revolves around Hank’s misguided respect for Mr. Strickland, who had the amazing task of undermining everything about the “go green” initiative at Strickland Propane — even though he single-handedly made such an initiative necessary. Still, probably my favorite part of the episode was Peggy’s efforts to get Bobby to eat a healthier, more natural diet. Maybe the ending doesn’t reflect kid reality, but it showed a surprising outcome that I hope they do something more with in the future.

Mad Men (AMC) — I risk outing myself as an ignorant rube with the following confession: I don’t have any idea what happened at the end. I understood and enjoyed the dense layering of family issues — Betty and her diminishing father and her sibling/stepmother issues, Harry’s bundle of joy, Pete’s lack thereof and pressure from his wife to adopt (and pressure from his family not to), Don’s hilariously bland interaction with Betty’s family and, most especially, Glen Bishop’s running away. So much went on in this episode, it kind of made my head spin, but that ending — did it signify Don’s intention to abandon Betty and his children, to reinvent himself yet again? Does this tie into Betty’s father’s paranoid distrust of Don’s lack of “people”? Is he untrustworthy because he shed his family the way a snake sheds it skin? Or is he untrustworthy because of, you know… All the lying and cheating and stuff?

Maybe the show wants us to believe he’s better than the rest of them. All around, we see portraits of kids trying to imitate their parents — either because they were bred to (Pete) or because they’re eager to please (Betty) — and then there’s Don, who was more eager to get out while he could and remake himself in the image he wanted. So at the end of it all, he decides to do what he’s going to do, heading off to Pasadena in place of Paul (who, ironically, gets stuck doing something he doesn’t want to do) to prove to himself — and anyone paying attention — that he’s his own man. Gotta love a show that portrays selfishness as a virtue!

The Office (NBC) — I get what I want, and I’m still not happy. They’ve finally stepped back from the excessive couplings and love triangles I’ve complained so much about, instead concentrating on legitimate office struggles, and… I don’t know what to say. For pure laughs, it’s easily in the top five. At its best, though, The Office delivers more than laughs. The writers find the pathos in these absurd characters. This week lacked the usual insight and depth, aside from a cringe-worthy scene in which Amy Ryan’s HR rep gets chewed out by corporate. I have faith it’ll bounce back next week.

Pushing Daisies (ABC) — I have no problem ridiculing this show when it does things I dislike, but I want everyone to know it comes from a place of love. When the show debuted last fall, it was pretty great — lots to love about it, and an endless mine of potential. But it began to falter after a few episodes, starting an outright decline that lasted all the way to last week’s premiere. Seeing that initial promise fizzle as the writers settled into an apparent complacency disappointed me big-time. I get angrier with shows that waste potential than I do with shows that are flat-out bad…

But I’m pleased to report that this week’s episode marked a surprising, glorious return to form. Even the circus stuff, which veered on the edge of the “quirky for quirky’s sake” territory in which the writers have fully mired previous mysteries, worked for me. They wrote a compelling, complex mystery and did a terrific job of relating it to Emerson’s continued struggles with his estranged daughter. As I remarked last week, this struggle has become the best part of the show for me, so I’m glad to see them finally do it justice.

Speaking of justice, I also love the writers for stranding Kristin Chenoweth in subplots separate from the main stuff. It’s much easier to fast-forward through her stuff! Okay, I don’t actually do that — because then I’d miss great stuff from Swoosie Kurtz and Diana Scarwid, in addition to further shirking my critical obligations — but I feel more comfortable knowing that I can. “Emmy nomination, schmemmy nomination,” I would say to myself, then hit fast-forward while cackling maniacally. Good times…

I’ll admit some minor disappointment in the Ned-Chuck material. After glossing over the fallout over Ned’s refusal to bring Chuck’s dad back to life, they’ve shifted the conflict to Ned’s separation anxiety, a much more generic conflict. They wrote it well enough in this episode, but I think giving Lee Pace and Anna Friel meatier material would benefit the show a great deal.

Nonetheless, I still thought they did a great job this week and hope this marks an uptick in quality so I can start to be outraged by its declining ratings.

Raising the Bar (TNT) — This week’s contender for “best and worst” episode did so many things right — nicely tying Bobbi’s domestic-abuse case with her marital problems, constructing yet another solid edition of Moral Gray-Area Theatre with McGrath “deciding” the couple wasn’t fit to live together — that I almost want to forgive them for the ridiculous subplot wherein Bobbi’s husband shows himself as a giant drug addict, does a variety of crazy things, then immediately acknowledges the problem and checks into rehab. Also, this subplot allows Bobbi to leave and, one assumes, find herself in the consoling arms of one Jerry Kellerman. I don’t mind much about any of this conceptually; it was just the rapid character assassination and redemption of Bobbi’s husband, within the same hour. I know they want this show to work as a “standalone,” but some of its continuing stories should take time to germinate — this addiction storyline is one of them.

Nonetheless, there was a lot to love here. Jerry’s story included a wonderful guest turn from Page Kennedy (Weeds, Desperate Housewives) as a man repeatedly getting jerked around by the system while awaiting his trial. We also got a little glimpse of Richard as protector, deftly trying to keep Bobbi and Gavin separated during his unannounced, coked-up visit. I’m sure, in time, this show will get the balance right and become appointment television.

Sons of Anarchy (FX) — In one of my life’s many mysteries, the episode that does the best job of probing the complex psyches of its characters also introduces one of the silliest, least convincing characters in recent memory, played by Ally Walker (Profiler), whose scenery-chewing didn’t blend terribly well with the moody, subdued performances from the rest of the cast. Of course, the writing didn’t help her much. I admit, with some reluctance, that I missed her name and, shirking my critical responsibilities, didn’t feel much like rewinding until I found it out. Instead, I attempted to look it up online and found her credited in a variety of places as “ATF Chick.” This doesn’t surprise me too much, because while Gemma especially deepened in this episode, “ATF Chick” burst on the scene spewing artificial “tough-broad”/”runnin’-with-the-big-boys” clichés that, I assume, were written by a man whose closest contact with a woman involves a pair of binoculars and a crusty tube-sock.

The rest of the episode fared much better. When one factors the irritating and unconvincing “ATF Chick” into that equation and the episode still holds the “best episode so far” title, it just shows the leap ahead. I spent a few days wondering what made this episode different — why did it suddenly leap from an inconsistent heap of intriguing ideas and sloppy writing to a rock-solid character study? The obvious answer: they shoved the AK-47 plot into the backseat and took time to dig deep into these characters and their relationships — and the writing soared, proving the writers really understand these people. Their strengths clearly lie in writing this type of material, because the show mainly stumbles when they overstuff it with plot. This time, they balanced a variety of stories — but all of them except the AKs had to do with the way these characters relate to one another. The AK-47 issues got the ball rolling on some of these stories, but the actual core of that remained in the background, essentially acting as a bookend for the episode. It worked. I hope the writers learn a thing or two from this episode.

Supernatural (The CW) — As a pseudo-continuation of last week’s mythology-fest, it surprised me at how much of the “old” Supernatural permeated this week’s episode. Aside from keeping the conflict between Sam and Dean alive, it followed the “freak of the week” formula that they’ve gotten away from over time, and it brought back the old “shades of gray” dilemmas that drove season two but was largely absent from season three.

Also, just like last week’s amazing turn from Mitch Pileggi, Canadian actor Dameon Clarke gave a tour de force as a man trying not to succumb to his secret demon nature. Clarke brought a wonderful gravitas to this struggle, making it more than just an apt metaphor for Sam’s own plight. See, as we found out last week, the yellow-eyed demon made a deal with the Winchesters’ mother to imbue Sam with his demon blood (and, therefore, demon powers). Sam wants to use this power against the demon forces, but Castiel warned against that, which drives this week’s brother-against-brother conflict.

Although I believe this show continues to improve with each passing week, I complained a fair amount last season about driving Sam and Dean apart. Last season, much of the “apart” was literal, physical distance. Since the chemistry between Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki drives the show, I felt like this was a mistake. Now, they’re together and sniping at each other — and maybe it’s another mistake. I want these brothers to go back to trusting each other. They have fundamental differences, but at the end of the day, Sam has Dean’s back and vice-versa. I hope the flame-throwing awesomeness of this week’s resolution will restore a bit of that trust, because I’d rather have them apart from each other than together in a nonstop whinefest.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox) — I sure hope I’m not the only one who wanted a glistening, enormous Dodge Ram after watching this episode? The combination of “limited” commercial interruptions — all of them promoting the Dodge Ram via hilariously over-the-top “reality show”-style shorts — and featuring the truck prominently within the show itself almost makes me forget that it’d probably cost $60 a day to drive that thing. But hey, if ridiculous product placements will keep this show on the air, I’ll put up with it.

For the first time in the show’s history, the Ellison subplot did not qualify as a weak link. I hate bashing the Ellison stuff, because Richard T. Jones is a fine actor and, at times, they do a decent job with him. Mostly, though, the character is adrift in a sea of backstory and exposition. They keep him separated from the main action, other than looking on from a slight distance, but now… Shirley Manson has sent him hot on the trail of the Connors. He investigates the nuclear plant from a few weeks ago, which confirms Manson’s indications that machines exist. He also gets confirmation that Sarah is alive. To thank him for helping Ellison, the dude who runs the nuclear power plant gets iced in one of the most disturbing possible ways: a hot chick starts making out with him, then her tongue morphs into a giant knife, then into Shirley Manson. Shudder. This unholy alliance is starting to pay dividends, so I hope they keep it up.

Is it just me, or did Marty seem like an awfully agreeable for a kidnapping victim? Granted, we know the terrible truth behind his kidnapping, and we know Sarah and Cameron are good people who have his best interests at heart… But Marty just kinda rolled with the whole thing. “Oh, an unkillable machine is after me, my parents might be in danger, and you guys are holding me for an undetermined period of time until you can destroy it? Wanna help me with my book report?” I kept waiting for him to try to escape, and it seemed a little odd that he didn’t. Maybe having a gun-toting cyborg after you forces rapid Stockholm syndrome.

On the plus side, this gave us a glimpse into Sarah that we haven’t seen before — the nurturing, compassionate mother. We have a sense of her caring deeply about John, but even in the movies, you’re left wondering if she cares about him as a child or a human being — or merely as the messianic figure he will become. The pseudo-philosophical, T2-esque voiceovers always have to do with her gloom-and-doom perspective on the future, so we almost never get any kind of insight into her perspective on child-rearing. We also never see her as a mother to a young child — The Terminator ends with her pregnancy, and T2 picks up with John Connor as an 11-year-old punk in the foster-care system. The only hints we get about her maternal instinct involve her taking John to Mexico for weapons training. I liked the opportunity to see Sarah trying to act as a mother to this kid.

But on to the main plot… One of the reasons I love this show is its odd ’70s-throwback vibe. You don’t have too many shows that play it straight with the idea of going undercover in various forms. Almost every episode of this show has seen the characters seeking out targets that require them to befriend specific kids at school, date computer genius cell phone salesmen, take temp jobs at a nuclear plant, etc. It’s spy games as performed by people with little to no competence as spies, so although they play it straight, their ineptitude makes the whole concept a little less cliché-ridden. This week, they made it a little more interesting by sending John and Derek “undercover” into an area of expertise — a military reform school, to protect the “Martin Bedell” this machine is really after.

The method for killing the T-888 might have struck some — including me — as obvious, but hey? They can’t always stick it in a bathtub and pour acid over its remains. Some nice, movie-style melting in flames works wonders once in awhile, even if it’s telegraphed. Plus, they tossed in Cameron skulking in the woods, another of many “Is she evil or not?” moments the show likes to play with. If she’s evil, I have to wonder why this particular situation matters to her. Is she programmed to feel pain at her fallen brethren? Did she not think they’d kill the guy? Or was she really there to protect them “just in case”? Time will tell, but Sarah Connor Chronicles may not have much time left, so let’s hope they get to it…

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

October 3, 2008

Not the Bradys XXX

In eager anticipation of X-Play/Hustler Video’s latest classic-sitcom spoofs — Not Bewitched, This Ain’t the Munsters and Not the Bradys 2 — I’ve decided to take a closer look at 2007’s highly popular, award-winning erotic comedy, Not the Bradys. Although it’s a mixed bag, I admit that it entertained and aroused me. Can I ask for more than that? Yes. Will I get it? In this case, no.

The trio of Will Ryder (director), Jeff Mullen (writer, producer, composer, art director) and Scott David (producer, art director) have crafted a loving parody of Sherwood Schwartz’s hokey sitcom, The Brady Bunch (1969-1974). References abound (Cindy’s Kitty Carry-All doll!), although Mullen misses opportunities to go deeper here. More puzzling, it includes some odd moments that I assume were intended as references, but they don’t quite pan out.

At one point, Greg begs Sam the Butcher (played with bizarre spunk by Ron Jeremy) for a job, but Sam grumbles that he already gave that job to Bobby. I think they were trying to reference 1972’s classic “Big Little Man,” in which parallel stories feature Bobby trying to overcompensate for his diminutive stature while Greg gets the job at Sam’s. When Greg and Bobby both get locked in the freezer, Bobby’s size actually saves them — he can squeeze through the freezer door’s window, which Greg couldn’t have managed. It taught us all a valuable lesson about finding strength in who we are, no matter what our perceived shortcomings. But at no time in the episode does Bobby get the job or attempt to steal the job out from under Greg. Perhaps if they had boned up on their Bunch trivia (or engaged me as a consultant — I’m happy to help out, pro bono), such absurd mistakes wouldn’t exist.

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

October 10, 2008

SEXth Element

I’ve come to expect very little from Private. Their pandering to bizarre Eastern European fetishes in films like Top 40 DPs and Without Limits gets worse with each film, but I had some hope for SEXth Element. A big-budget sci-fi film driven by special effects, the film could have been a genre masterpiece. Instead, its disappointing, incomprehensible storyline sinks it, making this a late entry in the competition for “Most Disappointing Film.”

I guess I should have known better than to expect anything from writer/director Andrew Curtis and executive producer Milk; they’re in too deep with the Private aesthetic. Still, I didn’t expect a film so confusing and dramatically inert that I could only say, “What?” when it faded to black. That’s the bottom line: SEXth Element has a story that makes no sense. Apparently, Curtis and Milk assume the effects will dazzle us into believing we’ve watched a Star Wars-like epic. This plunges even lower into the depths of badness than Star Whores: The Phantom Anus.

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

October 17, 2008

A Single Man

Author: Tom Ford and David Scearce
Genre: Drama
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In 1962 Los Angeles, a gay college professor has a hard time moving past the death of his lover.

Synopsis:

Friday, December 14, 1962. GEORGE, 52, lies naked sleeping in his bed. He’s English and looks younger than his age, thanks to a tan and time at the gym. He has a nightmare of coming upon a car wreck, where his dead lover JIM lies with a dead terrier. George gets down and kisses Jim. He’s awakened by his noisy neighbors, the Strunks. He finishes off some scotch from the night before, then gets ready for the day. He looks out a window and distinctly sees Jim, age 34, “handsome and well-built in a classical American way.” George rushes down the steps to meet him, but he’s gone. A phone rings, which prompts a flashback to 1950. George and Jim stand in the new, empty living room of this house and discuss its beauty.

The phone stops ringing. George goes to his study, then it rings again. This leads to another flashback, this time to 1961. A polite, Midwestern voice calls George, saying he’s Jim’s cousin, explaining the car accident. George is immediately horrified and grief-stricken. George rushes through the rain to visit his best friend, CHARLEY (a woman, late 40s). In the present, the phone stops ring again. He scans the variety of books on his case, pulls out one by Truman Capote and begins to write in it. The Strunks’ banging disturbs his concentration. George can see their house from his, and he watches.

JENNIFER STRUNK, 6, has just pulverized an old scale she’s pulled from the trash. MRS. STRUNK, mid-20s, chases her daughter, looking harried. Her sons, TOM (9) and CHRISTOPHER (4) dig for coins all around the lawn. MR. STRUNK, 35, a young executive, chastises Mrs. Strunk for letting the boys tear up the lawn. He looks at George’s yard and says some inflammatory, homophobic comments. He calls Mrs. Strunk a snob when she defends George.

George calls Charley, an old rummy smoking and looking like hell. They make plans to see each other tonight. Charley looks pleased — she has a reason to live. George unlocks a drawer in his office and pulls out a gun wrapped in a towel. It has no bullets. On his way to the college where he teaches, George listens to the news about the Cuban missile crisis. George gets mail from his box and a BLONDE SECRETARY tells him a student was looking for him. George asks who, but she doesn’t know. He comes very close, says her hair looks great, that he loves her perfume, then walks away. The Blonde Secretary looks at the other secretaries, baffled. Grad student KENNY sits on the quad with his girlfriend, LOIS. His eyes light up when he sees George pass. George buys some coffee and candy in the cafeteria as colleague GRANT rambles on about the need for bomb shelters. George lectures on an Aldous Huxley story and turns it into a monologue about fear of minorities, not-so-subtly implying homophobia as he eyes an effeminate student. Kenny stares with rapt attention, but he’s not the fellow George is looking at.

After class, Kenny walks with George, talking effusively about his lecture. George plays it off, but Kenny is clearly smitten. They talk about drugs, specifically mescaline, but George isn’t terribly interested. Kenny gives George a little pencial sharpener, and they discuss the symbolism of colors. George cleans his office, then calls Charley to shore up plans. After school, Kenny shows up at George’s car, asking if he’s quitting because he cleaned out his office. Kenny invites him to have a drink, but George says he has plans and leaves. George goes to the bank, has a look in a safe deposit box, sees a nude photo of Jim. George flashes back to the moment, in 1947, when the two men lay on a large smooth boulder on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. They discuss Charley; George confesses he slept with her once, and Jim wants to know why he’s with Jim now if he sleeps with women. George says he falls in love with men.

In the present, George runs into Jennifer Strunk. She innocently parrots some of the homophobic things her father said earlier. George goes to a sporting goods store to buy bullets for his gun. He goes to a liquor store and sees a woman in the parking lot with a terrier just like Jim’s. Inside, George picks up some liquor and a young hustler named CARLOS eyeballs him. He makes a series of passes, but George leaves. Carlos is a little impressed by George’s unwillingness to have a one-night stand. George goes home and listens to Maria Callas on his hi-fi, but it’s no match for a party at the Strunks. In 1961, listening to the same aria, George and Jim discuss their opposite tastes in literature, then Jim talks about how great it’d be to be a dog, because they’re free — like the time Christopher Strunk was being obnoxious and the dog peed on him. In the present, George gets all decked out and hits the road. As he passes the Strunks, George has a fantasy of urinating on Christopher. He goes to Charley’s house; she cleans up very well. She complains about her wasted life and laments the fact that she and George never got together; the drunker she gets, the more she blames George for her life. She accuses George of not letting go of Jim, then says she’s moving back to London. George tucks her into bed and, as he leaves, he thinks about meeting Jim.

In 1946, at a seaside dive bar, Jim’s a young Naval officer complaining about the heat. They share an instant connection, and George knows he’s in when a young woman hits on Jim, and Jim says he’s taken, then resumes his conversation with George. George drives home, writes a note to Charley, picks up the gun, and holds it for a moment. He sets it back down, opens the liquor cabinet, and finds it’s bare. He drives to the seaside bar where he and Jim met; it’s now pretty rundown. Kenny’s there. They have an awkward conversation, sharing their fear of the future, both deciding that the only thing the future holds is death. They go to the beach, strip down, and skinny-dip in some harsh waves. George ends up banging his head and sinking. He’s willing to just lie there and drown, but Kenny pulls him out. They walk toward the highway, but Kenny’s still nude. Horrified, George makes him dress.

They go back to George’s place, where Kenny strips down, then goes into the shower, leaving the bathroom door open. George strips, contemplates going into the bathroom, goes for his robe instead. He picks up the gun again, considers it, then sets it back down. They drink some more, and George tries to grill Kenny about Lois; Kenny says they slept together once but are just close friends. George passes out, then wakes up later, in a sudden panic. Kenny’s not in his bed — he’s sleeping on the couch, cradling George’s gun. Kenny’s disturbed a neat arrangement of notes and papers he’s set out — his will, insurance papers, house deed, and the note to Charley. George takes the gun back, locks it in the drawer, takes the letter for Charley and one other paper, and burns them. He goes back to his bedroom, goes to pour some water, but his left arm goes numb. Disbelieving, he has a heart-attack and collapses. In an unconscious state, he sees a plethora of terriers like Jim’s. Suddenly, they disappear — George is dead. The sound of waves lull us to black.

Comments:

Although it has a few nice moments, like the subtly drawn parallels between George/Charley and Kenny/Lois, this script is a plodding, tedious mess. It was adapted from a novel, and it seems much more suited to that medium as nothing particularly cinematic or dramatic happens. It’s just a dull walk through the last day of one man’s life.

I have a feeling that in the novel, certain elements like the Strunks and George’s conversation with Grant have some sort of symbolic resonance; here, they don’t resonate and manage to feel tacked-on in a screenplay that’s already barely feature length. It leads me to believe that this adaptation is very faithful in terms of narrative, but the adapters missed the point. Without having read the novel, I couldn’t say with much authority, but based purely on the screenplay, it comes across like a series of disjointed scenes, followed by an abrupt and rather unearned ending. They don’t do much to make us care about George, so his death ends up feeling like a cheat.

The flashbacks also hurt the story, because George’s relationship with Jim is exceptionally uninteresting. I’d have a much easier time believing George’s inability to get over this perfect love if we never saw the man, if Kenny had the misfortune of living in this dark, heavy shadow that we never see. The real core of this story are the relationships between George and Kenny and George and Charley. We get one long scene with Charley that, despite a few on-the-nose passages, actually works fairly well. Of course, it lacks any kind of narrative resolution thanks to the script’s abrupt conclusion. Kenny has a more significant role, but it could stand to be fleshed out substantially. We get quite a lot of information about the character, but it’s never clear why George is interested in him and vice-versa.

The ponderous, moribund pacing makes this 88-page script feel like it’d have a three-hour runtime. There’s very little action, and it feels like maybe 60% of the script is just George sitting around, looking dour and thinking about Jim. This type of story doesn’t have to be light and peppy, but it doesn’t need to be leaden, either. It might give a high-quality actor a good opportunity to brood, but crafting a performance that will overcome the script’s other flaws is an uphill battle.

It will likely appeal to fans of the novel, although whether or not it will satisfy them is a big question. It might also draw in a gay or gay-friendly art-house audience, although it certainly disenfranchises the chunk of moviegoers who have issues with homophobia.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 3:41 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 18, 2008

Conan

Author: Thomas Dean Donnelly & Joshua Oppenheimer and Sean Hood
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A warrior in some sort of fantastical world seeks vengeance against the man who killed his people.

Synopsis:

CONAN is born in the midst of a bloody battle, with father CORIN literally cutting him out of mother ISLENE’s belly. She dies so that he can live. Years later, boys — including a young Conan — play when they discover savages preparing to attack. One of Conan’s friends is killed, so Conan kills a group of them. Corin chastises Conan for killing when he is not yet a warrior. At age 12, Corin teaches Conan how to temper swords. Corin mentions he’s been chosen to go south to trade, which angers Conan because others his age have made that journey. Conan wants to see the outside world. Corin insists Conan is not ready. While sleeping, Corin drops a sword at Conan’s feet and leaves. Conan takes it and accompanies his father on the journey. At a bar, Conan sneaks off with a courtesan who’s in league with thieves. Conan kills them, and Corin is angered, and they head home to Cimmeria.

At a library, KHALAR SINGH has killed a bunch of scribes, leaving only one ELDERLY SCRIBE to help him. He is trying to learn about Cimmeria, trying to find their land and their people. The Elderly Scribe can’t see why Singh wants to find the Cimmerians, so Singh produces a black worm with a fluorescent glow, dangles it to threaten the Scribe. He gives up all the information that he knows, but Singh kills him anyway. Singh leaves the library and meets with his associates, UKAFA and LUCIUS, who inform him Cimmerians have just left the town. Singh commands SHADOW SCOUTS — shapeshifters — to track the Cimmerians back to their home. Conan, Corin, and the others arrive back in Cimmeria, where everyone helps them unload wheat. They are confronted by Singh and his army of soldiers. The entire village is slaughtered — except Conan. Conan swears vengeance on their funeral pyre.

Years later, Conan has grown into a huge man. He gets drunk at a bar, passes out, and is dragged by some guards to a prison, with a charge of public drunkenness. Once inside the prison, Conan is suddenly sober. He kills an interrogating LIEUTENANT and some guards, until he finds Lucius, the guards’ captain. Conan demands to know where Singh is, but Lucius refuses to tell. Conan threatens and pounds until Lucius makes a deal to spare his life in exchange for the information. Conan says he won’t kill him, Lucius says that Singh is in a distant land called Khoraja. Conan shoves a small key down Lucius’ throat, then takes some larger keys to open the prison cells. The prisoners demand to know where the key to their shackles is; Conan tells them it’s in Lucius’ belly. Lucius balks, but Conan reminds him that he said he wouldn’t kill Lucius. Then he leaves.

Singh, looking older and worse for wear, trudges through a desert sandstorm with Ukafa and his legions. Ukafa pleads with him to turn back, but Singh won’t — and suddenly the storm stops, revealing a gorgeous oasis where monks wander peacefully. They catch sight of the invaders, but before anything can be done, shadow scouts are upon them. TAMARA, 22, awakens — this was all her nightmare. She’s in the monastery and explains to monks FASSIR, JASIM, and SIMURA what she saw. Nobody believes her until ARIJ rings a bell and declares that an army is attacking from all sides. An explosion follows, and Fassir declares that they have finally found them. Tamara questions what he wants, but Fassir won’t explain. They make plans to disappear. Fassir gets swept up in the battle as Tamara and the others run away. Tamara declares vengeance on the attackers. She locks eyes with Singh, and suddenly his horse rears, throwing him and almost impaling him on his own sword. Tamara blinks, baffled. She and the others run away.

Conan walks through a Khorajan village, where cavalrymen are shaking everyone up, looking for an escaped female prisoner. Conan walks into a tent and stumbles across Tamara. She walks out and and sees a string of dead soldiers in his wake. He asks what Singh wants with her; she doesn’t know. She’s horrified, but she introduces herself. At a mysterious prison, a mammoth JAILER guards the cells while Singh and some mystical priests torment one of the oasis monks by dipping her into a pit of the black worms seen earlier. The priests chant, but to no avail. Singh declares that he wants the power of Acheron, and the monk tells him that only sacrificing the queen will get him what he wants. Singh tells Ukafa to double the forces searching for Tamara. Tamara, meanwhile, has a nightmare about herself being sacrificed in the land of Acheron, except there are multiple women bearing her face. She wakes up, screaming. She finds Conan interrogating REMO, an agent of Singh, who tells Conan he can profit by trading the girl — she is what Singh wants, and he’s been searching for her for 20 years. Conan realizes that Tamara is the direct reason Singh killed the Cimmerians. Conan writes out a ransom note and pins it to Remo — with a huge dagger.

In Khor Kalba, Singh’s stronghold, a huge boulder is tossed over the outer wall, landing near Ukafa. Remo’s body, with the note, is tied to it. Singh looks at the ransom note; he’s so desperate for Tamara that he’s willing to pay three times the demand, although he tells Ukafa to be ready to attack. Conan tosses Tamara a rabbit carcass and tells her to eat. Tamara asks if the blood on his hands bothers him. Conan accuses Tamara of having blood on her own hands because she’s the reason his people are dead. Singh meets Conan in a field of boulders with a bag filled with gold coins. Tamara fears betrayal, but Conan insists he’s merely luring Singh to his own death. When Singh demands to see the girl, Conan’s horrified to find that she’s gone. Nonetheless, he attempts to attack Singh, but he botches it and is forced to flee. Singh sends archers to attack, and a poison arrow hits Conan’s leg as he runs. He runs into Tamara, and the two join reluctant forces to get away from Singh. They get into some tall grass, and Tamara knows the poison. Singh sends demonic dogs after them, which Tamara kills — with her mind. More dogs come, which Conan manages to pound unconscious with his fists. They tie flaming grass to the dogs and send them back through the woods, setting the whole place ablaze. Tamara and Conan make their escape.

Conan dreams of seeing Corin, who tells him he will gain strength through suffering. He awakes to find his wounds bandage by Simura. They are on a ship heading away from Singh. Simura says Tamara has learned of her true heritage and is with her own people. Singh interrogates BAEL, a servant from the monastery, who warns that now that she’s left, her “true nature” will show itself. He says she’s fled with pirates, on a ship. Singh sends Ukafa to go after the pirates, while he returns to Khor Kalba. Tamara apologizes to Conan, and Conan introduces her to the taste of mead — then wakes with a start. She hears a thumping against the ship walls. She goes to the deck to find the river choked with bodies. She screams — and wakes again. Conan and Simura are with her. Simura explains the history of Acheron’s dark magic and that it is now imbued in Tamara, which is why Singh wants her. If he sacrifices her, he will gain all the secret power of Acheron. They’re interrupted by an attack from another ship. Conan grabs the wheel and aims their ship at the one that approaches. As a mast nearly crushes Tamara, her power crackles to life and keeps it floating, then sets it ablaze. Simura is aghast and tries to impale her with a spear. Conan pushes her out of the way of it and the mast, which drops. They swim to shore.

Singh enlists Arij’s aid in seeking Conan, whom he now believes he must destroy in order to get to Tamara. Tamara confesses to Conan that she’s afraid of herself, of her power. Conan says people make their own destiny, and she should not live in fear. She must identify what she wants and let nothing stand in her way. Tamara doesn’t know if she can. She and Conan make love. Arij imbues Singh with the spirit of the demon Xaren. Conan has another dream of his father — this time he’s dead, and when Conan pulls the sword out, Corin’s eyes open and he groans, “Vengeance.” He wakes with a start, leaves his hut — and sees Singh waiting. They fight, and Singh is winning handily when Tamara comes out and uses her powers to do some damage to him. She and Conan escape, with Ukafa and Singh’s soldiers hot on their trails. They enter Khor Kalba, and Conan finds the Thieves’ Guild. He asks them to construct a plan to bust into Singh’s fortress.

They hide inside a large mead barrel, which they bust out of like an egg when it’s in the midst of soldiers. Soldiers and archers surround them. Conan begins setting oil barrels on fire, creating huge explosions. They use this to sneak away, into the dungeon, where Tamara finds all of her friends from the monastery. They also find the huge Jailer, whom Conan annihilates. Tamara and Conan find Fassir’s cell. She helps him out and intends to flee. Conan goes after Singh, while Fassir chains Tamara up. Conan finds Singh and impales him on his sword — but it turns out it’s a shapeshifting glammer, and he’s actually killed one of Tamara’s monk friends. Bael chastises Conan, and then Ukafa shows up. Ukafa and Conan fight; Conan wins. Conan forces Bael to help him. Fassir brings Tamara to Singh, who slices her hand. A single drop of blood makes fog swirl around them, surrounding the cliffs — revealing Acheron, where the cliffs and hills are now replaced with a glorious ancient city. Bael explains to Conan that the power of Acheron will transfer to Singh. Conan says it won’t if he kills him; Bael says he would actually need to kill Tamara.

Fassir explains his betrayal: he’s dying, and only Tamara’s power could save him, but he knew she’d never sacrifice others by unleashing the power, so he allied with Singh. Bael gazes lovingly at the city, so Conan throws him off a cliff. Singh has his priests begin incantations to transfer the power, but Conan crushes through the soldiers until he reaches the man himself. Conan demands that Singh release Tamara. Singh drops one of the black worms on Conan. It burrows into his skin, eating him from the inside out. Conan begins stabbing himself to get at the worm, mortally wounding himself. Tamara makes Fassir burst into flames, while Conan finally slices Singh’s throat. He cuts Tamara loose of her chains, and the fog turns into flames, burning the city and its people. Conan has no choice — he impales her on a spear, which rids her of the evil spirits. He holds the dying Tamara, who asks Conan what he will do now. Conan says, “Live.” They share one last kiss before she dies.

Comments:

For mindless action, this script is pretty good. The action set-pieces are thorough and well-written. The story is serviceable but uninteresting, only disappointing during the plethora of unnecessary twists in the third act. These wouldn’t be so bad if the characters didn’t stop all the momentum to explain, in detail, why the characters chose to betray one another.

As a character, Conan isn’t exactly what you’d call likable, but this may not matter much. He harkens backs to the action heroes of the 1980s: a ruthless, single-minded killer who shows no mercy to anyone for any reason. Most of these villains are bad guys, but it’s still a little unsettling to see the guy we’re rooting for do things like, say, make a guy ingest a key with the certainty that a bunch of enraged prisoners will tear the man apart. His unpleasant nature also makes the love story a bit forced and extraneous. However, the writers do a decent job of giving the stoic, taciturn action hero a little bit of depth, via dream sequences that suggest internal struggles he’d never mention aloud.

The plot, which starts out pretty simplistic, ends up becoming too convoluted. Aside from the pointless twists and betrayals in the third act, the whole idea of Tamara’s blood unlocking the ancient black magic of a hidden city… It’s not that it doesn’t make sense; it just adds needless complications to a simple, effective revenge story. It strains for an “epic” quality but falls short of the mark. If the writers embraced the ridiculous, over-the-top action aspects of it and dialed down the wannabe-epic tendencies, the story would have much more focus and efficiency in delivering the goods; however, the Acheron sequences will allow for impressive special effects, eye candy that will likely appeal to action fans as much as people getting imapled on swords.

With good buzz, fans of the original movies and comics will line up in droves. General action and fantasy fans, with no familiarity with the source material, will also check it out. It’s not very female-friendly, however.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 1:35 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 20, 2008

Bim Bam Baby

Author: Jeremy Catalino
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

An unemployed loser’s life is turned upside-down when the husband of a woman he slept with moves into his apartment.

Synopsis:

STENSLAND, 29, is baffled to learn that the woman he has just slept with — MORGAN, late 30s — is married. In fact, he doesn’t believe her, and tries to prove she’s lying by checking her closet for men’s clothes, which he finds in abundance. He wonders why she slept with him, and Morgan explains that she suspects her husband is cheating, so she’s getting revenge. Angered, Stensland rubs one of the husband’s suit coats between his ass cheeks, then leaves.

Stensland bawls like a baby as he walks home. He recites a motivational mantra that is written on his bathroom wall, ending with, “‘I can’t believer that used to be Stensland,’ they’ll say. ‘I can’t believe that used to be Stensland.’” He learns his roommate, LYLE, is moving out and is doubly wounded. He asks Lyle to leave him with his marijuana, and Stensland turns on Felicity, smokes joints, and weeps. A week later, Lyle returns for some last-minute move-out items and is baffled to find Stensland in the exact same position. Lyle reminds Stensland that he now has one day to find a new roommate, then makes Stensland get up and go to work (at an antique shop), where he is immediately fired for not showing up for a week.

Stensland goes to Morgan’s office, makes his way past her assistant, HANNAH, and demands to continue having sex with Morgan. Morgan refuses, then says she’s not even sure her husband is cheating on her anymore. Stensland looks at a photo of her husband, GRADY (mid-40s, good looking, smarmy), and decides he wants $15,000 to keep quiet about the affair. Morgan laughs, telling him Grady is a lawyer who would never believe him without evidence. Stensland launches into a barrage of personal details only someone who has slept with Morgan would know, horrifying Morgan. She tells Stensland she’s already told Grady, but Stensland doesn’t believe her. He renews his demand for money, but she turns him down, so he goes outside and cries some more. He discusses the problem with Lyle and his girlfriend, LINDA. They both agree that Stensland should make good on his offer and tell Grady.

Stensland calls Grady and confesses everything. Grady says Morgan told him everything, and Grady intends to kill him. Stensland’s terrified. He flees his apartment and goes into a nearby jazz club to watch for Grady. He’s immediately swarmed by a gaggle of middle-aged/elderly African-American women. They give him advice on finding a woman his own age, then Stensland decides it’s safe and goes back to the apartment — where Grady immediately ambushes him with a gun. Grady dry-clicks the trigger before admitting the gun is just to scare him. Then he insults Stensland’s crappy apartment and tries to engage Stensland in a fistfight. When he won’t fight back, Grady deems Stensland too pathetic and leaves.

The next morning, a strange cleaning woman is vacuuming Stensland’s apartment. Grady’s also there. He announces his intention to move in. When Stensland asks why, Grady gives him two reasons: first, he’s angry at Morgan and needs to get away from her; second, because he didn’t actually cheat, he now has a “gift card” to have sex with somebody, so he intends to remain Stensland’s roommate until he’s slept with another woman. Grady takes Stensland to buy marijuana from an ex-client. Later, Stensland watches more Felicity. Grady asks about the show, then mocks Stensland. He offers him a joint, and it makes Stensland very high and paranoid within seconds. Then Morgan and Hannah show up. Morgan found out where Grady’s staying and is enraged. Grady and Stensland gang up on her, verbally abusing her until she leaves.

While Grady and Stensland go out carousing at clubs, Morgan drags an unenthusiastic Hannah to buy comfort food (and drinks). Stensland tells Grady he hates clubs; Grady doesn’t care, forces Stensland to flirt. He tries and fails, then remarks to Grady that none of these women are as good as his wife. As revenge, Grady insults some large, angry hipsters, getting them to go outside to fight Stensland. He actually fights back and doesn’t exactly win but doesn’t lose, either. Grady’s credit card is declined, courtesy of Morgan, so the club decides to keep his car as collateral. They take the bus home.

The next morning, Stensland finds that Grady has painted over his mantra. Stensland sneaks away from Grady to meet up with Lyle, who’s baffled by Stensland’s sudden change from a stay-at-home dork into a guy who blackmails women and gets into alley fistfights. Stensland’s less impressed, but Lyle’s theory is that an outside force is making Stensland live out his 20s all at once. Grady shows up, and Lyle is in awe of him. He announces that his credit cards are back in order, he has the car, and he’s arranged something for Morgan. Morgan arrives at her office with a prospective client and discovers some sort of bizarre pseudo-stripper/performance artist has been hired by Grady to celebrate Morgan’s affair. The client leaves.

Enraged, Morgan seeks out Stensland and forces him to get in her car. Stensland lets slip Grady’s “gift card” plan, and she explains that he’s just childish and will never go through with it — he’ll just keep making Stensland party with him, night after night, until he gets bored. Stensland pretends he likes this plan, so Morgan lets him out of the car and drives away. Stensland tells Grady what’s happened, and he amps up the plans, dragging Stensland all over town over the span of multiple nights.

Eventually, Stensland calls and convinces Hannah to meet him at the same Staples store where he initially seduced Morgan. He begs Hannah for help getting Grady and Morgan to meet up and hash it out so they can move past this and get back together. She doesn’t have a clue where they could even meet, but it dawns on Stensland that Staples is the perfect place. They each lure Grady and Morgan to the Staples, where they get into a blow-up, leading Grady to tell her they might as well get a divorce. They leave each other angrier than ever. Mad at Stensland, Hannah chases after Morgan.

Stensland goes back to the apartment, where he chastises Grady for bringing up divorce. He also refuses to party. Instead, Grady brings two girls back to the apartment. They’re both skanky sorority types, and Stensland is unenthusiastic but accidentally attracts one of them by telling a “cute” story about how, as a kid, he tried to imitate Billy Ocean to unsuccessfully catch the attention of a classmate. They play some Billy Ocean, then Grady takes one girl into his bedroom. The other’s angry because she’s the one who never gets “The Wizard.” She rejects Stensland, who doesn’t mind.

Grady calls Morgan the next morning to tell her what he’s done. She acts like she doesn’t care, then asks if he’s gotten the ball rolling on the divorce papers. Grady starts bawling to Stensland about Morgan, then decides to move into the Four Seasons. Stensland gives Grady a pep talk about Morgan that encourages Grady to fight for her love. Grady is touched by the speech but won’t take the advice. He leaves Stensland, saying, “I can’t believe you used to be Stensland.” Meanwhile, Hannah gives Morgan two weeks’ notice.

As Grady works up the divorce papers, the gravity of what he’s doing sets in. He goes back home, meets with Morgan, and admits that he’s learned something from his experience — and from Stensland — and that he was walking through their marriage like a zombie but has now realized he should commit to it more fully. Morgan agrees to take him back. Hannah goes to the Staples store where Stensland now works to thank him for inspiring her to quit his job. Stensland has a long monologue about how he’s not a normal guy. Hannah asks if he’s going to ask her out, and he says he’s waiting for the right moment. She smiles.

Comments:

Why is Stensland this script’s main character? He spends the first 30 pages establishing himself as one of cinema’s most irritating creations — emotionally needy to an alarming degree, dumb as a rock, and in love with the sound of his own voice. He doesn’t drive this story in any way — he has no long-term goal to fulfill, no emotional journey, and everything he does in the script is preceded by someone else telling him to do it. Why would anyone like this guy? I would ask why they’d root for him, but he doesn’t do anything of his own free will, so what’s there to root for? The story is bookended by the “I can’t believe you used to be Stensland” bit, which is designed to trick us into believing he’s changed; he hasn’t, at all. He’s just as annoying and rudderless at the end of the story as he is at the beginning.

Grady isn’t exactly likable, either, but at least he has a shred of emotional complexity. Granted, he spends about 99% of the script acting like a mutant hybrid of Alec Baldwin’s 30 Rock character and Animal House’s Bluto — with none of the charm of either — but deep down, he’s really going through something. The less I cared about Stensland and grasped for something to redeem this script, I kept coming back to Grady. He’s actually hurting, and although he makes a series of impulsive and stupid decisions leading up to his pseudo-epiphany, if the writer decided to dig deep into this character and rewrite it from his point of view, it could turn into a very interesting story.

Similarly, Hannah didn’t do much for me. The thinner-than-rice-paper “arc” leading her to quit comes out of nowhere and has no bearing on anything; since she’s barely in the script, this doesn’t qualify as a moment of triumph or anguish — it just hangs in the air like a stale fart. Her hook-up with Stensland at the end is similarly baffling. Morgan, on the other hand, is mildly intriguing. She lacks even the shallow complexity given to Grady, but the fact that she’s so suspicious of her husband made me wish the writer gave us a little more information about her and Grady as a couple.

The plot hits all the romantic-comedy clichés without putting much of a new spin on any of it. The characters do inexplicable things for plot-related reasons, all while talking in circles to justify their confusing actions. Every character talks in the same kind of overwritten, outdated-pop-culture-referencing monologues that make Stensland so irritating. The writer wrings a few amusing moments from the dialogue, but the plot ranges from hectic to utter nonsense while all the characters — including Grady — just seem like they’re along for the ride, making decisions only because the plot gods have told them to. When they aren’t explaining their story motivations, each character takes time to either state how they’re feeling or state how others are feeling, with overwrought purple prose attempting to mask how on-the-nose everything is.

If each character had unique, well-defined traits — not just from each other but from genre clichés like “boorish philanderer” and “neurotic loner” — this story could transform into something significantly more entertaining, deriving laughs from the characters instead of sterile words on a page, constructing a plot that fits the genre conventions without feeling like a by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Since Grady’s the only person in the script with any meat to his character, he’s the key to making this worthwhile. Right now, Stensland doesn’t even belong in the story, so the whole thing falls apart.

With rewriting, this could be the kind of urbane comedy that draws in a crowd ranging from mid-20s possibly to mid-50s. As it stands now, it would most likely appeal to teenagers, who will relate to these characters’ juvenile understanding of relationships and don’t get so annoyed by thin characters and overwritten yet on-the-nose dialogue.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:57 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 21, 2008

The Zone

Author: Mike Gray & Ian Masters
Genre: Political Thriller
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 4
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

An ex-CIA agent, a Panamanian ambassador, and a Russian attempt to negotiate with Chechen terrorists threatening to blow up the Panama Canal.

Synopsis:

Panamanian beauty LOURDES BLADES watches over MAX HOOVER, who tosses and turns in bed. He has a nightmare of witnessing a mass killing in Afghanistan, then wakes with a start. Max meets with a man who gives him papers for a new identity. He then meets with Panama security chief ARTURO MACGREGOR, who explains the precarious drug infrastructure in the area: the Chechen Mafia, Colombian drug cartels, and Afghani drug manufacturers are all in bed together. Radio chatter suggests a combined group intends to take over a ship running through the Canal for unknown but probably drug-related reasons. True to the chatter, three men — SIXTO, a Columbian giant, and JIBRAIL, the Chechen brains of the operation, board a Russian carrier vessel. They seal the crew below decks, grabbing SASHA, a Russian computer expert, and RUSLAN, a Chechen mechanic. They force them to help. OLGA, Sasha’s girlfriend and the Captain’s daughter, hides out in a storage locker. She uses her cell phone to get the word out about the hostile takeover, while Sixto and Jibrail has their men position the ship inside on of the canal’s locks. Meanwhile, they spray diesel fuel all over the ship’s cargo — fertilizer — and place a detonator in the center, creating a huge bomb.

PRONNIKOV, a Russian intelligence agent, sends VIKTOR ROGOV, a Russian dealmaker in Venezuela, to deal with the situation in Panama. Max is picked up by a U.S. Attorney and bodyguards, who want to force extradition to interrogate Max and retrieve intelligence documents he has hidden. Max argues that these documents are the only thing keeping him alive, so he won’t play ball. Meanwhile, Panama President ROBERTO ALEMAN receives a call from Jibrail, who explains the situation about the bomb and also mentions they’ve laced it with radioactive material. He demands the release of Chechen and Colombian prisoners, along with 200 million Euros. Once the demands have been met, they will remove the detonator, free the crew, and leave the ship; if they are not, they will blow up the locks, crippling the world-trade infrastructure and throwing the world economy into panic.

Immediately, National Security Council Advisor HARLEY SMALL and his deputy, CARDONE, are put on the case to resolve this situation. Through satellite feeds, they have a meeting with Aleman in Panama City, Pronnikov in Moscow, and Chinese ambassador WU. Cardone tries to convince Aleman to turn all the defense over to the U.S., but Aleman refuses. He wants to send ambassadors from the most affected countries — Panama, Russia, and the U.S. — to investigate the threat and make sure it’s real. Cardone doesn’t want that, especially when Aleman tosses out the name Max Hoover as the U.S. representative. Small and Cardone flip out about it, but Aleman is adamant. So Max is taken from U.S. Attorney custody and sent to meet Viktor and the Panamanian tourism ambassador, RAIMUNDO FLORES, an actor, musician, and graduate of Harvard Law. They’re briefed on the situation, then sent to the hijacked ship, where they immediately find the threat is, indeed, real — they have a sophisticated and enormous dirty bomb.

The hijackers then send the three men below deck at gunpoint, which Pronnikov sees via a satellite feed. He calls Olga’s daughter, asks if she has access to a weapon, then tells her to find Viktor and give the weapon to him. She says she doesn’t know where her father’s gun is, but she can text-message Sasha. Max and Viktor report back to Small and Pronnikov about the reality of the threat. Cordone surreptitiously enlists the help of Taloncorp, a Blackwater-style company of hired mercenaries. Olga sends a text to Sasha, who texts Viktor, who texts back not to attempt a rescue, that they’re dealing with pros and Russia will be blamed if they don’t release the prisoners. Pronnikov is still reluctant, while Colombia releases their prisoners immediately. Sixto sees his son — one of the prisoners — released and is pleased. Seeing this, the Russians relent and release all the Chechen prisoners. The money is transferred. Sixto ties all the non-hijackers to the detonator so they’ll sit tight until all his men have cleared the ship. Sixto and Jibrail prep to leave. Just as they get on their cigarette boats, a Taloncorp chopper swoops down and fires at them.

Enraged, Jibrail takes out the chopper with a shoulder rocket, and they return to the boat. Sixto wants to blame Max, Viktor, and Raimundo, but they receive a logical explanation: they were leaving — why would anyone on the booby-trapped ship interfere with that? Meanwhile, Aleman wants to know who’s responsible, while Small denies any knowledge. Sasha watches the three outsiders discuss possibilities. Their best option is to somehow flood the holds, because this will make the fertilizer/diesel combo fizzle out, rendering the bomb ineffective. They consider using the fire sprinklers, but Sasha mentions this will set off an alarm, alerting the hijackers. He texts Olga to find the ship plans so they can figure out how to disable the alarm. Sixto and Jibrail realize their only option to get to their remaining team is to take the cargo ship out of the Canal and go after them. Olga texts Pronnikov for the plans, and he sends them.

Meanwhile, Small gets their approval to launch a strike on the ship while it’s in open water. They scramble two F-18s, but Jibrail gets one with his RPG, then they sidle up to a cruise ship loaded with innocent civilians as protection. Sixto radios the cruise ship captain the situation, forces them to comply or face certain death. He gives them a bearing to follow. Raimundo pleads for Sixto to let him call Aleman and discuss this personally; Sixto agrees, but Raimundo is put on hold while Aleman talks with U.S. President GROVE. Max and Viktor discuss how great it would be to listen in on that conversation, and they realize they have a way to do it — a group of elite communications experts who monitor just this sort of thing. As an act of good faith for Sixto and Jibrail, they patch the call through over the radio. They overhear Grove acting like a bloodthirsty war-monger, while Aleman urges U.S. forces to stay out of Panamanian air-space. Grove reluctantly agrees. Max tells Raimundo to allow them safe passage to international waters. Sixto allows this, and Raimundo makes the request to Aleman.

Realizing Aleman is complying with their orders, Sixto sends PACO, one of his men, to find Sasha (who has run off to help Olga). Viktor warns Max that his people might be planning something serious. Sasha gets into a fistfight with Paco and throws him overboard. One of Max’s old CIA contacts calls to say he smells a rat among U.S. officials, but Max is resigned to the fact that these politicians will win no matter what. The ship approaches a bridge, where Russian forces have set up to rappel down when it passes over. Also, CNN has set up cameras, waiting to capture an attack on video. Sasha and Olga, hiding in the shadows, are nearly killed by the Russian soldiers. With Olga safely in their hands, Sasha returns to the bridge, where he creates a diversion by telling Sixto and Jibrail about Paco jumping overboard. Olga leads the Russians to Max, Viktor, and Raimundo, who give them weapons and set them loose to track the hijackers. Cardone has Taloncorp send a bomb-filled barge to force the hijacked ship to capsize.

Raimundo tries to use a cutting torch to free the ship’s sealed-up crew, while Olga and Sasha use the diagrams to disable the fire alarm. The Taloncorp ship explodes, not coming close to capsizing the ship, just rocking it enough for Sasha to accidentally set off the fire alarm, rather than disabling it, which alerts Sixto to their location. A gunfight ensues, which distracts Sixto long enough for the cruise ship to get away. Enraged, Sixto aims the ship back at the Canal locks. He forces Max, Viktor, and Raimundo in front of a camera; Sasha has hacked the satellite to take over every TV channel in the world. With the world watching, Max announces that he discovered a political scheme to steal from a fund to build schools in Afghanistan. The White House tried to have him killed, but he survived and has the documents to prove it. He also says that Aleman — an honest man — made a deal with the terrorists, which was undermined by crooked “corporate terrorists” from the U.S. who stand to profit from the economic chaos. Raimundo and Viktor add their agreements to Max’s sentiments They release a statement that Max is both unstable and under duress. Aleman reaffirms his honest intentions. Sixto, feeling some cooperation from Aleman, decides to spare the lives of the hostages and continue toward Cuba — but a submarine appears in their path.

Sixto decides to release all of his men he and Jibrail prepare to detonate the bomb. They are near enough to land that hijackers can swim ashore safely. The ship reverses course, heading back toward the locks. Sasha finally releases the real crew, who swing into action to keep them from getting back to the locks. Max shoots Sixto, who crawls back to the bridge. Max follows, freeing the wheel and attempting a full reverse as Sixto dies. Jibrail goes after the detonator, but Viktor initiates hand-to-hand and kills the man. Viktor also learns they faked the radioactive signature. They soak the bomb. With the “dirty” threat neutralized, Cardone gives the order to strike the boat. Max, Viktor, and Raimundo head for lifeboats and get off just in time to avoid the explosion, which hurls them toward land. Max’s old CIA contact discovers Cardone was the one who planned to profit if this terrorist attack succeeded. He’s arrested. Max washes ashore and immediately calls Lourdes, who is safe in Costa Rica. Max’s position at the CIA is reinstated.

Comments:

The writers do a pretty good job of twisting a straight line into a labyrinth. When the basics of the plot are broken down, it’s a very straightforward political thriller that brings little new to the table besides up-to-the-minute references to political issues plaguing the world. To combat the stiffness of the plot, the writers overstuff it with characters who do little more than yammer exposition, explaining and reexplaining plot developments, to create the illusion of complexity where none exists.

The problem is, the characters we’re supposed to care about — mainly Max, but to a lesser extent Viktor, Raimundo, Sasha, and Olga — are given roughly as much narrative importance as the talking-head ambassadors and military officials. They all lack the depth to be truly compelling, but worse than that, they spend most of their time not doing anything. They spend more time discussing what they should do than actually doing it, and the plot swirls around them, trying to throw in twists to make things more interesting, but it’s not that interesting to see F-18s scrambled, then cut to our heroes sitting in a bunker, discussing what they could maybe do if they had access to this, that, and the other. Without leads who either drive or react assertively to the story, it’s literally just two hours of yammering, with some shootouts and explosions at the end.

It’s a thriller that doesn’t thrill, pulling bits and pieces of contemporary world affairs to cobble together a plot that doesn’t come close to the oddness of actual contemporary world affairs. What’s happening in the real world is vastly more interesting and creepy, so why pay to see a dramatization that pales in comparison to the real thing? Besides that, with its attempts to tackle myriad hot-button issues (piracy, terrorism, global relations, corporatization of government, etc., etc.), the whole thing may end up having a dated feel by the time it hits theatres. It already is dated, with the terrorists’ big scheme to cause chaos in world financial markets — they’re too late.

I’m not sure if they know who the audience is. The machinations of the plot make it feel like a goofy, overblown early-’90s action movie (it’s almost a hybrid of the two Under Siege movies, only without central characters actively trying to stop the terrorists), but the endless talking and political sermonizing will leave action fans unsatisfied. However, the politics are too simple-minded and uninteresting to lure in the politically savvy audience it appears to be aiming at.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:47 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

The Way Back

Author: Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

An awkward, depressed teenager takes a job at a waterpark to escape his obnoxious step-family.

Synopsis:

DUNCAN, 15, stares into space. He’s stuck in the very back of the family station wagon, behind the cooler and luggage, staring out the back window. TRENT, his mid-40s stepfather, asks Duncan to rate himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan rates himself a 6; Trent counter that he’s a 3, because he spent all summer sitting on his ass, friendless and boring. Duncan puts on an iPod and tunes Trent out.

The family arrives in a run-down beach town, pulls up to their rented beach house. BETTY, the annoying mother renting the house next door, rushes to the car and fills them in on all the gossip about their rental neighbors and herself. She’s had a bad year — her husband came out of the closet and left her, her oldest son is a hippie burnout, her middle child (SUSANNA, 17, who catches Duncan’s eye) is moody and taking her father’s side, and her youngest, PETER, had an eye surgery gone bad that requires him to wear an eyepatch that he refuses to wear. They finally get rid of Betty, and Duncan’s mom, PAM, offers him and stepsister STEPH beer. Duncan’s repulsed by her behavior. Steph is already on her way to the beach, so Pam insists she take disinterested Duncan with her. Neither wants to, but Pam insists, so Stpeh drags Duncan along

Duncan watches Steph flirt with shallow CHAD until he can’t take it anymore; he gets up and leaves, passing Peter. Betty immediately rushes out and chastises Peter for not wearing the eyepatch. Peter tries to ignore her and discuss Star Wars action figure with Duncan, but she shoos him back into the house. Duncan humiliates himself in front of Susanna by singing along to an Avril Lavigne song at the top of his lungs. That night, Pam and Trent get hammered with neighbors KIP and JOAN SMYTHE. Pam forces Duncan to dance with her, then Joan joins in. Duncan bails out as quickly as possible. He bumps into Susanna, who playfully mocks him about the Avril Lavigne thing. He bumbles through a conversation and leaves feeling more embarrassment. Duncan’s awakened at 3:30AM by his drunk, laughing parents.

The next morning, Duncan finds a note taped to the kitchen counter, saying they’re going to sleep in. Annoyed, Duncan pulls a hot-pink girls’ bike from the house’s storage shed and rides into town. He goes to a gas station with an arcade, where he sees OWEN (late 20s) playing Pac-Man. He has a blue shirt with a “Wet ‘N Wild Waterpark” logo on it. He tells Duncan not to distract him — he’s having the game of his life. Duncan notices he’s only on the first board. Another guy in a blue shirt yells for Owen that it’s time to get to work. Duncan takes over the game and dies quickly. Later, Duncan enters to find Trent mocking Peter in front of the Smythes. That night, the adults get trashed again, leaving Duncan to clean up the mess they’ve left in the kitchen. The next morning, it’s just as messy. Frustrated, Duncan rides to the waterpark.

Duncan sees Owen standing with CAITLIN, the bossy teen who runs the park. Duncan just flops down on a lounge chair and watches. When the park closes, Duncan rides back home. Susanna catches him on the girls’ bike. She’s waiting for her dad to call. They have a flirty conversation before Duncan goes in the house. Duncan’s yelled at by Trent for making Pam worry. Next day, Duncan’s still sitting on the lounge chair, watching, when Owen approaches. Owen gives Duncan the grand tour, introducing him to all the employees and regular customers — SEMI, 30s, who rents swim-trunks; ACE, 30s, who goes after “cougars” (middle-aged widowers looking for younger men); KYLE, NEIL, and JASON, who are obsessed with being able to pass someone on the water slide; BARRY, a maintenance guy who spends most of his time having sex with inner tubes; a group of sexy SUNBATHING TEENS who have the hots for Owen; and finally, HOT ROD, who runs the Devil’s Peak, the water slide to end all slides. Owen tries to convince Duncan to slide down it, but Duncan’s afraid. Owen slides down with a beautiful woman, and at the bottom, he pretends to be all tangled up so he can cop a feel and rub against her.

That night, Owen offers Duncan a ride home in his convertible. Duncan reluctantly accepts. He asks why Duncan would go to the waterpark when he’s right next to the beach; Duncan says there isn’t much for him there. Owen offers Duncan a job working at the park, doing odd jobs. Duncan accepts enthusiastically. At home, Pam braids Steph’s hair. She insists that Duncan put in an appearance at Betty’s Fourth of July clambake. Unenthusiastically, Duncan shows up. He finds Peter playing with his action figures, and Susanna shows up and asks them to chase ghost crabs. They go, and Susanna explains to Duncan that this is something she used to do with her father. She asks why Duncan’s acting so sullen, and he says he’s pissed at his mom. She nods, saying it’s hard when parents act younger than they are. Duncan nods. Duncan tells her he never knew his real dad, but Pam’s only been with Trent for three years. He seems disinterested in being a dad. She asks where he keeps going on the bike, but Duncan won’t tell her. Susanna says it’s okay.

Later that night, Duncan drops Susanna and Peter off when he hears laughing beside his own house. He spots Trent and Joan making out and taking it a little further than that. Trent almost spots Duncan, but he hides. He’s livid but afraid to say anything. The next morning, Duncan’s about to tell Pam when Trent shows up. Duncan leaves for his first day working at the waterpark. Caitlin immediately groans that a breakdancing crew has invaded again. Owen sends Duncan to investigate it. Duncan tries to break them up and take their cardboard, but the leader of the group, JUSTIN, makes Duncan show off his dance moves first. Duncan has no dance moves; he humiliates himself, but then a beautiful breakdancing woman shows him some moves. He’s still terrible, but slightly less so. Then he realizes Owen has set this whole thing up. Everyone cheers for Duncan, though, and he relaxes and starts having fun. This jumpstarts a musical montage in which Duncan balances the fun he’s having at the waterpark with the misery he faces at home.

After the montage, Duncan is helping Hot Rod manage the slide and helping the nerds time themselves to come up with a “passing” strategy. Caitlin yells at Duncan for letting them go on the slide so close together. She’s afraid of a lawsuit. The next morning, Pam and Duncan share another awkward moment, interrupted again by boorish Trent. Outside, Duncan overhears Susanna and Betty fighting again. He invites her to go to the waterpark, and she agrees, spending the day watching him work, have fun, and be somewhat respected. Owen and Hot Rod congratulate Duncan on bringing such an attractive girl as his “date.” They leave Duncan alone to manage the slide, and the three nerds rush Duncan to get down the slide at the same time — and they get stuck. Owen and Hot Rod return and help Duncan get them out, but Caitlin’s livid. Susanna watches Caitlin dress down Duncan. She overhears Owen mention keeping his job a secret from his parents; she asks if Pam knows. He says no. She’s impressed. Duncan invites Susanna to an employees-only party that night, but she turns him down — offering, instead, to spend another day with him at the park.

At home, Duncan sees Joan and Trent flirting with each other. He grabs a soda, takes a swig, and puts it back. Trent yells at him for always drinking half a soda and putting it back. Later, Duncan leaves his bedroom door hanging wide open and makes sure to slam the door loudly when he leaves for the party. Peter catches Duncan on his bike and forces him to take Peter to the party. Everyone at the waterpark is impressed with Peter’s eyepatch. Duncan gets drunk and breaks down in front of Owen about his stepfather, telling him about the “3” incident that opened the movie. He starts bawling. Next morning, Owen makes Duncan and Peter coffee. They ride home, and Peter — newly confident from thinking he got laid (he didn’t) — browbeats Betty. Duncan walks in the house to find his bedroom door closed and a note that they’re on the beach. Trent catches him on the way, trying to be the nice guy by covering for him.

That night, they go to a party hosted by the Smythes. Joan pulls Trent onto the dance floor; Duncan watches them dance, watches Pam’s heartbroken reaction, watches Steph inheriting the same bad traits (laughing while telling her friends about Chad’s angry reaction to her cheating on him), and suddenly goes off on Trent, revealing the affair to everyone, then attacking Pam for sitting idly by and letting this happen. Pam begins to cry and runs away. Duncan grabs a six-pack of beer and stomps off to the beach by himself. Susanna follows, trying to convince Duncan things are probably a little more complicated than what he sees. Duncan has some hard words for her about choosing her philandering father over her injured mother.

Duncan tries to apologize to Pam, but she doesn’t want to hear it. The next morning, she wakes him up and tells him to pack his things — they’re all leaving, thanks to the humiliation he’s caused. As they pack the car, Duncan gets the chance to apologize to Susanna. He says he hopes they’ll be back next summer — without Trent and Steph. Duncan leaps out of the back of the station wagon and makes a run for the park. He and Owen go down Devil’s Peak, with Duncan passing him. Everyone cheers, while Pam, Trent, and Steph look baffled. Duncan thanks Owen for everything, then the family leaves. While riding, Pam goes to the back — intentionally kicking Trent in the head — and rides next to Duncan behind the luggage.

Comments:

This script has a nice story at its core — a teenage nerd learning to gain confidence in himself with the help of an older friend, who basically assumes the “father figure” role for wounded Duncan. It’s a strong story that works well throughout. However, the writers could do a better job of strengthening the idea of Owen-as-father by juxtaposing him more directly with Trent and having him impart something resembling wisdom. He comes across as a fun-loving idiot, but he doesn’t spend any time explaining his life philosophy or giving Duncan any other reason to look up to him. Being nice to him isn’t enough.

At the same time, does Trent really need to go so far over the line? It might be more interesting if he were just an ordinary asshole — he doesn’t need to cheat. Scenes like Trent’s attack of Duncan over soda are more subtle and complex; Trent doesn’t need to be so hostile, but he’s not exactly wrong, either. Painting him this way makes him a more interesting villain, and it underscores an idea of Duncan resenting the guy merely for not being his real father, or any kind of legitimate father figure. He doesn’t need to cheat to be a bad father, and it gives Duncan an easy out for hating him. Too easy.

However, for the most part, I liked this script. The dialogue isn’t as funny as it could be, but it has a natural rhythm and brisk pace. The characters — aside from the complaints above — have about as much development as they need. All of these people, even shallow Steph and the crew at the waterpark, feel like real people. It’s not perfect, but it’s an above average comedy with some interesting dramatic elements.

It seems geared mainly toward teens and 20-somethings, but it has an ’80s throwback feel (with elements reminiscent of movies like One Crazy Summer and Summer Rental, as well as the broken-home parental-resentment themes that cropped up in many teen comedies of this era) that will likely appeal to an even wider audience.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 4:58 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 22, 2008

Pelican Blood

Author: Cris Cole
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A depressed bird-watcher reconnects with his ex-girlfriend.

Synopsis:

CAMERON and BISH, both in their mid-20s, wait in a parked car for NIKKO (also mid-20s), who’s getting dressed in the backseat. They admire a Masked Shrike in a magazine and discuss their plans to see one. Nikko puts on a shirt and tie, then gets out of the car. He’s in a cemetery, and he approaches a funeral already in progress. ELAINE, late 20s, Nikko’s sister, is crying so hard that she doesn’t notice; MIKE, her boyfriend, looks horrified and repulsed. He throws some dirt on the coffin and leaves almost immediately. As they drive to the north, Nikko explains in voiceover that he’s been bird-watching since age 13, when his mother bought him a pair of binoculars. They hike through rugged terrain, discussing girls, then make camp. They take out their bird lists, and Cameron asks Nikko what he plans to do when he gets to 500 on his list. Nikko avoids the question. After waiting a very long time, they realize they’ve been set up. As they angrily speed down a country road, Cameron stops the car because he’s spotted an American Kestrel. Nikko is now up to 497 on his list. They tick it off and keep going.

Nikko walks down a street in West London, complaining in voiceover about the gentrification of the neighborhood. He goes into an ungentrified, dilapidated house, where he scares the crap out of Elaine and Mike. Mike tries to throw him out, threatening to call the police, but Nikko reminds Mike that this was their mother’s house, and now that she’s dead, it belongs to both of them. Elaine snipes at Nikko for barely putting in an appearance at the funeral. Nikko, Bish, and Cameron get a tip that a white-crowned sparrow has been spotted, so they investigate, along with a bunch of other “Twitchers.” Bish sees a fat, baby-faced man, OWEN WHITTLE, and makes some disparaing comments about him. As Nikko watches, he sees STEVIE through his binoculars. She’s sexy, tattooed, pierced, dyed-black hair. He loses her — because she’s walked straight to him. She asks Nikko if he thinks the bird is going to show, but Nikko’s tongue-tied. Stevie harasses Bish for buying coffee at a certain shop, because they don’t buy from free traders. Bish responds with a barrage of obscenities. He drags Nikko away from Stevie, so she leaves.

Angry, Nikko ditches his friends and follows Stevie. She’s drawn an ibis, and Nikko compliments her on it, so she gives it to him, then walks away. At a London townhouse, Nikko cleans vigorously and explains in voiceover the usefulness of obsessive-compulsive disorder in a job cleaning houses. He’s so fast that he has time to screw around on the Internet. He sees a listing to protest the removal of London Peregrine Falcons. Nikko, Bish, and Cameron go to the protest in London. He sees Stevie, wearing a business suit and carrying a large designer bag. She walks into an office building, and Nikko follows. They take the elevator to the roof, and she begins tossing red paint bombs at the police cars below. A building security guard sees her and gives chase. Stevie out-maneuvers him and steals his radio. As she and Nikko run back downstairs, Stevie radios a phony location where she has been spotted. They go downstairs, run past the cops, protests, and confusion, and they go to a park to celebrate. Stevie unbuttons Nikko’s shirt, looks at the scars on his wrist, and registers her surprise that he tried to commit suicide without her.

Nikko and Stevie used to date, but when she left him, he attempted suicide, and they put him in a psychiatric assessment center. She mocks his improper incision, and Nikko gripes that his sister caught him, and he accidentally ended up cutting her and hit a major artery, so he couldn’t finish the job on himself. He asks her why she came to the bird-watching, and Stevie says she missed him and she found out about his mother and wanted to make sure he’s okay. She mentions Nikko’s plan to tick off 500 birds and then kill himself, and then speculates he’s around 50. Nikko says it’s 498, and she’s shocked.

At his mum’s old house, Nikko wanders around naked to the horror of Elaine, Mike, and the real-estate agent in charge of selling the house. He does it just to get a rise out of them, then sneaks a knife from the drawer…which he uses for his cleaning job. Stevie arrives at the house where he’s cleaning and harasses the owner, pretending to be surveying for the company. They go into the bathroom together and kiss. He sends her outside, and she waits for him. She asks him what the asylum was like. Nikko and Stevie go bird-watching together, and he explains some of the finer points to her. They sneak off and have sex in a wetlands habitat while twitchers wander around them, nobody quite catching them.

At a café, Cameron tells Bish he got a bonus but hasn’t spent it because he has nothing to buy. Bish sees Nikko and Stevie entering and is irritated. She asks about the food and annoys Bish by reminding everyone she’s a vegan. Bish orders a double-bacon sandwich with a side of bacon to bug her. They hear word that Owen Whittle is stealing endangered bird eggs again. This enrages Stevie, and they follow her to the woods, where she chases him and throws rocks until he falls out of a tree, getting pretty banged up. As a result, the eggs he stole get banged up, which enrages Bish. He gest into it with Stevie, who stomps off angrily; Nikko goes after her, leaving Cameron and Bish to awkwardly tend to Whittle.

Nikko follows Stevie home, where they have sex. They discuss how Stevie intended to commit suicide. She says it depends on what she wanted it to mean. Nikko doesn’t understand; he feels death is pointless. They suck some helium gas and laugh high-pitched laughs. Stevie asks how he knew it was helium; he says he didn’t, and when she asks why he inhaled it, he laughs, “Because you did.” This angers Stevie, who suddenly feels Nikko is just following her like a sheep.

Bish calls Cameron at work, pulling him out of a meeting. He calls Nikko; a Honey Buzzard has been spotted, which will bring Nikko to 499. Nikko doesn’t care. Bish picks up Nikko anyway, and Nikko keeps calling Stevie — who doesn’t answer — while Bish tries to convince him to drop her. They go to find the bird and find a bunch of other twitchers are already there. They argue with the others, but the bird is already gone. Nikko spots GARY COOPER, the guy who gave them the false lead about the Masked Shrike. He chases him and is about to beat him down when Bish pulls him away to tell him the buzzard’s gone.

Nikko goes to an art gallery. Stevie spots him there but goes to a different guy, enraging Nikko. He leaves. Next morning, Bish says the Honey Buzzard has been spotted again. They drive out to the country, where they’re stopped at the edge of the woods by a group of thugs claiming it’s private property. Nikko’s a little bit manic, doesn’t care about the fact that they’re toting shotguns. He pushes past them and sneaks through the woods. Nikko sees Owen Whittle in the woods, intending to steal eggs. He tracks Owen, but two thugs start chasing Nikko. He runs into a field, where the third thug tackles Nikko. Nikko gets away from them, then spots Owen’s car. He slashes the tires, then sees Owen coming from the woods. He spots a gun rack on the car and grabs one of Owen’s shotguns. Nikko tries to shoot, but the safety’s on. He can’t figure out how to release it. Owen gets in the car and starts driving, despite the flat tires. Nikko fiddles with the gun and it accidentally goes off, nailing the back of the Land Rover.

Nikko freaks out, hiding the gun in the bank of a stream, running like hell, then giggling maniacally. Stevie calls him; he doesn’t answer. At his mum’s house, Stevie shows up. She says the other guy was just a fear reaction. She doesn’t want to be responsible for Nikko doing anything crazy or killing himself. They have sex again, and Elaine and Mike find them in his mum’s bed. Stevie runs away, downstairs, where she finds Nikko’s phone blaring. She picks up, and Bish says Owen got shot. Nikko and Elaine have it out, while Stevie leaves in a huff because Nikko lied. Nikko calls Bish, who asks if he shot Owen. Nikko denies it.

D.C. THOMAS shows up, needles Nikko a bit about Owen. Nikko tries to meet with Stevie, but she ignores him. He has another manic flip-out, dousing himself with lighter fluid and trying to spark it — it doesn’t work. The next day, Bish and Cameron show up in a BMW Cameron bought with his bonus. They want Nikko to go with them to see a Crested Lark — 500 for Nikko. Cameron announces he’s taken a promotion, and Bish got in some trouble with the law and intends to return to Poland. Nikko admits he shot Owen, accidentally. The lark never shows up, which upsets Cameron, as they realize this will be their last bird-watching excursion together. Thomas shows up to ask Nikko if he has a cell phone; Nikko denies it, just as his phone rings. It’s Stevie; he doesn’t answer. Later, she shows up. Nikko confesses about Owen, but Stevie already knows. They get drunk and have more sex. Nikko fears prison or another asylum, would rather just end it, but he can’t. Stevie says she’ll help, mixing a concoction for him to drink. As he drifts into unconsciousness, he says he needs a note, but she says it’s been taken care of.

The next day, police burst in and find Nikko alive and Stevie dead. Thomas admits his surprise when he received Stevie’s confession of shooting Owen for his love. He agrees to give Nikko a second chance. Nikko feels this isn’t so much a second chance as a rebirth. He throws his bird-watching list into the river.

Comments:

This is a solid dramedy about depressed people trying to make their way in the world. The characters are well-defined and consistent, the dialogue has a strong wit to it, and at its core, the theme of second chances/starting over is strong enough to be relatable despite Nikko and Stevie’s more unpleasant actions in the third act.

These actions constitute the script’s only major flaw. We understand that Nikko is depressed and was, at one time, suicidal. The writers never give us a true sense of the severity of his mental problems until he goes after Owen with a shotgun; although the actual death is accidental, he did intend to shoot the man, pulling the trigger without realizing the safety was off, and then feeling no real guilt — just a desire to confess to his friends — as D.C. Thomas aims his investigation straight at Nikko.

At the same time, the relationship Nikko has with Stevie doesn’t come across like the type of bond that’s so strong, she’d be willing to sacrifice herself to save him. Maybe it’s because she’s not quite as well-developed as the others — sure, she has a personality and her own set of quirks, but the question that hung in the air for most of the script is why, other than depression, these two got together. What makes their bond so strong? What makes her so willing, after threatening suicide for so long, to finally go through with it because now it has “meaning”? If the writers answered these questions satisfactorily, they’d have a truly outstanding script.

It’s a rather dark, existential dramedy that will probably appeal to the same people who enjoy films like Garden State or Wes Anderson’s oeuvre. Its British setting might draw in additional moviegoers in the U.S., but it will definitely bring in an audience in the U.K.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:38 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 17, 2008

Sweet Baby Jesus

Author: Steve Blair
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 1
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 2
Writer’s Potential: 2

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

Christmas, 1969. When a pregnant hippie returns to her hometown of Bethlehem, MD, an innkeeper mistakes the baby for the second coming of Jesus.

Synopsis:

At a state penitentiary, a man resembling Jesus Christ is led to an electric chair. His mother, MARY, and a man named ARTHUR watch, grief-stricken. In voiceover, Arthur says this isn’t the story of his death; it’s the story of his birth. Flashback to “33 years ago” (1969). A younger, pregnant Mary rides with JOE, a middle-aged hippie, into Bethlehem, Maryland. Mary goes to a beauty shop and surprises DARLENE, her mother. She’s thrilled to see her daughter and thrilled by the pregnancy — until she finds out Mary’s with Joe. Suddenly she’s livid. Mary locks herself in the bathroom, and while Darlene tries to console her through the door, Mary confesses that Joe isn’t the father of her baby and she doesn’t know who is.

Darlene throws everyone out of the beauty shop and closes up early. Joe helps Mary get into Darlene’s car while Darlene explains she has no room at her house, so she’s going to find out if there’s any room at the inn. While Darlene drives Mary, she admits that, while she doesn’t know the father, she did have a dream. We don’t hear it, but it freaks out Darlene. They go to the Carter House Inn, run by ELEANOR CARTER. Darlene drinks at the Carter House bar and explains her troubles to Eleanor, who is baffled but says she has no room. She considers fixing up an old tenant house near the inn that hasn’t been used in years. Eleanor checks out the rack of lamb she’s making for Christmas dinner but drops it when Joe startles her. She makes a “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” exclamation, and then it dawns on her — Joe, Mary, a dream, Christmas Eve… The innkeeper. She shows them into the tenant house, which is attached to a barn. Eleanor asks what Joe does for a living — he’s a carpenter. Suddenly, Mary starts having contractions. Eleanor grabs Darlene and DOC POLLARD, the town doctor. He says Mary’s experiencing a false labor and suggests that the baby won’t be born for another week, at least.

Mary starts calling newspapers, starting with the Baltimore Sun, where a much younger Arthur works. His editor, HAROLD, sends Arthur to Bethlehem to check out the story, because Arthur is young and Jewish, so he works Christmas. Eleanor gives Mary some tea and asks her what the angel said in her dream. Mary says it wasn’t an angel — it was Elvis Presley. This enrages Eleanor. Darlene arrives at the inn and finds a huge banquet set up. Eleanor says she talked to FATHER CLAYTON, the local priest, who spread the word about Mary’s condition.

Arthur shows up at a roadside diner looking for Bethlehem. A WAITRESS uses the example of two other men — SARATH, a Sri Lankan-American, and WALLY, an African-American — one of whom bought some food and got directions, the other of whom didn’t. He decides to eat, and she calls him a wise man. Turns out, Sarath is a reporter from Philadelphia and Wally is from the Washington Post. All three have been sent to check out Mary’s birth. Eleanor brings Mary some special “Corn Silk Tea” that advertises itself as inducing labor. Mary explains to Darlene what Eleanor said about her “Christ baby,” and Darlene laughs. Joe gets uptight about the Elvis dream and mentions that Mary was a big mess until she met Joe, who helped to turn her life around. He’s in it for the long haul, but she keeps reminding him the baby isn’t his. Mary says she’s afraid she won’t love the baby, but Joe’s afraid of the same thing.

Joe storms out and watches a girl dressed as an angel recite the dream to Joseph for the Christmas pageant. Joe hangs on every word. Darlene finds a Jell-O mold she brought in the trash, and it enrages her. She yells at Eleanor, then goes into the Christmas party swinging in the inn and leads them all to church. Joe, having cleared his head with a joint, returns to Mary just in time for her water to break. Joe freaks out and yells for help, but nobody comes. He delivers the baby himself. A couple of farmers bring some live sheep for the Christmas pageant when Angel Girl stops to tell them Mary’s just delivered her baby. They rush to the barn to help. Then, Angel Girl tells everyone in the church, waiting to watch the pageant, the same. The entire town gathers around. The owner of the “North Star Movie House” brings out a searchlight and turns it on.

The diner waitress points to the searchlight and tells the reporter that’s Bethlehem. They all drive to the barn in Bethlehem. They’re baffled by the live nativity scene before them. Eleanor tries to pull Darlene out of it, but she struggles to stay in. Arthur congratulates Mary. Suddenly, Darlene freaks out. She doesn’t want to accept this as a miracle, but Eleanor and the townspeople overrule her. The three reporters ask about Eleanor, since she placed the call, and when she sees Wally’s gold watch, it dawns on her that these are three wise men. Sarath chews on an odd Sri Lankan cinnamon that’s actually myrrh. They stare at Arthur with anticipation until he produces frankincense — a bag of marijuana.

The next morning, Joe rolls out of bed, tries to wake Mary. He gets up, buck naked, and walks out of the barn — where the entire town waits, watching. Back in Baltimore, Harold loves Arthur’s story and insists on sending Arthur back to follow up on the story. Arthur drives back, trying to read the Bible on the way. He, Wally, and Sarath all return at the exact same time. Arthur asks Mary how far she intends to go with “the whole Jesus thing.” Mary’s confused until Arthur explains that four million people have already seen the story, and by tomorrow another 100 million will have seen it, and so on. People will ask questions. At the Bethlehem Diner, Arthur considers that maybe this baby is the chosen one the Jews have been waiting for.

Father Clayton calls his BISHOP, who calls a CARDINAL, who contacts the POPE, who wants the baby investigated immediately. Meanwhile, Mary and Joe want to get out of town as quickly as possible, as more reporters and throngs of people show up. Suddenly, some townspeople threaten Mary, accusing her of being a whore, not a virgin. Darlene goes after them with a pitchfork. Father Clayton tells Eleanor that word has spread within the Catholic community quickly and that the Pope is sending an investigative committee. Eleanor is thrilled, until she finds Darlene warding everyone off with the pitchfork as they attempt to leave town. She tries to plead with Darlene. Father Clayton arrives and tells her about the papal investigation. Darlene is dubious, but she relents. Just after that, Arthur warns about the “King Herod” figure — that Mary and Joseph booked it out of Bethlehem because they thought the baby was in danger, that the three wise men were sent by King Herod to take the baby. Mary tells Joe she wants to name the baby Elvis. He’s taken aback. Arthur talks to Harold on the phone; he wants Arthur to keep reporting, even though Arthur dismisses them as victims of circumstance. Arthur refuses to report, and when Harold becomes verbally abusive, he quits. Joe begs Mary to leave, but she won’t.

FATHER ROSA, a priest whose face is obscured, arrives at the inn. Eleanor leads her to the baby, and we see it’s Harold. Mary tells him about the Elvis dream, and Harold flips out. He’s recorded her “confession” and threatens to take it to the papers. He tells Mary she should come with him so they can “work things out.” Meanwhile, FATHER CAMPANELLA, the actual papal envoy, shows up, confusing Father Clayton and Eleanor. Harold tries to steal the baby, but Arthur catches up with him. Arthur knocks him out and grabs the baby, telling everyone that Harold was “their Herod.” Darlene rages against Eleanor for putting the baby in danger and exploiting her daughter and grandson. To help, ROY, an old drunk, grabs a shotgun and blasts it, forcing everyone out of the inn. During a musical montage, Darlene sees Mary and Joe to their car; everyone chases gun-toting maniac Roy; Arthur takes Harold’s tape of Mary’s “confession”; Eleanor, crying, stumbles down the street as it begins to snow. She sees Angel Girl in a streetlight, then she disappears. Eleanor does a double-take, wondering if she really saw her; Arthur, Sarath, and Wally shake hands and split; and Mary and Joe disappear, never to be seen again.

In the present, Arthur explains in voiceover that he’s still at the Sun, eventually made the connection between this 33-year-old man — wrongly convicted and sentenced to death — and the incident in Bethlehem, which is why he goes to the execution. Arthur gives Mary the tape as they watch her son get zipped up in a body bag, and in voiceover, Arthur says he’s not sure if any of what happened is true, but he only needs to wait three more days to find out.

Comments:

This toothless pseudo-satire uses one of two premises for every single joke in the script: it’s either “Gee, weren’t the ’60s kooky?” or “Gee, isn’t the Bible kooky?” Jokes about low gas prices and on-the-nose parallels to the story of Jesus’s birth are about as clever as this gets, which is disappointing because there are some comic possibilities with this premise. What we have here, however, couldn’t sustain a three-minute sketch, much less a 90-minute movie.

A story like this — grizzled ’60s hippies birthing the second coming — will court controversy, so if it’s going to be controversial anyway, why not make it interesting? The writer does not have any satirical aim, except for a few vague references to the exploitation of religious beliefs for financial gain. Wouldn’t it be infinitely more interesting if Eleanor — who is portrayed as little more than devout and opportunistic — were a fundamentalist who believes with every fiber of her being that this child is the second coming, but her main conflict is reconciling her belief with the fact that everybody in town thinks she’s a nutcase?

Everyone — including Mary and Joe — agrees too readily with Eleanor, eliminating any dramatic thrust or real conflict. The script just limps from scene to scene, with the story changing at random, almost as if the writer realizes nothing’s happening so he adds a new character or Biblical reference to stir things up for a few pages. The “Herod” crisis in the third act is barely a blip on the story’s radar, and it makes no sense, so why include it? Why wouldn’t Mary — who doesn’t want the attention — want Harold to leak the tape about her Elvis dream? It might paint her as nuts, but everyone would have a good laugh and stop caring. Similarly, the bookends with the 33-year-old Jesus figure don’t work at all; it provides a reason to set the story in 1969, but the writer does nothing with this setting other than make a few hippie and gas-price jokes.

Limp as the story is, the characters are so tied to their Bible-story counterparts that nobody gets any development. They’re just generic chesspieces. Nobody has any obstacles to overcome, which the writer tries to hide by keeping a frenzied pace and distracting us with the cinematic equivalent of shiny objects; unfortunately, these shiny objects come in the form of more characters who get no development, so the whole thing’s a wash. Why does Harold try to steal the baby? What does Arthur even have to do with anything, other than acting as a “Wise Man” and providing unnecessary narration? Why does Joe stop acting like a hippie after page 10, instead turning into a bland romantic lead? Darlene, who probably gets the most screen time and dialogue, doesn’t even have anything to do with the story, other than providing cheap conflict with Mary, Joe, and Eleanor. It’s disappointing since this story is rife with potential for characters — maybe Darlene’s suffering a crisis of faith and this turns her around (or vice-versa); maybe Joe and Mary have to struggle with accepting their supposed faiths; maybe Arthur’s an embittered, atheistic reporter who has a spiritual awakening. Any possibility for cleverness or defiance of expectations are dashed at very turn.

Finally, the story, which obsessively points out its Biblical references, repeatedly and in the most on-the-nose possible ways, doesn’t even get the details of the story it’s spoofing right. Joseph has the dream, not Mary, and the second coming is supposed to occur after the Rapture, the revelation of the anti-Christ, and an unfortunate period known as “Hell on Earth,” and it’s not said to mirror the original Jesus birth story. Somebody like Eleanor, or the various religious figures depicted, would be much more alarmed by this, perhaps speculating this is the anti-Christ rather than the second coming and wondering why they haven’t ascended to heaven; this, in itself, could generate still more conflict to drive this story — and be funny in a darkly satirical way.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:46 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 16, 2008

The Wake Wood

Author: David Keating & Brendan McCarthy
Genre: Horror/Suspense
Storyline: 9
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 9

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Recommend

Logline:

Grieving parents discover that they can bring their daughter back for three days, but it comes at a price.

Synopsis:

PATRICK DALEY and LOUISE DALEY, a couple in their 30s, present daughter ALICE with a hamster, a gift for her ninth birthday. Patrick is a veterinary surgeon, and their home doubles as a clinic, so animals are everywhere. On her way out to school, Alice tries to feed a dog — and it attacks, killing her.

Sometime later, Patrick and Louise arrive in the Wake Wood, a rural community. They move into their home, but they’re a bit at odds with one another. Louise takes a job at the local pharmacy but has trouble concentrating on the work. Patrick works on local farm animals, meeting stylish, middle-aged ARTHUR and his elderly friends, TOMMY and BEN. Together, they birth a calf. Just as the pharmacy closes, Louise meets MARY BROGAN and her odd niece, 15-year-old DIERDRE. Mary Brogan hands Louise an expired prescription, confusing her. Patrick comes home to find Louise wrapped up in Alice’s old clothes, sobbing. She wants to divorce Patrick — the whole thing is too hard with him there. He agrees to drive her to the train station, but his car breaks down on the way. They end up having to hike through the country, coming upon Arthur’s house. Patrick tries ringing the doorbell a few times, but they get no answer. Patrick pulls out a cell phone to call, while Louise decides to look around back. As she goes back, she sees Arthur and a large group of townspeople surrounding a strange figure near a bonfire. She hears birds overhead, begins shaking uncontrollably as her nose bleeds. She runs, grabbing Patrick and telling him to run, too.

They run all the way back to their new home. Arthur’s sitting inside the house, frightening them both. He acts oddly passive-aggressive with Louise, suggesting he knows what she saw. The next morning, Patrick is sufficiently creeped out enough to leave with Louise. He asks her to wait a few days until he settles up and gets the car repaired. The mechanic is confused, because the car seems fine. Louise helps a customer when Mary Brogan and Dierdre come in. Dierdre says strange things and begins convulsing. Louise expresses concern, but Mary shrugs it off. Dierdre mentions Alice by name, scaring Louise. She asks Mary how she could possibly know. Mary says some cryptic things about “what goes on” in the Wake Wood, and when Louise presses her, Mary tells Louise to have another baby. Mary says she can’t.

Patrick calls, asking Louise to help on a job. Louise helps Patrick and MICK and MARTIN O’SHEA (father and son) with a fevered bull. The bull loses control and kills Mick. Patrick tells Arthur he’s leaving, and Arthur accepts that. Then he mentions that he can bring Alice back to them, so they can say goodbye. Patrick thinks he’s nuts, but when he leaves, Louise tells him what she saw — what she thinks was a birth from a dead person. They agree to see Arthur, who asks a series of puzzling questions while adding numbers on an abacus. He tells them that it can’t be longer than a year between death and resurrection. Patrick says she died eleven months, two weeks, and two days ago. The resurrection also can’t happen without a fresh dead body, Arthur explains, and since Mick just died, Patrick and Louise have to convince PEGGY O’SHEA to let them use his remaining life force to bring back Alice. She reluctantly agrees.

Arthur tells them they need something physical from Alice, but because she’s been dead so long, it has to be a little more than a lock of hair. Patrick and Louise sneak into the cemetery and dig up Alice’s grave. Patrick cuts off one of her fingers. They go to Arthur’s house, where the whole town has seemingly gathered. They use a huge tractor to pull Mick apart, so they can sever his spinal column for use in the ritual. Arthur says some spooky things, drops the finger into Mick’s gruesome body, then demands living blood, preferably female. Louise offers her hand. Arthur sets Mick’s body on fire. Ravens caw and fly around as an egg expands from Mick’s chest. It “hatches,” presenting Alice.

Louise cleans Alice up, then puts her to bed. The next day, the family has fun together, playing with water guns, playing soccer, hide-and-seek, etc. Alice asks Louise if she heard music. Louise is confused. Alice elaborates that all night, while she slept, she heard voices singing her name. Patrick runs into a group of farmers participating in a dog fight. One dies, but Patrick rescues the other, sticking the injured dog into his car. Alice asks if she can help stitch him up. Patrick shows her how. Alice asks if she can keep him, names him Howie. Patrick agrees. At night, their happiness renewed, Patrick and Louise make love.

The next morning, Peggy O’Shea shows up and invites Alice to ride ponies at her farm. Patrick and Louise don’t want her to go, but when Alice threatens to throw a tantrum, they agree. Alice enjoys riding the ponies. Martin distracts Patrick and Louise while Peggy takes Alice into the horse barn and asks her some strange questions of her own, abacus in hand. Peggy gets more and more spooked by Alice’s answer to these questions, and Alice goes back into the house, telling Louise she doesn’t like “that woman.” Peggy says gravely that Patrick and Louise must “take her back” immediately.

As they leave, Alice runs ahead while Patrick and Louise discuss what to do. Louise wants to just leave town — the O’Sheas farm is on the edge of the Wake Wood anyway, so they can just disappear. Patrick tells Louise to go get the car while he chases Alice. She approaches the edge of town, and as she passes the welcoming sign, the bite marks and scars of her dog attack re-form, terrifying Alice and Patrick. He rushes and brings her back across the sign, into the Wake Wood town limits. Alice vaguely remembers the dog attack. She asks if Patrick killed the dog; he did. At home, Louise catches Alice convulsing like Dierdre.

That night, Louise awakens after hearing a noise. She goes to check on Alice — everything’s okay there, but she hears another noise. She rouses Patrick, and they descend the stairs to find Peggy O’Shea, Martin, Tommy, Ben, and Arthur waiting downstairs, out for blood. Peggy insists again that they put Alice back in the ground — to be safe. Patrick demands their full three days, but even Arthur urges them to put her back; they won’t, so Arthur makes them promise to alert him if anything strange happens. The next morning, Patrick finds Howie in the yard, dead and skinned. He frantically digs a hole before Alice can see this, but Louise catches him in the act. Louise is horrified, moreso when Patrick says he thinks Alice did it. They agree, once again, to leave town with Alice — and if it works, it works; if not, they’ll still be gone.

Patrick asks to see Alice’s hands, but she won’t let him. Before they can leave, Patrick is called for a veterinary emrgency. Mary Brogan arrives to explain the re-burial ritual, saying they do what they call a “feather walk” — which is exactly what it sounds like — and they put Alice into something they call a “clutch” around her neck, which Mary insists will give Alice comfort. The clutch are crude sticks that go around the neck and cuff the hands. Mary also alludes to Louise being pregnant again. At the pharmacy, Louise takes a test and finds it’s positive. She’s astounded, moreso when Alice tells Louise she already knows about it. Alice is a fraid they no longer love her, then accuses Louise of lying to her. Louise trips over the O’Sheas’ abacus. She’s puzzled, but Alice agrees to take it back — running away before Louise can get any kind of answers.

At the O’Sheas, Patrick investigates the bull that killed Mick, which has been killed just like Howie. Martin’s confused, Patrick less so. Meanwhile, Alice visits Peggy, rides her like a horse and kills her by strangling her with a clutch. Patrick finds the body just as Louise shows up. Patrick tries to tell her about Alice, but she interrupts with the pregnancy news. Martin shows up at Arthur’s and tells her there’s something “wrong” with the outsiders. Alice shows up before they can discuss it further, and she controls Ben’s mind and forces him to die. Patrick and Louise try to go after Louise, but they find the road littered with dead birds. Alice appears and tells them she thinks if she kills enough, she can stay forever. Patrick tricks her and jabs her with a hypodermic that knocks her out. He brings her to Mary Brogan’s and tells her that they lied — Mary’s been dead for longer than a year. Mary takes them to the bonfire clearing. Unconscious Alice invades Patrick’s mind, pleading for him to set her down. He fights her, but he fails, dropping her. She kills Mary. Patrick loses consciousness, and Louise runs away. Alice goes after her.

Arthur and the others find Patrick and confront him about his lies. They stick him into a clutch. Louise hides, then tricks Alice into stepping out of the town limits. She “dies” again. Louise finds a spot in the woods to bury her, and Patrick and the others find her just as she seals up the grave — until the earth erupts and Alice pulls Louise down into the grave with her. Patrick and the others try to stop it, but they fail. Patrick tries to dig but can’t.

Patrick pulls some hair from Louise’s brush. They resurrect Louise, and she tells him everything’s fine, they’re waiting for him, and she’s still expecting the baby. They kiss.

Comments:

This throwback to the “classic” horror style is both eerie and effective. Taking its emotional underpinning from a potential real-world trauma — parents grieving the loss of their child — helps to sell a premise that’s alternately terrifying and goofy. The writers do an excellent job of establishing these characters, the town of Wake Wood, and layering the suspense after Alice’s “resurrection.” The story logically proceeds from one beat to the next, but it is not as predictable as it could be. It’s marred only by an unnaturally upbeat conclusion. I have nothing against happy endings, but really, it’s not a happy ending — Patrick still only has three days with Louise. Hinting at the darkness of this seemingly sunny end would benefit it.

It’s not a perfect script, though; Patrick and Louise agree to chance Arthur’s weirdness much too quickly, with nothing to go on but Louise seeing something that may or may not be what she thought it was. Maybe if she sees everything much more distinctly — she is positive that she witnessed some kind of creepy life-from-death birth — it would be easier to believe them accepting Arthur’s proposal so quickly.

The fact that they lied about Alice’s death date is a pretty big detail. I find it hard to believe, in a community so distrusting of outsiders, that nobody would independently seek out that information and find out they’re lying. Obviously, if that happened, there’s no story, but the writers either need to clarify why nobody bothers or, perhaps, rely on a different impetus for Alice’s demonic 180 — what if it’s the mere fact that they are outsiders that causes this disaster? Beyond that, when the information is finally revealed, nobody dwells on it. Mary’s horrified, Arthur’s disappointed, and they instantly move on. I like the dishonesty element here because it gives Patrick and Louise intriguing flaws, but it’s not well-executed.

The supporting players aren’t all that well-developed, relying mainly on physical descriptions to distinguish each of them. It didn’t bother me much because this story focuses on Patrick, Louise, and Alice, but the lack of individuality will prevent audiences from feeling any real emotional impact when these people die.

These are all small details that can easily be fixed, but even if they aren’t, it won’t ruin many people’s enjoyment of the film.

This is legendary Hammer Films’ first movie in over 30 years, so it will definitely draw in hardcore horror fans. Since the “horror” elements are based more on psychological suspense than gore or shock value, it could also draw in audiences who like thrillers or even mysteries. It’s a rather adult-oriented premise, so I can’t see it interesting many people under 25.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 7:17 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 3, 2008

Jack vs. Future Jack

Author: Christopher Leone
Genre: Comedy/Sci-Fi
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

Commitment-phobic Jack receives a visit from himself, from five years in the future, urging him to marry his longtime girlfriend.

Synopsis:

JACK, 30, notices some odd things one morning: he has a duplicate toothbrush, he finds a Post-It on a photo of his girlfriend reminding him of a date he never made… He goes to a coffee shop, and the barista, ALLISON, questions Jack about visiting twice in one day. Jack’s confused. He goes to work, at a bargain-bin video-game developer, and his best friend, BRADLEY, tells him that Jack’s girlfriend called. Bradley urges Jack to marry her, but Jack says he has to keep his options open. At a meeting, Jack’s boss, BILL, reads a hostile e-mail signed by Jack. Although Bill agrees with both the sentiments and tone of the e-mail, Jack denies writing it. Bill gives Jack the opportunity to pitch his very own pet project, Murder Legion, to big-shot investors. Jack’s thrilled. He tells Bradley his five-year plan is coming together.

Jack calls his girlfriend, CHERYL, and invites her to dinner, naming the restaurant and time from the Post-It note. Cheryl says it’s perfect timing — she has a surprise to discuss with him. Jack calls the restaurant to make the reservation, but the MAITRE D’ gets confused. Jack already made the reservation. After work, Jack sees someone has written him a message in the dirt on his car: “Don’t be late.” At the restaurant, the Maitre D’ is confused some more because he believes he’s already seated Jack. He seats Jack and Cheryl “again,” and Cheryl reveals her big news: she landed an account to do the interior design for an entire hotel chain — in Japan. She’d have to leave for a year or two, on Thursday. This quickly turns into an argument about Jack’s lack of commitment. Cheryl wants to know when Jack plans to take things to the next level. As Jack tries to back away from a further commitment, the Maitre D’ has the house musicians play “Here Comes the Birde,” and busboys appear with roses. The Maitre D’ slips Jack a ring box. Inside, with the ring, is a note telling Jack not to break up with her.

Jack panics. He catches sight of a MAN trying to sneak away from the restaurant, and Jack chases him into the men’s room. He discovers the man is — himself, from five years in the future. FUTURE JACK tells him breaking up with Cheryl was the biggest of his life. Baffled Jack leaves, taking Cheryl’s hand and pulling her out of the restaurant. He takes her home, and Cheryl thinks Jack is panicking about her new job, but he’s actually panicking about Future Jack. He goes to a diner to clear his head, but Future Jack finds him. Jack asks him personal questions to verify his identity. Future Jack explains that he came back because he’s been miserable without Cheryl. When Jack asks him about the future, Future Jack says they have two rules — he can’t talk about the future, and he can’t change major historical events. He’ll be around for three days, and he’s staying with Jack.

At Jack’s apartment, Future Jack explains that he still lives in the same apartment, still has the same crummy job — he’s going nowhere. Haggard, Jack tells Future Jack he’s going to bed. The next morning, Future Jack tells Jack he’s not going to work — he’s going to Cheryl’s office to propose to her. Jack argues. They go to the coffee shop, where Future Jack reveals that he “nailed” Allison in the future, right after he and Cheryl broke up, and that Jack should stay away. In the car, Jack says he has to go to work to pitch Future Legion. Future Jack explains that it’s pointless — the investors will pass, anyway. Future Jack offers to pitch the game instead, if Jack will propose to Cheryl. Jack tries to remind Future Jack of all of her irritating qualities. Future Jack argues that she’s hot. At Cheryl’s office, Jack leaves Future Jack with the car, which Future Jack remembers how to operate it because he’s still driving it in the future.

Future Jack goes to work, where he verbally abuses Bradley about something Bradley hasn’t done yet. At Cheryl’s job, Jack and Cheryl run into each other at the elevator. She asks what he’s doing there, and Jack says they need to talk about the future. A woman jumps to the conclusion that he’s talking marriage, causing Jack to panic and pull Cheryl off the elevator at a random floor. Instead of proposing, he chickens out. Enraged, Cheryl points out her many good qualities and says they’re good together, but Jack blew it.

Back at his office, Future Jack excuses himself to go to the bathroom, while Jack calls Bradley to complain that he and Cheryl broke up. Bradley’s baffled. He begs Bradley to pick him up at Cheryl’s office. Bradley and Jack go to the diner, where Bradley offers vague consolation until FUTURE BRADLEY shows up. He says he’s been sent to track down Future Jack, because his plans may violate the rules. He urges Jack to break up with Cheryl, then mentions the reason Future Jack hates him is because Bradley slept with Cheryl right after the break-up. Future Jack pitches Murder Legion like a jerk, intentionally insulting both the investors and Bill. Bill fires Future Jack, which throws Future Jack’s timeline into disarray — now, he’s been a lifeguard for the past five years. Horrified, Future Jack finds Jack and asks how things went with Cheryl. Jack tells him they broke up.

Jack and Future Jack get drunk, and Jack calls Cheryl. The two Jacks fight over the phone, leaving Cheryl thinking Jack is nuts. The next morning, Jack wakes up ready to propose. He has a plan. While Future Jack showers, he goes to get coffee. Bradley and Future Bradley grab him. Future Bradley shows Jack a photo of Cheryl’s future wedding photo, to a hunky blond guy. Future Bradely urges him to not ruin her future. At the apartment, Cheryl shows up to collect her things. Future Jack is nice and complimentary, making it more difficult for her. Cheryl leaves, but Future Jack goes after her. When Jack returns with the Bradleys and finds Future Jack gone, he knows Future Jack has gone to propose to Cheryl himself.

They find Future Jack at a mall, buying another ring, but Jack loses him in the chase. Jack goes to Cheryl’s office, only to find out she isn’t there. Future Jack follows Cheryl to a private party at the SkyBar. Future Jack embarrasses her by acting like an overbearing creep, and then he notices Jack arriving. They get into a fight, out of Cheryl’s sight. Jack ends up unconscious in a pool. Desperate, Future Jack saves him with his lifeguarding skills. Soaking wet, Jack approaches Cheryl. Future Jack has vanished. Jack tells Cheryl to go to Japan — she’d have a better future without him. Cheryl doesn’t disagree.

The Bradleys are waiting for Jack, but they find Cheryl instead. She asks for a ride, and they’re happy to oblige. Jack goes to a bar to drown his sorrows and finds Allison tending. They go out to eat, and Allison shows herself to be vapid, shallow, and annoying. Jack goes back home, where he finds Future Jack waiting for him. Future Jack finally reveals that Cheryl’s marriage is a disaster — the husband’s a cheater, and they’re getting a divorce. Jack decides it’s not too late. He and Future Jack go to the airport, but Jack has to buy them both tickets to get past the security screener. Future Jack gives Jack the ring, then disappears — back to the future. Jack continues on, proposes to Cheryl at the gate. She turns him down. The HUNKY BLOND GUY — her future husband — tries to console Cheryl.

Jack gets a call on his cell phone. It’s Bill, un-firing him because the investors loved his no-nonsense approach. Jack gets on the plane and goes to Cheryl. He announces that he is, apparently, moving to Japan. He had to make a choice, and this is his. He presents the ring, and Cheryl accepts.

Comments:

This ineffectual comedy has more than a few smile-worthy moments, but nothing truly funny or clever. The premise — a man from the future convincing himself from the past to fix his romantic problems — has great potential, but the execution is disastrous. The writer piles on romantic-comedy clichés without ever giving us a compelling reason to believe in the Jack-Cheryl relationship. If we can believe in that, the entire story collapses.

Future Jack, the only one who seems invested in this relationship, generally comes off like a creep. It damages his credibility and, by extension, makes present-day Jack less likable. Cheryl has zero development. Jack and Future Jack spend ample time discussing why she’s great, but why does she think he’s great, and more than that, why does she think they’re so great together? Nothing Jack says or does suggests he’d be a great catch for anyone, and the writers never make us understand what attracted Cheryl to him in the first place, why she sticks around, why she’s so eagerly waiting for his marriage proposal, or why she’s so surprised that he doesn’t, since she herself describes him as a commiment-phobe. Inconsistencies like this are never resolved, which makes the resolution unsatisfying.

The time-travel gimmick gives the screenplay its only spark of originality, but even this isn’t exploited well. Aside from the myriad inconsistencies in their time-travel logic, Future Jack learns nothing from his experience, and Jack doesn’t seem to learn a thing until the last three pages — and yet, the concluding “job vs. girlfriend” decision comes out of nowhere. Here, there’s an opportunity for two men to hold up a mirror to one another. Jack can see what he’s become and realize he should do anything in his power to avoid becoming that guy, while Future Jack, looking at his past self with the benefit of hindsight, could see him as an even more pathetic figure because he refuses to accept responsibility for his future and embrace adulthood. But then, as presented in the current script, Future Jack hasn’t accepted responsibility or embraced adulthood, either.

A flashy trailer might make this appeal to teen or college-age audiences who enjoy mediocre sex jokes and don’t understand or particularly care about the shallowness of the central relationship. Ironically, the time-travel conceit will likely keep audiences away, despite the un-sci-fi nature of the actual story.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:17 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Heroes & Villains

Author: Michael A. M. Lerner
Genre: Biography/Drama
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Recommend

Logline:

After suffering a nervous breakdown, pop star Brian Wilson undergoes a radical psychotherapy treatment.

Synopsis:

A montage introduces us to the early career of Beach Boys founder/bandleader/songwriter/producer BRIAN WILSON. In the late-’70s, a late-30s Brian’s a disheveled mess. He shows up to daughter CARNIE’s birthday party, to the disappointment of ex-wife MARILYN and his own nurse, DORIS. Brian neglects everything as the sounds around him transform into music, but after humiliating himself simply by being there, Doris drags him out. She drives me to a law office, where Brian is confronted by brother/bandmate CARL, cousin/bandmate MIKE LOVE, bandmate AL JARDINE, and manager LARRY SCHIFF. They’ve fired him from the band and petitioned the court to take his publishing royalties.

That night, Brian tries to write a song, but the voices in his head drive him to distraction. He tries to hit up Doris’s young children for money, then drives a cab around L.A., bumming money from friends. He goes to visit brother/bandmate DENNIS on his beloved yacht, and Dennis immediately hops in the cab and drags Brian to the Troubadour. At the Troubadour, the LEAD SINGER of the band onstage notices Brian and Dennis walk in, and he points out his admiration for Brian. This cause him to freeze up. In fear, he accidentally knocks over a table. The audience laughs, the voices in his head roar, Brian runs away from the Troubadour and collapses in the street. He’s nearly hit by a car. An MTV News clip shows KURT LODER describing Brian’s latest breakdown, along with words of admiration from ELVIS COSTELLO and TOM PETTY.

At the hospital, Carl, Dennis, and Doris gather with AUDREY, the Wilson boys’ mother. DR. EUGENE LANDY, early 40s, shows up. He once treated Brian but was fired by the band. He badgers the family into letting him take care of Brian once again — but only if he can have 24-hour access and move Brian away from the drugs, alcohol, and distractions of his life. When they reluctantly agree, Landy gets Brian on a gurney, drags him to an ambulance, put him on a plane, and take him to a house in Hawaii. Landy awakens Brian the next morning, offers him breakfast. He gets him in a minivan, where Landy’s girlfriend, DIANDRA, is waiting. They drive him along a dirt road to the bottom of a mountain and abandon him, telling him to walk back up the mountain to the house.

Brian barely manages to reach the house. He continues to struggle with visual and auditory hallucinations. When Brian wakes up, Landy’s there, waiting. Brian confesses he doesn’t want to go back to the “loony hospital.” Landy tells Brian that if he works with him, puts his complete trust into him, Landy will help Brian manage his disorders and become a functional part of society — and Brian will never have to go back to the loony hospital again. A montage shows Brian repeatedly going up the mountain road — struggling but getting stronger, until he’s able to reach the top without any trouble.

Diandra complains about Brian’s ripe smell. Brian tells Landy he’s afraid of the shower, because he’s hallucinated snakes coming out of the shower head. Unafraid, Landy gets into the shower, fully clothed, and turns it on. He takes Brian’s hand and lets the water run under it. Encouraged, Brian’s able to get in the shower. Brian hears his song “Surf’s Up” in his head, and it provokes a flashback to 1966. Sitting with lyricist/folk musician VAN DYKE PARKS, he continues to play the song. Van tries to encourage Brian to release his newest song, Smile, as a solo album — Van fears the other Boys won’t “dig” the new, less commercial style. Brian doesn’t agree.

In the late ’70s, Brian cleans a glass obsessively. Landy asks him why he’s doing that. Brian doesn’t know, but Landy badgers him until Brian tells him about an incident with his father in 1956. In flashback, MURRY (Brian’s father) listens to 14-year-old Brian’s jazzy, beautiful music. Brian says he doesn’t know where to take the song, so Murry tries to help by playing some schmaltzy, old-fashioned music. Brian laughs. Murry notices a glass on top of the piano. He picks it up, and it leaves a sticky ring. He flies off the handle, whacking Brian several times, until Brian slams his head against the piano bench, leaving him permanently deaf in one ear.

Back in the late ’70s, movers show up with a piano. Landy keeps it locked until Brian explains to Landy how he comes up with a song. Brian tries to explain with another flashback, this time to 1965, showing him attempt to put two dissonant harmonies together. His musicians don’t think the music will work, but when the entire orchestra plays it, it sounds beautiful. In the ’70s, Brian says he just hears it all in his head, linked together. Landy’s baffled. Some time later, Diandra tells Landy that the Beach Boys are playing in Hawaii. She also shows Landy and Brian some press clippings, suggesting Landy has kidnapped Brian. They dress Brian up in a suit and coach him on what to say regarding this. Brian shows up at a press conference with the other Beach Boys, where he addresses the allegations with good humor.

Seeing him in such good health, Carl Mike, and Dennis encourage Brian to return to the Beach Boys. Landy refuses to let him. Marilyn shows up with Carnie, but Brian humiliates himself with a faux pas about Carnie’s size. Landy takes Brian back to Los Angeles, where he’s rented him a huge house in Malibu and hired two personal assistants, BRICE and JOSH. Landy says that now that he’s in peak physical condition, they need to continue working on his mental condition. At a supermarket, Brian flirts with a cute checkout girl (MELINDA LEDBETTER). He takes 25 pills a day, strictly monitored by Brice and Josh. He jogs along the Pacific Coast Highway. Landy forces Brian to start writing music again, with Landy as the lyricist. They take the songs to the other Beach Boys, who think the music is serviceable but the lyrics are trash. Enraged, Landy decides it’s time for Brian to put together a solo album — and to celebrate this monumental occasion, he takes Brian to a Cadillac dealer to buy a car. Brian finds Melinda working there now. He tells her he’ll buy the car she likes best. He flirts with her, and she flirts back. Landy barges in and takes Brian away.

At a café, Dennis spots Brian jogging up the PCH. He calls to him and they catch up on old times. Dennis says he’s tried calling a lot, but Brian never got the messages. He encourages Brian to ask out Melinda. They talk about solo albums, and Brian hypes up Landy’s affiliations in the industry, saying he produced Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction.” Dennis laughs and corrects Brian — Landy had nothing to do with it. Brian’s confused. Dennis drives Brian home, and Landy is livid. He verbally abuses Brian, and when Dennis shows up at Brian’s house the next day, Landy and Brice won’t let him in. He goes away, dejected. Brian remembers the early days of the Beach Boys, with Mike accusing Dennis of not being able to play the drums. Brian encourages Dennis and helps him get the beat.

In the present timeline, Brian gets a phone call: Dennis is dead. Drunk, he dove off his yacht and drowned. Brian locks himself in his bedroom, listening to his song “‘Til I Die” on an endless loop. Gaunt and unenthusiastic, Landy takes complete control of the solo album. The engineer gets into a fight with him and quits. Brice gives Brian tickets to a Moody Blues concert. Brian works up his courage and calls Melinda. He asks her to go to the concert; she agrees. Landy passive-aggressively tries to discourage Brian from going on a date with her, but Brian won’t relent. He takes her to the concert. Landy sends Josh to spy on them, so Melinda takes her backstage. After, Brian takes Melinda back home. He leaves, awkwardly, then taps on the window of her apartment. He asks her to go to a barbecue he’s throwing. She agrees.

At the barbecue, Melinda notices that everyone there is one of Landy’s friends — she’s Brian’s only friend there. Brian shows her where he writes songs, says he doesn’t write much anymore. She asks why, and he explains — accompanied by flashbacks — the race to beat the Beatles in terms of increasingly ambitious songwriting and production techniques. The Beatles put out Rubber Soul, which encouraged Brian to make Pet Sounds, then they came back with Revolver, he released “Good Vibrations,” and then the Beatles trumped it all with Sgt. Pepper’s. Brian tried to make Smile to outdo them one last time, but the Boys hated the songs — except Dennis. The family rejection gave him a nervous breakdown and couldn’t finish.

Landy disrupts Brian and Melinda, then sends her home. After that, Brice and Josh begin screening the calls and not giving the messages from Melinda. She drops by the house and catches him while he’s jogging — the only time he’s allowed to leave the house. Brian asks her out again, but Landy is livid because he’s booked recording sessions. Landy rants and raves at the assistants, whom he hired to watch Brian’s every move. After hearing that, Brian starts hiding his medication instead of taking it. He takes Melinda horseracing, then on a boat trip. Annoyed by Josh monitoring them, he convinces Melinda to dive off the boat. They swim to shore and make love. When Brian gets back home, Landy confronts him with the untaken pills he’s found. He says he’s shocked and disappointed. Landy goes to Melinda and tries to manipulate her into going away, because she’s causing too much stress on Brian. Landy forces Brian to go to a lawyer to sign some mysterious papers. At the recording studio, Brian sneaks away to call Melinda to meet him there. He says Landy drugged him up and made him sign legal papers, but he doesn’t know what they are. Brice calls Landy about Melinda, and Landy races to the studio to threaten her. She ignores him.

Some time later, Melinda sees a newspaper with a headline about Landy — PSYCHIATRIST INVESTIGATED BY HEALTH BOARD. Melinda goes to meet Brian for a date, but Brice won’t let her in. Landy tells Brian she called to cancel, but Brian doesn’t believe him. Landy doesn’t know why Brian thinks he would lie, but Brian reminds him of “Eve of Destruction.” Brian shoves him, but a frightened Landy says he has power of attorney over Brian. While Landy’s distracted, Brian steals the documents from Landy’s briefcase. When they send him jogging, he goes all the way from Malibu to Santa Monica. He goes to Melinda, who’s baffled. She wants to help but they can only get the ball rolling with the help of the family. Carl and his attorney take their petition against Landy to the state’s attorney general.

Landy goes to confront Melinda, but when he approaches her at the Cadillac dealership, court servers serve him with papers. Landy and Diandra are forced to move out of Brian’s house.

In 2003, Brian and Melinda are married and have three young children. He’s patched things up with his older children — they’re a big, happy, accepting family. One night, Brian starts playing “Heroes and Villains” and decides it’s finally time to finish Smile. With the help of DARIAN SAHANAJA and a computer, Brian goes through the old Smile tracks and strings it all together as an album. They rehearse it, but Brian has another breakdown. Melinda tries to console Brian and tells him he doesn’t have to do this, but Brian insists that he does. Smile debuts live in London to rave reviews, as does the subsequent album.

Comments:

One of the biggest problems facing biopics is the monumental task of paring down a person’s lifetime into a single cinematic story. By starting the story with Eugene Landy’s deep, experimental, live-in psychotherapy — spanning roughly 1978 through the mid-’90s — the writer concentrates a story that not many people know much about. He also does a very skillful job of portraying everyone as humans, instead of larger-than-life pop-culture icons. More than that, his handling of Eugene Landy as a character is expert — at first portraying him as the confident, compassionate therapist whose radical methods work wonders, then peeling back the layers to show him as an unpleasant thug exploiting Brian’s mental illness. He also does a nice job of paralleling him to Murry, Brian’s father. The writer skillfully handles Brian’s hallucinations in illustrating how his mental problems may have helped him to create music.

Although he does a nice job with the love story, the writer falters in the third act. The entire Smile bit, true and triumphant though it may be, feels tacked -n for this particular story. Brian’s found new love and divorced himself from yet another manipulator — now he can pick up the pieces. But the story just keeps going after that. I like the idea that the writer narrowed the scope to this specific, difficult time in Brian’s life, but if he’s going to widen the scope to include the Smile resurrection, he should also broaden it to go into more depth on the original recording sessions. For something that cast such a pall over Brian’s life, relegating it to a few pages of narration over a flashback might not be the best choice. Also, Brian’s narration is one of the few examples where the writer slips into flagrantly expository dialogue. He vividly captures the nuance of Brian’s speech patterns elsewhere, but the narration in this section reads like a press release.

Despite these flaws, the writer has written a dense script packed with complex characters true to their real-life counterparts. Even though he sometimes plays loose with the facts and the timeline (as any biopic does), the hopeful story of this time in Brian Wilson’s life is true enough and well-written enough to make a compelling film.

This will undoubtedly appeal to fans of classic rock and will likely have a broad international appeal (considering Brian Wilson’s music is, at this point, probably more popular in Europe and Southeast Asia than it is in the U.S.). With the right cast and crew, this could turn into a big prestige picture (à la Ray or Walk the Line).

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:47 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 4, 2008

Clive Barker’s Dread

Author: Anthony DiBlasi
Genre: Horror
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A disturbed philosophy student convinces two filmmakers to document dread, but they have to fight back when he takes things too far.

Synopsis:

A young BOY and his MOTHER and FATHER arrive at their rural home at night. They don’t notice a mysterious MAN lurking in the shadows. After tucking the Boy in, the Father walks out to the porch and sees the Man, who claims he was in an accident. When the Father steps closer to offer help, the Man stabs him in an axe. The Father shouts for the Mother to run away, but she doesn’t. Her screams wake the Boy, who walks downstairs to discover the Man and his bloody axe, standing over his parents’ corpses.

STEPHEN GRACE, 22, sleeps on the bench of a train platform. A wristwatch alarm wakes him, and after a moment the train arrives. Stephen arrives at his job, at a college campus bookstore. He feeds a caged, wounded crow called Poe and greets co-worker ABBY, 22, who has a large “port-wine birthmark” on her face, neck, and most likely a portion of her body covered by clothing. CHERYL FROMM, 22, arrives at the register with a book. Like Stephen, she’s a film student. She’s also interested in Poe. That night, Stephen and Abby lock up the store. Stephen has a night class to get to, an ethics class he finds dull — except for one pretty girl. During a break, Stephen smokes a cigarette in an alley. QUAID, somewhat older, smokes a joint in the alley. He strikes up a conversation about philosophy with Stephen, then it moves on to film, then the relation between the two topics. Quaid encourages him to ask out the girl. After class, Stephen approaches, but he chickens out. Quaid chastises him but suggests they have a beer. Stephen doesn’t want to, but Quaid convinces him.

At the pub, they continue their cinema/philosophy discussion, but Quaid notices Stephen isn’t enthusiastic about drinking his beer. He tries to figure out the reason, and Stephen finally admits it’s because his brother was killed in a drunk-driving incident. Stephen’s watch alarm goes off “for the tenth time tonight,” and Quaid accuses Stephen of being afraid to live. Stephen tries to change the subject to Quaid, who makes a bland sex joke instead of opening up. Quaid takes Stephen to his house, a nice place in the suburbs. He finds the key under the mat and lets them in. While he fixes himself a drink, Quaid tells Stephen to go upstairs and grab a DVD from his room. Stephen goes upstairs, opens the bedroom door — and finds a married couple, sound asleep. Downstairs, the front door slams, waking the WIFE. She sees Stephen and screams, waking up her HUSBAND. Stephen, in silent terror, runs away.

Stephen chases Quaid down the street. When he catches up, Quaid tells him it was both a joke and a psychological experiment — creating long-term fear in both Stephen and the Husband and Wife, who will no longer sleep soundly. Stephen’s horrified. The next day, at the bookstore, Quaid shows up pretending to be a cop. Stephen isn’t amused. Quaid loans him some DVDs and tells him to come by his real place that night. He compliments Abby on her birthmark, which unsettles her. That night, Stephen shows up at Quaid’s, a dilapidated tenement in a bad neighborhood. Quaid’s painting a nude model, SHAUNA, and Stephen’s impressed by the artwork. Quaid claims it’s just a hobby, and he destroys them all after finishing. Quaid dismisses Shauna, then mentions an idea for Stephen’s thesis film. He wants to do a study of fear, a la Kinsey’s study of sex. Stephen can take advantage of Quaid’s obsession by filming it. Stephen isn’t sure, but Quaid convinces him. They celebrate the decision by going to a rock club, where Quaid picks up two girls — SAMANTHA and the girl from their ethics class, ZOOEY.

They all get drunk and go back to Quaid’s place. Stephen awakens from a passed-out state to find Quaid going down on Zooey. He’s jealous, but Samantha starts pawing Stephen, so he gets over it. The next day, Stephen visits Cheryl, who is editing a film. He invites her to join the dread project because she was struggling with a thesis topic. She agrees. Meanwhile, Quaid sets out rows of prescription pills, swallows each one. Stephen posts ads and flyers for the fear study. Cheryl prints up dorky t-shirts. They set up an editing bay in Quaid’s basement. Then they begin interviewing people — everyone describes fairly generic fears. Stephen’s watch alarm breaks it up, and he and Cheryl go out to dinner. They flirt playfully, with Cheryl insulting her choice of salad while Cheryl mocks his sloppy burger and says she hates meat.

When they get back to Quaid’s, he complains that the interview subjects aren’t good enough. Their fears are too dull. When Stephen and Cheryl disagree, Quaid gets angry and smashes Stephen’s ever-chirping watch. To defuse the situation, Cheryl sits down in the interview chair to express her biggest fear. She’s horrified, disgusted — and, yes, afraid of all meat products because her father used to work at a meat-packing plant, and he sexually abused her, so the stench of the meat now fills her with fear. Stephen and Quaid are both shocked and impressed by her confession. Cheryl tries to get Quaid to talk about his fears, but he freezes up. Stephen starts joking around to lighten the mood. Quaid decides that all their interviews need to be like Cheryl — they need to post better ads and lose the t-shirts. Stephen agrees. Later that night, Quaid opens his medicine cabinet and begins dumping his pills down the drain. Stephen stays the night, and he asks about Quaid’s parents. He said they died when he was very young, and now he lives off the insurance money. He won’t say anymore.

That night, he has a wild dream. It takes place in his current house, but his parents are there, and so is the Axe-Man. Quaid runs into Stephen’s room and begins screaming — then he wakes up, safe in his own bedroom. Stephen heard Quaid screaming in his sleep, comes to investigate. Quaid admits that his parents were killed right in front of him when he was six-years-old. He makes Stephen promise not to tell anyone.

At work, Stephen’s acting weird. He confesses to Abby that he’s weirded out by Quaid, and he mentions the incident scaring the Husband and Wife. Abby mentions her house had a break-in once — nobody was hurt, but her mother never slept well afterward. Guilty, Stephen writes an anonymous note to apologize and explain the prank. When he arrives at the suburban home, he finds it empty, with a “For Sale” sign on the front lawn. He goes to Quaid’s house and finds he’s bought an exact replica of the Mustang Stephen’s brother died in. He’s also found a good interview subject — JOSHUA SHAW, a student who got hit by a car and was temporarily deafened for three years. He lives in constant terror that the deafness may come back.

Quaid, Stephen, and Cheryl celebrate their first legitimate, high-quality subject. Quaid gives each of them keys to his house. Quaid goes to a strip club to ask Shauna to model for him again. She says she’s busy and suggest VALERIE; Quaid’s unimpressed. Walking out, Quaid hallucinates that he sees the Axe-Man, watches him kill Valerie and rip out her breast implants. Disturbed, he shakes off the hallucination. At the bookstore, Abby volunteers to take part in the fear study. After class, Cheryl gives Stephen a new watch — indestructible and with a less irritating alarm. Later, Stephen goes to Abby’s dorm room, to interview her alone. She confesses her embarrassment about the birthmark and the fear that she’ll continue to be exposed for her imperfections. She strips down to show Stephen how much of her body is occupied by this birthmark, then makes sexual advances. Stephen rebuffs her, and Abby makes him leave.

Stephen convinces Quaid to go to Abby’s room and get the equipment he left behind. Quaid doesn’t understand why Stephen didn’t sleep with her; he doesn’t like Stephen’s interest in Cheryl, and they get into an argument about whether or not this fear study is more than just a school project. Quaid’s a little hurt that Stephen doesn’t think more of it, but he agrees to get everything from Abby and destroy the tape of her interview. Stephen says he’s taking the Mustang, which surprises Quaid.

Stephen gets Poe from the bookstore, then picks up Cheryl. Quaid picks up the equipment and flirts with Abby. Quaid having raucous sex with Abby is intercut with Stephen and Cheryl freeing the recuperated Poe in the woods. Quaid has a nightmare that the Axe-Man kills Abby at the height of their passion. This makes Quaid decide to become an interview subject for Stephen and Cheryl. He doesn’t say anything revealing — just a lot of strange, disturbing patter. The group waits for the final interview subject, TABITHA, who wears a leather choker and tells the story of being diagnosed with agoraphobia, then facing the death of her mother, not doing a thing about it for three weeks because she couldn’t leave the house, then trying to commit suicide by slitting her own throat. Quaid accuses her of lying and gets violent, knocking her to the ground, ripping off her choker, and yanking off her latex scar. Tabitha’s humiliated, but Stephen and Cheryl are angered. In retaliation, Quaid destroys the camera, and the editing computer with all the footage.

Angry, Cheryl storms out. She finds a DVD Quaid slipped into her backpack — it’s an endless loop of Abby stripping and kissing Stephen, without the part where he turns her down. Some time later, Stephen finds Cheryl, who has cut off all communication. He thinks she’s mad at him about what Quaid did, but she mentions the Abby footage. Stephen denies anything happened, but Cheryl’s livid. Stephen talks to his professor, wanting to get some kind of extension, but to his surprise, a completed thesis film was turned in. Quaid pulls up in the Mustang as Stephen walks home, wanting to apologize. Reluctantly, Stephen gets in the car — and Quaid blasts off, drinking whiskey and speeding, terrifying Stephen. He slams on the brakes just short of a brick wall, and Stephen gets out, shouting obscenities, leaving a drunk Quaid to drive himself home. Meanwhile, Cheryl goes to Quaid’s basement to pick up the wreckage of the computer. His tarped paintings catch her attention, and she uncovers them — finds every single one a painting of a beautiful woman brutally murdered. Quaid appears behind her, wants to know what she’s doing. He tells her she can help him take their project to the next level.

For their last day at work, Stephen and Abby get drunk. She confesses sleeping with Quaid, then afterward, they discover footage of Abby disrobing for Quaid is being played on every single television on campus. She’s mortified, so she gets hammered and then tries to scrub off her birthmark with steel wool. Meanwhile, Quaid invites Joshua Shaw back — then beats him down, ties him up, and tries to simulate Josh’s feared deafness. He decides simply muffling his hearing won’t work, so he pulls off the soundproofing material, holds a gun next to his ears, and fires.

Stephen manages to find the bloodied Abby and calls an ambulance. At the hospital, crazed and deaf Joshua sees Stephen pass his room. He follows Stephen. Stephen notices a fire axe on the wall, pulls it out of its glass case. Joshua follows Stephen back to Quaid’s. Stephen tries to inflict terror on Quaid with the axe — he’s in a murderous rage, but at some point, he realizes what he’s doing and sets the axe down. Quaid holds his gun on him, then knocks Stephen out with it. Stephen wakes up tied to a chair in an upstairs bedroom, and Quaid plays footage of his torturing Cheryl for nearly a week, keeping her trapped in the basement with nothing to eat but a big chunk of meat. She gets crazier and crazier, and the meat gets more and more rotten, but finally she relents and eats the disgusting, maggoty, rotten meat.

Quaid hears a crash downstairs. He thinks Stephen’s brought someone with, so he goes up to investigate. Stephen struggles until he gets to Quaid’s palette knife and cuts himself free. With the knife, he goes upstairs to track down Quaid, while Quaid searches for the mystery visitor. Stephen finds Quaid, but in the darkness Quaid can’t see him. Suddenly, there’s a screech of audio as the projector returns to life. Quaid sees the Axe-Man leap out of a door and jam the axe into Stephen. In reality, it’s Joshua with the axe. Quaid starts shooting at his hallucinated Axe-Man, killing Joshua. In voiceover, Quaid explains that he was able to face his biggest fears in this way. Quaid pulls the body of Stephen down into the basement, where Cheryl is still trapped. He leaves her with the body and the pocket-knife and speculates on how long it’ll take her to get hungry enough to eat the mangled corpse. Cheryl screams, and Quaid slams the door.

Comments:

The writer does some nice things with the characters, showing how their deep-seated fears have impacted and continue to impact them. He also does a nice job of wrapping everything in a neat, if disturbing, package at the end. As far as horror movies go, this could be a lot worse. But it could also be a lot better.

Whatever nice things the writer does with the characters, Quaid is fairly bland as the demented villain. It’s obvious he’s the boy from the first scene, it’s obvious his obsession with fear stems from this trauma, and it’s obvious that he’ll take everything too far. The story goes wild in the third act, but most of the first and second acts feel like little more than prolonging the inevitable. Endless, pretentious pontifications on philosophy and fear pad out most scenes. It doesn’t create suspense, since audiences know exactly what’s going to happen; it will mostly make them want to check their watches, and the constant references to Stephen’s watch don’t exactly help that. With Quaid acting as a mystery man who isn’t a mystery, his descent into madness and mayhem should start much earlier.

Despite the unsubtle trajectory of Quaid’s “arc,” the story does have some moments of unpredictability, especially the ending, but overall it’s a disappointment. Nothing happens that hasn’t been seen before, and the writer doesn’t put any unique or interesting spins on these old favorites. Even the ending, while shocking, pulls its punches: the red-herring of tortured Joshua turning into the axe-wielding maniac keeps both Stephen and Quaid from seeming like outright murderers. In the case of Quaid, why does it matter? Even if it was Stephen with the axe instead of Joshua, it would be an act of self-defense, but besides that, he’s the villain. Turning him into a more cold-blooded murderer wouldn’t ruin audiences’ good times. Stephen’s already come after him with an axe once, but he managed to control his anger. Why wouldn’t seeing Cheryl get tortured make him fly off the handle? Wouldn’t Quaid’s treatment of her qualify as justifiable homicide? The irony of Quaid having to face his deepest fear as a direct result of his fear-torturing is diminished by the fact that it’s Joshua, not Stephen, who administers Quaid’s torture. The ending would be made doubly ironic by the recurring theme that Stephen is too afraid to really go after what he wants, especially when it comes to women. Now, he’s finally putting fear aside, and Quaid kills him for his trouble. Joshua doesn’t add anything to this struggle; in fact, he takes away from it.

Dread is a decent, if predictable, horror story that could be great with a few tweaks like this.

I don’t know if horror fans still line up to see anything with the “Clive Barker” name on it, but the upcoming Hellraiser remake might renew interest in his brand of horror; if successful, it would increase the potential audience for Dread exponentially. Even if it isn’t, horror fans may find this alluring because of its surface similarities to Hostel- and Saw-esque “torture porn” movies.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 1:29 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 1, 2008

Warrior

Author: Gavin O’Connor and A.M. Tambakis & Cliff Dorfman
Genre: Sports/Action
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

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Logline:

Estranged brothers train to fight each other at a mixed martial arts tournament.

Synopsis:

In a South American hotel room, TOMMY CONLON, a 28-year-old street-fighting pill-popper, is awakened by a phone call. SILVIO, a cold-hearted Brazilian in his 40s, is calling to get him to come downstairs. He’s late for a fight. On the way, Silvio says he has him booked in “the Badlands” tonight. Tommy grumbles that he’s only under Silvio’s thumb for six more weeks. In a remote section of the Amazon rain forest, elaborate cameras are set up to tape a fight between WHITE LIGHTNING and his opponent, THUNDER. Tommy prepares to fight a huge logger named BUZZSAW. Silvio tells Tommy not to take him down until the second round. Tommy doesn’t want to. Tommy crushes Buzzsaw but keeps him in it just enough to keep it going until the second round, where he takes Buzzsaw out instantly. After the fight, Tommy goes home — to an abandoned, shipwrecked freighter in Mexico. It’s been robbed.

In Los Angeles, TESS CONLON undergoes an examination from a cardiologist — she’s had a heart transplant, and the doctor says she’s healthy and is almost back to normal, but she should avoid big crowds and particularly stressful activities. Her husband, BRENDAN, asks about sex. Their six-year-old daughter, AUBREY, asks what sex is, leading to some awkwardness. JODI PINNIX, the transplant coordinator, hands Tess some medical masks. Tess is ready to go home for the first time since her transplant. As they drive up to the house, Tess is overcome with emotion. The next morning, Brendan makes breakfast for Tess. He notices an envelope addressed to Jodi and figures out Tess is trying to find out who her heart donor was. Brendan reminds her the donation was anonymous, and she shouldn’t pursue it. Brendan goes to work, teaching high school physics. He’s a good teacher who treats the diverse students like adults.

That night, Tommy and Silvio arrive in the Badlands of South Dakota. Tommy tells him to throw the fight, offering nearly 10 times his usual payment if Tommy will take a dive. Tommy refuses, but Silvio reminds him it’s not open to discussion. As they fight, state troopers and the Native American Tribal Police bust them; their Native American contact didn’t pay them off. Tommy wants to get paid because, technically, he didn’t win. Silvio doesn’t want to pay because Tommy would have won. Silvio reminds Tommy that he owns him — permanently. Silvio pulled Tommy out of his Mexican prison cell, and he can put Tommy back. Tommy drops Silvio, lifts his wad of cash, and pays off a bartender to keep it quiet. Then he leaves.

Outside a Long Beach cathedral on Christmas Eve, a drunk Tommy surprises PADDY CONLON — his father. He offers Tommy some harsh words about leaving — at age 14 — with his mother and having to bury her recently. He also offers a Christmas present: a bottle of whiskey. Paddy tells Tommy he’s sober now. He takes Tommy back home. Tommy looks at some old photographs, some of which reveal Brendan Conlon to be his brother. The next day, Paddy wakes Tommy up and surveys his old room — a time-warp of 1994, with shelves cluttered with wrestling and boxing trophies. They go to a diner for breakfast. Paddy tries to discuss Tommy’s Marine duties by describing his experiences in Vietnam. Paddy drives Tommy past Colt’s Gym, and Tommy tells Paddy to let him out. Tommy buys a gym membership.

At the Credit Union, it’s explained to Brendan that he’s in dire financial straits and has no way out except bankruptcy. Later, Brendan catches a newspaper ad for an amateur mixed martial arts fight night. The owner of the gym, COLT, catches Tommy training. He pairs him up with MAD DOG GRIMES, his best fighter. Tommy destroys him, until Colt breaks them up. Brendan lies to Tess about having to go to a “parent teacher thing,” and Tess believes he’s having an affair because he no longer finds her scarred body attractive. Brendan placates her but still leaves. He goes to the parking lot of a strip club, where he fights and wins. That night, Brendan creeps into the bathroom. Tess is awake and tells him to turn the light on. Brendan confesses he went to fight and turns on the light, revealing his bruised and swollen face. Tess isn’t happy, but Brendan admits their financial problems and tells her it’s the only way.

The school is abuzz with Brendan’s fighting. He’s hauled into PRINCIPAL JOE ZITO’S office and chewed out. At the hospital, Tess mentions cases of heart-transplant patients developing strange new quirks and interests after the surgery. Tess has developed some quirks of her own — notably an addiction to Chicken McNuggets — and urges Jodi to mention some of these things to the family. If they want to remain anonymous after that, she’ll stop pursuing it. Brendan goes to see FRANK CAMPANA, telling him that since he’s now suspended with pay, he wants to train hard to enter Sparta, an MMA tournament with a $5 million prize. Campana is reluctant, but their history prompts him to accept the challenge. Meanwhile, Tommy asks Paddy to train him to enter the same tournament.

In Iraq, a Marine named MARK BRADFORD sees a video of Tommy fighting on the Web. He realizes Tommy is the same man who pulled him and his unit out of an overturned tank. Brendan and Tess have another argument about his fighting. Paddy takes Tommy to Colt’s gym to fight some of Colt’s other fighters and make sure his winning wasn’t a fluke. Later, Paddy shows up to tell Brendan that Tommy’s back. Brendan wants nothing to do with Paddy, after his alcoholism put Aubrey in danger a few years ago.

Tess visits a middle-aged Native American, whose son provided Tess’s heart. She tells Tess that, after all that’s happened, she’s learned that what’s going to happen will happen, no matter what. At the gym, Frank teaches Brendan with the help of an iPod, blaring classical music to remind Brendan of three things: to stay calm, to remember this is an art form, and to remember to keep a certain rhythm. Weeks later, Brendan is back in top shape. Seeing how serious he is, Tess reluctantly decides to forgive him — if what’s going to happen will happen, she should support him instead of fighting him. Frank announces he’s decided to send Brendan to Sparta in Las Vegas. Tess wants to go, but Brendan reminds her that she can’t be near crowds.

In Las Vegas, Paddy and Tommy run into Silvio, who’s there with White Lightning. He assures Tommy they’ll finish “what he started in the Badlands.” ART DAVIE, founder of Sparta and Ultimate Fighting Championship, holds a press conference to introduce the competition and the 16 fighters who will duke it out for $5 million. On the odds board, Tommy is 20-1 — Brendan is 5000-1. That night, the story of Brendan saving Mark Bradford has hit the evening news. Bradford posted videos on the Internet, and suddenly Tommy’s a reluctant hero known to everyone as “the Superman.”

Brendan and Tommy meet up after Brendan sees the news report. He’s stunned by his brother’s courage, but Tommy denies it and argues with Brendan over choosing sides — that he choose “some girl” over their mother. When Brendan reminds him that “some girl” happens to be his wife, Tommy doesn’t care much. They both walk away angry. At the high school, some of Brendan’s students beg Joe Zito to let them use the gym to broadcast the Sparta match for all the students. Joe won’t let them.

Sparta begins, with BRYAN CALLEN and RANDY COUTURE calling the fight. They work through preliminary rounds, with “Superman” Tommy continuing to impress and Brendan surprising everyone by crushing the “Nigerian Nightmare.” Afterward, Art chastises Tommy for walking out of the ring after winning instead of waiting for announcements and interviews. Tommy says he’s just there to fight. They continue through more rounds, with Tommy and Brendan each defeating their increasingly difficult opponents — including Tommy defeating White Lightning. People gather at Colt’s gym to watch. High school kids gather at a local drive-in, which is broadcasting the fight on their behalf. Even Joe Zito shows up. Tess watches on TV.

That night, Tommy opens up to Paddy about why he bailed on the Marines and why he’s not a hero. He also implies he went to that Mexican prison on behalf of one of his fallen brothers. Then Tommy turns on him, saying Paddy’s lost all his fight since he sobered up. The next morning, Tess shows up to support Brendan. He tells her the crowd is too dangerous, but Tess says the cage is dangerous, too. Military Policemen show up to arrest Tommy, but Art convinces them to wait until the final round is over. Paddy gets trashed on whiskey, acts crazy, starts bawling, loses steam and slumps into bed. Tommy covers him with a comforter. That night, Tommy fights Mad Dog Grimes and slaughters him. Brendan fights a guy called KING KONG and barely manages to win. It’s down to the finals — Tommy versus Brendan.

Tommy is vicious, but Brendan has skill. He manages to get Tommy into an arm-lock. He urges his brother to tap out, but Tommy refuses — Brendan ends up breaking his arm. Finally, Brendan gets Tommy in a choke-hold. He continues to struggle despite having no air, but finally, he taps out. After, Tommy tells Brendan to take care of Paddy. The MPs escort Tommy out.

Comments:

As a generic sports movie with a lot of action, Warrior knows its purpose and serves it well. With very little exception, the last 40 pages is nothing but mixed martial arts action. The story leading up to this is serviceable but has some glaring clichés. Nonetheless, it works well enough for its genre.

The conflicted family unit is psychologically empty. We’re given external motivations for everything. Brendan and Tommy fight because they need money, Brendan and Tommy had a falling out over a never-specified incident having to do with their parents and Paddy’s alcoholism, both kids hate Paddy because of said alcoholism… However, despite some on-the-nose lines of dialogue, none of these characters have any kind of psychological complexity. At one point, Brendan mentions going unrecognized by Paddy (who seemed to favor Tommy) and ending up as an underdog in general. So, is he fighting to prove something to himself, his father, his wife…?

Is he even the protagonist? We spend much more time with Tommy without getting any more insight into his character. In fact, the more the writers tell us about him, the less sympathetic he becomes. By the third act, he comes across like a shrill, immature jackass rather than a tough, taciturn bad-ass. This characterization had me rooting for Brendan by the end, and he wins, but all things considered, I can’t imagine the writers actually want the audience to turn against Tommy. Delving into the conflict that made him leave with his mother might make him a bit more sympathetic. The writers leave this intentionally vague, but it’s Tommy’s only hope if they want audiences to like him.

More troublesome is the mixed message of both Brendan and Tommy. Tommy and his mother left because of an incident that had to do with Paddy’s alcoholism; Brendan is estranged from Paddy, also a result of the alcoholism. Paddy has sobered up (although he seems to have missed the “making amends” step), but Tommy encourages him to relapse, and then at the end they’re all a happy family again? It’s a little bizarre, considering what little we know about their past conflicts all stemmed from this, that they would just up and forgive this relapse.

The writers also drop the ball a bit in resolving the initial conflict with Silvio. This occupies a great deal of the first act. Silvio then disappears completely until the third act, but after Tommy defeats White Lightning, we never see him again. Silvio’s portrayed as a bloodthirsty criminal, and Tommy pummeled him, stole his money, and ran away. He’s not shown to be the kind of guy who would just let that go because Tommy beat White Lightning, fair and square.

Despite the flaws, it’s reasonably well-paced and well-plotted. The writers have a good feel for dialogue, aside from a few on-the-nose moments, and if they spent some more time working on these characters, it’ll be a pretty solid script. It’s not unique, but it’s not unsatisfying, either.

This will definitely appeal to fans of boxing/wrestling/MMA or martial arts in general. It could also appeal to a broader base of sports and action fans.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:52 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 11, 2008

Who Is Doris Payne?

Author: Eunetta T. Boone
Genre: Biograhy/Drama/Crime
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A chronicle of Doris Payne, who spent her life as a jewel thief.

Synopsis:

2005. A WOMAN, obscured from the security cameras monitoring her, steals jewels from a department store. In a Las Vegas hotel room, it turns out the thief is 74-year-old DORIS PAYNE, who watches James Frey on Oprah. Doris goes to steal from a Nieman Marcus, contemplating in voiceover how she got here.

West Virginia, 1943. Doris, 13, plays dress-up with her sister, LOUISE. Their mother, CLEMENTINE, tells them to go to a local store and put money into her account there. Doris notices the shopkeep, MR. BENJAMIN, is distracted with a customer trying on zoot suits. She begs Mr. Benjamin to let her try on a watch, even though she notices the $20 price tag. Mr. Benjamin reluctantly allows her to try it on, then tells her if she wants it, it’ll cost $50. While he’s distracted, Doris steals the watch.

At home, Doris works on a school project. Clementine tries to pull her away to clean, but Doris’s father, DAVID, argues to let Doris keep working. They get into a physical altercation, which prompts Doris’s brothers and sisters to all leap into the fray. In voiceover, Doris explains this is what attracted her to chaos.

Doris is now older. She, Louise, and a few friends go to a sleazy juke joint. Doris attracts GEORGE VADEN, and they go out to Doris’s car. They have a make-out/heavy-petting session with Louise and their friends complaining from the backseat.

1950. Doris and George are married now, with two kids — RONALD, 5, and newborn GLENN. George collects rent at whorehouses. He’s a gambler, a drinker, a smoker, and a horn-dog. When he gets drunk, he tends to lash out at her verbally. At a baby shower for a friend, Doris learns a man named JAMES isrunning a money-order scam out of the back bedroom. After he explains the scam, she asks to get in on it, so she can sock some money away to get herself and the kids away from George. George overhears this.

1952. Doris is in prison for passing bad money orders. In voiceover, she complains that she spent three years in prison, and George refused to bring any of her kids. Clementine brings Ronald on occasion. George is now shacking up with a woman named MARY, who’s helping out with the kids.

1954. Doris is out of prison, living with Clementine and her new husband, RICHARD. She works as a nurse at a retirement home with ADA LURCH, an attractive Jewish girl. Ada invites Doris to the Club Caprece, a club for African-Americans run by white, Jewish HAROLD “BABE” BROMFELD. When Doris and Ada arrive, they find Babe breaking up a fight between DEXY McCOY and another man, over MAVIS JOHNSON, a cute waitress. Doris admires Babe’s intellect and his lack of pretension about associating with African-Americans. At the nursing home, Doris is sent to a more extreme section of the home, where she has to deal with rotting bedsores and teeth. Horrified, Doris runs from the home. She recalls stealing the watch from Mr. Benjamin’s store and decides she will do anything to make enough money to get her kids back.

1959. In Pittsburgh, Doris is dressed as a nice. She bewilders a jewelry store clerk until she is able to steal ssome of the merchandise. Outside the store, Doris runs. In voiceover, Doris explains that she realized she needed a partner. She trusted Ada, so she asked her.

Ada hooks Doris up with Babe, a well-known entrepreneur with connections to the Jewish jewel market. Doris isn’t sure. Ada forces Doris to dance with Babe, and at closing time, she makes her pitch to him: she’ll get the diamonds if he can sell them. Babe is dubious, but when Doris shows him the merchandise, he agrees to consider it.

In her nurse’s outfit, Doris heads up to Windsor, Ontario, where she pulls the same scam she did in Pittsburgh — except the only Greyhound back to the States is canceled. The next one doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning. Panicking, Doris spends the night in the bus station bathroom. She hides her nurse’s uniform, steals a bathroom-user’s coat and hat, and blends in with a Native-American family on the bus. The police walk right past her. Babe’s impressed, wants to see her work. She says she only works out of town, but Babe’s taking a business trip to Philadelphia, so they agree to go together. She steals from a jewelry store while Babe poses as her husband. They share a hotel suite and get to know each other. That night, they make love. Later, Babe wants to know exactly how Doris pulls off the thieving. She tries to explain it. He asks if she’s afraid of prison, but Doris says she’s already done time. Babe suggests Doris dress up as a classy woman — a socialite or a schoolteacher. A nurse is too easy to track. They also make a set of rules on who they’ll steal from and who they’ll sell to.

In voiceover, Doris explains that the FBI began targeting “dangerous” African-Americans. AUBREY LIVINGSTON, an African-American agent, recites his oath of office and settles in to the Cleveland field office — just as Doris and Babe settle in to Cleveland Park, a wealthy neighborhood in the city. Babe and his wife, MYRA, invite Cleveland’s elite to buy diamonds. Doris poses as a ritzy broker from New York. Ronald, now a young man, shows up at Doris’s house. She’s happy to see him, but it’s awkward at first. They quickly settle back into their old routine. Doris calls George’s house to wish a happy birthday to her daughter, DONNA. George refuses to speak to her.

At the Club Caprece, Babe says he has a lawyer working on ways for Doris to regain custody of her kids. Dexy McCoy threatens Babe. Sick of Dexy running out his dwindling patronage, Babe fires Mavis. She’s enraged and makes threats herself. In the back office after closing, Babe loads shotguns and tells Doris to hide in the closet. Doris wants a gun, to help him, but Babe insists. Two THUGS stomp toward the office, and Babe blasts them each in the kneecaps. Doris emerges from the closet just in time to see Dexy coming — but Babe doesn’t see him. Doris throws a handgun to Babe, who has just enough time to blow Dexy away. Babe is amazed and impressed by the woman who just saved his life. In voiceover, Doris explains that she saw this incident as a sign that it was time to get her kids.

1968. Babe drives Doris and Ronald back to West Virginia. She reintroduces herself to her kids, who have all grown quite a bit. Glenn is a little excited to see her, but Donna has a hissy-fit, assuming Mary had just been mean when she said she wasn’t really her daughter. Glenn and Ronald help her calm down. George comes home, sees Babe, and gets jealous and violent. Mary forces George to leave her alone. Doris takes the kids back to Cleveland.

At Christmas, Doris spoils her kids. Babe spoils her by buying a beautiful diamond necklace. He mentions Myra is getting sicker and that they’re going to Switzerland to see a specialist. He invites her along, but Doris says she and Babe can go by themselves, some other time.

Easter. Doris steals from a jewelry store, but Aubrey Livingston happens to be there. He watches her make “the move,” dropping the valuable diamonds in her purse while replacing them with others. At the FBI office, Aubrey explains to coworker CHUCK RIDDICK that he won’t pick up Doris just yet because a thief like her deserves panache in her arrest. Babe is angry at Doris for being late, saying this violates their set rules. He’s also angry because Myra’s illness is costing him more than they’re earning stealing diamonds. His club is going under, as well. Doris and Myra come to an understanding — she knows Babe is sleeping with her, and she doesn’t mind as long as Doris doesn’t get any crazy ideas about “freeing” Babe from Myra. She has a seizure and collapses.

Doris steals from a Philadelphia jewelry store, but the cops make her. She steals anyway, but Babe isn’t where he’s supposed to be with the getaway car. As a result, Aubrey and Chuck tail them, pull them over, and arrest them. Doris hides the stolen diamonds under the car’s carpeting. Babe gets his own lawyer, infuriating Doris. She tries to tell her kids it’s a case of mistaken identity, but they don’t believe her. With her own lawyer and the lack of evidence, Doris gets a suspended sentence. Aubrey warns Doris that a day will come that she makes a major slip-up.

1970. A drunken Babe follows Doris, who’s startled. She makes him go away. She wakes up that night because Babe is throwing bricks, rocks, bottles, etc., at her house. He steals her car, so Doris goes down to the club. They have an argument. An angry African-American throws a molotov cocktail through the club’s front window, burning it to the ground.

1973. Babe gets Doris forged passports. Babe wants to know why she’s escalating her thievery when her kids are taken care of, and Doris says it’s because she’s good at it — it’s her gift. She goes to the U.N. in New York “to prepare” for the role as a sophisticated American divorcee traveling abroad.

Doris finds no challenge in stealing from London jewelers. She moves on to Paris, where she meets JEAN MARC LUCIEN. They flirt, but it turns out Jean Marc is also a thief — and he leaves her holding the bag. Doris narrowly escapes to Zurich. She steals some diamonds from Zurich, then goes to hide in a club, except her manic dancing antics are being broadcast on live TV. The police arrest and interrogate her. She speaks a made-up nonsense language, which confuses them into sending her to a psychiatric hospital. Jean Marc pretends to be a police officer taking her back to France.

Instead, he takes her to Monte Carlo, where she even catches the eye of PRINCE RAINIER. Doris steals a diamond worth a half a million Swiss francs, freaks out, gets in a taxi to the Nice airport. Airport officials recognize her, so she demands to speak with the American consulate. They’re ready to extradite her back to the U.S. when a NUN appears and urges Doris to go to the bathroom. She begs Doris for the stolen ring, and Doris obliges. The Nun then helps her sneak out of the French jail.

Doris continues to steal diamonds all over the world. In Tokyo, she gets a telegram saying her mother has cancer. When she returns to the U.S., the FBI is waiting. Aubrey takes Doris to see Clementine, then takes her to see Babe and Myra. Myra has gotten better, but Babe is sick. In voiceover, Doris says Babe died of a pulmonary embolism at age 56.

1990. Doris, nearing 60, is in a Cleveland prison. She looks at pictures of her children and her friends. A montage takes us through various other prisons she does time at. At one point, she has a near-death experience and sees Clementine and Louise smiling at her.

2005. Doris gets out of a Denver prison and makes her home there. She meets with Aubrey, tells him she intends to write a controversial memoir like James Frey. After writing it, she hits the talk show and lecture circuit. Doris takes a trip to France to see the Nun on her deathbed. She returns the diamond to Doris. As Doris leaves, Aubrey is there. He read her memoir and investigated the mystery diamond. She finally made her big slip-up. Doris smiles as Aubrey takes her hand.

Comments:

The overall story of this real-life jewel thief has many remarkable elements, but it has been distilled into one unremarkable screenplay. So overstuffed with anecdotal moments, it has very little narrative focus and almost tells three separate, complete stories — but because the writer has to rush everything to cover 75 years, these separate stories are not satisfactory. If the writer focused on one of these stories and really fleshed out a 10- or 15-year period in Doris Payne’s life, it could make for one hell of a script.

The rushed nature also impacts the dialogue significantly; because every other scene has skipped ahead a few years, every other line of dialogue is bland, on-the-nose exposition. As a result, we never get a chance to really know any of the characters, other than Doris and Babe. This problem becomes significant when the writer attempts to portray Doris as a desperate woman driven to extremes to earn enough money to reclaim her children; a few very brief scenes show Doris as a mother, but these scenes don’t portray her as particularly doting or caring. Using the kids as her primary motive for stealing comes across as a cheap way to make Doris more empathetic. It falls apart completely when Doris continues to escalate her stealing after she’s reclaimed the kids and keeps them living in relative comfort (while also ignoring the fact that she often neglects the children in order to focus on her blossoming criminal career). Because the writer manipulates Doris’s true motives to such a degree, it’s much more difficult to get a sense of what really drives her. Some insight into the forces that compelled Doris to start stealing and continue long after she had to — and escalate, at that — would have helped. Plenty of movies have been made about empathetic criminals, so why stick Doris with a false, family-friendly explanation for her crimes?

The third act, covering Doris’s life as an international jewel thief (getting caught, doing her time, then getting caught again) is important in presenting this woman as a lifelong criminal, but everything about the “international” portion feels tacked on. The dramatic story essentially ends when Doris and Babe split, without a satisfying resolution, and then a new story begins with her and Jean Marc. The story becomes more frenetic than usual to cover 30 years in less than 30 pages and starts to feel like it’s ladling barely-relevant details. The real meat of the story occurs before Doris goes international, so shoehorning all of that information into this script continues to hurt it.

With big enough stars in the lead roles, this could do well. Although it’s an unmemorable biopic and an unmemorable crime thriller, the truth of the source material and high-caliber actors will draw in audiences. The international flavor might also intrigue European audiences.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:22 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 15, 2008

Mother’s Day (a.k.a., Wichita)

Author: Scott Milam
Genre: Thriller
Storyline: 1
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 2
Writer’s Potential: 2

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

Thieves torture guests at a Christmas party.

Synopsis:

DANIEL SOHAPPY, a Native American in his 30s, receives a phone call from someone who says nothing, then hangs up. He gets a little frustrated with his wife, BROOKE, who was recently caught cheating on him. Immedately, three of their friends show up, Christmas presents in tow: VELA, a well-dressed Mexican; TOBY, an overweight chef; and GEORGE, whose face is badly scarred. Toby needs a bottle of cooking wine for the game hens he’s preparing, so Daniel offers to go. As he leaves, DAVE, a toupee-wearing plastic surgeon, shows up with his girlfriend and longtime patient, ANNETTE. Meanwhile, TRESHAWN and GINA, an African-American couple, mingle at a winery. Treshawn notices a man paying Gina too much attention and calls him out, then announces they’re late for the party. They leave the winery.

Daniel goes to a mini-mart, where EDDIE tells him he can only legally buy wine at a liquor store. Although he’s friendly with Eddie, this frustrates Daniel, who gets back into his SUV. Immediately, two shotgun-toting masked thugs (brothers LUPO and XANDER) leap into Daniel’s car. They force him to drive to an ATM, where he withdraws the maximum, $500. They force him to drive to a construction site, where Daniel claims he’s passing through for the holidays. They check his wallet and see his local Wichita address, which infuriates them. Lupo shoots him in the head, then rolls him into a nearby ravine.

The partygoers mingle, having a grand old time…except for Brooke, who’s worried about Daniel. Dave catches Brooke alone and shows her an engagement ring he’s planning to give to Annette. Brooke admires it, but Dave brings up his and Brooke’s past relationship. Lupo and Xander burst into the house, blasting off their guns and yelling for everyone to hit the floor. Nobody does, so fighting ensues. Xander rips open Annette’s blouse, revealing her enormous implants, and attempts to rape her. He’s not really successful because of the commotion. Once Lupo wrangles some kind of control, Lupo demands their ATM cards and PINs. He’s going to drive around with Brooke, collecting money, while Xander waits. If their PINs don’t work, he’ll call Xander to kill whoever lied. Lupo forces Brooke to take him up to the coat room, makes her fill up a pillow case with all their wallets, keys, phones, etc. Brooke tries to shove the pillowcase over his head and strangle him, without success.

Xander asks what happened to George’s face. He says it was a bear attack. Xander rips off Dave’s toupee. Lupo comes back downstairs and decides all of them need to go down to the basement. He tells Brooke to tie them up with duct tape. Xander notices Gina’s ring and demands she give it to him. She can’t get it off, so Dave gives Xander the ring he planned to give Annette. Xander still wants Gina’s ring, so he threatens Treshawn with a knife. Gina yanks it off. Lupo announces that he’ll check in every 15 minutes, and if Xander doesn’t hear from him, he’ll start killing them. To prove he’s serious, they have to choose one of the partygoers to die. Nobody will, so Lupo decides Brooke has to do the honors. Eventually, she nods toward Dave, to the consternation of Annette. Lupo shoots him, then tells Xander to get his girlfriend over to the house with a van so they can load it up. Lupo takes Brooke outside, and she realizes they’re driving Daniel’s SUV. She realizes they’ve killed him and is horrified.

In the basement, Xander forces Toby to have sex with Gina. Toby’s horrified by the suggestion, but Xander insists. Toby tries, but he’s too nervous and frightened to get it up. Thinking Xander’s too distracted, Vela springs for the stairs. Vela shoots him dead, then drags Gina upstairs to rape her. In the SUV, Brooke calls Lupo a terrorist, and he chuckles at the suggestion. He remarks that he was a soldier in the war fighting terrorists. Brooke responds that Daniel was, too, but Lupo doesn’t care. In the basement, the remaining hostages discuss what to do. Annette believes Daniel’s involved, but everyone disagrees. Waiting in line at a bank ATM, Lupo realizes he can’t make out one of the PINs. He ask whose it is, and Brooke tells him it’s Dave’s. He chuckles at the irony. A sports car pulls up and a drugged-out teen, RACHEL, bounces out and goes to the ATM. Brooke tries to indicate Lupo has a gun, but Rachel doesn’t get it and blows the whole thing. Lupo beats down Brooke, stabs Rachel to death with a Bowie knife, then pulls the two other girls — LAURA and JAMIE — out of the car. Laura offers up her ATM card, which Lupo takes. He decides he’ll let one live if she stabs the other. He starts with Jamie, who can’t do it. Then he hands the knife to Laura, and she stabs her immediately. He makes Laura stick Jamie’s body in the trunk of the car, then makes her get in with it.

At the house, CYNTHIA, Xander’s girlfriend, shows up. She didn’t bring the van because it broke down. With him distracted, Gina tries to run away but is unsuccessful. Xander beats her, then brings her back down to the basement — naked and anguished. Cynthia comes down to the basement and is puzzled by the number of hostages. Xander makes them sing “Happy Birthday” to her, and Cynthia is touched. Xander proposes to her, using Dave’s ring. Annette seethes. Cynthia accepts. Xander and Cynthia go back upstairs, and the hostages discuss how to use Cynthia as a distraction to get out.

Lupo calls Cynthia because Xander isn’t answering his phone. Xander’s in the bathroom, so Cynthia walks in on him and forces him to talk to Lupo. Xander tells Lupo he proposed to Cynthia, and Lupo says he slept with her before Xander ever got involved with her. Xander isn’t happy to hear this. In the basement, Cynthia is disturbingly friendly to Gina and Annette. Xander comes down, in a rage, and starts cutting Annette’s hair — which Cynthia just complimented — with his knife. They go back upstairs, and Annette gripes that they all outnumbered their captors, so they should have jumped them the moment they stepped through the front door. Cynthia has locked herself in the bathroom. Xander begs to talk to her, and when she won’t, he kicks down the door. He accuses her of sleeping with Lupo, then tries to drown her in the Jacuzzi. He catches sight of the ring and eases up on her.

In the SUV, Brooke is horrified. Lupo punches her each time she insults him, then forces himself on her. She tells him to wait, then begins to make sexual advances willingly. When he’s on top of her, she flips the radio on and finds some aggressive music that he likes. She presses the cigarette lighter and waits for it to pop out; when it does, she presses it to his crotch, then shoves him out of the SUV. She tries to pull out of the alley he’s parked in, but she’s blocked. Lupo gets back in and beats her some more. She stabs him with the car keys and manages to get out of the SUV and run away.

The hostages have gotten free of their tape, and Gina finds the bag of their Secret Santa gifts. They decide to exchange them to lighten the tension. At the mini-mart where Dave was kidnapped, Eddie watches two white, wannabe gangstas (LEON and TONY) play an arcade game. A bloodied, barely mobile Brooke rushes into the store and collapses. Lupo pulls up shortly thereafter. Eddie says he’s calling an ambulance, it’ll be fine, but he’s on hold. Lupo tries to convince Eddie to move her into his SUV, that he’ll drive her to the hospital. Eddie doesn’t quite trust her, but Lupo gets Leon and Tony to lift her. Eddie notices a dreamcatcher inside the SUV and realizes this is Daniel’s car. He tries to stop them, but Lupo pulls the gun on them. He forces them toward the freezer, but Eddie cracks a broom over Lupo’s head while Leon and Tony rush him. He loses the gun, which Brooke manages to grab. Brooke forces Lupo to call Xander and tell them to leave and let everyone go, but Lupo says he’s already called Xander to kill them all. Lupo won’t do it, so they threaten to pour scalding coffee all over him unless he makes the call.

Annoyed by the Sohappy’s puppy, Xander throws it in the oven. His phone rings, and Lupo asks to talk to Gina. Xander’s confused, but he does what his brother says. While Lupo waits for Xander to get to Gina, he kicks the coffee pot out of Eddie’s hands and reclaims the gun. He shoots Eddie in the chest. Xander gives the phone to Gina, and Lupo tells her Brooke is the reason they’re all going to die. When Xander gets back on, Lupo gives the order to kill them all. Xander gives them five minutes to say their goodbyes. Lupo shoves Leon and Tony in the freezer and makes them undress. He goes to the mini-mart ATM with all the stolen cards and makes Brooke withdraw money while he robs the cash register. Lupo makes Eddie open the safe, but Eddie says it’s on a time lock and will automatically open in an hour.

In the basement, Toby unwraps his gift from Daniel — a cutlery set. Lupo shoves Brooke into the freezer, then makes Leon and Tony give each other blowjobs. Meanwhile, Xander goes to the basement with a gun and makes them play Russian roulette. When it finally gets to George, he turns the gun on Xander and fires enough for them to realize the gun was never loaded. Xander laughs and goes back upstairs. A tow truck driver shows up outside the mini-mart, and Eddie tries to flag him down, but he’s too injured. Lupo finds him, and Eddie begs for his life, saying his wife just had a baby. Lupo shows remorse, shoving him into the freezer with the others. Then he pulls Brooke out and shoots the remaining three dead.

In the basement, the hostages make their plans with the cutlery set. Xander makes Cynthia go and get the van. On the phone, Xander tells Lupo he’s killed everyone. He goes to the basement, and the hostages all take turns stabbing him. They hear Lupo arrive. Treshawn grabs Xander’s gun and leads the others up the back stairs. Lupo sees him and shoots him in the face. Treshawn is alive but severely injured. Lupo demands to know where Xander is, then goes down to the basement and sees the body. He demands that they drag it up. Xander’s still alive, begging to go to a hospital. Lupo insists that Treshawn, a doctor, stitch him up — that he saw people in Iraq who did more with less. Lupo makes Gina drive Xander to the hospital. Xander can call when he’s there, and Lupo will let them all go. In the basement, Annette and Brooke get a moment alone, so she demands to know why Brooke chose Dave. Brooke reminds Annette that he had cancer. Also, it turns out the puppy is okay because Xander set the preheat but didn’t turn on the gas.

After awhile, Lupo forces them all to get into the pool in the backyard, says for them to close their eyes and count to 100, and he’ll be gone. Instead, he shoots the four remaining hostages. Meanwhile, Gina throws Xander off a bridge. Lupo watches Brooke and Daniel’s wedding video, on which Dave gives a speech about friendship. Lupo goes to a nice suburban home. He kisses his WIFE on the forehead, checks in on his SIX-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER, kisses her on the cheek, and drops Brooke’s puppy next to her, then enters a security code on his home security system.

Comments:

I will give the writer credit for one thing: at the start, he does a halfway decent job of giving the hostages individual personalities, thin though they may be, and he sticks with them throughout the script. Unfortunately, this doesn’t amount to much since we have nobody to root for at all.

Nothing happens in this story. It’s 115 pages of sadism, torture, rape, gunplay, knifeplay, and half-baked dialogue, all adding up to — what, exactly? With the absurd ending and the insulting references to the brothers’ time in the service, it seems like the writer wants to make some sort of warning point about the psychological trauma of servicemen. Maybe a serious exploration of that would be interesting — if depressing — but this uses the Iraq war as a cop-out, and none of the hostages call them on this crappy excuse. Even Brooke — whose husband fought in Iraq — doesn’t make this argument, even though she could easily make the case that her husband hasn’t gone on any killing sprees since returning; instead, she chastises Lupo for killing “a brother in arms,” as if it’d be acceptable if he killed only non-veterans. Lupo, Xander, and Cynthia are sociopaths. There is no other term for them, and the writer wastes valuable time attempting to humanize them and hint at their true motivations. Robbers don’t rape, torture, and murder people over a few thousand dollars. There’s a psychology there that can’t be explained with a few throwaway lines about going to war, and using that as a motivation certainly won’t play well with audiences.

As for “our heroes” — well, who wants to watch a movie where all but one person is shot in cold blood at the end? Lupo and Xander are incredibly, incredibly stupid people, so it’s especially unsatisfying to have to align ourselves with people who somehow can’t outwit these idiots. There’s no dramatic tension or suspense, so the only surprise is how quickly the hostages’ plans fail. Heroes don’t always have to win, but here, their losses are so severe, it’s mind-boggling to think anyone would derive any pleasure from watching it.

Finally, a movie targeting the elusive sociopath demographic! This script honestly has nothing that would make an audience — even fans of “torture porn” — want to see it.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:14 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Skellig

Author: Irena Brignull
Genre: Fantasy/Drama/Family
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Recommend

Logline:

Upon moving into a new house, a boy finds a strange creature living in the shed.

Synopsis:

MICHAEL, 11 and small for his age, stands at the edge of a tower parapet, very high up. Below is a small lake. He looks up, arches his back, and dives.

Some time earlier, Michael helps his energetic father, DAVE, move furniture out of their city apartment. His mother, LOUISE, is eight months’ pregnant and helps with small things. Michael’s unhappy about the move, but Dave is happy to leave. They drive to the new house, a mammoth, ancient fixer-upper with a “Sold at Auction” sign out front. The house is at the edge of the city, butting up against endless woodlands. Michael is given an attic bedroom but is immediately terrified by huge spiders spinning webs and birds knocking against the windows. Dave promises Louise that he’ll fix the place up, but it will take time. Michael wonders why there’s no toilet. In lieu of explanation, Dave says the previous owner died in the house. This creeps Michael out. Michael wanders around the overgrown backyard. He finds an old shed, cluttered with bugs and animals. The next morning, Michael wakes to find sunlight streaming through an array of spiderwebs. He complains to Louise about the spiders, and Louise offers for him to stay home from school. When Louise says she wants him to help her set up the new baby’s room, Michael tells her he has a test and can’t stay home.

At the school’s large swimming pool, everyone watches as Michael’s best friend LEAKEY makes a perfect dive from the high board. MR. HUNT (the P.E. teacher) makes Michael attempt the same, but he’s afraid. He climbs to the top but can’t get out on the board. In the locker room, class clown COOT mocks Michael, but Leakey comes to his defense. At home, Louise works in the kitchen, listening to loud music. Michael’s in the backyard, eating a snack. Louise reaches for a high shelf, and suddenly feels pain in her abdomen. She calls out for Michael, who intentionally ignores her, not taking her seriously. Michael goes into the shed, braving the animals and insects — until a shadowy figure (SKELLIG) screeches for him to get out. Terrified, Michael runs away. He runs into the house and finds Louise collapsed on the floor. An ambulance rushes them to the hospital. Later, Dave comes into the waiting room and announces to Michael that he has a new baby sister. Michael isn’t thrilled, until he sees her looking right at him.

At home, Dave tells Michael he’s looked in the shed and that it’s full of old junk — he intends to throw it all away and tear the shed down. He forbids Michael from going near it. Michael helps Dave as he knocks down a wall. Feeling guilty, Michael asks if Louise wouldn’t have had an early labor if he had stayed home to help. Recognizing his son’s panic, Dave hands Michael the sledgehammer and tells him to pound the wall as hard as he can, until he lets all the aggression out. In the backyard, a black-haired girl named MINA introduces herself, then scurries away. Michael goes into the shed and finds Skellig. He asks what Skellig is and why he’s there, but Skellig insists that he go away. Back in the house, Michael overhears Dave talking with Louise about the fragile state of the premature baby.

The next day, Leakey provides Michael with a ticket for the county diving championships. He tells him to hold on to the ticket, because Michael’s the only one he has coming. Michael tells Leakey he found a homeless guy in the shed. Leakey tells him he’s most likely a crackhead that Michael won’t see again. In class, their teacher tells them to get out their textbooks. Everyone opens their desks — but hundreds of cockroaches stream out of Michael’s. Girls are horrified, Leakey stomps on some of them, and the teacher is speechless. Michael doesn’t know where they came from. That afternoon, Mina draws pictures of birds. She tells Michael she draws because it helps her see the details in the world. At the hospital, an elderly patient named GRACE sits next to Michael and talks to him about the baby. She tells Michael about her grown son and offers him an old grape. Michael’s uncomfortable.

Michael goes to the shed again and tells Skellig he needs to leave because Dave intends to tear down the shed. Skellig eats a snail, disgusting Michael. Michael offers to bring Skellig real food, asks if he’s a junkie. He says he wants to help Skellig, and Skellig tells him the only way to do that is forget about ever seeing him. In the yard, Mina asks about Michael’s sister. Michael asks Mina why he doesn’t see her at school; she’s home-schooled. Michael asks about her friends; she has none. Mina tells Michael about William Blake, who wrote poetry and saw angels in his backyard. Michael laughs. That night, Michael has Dave order food for Skellig (pretending it’s for him). Michael brings the food to Skellig with a flashlight, tries to sneak a good look at Skellig, who’s annoyed. Michael notices Skellig’s odd back, hidden by a coat.

At the hospital, Grace shows Michael photos of her own son, back when he was young. Michael tells Grace about Skellig, that he has arthritis. At home, Louise checks out Dave’s progress. She’s unimpressed overall. She mentions the shed, but Michael reminds Dave that he promised to build shelves first. At night, the baby’s noises wake Michael. The next day in gym class, Michael has to do the long jump. Mr. Hunt mocks Michael’s fear of heights, telling him not to jump too high. But Michael does jump high, and far, and when he turns around, nobody’s paid any attention.

Michael gives Skellig some aspirin and cola. Skellig is disgusted and asks for “brown ale.” Later, Dave can’t find any aspirin. Skellig has stolen the remainder, to Michael’s chagrin. Some time later, Leakey and Michael play in the woods. Michael catches sight of a hare and suddenly knows something’s wrong. He runs back to the house and finds Dave and Louise up in arms about the baby, who’s ill and needs to go back to the hospital. Louise blames Dave because the house is damp, drafty, and unheated. From the shed, Skellig hears the argument and covers his ears in anguish. When his parents take the baby back to the hospital, Michael decides to hack away the weeds and overgrown plants in the backyard. Skellig watches. Michael tells Mina about the baby, and Mina takes him to an ancient, crumbling tower in the woods (the one from the beginning). Mina tells him she used to come here when she needed to be alone and think, that she used to cry a lot after her dad died. Michael tries to cheer her up by hooting like an owl.

Michael tells Skellig about the baby, but Skellig doesn’t care. He says the baby’s means nothing in the long run. Michael asks to bring someone to see him, but Skellig hurls insults until Michael leaves. Michael asks Mina more about William Blake seeing angels. She believes angels and spirits are all around. Later, Michael asks Leakey about angels, and Leakey says he’s going nuts. Michael brings Mina to see Skellig — and he brings beer. Skellig is happier about the latter, but Michael is happy Mina sees Skellig. Dave tells Michael he’s going to tear down the shed. Freaking out, Michael jumps on his bed until the floor collapses, dropping him into his parents’ bedroom. Dave fixes the flooring in Michael’s room instead.

At the hospital, Grace wonders why Michael’s back. He explains. Grace gives him cod liver oil tablets for Skellig. Michael asked if she had a good visit with her son, but Grace remarks that he didn’t get the chance to visit. Michael visits the baby and begs for her to be strong and heal. That night, Dave is drinking heavily and wonders where all his beers are disappearing to. He has a fit of self-pity, telling Michael he was right, that they never should have moved, that he was being selfish. In the middle of the night, crashing in the yard wakes Michael. It’s Dave, drunkenly out to destroy the shed. Michael begs him to stop, but Dave makes him go back to bed. Dave grabs kitchen matches and gasoline and lights the shed up. Michael barely manages to pull Skellig from the burning shed, and he burns his hand in the process. Skellig slithers away into the darkness, while Dave consoles his weeping father.

Later that night, Michael wakes Mina to search for Skellig. They find him and bring him to the chapel in the tower. In the light of dawn, they realize he was never old — he’s actually a young, pale man. That day, Michael and Mina search through books for information about angels and evolution. Michael finds one showing that angels float rather than fly, and Mina finds one showing dinosaurs evolved into birds. She speculates that maybe birds evolved into man, and that’s where angels came from. She says some sweet, sappy things to him, which are overheard by Leakey and Coot. Michael runs off with them, and they ridicule him. Michael returns to Mina, who is angry that he ran off with his friends. Michael has some harsh words for her, as well, and they split up. Dave is working day and night, relentless. Later, Michael and Mina meet at the tower. Michael apologizes, and although Mina accepts, she says she’s still mad. They go to see Skellig, who’s stronger now. He reveals what’s wrong with his back — he actually has wings, which he lets stretch out. He grabs their hands and helps them levitate in the air. Michael notices the burn on his hand has healed.

Dave confronts Michael about the missing beer, lecturing him on alcohol abuse. Michael laughs, enraging Dave. Michael and Mina give Skellig the cod liver tablets and mouthwash. They take him to bathe in the small lake at the base of the tower. Skellig is unenthusiastic about this. At school, Michael reads the story of Icarus and Daedalus flying too close to the sun. Afterward, Michael encourages Skellig to save his ailing sister. Skellig doesn’t believe he can save anyone, but Michael encourages Skellig to fly — if he can fly, he can do anything. Meanwhile, Leakey has his diving competition — and Michael’s not there. Skellig tries to fly off the tower parapet, but he tumbles down to the lake. Panicked, Michael runs down the stairs, dives into the lake, and tries to get him. They both stay under the water — then Michael pops out, dragging Skellig out. He apologizes, and Skellig begs Michael to leave him alone.

Michael and Mina have a sleepover at her house. She explains more about her father’s death — he was “tired of living” — and Michael admits he never wanted the baby. He blames himself for her problems. Dave and Michael have a fight — Michael lashes out because both of his parents are abandoning him for the new baby. Dave reluctantly takes Michael to the hospital with him, and Michael seeks out Grace. Nurses tell him that she passed away. This crushes him. He runs out of the hospital, back to the tower. Leakey catches sight of him running through the woods, follows him. Leakey demands to know why Michael didn’t go to the diving competition. Michael is afraid to explain about Skellig, so Leakey runs into the tower. He is attacked by owls living inside, and Michael manages to drag him out. Leakey departs, bitterly.

Michael approaches Skellig and tells him he believes in him. The rain stops, clouds part, the sun comes out, aand Skellig grabs Michael’s hand and dives — they both float through the air, flying to the hospital. Skellig sneaks through the hospital, making sure nurses and doctors don’t see him, until he’s reached the room with the baby. He heals her. Somehow, Mina finds Michael asleep beside the tower lake. At the hospital, Michael finds the strong baby. Louise and Dave beam. Louise says she dreamed of a creepy angel protecting the baby. Dave thinks she’s going crazy. Michael names the baby Grace. The parents agree.

Michael and Mina rush to Skellig, bringing him the food he loves. Michael thanks him for saving his sister, and Skellig says she gave him strength — and so did Michael. Michael asks Skellig if he’s an angel. “Something like that.” He takes the fod and flies away for good. In the nursery at home, Dave and Louise reconcile. Michael goes to visit Leakey as he practices his dives at the school pool. They, too, reconcile. Michael and Mina run and play in the woods. Louise cleans up Michael’s room and finds his drawing of Skellig — she recognizes it from her dream. At the pool, Michael finally gets up on the high diving board. He’s about to jump when birds fly through an open window and drop a fortune cookie in his hands. Michael cracks it open and reads the fortune. It reads: “Something like you.” Michael makes the leap.

Comments:

This is an effective family story about fear, faith, and love. The writer does a really nice job with pacing and laying out this story and its various subplots. While she doesn’t go really in depth on any of the supporting characters (other than Mina), they have just enough to make each storyline satisfactory.

The only real stumbling block — which may, in fact, be a problem with the source material — is that the story, while well-told, isn’t much different from scores of other juvenile-literature fantasy books. The unique element, obviously, is Skellig himself, but he spends the bulk of the story as a surly enigma, then transforms into an angel with a heart of gold. This change comes a little too quickly and seems a bit unprovoked, even with Michael repeatedly begging him for help. What made him change his mind when he did? This could be made a bit clearer.

For a more minor nitpick, the subplot with Leakey is a bit extraneous; it serves no other purpose than to give Michael someone to talk to during the brief school scenes, and to cause conflict in the third act. His role is limited to a few brief scenes, so it’s not like the screenplay gets bogged down in unnecessary Leakey-related details. However, if he had just a little bit more depth and purpose within the story, the whole subplot would work a lot better.

Other than these small issues, the script works pretty well.

Fans of the original book will likely be happy with this adaptation; although the creepy elements might keep away extremely young children, the positive message (not to mention the adapter’s attempt to keep the religious undertones as secular as possible) will make this the kind of movie any family can enjoy together.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 4:25 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

High School

Author: Josh Stalberg, Jr. & Stephen Susco
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

To avoid failing a mandatory school-wide drug test, a nerd partners with a stoner to rig the results by getting the entire student body high.

Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Charlyne Pham gets high before going onstage for a spelling bee. She humiliates herself, her drug use is exposed and reported on the news. Two scenes are intercut: nerdy HENRY SPITS’ perfect morning as he wakes to opera and goes jogging while practicing French and his literature final speech, versus stoner TRAVIS BREAUX going to the beach with goofball friends BIG DAVE and LITTLE DAVE. In the school parking lot, Breaux’s burrito explodes, causing him to nearly crash into Henry, who swerves out of the way and hits the car belonging to DR. GORDON, the school dean. Gordon’s freshman son, MARTIN, is at the wheel, and he starts crying. Henry apologizes all over himself and blames Breaux.

Dr. Gordon discusses “Pham-gate” with BRANDON, who spoke with the school board. They’re losing donors left and right. Gordon blames the stoners. Brandon leaves, and Gordon’s secretary, TAMIKA, enters the office. Gordon makes lewd advances. Henry finds Breaux and confronts him about the car accident, insisting he should pay for the damages. They insult each other as other students watch, and Breaux tops Henry, who slinks away. Henry does an oral presentation for his physics class, showing off a protective compound he’s developed by setting off an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which fries one computer but leaves another (swabbed with the compound) undamaged. In detention, A/V guy MALCOLM sets up a video for Breaux and a bunch of thugs to watch, on the dangers of marijuana.

After school, Breaux apologizes to Henry. They talk for awhile and it becomes clear that they were once good friends. They start talking about an old tree fort, then Breaux insists that they go and find it. At the fort, Breaux pulls out a joint. He encourages Henry to smoke it, which he does. It makes him incredibly paranoid. Breaux tries to take the edge off by going back to his place and playing video games. Henry realizes he’s late for bake-sale prep, so Breaux drives him. SEBASTIAN, Henry’s nemesis who is vying for valedictorian, taunts him. Henry catches sight of Gordon with a news crew, making a proud announcement that he’s expelled Pham and will be holding a school-wide drug test on the last day of school, and anyone who tests positive will be expelled immediately.

Henry goes back to Breaux’s house and demands a way to clear the THC from his body before tomorrow. Breaux has solutions, but none of them are 100% guaranteed. Henry’s horrified and angry — he’ll lose his scholarship to MIT and never make anything of himself. Breaux is sympathetic but can’t do anything. Later, Breaux comes to Henry’s window and tells him he came up with a brilliant solution: instead of finding a way to make Henry sober, he’s found a way to get everyone in school high — by spiking the bake-sale brownies — which means Gordon will have to throw away the results or hold another test after Henry’s system is clear. Henry’s dubious but desperate. They shop for brownie ingredients, and Henry asks if he has enough weed. Henry doesn’t, but he knows where to find it. He explains about a guy called PSYCHO ED, who has an elaborate pot farm well known for being the highest quality. His plan is to break into Ed’s compound and steal some of his weed. Henry is a significant part of the plan. While Breaux distracts Ed by making a buy, Henry has to sneak past, steal Ed’s keys, get into the grow room, and steal a jar of his stash.

While Ed reveals himself to be as psychotic as his reputation, Henry manages to grab the keys and sneak past. Just as he grabs the jar, music blares and misters come on, frightening Henry so much he drops the jar — and barely catches it before it hits the ground. Still, it raises the attention of Ed’s Pomeranian guard dog. Henry manages to sneak through a back entrance while Ed peers into the grow room. He makes it out onto the porch when Ed notices him and demands to know who he is. Henry hides the jar on the porch, pretends like he’s coming in, says he’s Breaux’s ride. Ed leaves him alone. Somehow, Henry has to get the keys back across the room. When Ed’s head is turned, Henry throws the keys to Breaux, getting Ed’s attention when the arc goes past his head, and Breaux replaces them without Ed seeing a thing. Henry bakes the brownies. Breaux tests them out — perfection.

The next day, Gordon has invited the most generous donors to tour the campus and see how great the school is. Henry and Breaux lock the bake-sale parents in the weight room and replace the regular brownies with their pot brownies. Students line up to buy the brownies. Henry goes to homeroom and is disappointed to see people eating multiple brownies with little effect. Then, one student becomes convinced his hands are webbed, and the A/V kids on the morning announcements are high as a kite. Henry’s pleased. Outside, kids line up for their drug tests. Henry finds Breaux, because at this point he’s a little concerned by how high these people are. Breaux mutters that he accidentally spilled.

Sebastian, sober, announces that somebody locked the parents in the weight room, and he’s glad Gordon installed security cameras after the Pham incident. Breaux tries to give him a brownie, but Sebastian is allergic to chocolate. Henry’s concerned about the cameras — they have to get the footage, and in order to do that, they need to know where the cameras are. They decide to look for Martin, Gordon’s son. Gordon and the donors watched stoned chess team members attempt a game. Henry and Breaux eventually find Martin having a fit by a tree. Turns out, he’s eaten 14 of the brownies. Breaux tricks Martin into telling him how to get to the video footage — they need Gordon’s keys. Gordon has the donors listen to the stoned marching band, who can’t play a lick. Brandon mentions students have been complaining about dizziness and light-headedness, and he speculates there’s a gas leak. Gordon thinks somebody’s trying to foil him. Meanwhile, Sebastian finds the discarded non-pot brownies in the dumpster. Henry throws up in the bathroom while Breaux tries to calm him down. Then, Psycho Ed finds them. He wants to know what happened to his stash, and Breaux insists they’ll get him the bake-sale money. Ed gives them one hour and says the money will only hold him off until after school. Henry throws up again, so he makes Breaux find out where Gordon is while Henry takes a final.

Breaux finds it out, so after the final, he and Henry sneak under the bleachers and grab Gordon’s keys while he stands and talks to the donors. They go to the secret surveillance room door, try all the keys, but none of them work. Henry’s watch beeps, telling them they have 10 minutes to get the money for Ed. They try to figure out how to get past Tamika and into Gordon’s office. Henry says he’ll need a distraction, and Breaux has one. He convinces Little Dave — who, along with Big Dave, has gotten into the small remaining stash and ended up in the teacher’s lounge — to live his longtime fantasy: skateboarding off the roof and grinding the rails below. This creates a major diversion, but also keeps Breaux’s full attention — but he’s supposed to be a lookout for Henry. Without a lookout, Gordon ends up back in his office, with Henry hiding under his desk. Luckily, a phone call gets Gordon back out of the room. Henry finds both the money — locked in a filing cabinet — and a folder laying out the whole surveillance system.

Henry goes to another final, where his stoned history teacher rambles on about the word “beverage.” A NURSE drags Henry out to take his drug test. As he hands over the urine, Henry watches Martin on a stretcher, having a hallucinogenic fit. Breaux approaches, admiring what they’ve accomplished. Henry flips on him, angry about Breaux’s ever-sunny attitude. Breaux confronts him, sick of being blamed for Henry getting high when it was Henry’s decision. He moves on to why they stopped being friends, and the words cut Henry deeply. Sebastian approaches and says he’s pieced together every crime Henry and Breaux have committed today, and he’s going to turn Henry in. Henry agrees to throw his English final to keep from getting caught — salutatorian is good enough for Henry to keep his scholarship. In the teacher’s lounge, high teachers describe their feelings, and Brandon realizes what everyone has been suffering and has the brownies confiscated. Henry goes to his English final and makes a half-assed speech about Hamlet that stirs everyone, causing an eruption of applause. Sebastian is livid and goes to Gordon. Meanwhile, a mysterious “figure” watches the footage of Henry and Breaux switching the brownies. He calls Brandon, who asks him to burn a copy and bring it to Dr. Gordon. Tamika accidentally sprinkles weed into Gordon’s coffee.

Breaux calls Henry and tells him he’s going to take the full blame before Sebastian can rat him out. Henry catches something on the file he stole from Gordon — all the video footage is stored on hard drives. He tries to tell Breaux not to confess, but he can’t get through. As the “figure” burns a DVD, Henry rushes to get his EMP device from the physics lab, drives it next to the school library, and engages it — shutting off all the electrical equipment just before the DVD completes. Henry goes to Gordon’s office just as Malcolm arrives, apologizing the delay but producing a completed DVD. Only it’s not Henry and Breaux — it’s Gordon harassing Tamika. The police show up in time to see it and drag him away. Breaux and Henry split a pot brownie and agree to hang out more often. End titles show a happy endings for all but Gordon.

Comments:

This script is well-crafted in a number of ways. Its intricate, well-executed plot does a great job of piling on new goals and obstacles keeping Henry and Breaux from those goals. Although the “villain” characters are typically cartoonish for this type of comedy, Henry and Breaux are both strong, multifaceted characters who go beyond the “nerd” and “stoner” stereotypes. Even its message isn’t nearly as irresponsible as one might expect from a pot comedy, veering toward the anti-pot end of the spectrum (or, at least, preaching a “get high in moderation” mentality).

Where it struggles is with the jokes, which might be the worst thing for a comedy. The situations the writers have put these characters in can be mined for laughs — everything about the setups is great. But when it comes time to execute the barrage of jokes, they’re mostly duds. The funniest moments are quite literally pilfered from other comedies (Dazed & Confused, The Big Lebowski, Hot Fuzz, among others), which is problematic. Another pass or two to really punch up the dialogue and the comic set-pieces would help quite a bit.

While that is a significant problem for a comedy, in terms of the other elements that form a dramatic story, this script is about as close to a winner as a pot comedy can get.

Obviously, it’s trying to hit the stoner demographic. It will also appeal to fans of low-brow/gross-out humor. The high school setting could draw in teenagers, but the fact that it’s clearly looking at an R rating might diminish those numbers. Nonetheless, it will appeal to high schoolers over 17 and will most likely be a hit among college students.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 7:16 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 31, 2008

Ironclad

Author: Erick Kastel & Jonathan English
Genre: Historical/Action
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

After forcing the King of England to sign the Magna Carta, a disparate group must fight to prevent the king from violating the agreement.

Synopsis:

England, 1215. At Runnymede, a group of exhausted soldiers and barons, along with Archbishop STEPHEN LANGTON, force KING JOHN, 48, to sign a document they’ve prepared — the Magna Carta. Four months later, word spreads that the King is attacking each baron who supported the Magna Carta, either forcing them to surrender to his power and renounce the document, or killing them. MARSHAL, a young Templar knight, arrives in Darnay Castle with a few other knights, greeted by ABBOT MARCUS. Seeing the pain Marshal suffers, Marcus offers to send word to the Order that Marshal is resigning. This shocks Marshal. Quickly, the King attacks with his right-hand man, TIBERIUS, and a group of soldiers. Marshal and the other knights attempt to fight them off, but there are too many men. The other knights fall, but Marshal manages to save Abbot Marcus and create an opportunity to allow the Baron Darnay escape. Marshal puts the injured Marcus on a horse, and the two ride away, leaving Tiberius and the King stunned.

In the woods, Marcus dies. Marshal goes to Canterbury Cathedral to report this to Langton, who tries to dismiss Marshal per Marcus’ order. Marshal confesses his discomfort with the decision. Baron ALBANY arrives, enraged about Darnay. Langton introduces him to Marshal and tells both men that the Vatican has sided with the King in this struggle. Langton suggests asking French prince LOUIS for help. Albany realizes, based on the King’s path, that he’s headed for Rochester Castle. Marshal believes if takes the castle, the King will regain control of all of Southern England. Albany and Marshal offer to team up to defend the castle while Langton goes to France to plead with Louis. As they prepare horses, Albany introduces Marshal to his squire, GUY, who is thrilled by the idea of killing for freedom.

Marshal, Albany, and Guy travel to the town surrounding Albany Castle to find more of Albany’s men. They find his bowman, MARKS, missing an eye. Marshal is slightly horrified when they discover another man, BECKET, lying with whores. They try to enlist the help of a big man, COOPER, who turns them down. Disappointed with the meager group they’ve assembled, the group asks a petty thief in the square’s stocks, JED COTERAL, if he can fight. They release him from the stocks and set out to ride. In the countryside, they come across WULFSTAN, a warrior dog trainer, who immediately punches Becket in the face for sleeping with his wife. The others hold them back. Cooper reports to the King details of Albany’s plan to hold Rochester Castle. They reach the castle, which is fairly small. SHERIFF DE CORNHILL and his wife, ISABEL, sit alone at the castle. He’s verbally abusive. Albany announces their purpose Cornhill.

A group of the King’s scouts arrive in Rochester. Cornhill tries to talk to them peaceably, but they attack. A fight ensues, with the scout captain taking Isabel hostage. Marshal kills the captain and shares an awkward moment with Isabel. Confused by the killing of King’s soldiers, a group of garrison soldiers led by OAKS turn their swords on the ragtag group that has just arrived. Albany tries to explain their political position and the King’s violation of his word. The garrison soldiers put down their swords. Isabel returns to her maid, MADDY, to wash the blood from her dress. Marshal and Albany speak with Oaks to assess their military situation — it’s grim. Eleven knights who have never faced an attack, plus the new arrivals. Marshal’s uncomfortable about the castle’s lack of moat, because of mines. They have no food stores.

From her chamber window, Isabel watches Marshal wistfully. Maddy warns against the Templar, but Isabel remains intrigued. A lone scout approaches, then gallops away. They realize the King is close. Cornhill, who does not support the Magna Carta, asks Albany and Guy why they’re so supportive of a rebellion. Unsatisfied with their answers, he asks if they’ve even read it. Marshal quotes from it, shutting Cornhill up. That night, the men do last-minute battle training. At dawn, the King’s army appears, led by Tiberius. A clerk begins reading the names of everyone within the castle, surprising them. They realize they have at least one traitor, but they have no time to deal with that now. Wulfstan wonders if so few have ever fought against so many, and Marshal confesses he fought at Jacob’s Well in Damascus. This impresses the others. A battle follows, with the few men managing to hold off the King’s troops, destroying their siege tower.
Marshal insists Guy fought bravely, but Guy disagrees — he got his first taste of blood and panicked. After the heat of battle, Becket has sex with a servant girl. Wulfstan cauterizes Coteral’s wounds. Marshal helps Isabel tend to a wounded garrison soldier. She flirts with him, wearing down his guard enough to give her his name. Before it can go further, he walks away. The King explains his motivation to Tiberius: his father taught him that any threat upon the absolute power of the king must be punished ruthlessly. Tiberius warns that the castle is strong, and so are the men inside it, but the King insists on preparing for a second wave.

Isabel approaches Marshal in the stables. He teaches her to stroke his horse (that’s not innuendo) as she continues to flirt, making Marshal uncomfortable. Marks spots an arrow sailing over the castle wall toward the King’s camp, a note attached. They run up the steps to track the source of the arrow but find nothing. Sneaking into Isabel’s room, they find a bow and arrow quiver. It’s light enough for a woman, but Marshal insists Isabel was with him at the time. From the keep roof, they see the King’s men building a new siege tower — double the height, width, and strength of the one they destroyed. Wulfstan suggests building a catapult. Marks reminds Albany of the bow found in Isabel’s chamber. Marshal destroys it.

They build the catapult. The next day, Tiberius approaches with a message to Cornhill: surrender Albany and the King will show the rest mercy. Albany insists the King come to hear Albany’s complaint himself — no weapons. Albany tries to convince the King that his actions are wrong. The King disagrees and leaves to prepare for their next attack. With more men and armaments, the soldiers come at the castle gate with a battering ram. Everyone’s prepared for the possibilities, but there are a few hitches: someone’s wedged a block of wood in the catapult’s gears, preventing it from working; someone has broken every arrow in their quivers; nobody can hear Albany’s repeated cries for hot oil to dump on the rammers. Eventually, Wulfstan gets the block of wood out and uses the catapult to destroy the second siege tower. Becket hears Albany and brings the oil, which they ignite, engulfing all the men below in flames. Marks finds some undamaged arrows, tries to pursue Tiberius but ends up killed by one of the King’s bowmen. The King’s army retreats.

The King blames Tiberius for the failure, but he changes his tune when a sapper mentions the notion of building a mine, since the castle has no moat. It’ll take three or four weeks to build. The King is okay with this, feeling the men in the castle will starve to death before it’s even completed. In France, Langton begs Prince Louis for help. Louis does not agree with the cause, politely refuses. At some point later, the group at Rochester Castle find the cook dead, stabbed in the back. They find Becket’s servant girl sleeping next to an arrow with a scroll attached, indicating that she killed someone last night. Isabel demands to know why Marshal constantly avoids her. He ignores the question. Cornhill shows Albany their empty food stores. He insists they must agree to terms, or risk starving. The servant girl can’t read — she’s been framed. Albany and Cornhill convince the men to calm down — starvation’s affecting their minds. Marshal silences everyone and explains what happened at Jacob’s Well: 5000 Saracens versus 90 Templar knights. After fighting, the Saracens finally decided to just wait, hoping they’d starve. Every night, the knights snuck into the Saracen camp and stole their rations — that’s how they warded off starvation. The Saracens never knew.

That night, Albany, Marshal, and Coteral sneak into the King’s camp. They steal sacks of food but are spotted by a guard and have to make a daring retreat back into the castle. As they eat, Coteral is fascinated by Guy’s ability to read. Guy teaches Coteral to write his name. Isabel follows Marshal to the shadowy stable and drops her cloak. Marshal is overcome with attraction, and they make love. At dawn, the King’s soldiers begin scaling the wall, awakening everyone in a panic. It begins to rain as a massive battle breaks out. They are overwhelmed at have to fall back to the castle keep — but Albany, felled with a wound, is trapped outside. Becket believes he’s already dead, so they don’t go back for him. Frantic, Maddy forces Isabel into the keep, slamming the door on the others. Based on her cryptic raving, Isabel realizes Maddy’s been the King’s spy all along. They fight as Guy and Cornhill try to break down the door. Isabel finally kills Maddy, just as he door bursts open. Everyone’s in a panic as Tiberius approaches the keep with a battering ram. Through a window, Cornhill sees that the King has taken some prisoners — including Albany, still alive. The King tortures him, but the knights refuse to surrender. In France, Langton finally convinces Prince Louis. At the castle, the King initiates the mine, pouring molten hog fat to destroy the castle, from beneath. Cornhill hangs himself. Marshal fights Tiberius, kills him. The King watches Prince Louis’ army arrive, looks at the ruins of the castle, calls a retreat. Marshal, Guy, and Isabel are the only ones who survive, but they’re proud to have held the castle. Marshal meets Langton across the river. Langton releases Marshal from the Order of the Knights Templar. Marshal acceps this and rides off with Isabel.

Comments:

This historical action script revolves around an intriguing concept — the often-ignored battles and rebellions that followed the signing of the Magna Carta. The action sequences are long, but they’re interesting and varied and add a layer of intensity that is unfortunately lacking in the script’s characters. The characters do have some interesting individual qualities, and some of its quieter moments (such as Guy teaching Coteral to write his name) are very well-done. It falters primarily in the love story, the portrayal of the King, and the simplification of the politics surrounding the tale.

The latter two issues actually go hand in hand. This is a very basic “good vs. evil” story, with King John coming as close to a mustache-twirling villain as any character in a post-silent movie. He’s portrayed as little more than a brutal tyrant, utterly lacking in compassion, often indulging in long monologues about how childhood shaped his sinister outlook and why only the King deserves power. Why can’t he be a little more complicated? Even if he’s evil, he’s a king — wouldn’t he be a little more pragmatic? Historically, it wasn’t the notion of personal freedom that got King John all bent out of shape; it was the idea of a proto-Parliament group of Barons with the ability to undermine his decisions. In a land where kings had ruled for centuries, this sort of royal emasculation must have taken a psychological toll. Why couldn’t the King just be trying to cling, rather pathetically, to his power? It’s a bit more interesting than petty revenge killings.

Similarly, in reality the main thing motivating the peasant/baron uprising that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in the first place was the age-old complaint: taxes. Each of our heroes — even petty thief Coteral and man-whore Becket — is portrayed as wanting to do what they can to fight for liberty and freedom. It’s a nice thought, but wouldn’t it be a little bit more interesting to make at least one of them (maybe Albany, the one in charge of collecting taxes and paying the King) more interested in eliminating taxes than in fighting for freedom? I liked the notion of Cornhill — who, ironically, runs Rochester Castle — wanting to run out and surrender every time they have a setback, but everyone else is given such pure and pleasant motives for fighting, their conflict becomes less and less interesting each time they rant about liberty.

The love story does have a bit of complexity, although both making Cornhill abusive and killing him off make the resolution much too easy. The real problem here is the redundancy. The scene where Marshal introduces Isabel to his horse is very sweet and understated, but all their other interactions involve Marshal getting uptight because of his vows to Templar and Isabel trying to engage him in philosophical debate on why cheating on her husband is fine. First of all, it’s an interesting but unexplored dimension of Marshal that the only thing keeping him from ravaging Isabel in the stables is his vow of chastity. He doesn’t seem all that concerned with the moral, ethical, or spiritual repercussions of adultery. The writers should play with this more. At the same time, Isabel doesn’t have much to her character. Despite the abuse she suffers, without more depth her pursuit of Marshal — especially after his repeated pleas for her to go away — make her come across as a bit trampy. This actually makes both the romance and her character a bit more interesting, but I don’t think the writers were going for “trampy.” They can easily eliminate the redundancy of her scenes with Marshal by loading them with character depth instead of bland, repetitive arguing. What does she want out of life, other than getting into Marshal’s pants and/or escaping her marriage?

This is loaded with action, and the historical events they depict make the story seem unique among other “historical action” movies. Although it takes place in England, the championing of personal freedom against political oppression will resonate deeply with audiences across the world.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:42 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 27, 2008

Burst

Author: Gary Dauberman
Genre: Horror
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A disparate group of strangers find themselves stranded in a remote hotel during a bitter snowstorm — along with a dead body.

Synopsis:

In the midst of a major snowstorm, CLARE’s car gets stuck in the snow. Her car is packed like she’s moving somewhere, and quickly. Clare tries repeatedly to get it out, but nothing works. Eventually, the car dies. Her cell phone has no service. She has to rely on a passing truck, driven by JASON. He’s ruggedly handsome, but Clare’s a little creeped out. He drives slowly, but the truck still manages to shudder. There’s something large and strange in the back. The glovebox pops open, dropping the usual papers and a picture of Jason’s ex-girlfriend. Embarrassed, he shoves it all back in the glovebox. Clare asks about what’s in the back of the truck. Jason says it’s a freezer he’s delivering for his father. Clare doesn’t believe him, but Jason insists it’s the truth, absurd as it sounds. They pass a sign advertising a hotel 10 miles up the road. Jason wants to stop there to wait out the storm, but Clare tells him she’d rather go to the town 30 miles up the road, where she can find a mechanic. Jason accidentally calls Clare “Beth,” confusing her. Jason argues that it’s taken them an hour to go 15 miles, but it’s a moot argument when the car simply dies. They make the arduous walk to the hotel, passing a sign along the way warning of a restricted government area. Jason hears a strange sound, but Clare doesn’t. It stops.

It’s a lodge-style hotel, all wood and hunting-themed. It looks empty, but Clare and Jason open the door to the great hall and find a dead woman — really more of a pile of blood and guts witrh an arm clutching a pack of cigarettes. Clare and Jason are too disgusted to notice the HUNTER training his rifle on them. They assume he did this, but Hunter points out he’d have made a cleaner kill. They’re joined by TONYA, who has just finished vomiting in the bathroom down the hall, and FRED, an anxious, chubby guy. Fred tells them all the phones are dead, just as Clare’s cell rings. She answers, but it’s dead air. Fred offers that it’s happened to all of them and they assume the tower’s on the fritz. A TALL MAN bends over the corpse and pulls out the waitress’s nametag: Beth. This makes Clare a little uncomfortable. She heads for the main door but can’t decide whether or not to go back in the storm. MAMA SUPERIOR, a quick-witted biker chick, appears, as the Tall Man blows out snot blood-drenched. He goes to the bathroom. Hunter mentions his brother’s out in the storm; they were hunting and got separated. Clare speculates that somebody in the lodge must have killed the girl, and if they’re the only people there, it must be one of them. Mama Superior thinks that makes sense, but Clare points out that two of the room keys are gone — and since none of them are staying at the hotel, there must be someone else here. Privately, Clare confronts Jason about “Beth.” He admits it’s a weird coincidence but nothing more. They hear a noise from the direction of the rooms. They go down the hall to the bathroom and find the Tall Man has spontaneously combusted all over the walls. Tonya vomits again. Clare bails, running into the woods. The snow has gotten heavier. She hears the sound Jason heard earlier. A branch snaps, nearly crushing her. She slinks back to the lodge.

She finds everyone in a group — all afraid to split up end suffer Tall Man’s fate. They decide to go upstairs and investigate all the rooms together. All the doors are unlocked and empty, except room 9. From behind the door, Jason thinks he hears a TV. They debate about whether or not to break the lock, but Hunter shoots it before any of them can decide. Inside is another exploded person — or possibly people. As they investigate, Jason notices one — a man — is still alive, despite the missing limbs and decaying state. Jason kicks him away, and Tonya notices movement in the shadows. Jason goes further and discovers — a little boy, maybe 9, named SAM. Unharmed for some unknown reason. Fred gets a nosebleed. They step into the hall as his bleeding worsens, and all of them watch as Fred bursts apart. Everyone scrambles, with most everyone heading into room 12. Hunter intentionally runs to room 10, where he barricades the door with furniture. Then he realizes Tonya is there. Both are unhappy about the situation. Hunter, showing increasing paranoia, speculates the government did this. Tonya realizes Hunter was actually staying at the hotel, which scares her even though Hunter insists he didn’t do anything and only lied because he knew what they’d think otherwise. She grabs his gun and shoots him in the foot, then runs away, gets to room 12.

The power goes out in room 12. Clare decides they need candles or a torch, but nobody has anything to make a flame — all of them, including Mama Superior, are non-smokers. Clare remembers Beth clutching cigarettes, considers the possibility that a working lighter is in the puddle of goo. Jason decides to go, but Clare insists on going herself. Downstairs, she finds the lighter, but just as she’s about to go upstairs — a husband and wife burst into the lodge, both wearing gas masks. The wife has been shot and dies quickly, bursting like the others. DWIGHT, the husband, tosses her gas mask to Clare. He mentions government testing and a chemical explosion, that somebody shot his wife to get their gas masks. Clare notices him pull a hand-drawn map from his wife’s pocket, which has directions on where they’re headed in case he died.

The “CRAZY SONUVABITCH” who shot his wife show up, aiming his shotgun at Dwight. Enraged, Dwight pulls off his own gas mask and smashes it with his foot. Clare remains out of sight as the Crazy Sonuvabitch kills Dwight, then searchesd the wife’s body for her mask. She tries to slink toward the stairs, while upstairs, Mama Superior’s nose begins to bleed. She knows she’s done for, so the others scramble as she explodes. The sound of it catches the Crazy Sonuvabitch’s attention. He sees Clare and the mask, comes after her. She shoots him dead, then rushes upstairs to tell the others what she learned from Dwight.

Hunter stalks them from the shadows, limping. Hearing about a government attack gives him pause. They go downstairs to check out the bodies — Hunter recognizes Crazy Sonuvabitch, snatches his gun. Jason and Tonya wonder who the third man is if it was just a husband and wife. Hunter steps out with the gun, stating it was his brother. Hunter demands the mask. Jason, with the gun, tries to hold off Hunter and give the others time to escape. It works, sort of. Jason shoots two of the three remaining rounds at Hunter, missing both times. Then Jason runs. He catches up to the others. They spot a water tower, a landmark indicated on Dwight’s map. Hunter tracks them as they head for it. They hear distant screaming, then the strange noise heard by Jason at the beginning. Tonya’s nose begins to bleed, and she explodes. Jason doubles back to catch up with Hunter, sees Hunter catching up with Clare and Sam. He tries to shoot him but, thanks to the storm and his inexperience, misses by a wide margin. Hunter catches up with the others and demands the mask. Just as he takes it, they hear that noise again, louder now. As Hunter puts it on, his head and body explode. They decide the mask might be useless.

Clare, Jason, and Sam continue walking until they reach a clearing where a big tent has been set up, a black SUV and military truck parked next to it. They try to start the SUV with no luck, so they go into the tent and find — KOLER, a scientist who’s packing up to get the hell out of Dodge. He doesn’t have much information, but what he does have telling him these frequency bursts are what’s killing people, and they’re getting bigger; most likely, 500,000 in the surrounding area will end up dead. The bursts are also what’s causing the power fluctuations. Koler was once accompanied by a full army unit, but they investigated the source and never came back. He shows them a big stack of dynamite they intended to blow the source, but nobody came back for it. They let Koler leave, then check out his maps, comparing it to their drawing. Dwight and his wife were heading for a farmhouse, taking them right through the frequency burst’s source.

Clare decides she’s going to blow the source herself, using a handgun to blow it. She orders Jason and Sam to try to get the SUV started and wait for her. If she doesn’t come back after blowing it, or she never gets the chance to blow it, they’re to leave without her. Before she goes, Clare gives Sam a heart-to-heart about dealing with parental death — not letting it make her angry, the way she did when he parents died at around the same age. She fills a duffle bag with dynamite and starts out across the field. She gets to a slope, where she finds the exploded bodies of the army unit spread out before her — and the dead body of an alien being. Clare’s baffled, but she keeps moving. She sees a live alien — and their ship, which is what’s been broadcasting the frequencies. She shoots at the alien, hitting but not killing it — but using up all her rounds.

Jason and Sam are in the SUV; Jason frantically tries to get the engine to turn over, but it just won’t. Meanwhile, Clare makes a run for the craft, the alien pursuing her. The ship concentrates on her, gearing up with that familiar — and now deafening — strange noise. Her nose and ears begin to bleed. The alien’s about to pounce, and then she realizes… Clare stands and waits for the ship to take her down, because it ignites the dynamite, taking the alien and ship (and Clare) with it. The SUV’s motor springs to life, and Jason drives like a bat out of hell. Electricity springs back to life on the road around them. After driving for awhile, Jason stops. He and Sam roll down their windows, finally able to catch their breaths.

Comments:

The first and second acts work pretty well. With the exception of Tall Man and Sam, each of the characters stuck in the lodge have…well, “depth” isn’t the right word, but each clearly adheres to an archetype and the dialogue and actions of each characters illustrates these differences nicely. The writer does a good job with plotting, as well, tossing out clues about the overall mystery that make the story intriguing without spelling out too much — with the exception of the many references to government testing grounds nearby, which telegraphs the third act by page 13.

The writer also does interesting things with red herrings (e.g., the possibility that Jason knew “Beth”), which is why I sort of wished all the government testing stuff would turn out to be a red herring. It’s not that it’s so bad, and I’ll admit I didn’t exactly see an alien invasion being the culprit — it just puts the story on such an obvious narrative path, right from the beginning. Every time the government is mentioned, the writer tips his hand and sends us right down the path of least resistance. It would have been more of a surprise if the restricted area had nothing to do with the mystery at hand — that something creepier and more distinctive and is pulling the strings.

While the characters have distinct elements to their personalities, they, too, fall apart in the third act. Or, at least, the ones that are left do. Clare’s speech to Sam, which basically explains her motivation to make the suicide run at the end, came out of left field. Although the writer did mention (very briefly) that Clare’s parents died when she was young, nothing about her character suggested this path for her. It would have been nice to see a natural progression that perhaps showed that she still had to deal with these unresolved feelings about her parents, perhaps with the death and carnage surrounding her allowing her to realize that her parents may have gotten off easy. Similarly, Jason has a an arc so shallow, he might as well not have one at all. Like Clare’s parents, his girlfriend leaving is mentioned, and in the third act, his fear of another woman leaving him turns into Jason’s defining trait. Why?

There’s a lot of strong material here, so it’s too bad it all falls apart at the end. Also, the writer himself loses some points for cluttering the script with weird, wannabe-Shane Black meta-commentary on his own story. It works against the story, obliterating the grim atmosphere with its playful, cutesy air and making the characters’ actions much more difficult to follow.

The overall story does not include enough sci-fi elements to draw in the sci-fi crowd, and the relentless gore will turn away sensitive viewers, but horror fans will probably seek this out despite its third-act problems.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:47 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

How to Make Love Like an Englishman

Author: Matthew Newman
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

An alcoholic English playboy trying to raise a son in America needs to get his life together in order to stay in the country.

Synopsis:

RICHARD HAIG grew up with the kind of father who had a relentless appetite for booze, cigarettes, and women. By age 14, his father was drinking with him and buying him condoms. Richard wanted to follow in his footsteps, growing up to be an English literature professor with all of his father’s bad habits. Now in his late 30s, he gets involved with KATE (20s), an American student. Kate takes Richard to meet his mother at the Savoy, but she’s chronically late, so Richard has a drink at the bar. Singing along with a Beastie Boys song catches the attention of an attractive American woman around Richard’s age. They flirt a bit, but it turns out this is OLIVIA, Kate’s mother. Once Olivia discovers who he is, she immediately disapproves. This is made worse when Kate drops the bombshell to both Richard and Olivia that she’s pregnant.

After their lunch, Richard decides, for the sake of the baby, he’ll stick with Kate. Kate’s father got her a post-collegiate job in Los Angeles, so she suggests Richard find a job at UCLA. Richard does not want to leave England, but he does. LUDO, there baby, is a chubby one-year-old when Richard takes him to the Ivy and he says his first word: “Mama.” He says this because, outside, baby Ludo sees Kate riding in a Hummer with a dopey guy her own age. Richard glances back just as the Hummer is disappearing from view, assumes this is the word Ludo was trying to say, and excitedly calls up Kate, leaving her a VoiceMail describing the entire story. The Hummer/mama “coincidence” upsets Kate, who confesses her affair and announces she’s leaving Richard. Richard decides she can leave him — but he’s not leaving Ludo.

Five years later, Richard’s an overweight, unshaven, hungover, chain-smoking mess living in the guest house of Kate’s mansion. He sleepwalks through his UCLA courses, only lightening up when he picks Ludo up from school. He takes Ludo, now seven, to the Sport Chalet to pick out a birthday baseball mitt. They attempt to play a game of catch inside the store, but Ludo throws a wild ball, knocking down a surfboard on display and causing a domino effect with all the other boys. Richard grabs Ludo and runs, barely eluding store security. Ludo’s thrilled by the adventure. Richard takes Ludo back to Kate’s mansion, where they find a brand new Range Rover parked next to the Hummer. Richard and Kate snipe at each other, upsetting Ludo. Richard and a colleague, ANGELA, grade papers when an attractive student, SUMMER, approaches and flirts with him. PROFESSOR PARROTT, the Department Head, reminds Richard of a party he’s throwing and also gives Richard the opportunity to give this year’s Dean’s Speech, which, if he impresses the dean, will finally get him tenure. Richard feigns excitement.

In the guest house, Richard is visited by BRIAN, Kate’s vapid banker boyfriend. They snipe at each other as Brian presents him with a letter from Citizenship & Immigration Services (CIS). Richard and Kate have to interview with the CIS and prove their marriage or Richard risks deportation. Richard has some dental work performed and is given medication that can’t be mixed with alcohol. At Professor Parrott’s party, Richard downs the pills with a glass of red wine. As Parrott delivers a dull speech, Richard excuses himself to the bathroom. Summer notices, follows him. They start having sex — but Angela catches him. She drags him out of the party. He hops into his car and, intoxicated, slams into Parrott’s, knocking off the bumper. Richard leaves in a hurry and is pulled over. The next morning, Kate and Olivia arrive to bail Richard out of jail. Kate announces that Olivia’s staying for the week to help look after Ludo while Kate and Brian go out of town. Richard is unenthusiastic. At Ludo’s birthday party, Kate presents Ludo with Richard’s gift — two baseball mitts (one for Ludo, one for Richard) and a ball, along with a sweet note from Richard. Ludo is suitably touched — until Brian rushes in presenting a motorized kiddie Hummer. Ludo drops Richard’s gift as he and his friends rush to the little car.

Richard goes back to the guest house to drink. Kate comes to yell at him, threatens that she won’t play nice at the CIS interview if he keeps misbehaving. Richard goes back to the party, and Ludo sincerely thanks him for the gift. Richard visits an immigration lawyer, ERNESTO, who tells him that Kate is key to his success, but Richard should still make an effort to show good moral character — go to AA meetings before the court orders him to, get tenure, and patch things up with Kate. He has two weeks to do all of these things, and Kate has just left town. Richard gets off to a rocky start, having to take the bus to work. It’s late and slow, making him late. Professor Parrott notices. He goes to an AA meeting, where he ridicules everyone (including WENDY, the meeting leader, and MARIA, a newbie). The next day, getting a ride with Olivia (whose driving he mocks), Richard notices her classy taste in literature. He’s still late to work, though, and Parrott notices once again. Olivia goes for a walk and a cup of coffee and encounters a low-brow novelist, HOWARD. Howard drives her home, where Richard sees him. Richard’s unimpressed.

At another AA meeting, Ernesto calls up Richard to warn him he’s under a full-on CIS investigation, meaning an agent is following him. Now he has to actually be upstanding, not just fake it. Richard glances around the meeting until he finds BOB, a new, dark-suited man who privately shows Wendy something in his wallet. Richard decides to speak, talking about what a fine, upstanding citizen he is. Wendy needles him with questions about why he’d drive drunk. Choking on it, Richard admits he’s an alcoholic. Olivia gets a call from her lawyer. She’s divorcing her wealthy husband (and Kate’s father), and he’s threatening to invoke a prenuptial agreement that will leave her with nothing. She’s so devastated, she barely has time to notice Ludo running out of the house. She follows him to the guest house, where he cries to Richard about a nightmare. Ludo wants to move in with Richard. Richard says that’s not fair to Kate, but they’ll have a sleepover on Fridays. Ludo likes this compromise. After witnessing this, Olivia admits he’s a good father.

Olivia offers Richard some wine, and Richard talks to her about AA. Olivia admits she was in AA and suggests to Richard that he get a sponsor. At one point, she bends over and accuses Olivia of checking out her ass. He wasn’t, but he makes a big show of trying to get her to bend over again. Richard confesses he wishes he’d met her years ago, then kisses her. She pushes him away. The next morning, Olivia and Ludo are surprised when Richard doesn’t show up for breakfast. She drives Ludo to campus, and they watch Richard teach. He’s knowledgeable. Olivia and Ludo drag Richard to Universal Studios. He starts to enjoy it. That night, he notices he’s out of wine. He goes to the main house to get some just as Howard calls to ask out Olivia. They discuss Howard, but they’re interrupted by Howard calling again. Richard invites her back to the guest house. They flirt, and Olivia complains about her divorce. They end up sleeping together.

The next morning, Kate and Brian come back early. Richard spends the whole day in fear, thinking Olivia will tell Kate or she’ll somehow find out. Turns out, she’s angry at Brian for some reason. After Olivia’s date with Howard, Richard confronts her about them. She complains about how much she gave up for her husband, and Richard complains about how much he gave up for Ludo. Olivia promises not to tell Kate and leaves. After Richard’s last AA course, Wendy won’t sign his court waiver because Richard spent the whole time mocking them. He insults Richard some more, then begs Maria to have a drink with him. Richard stumbles to the mansion and falls flat on his face, causing his nose to bleed. Kate goes to get some tissues, giving Richard the chance to confess his love for Olivia — it was not a mistake. By this time, Kate has returned from the bathroom and overheard. She’s livid. Ludo comes to Richard and tells him he wants to teach English when he grows up — he wants to be just like Richard.

Richard writes his Dean’s Speech. Kate forces Olivia to leave. Professor Parrott introduces Richard for the speech. He’s surprised to find Olivia in the audience and stumbles. At first, his speech praises Byron, but he gives it up and ad-libs a speech savaging him. The crusty dean leads the applause. Angela congratulates Richard on getting tenure. Olivia tells Richard she came to see the speech to tell him goodbye. Before she goes, Richard tells her to stand up to her husband — don’t sign the agreement. Richard goes to another AA meeting (Maria is noticeably absent), this time confessing that, while he’s not an alcoholic, he is an asshole, but he’s trying to change. Wendy claps for him. Richard, Kate, and Ludo go to the CIS interview. At the absolute last second (literally in the parking lot), Kate decides she’s not going in. She takes Ludo and goes, leaving Richard and Ernesto. Ernesto hopes they can make it on moral character, but then Richard catches a glimpse of the interviewer — Maria. Olivia meets with her husband and their lawyers and refuses to sign the settlement. Richard has to return to England. Over the course of a season, he climbs out of his rut — stops drinking, starts working out, tries to have a good time. He talks with Ludo over iChat. Richard’s father dies. It prompts him to write to Kate, telling her she was right about everything; the cycle must break with Ludo. He asks Kate to come and see her, where he admits they shouldn’t have married, it never would have worked, but he loves Ludo and wants to be with him. Kate gets a call from Ludo, and Richard realizes he’s already in England. Kate transferred to London, and Olivia came, too. Kate even lets them date.

Comments:

I never thought I would say it, but this is a screenplay that would benefit greatly from lowering the stakes. It has several good, emotionally rich ideas at its core — the Richard-Ludo bond and the grim parallel between Richard and his own father, and the romance with Olivia and its parallel to her own husband and Kate — but there’s so much going on, everything gets lost in the shuffle. Richard’s biggest emotional moment, the realization that his son wants to follow in his footsteps (just as he followed in his father’s), should be pivotal, but it barely registers, an eighth-page scene crammed between a thousand other subplots.

The immigration thing serves only to give Richard a reason to fight to stay in the U.S. The AA, tenure, and Kate problems serve only to give him reasons to fail. Although immigration gives Richard an artificial motivation that, eventually, leads him to find his real motivation, balancing all these subplots requires so much story space, there’s no room for the real meaty material in the complex family dynamics. The writer has a good grasp of psychology and the cyclical patterns in families, but because he spends so much time with the machinations of the plot, characters like Kate, Brian, and Howard end up getting short-changed in terms of depth and development. Although the dialogue has a sharp wit, these characters should have much more nuance; if it means less of Richard mouthing off at AA meetings, the story won’t suffer.

Richard’s artificial motivation could easily come somewhere equally threatening to Richard/Ludo but much less narratively important (maybe he’s fighting to keep his job altogether, not just get tenure, and Kate intends to throw Richard out of the guest house if he can’t keep his job). The way the immigration subplot is presented, even beyond just taking up too much valuable time, strains credibility. He’s a stable, well-educated college professor with a seven-year marriage, a wealthy wife, a well-adjusted son. At a time when illegal immigration is a hot-button issue with a lot of media focus, it’s hard to believe that CIS would devote so much time and resources to somebody who clearly hasn’t “snuck” into the country. I know they do (I have a sister-in-law who struggled with similar issues after marrying a U.S. citizen), but it almost feels like a “truth is stranger than fiction” scenario.

The third act also goes a bit off the rails, as the writer tries his damndest to resolve every single subplot and bring us the happy ending. The last few scenes are truly baffling, as Richard writes an emotional letter telling Kate she was write to keep him away from Ludo, then immediately begs to spend more time with him, and then all of them enjoy a wacky “you’re dating my mom after having a kid and marrying me!” in the last scene. Again, it all goes back to trying to keep too many plates in the air. Unfortunately, the most important plates are the ones that get broken. The resolutions to Richard’s struggles with Kate, Olivia, and Ludo end up rushed and unsatisfying. If the writer scaled back, this could be a really nice romantic comedy.

It’s a comedy, and it’s funny, but aside from a few broad physical gags, the writer confines the humor to a very dry wit that doesn’t always work with American audiences. Still, it presents a certain “fish-out-of-water” element that ought to be appealing on both sides of the Atlantic.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:55 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 28, 2008

King of Fighters

Author: Rita M. Augustine
Genre: Action/Fantasy
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A mysterious group of fighters, vying for the “King of Fighters” title, have to band together when they discover one of their own has begun to kill warriors one by one.

Synopsis:

MAI SHIRANUI, a gorgeous young woman, gets ready for the evening. After a shower, she puts on a Bluetooth-looking earpiece. The earpiece transports her to another dimension — the “King of Fighters Tournament” dimension, where she enters an arena to fight a huge man called MR. BIG. He’s a formidable opponent, and Mai suffers some intense damage, but she ultimately wins. Mai is transported back to her bathroom, as if no time has passed at all — except she’s bloody, bruised, and exhausted. IORI YAGAMI (Japanese, early 30s) shows up at Mai’s apartment and complains that she isn’t ready. He’s surprised that she was called up to fight but is proud that Mai’s advancing to the next round.

As Mai and Iori drive through Shanghai, they’re being monitored by CIA agent TERRY BOGARD. His superior, SMITHSON, calls to complain about Terry busting the budget on this operation. Mai and Iori arrive at a gala at the Shanghai Museum, celebrating the opening of a new Japanese treasures exhibit. Mai wonders if it’s safe to show the Yata Mirror, the object that creates and sustains the KoF dimension. CHIZURU KAGURA, mid-40s with a “panther-like physicality,” is the visiting curator from a Japanese museum. Iori knows her from the tournament. He introduces her to Mai, who recognizes her from when she was recruited as a fighter. Chizuru briefs Iori on how she’ll introduce him and his contribution to the exhibit — the Yasakani-No-Magatama jade necklace representing the Yagama clan, another vital component in creating the KoF dimension — and Mai asks about the “third” treasure, a sword. If Chizuru represents the mirror and Iori represents the necklace, where is the sword’s represnetative? Iori mentions the Kusanagi clan died out a decade ago and whispers that the sword on display is a fake. Chizuru explains the elaborate folklore of these objects as Mai, Iori, and the captive audience watch.

Two of the bouncers, KoF fighters, are killed. RUGAL, an enormous, dark figure moves into the museum. Everyone, including Terry and Smithson watching on the monitors, are baffled by this development. Alarms blare as Iori explains to Mai that Rugal was banned from the tournament. Chizuru fights Rugal as he disables the security equipment shielding the artifacts. Once Rugal grabs everything, he stabs her with the fake Kusanagi sword and she collapses. Mai stays with her while Iori chases Rugal. Terry chases Iori, but he’s cut off when Iori and Rugal move into a locked room filled with Chinese porcelain artifacts. They fight, and Iori grabs his necklace as Terry and his men pound on the door. Terry takes the sword and mirror and disappears into the tournament dimension just as Terry bursts through the door. Terry demands to know where Rugal went, but Iori refuses to say. Iori sees Chizuru’s blood all over Mai’s dress and asks if she died. Mai admits it’s touch and go, but she’s in hospital care now. She says Chizuru mentioned that the Orochi, a spirt that controls the KoF dimension, would “use” Rugal — to do what, she wants to know. Iori tells her the Orochi is locked away in the alternate dimension and wants to come to our dimension. He knows of only one way to stop it — the real Kusanagi sword.

In downtown L.A., KYO KUSANAGI (half-Japanese, mid-20s) hangs with his friends at a bar. When he sees two middle-aged men hitting on his impressionable friend, YUKI, Kyo assaults one of them, while the other breaks a shot glass and threatens to cut Kyo’s neck. Kyo disarms and throws the man into a glass wall, cutting his own hand in the process. As Kyo waits for a paramedic to help him, he realize he’s late, so he leaves without treatment. He drives a motorcycle to the Kusanagi Estate, a mansion in the hills. His father, SAISYU, lies comatose as Kyo reads poetry to him. The next morning, Mai and Iori arrive at the estate. Kyo’s asleep as Saisyu’s nurse leads them into the bedroom. Mai’s earpiece rings suddenly, waking both him and Saisyu — amazingly, Saisyu has leaped out of bed and is moving to attack. He fights with Mai, surreptitiously grabbing her earpiece. Saisyu rushes the three of them, and it takes the effort of all three to push him away. As he tumbles to the floor, he answers the earpiece, disappearing into the KoF dimension.

Saisyu and Rugal fight. Rugal kills him with minimal effort, claiming he’s saving him from the Orochi. Saisyu, dying, returns to our world. Kyo’s horrified. Saisyu whispers, “Stop Rugal.” Kyo questions Iori and Mai about this. Their answers confuse him, and Iori is surprised to learn Saisyu hasn’t told Kyo anything about the family’s KoF legacy. Enraged, Kyo throws them out. He notices Mai’s earpiece lying near Saisyu’s body. At a Shanghai hospital, Terry and his computer geek, MISHI, hack into Chizuru’s computer just as she regains consciousness. Terry explains who he is and what they know — everything about KoF — and asks about Rugal. Chizuru explains that the Orochi uses Rugal as a pawn to gain power, which is why they banned him from the tournament, but that obviously didn’t stop him. On the computer, Mishi learns everyone is now assigned to fight Rugal, and he’s killing each fighter one by one. Terry asks if they can cut off the signal to the earpieces, but she said they’re all independent of each other, tapping into the dimension rather than a computer network. Chizuru offers to put Terry in touch with the designer of their earpieces, but he turns up dead. The longer the Orochi keeps Rugal in the tournament dimension, the easier it will be to take over its body and break free of the mirror. The only thing that can stop it is moral strength and the Kusanagi sword — Rugal has neither.

Kyo visits his father’s grave and notices Mai and Iori spying on him. He gets the drop on them, ambushing them and demanding the truth from Iori. He blames Iori for Saisyu’s death, showing the earpiece as proof. Mai tells him it’s her earpiece and that Rugal killed him — just as he’s killing anyone else who responds to his calls. Mai and Iori offer to tell Kyo everything they know; Kyo offers the same in return. Iori notices some sexual tension between Mai and Kyo, and as he gets jealous, a strange, liquidy mirror substance envelops his eyes momentarily — the Orochi. After Mai explains everything, Kyo mentions he met Iori once before — the night his father arrived home in his comatose state. Saisyu had told Kyo about attending a special tournament, and that he’d explain all on Kyo’s approaching 16th birthday. He never got the chance. Instead, the Orichi enveloped Saisyu, forced him to tie up Kyo and drop him in the ocean. Kyo glosses over the details of his escape, only mentioning that he saw Iori and Chizuru standing over the water, performing a sacred ritual under the assumption that Kyo had died. Later, Iori stares out their hotel suite window with mirrored eyes. The mirror substance drains as Terry arrives and, after mentioning the rash of KoF-related killings, asks Iori, since he designed the corresponding computerized ranking system, to reprogram some earpieces so they can go in after Rugal. Iori notices two names on the ranking list — VICE and MATURE, two women. We see them readying for a real-world wrestling match when they both get earpiece calls. They go to the tournament dimension — but it’s a ghost town. Eventually, Rugal reveals himself, eyes covered with the mirrored substance. Rugal hands them the Kusanagi sword, and they try to fight him.

Kyo suddenly flashes on what happened to the real Kusanagi sword. Mai gets an earpiece call. Mai doesn’t answer, but it doesn’t matter — Vice and Mature are in the real world, working for Rugal and lurking in the shadows. Iori works on reprogramming the earpieces Terry provided him — he makes it work. Kyo and Mai fight with Vice and Mature, whose eyes are coated in the mirrored substance. Iori and Terry stumble upon the fight and join in. After they dispatch the two villains, Iori gets into an Orochi-induced jealous rage over Kyo and Mai. Terry calms the situation, introducing himself to Kyo. Vice and Mature return to the KoF realm, where Rugal tries to destroy the Orochi with the sword — realizing for the first time that it’s a fake.

Iori helps Kyo train as a fighter and harness the fire power his clan possesses within the tournament. Iori gets a little too emotionally invested in their mock-fights and admits that, at one time, Rugal had enough influence over him to allow the Orochi to take over. Iori fought it back, but he fears that because of the clans, they were born to be enemies. Kyo disagrees. They see a shimmer — and Rugal suddenly appears in the real world. Rugal wants the real sword. Kyo and Iori fight him. Kyo burns Rugal with a torch, causing mirrored liquid metal to cover his arm. Rugal crushes Kyo’s arm before the Orochi forces Rugal back into the other dimension. They take Kyo to the hospital, but while the doctors are away, Mai and Terry shove his arm back into the socket and Mai covers it with a strange herbal paste, completely healing him.

Iori catches Kyo and Mai getting a little too close and attacks. Terry tries to stop him, noting that Mai’s one of his agents. This enrages Iori, who suddenly believes their entire relationship is a lie. Iori activates the earpiece and disappears. Kyo dives into the ocean to get the sword. He brings it to Terry and Mai. Chizuru arrives in Los Angeles — turns out she’s Kyo’s aunt, shocked he’s alive. The four go out to an alley and disappear into the dimension — only nothing’s changed. They’re still in Los Angeles, invisible but able to interact with (and hurt) passersby, indicating the Orochi has nearly broken free. They all fight Vice and Mature. Iori keeps Kyo from getting to Rugal, while the others are distracted by dozens of Orochi-possessed zombies. Rugal shows up, fully covered in mirrored substance. Eventually, Kyo aims the sword at Iori, who remembers the good times with Kyo and vanquishes the Orochi possession. They all turn to Rugal, with the treasures in hand, and beat back the Orochi. They return to the real world, but Rugal does not teleport with them. They hold a funeral for Chizuru, who was killed in the battle. Mai goes to get a cake from the car; after a few moments, she honks the horn noisily. The others run to investigate, find the car empty and covered in Mai’s blood. He spots the same shimmering area he saw before Rugal appeared in the universe, knowing it’s not just a mirage.

Comments:

This script is chock full of convoluted, barely-coherent mythology that bogs it down so much, there’s not a whole lot left to grab onto in terms of compelling drama. Every conflict reaches for an epic level of conflict and importance, but when you strip away all the goofy fantasy stuff, it’s mostly just petty jealousies and something resembling ‘roid rage, which makes the script unintentionally amusing when it’s trying to be deadly serious.

Probably the worst aspect of the story is the utter non-ending. This is not your everyday “set the stage for a sequel” final scene — this is a story that lacks resolution. It seems to resolve when they use the sword to eliminate the Orochi’s power and pummel the hell out of Rugal — but he stays behind in the other dimension, meaning the Orochi’s power will start to grow again. Meaning the story isn’t over, which is solidified when somebody (one assumes Rugal) grabs Mai and pulls her into the other dimension. It’s a ridiculous, frustrating cliffhanger that will leave audiences unsatisfied. The story could easily resolve while leaving enough material (like the Rugal red herring) to generate a sequel, so why keep the story chugging along, ending at what seems like a random moment?

The characters are quite inconsistent in their behavior and knowledge, and not just because of the Orochi’s power. Kyo knows nothing until the plot requires him to know something; Mai is revealed to be a secret agent for Terry, even though that adds no additional dimension or drama to either of their characters. Iori’s big, emotional change at the end is caused by the magical power of a sword, which weakens his character quite a bit. Early on, Chizuru mentions that moral fortitude can fight the Orochi, so why can’t Iori flash on Kyo’s kind words, without the influence of the sword, and motivate him to fight the power? I’m still trying to figure out what Terry and Chizuru really add to the story, other than exposition and token appearances by additional characters from the video game upon which this script is based. The others’ elaborate histories contribute significantly to the plot but never, ever add depth to the character. How does Kyo feel after being drowned and left for dead by his father and relatives? How did he work through that to the point that he’s supporting his father, sitting at his bedside every night? Questions like these have nothing to do with the plot, so they go unanswered.

The confrontation with Rugal is also a little bizarre. Thin as they are, the characters realize the Orochi controls Rugal — sure, he might be weak-willed and weak-minded, but he is not the problem. Yet, they spend the entire third act running around talking gleefully about how they want to kill him. Thanks to a few scenes demonstrating Rugal’s desire to fight against the Orochi, he unintentionally becomes the script’s most complex, interesting character (despite barely appearing in the story). All of these characters understand the difference between the Orochi and Rugal, so it makes their basic plan (“Kill Rugal!”) seem a little cold-hearted. None of them consider the moral complexities of the situation or try to find an alternate solution that would reduce the Orochi’s power and let them save Rugal. It’s one of the rare instances where it’d a ruthlessly evil antagonist would actually benefit the script.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:54 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Spy vs. Stu

Author: Allie Dvorin & Keith Mitchell
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

On vacation to propose to his wife, an ordinary man finds himself competing with an international spy for his girlfriend’s love.

Synopsis:

STU KORNHEISER (early 30s, slobbish, overweight) is a good gadget salesman for the Sharper Image. So good, in fact, that his boss decides he’ll promote him to assistant manager as soon as Stu returns from a vacation trip where he intends to propose to his girlfriend. Stu announces the big news to his girlfriend, MOLLY, who mentions that the big raise might be cause to discuss marriage. Stu changes the subject to avoid ruining his surprise, but it causes an argument. She doesn’t think he wants enough out of life. They fly to the island nation of St. Pierre and take a cab to their hotel. Unfamiliar with the exchage rate, Stu accidentally gives JEAN CLAUDE MAURICE, the cabbie, a $250 tip. In the lobby, they bump into the Macatees (BOB and BARB), a couple hellbent on selling time-shares. Stu and Molly get away from them.

In their room, Stu announces he needs to use the bathroom and suggests Molly go to the beach and catch the sunset while he’s busy. On the other side of the island, SIMON DEVINE (a roguish, James Bond-style international spy) makes a dangerous escape from an illicit sugar cane factory. He flees via portable hang-glider and ends up on the beach with Molly. He strips from his tuxedo into a Speedo, rushes over to her, and kisses her while two thugs on jet-skis survey the area. Finding nothing but a couple kissing on the beach, they disappear. Simon walks away as if what just happened is nothing, but Molly’s awestruck. Having dinner with Stu at the hotel restaurant, Molly catches sight of Simon. As Stu attempts to propose, she’s distracted and ends up excusing herself to the ladies’ room, instead spying on Simon as he talks with TANYA, a fellow agent. Simon notices Molly watching. He thanks her for her help and flirts with her. Molly hangs on his every word, especially when he mentions their kiss was part of a top-secret government operation. Simon offers to buy her a drink, which Molly accepts before reneging when Stu approaches angrily. Simon introduces himself, then drags an unenthusiastic Molly away.

The next day, Simon’s preparing to leave when he notices a newspaper headline about the sugar cane factory explosion, referring to a man named Gallini. Recognizing the name, Simon decides to stay for a few more days. Stu and Molly lounge on the beach, and Stu makes another attempt at proposing when Simon shows up, to Molly’s glee and Stu’s disdain. Simon offers them lunch at his seaside villa. Molly fawns all over him, so Stu is forced to go along with it. Simon shows them the villa, a breathtaking sight. They catch sight of his yacht, anchored in the distance for an unknown reason. Simon and Stu compare occupations, with Molly getting even more exciting when they piece together that secretive Simon is a spy. Simon asks them to help him establish a new cover so he can uncover what’s going on. Molly effusively agrees, so Simon decides he and Molly will pose as a married couple, and Stu will be their gay friend who just got dumped and was on the verge of suicide before they dragged him on this trip. That night, Stu dreams that Simon and Molly ditch him to go to a cheap motel, where he catches them having sex. He wakes with a start and sees Molly sleeping next to him. She moans Simon’s name, enraging Stu.

He goes to the bar and chats up MAXWELL, the bartender. The next morning, Simon announces he’s looking for a man named Van Netter, but he’s an enigma — nobody has ever seen him, and he may not even exist. If he does, he’s an international arms dealer. Simon drives them to a honeymooners’ polo match that he knows Gallini will be at. All three play polo; Molly has a great deal of fun, but Stu hates everything about it. Simon finally catches sight of Gallini and decides to create a diversion — by forcing Stu’s horse to go wild. Stu’s nearly killed when his horse stops on some railroad tracks and his foot gets stuck in the stirrups. Simon rescues both Stu and the horse, just barely. Molly’s impressed, but Stu fears Simon was trying to kill him. Later, Simon arrives at the hotel with a radio to listen to a transmitter he secretly placed on Gallini during the chaos. Gallini mentions something about Corral Cove and Van Netter. Simon decides it’s time for them to go scuba diving. Molly’s gung-ho, while Stu vomits off the side of the boat. He refuses to dive with them, although he changes his mind when he misinterprets Molly’s excitement over various sea creatures as excitement over Simon’s man-meat. Simon and Molly discover a crashed Chinese submarine. By the time Stu reaches them, Simon and Molly are hiding from Gallini and his thugs. Stu’s leading them right to them, so Simon leaps from the hiding spot and attacks. Gallini nearly kills Stu, so Simon saves him but cutting Stu’s oxygen tank, causing it to rocket him all the way to the surface.

Later, Stu is frothing mad. With Simon lagging behind, Stu yells to Molly that the man’s insane, while Molly defends him and gets offended when Stu mentions the sexual innuendos. Simon calls Tanya to tell her he believes Van Netter has stolen a Chinese nuclear warhead and is hiding it somewhere on the island. Tanya says she’ll arrange for backup, but Simon mentions he and Molly can take care of it. Tanya wonders who Molly is. Simon has swiped a medallion from one of Gallini’s men, which leads them to a cliff-diving tournament. Simon and Molly participate like normal people, but Stu gets jealous and angry and decides to walk down the other side of the cliff. He ends up encountering a huge snake, which causes him to fall off the cliff, belly-flopping into the pool below. On the way back to the hotel, Simon mentions a private party held by the island’s President. He only has tickets for two, so Simon invites Molly.

Stu is angry that Molly’s actually going, all decked out in a great dress Simon sent to the hotel and heading to the salon for a makeover on Simon’s dime. Stu decides he’s going to go with, so he seeks out Bob and Barb, promising them he’ll attend a seminar if they can get him into the President’s party. They agree. Simon pretends to be a developer seriously interested in turning this third-world nation into a first-world nation. PRESIDENT MALDROIT, a short man, doesn’t think he needs Simon’s help — he has plans. Simon and Molly share a dance. Tanya arrives to help out Simon and get a look at this Molly. Stu arrives wearing a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. Molly sees him and fears he’ll blow their cover. Dejected, Stu leaves. Simon and Tanya have a heart to heart; he admits he’s been looking for someone like Molly for a long time.

Drowning his sorrows at the hotel bar, Stu complains to Maxwell about getting “cock blocked by James Bond.” Maxwell asks what that means, so Stu launches into everything he knows about Simon. Tanya and Simon arrive, and Tanya convinces Stu to dance with her. It’s a pretty dirty affair. Molly witnesses it and is shocked and angry. Seeing her distress, Stu breaks away from Tanya and tries to go after her. Simon takes advantage of the opportunity and invites Molly to spend the night on his yacht. She turns him down. Stu goes to the hotel room to use the bathroom. He gets his pants down when he notices Tanya, nude, in a bubble bath. Molly walks in on this scene and is livid. Stu goes back to the bar and blathers to Maxwell about Simon’s yacht. Molly meets with Simon on the yacht when they hear a noise — it’s Maxwell and some henchmen. Molly hides in a closet while Simon dives into the water. Simon recognizes Maxwell’s voice as Ven Netter’s. His henchmen grab Molly and take her away on jet skis.

Stu wakes up the next morning at the time-share meeting. He explodes with rage, accusing every couple in the room of having the same problems he and Molly have. Stu storms off to Simon’s villa, where he finds Simon preparing to go after Van Netter. Simon admits Molly got kidnapped, so Stu reluctantly agrees to help. They bond over their mutual affection for gadgets, then Simon leads Stu deep into the jungle. Just as Stu is asking why, they’re found by a group of revolutionaries — led by Jean Claude Maurice. They agree to help because of Stu’s excellent tip. While watching TV, Simon unravels the whole plan — Van Netter sold the warhead to Maldroit, who plans to blow up neighboring island St. Barts during a live MTV spring break special. Held captive by Maldorit and Van Netter, Molly discovers Tanya is also aligned with them.

Simon and Stu bust into another party at the Presidential Palace. They try to blend in as they sneak into the palace to rescue Molly and disable the bomb. Stu insists on going after Molly himself. Stu beats up a guard and gets to Molly, who immediately apologizes about her attraction to Simon, that she’s no longer looking for adventure in her life, that she’s okay with Stu not wanting to advance any farther than working at the Sharper Image. Stu dismisses all this because they have to leave. Guards burst in on them. Stu takes them out; impressed, Molly makes out with him. Meanwhile, Simon infiltrates Van Netter’s secret lab until he’s at the controls of the warhead. Tanya finds Simon and gets him away from the controls. The ceiling opens, lowering the missile — and it turns out Simon and Molly are on top of it, still making out. Tanya ties them all up. Later, Simon uses a hidden gun to kill Tanya when she gets too close. He breaks free and pulls Stu and Molly loose. They take out all the guards, but Maldroit and Van Netter get away. Now they’re stuck trying to disarm the bomb. Stu recognizes the design from a video game but can’t remember how to solve the puzzle, so he calls a gaming tip line and changes the bomb’s direction just before the automatic launch. They catch up with Maldroit, who is taken into custody by the revolutionaries. Simon offers Stu a job, but he declines. Simon leaves them find Van Netter. Stu and Molly finally get to relax.

Comments:

This script is reasonably funny and has a decent enough plot, although the spy stuff is extremely generic (yet lacks any traces of satire or any specific movie parodies — it’s played straight, but it’s all been done). At its core, it’s a romantic comedy, so maybe the mediocrity of the spy subplot can be forgiven since, mainly, the conflict is between Stu, Simon, and Molly.

What can’t be forgiven is the fact that both Stu and Molly are, to put it bluntly, damaged. They are an extremely dysfunctional couple, which would be fine if their dysfunction were played for laughs, but the writers seem to feel like they’re behaving normally. The instant Simon arrives, Molly turns into a puddle of enamored mush, while Stu transforms into a seething cauldron of jealousy. This generate some amusing conflicts, but it’s just not believable behavior. It left me wondering how a couple that has such severe problems managed to stay together for seven years, and I’m more intrigued by this couple than anything having to do with Simon or Tanya or Van Netter. The plot is actually rife with material to allow these people to stop and examine their relationship — this perfect week, which was to end with a marriage proposal, could make them both realize how fractured they actually are. As it stands, every scene in the first half of the script revolves around Stu’s jealousy and Molly’s clear apathy toward Stu and strong desire for Simon. These could easily be tweaked to give the characters just a bit more self-awareness, enough for them to realize their relationship is doomed. Then, transitions occur when Simon inadvertently forces each character to confront their issues and make moves toward bettering themselves, retaining the happy ending.

As it stands, Stu and Molly are fairly unpleasant people, so what begins as funny turns unsettling, reaching the lowest depths of despair when Molly, upon getting rescued by Stu, immediately turns codependent and decides Stu can continue with all his problems, unabated, while she’ll force herself to change to accommodate that. A denouement like this will alienate every woman in the audience, which is problematic since it has all the earmarks of a date movie; alienating 50% of your audience is rarely a good idea.

Notice I haven’t mentioned Simon. Ironically, considering he drives both the conflict in the romantic and the entire spy subplot, he’s the weakest character, a warmed-over James Bond clone with no discernible personality of his own. Even his pleas for a more normal woman like Molly are muddled by the fact that he only thinks in terms of seducing her. Because he’s so bland, the whole second half of the script feels unfocused, because the writers lose sight of the Stu-Molly story to concentrate more on the spy antics. Giving Simon a solid reason for pursuing Molly will certainly make him more interesting, which will in turn make everything he does in the second half worth watching.

A good story can be salvaged from this screenplay, but the writers need to really dig in to these characters.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 4:59 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 29, 2008

King Lear

Author: Joshua Michael Stern/William Shakespeare
Genre: Drama/Historical
Storyline: 9
Dialogue: 9
Characterization: 9
Writer’s Potential: 8

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Recommendation?

Recommend

Logline:

When the daughter of an aged king refuses to suck up in order to gain land, she is cast out of the kingdom and he is riddled with guilt.

Synopsis:

Britain, 54 B.C. Elderly KING LEAR leads a charge into a Celtic camp, followed by nobleman KENT (50s) and the DUKE OF CORNWALL, Lear’s son-in-law. Also in tow are the elderly EARL OF GLOUCESTER and his sons, gentle EDGAR and brooding bastard EDMUND. Kent asks Gloucester about Edmund, who has found friendship in a mangy dog. Gloucester downplays Edmund, instead pointing Kent to Edgar. After leading a successful attack on the camp, a topographer maps the area, revealing that Lear now controls the entire island of Britain. On the way back to Lear’s castle, Lear has a bloody coughing fit.

Before going to the castle, Lear stops to visit the tomb where his wife rests. A sarcophagus waits for him, too. He finds the court FOOL waiting there. At the castle, Kent asks Gloucester if Lear prefers Cornwall or rival son-in-law, the DUKE OF ALBANY, to receive the best territories. Gloucester thinks the dukes are less important than the daughters. LEAR arrives in the great hall, where Cornwall and Albany wait with their respective wives, REGAN and GONERIL. Young, unmarried CORDELIA also waits. Lear surprises everyone by asking each daughter to tell him just how much they love him. Goneril and Regan booth kiss major ass, but Cordelia says nothing, offering instead that her actions — including her unwillingness to get married — demonstrate more love than words could. This enrages Lear, who vows to find a man to marry her and subsequently banish her from his kingdom. When Kent speaks up in Lear’s defense, the king banishes him, as well. Gloucester calls the dukes of FRANCE and BURGUNDY; without getting a decent dowry, Burgundy has lost interest, but France is still willing to marry Cordelia.

Lear sits alone, remembering a younger Cordelia. She leaves with France. Goneril and Albany await the arrival of Lear and his train. To Albany, she questions his bringing so many knights, fearing he may attack and reclaim his land. In Gloucester, Edmund watches bitterly as Edgar helps Gloucester collect taxes. He mutters to himself about taking drastic measures to gain Edgar’s land. He forges a letter in Edgar’s handwriting, signing his name. Later, Edmund puts on a show for Gloucester, showing him the letter, which implies that Gloucester is greedy and Edgar wants Edmund’s help in forcing Gloucester to retire. Edmund warns Edgar that Gloucester’s angry, suggesting Edgar arm himself before meeting with him. At Castle Albany, a group of knights and servants harass and mock the Fool. Lear sees the fool as a teary-eyed Cordelia and flies into such a rage, he nearly kills one servant. When servant OSWALD reports the incident to Goneril, who fears and dislikes his erratic behavior.

Kent arrives at Castle Albany, disguised as a peasant. He gets into Lear’s good graces and is allowed to follow Lear into the castle. Oswald tells Lear that Goneril is too ill to speak to him; Lear flies into a rage, demanding her presence. Oswald won’t move, so Lear asks Oswald who he is, and Lear gets even angrier when Oswald doesn’t answer “king.” Later, Lear runs into Goneril, who wreaks psychological havoc on him, confusing him and hurling hostilities. This makes so angry Lear decides to take back his land. In the courtyard, he watches Goneril’s soldiers escort his knights away. After insulting the departing men, Lear, Kent, and the Fool storm away. As they pass peasant girls, Lear sees Cordelia once again. Edmund finds Edgar hiding in the stables, sends him away quickly, then stabs himself and pretends Edgar did it. Saddened, Gloucester sends his knights after Edgar. Lear goes to Castle Cornwall to find that Cornwall and Regan have departed for Gloucester. He gets confused, but they redirect to Gloucester.

Regan and Cornwall arrive at Gloucester. Edmund flirts with Regan. Kent runs into Oswald, who was sent to warn Regan about what Lear did to Goneril, in the Gloucester stables and attempts to kill him. Oswald calls for help, drawing Edmund’s attention. Gloucester, Cornwall, and Regan follow, demanding explanation. Kent is insolent, so Regan insists they put him in the stocks. Lear and his men travel through stormy countryside. Edgar hides in a windmill. Lear is shocked to find Kent in the stocks when he arrives at Gloucester. He demands explanation from Gloucester, then demands to speak with Regan and Cornwall, all the while lamenting cutting Cordelia out of her fortunes. When Lear asks who put Kent in the stocks, everyone’s afraid to answer. Goneril arrives at the castle, and Lear treats her horribly, verbally abusing her until she’s in tears. He’s angry about her sending the knights away, so Regan and Goneril gang up on him, wondering what he needs with so many followers. Lear flies off the handle at both of them before storming out, Kent and the Fool chasing him. All who remain in the great hall stand still and silent.

Lear stumbles through the storm, with Kent and the Fool at his side. Lear shouts at the storm to deliver its worst, as the Fool begs the old man to return to shelter. Gloucester takes Edmund aside and informs him of a letter delivered by Kent, detailing the various injustices committed by Goneril and Regan, which Lear intends to rectify. He tells Edmund to keep it under his hat. Kent and the Fool lead Lear to the windmill where Edgar’s hiding. Edgar pretends to be insane, but he can’t compete with Lear. Things get awkward when Gloucester arrives, but Edgar carries on with the fake insanity. Gloucester confesses an unwillingness to suffer Lear’s daughters’ harsh rule. Back at the castle, Edmund shows Cornwall Lear’s letter. While Lear rests, Gloucester instructs Kent and the Fool to move Lear to Dover, where he’ll be protected.

Gloucester returns home to accusations of treason. Regan, Cornwall, Goneril, and Edmund have conspired to have guards arrest him. They badger Gloucester until he admits he sent Lear to Dover. Cornwall stabs Gloucester in each eye, blinding him. A guard comes to Gloucester’s defense, and Regan kills him. In the chaos, Cornwall is fatally stabbed. Immediately, Regan and Edmund get together and make love. Shortly thereafter, he also sleeps with Goneril. Edgar finds Gloucester stumbling through the marshlands. He pretends to be a servant and agrees to lead Gloucester to Dover. Albany arrives at Gloucester and chews Goneril out for treating Lear poorly. A messenger tells Albany of Gloucester’s blindness. He is not pleased.

Kent and the Fool bring Lear to a French camp in Dover. Cordelia is there, but Lear is unconscious and deathly ill. Regan learns that Goneril has written a letter to Edmund. Unsure of why, she convinces Oswald to let her see the letter. Cordelia allows a doctor to wake Lear, who is confused and agitated. He’s not sure he’s actually seeing Cordelia, but eventually regains lucidity. He fears Cordelia doesn’t love him, because Goneril and Regan have proven they don’t. The Fool and Oswald meet on the road; Oswald kills him. Oswald comes upon Gloucester and Edgar, as well; not knowing Edgar, Oswald attempts to kill him. Edgar, a knight, annihilates Oswald and takes the letter. The letter is to Edmund from Goneril, subtly suggesting he’d be rewarded for killing Albany. Regan and Edmund meet up with Albany and Goneril on the road. The former couple make a big show of their romance, enraging Goneril.

The group arrives at Dover and prepares for an attack. At night, Goneril sneaks into Regan’s tent and laces her cloak with poisoned thorns. The French camp sees the approaching attack from the British. A massive battle takes place, with Kent and Cordelia fighting side by side as Edmund, who’s enjoying the killing, approaches. Edmund tries to kill Cordelia, but Albany sees this and sends him away. They arrest Cordelia instead. Kent sneaks away, crawling into a patch of tall grass to hide. Edgar and Gloucester wait out the battle from afar. Edgar turns to tell Gloucester when the battle ends, but his father is dead.

Lear and Cordelia are imprisoned together in impromptu cages. Edmund sees them and threatens a few guards into killing them, under the guise of transporting them to prison. Albany catches up with Edmund and admits being impressed with his valiance on the battlefield — he thinks Edmund has a bright future in Albany’s kingdom. Edmund bows. Albany asks to see Lear, but Edmund confesses he sent him to prison. Albany’s suddenly suspicious. As Regan and Goneril squabble, a messenger delivers a note to Albany — the one Edgar took from Oswald. Just as Albany prepares to fight Edmund, Edgar — in disguise — steps in to do the honors. Edgar fatally wounds his half-brother. Goneril tries to arrest Edgar, but Albany refuses to allow it. He shows Goneril the letter, so she runs away. She returns to her tent and finds Regan, poisoned, coughing up blood and crawling on the floor. Watching her sister, Goneril takes a knife and stabs herself.

Edgar reveals his true self to dying Edmund as Kent returns, wondering where Lear is. Out of remorse, Edmund confesses he sent Lear and Cordelia to their death. Meanwhile, the knights hang Cordelia. Lear breaks free of his restraints and kills the knights. As Albany, Kent, and Edgar arrive, Lear howls in pain over the body of his dead daughter. Sympathetic, Kent reveals his true self and tries to comfort Lear, who quickly dies. After philosophizing on Lear’s life and death, Albany offers Edgar and Kent the other two-thirds of Lear’s former kingdom. They look out over the ocean. In the distance, Roman ships approach.

Comments:

This is a faithful but drastically abridged version of King Lear, working from Shakespeare’s original text. The writer takes a couple of interpretive liberties with it (for instance, showing Goneril’s death, which happens offstage in the play and is ambiguous enough to suggest that it didn’t have to be suicide — Regan could have killed her in one last act of defiance), but much of what he excises is either unimportant or is revealed in different ways that effectively use the tools of cinema to convey things that Shakespeare could only get across with dialogue (e.g., Lear’s visions of a youthful, happy Cordelia). The Roman ship ending is probably the most striking difference, but it adds another layer to an already rich source, pointing out the futility of everything we’ve just witnessed.

The only real problem with the adaptation is that the story gets rushed. Audiences will likely forgive it, but in most cases messengers are dispatched to deliver plot-point-containing letters, only to have the authors of those letters arrive in the next scene. It might strike newcomers to the play as bizarre, but it seems unlikely that anybody who’s never heard of, read, or studied the play would take a gamble on the movie version, so maybe it’s all a wash.

Because it’s King Lear and it’s a solid adaptation, the success really depends on the actor playing Lear. With a good enough actor in the role, this could join Olivier’s Hamlet and Branagh’s Henry V as one of the all-time great Shakespeare films.

This will pretty much appeal only to Shakespeare fans. Maybe with a big enough name or some award buzz, the audience could expand, but it’s hard to conceive of an elderly British star both talented enough to play the role and with enough box-office draw to overcome the stigma of Shakespeare’s difficult text and the bleakness of the story.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:20 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Mortis Rex

Author: Peter Briggs
Genre: Action/Horror/Historical
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 2
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In 122 A.D., Roman soldiers and a druid tribe must fight an enormous monster in the wild of Northern England.

Synopsis:

In the woods at the “Pictish border of Caledonia” (now called Scotland), some Roman scouts survey the land. Near a 15-foot-high stone crucifix cluttered with Celtic symbols, they are both killed by a massive, never-seen monster (referred to in the script as “Mortis”). SYRUS PETRONIUS is told about this and disturbed — they’ve had 11 mysterious deaths in only a few months. He writes a letter to the Capitol, begging for their best military leader. Senator CORNELIUS NASO has CASSIUS VIRIUS sent from a battlefield back to Rome, where he discusses a construction outpost sent to build a wall. He tells Cassius of the deaths and their requests for defense. They believe this will lead to another Druid uprising.

Cassius travels from Rome to the “Briga Magna” fort in Caledonia. Meanwhile, BREACA (a Briton tribeswoman) has sex with a Roman soldier, then spies on Cassius as he surveys the area with the large crucifix. She loses her footing, causing rocks to fall on Cassius below, and she flattens, narrowly avoid being seen. Cassius is taken to the infirmary to discuss the mysterious deaths. An insane man, FESTUS, raves about “Mortis Rex.” Cassius is told to ignore him. That night, the monster strikes again, killing a group of tower sentries. Petronius meets with VOTAN, a Druid Briton, and accuses him of terrorism. Votan denies having anything to do with the death. Later, Petronius explains the lay of the political land to Cassius: 60 years ago, Rome wiped out the bulk of Druid followers. The remainder scattered to Caledonia, and now that Rome moves north, they’re holding on to their civilization and beliefs by trying to fight back.

Cassius asks Petronius about the unusual wording of his letter — referring to something attacking, not someone. Petronius is flattered that Cassius actually paid attention, but he admits everybody who’s seen the thing is dead, except Festus, who went mad. There’s no consistency to attacks, except the grotesque deaths. Between Petronius sending the letter and Cassius arriving (about two months), the deaths have nearly tripled. In the morning, the Druids wake Cassius and Petronius with a noisy hunting ritual. Cassius asks about the crucifix, which is an unusual sight in Britain. Petronius explains that a Roman-turned-missionary erected it generations before, but few Druids converted. Cassius and Petronius explore the forest, looking for clues to hint at Mortis’ origins. They see border markings of the Druids’ village, Nematon, but Cassius insists on pressing on. In a hidden cave tunnel, they find a stone obelisk littered with bones that look melted and fused together somehow. As they leave, Mortis reveals itself within the cave, but the Romans don’t see.

Strolling through the forest alone, Cassius comes upon Votan and a few other Druids attempting to rape Breaca. They tear off her crucifix pendant and mock her religion. Cassius and Breaca fight the men, killing everyone but leaving Votan (barely) alive. Cassius drags him back to Nematon, where Chieftain BADVOC (Breaca’s father) is cordial but suspicious. He urges Cassius and the other Romans to leave. Petronius catches up with Cassius and tells them the scouts have found something — smoking rubble, corpses of Druid women, and tracks of the beast. Cassius tells the soldiers to burn the wreckage to the ground. Badvoc meets with Breaca in secret. He reveals that the Druids have attempted to control the beast, but now it’s grown wild and out of control. Badvoc regrets attempting to control it. Breaca argues that the power of the cross can save them, but Badvoc doesn’t believe the old stories about that.

Cassius mentions Breaca to Petronius, who mentions she spends much of her time getting it on with the troops. The surgeon beckons them both, showing them casts made by the armorer at the site of one of the deaths. Scratches they thought were done by wildcats turn out to have an engraved look, with subtle tribal markings, the likes of which none of them have ever seen. The surgeon attempts to show them specimens from a previous death, but it’s turned into a disgusting, maggot-filled jar, and when the surgeon opens it, they scatter and transform into strange, beetle-like creatures. Everyone’s baffled. Cassius orders the surgeon to destroy all the samples and cremate everything. Cassius dreams of the monster attacking. The monster kills more people, witnessed by Petronius’ dog, who slinks back to her master, then slowly dies in his lap. Speculation is she died of fright. Cassius and Petronius decide to prepare the troops to battle Mortis.

Cassius and Petronius discuss the afterlife; Cassius admits not being philosophical enough to believe, but Petronius mentions a lostlove who was poisoned, and Petronius believes they’ll meet again. The night before the Romans’ planned attack, Mortis slaughters the entire Druid village, then comes after Briga Magna, showing the border guards’ apparitions of lost loved ones to let their guards down. Although he kills many of the guards, the soldiers barely manage to lock the gates around their outpost, keeping Mortis out. The next morning, Breaca goes to the Nematon and finds everyone dead. The Romans attempt to shore up their defenses after the previous night’s near-miss. Petronius leads the troops out into the forest after the creature. Cassius rides to Nematon to urge Badvoc not to interfere with their battle. He finds them dead.

Senator Naso shows up, deciding to personally lead the assault, frustrating Petronius. When night falls, Mortis reveals itself — still unseen by us, but attacking them savagely. An extensive battle ensues. Petronius leads the attack but is taken out quite quickly. Cassius arrives and attempts to save Naso from Mortis; instead, he ends up bashing his head on some rocks and lying, presumed dead, face-down in a river. The soldiers give it their all, but Mortis kills everyone. A dream sequence, laden with both Roman and Druid imagery and symbolism, follows. Cassius wakes in Breaca’s hidden cave, in great pain but still alive. Breaca tends to his wounds and mentions he shouted things in his slip — all different cultures’ names for death. Cassius notices Breaca wearing Badvoc’s distinctive ring, realizes she’s his daughter. Breaca fears Mortis will keep moving until he’s killed everyone. Cassius believes it can be killed, but Breac isn’t sure — but she does have an idea of how to fight it.

In the ruins of Briga Magna, Cassius and Breaca find Petronius, alive. He mentions he sent the dozen or so other survivors to a stronghold to the south. Cassius enlists Petronius’ help in this plan, but Petronius thinks Cassius is nuts. Breaca explains that Badvoc sacrificed women in an effort to control Mortis. They set up a trap in the grove where the sacrifices took place. Night falls, and they sound a horn to call Mortis. Petronius sees his lost love waiting for him. Mortis creeps behind it, but Petronius’ horse senses this and throws Petronius clear, running for dear life as Petronius cowers in terror. From their hidden killzones, Breaca and Cassius listen in fear as they hear the beast approaching. Breaca clutches her crucifix while Cassius readies a spear. Cassius rides like the devil to confuse Mortis, who is too big to adjust to the rapid movement. It ends up stuck in chains they’ve erected to hold it. Breaca fires rigged crossbows into Mortis, who howls wildly, but its acid blood eats through the restraints. Cassius’ deathblow spear is trapped in Mortis-created ice. He continues to confuse Mortis as Breaca attempts to free it. Finally successful, Breaca tosses the spear to Cassius just as Mortis is closing in on him, but it goes over his head and rolls down the other side of a hill. Cassius manages to get a rope around Mortis, who appears to fear the crucifix pendant given to him by Breaca. Cassius backs away to grab the spear, which he plunges into one of Mortis’ tentacles, bursting it into flames. Mortis howls. The spear gets away from Cassius again, and as Mortis closes in for the kill, Petronius appears atop a cliff, spear in hand, and dives into the beast’s mouth, aiming the spear as he goes.

Mortis is destroyed in a white-hot explosion that somehow doesn’t hurt Cassius or Breaca; it leaves behind a pile of ash and a cracked spearhead. Later, Cassius and Breaca have erected a Christian monument dedicated to Petronius’ sacrifice. Cassius tells Breaca he’s been ordered back to Rome for reassignment. Breaca tells him she intends to travel to other places. Cassius offers to take her back to Rome, and along the way she can regale him with Christian stories. They take off on their horses together.

Comments:

The writer does a meticulous job of evoking period detail, which is no easy feat considering the ancient setting. However, this attention to detail gives the story an unintentional leaden pace, making it a distracting and difficult read when it ought to be fast-paced action/horror. The period also doesn’t have much to do with anything, other than trying to piggyback on the success of movies like 300 and, to a lesser extent, Troy and Gladiator. The writer doesn’t use the period to reflect on contemporary problems; Mortis Rex doesn’t serve as any kind of metaphor (e.g., the coming rise of Christianity within the Roman Empire). It’s just a mediocre, been-there-done-that story trying to distinguish itself with its setting.

The vivid detail should have been devoted to the characters, by far this script’s weakest element. The writer spends the first 30 pages introducing us to what feels like hundreds of characters (probably more like 20 or 30, but believe me, that’s more than enough), but he doesn’t have enough time to let us get to know them. Since only three of the characters have any major importance, and maybe three to five more have minor impacts on the story, why are we spending so much time with people who don’t matter? This sacrifices time that would be better spent getting to know Cassius, Petronius, and Breaca. The extraneous characters die in the attacks on Nematon and Briga Magna, and their deaths have no emotional impact; even Petronius, sacrificing himself to kill Mortis Rex at the end, lacks the emotional punch it could have if we actually cared about these people. Cassius and Petronius take time to have a lot of quiet conversations, but none of these enhance the characters; they’re just story beats (or foreshadowing future story events) buried in pseudo-philosophical babbling. Knowing these people, getting to know the Roman lifestyle and the Druid lifestyle through these characters, would take this story from mediocre to above-average.

The theme, which feels a bit tacked on, seems to be this idea that the power of Christ will vanquish all evil. The idea of religious faith conquering evil is interesting, but at a time when Christianity was largely defined as a cult and persecuted as such, the writer should have explored this idea much more — really showing us both the Roman and Druid attitudes toward the religion. The writer doesn’t seem to want to confront religious persecution head-on, but it left me wondering why the Christian faith, instead of Druid or Roman beliefs, is the only thing that they can use to destroy Mortis. Such a development makes religion significant to the story, so the writer’s decision to relegate it to the background doesn’t make much sense. Defining the religious conflicts more clearly, and perhaps transforming Mortis into a symbol of belief systems being crushed by the cross, would actually give this story enough complexity to make it something more than a dull action/horror flick.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 12:20 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Frozen

Author: Adam Green
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

Three friends are driven to extreme measures when they find themselves stuck on a ski lift after it closes for the weekend.

Synopsis:

Three college students (LYNCH, DAN, and PARKER, all 19) wait in line to get on the chair lift at a ski resort. Parker sneaks to the front of the line and uses her good looks to charm the chair lift operator, JASON, into letting her and her friends onto the lift without tickets. He refuses, so she sweetens the deal by offering her $50, then ups it to $100 when that still doesn’t work. Jason takes the money and lets them up the mountain without tickets. Dan and Parker, who are dating, argue over pet names. Lynch mentions a girl who used to call him by his last name during sex, which made him uncomfortable. They realize Parker gave them the full $100 and playfully ridicule her. Parker lights up a cigarette, frustrating Lynch. Parker mocks the hypocrisy of Lynch being a pothead and hating tobacco smoke. Suddenly, the lift stops, terrifying Parker (who has a fear of heights). Dan calms her down by saying it’s just stopping, there won’t be some sort of accident. True to his word, the lift lurches to life, and they get up the mountain.

While skiing, Lynch sees a cute girl (SHANNON) fall over and offers her some help. Her hulking ex-boyfriend (RYAN) lumbers toward Lynch, making threats. Frustrated, Lynch backs away. Parker mocks him. Later, Shannon approaches sans Ryan to apologize and let Lynch know that they’re no longer going out and have been trying to be friends — which, she notes, is not working. She gives Lynch her phone number and mentions she comes up to the mountain to ski every weekend. Later, Dan and Parker argue with Jason, who won’t let them go back up the mountain because the park is closing early on account of bad weather moving in. Lynch runs up, asks Dan to help remember half of Parker’s phone number (he had nothing to write it down with). After begging and pleading, Jason lets the three of them back on the lift.

As they ride up the mountain, a fellow EMPLOYEE runs up to Jason to say the manager wants to talk to him about next weekend’s schedule. Jason’s annoyed, since he was supposed to have the weekend off to go to his brother’s bachelor party — he’s the best man. Jason leaves the Employee to cover him, mentioning he has three more skiers on their way down. As Lynch, Dan, and Parker continue up the mountain, they see three skiers racing down below them. The Employee calls to another coworker to take over so he can use the bathroom, but the other employee refuses. The three skiers who passed below Lynch, Dan, and Parker race to a stop past the Employee. He radios that his last three returned, giving them the clear signal to stop the chair lift. Lynch, Dan, and Parker are still on it.

Jovial concern turns to panic as dark clouds cover the sun — they weren’t kidding about the weather. Lynch starts to get impatient, then Dan asks the others what they think would be the worst way to die. He says shark attack. Parker makes a few suggestions, which Lynch pokes holes in. She yells at him to give his worst death, so Lynch offers the Sarlaac pit from Return of the Jedi. Dan and Parker consider it. Wind starts blowing. The trio are freezing. Suddenly, the lights along the ski trails turn off, leaving them in darkness except for the moonlight. Their panic turns to anger as they realize they’ve been forgotten. Lynch still tries to keep things light, but Dan and Parker get into a fight. Dan considers jumping below and skiing down, but they agree it’s too much of a drop… And then Parker announces she has to pee. The group tries to figure out how to orchestrate such a maneuver, as Lynch just opens up his fly and urinates off the edge of the lift. Parker refuses to stand in the left to squat over the edge of the chair. She decides to just hold it.

Dan tries to speculate that crews will be around the park if they can just make it until morning, but Lynch pokes holes in that, too — it’s Sunday, the resort doesn’t reopen until Friday, so why would anyone come around? Lightning and thunder roll in, and a freezing rain begins. After awhile, they see a Snow Cat rumbling down the mountain. The trio scream to catch the driver’s attention, but he doesn’t notice them. He’s radioed to stop and take a different path, which the trio mistake for rescue. When he turns around and still doesn’t seem to notice, they begin throwing their skis and snow boards at the Snow Cat, narrowly missing each time. Parker starts bawling. Lynch tries to ask random, pointless trivia questions to keep their minds off impending death. Parker announces that she’s peed in her pants.

Finally, Dan makes a decision — he’s going to jump for it. They’re going to die anyway, so he’d rather die trying to help their situation rather than do nothing. He tosses his snow board down, gets himself into position, and makes a jump… His landing shatters both of his legs, and he’s forced to lie there, a bloody mess, bones protruding from his mangled ski suit. Lynch and Parker try to convince him to crawl down the hill, but Dan just can’t move. Parker tries throwing her scarf down, but it’s carried away by the wind. Lynch balls his up and tosses it down, and Dan uses it to tie off his legs.

With few options left, Lynch contemplates climbing up to the lift cable and moving from chair to chair until he reaches one close enough to the ground make a proper dive. Parker doesn’t think he’ll make it, and Lynch has to admit she’s probably right. Instead, he glances back and sees a bed of evergreens below the chair behind them. He decides to go for it, with Parker’s help, but as they get him into position, Lynch hears something — a soft moan. They think it’s Dan, but then they hear it again, louder: it’s a wolf. Trying not to panic, Lynch speculates it’s distant and won’t come after Dan. He’s wrong — the wolf emerges from the woods, heading right for Dan. Freaking out, Lynch gets back down on the chair, and he and Parker toss more of their things down to scare him off. It works. Lynch notices extreme frostbite on Parker’s face. He asks her to rub her face, and skin peels right off.

Parker helps Lynch get back into position. He grabs the cable, starts moving — then makes the mistake of looking down, where he sees a pack of six wolves surrounding Dan. He freaks out yet again and returns to the chair lift to shield Parker from what’s happening below. From the ground, Dan begs Lynch to keep Parker from looking. Lynch tries, but Parker still steals a glance — sees the wolves ripping him apart. The camera hangs on them as they listen to the sickening sounds below. Eventually, they stop. Lynch and Parker have an awkward conversation, trying to ignore what just happened below. Parker redirects the conversation to her puppy, who will have nobody to feed her or walk her and will end up dying and not understanding why. Lynch tries to convince her they’ll survive. She’s not so sure.

The next morning, Lynch and Parker look like they’re frozen to death, but suddenly, Lynch wakes with a start, shaking the chair, which wakes Parker. Her face is almost black from frostbite, and Lynch’s isn’t much better. Depressed, Lynch admits he thought their predicament was just a nightmare. He considers the possibility of maintenance crews or somebody seeing them, then decides, once again, to carry out his plan to get to the other chair and drop to the forest below. Lynch gets into position, Parker holds him steady. He counts to three.

Comments:

The writer has executed a harrowing story of survival, gliding effortlessly from what I assumed would be a light comedy into a bleak tragedy. Since the bulk of the script hangs on three people stuck in mid-air, dialogue drives this story, and the author writes clear, conversational banter loaded with wit. It’s never on the nose, but it’s packed with character information, as are the limited number of actions carried out by each person.

Although the writer does a nice job overall, Dan could use some work. His actions speak volumes, but up until he dives off the chair lift, we don’t know much more about him than “He’s dating Parker.” Much more is revealed about Lynch and Parker, even before Dan dies, but it would be nice to have a little more information about him — occupation, interests, anything — before he goes. The script doesn’t depend on knowing these things about him, but it would make his death all the more tragic if he had a bright future, or maybe even more tragic if he had no future but this experience convinced him to finally get his shit together. In fact, it might enhance all three characters to understand how this situation will change them as people; we get a lot of small details and insightful moments but few big ones.

My biggest concern was going to be that it’s too short. Clocking in at 72 pages, it’s barely feature length, but when I got to the end… Well, there’s no end. It stops right where the third act should start, and just says “To Be Continued…” What I have read of the script is very good, with the writer making effective use of his premise and setting limitations. Unless the writer completely botches the ending — which is not out of the realm of possibility — it’s certainly worth considering.

The nature of the story might draw in a portion of the horror crowd, but this script is more likely to tap into the people who find comfort in this type of “survival struggle” disaster drama. This will find the same audience films like Alive, The Perfect Storm, and Titanic found.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:45 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 24, 2008

The Adventures of Santa Claus

Author: Mark Edens & John Crye & Tom Tataranowicz
Genre: Family/Fantasy/Animated
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

Growing up in the magical Forest of Burzee, Santa Claus must stop the evil An-Garr from corrupting children in the land of mortals.

Synopsis:

In the magical Forest of Burzee, creatures gather around a mystical “Doorway Tree” as it illuminates from within. In the dank Cave of the Awgwas, their evil ruler, AN-GARR, sees this in a magical pool of black water. What An-Garr doesn’t see is who comes through the doorway: newborn BABY CLAUS. DIDDILY, a dwarfish Knook, and F’DUDDLE, an elvish Ryl, ride a cart full of pampleberries pulled by DASHER the reindeer. Baby Claus lands in their cart. They take the berries to Pampleberry Mill, where nymph NECILE oversees the counting of the berries while QUEEN ZURLINE awaits the tabulation. The forest-dwellers are suddenly attacked by the Awgwas, mysterious shadow creatures that can take something resembling human form. An-Garr sends his lieutenants, SKUGG and MURKLE (both dumb and sycophantic) and “dawgwa” (a dog-like shadow creature) TOOTH to find the mortal while he searches for the doorway tree. Zurline realizes the attack is a distraction. She takes Baby Claus to a tree called AK for protection. An-Garr, Skugg, and Murkle find him, but Ak does try to protect him. Baby Claus laughs, which seems to hurt the awgwas. Before Angar can grab him, Necile swoops down on Dasher and takes him back to the mill.

F’Duddle and Diddily are confused by the baby’s inability to talk. Zurline wants to send the baby back through the mortal doorway tree, but Ak nixes it — this will lead the awgwas right to the doorway. Necile takes him and names him for the Burzee seedling trees: Claus. An-Garr confers with a SEER about the location of the doorway tree; when he can’t find it, An-Garr kills him and makes a vow that he will watch and wait — someday the mortal will return through the doorway. A montage follows showing wacky scenarios as Baby Claus is raised by the forest creatures. At age 12, Young Claus tries to catch a reindeer but ends up crashing into the mill, destroying the machinery. He repairs everything better than new. Young Claus tells Zurline, after them giving so much, he wanted to give something back. Disappointed that his scouts continue to fail to bring Young Claus to him, after 12 long years, An-Garr continues to wait.

Another montage follows, where Young Claus works slavishly to make gifts for every single creature in the forest. By age 17, Teenage Claus presents Zurline with her gift, a slide whistle to make her laugh and call reindeer. She’s flattered and impressed. They go for a walk, and Teenage Claus asks how old Zurline is, putting his foot in his mouth as he insinuates repeatedly that she’s old (she’s immortal but looks to be in her mid-20s). It becomes clear that each is falling in love with the other, but Zurline hides from her feelings because of his mortality. An-Garr and his cronies lurk nearby, witnessing this and realizing it’s something they can use. Imitating Zurline’s voice and shadow shape, Claus tells Zurline they can never be together, so he might as well just go back to the mortal realm; An-Garr implies that Claus should take back the slide-whistle, which Zurline merely set down. Claus is hurt, so he seeks out the doorway tree and returns to the mortal realm — unaware that An-Garr is following and leading all the awgwas through the doorway, as well.

Teenage Claus tries to have fun with all the mortal children in a medieval village. He accompanies them ice-skating, but notices a young boy, MICHAEL, sitting at the edge of the pond, looking miserable. He has no ice skates. He gives her the slide whistle he made for Zurline. He’s freezing, so the kids find him a coat — a long red one they put on a snowman. Suddenly, the snowman comes to life (it’s An-Garr) and threatens the children. Claus tries to fight them but, instead, is forced back through the doorway tree — which the Skugg and Murkle burn from the mortal side. Claus confesses everything to Ak and Necile. They take her to Zurline, and Claus repeats some of the things An-Garr said with her voice; she’s baffled, and although she admits she was afraid, she didn’t say those hurtful things. They kiss.

Teenage Claus plants another tree. Over the course of another montage, Claus grows into adulthood as the new doorway tree grows tall and powerful. Claus makes plans to return to the mortal world, but Zurline insists on going with her. Claus warns her about losing her powers and immortality, but Zurline’s willing to take the risk. The medieval town has become something out of German Expressionism, with awgwas constantly chanting to the now-demented kids to misbehave and do evil deeds. Parents are terrified of their children. Claus finds Michael, who’s curled up in a ball, crying. He gives him a pair of ice skates. Michael lights up and begins laughing, which hurts the awgwas. Claus notices this. The awgwas engage them in a battle, and one child’s laughter isn’t enough to stop them all. Claus begs Michael to spread word to the other children to not listen to the awgwas. He’s going back to Burzee but promises to return.

On his return, Ak tells Claus that the doorway tree can only open for two weeks between the mortals’ Winter Solstice — which is today! This gives Claus only one week to carry out his plan. With the help of everyone in the Forest, he works tirelessly to make gifts for all the children in the mortal world. An-Garr escalates his plans for the children, so Tooth runs through the doorway tree to warn everybody. They don’t know if they should trust a dawgwa, but Claus believes Tooth’s claims that after tomorrow, there will never be a happy child in the mortal world. He blames himself. Zurline tries to give him a pep talk. Claus is afraid because they don’t have enough toys, bu Zurline insists that when everyone sees the joy that giving brings, they will all start giving gifts to one another. On a rickety sleigh led by Dasher and seven other reindeer, Claus takes the gifts they have and leads all the Burzees through the doorway.

An-Garr is waiting for him, but Tooth helps Claus avoid him. Claus delivers gifts while the Ryls, Knooks, and Nymphs lead assaults on the awgwas; they can’t kill the creatures, but they can split them apart and use certain powers and magical items to keep them split apart. Ak, Necile, and Zurline notice their powers waning. Ak warns that if their powers drain, the doorway home will not stay open. Claus delivers gifts, and his plan starts to work. Children are happy, they begin laughing — and this really destroys awgwas. Seeing the effects, An-Garr absorbs the shadows of 10 awgwas and becomes a giant. He absorbs perpetually miserable Michael into his body. Enraged and terrified, Claus leaps into Giant An-Garr’s body to search for the boy. This causes Claus to rapidly age, becoming the perpetual bearded old man we all know. An-Garr can’t kill him, however, because the bells ringing and laughter of happy children weaken him. Hundreds of other awgwas dissipate into nothing. Old Claus finds Michael and pulls him out of Giant An-Garr. The sun rises, destroying An-Garr forever and restoring the demented, expressionist hellscape to normal.

Old Claus collapses, and Zurline and the others have to carry him back through the doorway. Zurline uses a magic talisman to devote half of her immortality to Old Claus — herself aging to the white-haired “Mrs. Claus” that’s familiar to children. His life restored, they bask in the happiness of being able to share with each other “half of forever.” The Burzees rebuild Old Claus’s dilapidated sleigh, making it look like the familiar red sleigh. Ak warns that there will always be awgwas to make children unhappy, so Claus decides he’ll just go back and hand out gifts next Christmas. Old Claus and Old Zurline take the sleigh for a honeymoon in the mortal world.

Comments:

This is a cute idea for a kids’ movie that has a some good ideas behind it. As a dramatic story, it barely works, which will probably result in a cute but forgettable Christmas movie kids will enjoy until they grow out of it.

The story’s riddled with inconsistencies that kids may not notice, but they’ll annoy adults. For instance, why didn’t An-Garr just burn down the new doorway tree the instant Claus returned? Why does it take the awgwas so long to escalate their plans with the mortal children? Things like this can be solved with a few throwaway lines of dialogue, but the fact that they aren’t makes the whole script feel a little unpolished.

The characters are pretty simplistic, even for a kids’ movie, but the writers do a decent enough job of differentiating them through dialogue, action, and visual look. The love story between Claus and Zurline is a little too adult for the age bracket of kids who will enjoy this movie, yet it’s not adult enough for the kids’ parents to enjoy. It’s also kind of creepy in its Oedipal implications, being that Zurline effectively goes from maternal figure to love object as Claus grows up. I know kids won’t have much, if any, awareness of it, but that doesn’t mean the creepy factor isn’t there.

As a villain, An-Garr could benefit from having some kind of plan. His desire to have his awgwas torment mortal children will likely strike the right amount of fear into the kids, but the writers never explain how this benefits the awgwas. It doesn’t seem to make them stronger — the only thing that makes An-Garr stronger is absorbing the life-force of other awgwas — and although children’s happiness weakens them, wouldn’t the smart move be to just stay away from children altogether? If the writers really explored why he’s so bent on leading the awgwas on this mission of torture, An-Garr could have enough depth to make a compelling villain.

The dialogue is sporadically amusing, generating the bulk of its hit-or-miss laughs from references to the Santa Claus lore in popular culture as it relates to this story. Where the script really shines, not surprisingly, is in the visuals — the writers do a very strong job of selling us on the worlds they’ve created. I just wish they had a story as well-defined as the visuals.

The script doesn’t have much for adults, and some of the disturbing awgwa-related imagery will likely upset any kids under the age of four, so they’re really working in a narrow field — maybe the 5-9 range, if they’re lucky. Of course, parents will have to accompany their kids, so whether they like the movie or not, they’ll be there. It’s a movie about Santa Claus, so although it shows the legend in a way kids won’t have seen, it will probably still pique their interests around the holidays.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:41 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 21, 2008

The House on Sorority Row

Author: Josh Stolberg & Pete Goldfinger
Genre: Horror/Slasher
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Recommend

Logline:

A year after accidentally killing one of their sorority sisters, a group of girls find themselves hunted by someone or something at their graduation-night party.

Synopsis:

At a Theta Pi sorority party, a group of sisters play a prank on GARRET, a nerdy kid. He’s the brother of CHUGS, a tubby drunk who sold him something she told him were roofies (actually vitamins) to give to his girlfriend, MEGAN, whom he recently cheated on. In on the joke are JESSICA, the queen bee, and CLAIRE, the queen bee wannabe. Not in on the joke are sweet and innocent CASSIDY and fragile ELLIE. When Megan starts foaming at the mouth and coughing blood, these two — as well as Garret — are terrified. Cassidy rushes in to do mouth-to-mouth while Garret runs to call 911. Megan starts kissing Cassidy, letting both her and Ellie in on the joke. Neither find it amusing, but Jessica makes them go along.

When Garret returns, they insist that they can’t wait for an ambulance, so they put her in Chugs’ car and start driving. On the way, Megan pretends to die, terrifying the already-panicked Garret. Jessica changes their plans, heading instead to a lake and telling Garret they’ll throw the body down an old mine-shaft. Garret gets out of the car and pukes. Megan, finding the whole thing amusing, records it as a video on her cell phone. The girls continue to escalate things in Garret’s mind, telling him it’s an easy secret to keep and that nobody will ever find out as long as they dismember the body. He wanders away to be alone while Cassidy and Ellie confront Jessica about the prank going too far. Cassidy’s about to spill the truth when Garret rams a tire iron through Megan’s chest, really killing her. Horrified, Cassidy wants to go to the police, so Jessica gets the others to agree that if she does, they’ll tell the police it was all Cassidy. Reluctantly, Cassidy helps them dump the body down the shaft.

One year later. Graduation day. ANDY, Cassidy’s boyfriend, gives a valedictory speech. In Cassidy’s apartment, Andy tries to convince Cassidy not to go to a sorority luncheon. Cassidy says she has to go because her mother will be there and she wants to create the illusion of friendliness — but she won’t go to tonight’s party. They make plans to go to meet Andy’s parents so Cassidy can get to know them. At the luncheon, Cassidy and Andy feign politeness toward Jessica. Cassidy is genuinely nice to Ellie, who has been changed by this experience — she’s hurting badly but tries to feign enthusiasm. As Jessica gives a speech to the sorority sisters and their parents, Ellie shrieks with fright when she sees Megan. She faints, and the sisters surround her, trying to cover it up by saying it’s heat exhaustion. Ellie’s convinced that she saw Megan, but it’s actually MAGGIE, Megan’s younger sister. She plans to go to the same college and rush the sorority in the fall. She invites herself to the party, but Jessica refuses to let her go, saying it’s against the rules. MRS. CRENSHAW, the house mother, gives a pseudo-inspirational speech to the girls after the parents have departed. The girls set up for the party with the help of KYLE (Jessica’s boyfriend) and MICKEY (Claire’s boyfriend). All the girls’ cell phones ring simultaneously — a photo message of a gloved hand with a tire iron. The girls freak out, but Chugs tries to laugh it off as a Garret prank.

Andy tells Cassidy that Ellie has talked her into going to the party. He’s angry, but he agrees to put in an appearance. Mrs. Crenshaw wishes the girls well and departs. Chugs goes to visit her shrink to get some drugs for the party. She finds him tied up and ready to play some disturbing sex games. Chugs goes into the bathroom to prepare and call Jessica that she’ll be late for the party. Meanwhile, an anonymous person wearing a cap and gown kills Chugs’ shrink with a tire iron. She sees the carnage, but before she can say or do anything, the killer jams a prescription bottle down her throat, then kills her with the tire iron, as well.

The party’s in full swing. Ellie goes down to the basement but is creeped out, so she calls Cassidy for moral support. Then she screams. Cassidy runs down, grabs Jessica and Claire, and they find Ellie staring in horror at half of Cassidy’s bloody jacket, which Jessica had wrapped around Megan’s body to frame her. They’re no longer so sure this was Garret’s doing, but they call Chugs to put a leash on him and get her VoiceMail. Ellie goes outside for air. In a foul mood because of what’s happening, Claire dumps Mickey. He tries to hit on Ellie, who threatens to kill him. Mickey tries to hook up with some na√Øve girls, when he has an encounter with the killer. He screams for help, but nobody can hear him over the music and fun. Ellie witnesses the entire thing. She screams, but when the girls go to her, she only repeats the mantra “cap and gown.” Cassidy tries to comfort her. They go upstairs to investigate and find Mickey’s body.

All their phones ring again — this time, it’s the video Megan recorded of her own murder, followed by two text messages. One urges them to return to the scene of their crime; the other says that if they don’t within 20 minutes, the sender will take the video to the police. Cassidy tells Andy to get into his car and get out of the house, but he’s not sure he can with all the parked cars. She begs him to try, then goes off with the other girls. They drive to the lake. On the way, frantic/drunk Jessica almost hits Maggie, who’s walking to their party. When they get to the lake, they find Garret waiting with the other bloody half of Cassidy’s jacket. Horrified and blaming them for the death of Megan, he comes after Cassidy with a broken piece of mirror. Jessica backs up and runs Garret over. They investigate the body and find he’s already slashed his wrists. They decide to look in the mine-shaft, with Ellie easing Cassidy down using a rope tied to Jessica’s car. At the bottom, Cassidy finds Megan’s body is gone, replaced with “Theta Die” scrawled in blood.

Horrified, they return to the sorority house, which is completely trashed. The party has died, though, abandoned by all but a few passed-out drunks. One explains that there’s an after-party at a frat. The girls throw out the remaining drunks. Jessica tries to turn off the music while Claire goes after the grinding, overheating Jacuzzi in the yard. Cassidy gets a text message from Chugs, saying she’s going to miss the party…because she’s dead. This terrifies Ellie. Claire tries to find the end of the extension cord giving power to the hot tub when she confronts the killer, who uses the cord to throw her through the window of the house, scaring the hell out of everyone. The killer then drags the body outside and finishes the job before Claire can answer whether or not the killer is an undead Megan.

They all go upstairs, seeking higher ground. While Ellie rambles about giving in to fate, Cassidy and Jessica find Kyle — wearing a graduation gown. Only he’s not the killer; he put the gown on to cover up the fact that he just had sex with — Maggie. They’re about to get into a huge fight when Cassidy notices a shadow down the hall. They investigate, Jessica picking up an emergency fireaxe. They see the distinctive shadow of a shotgun, and just as Jessica swings, the shadow reveals — Mrs. Crenshaw. She slams Jessica in the nose with the gun-barrel, breaking it and telling Jessica she deserves it. Jessica confesses they didn’t mean to kill Megan, letting Crenshaw and Maggie in on their secret. Suddenly she finds herself having to explain the entire story, and also admits she told Kyle. Cassidy’s enraged, because she’s the only one who kept the secret. Crenshaw catches sight of the killer in the window, fires the gun. It chases her into the kitchen and kills her before she can kill it; with her last breath, she shoots, but the killer dives away.

Ellie, Maggie, and Kyle have disappeared, leaving enemies Jessica and Cassidy stuck working together. Cassidy’s phone was smashed in the Claire incident, and the landline phone is dead. They go upstairs to grab Mickey’s phone. Maggie sees the killer downstairs with a molotov cocktail; she runs, and the killer doesn’t waste time with her. It drops the bomb on the porch, setting it ablaze. Cassidy grabs Mickey’s phone when Kyle bursts into the room, choking her and smashing the phone because calling the police would mean confessing their crimes, which would mean his plans with Jessica and political career will end before they begin. To lure him away, Jessica starts berating him. He goes after her with the fire axe, giving Cassidy the idea to grab the extinguisher. She sprays him, temporarily blinding him, then knocks him out.

Jessica and Cassidy run to a dead end and realize the house below is on fire. Kyle regains consciousness and continues after them with the axe. They hide in the bathroom, where Cassidy considers climbing a tree. Kyle tries to smash through the door, knocking out Jessica in the process. Cassidy opens the shower and finds Megan’s decomposed body. Kyle finally gets through the door and is about to advance on Cassidy — when Andy busts through the door and impales Kyle’s head with the axe. He hugs Cassidy, and Jessica notices the cap and gown in his bag. She gestures to Cass, who’s suddenly horrified. Jessica kills her, then Andy explains all his best laid plans — he needed to kill everyone who knew to protect the secret, and then they could be happy. Cassidy’s disgusted, but she plays along so she can get away. Andy’s going after Ellie, so Cassidy tries to get to her first. They both get outside, but Cassidy sees Maggie in the window. So does Andy, and he goes after her. Cassidy goes back into the burning house and uses Andy’s cell phone to post a photo of him attempting to kill Maggie onto a blog. Andy turns on Cassidy, about to kill her when Ellie gets him with the shotgun. They leave the house safely. At the bottom of the mine-shaft, where they left presumed-dead Garret, the nerd awakens with revenge in his eyes.

Comments:

This is actually a pretty good updated take on slasher movies. It bears very little resemblance to the original film, which is to its benefit, and although the characters could have more depth, they have enough individuality to differentiate one from the other. When the brutal murdering starts, we feel some emotional impact. The plot is simple but effective, the killings are fairly clever and well laid out, and the “whodunit” element subtly lays out a half-dozen possible suspects, narrowing it down only by their deaths.

It goes awry in two places: first, Andy’s terrible, James Bond-villain-style explanation of every single thing he’s done, how, why, and when. It’s two and a half pages of rambling dialogue to deliver information that even moviegoers making out in the back will already know — not to mention it’s cheesy and poorly written. I don’t mind Andy as the killer, but I do mind the on-the-nose details of his crimes. The second problem spot is, of course, the “set-the-stage-for-a-sequel” ending with Garret. It’s sloppily constructed: if there is a sequel, there’d be no suspense regarding who’s going after them. Also, most of them are dead, and the ones who aren’t have graduated. The “eyes popping open to prime audiences for a sequel” is an old cliché, but it’s rarely been this incomprehensible.

Despite these problems, this is a surprisingly well-written horror script with snappy, often funny dialogue, good pacing, and solid plotting.

This is one of those that will go far beyond hardcore horror fans, crossing over to mainstream success. Its college setting, female-dominated cast, and the quality of the script will bring in any 20-something (male or female) who’s willing to sit through a slasher movie, which recent slasher-remake successes have proven is a sizable chunk of moviegoers.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:54 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 22, 2008

The Book of Eli

Author: Gary Whitta and Anthony Peckham
Genre: Sci-Fi/Western/Action
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 9
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 9

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Recommend

Logline:

In a grim, post-Apocalyptic world, a corrupt slave-driver fights to obtain a true source of power — the Bible.

Synopsis:

In a decaying hellscape, ELI stalks a mutant cat. Wearing filthy clothes but carrying a shotgun, a samurai sword, and a packed rucksack (and a St. Christopher pendant), he traps the cat and kills it. He walks along the road past burned-out cars and debris. A YOUNG WOMAN struggles to get a shopping cart out of a ditch. Eli attempts to help her when a group of HIJACKERS pounce. Eli manages to kill them all with minimal effort and no injury. The Young Woman asks to go with Eli. He says no and keeps walking.

Eli comes upon a bombed-out, abandoned town. He spends the night in one of the houses, skinning and eating his cat. He uses a car battery to power an old iPod, listening to Mozart as he reads from an unknown book with a big brass lock. He feeds a little mouse a few particles of cat meat.

The next day, Eli journeys to the ruins of Sacramento, but the freeway overpass has collapsed. Below, he watches a group of bikers terrorize and kill a middle-aged couple. Forced to take that path, he walks along until he hits a junction with basic, pictogram signs. Eli turns on his iPod again, but his battery is dead. Eli follows the signs to a town in the valley. Built of the ruins of another bombed-out town, it’s like a demented version of Anytown, U.S.A. He seeks out an ENGINEER, a crazy man who pulls a gun on him within seconds of meeting. Eli’s cool and tough, trades a functioning Zippo lighter for a recharge on his battery. He asks the Engineer if the town has water; the Engineer points him to the Orpheum, a movie theatre that has now become a bar. In the Orpheum, the leader of the murderous bikers, MARTZ, pushes past REDRIDGE, second-in-command of town founder/leader HAWTHORNE. He gives Hawthorne a half-dozen books and magazines from various periods in history. Hawthorne’s enraged — none of these are what he wants. In exchange for the books, he gives the bikers free drinks and women for the night, but they have to go back out tomorrow and keep looking for the book he wants. He uses an old Newsweek that refers to an impending nuclear war between the U.S. and a Chinese/Islamo-fascist alliance as kindling.

Eli goes to the Orpheum and trades the bartender a few cat pelts for water. A cat, the bar mascot, hops on the bar. Eli shoos him away, which catches the attention of Martz. The bartender calls for SOLARA, a surprisingly cheerful 16-year-old waitress, to fetch some water for Eli’s canteen. Outside, Solara moves past a series of armed guards keeping watch over their farmers, animal herders, and gas tanker. Redridge sexually harasses her, but she shoves him away. He mutters that Hawthorne won’t protect her forever. Back in the bar, Martz approaches Eli to grumble about pushing his cat off the bar. Eli denies it, but Martz and the bikers get in Eli’s face. Eli kills them all but Martz. Upstairs, Hawthorne has sex with a blind woman named CLAUDIA. He hears the ruckus and goes downstairs just in time to see Solara chastise Eli and Martz for killing each other when it’s so hard to survive. Eli lets his guard down, but Martz still runs after him, impaling himself on Eli’s sword. Hawthorne demands to speak with Eli.

Hawthorne tells Eli it’s been a long time since he’s met someone “like him.” He laments the lack of literate, educated people and tells Eli he’s trying to protect his townspeople, who are clearly his slaves. He wants to hire Eli to help him. Eli refuses, saying he’s heading west. Hawthorne insists there’s nothing west of Sacramento, but Eli doesn’t care. Hawthorne decides not to give Eli a choice, threatening death if he doesn’t at least stay the night to consider helping. He gives Eli a room and sends Claudia to give him water for washing and food. Then he sends Solara in to sex him up, but Eli turns her down. Solara says Hawthorne will beat her mother if she doesn’t spend the night, so Eli allows her to sleep on the floor. Solara notices his book and demands to read it. Eli adamantly refuses, losing his cool for the first time. For the first time, we see the book is a Holy Bible. He offers to share food with her, teaches her to say grace.

The next morning, Solara talks over the night with Hawthorne and Claudia. She made no headway. Claudia offers her food, and Solara sits down and says grace, stunning Hawthorne. He asks where she learned this, and she tells him she thinks Eli got it from his book. Hawthorne asks what book. Solara mentions a symbol on it, makes the cross symbol with her fingers. Hawthorne demands to see this book, but Eli’s gone. He snuck out the window and took out the man guarding it. He’s at the engineer’s shop for his battery.

Hawthorne confronts Eli in the middle of Main Street. The entire town watches as they get into a gunfight. Eli kills everyone but Redridge and Hawthorne, but he knocks Hawthorne unconscious and takes his prized gun before heading out of town. Solara follows him, demanding to go with. Eli refuses until she mentions she knows where they keep the water. She leads him to an underground spring, heavily guarded. Eli takes out the guards, loads up with water, then locks Solara inside the spring so she can’t follow. Eli starts walking, and eventually Solara busts out of the door leading into the spring cave. She heads down a road into the middle of nowhere, where she finds a woman pulling the same scam Eli fell for earlier. Solara’s surrounded by hijackers, who chase her into the wreckage of an old 747. Eli comes back for her, kills all the hijackers. They head west together.

Hawthorne regains consciousness to find everyone in town staring at him. The tide has shifted — after what they’ve witnessed, the slaves feel less fear. Hawthorne and Redridge gas up some cars fortified with cheap old armor. Redridge grumbles about wasting resources for a book, and Hawthorne rails on him, saying it’s more than a book — it’s a weapon and a source of power. Redridge says if he helps, he wants Solara. Hawthorne agrees, and they head west. In the evening, Eli shows Solara how to hunt squirrels. They find shelter to use as a camp. Solara asks about his pendant. Eli explains that St. Christopher is the patron saint of travellers, and Solara asks what a saint is. Eli tries to explain, and Solara believes Eli is a saint. Eli says he’s killed too much to be a saint. Eli reads his Bible; Solara asks him to read some for her, but he won’t.

She asks what he meant the night before, when he said it was the last one. Eli explains that after the war, people blamed religion for everything that happened and burned all the Bibles that weren’t destroyed in the chaos. He says after the war, when everyone was hiding underground, he heard a voice telling him to go above and walk. It led him to a Bible and told him it was the last one. Solara thinks he’s crazy, but Eli doesn’t think so. Later, when he’s asleep, Solara tries to sneak a peek at his Bible. Instead, she finds a plastic badge identifying Eli as a former Wal-Mart employee. Her rummaging wakes Eli, who gets angry and reminds her she doesn’t even know how to read. Solara asks him to teach her. He goes back to sleep.

Near dawn, Hawthorne and Redridge find Eli and Solara’s tracks. They attack them, but they’re prepared. Eli booby-traps his car battery, wich is tied to a grenade that explodes and kills several men and collapses the parking garage they slept in. They start walking until they find a strange garden in the middle of the wasteland. Beyond the garden is a house, where Eli and Solara find an elderly couple; RAY, the husband, aims a shotgun at them, while his wife, LAUREN, offers them tea. They go into the surreal home, which resembles the “old” way of life as much as anything could. Eli and Solara notices a huge graveyard behind the house. It occurs to Eli that these people are cannibals, so they leave quickly — and see Hawthorne’s men heading toward them. Eli and Solara run back into the house, and before Ray can protest about the men heading toward them, they’re there. Ray shows Eli a huge chest full of weapons he’s stolen from people who tried to take their house. Hawthorne yells for the book. Eli pretends to send it out, but it’s actually a bomb that blows up one of the cars and takes out several men. As soon as it blows, they all fire the machine guns from Ray’s stash. Eventually, Hawthorne gets the drop on Solara and threatens to kill her if Eli doesn’t give him the book. Eli struggles with it, and finally gives up its location, behind the TV. Redridge grabs it, and they take the Bible and Solara and leave — but before they do, Hawthorne shoots Eli in the gut.

In one car, Solara strangles the driver with a snow-chain and impales Redridge on Eli’s sword (which she stole and hid). The car spins out, leading the two remaining vehicles to turn around. She rolls a grenade along the road, which Hawthorne’s car sees. They get out of the way, leaving the other car to explode. Meanwhile, Solara tosses the driver of her car out and heads back to Eli. Hawthorne doesn’t want to go back for her — he’s got the Bible. Solara finds Eli and dresses his wound. They drive to San Francisco — specifically, Alcatraz Island, where a militia guards the old prison. Eli tells them he has a King James Bible, and the guards let them in. The entire prison has been turned into a library, and BOOKER (who runs it) asks to see Eli’s book. He asks for writing paper and someone who can write, then dictates the Bible from beginning to end. Meanwhile, Hawthorne finally gets the brass lock off the Bible — only to find it’s in Braille. He demands that Claudia read it, but she doesn’t remember Braille. Some time later, Eli has died. Booker packs Solara full of books and sends her on a journey of her own — to teach people to read.

Comments:

Although the “sci-fi western” concept is not exactly a new one and the ending is basically a mash-up of the different endings of the Fahrenheit 451 book and movie, this story really works really well. The writers paints a vivid picture of a not-too-distant wasteland that feels like it could be real, but they fill the story with a sense of purpose, illustrating the importance of both faith and literacy while showing how dangerous each can be (via Hawthorne). Some of the symbolism is a little overwrought, but even the idea that these two men are willing to fight so hard for the same tool, yet use it in two separate and opposing ways, resonates.

The characters, for the most part, are well-drawn. On a few occasions, the writers lapse into bland explanations of the characters’ feelings and motivations, which they already establish clearly through actions, but these moments are not distractingly awful. The only character who doesn’t work was Solara. The writers make her an important part of the story, but her character comes across as thin when compared to solid characters like Eli and Hawthorne. She seems to see Eli as a father figure, but this is a dimension of her character that’s pretty much untapped. I would have liked to see more of her noticing the parallels between Hawthorne and Eli and making the choice to leave with the better man. At the same time, since Hawthorne comes off as ruthless and evil, it might be interesting to see if Solara leaving has any real emotional impact. Humanizing him would add an extra layer to him, although he’s pretty well-defined.

Once the story hit the third act, it felt a little like the writers were just trying to stretch things out with big action sequences. The attack in the parking garage, followed almost immediately by the attack at the cannibals’ house, felt like a little much. I’m all for action, but it was basically the same scene played twice. Like the lapses into on-the-nose dialogue, the writing isn’t bad, but the repetitive action set-pieces do weaken the narrative a little bit; of course, people coming for the action won’t have a problem with it.

Overall, this is a great script loaded with relevant, compelling themes and an interesting “good vs. evil” conflict centered around possession of the Bible — plus, it’s gussied up with a disturbing sci-fi setting and plenty of Wild West shootouts and explosions. Something for (almost) everyone.

Sci-fi is sometimes a tough sell, westerns even tougher, but with a big enough star in playing Eli and an emphasis on the action and ideas over the ideas of its genre, this will definitely bring in a big audience. The notion of these people fighting to preserve the Bible ought to play in conservative, religious parts of the country, although the idea of a gun-toting, Clint Eastwood-style hero doing the preserving could go either way, possibly creating some unwanted controversy — but that will probably bring in more moviegoers.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:29 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 23, 2008

Kane and Lynch

Author: Kyle Ward
Genre: Action
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 1
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 2

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

An ex-CIA operative and a schizophrenic scientist are forced to work together to unravel the plans of corrupt government officials.

Synopsis:

A grainy, security camera video shows ELIZA, 16, being forced by kidnappers to record a message for her father. She rambles about hating her father, and the video feed goes dead. KANE sits on a prison transport bus on its way to San Quentin. He holds an old, faded picture of Eliza. In flashback, we see how he got here: a man named COSGROVE convinces Kane to help kidnap Russian arms dealer VALENTIN, who recently made a deal with the CIA (who arrested him) — asylum in exchange for an encrypted chip called The Skeleton Key. They hook up with a group of Cosgrove’s mercenaries, but before they have a chance to do anything, all hell breaks loose — a van explodes, and they’re greeted with a hail of gunfire. In the midst of all this, a mercenary from the attacking (Russian) side grabs Valentin’s briefcase with the chip. More explosions, followed by police sirens, lead Kane to hop onto a double-decker tour bus. The driver helps remove all the tourists from the top level, then starts driving. AGENT CARMIKAEL, riding in a police car, follows the bus, then climbs on the back and up to the top, where he confronts Kane. They both shoot at each other. Carmikael gets hit in the kneecap while Kane’s cheek is grazed. Kane leaps off the bus, only to be cornered by more CIA agents. He gives himself up and is found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.

Back in the transport bus, LESTER LYNCH sits across from Kane, tapping rhythmically. Now it’s his turn for a flashback: he worked as a janitor at a technology company. He hears strange voices that he can’t control. His obnoxious boss harangues him, so Lynch beats the hell out of him with a mop handle, then slams his face into a Xerox machine multiple times. Lynch goes to a shrink and demands a stronger prescription. He goes home and tells his wife he quit his job. They have sex, and the next morning, he wakes up to find her dead and mutilated. A judge finds him guilty of murder and sentences him to death.

In the present, Lynch starts to shake. An annoyed GUARD gives Lynch his medication — two pills. Lynch lets one of them roll across to Kane, then mutters something about “The Seven” coming to get them, suggests Kane take the pill. Kane’s dubious, but he takes the pill — and a black armored truck slams through the prison bus, killing have the people on it and tearing the bus apart, spilling all the bodies on the freeway. Soldiers try to grab Kane and Lynch, but Lynch tries to fight back but is injected with a tranquilizer. In a mysterious interrogation room, Cosgrove apologizes to Kane about Venezuela, but he’s sending Kane on a new mission because he still needs the microchip. Kane doesn’t want to cooperate, so Cosgrove shows him a video feed of Kane’s wife, gagged and bound. Her cell has only 96 hours’ worth of oxygen. Cosgrove tells Kane he’s part of a group called “The Seven,” then brings in Lynch, who will work as his partner. Kane has the spy skills; Lynch has the chip knowledge. Lynch had been hired for a government-funded experiment called “Black Charon,” which used mentally unstabled people to act as human cryptograms. Only Lynch can decipher the Skeleton Key. Cosgrove shows Kane his target, RETOMOTO, who is now in possession of the chip. Kane says he’ll do it if Cosgrove releases his wife, so Cosgrove shows the video of Eliza that opened the script. Kane’s enraged, but he complies. Kane tries to escape, dragging Lynch with him. Cosgrove sends men after him, but Kane beats or kills all of them. Kane calls Cosgrove with a cell phone and says Lynch has now become his hostage, and if he does anything to Kane’s family, Lynch dies.

At CIA headquarters, CARMIKAEL limps to a younger agent, JEFFRIES, who says Kane disappeared in the prison bus accident. Enraged, Carmikael tells him to put together a task force. They’re going to San Francisco to investigate the crash themselves. Kane steals Lynch’s pill bottle and asks him about The Skeleton Key. Lynch says it’s familiar, but he can’t remember much about his past. All he knows is that the chip is loaded with launch codes for ex-Soviet nukes and that he believes the men who experimented on him actually caused his mental illness — and killed his wife. Kane and Lynch get fake IDs from a contact Kane has upstate, then the board a plane for Tokyo, which is where Retomoto was last seen. A stewardess treats Lynch well, but he has a psychotic episode and ends up choking her and shoving a hot towel down her throat. Kane leaps in to apologize and blame the psychiatric board.

Carmikael and Jeffries show up on the scene of the crash and are berated by FBI Special Agent BRISTO for investigating a crime outside his jurisdiction. While Bristo rambles at him, Carmikael uses his finely honed hearing to both tune Carmikael out and listen to background chatter. He catches the name Lynch and, satisfied, leaves, telling Jeffries to dig up intel on Lynch. In Tokyo, Kane and Lynch set up in a cheap motel; Kane explains they’re in the center of a yakuza hot spot, which will lead them to Retomoto. He explains his past with Retomoto — in South Korea, Retomoto seized a nuclear warhead and the CIA was brought in to retrieve it and kill Retomoto. At the last minute, they were told to stand down, bur Kane infiltrated anyway, getting nearly everyone on both sides killed, and Retomoto still got away. Watching the outside with binoculars, Kane spots a tubby American, HILDEBRANDT. They follow him to a bar. Lynch waits at the bar while Kane goes in back to get information about Retomoto out of Hildebrandt. He knows where Retomoto operates — Shibuya Tower — but doesn’t know any of the details. He tells Kane to find Higgins in the red light district. Meanwhile, Lynch is approached by a prostitute who questions his sexuality when he turns her down, so Lynch kills everyone in the bar.

Kane and Lynch get out before the cops show up, and Lynch confesses to Kane that he’s only sticking with him because he needs Kane’s help finding the people who killed his wife. Agents find a lead for Carmikael: an angry stewardess filed a complaint with the psychiatric board after being attacked on a plane to Tokyo. At a noodle house, deep-cover nerd HIGGINS is met by Kane and Lynch. Higgins knows the details of how to get into Shibuya and reluctantly agrees to help. For collateral, they kidnap Retomoto’s daughter and cut off her finger. Some high-wire acrobatics get them to the secure tower where Retomoto is. Kane kills Retomoto, they grab the chip, then after gunfights and a series of explosions, Kane and Lynch leap off the tower into a chopper flown by Higgins. Carmikael and Jeffries arrive at the airport just in time to see the Kane/Lynch exploits on the news. Higgins gains access to the chip, cracks its security. It starts streaming audio, which turns Lynch into a hypnotic decoder. Kane and Higgins realize that it’s not the chip — Lynch is The Skeleton Key. The chip just helps him unscramble what’s in his head.

Cosgrove taunts Eliza, who’s feisty. Kane calls and tells him he has what Cosgrove wants, so let his wife and daughter go and he’ll return Lynch. Cosgrove says he needs Lynch first, but Kane tries to push him. Cosgrove kills Kane’s wife. Cosgrove gives Kane instructions to meet at the docks in Seattle. In Seattle, Kane and Lynch wait. Cosgrove presents Eliza, still bound and gagged. Cosgrove presses a gun to her temple. Lynch is puzzled to learn he’s part of the exchange. Reluctantly, Kane hands over Lynch. Kane realizes Cosgrove is working for Valentin, realizes he’s the one who sold Kane out in Caracas. Cosgrove fires two in Kane’s chest, goes to shoot Eliza, but his gun is out of bullets. Cosgrove leaves Eliza with another man, BRECK, as he drags Lynch to a chopper.

Kane wills himself to regain consciousness, beats down Breck and gets Eliza back. Eliza yells at him, and Kane gives her a heartfelt apology for being a bad dad. Then, Breck regains consciousness and goes after Kane. They fight. Eventually, Kane kills Breck — and immediately they’re swarmed by FBI agents. They arrest Kane, and as they drive along a bridge, the CIA sets up a fake construction operation and grabs Kane. Kane apologizes for shooting Carmikael when Cosgrove turned out to be the bad guy. Kane knows Cosgrove is headed to Alaska, so they get into a chopper. They land on an abandoned shipping port at the edge of the Arctic Circle. Almost single-handedly, Kane takes out the security and leaves a trail of bodies all the way to Valentine and Cosgrove. As Kane handles Valentine (Cosgrove runs), he instructs Lynch to destroy the chip. Lynch does as a vat of oil is poured into the ocean and ignited. Kane and Lynch run.

They tear through more of Cosgrove’s men to get to the man himself. Cosgrove puts a gun to the back of Kane’s head, then Lynch puts a gun to the back of Cosgrove’s. Cosgrove warns Lynch that if he shoots, he’ll never find out what happened to his wife. Lynch shoots. The FBI raids the area. Lynch disappears, but Kane stays and takes his medicine.

Six months later. Kane’s at Leavenworth. He receives a letter from Eliza and a postcard from Venice. Kane looks at the postcard and finds it’s from Lynch, who describes his love of the city. A guard tells Kane he has a visitor. It’s Carmikael, saying they need a favor.

Comments:

This is a mediocre action script with some decent set-pieces and a ridiculous, overly convoluted plot that still manages to lack any surprises. Entirely pilfered from better movies, the plot has a cobbled-together feel that makes the narrative flow as schizophrenic as Lynch is supposed to be. By far the weakest aspect is the Eliza pseudo-subplot; her video opens the script, creating the illusion that she will be important at some point in the script. She’s not; Kane never mentions her — positively or negatively — except when Cosgrove is directly using her as a threat. We get no real sense that Kane cares about her, except in the general sense that a father would care about his daughter. She drifts out of the story for about 60 pages, comes back for another 10, then disappears again. She exists simply because the writer noticed every other action movie has some kind of domestic stakes, but Kane cares about as much for his daughter and wife (who’s seemingly even less important to him) as he would for a stranger being held hostage.

Worse than that, why make the plot so complicated when, at the end of the day, this is a script about people beating the shit out of each other and/or shooting each other? The goofy microchip story has no emotional impact, barely makes sense, and doesn’t really matter. If the writer streamlined everything, this would be much more satisfying.

At the risk of sounding overly harsh, the dialogue is atrocious. Every character — which ranges from a 16-year-old girl to middle-aged Japanese men — sounds like a sex-obsessed 13-year-old. The only exception is Lynch, who sounds like a 13-year-old who uses big words whose definitions he doesn’t fully understand to make himself sound smarter; this would be a funny characteristic if it were the writer’s intention, but Lynch is supposed to be some sort of insane genius, so it’s just terrible dialogue.

The characters have a tiny bit of meat to them, but not much. Part of their problem is the bad dialogue, but most of it is that their personalities seem completely tied to the plot. They don’t appear to have lives beyond what’s happening in the story — even the hints of backstory they give tie directly to the current story. The writer flashes back to what leads these characters to prison, but I would have liked to see more of them just acting like people — hobbies, interests, something to make them a little more than bland action-movie clichés. We never get anything like that, which is a major disappointment.

I have to admit, despite the severity of the script’s problems, it delivers on mindless action. Action fans might be disappointed with the incoherent resolution, but they will certainly enjoy the explosions, gunfights, and hand-to-hand combat. With big stars in the leads, it’s sure to draw an audience.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 9:13 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Taking Woodstock

Author: James Schamus
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A son schemes to save his family’s failing Catskills motel by bringing the Woodstock music festival to the little hamlet of White Lake, NY.

Synopsis:

Summer, 1969. A British gentleman arrives at the dilapidated, failing El Monaco Motel, run by apathetic JAKE TIBER (mid-60s) and his hostile, Russian wife SONIA. Sonia makes a chore of checking the man in, then watches a news report bringing us up to speed on current events: things are bad in Vietnam and Israel, while NASA eagerly awaits the arrival of the Apollo 11 crew on the moon. The gentleman comes back to complain about the room and demand a refund. Sonia argues with him until her son, ELLIOT, shows up. She tries to get Elliot to fight on her side, but he ignores the gentleman and reminds her they’re late for an appointment. They go to the bank in town, where JACKSON lets Jake, Sonia, and Elliot know that their motel is in dire financial straits; if they don’t pay off what they owe by the end of the season, the bank will have to foreclose. Elliot tries to work some magic by reminding the bank manager he’s the president of the Chamber of Commerce and that he’s forcing some initiatives that will bring more tourists past the failing motel. Jackson’s not buying it, so Sonia accuses him of anti-Semitism. Elliot calms her.

Elliot drives into New York City. Workmen are readying furniture to move out of his apartment. His sister, ESTHER, waits for him there. She asks if he’s gotten money owed to him from mobsters for whom he designed a club. Elliot mutters that they have a strict policy of not paying designers. Elliot tries to sell Esther some of his paintings, but she already has too many. She wonders why he doesn’t just go to California, but Elliot doesn’t have the money. At a gay bar, Elliot asks his friend STEVE for advice; Steve just mocks Elliot’s parents and tells him to go to California. Elliot drives back to the El Monaco, where he finds Jake pouring bleach into the pool. Sonia yells at Elliot for wanting to wash used sheets. He’s baffled.

Elliot runs a Chamber of Commerce meeting in the basement of the local church. It’s just Elliot and a group of mostly bored locals, none of whom have any real idea of how to jumpstart the town’s economy — the best suggestion is a Pamplona-style running of the bulls. DAN tries to move them on to more important business — like preparing for his fish-toss tournament. After the meeting, Elliot says goodnight to Dan and his wife, CAROL. Suddenly, Dan’s freaked-out brother, BILLY, leaps out of their car, having something resembling a Vietnam flashback. Dan calms him down, then head home. Later, at the El Monaco, Elliot has sex with Dan; afterward, Dan gripes about his brother, then drives home, afraid to leave Billy alone with Carol for too long. At the local drugstore, Elliot runs into MAX YASGUR, a pleasant dairy farmer who’s looking forward to Elliot’s annual music festival. He says he loves listening to Elliot’s records on the lawn. Elliot excitedly announces he’s trying to get live music this year. He’s shown a newspaper announcing a big music festival, headlined by Janis Joplin, that’ll be hosted in nearby Wallkill. At the motel, Elliot discusses setting the motel on fire to collect the insurance money; Jake nixes it by saying they canceled their policy. Elliot discovers that Wallkill’s mayor canceled the music festival because of the hippies.

When Elliot overhears some others mention how great it’d be to host the festival, he gets an idea and puts in a call to the person in charge — burnout wannabe-visionary MICHAEL LANG, who arrives shortly thereafter by helicopter, along his assistant, TISHA, and investors, MEL and STAN. Michael reminds Elliot that they grew up together in Bensonhurst; Elliot barely remembers him. Elliot shows them the land beyond the hotel — it’s a swamp. They’re ready to pack up and go when Elliot realizes Max has acres of unused land that could be use. They work out an arrangement with Max and Elliot — $5000 to use Max’s land, $5000 to rent out the El Monaco for the season and as a fee to sell festival tickets, plus $25,000 to Elliot for his services as “liaison.”

Soon, Max realizes what a burden hosting this festival will be and demands $75K. The investors don’t want to pay it, but Max needles them, saying they spent a million in Wallkill, so $75K is a drop in the bucket. The investors are still reluctant, but they’re pressed for time — they agree. Later, Dan and some other townspeople confront Elliot over ruining the town by bringing in hippies. Elliot disagrees, as do several other local hotel owners who have already sold out for the season. Elliot comes home to find Jake and Sonia baffled by some hippies who want festival tickets. Elliot translates. At a Chamber of Commerce meeting, Elliot is greeted by half the town hurling insults at him. He shuts them up and gives a melodramatic, Capra-esque speech about what a great opportunity this is. After a beat, they continue to hurl insults. Elliot adjourns the meeting and sneaks out the back entrance. Michael convinces Elliot to act as a local spokesperson for the festival, but Elliot’s terrified to do the job. The hippie element continues to grow in the town, as do various anti-Semitic and anti-Elliot signs from townspeople, placed in front of the motel.

News hits about the Tate/LaBianca murderers and the word that it was done by hippies who are still at large. The town is in an uproar, include Sonia. Elliot notices the townspeople are profiteering off the hippies’ gullibility, Sonia included. He yells at her, but she pays no attention. A couple of menacing townspeople try to threaten Elliot, Jake, and Sonia into paying them to act as security. The family gets into a raucous fistfight with to them until they back down and slink away. Elliot takes Michael to Jackson to open a savings account. Jackson doesn’t want to handle hippie money, until Jackson presents him with $250,000 in cash to deposit. He immediately closes up for the day and handls Michael personally.

Elliot apologizes to Max for bringing in all these hippies, who have started to camp out on his property weeks before the festival will start. Max thinks they’re great — the only people he has a problem with are his intolerant neighbors and ex-friends. Elliot means an ex-Marine transvestite named VILMA who offers security services. Before Elliot’s big, public press conference, he’s nervous, so a YOUNG GIRL gives him a joint. He gets in front of reporters and embarrasses himself — but worse than that, he suggests that people who come to the festival will get in for free. This brings a massive surge of people, none of whom intend to pay for tickets. Vilma and Jake direct a huge traffic jam outside the motel — the first time something like this has ever happened. Afterward, Vilma mentions how complimentary Jake is about Elliot’s paintings. Elliot’s baffled. There’s a news report of State Police making the thruway, which is backed up from the George Washington Bridge to the Catskills exits, one-way. Sonia fears evil spirits, fears even more that Jake will have a heart-attack from all the excitement, and fears the guilt Elliot should feel for causing it.

Some of the townspeople band together to shut down the concert, as news reports announce more than 500,000 people have arrived in White Lake. Elliot laughs at them, and so do the police. Vilma and Jake chase the locals around. Because of the traffic, Elliot asks a State Trooper to escort him from the motel to Yasgur’s farm. A montage of Woodstock activities follows. Elliot hooks up with a couple of random strangers, who convince him to drop acid. An acid-trip montage follows. Elliot goes back to the El Monaco, where Jake and Sonia both generally act like parents, humiliating Elliot and causing him to lash out at them and then leave. Vilma gives Jake and Sonia some hash brownies. Later, Dan comes to Elliot to make a quiet confession: Carol left him because she caught him cheating with two Negroes. Elliot laughs, but Dan gives him a note to give to Billy, then leaves. Elliot wakes his parents and discovers Sonia has saved $97K over the course of 20 years — but she was still going to let the motel fold because they owed $5000. Jake had no idea, but the parents decide that now that they’re rich, it shouldn’t matter. Elliot is flummoxed.

It begins to rain, delaying the concert as the crew deals with the difficult electrical situation. Elliot gives the note to Billy, which says that Dan ran off to enlist. Both Billy and Elliot take this hard. Jake thanks Elliot for bringing the concert here — it reinvigorated him during a time when he felt his health was failing. Elliot saved his life, and Jake wants to return the favor. He begs Elliot to go. Before he leaves, Elliot asks Jake how he stayed with Sonia for 40 years. Jake smiles and says he loves her. For the first time, Elliot arrives at the concert — just as its ending, with Jimi Hendrix playing the last notes of his “Star Spangled Banner.” He bumps into Michael, on horseback, who tells him that he’s planning another, even better concert in San Francisco and that Elliot shouldlook him up if he ever makes it out that way. Michael rides away as Elliot watches the concert cleanup.

Comments:

This script is at its absolute best when it focuses on Elliot and his family. Their internal struggles, as well as their unity to fight the encroaching hippie lifestyle and the outdated conservative values of their friends, makes for the only really compelling stuff here. Every time Elliot was with the family, the script hums along — great, well-written characters thrust into situations that overwhelm them.

Unfortunately, the script strays from the family too often. There is a ridiculous number of characters and little tangential not-quite-subplots littering the script; I omitted most of them from the synopsis because they’re both irrelevant to the main narrative, and they’d make the synopsis about 17 pages long. There’s so much going on, but none of it comes close to being as interesting as what’s happening with the Tiber family at any given moment. Admittedly, this includes things like their interactions with people like Dan, Billy, and Max, as well as the festival promoters — but when the writer drifts away from the Tibers interacting with these people, and each other, the story instantly becomes less interesting.

Because the writer veers off the beaten path frequently, especially in the second and third acts, the overall story feels loose and unfocused. The plethora of supporting characters have little to no development (other than Dan and Billy, and to a lesser extent Max and Michael), which makes their misadventures even less interesting. It’s a shame, because the core story is actually very funny and has a lot of heart.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 2:49 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Saint Vincent

Author: Cameron Young
Genre: Drama/Crime
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A mobster trying to carry out a hit is mistaken for a priest by his intended target.

Synopsis:

Early 1960s. Manhattan. Mobster FRANKIE SMILES forces a crane operator to crush one car in a passing motorcade with his wrecking ball. He goes to a dank office in the Bronx, where SAL and PETE wait. Behind them, hidden in shadows, is mob boss DON ANGELO (ANGIE). Sal and Pete taunt Frankie because the hit killed everyone except the target, who was transported to the hospital and is under 24-hour FBI surveillance. Angie says he’s going to bring Vincent on this job. Frankie balks, but Angie’s the boss.

In Chicago, VINCENT NOVENA watches a mobster return to his car from a pizzeria. He climbs into the car, starts it, and it explodes. Satisfied, he drives away. At an apartment building, he rigs the elevator so that the doors open without the elevator car moving. His mobster target pushes the button for the elevator and walks into the shaft, plunging to his death. Vincent quickly fixes the elevator and leaves. He goes to New Orleans, where he shoots another mobster. Vincent returns to his home in St. Petersburg, Florida. He buys a New York Times, which has a headline referring to the opening incident, about a banker surviving an assassination attempt. Vincent flips to the personal ads and finds a coded message to “Saint Vincent,” “Love, Angela.” Vincent sets down the paper and sees Frankie Smiles waiting for him. Vincent mocks him for his failure, but Frankie doesn’t want to hear it. He’s just there to escort Vincent back to New York.

At his hotel, Vincent lays out his weapons and various articles of subterfuge (e.g., doctor’s white coat, police uniform), Vincent surveils the hospital, tries to figure out how to penetrate the security. He goes to a café, where he’s waited on by an attractive girl, LUCY. They recognize each other, flirt a bit. She asks him to stick around, but he disappears on her. Vincent goes to St. Amelia’s, a cathedral. He wanders around the shadowy place, stuffs some money in the poor box. At Mercy Hospital, a PRIEST tries to push past the detectives waiting outside. They start asking questions, and the priest looks up — it’s Vincent. He has a detailed cover story, so they reluctantly let him in. Vincent goes up to the fifth floor, where he sees three federal agents on the target’s door. Vincent wanders, memorizing everything he can about this particular floor — faces, nurses’ work schedules, etc. — when he finds a tough-looking agent with a CREWCUT staring at him. Vincent goes to the elevator, and Crewcut follows. He asks Vincent about confession.

Vincent answers the questions in detail but is surprised when Crewcut actually wants him to talk to ALEXANDER KNOX, Vincent’s target, rather than himself. He leads Vincent into the room. Knox is asleep; Vincent agrees to wait for him to awaken. Crewcut leaves them alone. Vincent sneaks into the bathroom and finds a microphone wired so the agents can listen from the hall. He assembles a .22 handgun and attaches a silencer, then goes back into the room. He maneuvers a pillow over Knox’s face to protect from the splatter, then listens for the right moment. Outside, he hears the wail of a bus’s airbrakes, so he waits for the bus to get closer — and then he hears a loud wheezing, which turns into a moan. There’s another patient in the room, a kid in an iron lung. A NURSE comes in to check on him, with Crewcut following; Vincent hides the gun. Knox wakes up and brightens when he sees Vincent. Crewcut introduces them. Knox makes an absurd non-confession about dreams and Saul/Paul’s epiphany on the road to Damascus. Vincent’s bewildered but plays along until Knox falls asleep. Vincent prepares to go after him again when Crewcut interrupts — the D.A. has arrived for Knox, who intends to testify against Angie.

Crewcut leads Vincent through the children’s ward, asking how the confession’s going, then asking about confessions in general — how absolution and penance work, how many “repeat offenders” he gets, etc. Vincent gives fairly generic answers, even as Crewcut’s questions get more penetrative. Across from the hospital, on the roof of a brownstone, Vincent is dressed as a TV repairman. He finds the antennae on the roof and pulls a radio receiver/reel-to-reel out of his toolbox. He clips a wire to it and listens through earphones, picking up the signal Crewcut has set up. He overhears Knox and Crewcut arguing. Knox refers to money he stole from Angie (nearly a million dollars), says he wants to donate it to the children’s ward. Crewcut tries to convince him it’s a waste of money — these kids are all going to die anyway.

Vincent goes to a liquor store to buy some whiskey and cigarettes requested by Knox. Frankie Smiles tracks him there and tells him Angie wants to see him. He’s in the confessional at St. Amelia’s, so he’s still shrouded in shadows. He tells Angie that he’s sure Vincent is just being careful, but he hears rumors that Vincent has been close enough to pull off the hit and hasn’t. He tells Vincent that he should go faster, but if he can’t, he should tell Angie if there’s anything he overhears while waiting. Vincent says nothing.

Later, he follows Lucy to her apartment, knocks on the door. They play catch-up awkwardly — she’s now a widower, kind of lamenting the fact that she and Vincent never got together. He claims to be a TV antenna salesman. She believes him, softens a bit. They make love. In the middle of the night, Vincent tries to sneak away, but stops to write a note. Lucy gets up, hands him a rosary she claims he left behind the last time they made love (years ago). He goes back to his hotel, sleeps, dresses in his priest outfit, goes back to the hospital. Knox is having tests done, so Crewcut and a doctor beg Vincent to give a dying child last rites. Vincent is uncomfortable, but he does it to keep his cover. Vincent goes back to Knox’s room. Knox asks about the first time he ever performed last rites; Vincent tells a story — obviously true, except for the part about him being the priest — about a five-year-old kid who got hit by a car.

Some time later, Knox asks Vincent a bunch of questions about moral relativism; Vincent gives a bunch of noncommittal answers, eventually telling Knox he needs a philosopher, not a priest. Knox says he wants to whisper his prayers to Vincent. Vincent prepares him to do this by bringing another pillow behind his head, ostensibly to raise the neck but really so he can position his .22 behind it. Knox leans in to whisper as the bus approaches, and Vincent is so surprised by what he hears that he doesn’t pull the trigger. Meanwhile, Crewcut can’t hear a thing over the bus brakes. Disoriented, he runs away, but as he runs through the hospital lobby — he sees Frankie, dressed as an orderly. He asks for courtesy phones, but they’re broken. Outside, Vincent searches for a phone booth, eventually ending up in a bar. The only phone is in the back, where BIG AL refuses to let a priest use a phone for a matter of life and death. Vincent wraps the phone cord around Al’s neck and hangs up on him. He dials the hospital, asks for Crewcut. He’s not there, so the hospital tries connecting him elsewhere. Vincent hangs up, runs outside as a fire truck roars by. He heads back to the hospital, where he sees a fire blazing in the children’s ward. He sneaks past the cops into the hospital, runs up, and saves the kid in the iron lung by diving out onto a huge catcher in the street below.

After he’s checked out by a paramedic for a concussion, the press start chasing Vincent, who can’t have his photo taken. He starts running, then sees Big Al driving in a car. He forces Big Al to drive him far, as quickly as possible. They end up in the Jersey marshlands. Vincent walks Big Al out into the middle of nowhere, pretending he’s going to kill him; instead, he lives him alone but steals the car. Fingering the rosary, Vincent drives to Lucy — still in his priest clothes. She takes one look at the collar, punches him, and slams the door. We hear Knox’s whispered confession — he told Vincent exactly where to find the missing stolen money — accompanied by a montage of Vincent following the trail Knox laid out, at Knox’s mother’s gravesite. Just as Vincent gets the money, he turns around to find Frankie leading Knox to him. Frankie is amused by this predicament, while Vincent chastises him for killing so many innocent people. Frankie doesn’t care. He gets the drop on Vincent, knocks him out, takes him back to Angie’s warehouse.

As Vincent regains consciousness, Frankie sets up a reel to reel and the phone rings. Sal picks it up — it’s Don Angelo, who sends Frankie on an errand. With him gone, Vincent tricks Sal and Pete into enjoying his whiskey and smokes — when, in fact, both are laced with poison. They both die, and just as Vincent gets himself out of his handcuffs, Angie shows up. He plays the tape of Crewcut and Knox arguing about the stolen money, then tells him he knows all about Vincent letting Knox go. Angie takes him to another part of the warehouse, where they have Knox strung up. He’s been brutally beaten. Angie gives Vincent a knife, forces him to kill Knox right in front of him, after which he can go after Frankie for mucking things up so badly in the first place — this will be his penance. Instead, he jams the knife into Angie’s hard and cuts Knox free. Frankie returns to the warehouse just as the FBI surrounds the place. Frankie has just enough time to shoot Vincent before the FBI rush in and arrest him. Crewcut calls an ambulance for Vincent, but it’s too late. Vincent forces Crewcut to absolve him of his sins, which he reluctantly agrees to. He begs Crewcut to do one more thing — another inaudible whisper.

Crewcut talks to the CORONER, who’s puzzled by the dead priest. Crewcut mutters that he’s just another criminal. The Coroner asks why he was dressed like a priest. Crewcut shrugs, then they go out for coffee.

Comments:

This is a compelling but ultimately unsatisfying story with a nice, gritty neo-noir feel. The writer does a nice job with the sense of place and the unpleasant characters, and the dialogue is mostly good, aside from a few flat chunks of exposition near the beginning.

Vincent’s a puzzler, and really, his ambiguity causes the downfall of this script. He spends the entire story impersonating a priest, being grilled by Crewcut and Knox with all sorts of difficult theological and philosophical questions. The problem is, we’re never sure whether or not his answers are reliable — is he answering for himself or in the guise of a priest? We don’t get a clear sense of who he is. He’s so taciturn that he makes decisions for unclear reasons (e.g., did he take the money out of greed or to atone for his sins?), and he vacillates between “stately priest” and “cold-blooded sociopath” (as in the scenes with Big Al) it muddles the idea that, perhaps, he wants to atone for his life of sin. The inconsistency is also what makes me question the reliability of his responses to questions while acting as the priest.

Narratively, the story goes off the rails in the third act. It’s mostly just an extended monologue from Angie — who does not come across as sinister as we’re supposed to think he is — followed by a double-cross so obvious, it’s even commented on in the script itself (though that doesn’t forgive it for still being obvious), and his death does not seem to serve a real person. The writer mentions Vincent looking peaceful in the morgue, but again, his character becomes so murky by the end of the script, it’s very hard to understand why the events of this story have led him to peace.

A seemingly minor but actually significant issue is the strange moment when, after hearing Knox’s confession, Vincent runs from the hospital, seeing Frankie along the way and trying to call to warn somebody. I understand that he can’t go as “Father Novena” and tell Crewcut a mobster’s after Knox — but why couldn’t he take care of Frankie himself? This might have led to a more interesting, natural conclusion, with Vincent killing one of his own — in fact, a distorted mirror version of himself, as he’s also a Mafia hitman — and that betrayal leading to the problems with Angie, rather than recovering Knox’s stolen money.

This script has a lot of nice individual moments, and I liked quite a bit of it, but it just doesn’t tell a consistently good (or coherent) story.

It’s certainly targeted at fans of crime capers and gangster movies — whether or not they like it is another story. It’s bleakness and deliberate pace will likely drive away fans of more violent, action-driven crime movies, while the action-heavy third act will likely annoy fans of depressing, character-driven film noir.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:53 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 24, 2008

Tormented

Author: Stephen Prentice
Genre: Horror
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

One by one, popular kids at a local high school are getting killed — could the killer be the ghost of a kid they bullied until he committed suicide?

Synopsis:

The HEAD TEACHER leads a group of his students to the funeral of recently deceased 17-year-old Darren Mullet. He gives a brief speech about the tragedy, then turns the floor over to JUSTINE, the attractive and confident ‘Head Girl.’ Justine gives a speech about friendship, enraging a kid named JASON BANKS, who shouts that she’s a hypocrite in the midst of a barrage of obscenities. The Head Teacher and the GAMES TEACHER drag Jason away, as he screams that the other kids murdered him.

TASHA and BRADLEY — the obnoxious queen and king of the school — smoke among the headstones. ALEXIS keeps his distance, staring after Justine. Just as a teacher chastises them for smoking, MARCUS pulls up in his car and tells them the Head Teacher has given them the afternoon off Alexis casts another wistful glance at Justine. In another part of the headphones, a group of goth goofs (NASSER, TIM, and MAI LEE) discuss how beautiful death is. KHALILAH, SOPHIE, and HELENA, more popular girls, stroll past the goths. Sophie gets a text announcing a party at Brad’s tonight. Helena is disgusted, but the other two are thrilled. Alexis tells Bradley and the others that he’s going to ask Justine to the party. They mock this decision. He goes to Justine, who’s talking to Helena and EMILY, and asks her. Helena renews her disgust, but to her surprise, Justine agrees to go with Alexis. Helena tries to talk Justine out of it, but she says she wants some fun and scampers off. Helena says they do have fun, but Emily’s facial expression suggests this isn’t true.

At Bradley’s house, DJ JEZ mocks Justine the instant she walks in the door, to the rage of Alexis, Marcus, and Bradley. They throw Jez out of the party. They toast Darren Mullet, a.k.a. Shrek, but Justine admits she doesn’t even remember what he looked like. Everyone finds this amusing. Drunk, Jez wanders through the cemetery and pisses on Darren’s grave. He shouts hostilities at it, but this turns out to be a bad decision — he’s impaled on the wooden grave marker. Jez manages to crawl away slowly. Back at the party, Nasser, Tim, and Mai Lee share a tiny joint and describe how great their suicides will be. Irritated by the noise, Alexis drags Justine to somewhere a little quieter. They start kissing when Alexis’s phone starts buzzing with a text message. Alexis ignores it, not realizing it’s from Darren Mullet and is a threat on his life.

Bradley gets a similar text message and calls the number back, angry. All he hears is somebody breathing; he assumes it’s Jason Banks. In the garage, a mystery person grabs some gardening shears, then decides a chainsaw would be better. It goes back into the house. Just as Alexis tries to convince Justine to take things to the next level — a chainsaw-wielding maniac bursts into the bedroom, scaring the hell out of both of them. It’s just Bradley playing a prank. In the backyard, an actual mystery person stares at Justine through the window. We can’t see his face, but he wears a school uniform and uses an asthma inhaler.

The next morning, Helena and Emily are horrified to find Justine has officially become one of the “in-crowd,” walking into school with her arms linked with Justine. The Head Teacher forces Jason to apologize to Justine. He’s reluctant and insincere. A secretary tells the Head Teacher that Jez’s parents are concerned that he didn’t come home. The Head Teacher is sure he’ll turn up. Jez’s body has been shoved into a compost bin at the cemetery, which the groundskeeper doesn’t notice as he dumps in a bag of grass clippings, obscuring Jez forever. Outside the Head Teacher’s office, Justine asks Jason what he expected her to do — tell the truth in front of his grieving parents? Jason’s angry because Darren was madly in love with Justine, but she doesn’t even remember what he looked like. He hands her a note, saying Darren would have wanted her to have it. It’s Darren’s suicide note, which mentions that the motivation for his suicide is that Justine has finally joined in on the nastiness. She’s terrified and confused.

Nasser talks about mixing together a mash-up of the funeral march and some hip-hop song. Bradley confronts him about taking down a website. Nasser says he’ll do it. Justine finds a Care-Bear — which was placed on Darren’s grave by his parents — in her locker. She doesn’t realize it’s the same, thinks Alex left it for her, is touched. In English class, the teacher discusses the ghost of Banquo appearing to Macbeth. Helena struggles in vain to answer the questions about why the ghost appeared; the teacher calls on the distracted Justine, who believes Banquo was a figment of Macbeth’s guilt-ridden imagination. The teacher jumps on that, thrilled with the answer. Nasser records a song in the school’s recording studio. The Schoolboy appears, somehow ties Nasser’s wrist-straps to the chair, keeping him from getting up. He forces the music volume to such an obscene degree that Nasser’s ears bleed, drums puncturing, deafening him. Still tied to the chair, he bounces down the hall screaming that it was Darren Mullet.

Alexis apologizes to Justine for Bradley’s prank. The Schoolboy watches this from a distance, then stalks Justine as she walks around the girls’ locker room, alone, after school. He does nothing to her. We become aware that the Schoolboy is, in fact, Darren’s mutilated corpse. The next day, Justine confronts Jason about the suicide note — he says she never bullied Darren. She doesn’t even remember him. Jason describes to her what it feels like to be bullied, mentions they even set up a website to mock Darren, so the bullying didn’t end when he went home from school. She wants to know who bullied him, and Jason points her to the in-crowd. Justine takes the suicide note to Alexis, asking what he knows about it. The others take the note and pass it around, awed. Tasha sets the note on fire. Later, Tasha, Sophie, and Khalilah decide Helena is the one pretending to be Darren. They invite Justine to confront her, but she’s disturbed by her former friend being the subject of their bullying. She doesn’t stop them but doesn’t participate, leaving for an activity.

After school, Sophie goes to the pool to swim some laps by herself. Darren forces her head underwater until she drowns. Justine invites Alexis over to her house and confronts him about the website. Alexis says he knows about it, and he tried not to get involved, but Bradley’s a prankster. Justine is thrilled to hear this — so thrilled, in fact, that they have sex. Darren watches from outside, getting increasingly angry. After Alexis leaves, Darren sneaks into the house, leaves some wilted flowers, tears the ‘Head Girl’ badge off her uniform lapel, then rearranges a series of refrigerator magnets to spell out some hostilities about Justine’s relative sluttiness. The next day, Justine confronts Alexis about this. He assures her he’s clueless. During soccer practice, somebody kicks the ball out far. Marcus goes to fetch it — and finds Darren, who chases him, eventually killing him. The bodies of Sophie and Marcus are found, freaking the entire school out.

The in-crowd kids discuss Marcus and whether or not the ghost of Darren is to blame. Alexis lets slip that he did participate in some of the Darren bullying, enraging Justine. She walks away. That night, Bradley and Tasha get drunk and try to dig up Darren’s grave to make sure it’s not him. They end up having sex in the backseat of his car instead, and then Darren kills them both. Alexis goes to Justine’s house, and Justine demands to see the website. It’s a series of videos — all of them hosted by obnoxious Alexis — designed to humiliate Darren. The worst video, for Justine, is one in which the in-crowd girls try to convince Darren that Justine wants him to ask her out. They push him into talking to her, but she’s on the phone. She ignores him, so the girls shove Darren onto him, pissing her off. She shoves him away, and he drops his inhaler. Justine, meanwhile, is thrilled because she’s been accepted into a program at Oxford. Meanwhile, the in-crowd kids all play keep-away with his inhaler. At one point, they drop the inhaler near Justine. She picks up, and Darren is relieved — until she smiles at Alexis and throws it to him.

Justine’s so embarrassed by her behavior, she forces Alexis to leave. The next morning, Justine goes to Jason to apologize to him. She tries to apologize to Helena, who accuses her of being too self-absorbed to notice anything around her. Meanwhile, Khalilah is desperate to find Tasha; she receives a text telling her to meet Tasha in the art room. In the art room, Jason is confronted by Darren, who stabs him in each nostril with pencils, jamming them into his brain. The Head Teacher pulls Justine aside to say Tasha and Bradley were found dead. Khalilah goes into the art room. Jason’s nowhere to be found. Darren sticks a plastic bag over hesr head and suffocates her. Alexis rushes to Justine with a screwdriver. He’s terrified about Darren and goes to try and kill him. Justine follows. Alexis stabs Darren with the screwdriver; it has no effect. Darren stabs Alexis through the hand when Justine notices Darren’s reliance on the inhaler. He grabs it, but Darren smacks it away. Alexis smashes it, so Darren strangles him, then turns his attention back to Justine. Police find Justine with the screwdriver and corpses, and she insists it was Darren Mullet. They arrest her and drive her away, with Justine seeing the ghost of Darren taunt her while nobody else sees a thing. The Games Teacher is approached by the ghost of Darren, who hands him a note saying he can’t do games because he’s dead. The Games Teacher asks if this is a joke. Darren shakes his head.

Comments:

Tormented is a rather bizarre read. Since it pits bullies against the ghost of their now-dead victim, none of the characters (except Jason, the only non-bully) even come close to generating sympathy. The writer tries, in vain, to wring some sympathetic moments out of Justine, but, ironically, the more we get to know her, the less likable she becomes. As a result, when the characters die, there’s no emotional impact. When Justine is wrongly arrested at the end, there’s no emotional impact. In the Darren-torturing videos, the characters come across as so relentless and cruel, they lose what little humanity they have and leave us feeling like they deserve whatever Darren dishes out. We’re left feeling like Darren is the good guy, but if that’s the case, it would be nice to get to know him in a non-zombified state — maybe using the first act to establish who he is, then have him kill himself and stalk his victims from beyond the grave.

It might have also been more interesting if the writer played more with the idea of bullying. These kids’ shenanigans are ridiculous and over-the-top (and pretty juvenile for people about to graduate high school). What if they weren’t so bad? What if Darren had some sort of emotional problems leading him to overreact to what was, at worst, aggressive teasing — not outright, life-threatening bullying. Adding this moral gray area allows every character, including Darren, to gain more complexity, and it allows the victims to become as sympathetic as their killer.

As it is now, the story is littered with both slasher-movie clichés and high-school-movie clichés. For every death that’s ironic and mildly clever, there are two or three that are just killing with whatever’s convenient. The soapy histrionics between Alexis and Justine come close to working but, as I mentioned above, when she starts to lose sympathy in the third act, the compassion for the relationship drama crumbles right along with it. Worse than that, the ending left me confused. Early in the script, they have their Macbeth discussion, which comes back rather unsubtly at the end, with Justine mirroring that famous scene as she sees Darren but nobody else does. So, wait, are we left to believe Darren was a figment of their guilt-ridden imaginations and they all somehow committed suicide? Then that’s immediately negated with the absurd ending with Darren and the Games Teacher. This scene also suddenly made me wonder if I’d just read a satire of slasher movies. If that’s supposed to be the case, they really need to play up the humor and satirical intent. Much of the script is fairly humorless and dull, so this final scene comes out of left field.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:23 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

The Cold Light of Day

Author: Scott Wiper & John Petro
Genre: Action/Thriller
Storyline: 9
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 9

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Recommend

Logline:

While on vacation in Spain, a high-strung businessman discovers his father was an American spy and is fored to unravel the conspiracy surrounding his father’s murder.

Synopsis:

WILL SHAW, an athletic American in his 30s, waits in the customs line after arriving in Valencia, Spain. He checks e-mail on his Blackberry, then puts on a Bluetooth earpiece and yammers nonstop, even after airport guards tell him to turn of the cell phone. Outside, he meets his mid-20s brother, JOSH, a nerdy artist type. Will’s already back on the phone, while Josh playfully mocks him. When Will finally gets off the phone, they mock-punch each other, then get in a cab. Will mocks Josh’s long college career and inability to commit to relationships, then Will’s back on the phone. He’s alerted that he must be back in New York within three days, not the scheduled week. Josh says their parents won’t be happy, but Will grumbles they should be happy he showed up at all. On a rented sailboat, Will reunites with mother LAURIE and meets Josh’s attractive girlfriend, JESSICA. Swimming in the ocean is Will’s studly, athletic father, MARTIN.

When martin gets up to the boat, they try to top each other with international-flight knowledge; at dinner, they continue this with knowledge of Mediterranean cuisine and fine wines. Will drops the bombshell that he has to leave by Wednesday, which causes an argument. Martin says they’re sailing to Gibraltar — with or without Will. Will gets another phone call, which he sneaks off to take. Later that night, Will kisses his mother goodnight and goes to bed. Through the door, he can see Martin in the aft cabin, drinking cognac and staring out into the night. The next day, they’re sailing — Martin’s a stern skipper, while Will couldn’t care less. He sneaks to check his Blackberry e-mail. Will’s enraged, and sailing-related chaos ensues, leaving Jessica, the least experienced sailor, with a massive gash on her head. Laurie’s an experienced nurse, but she knows they need more advanced supplies than what’s in the first aid kit. Martin blames Will for the accident and throws the Blackberry into the ocean. Martin and Josh rage against Will’s selfishness, so Will dives into the ocean to swim ashore and buy the needed medical supplies.

Unable to remember much of his high school Spanish, Will fumbles through buying the supplies. He runs back to the harbor — and the sailboat has disappeared. Will rushes to the police, begs them to help him look. Nobody really believes him, but they do agree to look with him. They find the sailboat moored in a hidden cove — empty. Will panics as the police captain, PIZARRO, arrives. They board the boat together, and Will discovers a Middle Eastern man, ZAHIR, waiting for them. Pizarro is not surprised. Zahir knows Will’s name, commands him to go with him. A power-boat, piloted by ESMAEEL, pulls up alongside the sailboat. Pizarro and Zahir attempt to force Will onto the power-boat. He manages to break their grip and charges off the sailboat. He steals one of the police cars, and the cops give chase while Zahir and Esmaeel take off.

One of the police cruisers slams into the one Will stole, causing him to crash into a wall. Will staggers out of the car, and just as he’s about to give himself up — Martin appears out of nowhere, destroying the cops with brutal hand-to-hand. One of the cops cracks Will over the head with a baton before Martin takes him out. Will loses consciousness, awakening in a moving car driven by Martin, who’s talking on the phone, telling somebody he needs something back, to meet in 20 minutes. Martin’s arm is broken, but he says he’s dealt with worse. As they enter Barcelona, Martin explains he’s never been a business consultant. He works for the government. Martin drives to an abandoned factory, where he’s stashed a supply of weapons. Will’s baffled. They drive to a plaza, where white-haired CARRACK waits. Will waits in the car while Martin has a heated argument with Carrack — and then is shot and killed by GORMAN. Carrack disappears. Will grabs Martin’s gun and tries to hide and shoot. Gorman comes after him, but Will’s inexperienced. He has to run.

Martin’s phone rings — Zahir, asking for someone named “Tom.” Will’s puzzled, hangs up. He finds the police, but Gorman shoots a cop waiting outside the station. Will shoots back; other cops hear his non-silenced gun and think he killed their fellow officer. Will runs to the American consulate. A diplomat named MECKLER talks to Will, tries to calm him down — then leads him straight to Carrack. The two try to shove Will into a car, but Will breaks away from them and manages to get through the consulate gate just as it’s rumbling closed. He buys new clothes at a store, then hops on a bus. Martin’s phone rings, and again it’s Zahir, demanding to speak to “your father.” Will insists he was killed, but Zahir doesn’t believe him. He puts an agitated Laurie on the line to remind Will of the stakes. He gives Will 17 hours to get whatever Martin was supposed to have and bring it to them, or the family dies. Zahir wakes up, and Will checks out the dialed calls. There are a lot of calls to a Diego, plus one that just says C*. Will tries that one, and a robotic voice asks for identification repetitively. He tries Diego’s office and finds it’s a detective agency. He gets the address from the British receptionist. He asks a girl on the bus where to find the office.

Will meets BEATRICE, the receptionist, who tells him Diego is expected back in an hour. Will decides to wait, and he meets LUCIA CALDERA, Diego’s niece and assistant. She speaks passable English. Will asks if she knows a Martin Shaw, but she doesn’t. Will explains that Martin called several times the night before, and that his family was kidnapped and Martin was killed. She tries to check out Diego’s client list, when she finds Beatrice dead in the front office. DIXON, from the consulate, lurks in the shadows. Both Will and Lucia try to fight him and keep from getting shot. Will shoots him dead, but not before Dixon clips Will in the hip, causing a deep but non-lethal wound. As Lucia calls the police and an ambulance, Will notices a photo of Martin and Lucia. He asks her, and she says that’s not Martin Shaw. Will disagrees and tells her he’s dead. Lucia tears up and collapses, but this is a dire situation — Will pulls her away before the police arrive. Lucia stuffs a bunch of files and photos into her bag as they run out. She has a classy sports car, offers to drive Will to a doctor friend to get patched up. The doctor friend, CRISTIANA, is a bartender/med student. She douses the wound wih alcohol, then gives Will the bottle as she heats a spoon over a flame, then jams it over the wound to cauterize it.

Once he’s patched up, Lucia gives Will a file labeled “Tom Keaton.” Will opens it up and sees photos of Martin as Lucia explains they share the same father. They’re baffled. Diego’s still not answering his phone, so Will and Lucia go to his apartment. It’s empty. A travel bag lies on a table, but Diego’s nowhere to be found. They hear footsteps, so they both hide in a closet. Gorman enters with a silenced sub-machine gun. He moves past them and goes upstairs. They hear yelling — Diego’s up there. Will and Lucia follow. Gorman beats down Diego, until Will yells for him to stop, aims the gun at him. Gorman’s surprised, but Carrack’s waiting, a gun trained on Will. While they’re distracted, Diego sends a text message. Carrack gets close enough for him to grab Carrack’s ankle, yanking him to the ground. Gorman fires at him while Diego yells fo Will and Lucia to run; they take his advice, running down the stairwell. It takes quite a bit of effort, but they escape the apartment building unscathed — but with Gorman and Carrack hot on their trails.

The villains end up crashing into several cars, and police arrive before they can get away clean. Carrack flashes his diplomat badge. Will and Lucia hide the car in an empty parking lot. She calls her friend Carlos, who used to work for Spanish intelligence. When she hangs up, she pulls the phone apart, takes out the SIM card, and smashes it. Will’s baffled. They leave the car and take a metro subway train to Carlos. Will asks for the backstory behind how Martin is also her father. Lucia’s explanation is pretty straightforward — he met Lucia’s mother, fell in love but wouldn’t marry her. She didn’t meet Martin until her mother died of cancer and she had to live with Diego. She’s sad — they were her only family. Will says he’s her family.

At sunset, they enter a small park, where Lucia introduces Will to paranoid CARLOS. Carlos knows the Shaw name. He’s disheartened to hear about Martin and Diego. They go to a hidden café, where Carlos explains the situation. Carlos talks about ideological extremists and the notion that some Americans feel that, with support for the war on terror waning, another attack must take place. Martin was attempting to deliver enriched uranium to terrorists to make this happen. Neither Will nor Lucia want to hear this. Zahir calls Will, who insists on seeing his family alive before they make any kind of deal. Zahir agrees, as long as Will comes alone. Zahir and Esmaeel show Will the family and Jessica. Will tries to get away from them and hears Esmaeel exclaiming in Hebrew. Zahir admits they’re Israeli agents posing as Arab extremists They take him to a cave for some torture, interrogating him about “Tom“‘s whereabouts and the location of the uranium suitcase. They leave him naked and passed out. With a burst of adrenaline, Will smashes the only light source, then grabs the gun and runs through the city’s underground catacombs. He steals a homeless man’s coat and can of change, then takes a cab to a club where Lucia told him to meet.

Will and Lucia realize Martin intended to introduce the family to Lucia in Gibraltar, which are not the actions of a traitor. They also assume that Carrack and Gorman have the suitcase. Máximo, the owner of the club and another intelligence expert, tells them they’d be keeping track of every movement Will and Lucia make, as much as possible. Wanting to lure them, Lucia has Máximo ring up some drinks using her credit card. As expected, Gorman shows up. Will searches Gorman and finds two sets of car keys. He realizes one is a rental and assumes this is where the suitcase of uranium is being hidden. They force Gorman to give the location of the car. He tells them where, then tries to kill them both, but Will barely manages to kill him first. Will calls Zahir to meet up. Will and Lucia go to the car, but Carrack’s waiting and tries to ram them with their other car. He fails, and Will manages to pin him between two cars. He shoots him, but Carrack isn’t dead. Carrack explains that Martin didn’t know a thing about their real plans — until yesterday. Guilty, Carrack shoots himself.

Will and Lucia go to meet Zahir and Esmaeel. They exchange the suitcase for Laurie, Josh, and Jessica. Zahir reveals himself to be an honorable man. He assures Will that he will have trouble as a result of the chaos of the past few days, gives Will a card that will clear up any trouble he has. Will thanks Zahir, then introduces Lucia to his family.

Comments:

While imperfect, this is a great action script with a fantastic premise and an intricate but (mostly) rational plot. The action sequences, especially, are written vividly, giving the entire script a breathless, edge-of-your-seat thrill that will, hopefully, translate to the screen.

The writers struggle with the characters, who take a backseat to the plot. Will begins as a self-absorbed businessman with no interest in his family. They half-heartedly try to show how, through meeting Lucia and becoming involved in the craziness of this story, he realizes the importance of family, but this arc doesn’t shine through at all. Strengthening it would make both Will and Lucia a bit more compelling. However, this problem is overshadowed by the brilliant conceit of having the lead male and female end up as half-siblings, to avoid the usual extraneous romantic subplot that has become such a frustrating cliché in action movies. They also do a great job of showing Will’s frustration and disorientation as he’s thrust into the world of espionage without a clue what’s happening — it’s a Bourne Identity-style twist executed in a more relatable “regular Joe turned accidental hero” way, not unlike North by Northwest.

The taut and complex plot allows for a satisfying and unambiguous resolution. Far-fetched but not implausible, the writers do a great job of revealing pieces of the story at just the right moment. The only real problem here is Carlos, who spews backstory like nobody’s business. I’m sure there’s a more interesting way for Will and Lucia to find out all that information without having someone sit them down and explain it to them, in detail. Of course, there are the usual action-movie logical fallacies (e.g., Will goes from a novice to a guy who can fire two to the chest from a distance, in the dark, through a car window), but they aren’t as numerous or ridiculous as they could be.

It’s a very solid effort with a few minor problems.

A story like this will definitely bring in the action fans. Since it lacks an unnecessary (and often unbelievable) romantic subplot, women dragged to the movie by their boyfriends might actually appreciate the sibling relationship presented as a refreshing change of pace. Its “ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances” storyline and the espionage plot might also appeal to audiences who like their movies to have a little more than mindless action.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 2:35 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (1) | Professional Script Coverage

October 31, 2008

Ivanwood (a.k.a., Cotton; a.k.a., The Last Exorcism)

Author: Huck Botko & Andrew Gurland
Genre: Horror
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A fraudulent evangelical preacher investigates a supposed demonic possession in Missouri, and what he finds forces him to question his faithlessness and disbelief.

Synopsis:

(The entire story is scripted as a faux-documentary, which includes a lot of people talking to the camera.) COTTON MARCUS, 40s, watches videos of botched exorcisms. He debunks them by pointing out the physical and psychological ailments afflicting the “possessed,” offering that they need doctors, not priests. A title card and archive footage explains that Cotton is a fourth-generation evangelical minister who found fame at a young age as a youth preacher. He and his father, EARL, both non-believers, scripted everything they did, but Cotton of the present explains that his mother’s death caused his father to find Jesus, which caused a bit of a rift. Cotton attempts to help his sons, RANDY (7) and LEWIS (11) with their homework and plays poker with them. Cotton’s wife, FIONA, explains the purpose of this documentary project: Cotton’s finally coming clean as a fake and a con artist, participating in this documentary to show what he’s really like, how he’s exploited people, before retiring. Cotton shows his fan mail, which consists mainly of people begging to help remove demons from family members. He picks one at random — Oliver Sweetzer. Ivanwood, Missouri. Cotton visits his father’s congregation, then has dinner with him.

Cotton mentions going to Ivanwood and asks for “the book” — an old tome cataloguing demons. Earl warns Cotton to be careful, which Cotton shrugs off. Cotton drives into Missouri, stops to ask locals where to find Ivanwood, then stops Ivanwood locals to ask where to find the Sweetzer farm. He finds it, passes a couple of “No Trespassing” signs — and is forced off the road by a wild young man in a pickup truck. OLIVER, 40, angrily runs out of his house with a shotgun. Cotton introduces himself and shouts at Oliver about the pickup that tried to kill him. Oliver shrugs it off — that’s his son, TYLER, who continues to glare at Cotton.

Oliver is appreciate of Cotton’s help but doesn’t like all the cameras. Working his grifter magic, Cotton explains that this movie is all about helping people believe, so if Oliver doesn’t want to help preach the word to millions of people with his story, that’s his decision. Oliver immediately agrees to participate. They film Oliver giving a lesson to 13-year-old NELL, whom he home-schools to avoid negative influences found in public schools. Afterward, Cotton praises Oliver for what he’s doing with his daughter, but Oliver turns it back around, ranting that he couldn’t have done too fine a job since there’s a demon in her. Cotton’s confused, having thought Oliver was the afflicted. Cotton doesn’t want to work with a child. He excuses himself, and a female voice off-camera (TRACEY) asks why he’s so uptight about it. Cotton explains the dangers of hypnosis on younger minds. Tracey points out that, considering the way Oliver and Tyler are, doing nothing may be worse for Nell. Cotton asks Oliver for details. He explains that livestock keeps dying, and when Cotton suggests the possibility of a jackal, Oliver points out that this killer only takes the heart. Cotton asks if Oliver has any proof Nell did it. Oliver shows him a blood-stained dress.

Cotton asks Nell what she feels. Nell complains of nausea and extreme fever, ranging around 115-116 degrees. Cotton fills a basin with water, places her feet in it.. The water begins to boil as soon as she sets her feet in, but Nell complains about her feet feeling cold. After consulting with the book, Cotton identifies the demon as Abalam — the only one that affects body temperature. According to legend, every thousand years, Abalam selects a young virgin and possesses her soul. The book says, without an exorcism, the “vessel” Abalam possesses must die. Oliver blames himself, saying he joined up with a cult-like religion that he firmly believes is involved with this possession. Cotton placates him.

Cotton talks to Tyler for the first time. He says he tried to kill them because he doesn’t believe Cotton can help. He thinks everything Cotton’s doing is just a trick. Cotton doesn’t deny it but doesn’t confirm it, either. Tyler eases off a little and says he thinks Oliver himself is the one mutilating the animals. He has a drinking problem and tends to lose control and black out. Oliver interrupts them, and Tyler tells him he thinks Cotton will do some good. Privately, to the camera, Cotton thinks he has it figured out — an alcoholic blaming all his problems on the supernatural. He creates an elaborate show for the exorcism ritual, showing the camera an invention of Earl’s, “serpent bites,” which are thumb rings with hidden wires leading to small batteries in Cotton’s pocket, providing a little shock that has caused people to vomit or speak in tongues. With Oliver and Tyler gathered before Nell, Cotton puts on a dramatic show, saying he will take in the demon himself if it cannot be destroyed completely. He shocks Nell with the serpent bites and then collapses, feigning unconsciousness until the right moment to announce the demon is gone for good. Steam billows from a hollowed-out crucifix filled with foot-warming powder. Oliver is amazed.

Talking to Oliver later, Cotton mentions a belief that the devil’s in him, too — in the form of a bottle. He encourages Oliver to quit drinking and take care of his kids. As Cotton eats dinner in town, he explains to the camera the phenomenon of supposed possession, that people use it as something to blame when they don’t want to blame themselves. Cotton talks to his kids on the phone, then talks to his wife. To the camera, he mentions his priorities once he had kids, shifting from fame and money to health insurance. Later, the crew bursts into a baffled Cotton’s room. They lead him back to the crew’s room, where he finds Nell lying. She has a beer and says some provocative, alarming things before passing out. Cotton laments her youth, then sticks her in his van to drive back to Oliver’s house. Nell wakes up, acting normally, and is horrified when she finds blood on her dress. Cotton didn’t notice it, either. When they get to the farm, Oliver automatically runs from the house and grabs Nell. Cotton follows them inside, where they find Tyler passed out on the couch, various bloody bandages covering most of his face and torso. Oliver’s livid, because Cotton told him he removed the demon. Cotton changes the subject, demanding Oliver take Tyler to the hospital while Cotton stays with Nell. Oliver’s dubious, but he goes along with it. Tyler slips Cotton a note reading, “Don’t let him hurt her.” Later, Cotton hears Nell screaming. He finds her in the basement, her foot chained to a pipe. The crew urges him to take her, but Cotton reminds them that’s kidnapping.

Nell doesn’t know what he means and doesn’t remember anything she did earlier. As night falls, Cotton wonders what happened to Oliver. He waits for Nell to sleep, then snoops. He finds a strange notebook next to Nell’s desk, which has page after page of the same drawing — a cave, with each drawing more detailed than the last. Cotton’s both confused and disturbed. He hears a squealing and runs for Nell’s room. She’s gone, so he tries to find the source of the squealing. He goes out to the barn, hears panting behind a stall door, and just as he’s about to open it, Nell darts out, running right past him, revealing a dead horse inside.

Cotton follows Nell through the woods, past a stream, to a waterfall, behind which is the cave from the drawings. Cotton catches up to Nell, calls to her, but her eyes are rolled back in her head and she doesn’t even seem to realize he’s there. He follows her into the cave, where a bunch of half-eaten animal hearts are strewn. She collapses on the floor, then wakes up “normal.” Cotton carries her back to her room, and as he puts her into bed, he realizes she’s pregnant. He asks her about this, deciding the only likely candidate is either Oliver or Tyler. The next morning, Oliver returns. Cotton breaks the news, and Oliver insists it’s Abalam’s baby. Cotton tries to gently convince him this is a human baby. Oliver excuses himself to talk with Nell. Later, he beckons them to come upstairs. Nell tells them about the cult coming for her three months earlier, taking her out into the woods and performing some sort of strange ritual. Cotton doesn’t believe her, starts packing her thinks to take her to the hospital. Before he can, Oliver pulls a shotgun on them, trapping them all inside the house. Cotton forces Oliver out. They barricade the doors with furniture.

Oliver patrols around the house. Cotton tries to flee out one of the windows but fails. Nell’s feverish again, and Cotton realizes the thermometer is broken — that’s why her fevers were so high. Nell acts possessed, knocking Cotton over and running away. Cotton tries to get control, but the only thing they can do is tie her to the bed. The next morning, Oliver continues his perimeter patrol. Nell is acting normally. She asks him for ham for breakfast. He slices from a big slab, but she takes the whole thing and eats it, then goes to the compost bin and gnaws on bones. Nell starts bleeding again, so Cotton shows Oliver, pleading to take her to the hospital. Oliver insists it’s a demon, grabs Nell and turns on the others, taking her away and shooting at the rest of them. Suddenly, strangers appear, knocking out Oliver. They act helpful and claim to have been sent by Tyler but quickly reveal themselves as cult members. They grab Nell and take her to the cave, Cotton following. Nell has the baby. They worship the baby and use Nell as a blood sacrifice, so Cotton pounces, grabbing Nell. In the chaos, the cultists disappear. Cotton performs a real exorcism. The camera man runs away before he finishes. Later, Cotton gets Nell to the hospital. Cotton goes back to the cave, shines a flashlight into a hole, drops a stone, waits for the sound of it hitting the bottom. It never comes. Time passes, and Cotton plays this documentary for his followers and explains how this incident helped him gain real faith.

Comments:

The writer has constructed a solid story here — effectively creepy, well-structured, and always playing with the “rational explanation for everything,” until the last few scenes. Even the documentary conceit works to create an extra layer of reality, giving the story an additional eerie quality it would otherwise lack.

Cotton’s big arc needs work, however. The fundamentals work, but his path to religious faith is an unnatural progression. He spends 7/8ths of the script as a non-believer, then sees some freaky shit in a cave and is willing to embrace Jesus wholeheartedly and cast the demons out. There’s room in this material to let Cotton slowly embrace the reality of this situation; as evidence builds, he should believe more, but the problem is, the writer hasn’t found any other way to convey what Cotton is feeling than letting him talk to the camera. He stops doing that for most of the third act, so in the chaos, we’re left wondering what he’s thinking. At the end, he explains it all in a monologue, but we don’t see this progression in his attitude or feelings at the time.

This leads directly to the primary weakness of the dialogue: although the documentary conceit gives a nice sense of atmosphere, the writer uses the ability to talk to the camera as a crutch. Cotton spends much of the first and second acts stating every emotion he’s feeling to the camera. The writer does a pretty good job with the rhythm of normal conversation, but every time Cotton turns to address the audience, it stops feeling natural and starts feeling like he can’t find a better way to reveal Cotton’s thoughts and emotions.

These are fairly big problems, but everything else in the script — the Sweetzers, Cotton’s family and backstory, the demonic possession, the cult — is pretty solid.

This one is interesting because, while it will certainly appeal to horror fans, it may also lure a broader base of moviegoers who enjoy suspense/psychological thrillers because of its emphasis on questioning whether or not this is “reality” or a supernatural force.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:40 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

October 12, 2008

Sexist Straw Man

Remember how I hated Juno? Turns out, this makes me some sort of sexist and/or misogynist asshole**. See, because I’m a male, and I found fault with a screenplay written by a woman — and a feminist woman, author kvoynar is quick to point out in the comments! — this means that my problems with the movie have no merit. It’s really just a “thin guise” covering the quiver-inducing rage I feel whenever I think about or discuss anything having to do with women. Many of the comments I received came from women in total agreement, and although I’m sure I haven’t joined the ranks of “male-dominated film blog[s kvoynar] read[s] regularly” (possibly because this is not really a “film blog”), this did not stop me from leveling some criticism at Reitman — but put that aside for a moment. I have a confession to make about how much I hate women.

Would it also make me a woman-hating thug to find fault with kvoynar’s blog post about how much I hate women because I did not fall in love with Diablo Cody’s screenplay and do not know her personally? I only add that last part because, apparently, if I took the time to get into one of those deeeep late-night dorm-room conversations with Ms. Cody, she would charm me to such a degree that I would forgive the many flaws in her Juno screenplay and say, “Yup, she deserved that Oscar on account of being so darned nice.”

In particular, I take issue with the baffling argument that I’m a sexist asshole because I didn’t hate the scripts for current movies like Burn After Reading or Tropic Thunder, because clearly they’re worse movies because they have slightly lower ratings on the Tomato Meter. Wouldn’t a more apt comparison be the variety of other Oscar-winning screenplays? Because nobody took issue with Crash or Little Miss Sunshine or The Pianist or A Beautiful Mind, right? These were movies not just universally beloved — but beloved because of their flawless screenplays written by members of the clearly superior male gender. Let me turn off the sarcasm for a second and ask: are you high? For Christ’s sake, as recently as five months ago, I took another look at American Beauty and retroactively trashed its screenplay with as much — if not more — vitriol as I did with Juno. Some of them (Crash) instantly reveal themselves as about a thousand times worse than Juno*. And even if the idea of sampling summer popcorn fare instead of making it go toe to toe with fellow Oscar winners, you only have to go back in time as recently as one month for “current releases” to fare better on Rotten Tomatoes — WALL·E, The Dark Knight, Iron Man. Doesn’t this make the “legitimate” critical establishment sexist, as well? They gave more positive reviews to movies about rich white dudes who fight crime! O, the injustice! Even the female critics are merely unempowered husks trying to make it in a man’s world by kowtowing to their desires… Right?

So I guess I ought to just take Ms. Cody’s “defense” lying down. I made no valid points, had no real reasons to dislike her objectively great movie, I am both a sexist and a misogynist, and I should apologize right now. And I should not, at any time, point out that I only stumbled across kvoynar’s post because Ms. Cody links to it on her blog, which suggests she fully buys into the notion that her flawless screenplay is under attack by the evil cabal of misogynist male bloggers and that, if we really got to know her, we’d take back all the nasty things we’ve said about her. That doesn’t, in any way, weaken her position as a feminist! In fact, with an attitude like hers, she’d make one hell of a vice-presidential candidate!

(And for those who notice the dates on all these blogs and believe I’ve spent the past few months stewing in my own juices — think again! Despite my usual obsessive tendencies, my caring about Juno and the misguided people who love it ebbed by, let’s say, May. Now, a few people did send me links to Ms. Cody’s initial “outburst,” but at that time I just chuckled at the stupidity and moved on. Today, that popped in my head, I decided to check out the blog for any potential blowback-related hilarity. Instead, I found an obnoxious defense of her own defense, plus the link to the other blog, and it got my rage boiling.)

Read "Sexist Straw Man" »

Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:57 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Blog Posts, Pop Culture Rants