Amazon.com Widgets

Posts in: October 2009

Script Review: Whip It! by Shauna Cross

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

I’ll bet you’re wondering why I veered off the beaten path of reviewing a script on Monday for a movie that’ll be released later in the week. When compiling notes on which movies are released when, I somehow got the impression that Whip It! doesn’t hit theatres until October 9th. Turns out it comes out tomorrow, and since this is a rare positive review, I figured I should get it out sooner rather than later. I apologize for not realizing this until the day before the movie comes out.

The alternate downside: I don’t have any reviews prepared for next week. So I guess I’ll toss out a surprise script review I’ve kept in my back pocket for awhile. By which I mean a review for a movie that already came out (and flopped) that I started reviewing, then got distracted and never finished. Now, on to the review…

This script surprised the shit out of me. I have to admit, I prejudged it based on the fact that I am a misogynist bastard trying my damndest to keep women down by spraying them with a heady coat of sticky testosterone-like fluid, preventing them from making it in a man’s world. But, seriously, folks, here’s how it went down: a few years ago, IFC produced a fantastic series called The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, starring Laura Kightlinger (who created the show and wrote many of the episodes) and Nicholle Tom as bottom-feeding wannabe screenwriters trying to make it in Hollywood. One running gag was Jackie’s pet project, a story about a Depression-era roller derby queen (modeled after her aunt) that Jackie frequently hyped but never actually wrote. (It reached a point where the idea was actually stolen because of this combination of hype and laziness.) IFC unceremoniously canceled the show during the writers’ strike, when they opted instead to produce improv-heavy shows that didn’t have WGA affiliation. Fucking dicks.

Read More


Not to Sound Like (More of) an Asshole, But…

I don’t care about the Creative Screenwriting Cyberspace Open. At all. To the degree that I didn’t even know it existed until I got a half-dozen e-mails from people begging me to rant about how outraged I am that they did a poor job of explaining the rules this year. I’m not outraged, because I don’t care. My comments on this sort of thing have been expressed in a rambling, barely coherent podcast.

Please stop e-mailing me about this subject. Please start dropping some comment science on the blog itself, so I don’t seem so whiny, passive-aggressive, and insane. Thanks!

Read More


Surprise Script Review: I Know Who Killed Me by Jeff Hammond

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

It might confuse and irritate some of you to know that I don’t revel in my disdain for things. I have a lot of negativity in my heart, but it always comes from a place of steadfast disappointment. I don’t want movies/books/TV shows/music/people to suck; when they do, my reaction ranges from feeling mild sadness that it couldn’t be better to unrepentant rage (usually that’s reserved for cases where a flaming turd of entertainment is inexplicably beloved by many).

I’m not going to merely like something because I want to like it, nor am I going to water down my opinion out of respect for prior work of the people involved. At least, I won’t water it down on this blog, where I remain semi-anonymous. In real life, other than a 90-minute argument with my sister on my fucking birthday about Juno, I usually don’t waste my breath. I either feign ignorance or pretend I like it, depending on the circumstances. There’s nothing worse than saying, “No, I haven’t [seen Juno/heard The Decemberists/read Motherless Brooklyn],” and having whoever you’re talking to immediately spring into action, thrusting it down your throat. Actually, there is: the upset/baffled expression on the face of someone who has exposed you to something “new” when your stony face and lack of enthusiasm betrays your dislike. It depends on the person, but around 60% of the time it’s easier just to say, “Yeah, man, I love it,” and the conversation can usually move on. Once in awhile, you run into an obsessive fan who wants to discuss the minutiae of something pop-culture-related. (I’ll never forget the time a girl asked me Xander Harris’s middle name; I’m a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and after this incident the name (Lavelle) has been seared into my brain, but I think you can enjoy something without memorizing all the tedious details. Maybe I’m just an inferior fan.) Most of the time, however, you just agree and move on. The end.*

Read More


Script Review: Law-Abiding Citizen by Frank Darabont and Kurt Wimmer

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

When I first started Law-Abiding Citizen, I quickly concluded the writers had decided to make a Death Wish for the new millennium. When I finished it, I decided I’d much rather have a shitty Death Wish knockoff than Law-Abiding Citizen. The screenplay suffers from a common problem with many of the scripts hitting the market over the past year or so: genre confusion. It thinks it’s a talky psychological thriller; in reality, it’s a schlocky action movie. Had the writers embraced the proper genre, maybe some good could have come from Law-Abiding Citizen. Instead, they tried to get a little haughty and pretentious, with half-assed chess metaphors and quarter-assed stabs at ethical complexities occasionally interrupted by explosions.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the writers paint themselves into a corner by page four, shackling the story with Nick Price, a protagonist whose opening moment involves explaining that he intends to grant one murderer immunity in exchange for ratting out another. His palpable apathy toward Benson Clyde, the grieving husband and father, is honestly a little unsettling, and the writers work overtime in the first act to undo that douchebag opening gambit. They work even harder to paint eventual antagonist Clyde—the aforementioned grieving husband and father—as so cartoonishly evil, he lacks only a mustache to twirl.

Read More


Script Review: Cirque du Freak by Brian Helgeland

script_reviews/[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Awhile back, The Manager presented me with a treatment he had co-written with a writer I once ranted far too long and hard about. Somehow, he had gotten the ear of Warner Bros. president Alan Horn, and he used the opportunity to pitch one of the worst ideas in recent memory: a live-action trilogy based on a mid-’80s Saturday-morning cartoon. Actually, in this era of remakes and comic-book franchises, trying to revive this series isn’t a horrible idea commercially. It just doesn’t quite lend itself to live action. I don’t really want to give away the name of the property, but it’s the sort of thing that would just look silly if presented in a non-animated form, like Fat Albert or Vincent Gallo’s upcoming Fritz the Cat*.

At any rate, The Manager sent me the treatment for part one of a proposed trilogy, looking for feedback. I had could distinctly recall two things about the original cartoon: the name of the main character, and the name of the planet on which the action took place. Reading the treatment, the lack of these names took me aback. I wondered if I had misremembered the show, until I got to the last page of the treatment. At the end of the story, the main character is born, and refugees flee to the planet I remembered. He had sent me a treatment for a movie that was 100% backstory.

Adding insult to injury, the story concentrates on political machinations that have no bearing on anything except why the refugees left their home planet (something that plays a small, inessential role in what happens in the cartoon—certainly nothing worth devoting an entire feature film to explaining). It also has a Romeo & Juliet-esque subplot focusing on two characters who will die at the very beginning of the second film. When I sent him the feedback, I compared this to the first 20 minutes of Superman, except for the part where they clear up Superman’s backstory in 20 minutes, then get on to two hours of throwing buses into buildings and shit. Could you imagine having a comic-book movie where the entire thing isn’t even the origin story of the hero—it’s the story of the parents? I argued that audiences will have zero interest in a movie portraying the origin of two characters they won’t remember from the cartoon and feel betrayed by an ending where the hero they do remember is merely born. I also argued that one of the (many) flaws of the Star Wars prequels was Lucas’s insistence on concentrating on the made-up political minutiae that led to the rise of the Empire and the formation of the Rebel Alliance—without actually showing any of that cool shit. You have endless Galactic Senate meetings instead of spending two hours in the fray of an orgy of destruction called the Clone Wars. Audiences were unhappy but put up with it, because it’s Star Wars, a franchise ever-so-slightly different than a long-forgotten cartoon.

The Manager sent me a curt reply telling me all the things that stuck in my craw “could not be addressed.” I didn’t ask why, because I didn’t really care. But I held on to my belief that, while a franchise starter that contains little more than backstory can succeed financially, it’ll never succeed creatively. Why do you think so many franchise sequels surpass their originals these days? They skimp on the story and characters in favor of reams of tedious exposition introducing things that will only pay off in future films. To me, that’s a rip-off.

Read More


Arabian Nights

Author: Chuck Russell & Barry P. Ambrose

Genre: Fantasy/Action/Adventure

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

When a ruthless general stages a bloody coup on the ancient kingdom of Sumer, a kind-hearted soldier must join forces with a pirate and a thief to restore order.


Synopsis:

SHAHERAZAD, a beautiful Sumerian princess, narrates the adventure of heroic CAPTAIN SINBAD rescuing his crew from a deadly cyclops. The enthralled children listening to the story want to know what happens next, but they’re ushered away by nurses and parents for an evening festival. Left alone, Shaherazad hears strange noises and goes to investigate. A mysterious intruder grabs her from behind and threatens her. Unafraid, Shaherazad threatens right back. Eventually, it’s revealed that this intruder is KAMAR, a soldier whom Shaherazad intends to marry. He comes with a gift: a peacock quill for Shaherazad to write down her imaginative tales. That night, KING SULUMON stages an elaborate festival at his palace, for two reasons: Kamar will be sent with a peace treaty for a Tanzanian maharaja, and when he returns, he will marry Shaherazad.

Everyone in the kingdom is in the mood to celebrate—except for sneering, sinister GENERAL SABUR and his toady, CAPTAIN HAMID. They scheme about how to get Kamar and Shaherazad out of the way so Sabur can marry Shaherazad’s passive younger sister, AZURA, and rule Sumer. As a priest begins a blessing, a strong wind blows out all the torches and candles, plunging the festivities into darkness. A mysterious stranger arrives at the palace gates. Fearing the storm will kill him, Sulumon allows the stranger inside the palace. It’s quickly revealed that he’s a strange half-man, half-goat creature. He bleats a warning that the alchemist PHAROTU has returned, then dies. Everyone ignores the warning, because allegedly Pharotu was burned at the stake years ago. Kamar insists on investigating the stranger’s claim, but Sabur steps in, insisting that Kamar’s duty to deliver the treaty is much more important. Sabur tells Sulumon that he will seek the truth while Kamar goes on his mission.

Shaherazad tells the children a story about Sinbad killing Pharotu. Kamar fears this will give them nightmares, but Shaherazad thinks that knowing the alchemist is dead will make them feel better. At dawn, Kamar leads a squadron of men into the desert. He takes his trusty falcon, HORUS, with him. Watching from a distant hill, Sabur asks Hamid if he arranged an ambush with the maharaja. Hamid agrees. Sabur, Hamid, and a small group of men move through the kingdom toward the last known whereabouts of Pharotu. As they get closer, storm clouds build, and eventually lightning begins to target Sabur’s men. Everyone but Sabur and Hamid is killed. A cliff wall cracks hopen, revealing a castle built into it. Sabur and Hamid enter to find Pharotu sitting on a floating magic carpet. Pharotu’s pet, a huge spider with a human face, terrifies Hamid. In an effort to impress Sabur, Pharotu demonstrates a number of tricks—the ability to harness storms, to bring Sabur’s dead soldiers back to life, even to create hybrids of men and animals. He transforms Sabur’s soldiers into flying condor men.

At a desert oasis, Kamar and his men are ambushed by the MAHARAJA and his soldiers. Kamar is a smart and ruthless fighter, however, so he’s able to survive long enough for the Maharaja to arrive. Kamar hands over the treaty, and the dubious Maharaja calls off the attack temporarily, so he can review it and decide what to do. He gives them a reprieve until dawn. Shaherazad receives a letter from Kamar (via Horus the falcon). She begins writing back when the condor men attack the castle. She watches Sabur decapitate Sulumon. Terrified, she scrawls a quick note and sends it with Horus. Sabur finds Shaherazad and her two sisters and announces his plans to marry Azura. She immediately attempts suicide by jumping off the balcony, but Sabur’s condor men prevent her from succeeding. Fearing for her sister, Shaherazad reluctantly agrees to marry Sabur. Kamar gets Shaherazad’s note and immediately prepares his men to return to the kingdom. They ride into the day, and when they come upon a village that’s been attacked by seafaring pirates, Kamar wants to continue without helping. He soon realizes that using their ship would be a quicker way to get back to Shaherazad. Intercut with Shaherazad’s marriage preparations, Kamar rides his horse to the harbor and leaps onto the leaving ship. He’s attacked by the pirates immediately, but Kamar fights through them until he reaches the captain—Sinbad, a filthy, washed-up version of the legendary hero glimpsed earlier. Sinbad tells his men to kill the intruder.

Before the ceremony, Shaherazad contemplates suicide. She can’t go through with it. Pharotu appears, offering her something mysterious inside a silver box that will allow her to participate in this sham of a marriage. Back on the ship, Kamar fights with Sinbad and his men. Sinbad is still a wild, fearless fighter, but so is Kamar. Kamar tries to convince Sinbad not to harm him, that he’s an emissary of the king. Sinbad doesn’t believe it until a CABIN BOY opens Kamar’s saddlebag and finds a gold, jewel-encrusted scroll case holding the signed treaty. Kamar begs for Sinbad’s help, offering a full pardon and a lot of gold. Sinbad reluctantly agrees. Shaherazad receives a new update from Kamar, which she reads to Sabur as if it were one of her stories. Sabur is more interested in sex, but Shaherazad has drugged him, so he falls asleep before anything can happen. With Sabur asleep, Shaherazad writes a letter back to Kamar, explaining what has happened. Pharotu’s spider pet witnesses all of this, including Kamar’s map showing exactly where Sinbad’s ship is. Back on the ship, the cabin boy reveals he’s actually a cabin girl—and she goes by the name ALI BABA, the thief subject of many of Shaherazad’s stories. Kamar is shocked, but he reluctantly agrees to keep his secret when she intimates that she knows more about the black magic than she should, and that she knows of a magic object that can fight Pharotu’s evil. Pharotu creates a huge storm to toss Sinbad’s ship about. The ship ends up sinking, and Kamar nearly drowns, but Sinbad, a few of his men, and Ali Baba manage to get to land. The following day, Pharotu shocks Sabur by removing his beating heart— so Sabur cannot be killed. He also reveals Shaherazad’s betrayal and that the Maharaja signed the peace treaty. He urgers Sabur to have his men attack and kill the Maharaja while they’re not expecting it.

Sinbad’s angry at Kamar for withholding that they’re up against an evil wizard. He gets angrier when Kamar announces it’s Pharotu. Sinbad claims to have killed Pharotu years ago, as revenge for the alchemist killing the only woman he’s ever loved—a mermaid. He wishes Kamar luck but refuses to fight an unbeatable foe. Ali Baba announces that they can win. She leads them into the Forgotten Desert, in search of the lost treasure of the 40 thieves. This blends with Shaherazad telling Sabur (who’s bored and irritated) the story of Ali Baba learning the location of the treasure from her pick-pocket mentor, just before he was executed. Meanwhile, Kamar and the others cross the vast, seemingly endless Forgotten Desert. Eventually, they come upon a huge, beautiful castle. They come upon faceless golem guards protecting the castle. These golem allow Kamar’s group to pass unharmed. Inside the castle, golem servants provide them with all the food and drink they desire. In the Sumerian palace, Sabur presents Shaherazad with a feast of his own—roasted falcon, with Kamar’s note protruding from its beak. Soldiers surround her, ready to imprison her for treason. Shaherazad immediately stabs Sabur in the heart—but it has no effect.

After feasting, Sinbad hears yelling. They investigate the source and stumble on ALADIN, who yells at a blue cloud of light. When they arrive, the blue cloud sucks itself into a brass lamp. Aladin explains that inside the lamp is a GENIE who can grant any wish its user desires. Kamar explains his situation and asks Aladin for the Genie’s help. Aladin gives him the lamp. Kamar offers the Genie freedom from the lamp in exchange for help in defeating Pharotu. The Genie explains that Pharotu was the one who imprisoned him in the lamp, so he’d be happy to help, but Pharotu can’t be killed because he keeps his heart hidden. Kamar is in a hurry to rescue Shaherazad, so he wishes to be returned to the palace. The Genie grants the wish.

Imprisoned, Shaherazad waits for execution. Kamar, Sinbad, DOMINGO (Sinbad’s Spanish comrade), Aladin, and Ali Baba arrive. Kamar wishes for each of them to have magic carpets. They fly around, attacking Sabur’s condor men and generally wreaking havoc on the kingdom. Pharotu, now living in the palace, has created an enormous “changeling” wheel. When he sees the attack, he begins summoning lightning to this wheel, which is spun quickly by a team of six horses. Just before she’s beheaded, Kamar saves Shaherazad. Shaherazad confesses that she can no longer love—Pharotu took her heart so she could bear to live with Sabur. Kamar and Shaherazad head for Pharotu’s tower. The magic carpet is shot down by Pharotu’s lightning. Kamar, Sinbad, and Domingo are forced to fight Sabur and his men. Meanwhile, Aladin, Ali Baba, and Shaherazad rush back to Pharotu’s tower. They find a secret room where Pharotu stores three hearts in identical silver cases. They don’t have any idea which heart is Pharotu’s—until his spider pet arrives to protect the heart, giving away which of the three it is. Pharotu throws himself onto the changeling wheel and becomes a huge chimera (an elephantine combination of a lion, bat, and cobra). Just as Sinbad chops its head off, Shaherazad plunges a dagger through Pharotu’s heart. He is defeated, and Sabur and Shaherazad’s hearts are returned, just in time for Kamar to kill Sabur. Kamar and Shaherazad are married and preside over a happy, peaceful kingdom. Sinbad and the others return to sea.


Comments:

Arabian Nights strives to be a fun, exciting action-adventure movie. While it does succeed in providing imaginative visuals and complex action sequences, its silly storyline and one-dimensional characters prevent the script from becoming truly engaging. As written, it merits a pass.

The writers simply have no desire to make these characters interesting. Each has one stock character trait (Kamar the generic hero, Sabur the mustache-twirling villain, Shaherazad the tough gal, Sinbad the tortured warrior-poet), but they never rise above the clichés or do anything unexpected or even interesting. With no investment in the characters, it’s hard to care about who’s fighting whom, which makes the action set-pieces a tedious and repetitive instead of thrilling entertainment.

The first act does a solid job of introducing a huge ensemble of characters and conflicts. The ancient-kingdom political machinations aren’t anything new and aren’t particularly interesting, but the script does become intriguing when the supernatural elements are introduced. Unfortunately, the rules governing these magical forces are never clearly established, another problem detracting from the action sequences. For instance, it’s never made clear why Pharotu the all-powerful alchmeist requires Sabur to do his dirty work, or why he has any investment in the kingdom whatsoever (aside from wanting to maintain control over Sabur, he’s never shown as having any interest in the power of a king).

The second and third acts forsake story and character development for almost nonstop action set-pieces. It’s a novel idea to have Shaherazad’s fictional stories turn out to be true, but it’s ultimately disappointing. The introduction of the characters and story elements serve no purpose other than adding more bodies to the fights and more magical elements to the supernatural fireworks. The introduction of the Genie muddles the rules of this universe even more, because it’s another all-powerful creature whose powers are limited to teleportation and creating magic carpets. The practical reason for these limitations is to add some difficulty to the heroes’ struggle against evil, but why not come up with an explanation rather than insisting Pharotu and the Genie can do anything they want at any time, when they don’t?

Arabian Nights has an excellent concept for fantasy/action fare, but the writers squander the potential by not allowing audiences to get invested in the characters or their problems. They put too much weight on the action sequences. If the action and special effects don’t impress, there won’t be anything left for an audience to latch onto.

Read More


Black Swan

Author: Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin and Andres Heinz

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Storyline: 4

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

An insecure dancer struggles with the duality of her new role as the central character in Swan Lake.


Synopsis:

NINA (20s) has a strange dream of dancing in a black void. A sinister man appears and pursues her. She tries to escape but can’t. Ultimately, she is transformed into the White Swan from Swan Lake. Nina awakens and immediately begins warm-ups. She describes the dream to her mother, ERICA (50s, herself a former dancer), who responds with surprising indifference. Nina rides the subway to work. Along the way, she spots a ballerina in the next train car who could be her identical twin. Nina is so distracted, she almost misses her stop. When she gets off the train, Nina looks back, but the train moves away too quickly for her to see the girl. Nina passes BETH, the star of the ballet company, on her way into Lincoln Center. Beth signs autographs while the fans ignore Nina. In a group dressing room, Nina’s colleagues VERONICA and GALINA gripe about the failing company. Veronica believes they need fresh blood to bring popularity back to the company. A new girl (eventually introduced as LILY) arrives to the consternation of the other girls. The company does basic steps in a rehearsal space. Nina is chastised for her formal, emotionless performance. MICHAEL BRENNAN, the company’s intense director, arrives. He melodramatically explains the story of Swan Lake: a virginal young woman is trapped in the body of a swan, and only love can free her. She meets a prince, but the Black Swan—the White Swan’s “dark twin”—seduces the prince, leaving the White Swan to commit suicide, the only place where she can find freedom.

As he explains the story, Brennan wanders around the rehearsal space touching various women in the company. At the end, he tells them that the girls he didn’t touch are contenders for the dual lead in Swan Lake. Nina is one of these girls. She’s gleeful, but Beth doesn’t take the news so well—Nina catches her thrashing around in her dressing room. Later, Brennan auditions Nina. She’s excellent as the White Swan; her natural vulnerability and insecurity are suited to the role. He’s less impressed with her stiff, frigid interpretation of the Black Swan. He begs for seduction, but she can’t deliver. Adding insult to injury, Lily interrupts the audition, distracting Nina and causing her to make mistakes. It doesn’t matter much, though, because Brennan has already lost interest in Nina for the role. Depressed, Nina heads home. On the subway platform, a creepy overweight woman terrifies Nina, so she opts to walk home. On the way, Nina sees her double again. She’s distracted when her cell phone rings; when Nina looks back, the double is gone.

Nina arrives home and cries. Erica tries to comfort her daughter. Later, Nina practices the Black Swan dance. She works so hard, she splits a toenail. Nina works through the pain until she’s accomplished it. As Erica helps clean and dress Nina’s toenail, Nina contemplates asking Brennan for another shot. Erica discourages it. The next day, Nina dolls herself up before leaving. Erica knows what she’s up to and scolds Nina; angry, Nina allows her mother to wipe off her lipstick. Nina meets Brennan, who comes on to Nina as he explains what she needs for the role—genuine sexiness, a risk-taking personality. Brennan kisses Nina, who bites his lip. Brennan is shocked but amused. Later, Brennan posts a cast list, and Nina’s shocked to find her name as the lead. She rushes home to celebrate with Erica. When she doesn’t find Erica at home, Nina showers. In the mirror, she finds a rash on her shoulder. Nina looks at her actual shoulder but finds no rash—just a lot of scar tissue. Back in the mirror image, one of the rash bumps begins bleeding. Nina’s momentarily confused, but she’s distracted when she hears Erica arrive.

Nina meets DAVID, the male lead, and Brennan has them rehearse. As expected, Nina is great as the White Swan but terrible as the Black Swan. Brennan and Nina spot Lily rehearsing, and Brennan suggests Lily has the qualities he’s looking for in a Black Swan. That evening, Brennan drags Nina to a fundraiser, where he trumpets her as the new face of the company. Beth is there, but she sulks, gets drunk, and verbally abuses both Nina and Brennan. Lily’s also at the party, and when Nina’s in the bathroom, Lily bursts in with an anonymous stock broker, ready to snort cocaine and have unabashed sex. Nina excuses herself. Afterward, Brennan takes Nina back to his apartment to discuss the role. He immediately begins talking about sex, and when Nina demures, Brennan gives her a homework assignment: go home and masturbate.

At home, Erica tries to help Nina out of her dress. She notices scratch marks on Nina’s shoulder. Erica gets angry at Nina—excessive scratching is not a new problem, but it’s one Erica thought Nina outgrew. Erica forcefully cuts off Nina’s fingernails. The next morning, Nina hasn’t slept. She attempts to masturbate, but she can’t because Erica has slept in a chair in the room, watching Nina. At rehearsal, Brennan announces that Beth jumped off her balcony, nearly killing herself. Without her final performance generating revenue, the fate of the company rests on Nina’s shoulders. Nina visits Beth at the hospital. She’s in a coma. Nina rehearses a Black Swan solo, but she simply can’t do it. Fearing she’s self-conscious, Brennan sends everyone home and forces her to dance alone. She still can’t do it. Brennan begins to seduce her, then stops in the middle and explains that she needs to do what he just di, in her performance. Later, Nina’s left alone to weep. Lily arrives, formally introducing herself and consoling her colleague. Lily makes a joke about Nina having a crush on Brennan, but it hits too close to home—Nina gets angry and storms out.

That night, Nina showers. She momentarily sees her double in the shower, which causes her to panic. Nina looks at herself in the mirror and sees deep, bloody scratches in her shoulder. She tries to cut her fingernails, but she cuts too deep and snips the tips of her fingers. She rushes to bandage them before Erica gets home. The next day, Nina spots Brennan and Lily talking very seriously. During rehearsal, Brennan sarcastically remarks that he’s going to take it easy on Nina, which Lily told him Nina said. Nina gets angry, but Brennan is angrier that Nina can’t handle this role. Nina chews out Lily, who acts surprised. That night, Erica asks Nina if Brennan has tried anything with her. Nina doesn’t like the direction of the conversation and starts snapping at Erica. Lily arrives at the apartment, apologizes sincerely, and invites Nina out. Nina’s initially angered by Lily arriving unannounced, but she’s tired of her mother, so she goes with Lily. Lily takes her to a diner, giving Nina an eyeful of her typical night: hamburgers, beer, ecstasy, and any available man. All of this makes Nina uncomfortable, but she loosens up when Lily slips ecstasy into her drink. The rest of the night is a blur of clubbing and lascivious behavior. Nina brings Lily home. Erica is horrified to find her daughter under the influence, but Nina’s finally able to stand up to her. Before the fight gets truly ugly, Nina locks herself and Lily in the bedroom. Nina and Lily have aggressive sex.

Nina oversleeps and wakes to find Lily gone. Nina arrives at rehearsal, only to find Lily rehearsing her part. Nina snipes at Lily about engineering the previous evening for her own gain, but Lily acts confused, accusing Nina of having “lezzy wet dream,” because she went home with a guy, having parted ways from Nina much earlier. Nina calls her a liar and storms off. During rehearsal, Nina does a much better job as the Black Swan. Nina gets fitted for her costume and is enraged when Lily arrives, saying she’s now the alternate. Nina tries to confront Brennan, but he ignores her and hops in a cab with Lily. The next night, Nina tries to seduce Brennan and fails. Later, she catches Lily and Brennan having sex in the costume shop. Nina visits Beth in the hospital again. She’s out of her coma and lucid enough to hurl more insults at Nina. Nina begins to see Beth as a bruised, disfigured version of her double. Terrified, Nina runs away. She returns home, desperate to see her mother, but all the photos of Nina in the apartment begin whispering, scaring the hell out of Nina. She locks herself in her bedroom again, but she’s freaked Erica out enough that Erica tries beating the door down. Meanwhile, Nina digs into her shoulders and pulls a small black feather out of it. She looks into the mirror and sees black-red pupils in her own eyes. Erica finally beats the door down and sees her disturbed, bleeding daughter. Nina gets physical with Erica, resulting in Nina slamming her own head against the radiator and knocking herself out.

She wakes to find Erica caring for her, but it’s opening night. Erica says she called in sick for her. Nina is horrified. She rushes to the theatre, surprising everyone (and angering Lily). Nina’s costume hides the scratches and scabs. As she dances, Nina sees every female dancer transform into her double. Terrified, she collapses during a jump. Brennan is enraged. Nina recovers and blames David. In her dressing room, Nina sees her double again, but she transforms into Lily. Lily ridicules Nina’s flawed opening and keeps shifting between Lily and Nina’s double. Nina gets angry enough that they fight, shattering her wall mirror. Nina stabs Lily with a hunk of mirror, then goes out and dances as the Black Swan. Everyone’s astounded by her phenomenal dancing. Nina goes back to her dressing room, trying to hide the bleeding corpse of Lily. Suddenly, Lily knocks on the door. She apologizes for her behavior. When she’s gone, Nina looks down at the floor—no corpse. She looks at her own abdomen and sees a small red stain spreading under her costume. Nevertheless, she goes out and continues to dance. Everyone marvels at her greatness. Amid thunderous applause, Lily notices Nina acting strangely, then spots the bloodstain under the costume. Nina dies in Brennan’s arms, smiling.


Comments:

Black Swan isn’t quite sure if it wants to be a grim character study of an insecure ballerina or a psychological thriller about a damaged woman. Whatever its goal, the thriller elements come across as goofy instead of creepy, and the central character gets lost in a sea of ambiguities. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act does a capable enough job of establishing Nina and her desires: she lives in the shadow of an overbearing mother from whom she longs to escape, and she desperately wants to succeed as a ballerina. The story is less capable when establishing Nina’s apparent hallucinations; from the moment Swan Lake‘s plot is explained (shortly after seeing Nina’s “double” for the first time), the narrative path is inevitable.

The writers head steadily down a predictable course throughout the second and third acts. It does contain a few moments of surprise as Nina’s mental illness becomes more apparent, but once photographs start jeering at her and she begins seeing her double in the faces of every female in the company, the symbolism becomes so overwrought and ridiculous, it’s very difficult to take the story seriously. This is especially problematic in light of its tragic ending; audiences will have a hard time feeling the right amount of sympathy and sadness after laughing at the unintentionally silly hallucination sequences in the third act.

Worse than that, as increasing importance is placed on Nina’s mental and emotional fragility, the writers suddenly avoid the central question: other than terror, what is Nina really thinking and feeling? Does she have any awareness that she’s slowly crumbling, and if so, why does she make no effort to nip it in the bud? Aside from establishing her desire to dance the lead in Swan Lake, the writers don’t take time answering or even raising these questions. As a result, the “character study” portion of the script falls flat.

Nina’s relationships with Lily and Brennan echo the plot of Swan Lake, also to the screenplay’s detriment. Both Lily and Brennan feel like artificial constructs whose only purpose is to usher Nina through a story paralleling the ballet. Nina’s alleged love for Brennan never feels believable, so her anxiety about Lily’s increasing importance to Brennan always comes across as career-related, not romance-related. This triangle simply doesn’t work.

Similarly, while Nina’s strained relationship with her domineering mother starts off with a promising amount of believability, Erica descends into such an off-putting, over-the-top caricature in the second and third acts that it’s hard to believe Nina didn’t have a psychotic break earlier in life. Perhaps the idea was to reflect Nina’s emotional state by portraying Erica as Nina sees her, not as she actually is, but the writers make no attempt to show that as the case.

Read More


Cover Girl

Author: Gren Wells

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 7

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Reluctant pass

Logline:

A struggling business school student makes ends meet by working as a professional “beard” for in-the-closet gay men.


Synopsis:

Iowa native LILY (20s) says her goodbyes to coworkers at a bank and her waitress mother before moving to England to attend Cambridge University’s business school. Awed by her new surroundings, she stumbles into CHRISTIAN (late 20s), a dashing new teacher. The chancellor, HORWELL (50s), welcomes the new MBA candidates to the school. Unkempt slacker DREW (20s) arrives late. Horwell forces Drew to dance in front of everyone. Humiliated, Drew dances. Horwell welcomes Christian to the fold. Christian asks the new students what the most important part of business is. Only Lily answers correctly: integrity. Christian is suitably impressed. Lily receives a note from the bursar’s office. She learns that her tuition money, held by the bank where she worked in Iowa, has been stolen by her boss. Lily strikes a compromise with the bursar: she’ll find a job and pay in installments.

After failing to get a bank loan, Lily struggles to sell her possessions. She ends up ¬£50 short for the weekly payment, so she takes her clothes to a “quirky” thrift store, Threads—which happens to be owned by Drew. His gay employees, ZITTO and CHICK, are unimpressed with Lily’s clothing. Drew gets a call saying his date canceled. Zitto and Chick start sizing Lily up for the job. She’s confused, until Drew tells her his parents think he has a girlfriend, but he’s single. His date is a beard—his spikey-haired lesbian pal, MEL—but if Lily’s willing, he’d much rather have a bona fide straight woman as his companion. Lily agrees to do it, for ¬£50. Zitto and Chick give Lily a makeover and dress her in a chic outfit. Drew’s parents, BYRON and ELIZABETH, are nouveau riche (Byron worked his way up from a hotel bellhop to the owner of an entire chain), so they spend most of their time and fortune trying (and failing) to impress those born into the upper class. To everyone’s surprise, Lily makes a wonderful impression. During the course of the evening, Lily realizes Drew is also gay, and he’s hiding it from his parents. Lily also runs into Christian at the party. Although he’s with his girlfriend, SARAH, Lily and Christian flirt. It gets more intense as they drink, and they come close to kissing. Drew rushes Lily to a gay club, where she meets more of his friends (including Mel and ALLEN). When they explain the evening’s scheme, Allen announces a similar predicament: his bosses only promote people with families. Realizing this is a business opportunity, Lily offers herself up, at ¬£50 per hour. Allen agrees without argument.

The next morning, Lily assesses the approximate number of single, gay, in-the-closet men between the ages of 20 and 35. She thinks she’s struck a goldmine, and she asks Drew for help. He agrees, as long as she continues to be his beard, pro bono. After class, she apologizes to Christian for her drunken behavior the night before. Later, Lily is at Threads, trying to get ready for her date with Allen. Drew is unimpressed with her fashion sense, so he, Zitto, and Chick try to educate her on not only looking her best, but acting her best, teaching her to speak with a proper English accent, cramming about Allen’s colleagues and superiors, and most importantly, how to behave properly at a soccer match. By the time she goes on the date, Lily’s actually more well-versed in soccer than Allen, so she whispers things for him to say. The date is a smashing success. Later that night, Lily goes to a pub by herself to study. She runs into Christian, who laments that his father is retiring early, so Christian will need to stop teaching at the end of the term in order to run the family business. They get drunk again, and they end up kissing. Christian tells her he’d like to take her on a date once their class ends. Lily agrees.

On the way to another fake date at his parents’ house, Lily and Drew brainstorm ways to market her business. They settle on a viral word-of-mouth approach, since the idea is to keep clients confidential. This date is a private family dinner, so Lily is shocked to find Christian introduced as Drew’s brother; Christian is equally shocked to hear Lily is Drew’s girlfriend. The dinner is awkward and excruciating. Afterward, Lily asks why she never had a clue they were related from class; Drew explains that they don’t get along at all, so Christian merely ignores him rather than embracing him as a brother. Lily changes the subject back to her business, which she needs to get on the ground so she can afford rent. Drew invites her to move into his flat. Lily agrees, and in no time at all, her business is booming. A musical montage shows its growth: she dates a wide variety of gay clients, tailoring her look and attitude to what they think would look best, and she’s able to easily pay her tuition. She’s a hit no matter what the environment, and despite the odd nature of it, Lily’s proud of the business and works hard to increase profitability. It reaches a point where she’s so successful, she loses track of which date occurs on which night, despite having a Blackberry to keep it all organized.

After the montage, Allen “proposes” to Lily, giving her a beautiful ring in order to show his boss he’s really committed. Lily reluctantly agrees to it, but she continues wearing the ring after the date and ends up wearing it the following morning, when she and Drew meet Byron, Elizabeth, Christian, Sarah, and the Horwells at a country club. They’re all shocked and thrilled by the news. Drew rolls with it. Sarah browbeats Christian over not proposing to her first. She invites Lily to go clothes shopping. That night, at Threads, Drew, Allen, and the others get drunk together. Lily tries to convince them that maybe outsiders don’t care as much about their sexual orientation than they believe. The others disagree. Christian hands back one of Lily’s papers—it’s marked “SEE ME” in red ink. Christian notices her work has grown sloppy and fears she’s spending too much time partying. That night, Drew is surprised when Christian shows up at his flat, for the first time ever. Christian warns Drew not to drag Lily down with his carelessness.

Lily goes clothes shopping with Sarah. Under the guise of “girl talk,” Sarah tries to get Lily to admit she’s marrying Drew for his money. After repeatedly denying it, Sarah surreptitiously steals Lily’s Blackberry. She browses through it and announces to Christian that Lily’s a hooker. Christian refuses to believe it. Sarah tells her to meet him at the Ivy, a posh restaurant, at 8 so she can prove it. Meanwhile, as Lily prepares for a date, she tries to coach Drew through various methods of coming out. Drew won’t hear of it. Christian arrives at the Ivy and is seated by a flamboyantly gay ma√Ætre d’, just as Sarah calls to announce she won’t be able to make it. A few minutes later, Lily is seated at the same table. Both are shocked, for different reasons: Lily thinks this means Christian is gay, while Christian thinks this is proof that she’s a call girl. Things get even more awkward when PETER and PAMELA (Allen’s boss and his wife) arrive at the restaurant and notice Lily, whom they know as “Fiona,” sitting with another man. Lily introduces Christian and tries to smooth things over to convince them she’s not having an affair, but her protesting just makes them even more convinced. NICK, the agent of Lily’s actor client (SEAN), is also at the restaurant, trying in vain to woo macho director COLIN so he’ll cast Sean as the tough-guy lead in his next action movie. He drags Nick to sit with them, charm Colin, and convince him Sean’s straight. Lily leaves Christian to convince Peter and Pamela that they’re having an innocent dinner. Sparked by the ma√Ætre d’, Christian blurts out that he’s gay; this does the trick. Lily spots Byron and Elizabeth arriving and dives down, out of sight, unintentionally appearing to fellate Colin. Admiring her moxie, Colin agrees to hire Sean. Lily sneaks back into the restaurant for Christian, and they high-tail it out of there.

Able to find some privacy at a pub, Lily and Christian debate the ethics and morals of Lily’s chosen business. Christian still thinks she’s a call girl, but Lily still thinks Christian is gay and knows exactly the sort of non-sexual service she provides. At no time are they talking about the same thing, so Christian responds with shock and dismay at Lily’s frankness. They walk around Cambridge, and Lily admires its beauty and tells Christianthis is why she’s willing to do anything to stay here. Eventually, she makes a gay joke that Christian doesn’t understand, and they both finally figure out what the other has been thinking the whole time. Christian tells her he’s not gay but realizes, if she only “services” gay clientele, then Drew is. Humiliated, Lily runs away and immediately confesses what happened to Drew, who’s livid. At the university, Sarah has told Horwell that Lily is a call girl; she vehemently denies it but refuses to divulge what she’s actually doing. Horwell tells her they’re having a hearing in the evening, so she can defend herself by bringing proof. Lily immediately makes plans to return to Iowa. Christian drops by Drew’s flat to talk it out with him. When he finds out Lily’s left, Christian is shocked; Drew is shocked when he finds out about the hearing. They all band together to find her at the airport, with Mel’s help (she’s a flight attendant). They find her and return to Cambridge, but they’re caught in a traffic jam and have to run the last mile. Zitto, Chick, Allen, Sean, and a bunch of Lily’s other clients show up at the hearing, admit they’re gay and that Lily has done nothing wrong. Horwell allows Lily to stay.

Lily graduates from business school. She’s now dating Christian, now a full professor; Drew is dating Sean, which Byron and Elizabeth accept with surprising ease. Lily’s many clients turn up for the graduation, as does Lily’s mother. It’s a cheerful affair.


Comments:

Cover Girl is an amiable romantic comedy with a few novel twists (primarily Lily’s “beard girlfriend” business). Although many of the ideas are a lot of fun conceptually, the execution falters, resulting in a predictable story that isn’t quite as funny as it should be. As written, it merits a reluctant pass.

The first act breezes through the setup—Lily leaving the U.S. for business school, having her tuition money stolen, and starting the beard business—with such rapidity that it’s almost a blur. The quickness is in stark contrast to the more leisurely pace of the second and third acts, as if the writer overstuffed the first act with the setup in order to take time paying off every little detail in the opening pages. It’s a little bit jarring, especially since much of the setup is extraneous and could stand a bit of trimming.

Once the major beats of the story have been established, the second act attempts to raise the stakes with nearly every cliché in the romantic-comedy playbook. Aside from the fairly ingenious idea of Lily working as a beard for gay men, everything from the “two male leads turn out to be brothers” conceit to the farcical “every single character shows up at the same restaurant at the same time” scene to the “Three’s Company-esque misunderstanding” between Lily and Christian—it’s all been done before, and usually better. The third act is more of the same, to the point that the writer has some of the characters comment that they’ve ripped off the airport bit from Love, Actually. The self-awareness is admirable, but that doesn’t make it any better.

Although the characters, like the story, come from familiar stock, they’re all refreshingly engaging. Lily is a well-written bundle of intellectual anxiety, and Christian manages to come across quite charming despite his fairly generic role as the roguishly handsome, sensitive romantic lead. The subtle shades to characters like Drew and Allen make up for the tendency to turn the minor gay characters into swishy stereotypes. The only real character problem is Sarah, an evil caricature who only exists in the story because genre conventions say there needs to be a villain. She serves only to cause trouble, and the writer never gives a clear reason why Christian would give her the time of day.

The dialogue is extremely well-written in the sense that each character has a particular voice. In terms of crafting jokes and one-liners, it misses more often than it hits. Despite flaws like these, Cover Girl is extremely likable. It’s entirely possible that a funny cast skilled in improvisation could mine some of the comic ideas for gold. Without extremely good casting, it’s more likely to end up as a bland, forgettable romantic comedy.

Read More


Effie

Author: Emma Thompson

Genre: Drama/Romance

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In Victorian England, a woman struggles to endure a loveless marriage.


Synopsis:

In 1840, JOHN RUSKIN (early 30s) asks 11-year-old EFFIE GRAY what she thinks of a painting. The painting confuses her, because the woman portrayed in it is turning into a tree. John explains that she’s a nymph who turns herself into a tree to avoid the untoward advances of a god. A montage shows John and Effie exchange letters for eight years. Effie, now 19, marries John and reluctantly leaves her family behind to move into wealthy John’s large house. She’s introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin (60s), both of whom are unpleasant and treat Effie poorly. So does ANNA (60s), the maid who will now split her duties between Effie and Mrs. Ruskin. Despite the shabby treatment, Anna is thrilled to live in such a beautiful house, full of lively servants, with a man she truly loves. Mr. Ruskin hangs a new painting of the Grand Canal in Venice, which he bought in celebration of Effie and John’s marriage. That night, John admires Effie in her nightgown, claiming she is perfect. The next morning, Effie wakes up later than the rest of the household, annoying Anna and Mrs. Ruskin. Effie wanders the house, unsure of what she’s supposed to do as a wife. She attempts to help John, who finds her presence annoying and sends her to help Mrs. Ruskin tend her garden. Mrs. Ruskin makes no effort to mask her contempt and sends Effie back into the house. After a few days of feeling useless and receiving hostile treatment, Effie intentionally tears one of John’s shirts so she’ll have reason to sew it back up. Anna insists on taking it herself, but Effie fights and wins. She’s overruled by Mrs. Ruskin, who announces that she did not raise a child to wear darned clothing. Anna takes Effie clothes shopping, willfully allowing Effie to humiliate herself by buying a garish bright-pink dress in contrast to the family’s drab Victorian fashions.

After forcing her to change, John takes Effie to an art exhibition by a painter he’s sponsored, JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS. John acts like the evening is more about his benevolent sponsorship than about Millais’s skills. Effie charms a middle-aged woman, LADY EASTLAKE, to the consternation of the elder Ruskins, who want to make a good impression on the Lady but wish Effie would remain shunned. They’re pleased, though, when Eastlake invites herself over to the Ruskins’ home for dinner. The mistreatment by John and his family causes Effie to lapse into a deep depression. Its peak coincides with the Eastlake dinner, and since the Lady has come specifically to see Effie, Mrs. Ruskin flies into a rage when Effie refuses to leave her room. She forces Anna to dress Effie, and they drag her downstairs. Eastlake immediately recognizes Effie’s illness and tends to her with the sensitivity and compassion of a mother. She takes Effie upstairs, makes her some tea, and sits with her. Upon leaving, Eastlake apologizes to her husband for forcing him to endure an evening with such an unbearable family.

John flies into a rage over Effie’s humiliation of the Ruskin family, which sends Effie into a further spiral. She finds herself barely able to do more than coo that she wants her mother. John sends for Effie’s parents, who arrive with Effie’s younger sisters, SOPHIE (teens), and newborn HORTENSIA. Effie is fascinated by the baby, but John finds them disgusting. Mrs. Ruskin and Mrs. Gray engage in a passive-aggressive battle of wits, culminating in Mrs. Gray finally saying what Effie’s been thinking: that the newlywed couple needs to move out. John, who intended a trip to Venice to research a book anyway, agrees to rent a flat in the Italian city. It does well for Effie’s mood but not the relationship. As John explains it, Effie’s free to pursue her interests, which means she’s not around to distract John from his work. Left to her own devices, Effie is chaperoned by an Italian VISCOUNTESS (50s) and her good-looking son, RAFAEL (30s). Effie enjoys their company, quickly learning Italian and taking in all the local sights and customs. Before long, Rafael is smitten. A few days after an exhilirating night of dancing, Rafael makes a rather improper pass, placing Effie’s hand on his bulging crotch. Effie’s shocked and terrified; she runs away. Rafael pursues, but Effie makes it home. John is distracted and apathetic. Effie makes no mention of the encounter with Rafael. She goes into the bedroom and discovers that tree bark is growing from her hand.

An unspecified time later, Effie and John are back in England. Effie tries to engage John in sexual activity, but John has no interest. Citing her depression and apparent madness, Anna and Mrs. Ruskin attempt to force Effie to take pills. Effie fights them, further enraging Mrs. Ruskin, who begins to insist that Effie wants to kill her. The stress and depression causes Effie’s hair to begin falling out in patches. She learns to style her hair to conceal it. John brings in a doctor to sedate Effie. John gripes about Effie’s “neverending succession of minor ailments” and noting her hysterical nymph hallucination. The doctor suggests fresh air, exercise, and an environment Effie finds more suitable. He suggests Scotland, Effie’s homeland. John has no interest in doing this, but the doctor is very insistent. Mrs. Ruskin attempts to talk John out of it, noting that he should not have to uproot his life for her. Mr. Ruskin counters that John will not be able to get any work done until Effie’s in a less distracting mental state. John and Effie go off to rural Scotland. John invites Millais along, because he’s commissioned a portrait and feels they can use this time to work on it.

Shortly after arriving, Effie receives word that her mother lost another child. Millais finds her weeping and consoles her. Later, he’s shocked to find John neither knows nor cares about Mrs. Gray’s miscarriage. John’s hostile attitude regarding Mrs. Gray’s breeding habits shocks Millais. Another day, John and Millais play a friendly indoor badminton game while Effie watches. It grows steadily more competitive, until John (seemingly intentionally) shoves Effie to the floor in order to make a difficult volley. Millais is shocked that John doesn’t check to see if he’s hurt Effie. Millais checks on her himself, but Effie apologizes, saying she got in the way. This disturbs Millais. On a rainy day, Millais’s arthritis causes him to stop. John, who’s sitting for the portrait outside, carefully wraps the canvas and takes it back to the house, leaving Millais to deal with the rest of the supplies and the makeshift tent he’s arranged for the sitting. Because of the excess baggage, Millais ends up slipping and banging his nose. John’s apathetic, but Effie rushes to help Millais.

John leaves for a lecture in Edinburgh, disregarding propriety and allowing Millais and Effie to stay together. With John out of the way, Millais and Effie are able to get closer. He’s a sweet, attentive man, but he makes a minor faux pas when he mentions John told him Effie didn’t want children. This is news to Effie, and it shocks and chills her. Effie begins to lapse into depression again, and Millais is so kind and attentive that she doesn’t know how to deal with his behavior. They hold hands, a bold move in Victorian society. When John returns, Millais chastises John’s indifference toward his wife. John shrugs it off, noting that he’s been married to Effie long enough to know she’s a damaged soul. Millais, in John’s opinion, just doesn’t know her well enough. Millais bristles, barely able to control his anger.

During dinner, more of John’s condescending remarks finally causes Millais to leave in a huff. Later that night, Effie gets up when she hears Millais return. Millais is still angry about the way John treats Effie, but Millais begs him to keep quiet, to avoid waking John. John is secretly awake and overhears the entire conversation. A short time later, John announces they’ll return to London. His lecture in Edinburgh was so successful, they want him to give it at home. Effie refuses to go back, but John is not interested in her opinion. Millais’s anger boils over. Privately, to Effie, he decides he can’t continue the portrait. Effie begs him to continue, because John will make Effie suffer over it. Millais reluctantly agrees. Effie tries to convince Millais to ask John to stay at the house, but Millais fears John suspects something’s going on between him and Effie. Instead, Millais suggests Effie bring Sophie, to give her an outlet for her frustration.

In London, Sophie arrives, and Mr. Ruskin takes a particular interest in her. John announces the family is going on a Grand Tour of Germany, so John can research yet another book. Effie tries to refuse, but again, John won’t hear of it—and now he has the family’s support to back him up. Effie begs John to tell her what he wants from a wife, but John bitterly calls their marriage a crime, accusing Effie of wickedness and impudence. Sophie, who has worked her way into the good graces of the Ruskins, absorbs all the gossip from the family and relays it to Effie. The family’s hostility takes a toll on Sophie, too, but their ability to talk to each other helps with the burden. Effie pays a surprise visit to Lady Eastlake. They have a polite conversation about sex, in which Effie reveals that John has not actually consummated the marriage. On their wedding night, he found her body disgusting and rejected her. Effie explains she would have put up with a sexless marriage, if only he were kind. Now, she wants to know if there’s a legal way to get out of the marriage. Eastlake consults a lawyer, TWISS, who explains that divorce is impossible for a woman to initiate, but because the marriage was never consummated, it can still legally be annulled. Once Twiss files his petition, Effie packs her clothes along with Sophie under the guise of sending Sophie home. They go to the train station with John, but Effie sends him away because they’ve arrived so early. At the Ruskin home, Twiss arrives to serve John with the formal notice of annulment, which shocks the entire family. Millais arrives and asks a servant what happened to Effie. He rushes to the train station. For the sake of propriety, Effie and Millais force Sophie to relay their messages of love. Effie tells Millais that she loves him, but they must wait an appropriate period of time before marrying. Millais agrees.


Comments:

In focusing on one of the most notorious scandals of the Victorian era (a woman initiating an annulment after six years of marriage!), Effie seeks to put a feminist spin on the outdated notions of propriety while telling a story of doomed romance. It has a few delightful moments, but an overall lack of character development makes it difficult to empathize with the characters and fully buy into the love story. As written, it merits a pass.

While the script does an exceptional job of illustrating the hostile environment Effie is forced to endure in the Ruskin household, the Ruskins themselves are not terribly well-developed. Some early scenes suggest Mrs. Ruskin is jealous of Effie, but this grows less believable as a catalyst for her bad behavior once John starts openly disdaining Effie, too. Ultimately, the Ruskins (including John) come across as stereotypical upper-crust snobs, and they lack any dimension to make them rise above the clichés.

Effie, herself, is an annoyingly passive protagonist, allowing the other characters to push her around like a pawn on a chess board. Even when she finally stands up for herself by seeking an annulment, she does it in the most passive way possible: she asks her influential friend for help, then sneaks out of the Ruskin home in secret and lets her lawyer do all the dirty work. Adding insult to injury, it’s never made entirely clear why Effie fell so hard for John in the first place. A montage of love-letter-exchanging serves as the full development of their romantic relationship. Granted, it’d be a bit disturbing watching a romance between a tween and a full-grown adult, but the writer never truly sells the love (which is the only reason given for them to marry), which in turn makes the marriage difficult to accept.

As for the story, the first act does a reasonably good job of establishing the characters and tone. Despite the ever-changing locales, the scenes of passive verbal abuse toward Effie grow a bit redundant in the second act. As a result, Millais’s importance to the story is undermined for far too long, making his romance with Effie feel a bit rushed, almost to the point that it feels tacked-on. The third act contains some well-crafted surprises—notably the bombshell that John found Effie disgusting and refused to consummate the marriage—but everything speeds by in a blur. Trimming those early scenes of Ruskin abuse in order to let the Millais romance and Effie’s annulment breathe would benefit this script immensely.

Despite the character problems, Effie is a meaty role that, in the hands of an exceptional actress, could impress despite the script’s problems. The movie is likely to fail without a performance of the highest caliber.

Read More


Faces in the Crowd

Author: Julien Magnat

Genre: Thriller

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 2

Characterization: 3

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

After a woman narrowly escapes a serial killer, she’s afflicted with a brain disorder that prevents her from seeing faces.


Synopsis:

ANNA (30s) wakes in the arms of her loving boyfriend, BRYCE. As they both get ready for work, a TV news report in the background announces that serial killer “Tearjerk Jack” has killed his fifth victim. Anna teaches kindergarten. She makes a good impression on the parents. After work, Anna meets her best friends FRANCINE (perpetually single and bitter about it) and NINA (a Chilean femme fatale) at a nightclub, where they check out guys and joke around. Afterward, Francine and Nina take a cab to another club, leaving Anna to walk home. She takes a pedestrian bridge over a river, not noticing that it’s partially under construction. Hidden in the repair site is Tearjerk Jack and his latest victim. Anna watches him kill the woman, then begin crying over it (hence the name). Tearjerk Jack doesn’t notice Anna—until her cell phone blares. He chases Anna, and she falls over the side of the bridge into the river, losing her distinctive handbag and her cell phone.

Anna wakes in a hospital, but she initially can’t see any faces at all. When the faces do finally take shape, they’re not the same as the ones she remembered. Anna’s terrified to hear different voices coming out of Bryce, Francine, and Nina. She flees the hospital room and locks herself in the bathroom. While doctors try to track down their key, Anna looks in the mirror—and sees someone else. She screams. Some time later, a neurologist diagnoses Anna with “prosopagnosia,” or “face blindness,” caused by the head injury she suffered falling into the river. As a result, every time she looks at a person—even someone very familiar to her—she’ll see an unfamiliar face, even though their voices and mannerisms are familiar. The neurologist optimistically suggests that she might be suffering some kind of mental shock and gives her the card of a neuropsychiatrist. Bryce brings Anna home and gets a phone call. He leaves the room, and when he comes back—he has yet another new face. Anna’s horrified. Bryce announces that a police detective called. He wants to take her statement.

Anna and Bryce meet DETECTIVE KERREST (30s, goatee) at the police station. Kerrest tells her that they didn’t find much of her personal effects at the crime scene. He asks Anna not to cancel her cell phone contract on the off-chance that the killer uses it for some reason. Anna gives her statement. Kerrest asks Anna to look at a facebook of possible suspects. Anna tries, but she wouldn’t even know the right face if she saw it. Desperate to find the killer, Kerrest grows hostile. Anna blows up, announcing that she simply can’t recognize faces. In the station cafeteria, Kerrest has lunch with police psychologist LANYON. They discuss the “face blindness,” which surprises and fascinates Lanyon. Other than Anna, they have no leads.

After a nightmare, Anna wakes to find yet another new Bryce ready to comfort her. She’s uneasy. Later, she calls her FATHER—who’s on vacation in Argentina—who announces he’ll be in town soon and invites Anna to dinner. Anna tells him to meet her after school. Temporarily using Bryce’s old cell phone, Anna can’t resist the temptation to dial her old cell phone number. As the phone rings, the doorbell rings, making Anna jump. It turns out to be new versions of Francine and Nina. They’ve recorded a backlog of Anna’s favorite soap opera and want to watch it together. The experience is frustrating, because the faces of actors change for Anna every time they’re off-camera. Anna decides to visit the neuropsychiatrist, DR. LANGENKAMP, but she thinks Langenkamp’s advice is New Age crap and leaves in a huff. The next morning, Anna prepares for her first day back at school. She’s horrified to learn the faces of her entire class appear blank to her. She has them make nametags and humiliates herself in front of unrecognizable parents when she can find their children. Outside, an unfamiliar man in a bright orange shirt leans against a tree, staring at her. When Anna looks back, he’s gone. Anna has a panic attack and explodes on her students. Anna’s boss puts her on extended leave, reluctantly allowing her to return in the fall if she improves. Anna rides the subway home. She’s horrified when her missing handbag appears on the seat across from her. Panicked, she calls Kerrest (who’s just learned of a seventh victim), who sends police to intercept the train. The connection cuts off, right around the time Anna sees the man in the orange shirt again, riding in the next car. He knocks on the window, trying to get her attention. Anna flees, hopping on another train. The man in the orange shirt follows, menacingly. Anna moves through the cars on the train, trying in vain to get away from him. He catches up with her just as the police get on the train and shout for him to freeze—but the man in the orange shirt is Anna’s Father, unrecognizable to her. Anna’s humiliated and upset.

At home, Anna flips out, shattering every mirror in the house, then growing increasingly agitated as the tiny mirror fragments reflect more and more unfamiliar faces. A new Bryce comes home, confused and irritated. Tail between her legs, Anna returns to Dr. Langenkamp, willing to take the process seriously now. Langenkamp offers various tips and tricks on how to recognize people without their faces. Anna quickly grows more confident as she learns to use hairstyle, clothing, jewelry, gait, etc., to identify people. With Bryce, Anna begins using a journal to identify him by the tie. As Anna starts to recognize him more easily, Bryce believes she’s getting better and really sees his face. Anna lets him believe this. After awhile, Anna is called in to see Kerrest yet again, and she’s shocked to learn that Kerrest has the same face he had when she saw him originally. She doesn’t know what makes him special, but she’s thrilled about it. Kerrest introduces Anna to Lanyon, who explains his theory about Tearjerk Jack: that he’s ashamed and disturbed by his crimes, which is what causes him to cry over the victims. Anna tells Kerrest she thinks she can identify the killer by watching him walk. They stage a line-up, but she fails to identify a killer.

Anna has a birthday party at the nightclub. They see an extremely good-looking guy dancing, and Francine is shocked to see him checking her out. She goes to dance with him, but something about him makes Anna think he’s the killer. She rushes to find Bryce—who’s at the bar—for help, but it’s actually a completely different guy. Now aware of her dishonesty, Bryce dumps Anna on the spot. Shortly after he leaves, Anna receives a call—from her own phone! It’s the killer, who ridicules her and makes it abundantly clear that he’s watching her and knows she can’t spot faces. He’s angry and oddly flippant, claiming her inability to identify him is the only thing that keeps him from stopping, but he wants to stop. He hangs up, and Anna realizes Francine has disappeared. Eventually they find her—dead, on the dance floor. Later, Kerrest and Lanyon arrive with the police. Kerrest takes Anna’s statement. When Kerrest finds out the killer called just after Bryce left, he grows suspicious, especially when they can’t get ahold of Bryce. Anna takes Kerrest back to her apartment, where he steps on Bryce’s coat on the floor. Anna picks it up, and her old cell phone tumbles out. Kerrest decides to take Anna to a coastal island village, to keep her safe while the police look for Bryce and wait for DNA results. Anna enjoys the quiet and simplicity. She and Kerrest make love.

Anna wakes to find Kerrest has shaved his goatee—and now he looks like a completely different person to Anna. Thinking his unchanging face somehow meant something special, Anna is now crushed and depressed by the unintentional betrayal. Kerrest is confused. He takes her back to the city once Bryce has been cleared through DNA. Anna realizes she’s had nightmares in which she saw people’s real faces—she thinks she can identify the killer through hypnosis. Langenkamp warns against it, but Anna and Kerrest are willing to risk it. Through the hypnosis, the best they can find is that Anna did see the real killer during the line-up. Kerrest puts out an APB on the line-up suspects. Lanyon warns Kerrest against this recklessness, noting that eight of the 10 already had negative DNA tests. Anna receives a text from Bryce, asking her to meet him at a fancy restaurant. Unable to find Kerrest, Anna leaves him a VoiceMail and meets Bryce. Bryce apologizes and makes a kind declaration of love. Anna crushes him by saying she’s come to realize she doesn’t truly love him. Bryce storms off to the restroom, telling her he didn’t expect this after her text message. Once the remark registers, Anna checks his text history and learns someone sent him an identical message to the one she received. Lanyon, the killer, waits for Bryce. He murders him and steals his clothes.

Unaware he’s not Bryce, Anna grabs Lanyon so they can get out of the restaurant before the killer finds them. Kerrest gets Anna’s VoiceMail and comes after her, somehow coming to the conclusion that Lanyon is the killer. Anna and Lanyon run outside, just as Kerrest and backup arrive. Anna doesn’t recognize him, but she realizes Lanyon isn’t Bryce. She grabs a policeman’s gun and runs, back to the pedestrian bridge where she originally saw the killer. Lanyon chases her, and Kerrest chases him. Anna recognizes neither of them. Eventually, Kerrest dabs oil on his face to simulate the goatee. Kerrest and Lanyon fight, and Lanyon pulls his gun. Lanyon manages to bury Kerrest in a tarp, freeing him to return to Anna. Anna throws him over the bridge, killing him. She runs back to find Kerrest, but Lanyon has shot him. He dies.

Anna narrates an epilogue describing her new life. She moved to the island village, where it’s easy to recognize people because there aren’t many of them. She teaches a small group in a one-room schoolhouse and lives alone, still loving Kerrest.


Comments:

Faces in the Crowd attempts to craft a Memento-like thriller about a brain-damaged person attempting to catch a criminal. Despite its nifty premise, the script tells a leaden, predictable story that gets downright silly in its third act. As written, it merits a pass.

The script’s most significant problem is its characters and how they relate to one another. The writer gives a lot of surface information about Anna—she’s a teacher in a happy relationship with some good friends— but he never digs past the surface. Since the story is more preoccupied with how she deals with her “face blindness” than with the murder plot, the fact that we learn so little about the character is frustrating and makes her struggles far less compelling than they should be.

The supporting characters get a similar superficial treatment. Anna’s friends add nothing to the story except more people for her to not recognize. Bryce is so bland and generically supportive that his sudden 180 when he discovers Anna has lied about recognizing his face seems far-fetched, as does the notion that he’d ever be a suspected serial killer. Worst of all, Anna’s romance with Kerrest comes completely out of left field. The writer gives no inkling that these people are even attracted to each other until they’ve already made love, after which he hastily adds a line suggesting that Anna thought he was special because she could recognize him when everyone else was unfamiliar.

The setup for this story is fantastic—a woman witnesses a serial killer in action, they struggle, she survives but receives a brain injury that prevents her from recognizing his or anyone else’s face. After the briskly paced first act, however, the writer sticks the serial killer story into the background and concentrates more on Anna’s symptoms and her struggle to deal with the disorder. As previously stated, this would be fine if she were a more interesting, well-rounded character. Because she’s not, the second act is a bit plodding. The writer tries to keep the suspense up by choosing random characters to make suspicious—first Kerrest, then Bryce—but it’s never convincing. Keeping Lanyon in the background and consciously keeping him free of suspicion, ironically, makes it more obvious that he’ll be the killer.

The aimless, random plotting leads to a baffling third act, in which Anna’s longtime boyfriend is murdered but Anna doesn’t care much, Lanyon turns into a sneering caricature of a serial killer, and Kerrest inexplicably concludes Lanyon was the killer all along. None of this makes much sense, and it all goes back to poorly written characters: Lanyon never gets enough face time for audiences to understand why he’s so angry and disgusted by his crimes but can’t just confess or commit suicide; Kerrest draws his conclusions out of thin air, sloppily putting together pieces that don’t fit; and, since the writer never sells the love story between Anna and Kerrest, it’s inconceivable that his murder would have a more profound impact on her than the death of Bryce, a man she’s dated and lived with for an unspecified number of years.

Adding insult to injury, the dialogue is astonishingly bad. When characters aren’t making on-the-nose statements, they’re either talking in riddles or eye-rolling one-liners. This is a bad script that cannot be saved by any measure.

Read More