Posts in: October, 2009

Jianyu Jianghu (A World of Swishing Swords)

Author: Damu

Genre: Action/Romance/Fantasy

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




After giving up her life as an assassin, a woman falls in love with a man and tries hard to keep him from finding out about her past.


Opening titles explain the backstory: 800 years ago, the revered Buddhist monk Bodhidharma became one of the most renowned martial artists in history. Hundreds of years after he died, rumors circulated that anyone who possessed Bodhi’s remains would be able to achieve his mastery of martial arts. At one point, the remains were divided into halves and separated. When the Black Stone—the largest organization of assassins in the martial arts world—discovered the location of one of these halves, three assassins were dispatched to recover it. The three assassins are LEI BIN, whose weapon of choice are tiny steel needle projectiles; LIAN SHENG, a magician with command over fire; and DRIZZLE, a powerful swordswoman. They attack ZHANG HAIDUN, who has half of the Bodhi’s remains, but Haidun’s son, RENFENG, comes after them with a pair of swords. Drizzle kills him easily, plunging a sword through his chest and allowing him to fall into a river. A mysterious monk appears, asking Drizzle for the remains. She runs off with them.

Three months later, a group of assassins meet in a tavern, including KILLER BEAR and his sister, EATER BEAR; an OLD GRANNY and a YOUNG BOY; SHAN BING, an ex-police chief; TIAN QINGTONG, a girl disguised as a boy; and the SONGYANG FIVE SWORDSMEN (five brothers). CHEN, a fat merchant who fancies himself a martial artist, announces that whoever brings the head of Drizzle to his bank will be rewarded by the blackstone with 50,000 gold taels and the 800,000 silver taels Drizzle allegedly carries with her. Chen shows them Drizzle’s last known location and where they presume she’ll be in a couple of days. He offers them all copies of Drizzle’s portrait. The Songyang Five strike out on their own, but the remaining assassins all gather in a farmhouse for the night. They discuss their various reasons for wanting the money. In a wild action sequence, Drizzle kills every one of the assassins, except Qingtong, who sneaks up on Drizzle as she leaves. She stabs Drizzle in the shoulder, announcing she’s avenging the death of her father. A clearly regretful Drizzle willingly allows Qingtong to kill her, but Qingtong can’t.

Drizzle rows a small boat to the larger boat of DR. LI, a medicine man who helps Drizzle recover from her shoulder wound. In addition, he uses strange, old-fashioned techniques to allow Drizzle to change her face. Once she’s recovered from the change, Drizzle moves to Nanjing and rents a house, introducing herself as ZENG JING, a poor girl with no family or husband. Zeng flashes on a pre-“facelift” meeting with a monk known as WISDOM, her former trainer. He’s been following her in order to recover Bodhi’s remains. Ultimately, Drizzle kills Wisdom. With his dying breath, he asks her to take the remains to another monk, OBSESSION, at a temple in Nanjing. In the present, Zeng introduces herself to Obsession and hands over the remains. He invites her to come to the temple any time she’s in spiritual doubt. Trying to figure out what to do with her time, Zeng catches a shop owner chopping vegetables like crazy. Intrigued by the knifeplay, Zeng asks the owner to teach her how to cook. Meanwhile, Chen meets with Lian Sheng, Lei Bin, and WHEEL KING, their master. He’s hellbent on finding Drizzle in order to recover the “other” half of the remains, but nobody knows what happened to her. Chen proudly announces that they’ve found a substitute for drizzle—TURQUOISE YE, an early-20s sociopath who’s sentenced to death for murdering three men who wanted to marry her. Hidden in the shadows on the ceiling of her cell, Lei Bin drops some tortoise powder in the wine at Turquoise’s last meal. She immediately seems to die. Her body is hauled to a graveyard, where the Black Stoners wait for her to awaken. She’s angry about the tortoise powder, but Wheel King isn’t interested in her sass. He gives her an ultimatum: join them, or die again.

Nine months later, JIANG AHSHENG takes a job as a Nanjing courier. In the marketplace where Zeng now sells fabric, Zeng pays no attention to the attractive young courier. This surprises her landlady, MRS. CAI, who can’t figure out why Zeng is so disinterested in single men. One afternoon, it starts raining. Zeng and Jiang find themselves in the same teahouse to wait it out. Jiang offers to buy her a cup of tea, but Zeng dashes out the instant the rain stops. While Mrs. Cai marvels at Zeng’s cooking ability, Wheel King teaches Turquoise the secrets of martial arts—by practicing on the judge who sentenced her to death. Jiang is offered a job as a government courier. Lei Bin comes home one night, revealing he’s now married to Qingtong, who holds a newborn baby. Jiang frequently drops by the marketplace whenever it rains in the hopes that he can help and stand near Zeng. The Black Stoners continue to train Turquoise. After four months, Zeng finally invites Jiang to marry him. He’s a little shocked by the breach in etiquette, but he’s amused because he said he had already submitted an egagement request to Mrs. Cai. They marry, and Jiang finally accepts the higher-paying government job. He doesn’t realize that he’s shuffling letters around the city to various Black Stoners plotting assassinations and discussing the strange murders of other Black Stoners, which they think may have something to do with Drizzle despite not matching her attack style.

One night, Zeng and Jiang go over their finances. Jiang is disillusioned to learn Zeng makes more money at the marketplace than he does as a courier. Zeng uneasily broaches the subject of what Jiang would do if he had 800,000 silver taels. Jiang can’t even imagine, but he’s tired of struggling to make ends meet. A few days later, Zeng carefully mentions a relative died and left her some money. Jiang’s thrilled. Zeng’s about to tell him the truth about her past, but she settles on telling him he left 800 silver taels. She tells him she wants to use the money to move north and buy land to start their own business. Jiang’s surprised by the suddenness and seriousness of her request. He says he’ll speak with his supervisor about it. Zeng goes to the temple to bid Obsession farewell. Excited to leave the city, Zeng meets Jiang at the bank to deposit their windfall—when it’s robbed by the Songyang Five Swordsmen! They believe the other half of Bodhi is in this bank’s vault. Zeng tries to hide her swordfighting skills, but when Jiang is threatened, she can’t help herself. She attacks and kills all but the eldest of the brothers. She takes Jiang’s injured body and flees on the rooftops. That night, Zeng can’t figure out why Jiang doesn’t want to discuss what happened. Jiang finally exclaims that he feels useless—he makes less money than Zeng, and he can’t protect her. Zeng tries to make him feel secure.

The Songyang Eldest reports to the Black Stoners about what he saw at the bank. Wheel King realizes the woman he fought was none other than Drizzle. He sends Turquoise, Lei Bin, and Lian Sheng to Nanjing. They search the city, murdering anyone who gets in their way, until Lei Bin finds Zeng at the marketplace. He kills Mrs. Cai with one of his steel needles, then chases Zeng through the rooftops. Meanwhile, Turquoise encounters Jiang at the teahouse. To show her power, she raises her sword and brings it down hard, only cutting a tiny snag in Jiang’s shirt—Jiang doesn’t even notice her, but Zeng sees her from outside. Zeng barely manages to flee Lei Bin. Once she returns home, she refuses to expose herself with bright oil lamps; instead, she works by candle. That night, Turquoise, Lei Bin, and Lian Sheng break into the house. Before they can kill her, Wheel King arrives, demanding the location of the remains. Zeng offers a trade: she’ll give him her half of the remains and help them recover the other half if he allows Zeng and Jiang to live in peace. Wheel King agrees, to the consternation of the others. That night, Turquoise demands to know what’s so special about the Bodhi’s remains. Wheel King refuses to tell her, so she attempts to seduce her. He sends her away.

While Zeng, Lei Bin, and Lian Sheng break into the bank with a few other assassins, Turquoise sneaks into Jiang’s house. Jiang is shocked. He starts yelling for the neighbors. Turquoise flees before anyone can see her. At the bank, Zeng and the others negotiate a price with the bank owner for the second half of the remains. They put the two halves together—and the full remains are stolen by a Taoist monk assassin. Lian Sheng chases the monk, decapitating her in order to retrieve the satchel with the remains. Wheel King arrives, demanding the remains. Lian Sheng wants them for himself, thinking they can heal his old injuries. Wheel King decapitates Lian Sheng, then turns his attention to Zeng. She reminds him that she did everything they agreed on, but Wheel King has wanted to fight her for years—he knows her weaknesses. They fight briefly, but Zeng manages to get away. She returns to Jiang, covered in blood. He puts her to bed. Turquoise and Lei Bin storm the house, attacking Jiang. Jiang shocks them by being quite a skilled swordsman himself. He pulls out a pair of swords, which makes Lei Bin realize he is Zhang Renfeng.

Wheel King examines Bodhi’s remains. Knowing Bodhi was castrated, Wheel King wants some sign that his power allowed his naughty bits to grow back. Wheel King reveals to Turquoise that he, himself, is a eunuch, and all along he’s wanted to recover the parts so he could restore his full manhood. After challenging Wheel King, Jiang takes Zeng to Dr. Li to help her heal. Jiang goes to the temple and finds out Zeng is Drizzle. He’s horrified and enraged. Zeng meets him outside the temple, and he admits he’s Renfeng, and that he swore to avenge his father’s death by killing her. As they battle, he explains that he survived as the result of a rare genetic deformity that inverted the arrangement of his organs—meaning she never stabbed his heart. After Dr. Li helped him recuperate and he started a new life with a new name, Jiang felt himself drawn to Zeng for unknown reasons. Now, he knows why, and he’s less offended by “killing” him than his father. Zeng tells Jiang that the fact that he hasn’t killed her already shows he has some feeling for her. Jiang drops his guard, and Zeng stabs him in the chest again.

When Turquoise insults Wheel King’s manhood, he knocks her unconscious and buries her outside the temple. He finds Zeng standing in front of a grave with Jiang’s body. He’s surprised that she killed Jiang but pleased because it makes things easier for him. Zeng and Wheel King battle. Wheel King is confident he knows her weaknesses and can kill her, but he’s wrong—after weakening him with a variety of wounds, she strikes the deathblow. However, Zeng is quite injured herself. She collapses next to Jiang’s body, flashing on her battle with Jiang. She has intentionally stabbed his acupoints to keep him from moving. She gives him tortoise powder to make him appear dead. She’s certain she will die, so she gives Jiang more than enough to start a new life outside Nanjing. Zeng is willing to die, because she killed the only two men in her life—one (the monk Wisdom) by her own hand, the other by destroying his family.

In the present, Jiang awakens. Because the tortoise powder kept him conscious but immobile, he knows exactly why Zeng did what she did, and he realizes they both truly have fallen in love with each other. As they leave, rain turns the fresh graves to mud. Turquoise’s fingers claw through her gravesite. After the credits, Turquoise—whose face and dress has changed completely, not unlike Zeng’s—arrives at an elderly woman’s house, inquiring about a house for rent.


Jianyu Jianghu is a fantastical martial-arts action story with a winning premise. However, the poorly developed characters and predictable storyline overshadows the script’s occasional novel ideas. As written, it merits a pass.

Act one sets up what’s happening in the story in its efficient opening sequence: Bodhi’s remains, the evil Black Stoners, and guilt-stricken Drizzle/Zeng are all established in a few quick action sequences. When Zeng changes her identity and tries to start a new life, the story takes a very intriguing turn. The second act mostly develops the romance between Zeng and Jiang, which is sweet and well-written. This subplot is engaging enough that it would have been nice if the script didn’t spend so much time cutting back to blustery Wheel King and his angry assassins. Their part in the story is not nearly as interesting or well-developed as Zeng and Jiang’s love story.

The love story is ultimately marred by the writer telegraphing the “twist” that Jiang is actually Zhang Renfeng, a Black Stone murder victim, far too early. It seemed obvious almost from the moment they met who Jiang would turn out to be, and it adds nothing to the story but a predictable surprise and a little bit of cheap irony. It also allows Jiang to participate in the fight sequences that dominate the third act. The writer also tries to squeeze last-minute character development—including important information like why Zeng changed her identity and why Wheel King is so obsessed with Bodhi’s remains—between the action, which doesn’t allow the characters any time to digest the revelations. It’s just a tidal wave of exposition to let the audience finally understand why these people do what they do, but the characters themselves don’t seem terribly interested in each other’s motives.

The characters’ seeming lack of motivation until the last few pages has a great deal to do with why the love subplot is significantly more interesting than the main storyline. The few characters who do have purpose—Zeng, Jiang, and Wheel King—are determined to keep secrets until the end. Without clueing in the audience, it will be difficult to get them invested on why Bodhi’s remains are so important to these characters and/or why they went to such great lengths to change their identities, even if the love story is interesting. When the information is finally revealed, it’s usually quite compelling. In the case of Wheel King’s “secret eunuch” revelation, it’s a fantastic surprise. However, until these last-minute bombshells, the characters remain at arm’s-length from the audience and, as such, it’s difficult to get absorbed in their activities.

The supporting characters have nothing going for them except varied fighting styles. These characters don’t do much more than talk tough and fight. While they may enhance the fight scenes, they don’t enhance the story in any way. Another last-minute reveal, Lian Sheng’s personal desire for the remains to help him stay youthful, adds dimension to that character roughly 15 seconds before he’s decapitated. Merely offering small bits of insight and ambitions to the supporting characters early in the story would go along way to making them more believable and valuable to the story.

As a martial-arts movie, Jianyu Jianghu will likely deliver great action sequences, but the story and characters surrounding those action sequences are too muddled to make it truly exciting. A rewrite is needed to make audiences truly care about who lives and dies in each battle.

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Nicholas North

Author: Matthew Wilder, Antti J., Eric Rochford

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/Holiday

Storyline: 6

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 7

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




Teen thief Nicholas North, the future Santa Claus, travels to strange lands to save a village from an evil witch.


In an orphanage surrounded by magical fairies, a woman known as MOTHER FAIR gathers the children around to tell them a Christmas Eve story. In the distant past, a rough-looking, tattooed SHAMAN rides a sled speedily away from an unknown pursuer. In a hurry, the Shaman reveals an eight-year-old boy (NICHOLAS), casts a quick spell, and sends Nicholas away on a block of floating ice, leaving him with nothing but a small iron dagger. The Shaman leaps back on his sled, running from a huge, flying creature made of iron, the SCREAGER. It soars after the Shaman, ignoring Nicholas. The ice cracks, plunging Nicholas into the cold depths of the Arctic. Meanwhile, a sinister shadow woman—later revealed as HELLION, an evil witch—ties up a woman named ANNUKKA, saying Annukka has something she needs. Annukka tells Hellion that “he” is gone now, so he’s safe from her. Hellion says nothing is safe from her.

A frozen Nicholas is lifted onto the deck of a pirate vessel by a sinister leader of thieves, CALIFAX. Once they thaw and he realizes it’s just a boy, Califax wants to throw him back, declaring him useless. However, HESHY, a perpetually fearful talking hedgehog, knows Nicholas can be useful. With his golden hair and sparkling blue eyes, he’d serve as a wonderful distraction for their thieving. Heshy asks Nicholas’s name. Nicholas has no last name, so Heshy gives him one—North, to indicate where he came from. A montage follows, showing Nicholas initially distracting people while Califax and his men robbed them. Eventually, he becomes quite adept at stealing himself. When Nicholas reaches 17, he and Heshy are forced to hide as Califax and his men are shackled together and led away by angry soldiers. Left with nothing but cunning, Nicholas leads Heshy to a Viking village.

They enter a tavern, where Nicholas challenges a huge, surly man to a wrestling match. The prize? Two bowls of soup. Nicholas defeats the man handily, despite the size. The Viking tavern owner—even bigger than the man Nicholas defeated—bets him 10 gold pieces that he’ll win. To make the fight fair, they must strip down to their underwear. Upon stripping down, the other Vikings discover Nicholas has engineered a metal exoskeleton to give him superior strength. Stripped of that, the tavern owner crushes Nicholas and throws him and Heshy out of the tavern, instructing them not to leave town until they pay him 10 gold pieces apiece. Outside, an old thief, COLONEL SIBELIUS, takes pity on Nicholas and Heshy. He gives them a tip about a nearby home that’s empty for the night. They can rob it and get the gold they need. Nicholas and Heshy investigate the house. Inside, they find a bunch of poor, orphaned “Anagoarbada” people, described as smaller, furrier versions of humans. Nicholas takes pity on them, so he and Heshy prepare to leave—when they’re attacked by SARAH, a beautiful teenage Anagoarbada girl, who waves a butcher knife and shouts nonsense at them. Nicholas and Heshy try to talk sense into her, but she won’t listen. They run—right into Colonel Sibelius, who waits with the constable.

A judge sentences Nicholas and Heshy to a punishment for their crimes: they’re to be hung by one leg from hot hair balloons, which will lose their air somewhere over the neighboring mountain range, most likely killing the two of them. They’re about to be released into the air—when Sarah, wielding a sword, cuts them down. They’re baffled by the sudden change of heart, but Sarah leads them back to her house, now empty. She tells them Hellion has stolen every person living in the village and has taken them to her mines in the North Pole, forcing them into slavery. She enlists Nicholas and Heshy to help her save the village, but they think she’s out of her mind—until Sarah mentions they’re mining for diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and gold. He has a sudden change of heart, so he and Heshy accompany her on the journey.

On the road, Sarah says they need to find the Shaman (Nicholas doesn’t remember the Shaman who raised him as a child, so he makes no connection), but in order to do that, they must first find the elf village. Nicholas and Heshy laugh at her, saying that in all their years adventuring, they’ve never seen elves. While mocking her, Nicholas falls into a tunnel, which turns out to be a chimney, right into the elves’ blazing fire. Nicholas is shocked by this underground world where the elves live in peace, working at their factories, making toys. Nicholas doesn’t know exactly what a toy is or why it’s useful. Later, Nicholas and Heshy wait while Sarah talks to the ELF ADMINISTRATOR in an elven language. They don’t understand anything but the words “Shaman” and “Hellion.” Mentioning Hellion causes the Elf Administrator to freak out. Sarah tells Nicholas he must use one of the elves’ portals to see the Shaman—alone.

Nicholas is transported to a dark forest, where a seemingly disembodied head taunts him as Nicholas approaches the Shaman’s house. The Shaman looks awful, in comparison to when we saw him earlier. He’s really hit the skids, and he can’t even impress Nicholas with his paltry attempts at magic. The Shaman notices Nicholas’s iron dagger, and he realizes this is the boy he was once forced to abandon. He now knows he must help, because destiny foretold that Nicholas would one day save their people. In his ravings, the Shaman tells Nicholas he was born of the merging of the Northern Lights and the Arctic wind. Nicholas is dubious until the Shaman forces Nicholas to have a vision. In it, he sees Hellion taunting the kidnapped villagers. She blames “the boy” for their kidnapping—she wants him, because he holds the key to eternal life, the one thing she wants more than anything. She sends her Screager after him.

Nicholas jerks awake to find the Shaman laughing with Sarah. Nicholas is introduced to KRIIL, a tiny gremlin with self-esteem issues. He’s designed their transportation, which looks eerily like Santa’s famous sleigh. The group piles in, and Kriil pilots it over the Arctic, toward the North Pole. The Shaman warns Nicholas of the dangers that lie ahead. Nicholas gripes that he’s a thief; destiny shouldn’t have dragged him into this. Later, he consoles Sarah, who misses her parents. The next morning, they’ve all fallen asleep—including Kriil, who crashes them into the side of a mountain. The sleigh tumbles to the snowy base of the mountain. It turns out, the mountain isn’t a mountain at all—it’s the backside of BESTLA, a giant the size of a mountain. He’s a friendly giant, however. Through a group of fairies, Bestla orders Nicholas to pick up a broadsword, put on a blindfold, and run into the Vergerus Forest. Nicholas is baffled, but both Bestla and the Shaman insist this is for Nicholas’s own good. First, Nicholas crashes right into a tree. Bestla commands snow, and this time, Nicholas runs at great speed through the forest, somehow avoiding every tree in his path. Sarah and Heshy are suitably impressed, but the Shaman breaks up the lovefest. While Kriil repairs the sleigh, Bestla provides transportation—to Tuonela, the Land of the Dead.

In the scorched Wastelands outside Tuonela, groups of people camp out, desperate to see loved ones one last time before they pass through to the Land of the Dead. After setting up a campsite of their own, the group discovers the Shaman has disappeared. Nicholas searches for him, but he can’t find him anywhere. Nicholas wonders if this is another test. Sarah says she has faith that the Shaman will prevail and that they’re on the right track. That night, a noise wakes Nicholas. He goes to a nearby tent, where he finds the Shaman, who tells Nicholas that he left to gather ingredients for a magic potion that will allow him to travel unharmed into Tuonela. Before leaving, the Shaman tells Nicholas to find Agir, a Viking whose army is nearby. Agir owes the Shaman a favor. The Shaman recites a spell and disappears.

Nicholas, Sarah, and Heshy find a Viking military camp in the Wastelands. AGIR is there, a huge man who’s fond of stories. After Nicholas says who sent him, Agir demands to hear Nicholas’s story. Agir warns Nicholas against entering the Tuonela, but Nicholas insists. They’re attacked by a Screager, which snatches Sarah and Heshy and flies them away. Feeling he’s failed, Agir agrees to accompany Nicholas in order to redeem himself. They go to an old, gnarly, scarred tree, which marks the entrance to Tuonela. The Shaman returns, mourning that his beloved isn’t in there. Nicholas demands to know what’s going on. The Shaman explains the history: his people were guardians of Nicholas, whom prophecy stated would grow up to protect them. One day, Hellion came for him, so the Shaman hid him. While he was gone, Hellion killed everyone in the village. He also thought she killed his wife, Annukka, but he had a vision that she was still alive, trapped by Hellion. In the vision, Hellion offered him a deal: if he gives her Nicholas, she’ll return Annukka. He traveled into Tuonela to confirm that Annukka wasn’t there, and now he finds himself at a crossroads. Nicholas has a better idea: they can fight and defeat Hellion.

Nicholas dives through the ice and drops into Hellion’s ice palace, where he sees Hellion as a beautiful woman. She tries to convince Nicholas that she’s a good person—more than that, that she’s Nicholas’s mother, and that his friends and the villagers are there, having the time of their lives. Nicholas wants to believe it, but when he hugs her, he feels nothing but cold and emptiness. He turns on her, and she sends the Screager to attack. With considerable effort, Nicholas defeats the giant iron bird, but he’s not powerful enough to defeat Hellion. She gets ahold of him and removes his soul, the key to granting her immortality. This weakens him for a moment, long enough for her to stab him in the gut. Nicholas uses his expert pickpocketing skills to retrieve the soul from Hellion, allowing him to regain strength. It occurs to him that the iron dagger he’s had for his entire life is the key to her defeat. He plunges it into her, and the Arctic wind and Northern Lights gather power within it. The energy rapidly ages Hellion, eventually turning her into nothing more than dust. Nicholas and the Shaman release Sarah, Heshy, and the villagers. The Shaman is reunited with Annukka at long last. Nicholas still wants his reward, but Sarah makes him realize some things are more important than money. Nicholas looks around and realizes the people surrounding him have become his family.

Back in the orphanage, one of the little girls listening to the story, CARMELIA, asks Mother Fair if this is the same man who became Santa Claus. Mother Fair is coy about it. She puts the children to bed. Outside the window, Carmelia sees something outside—Heshy, scurrying about as Santa delivers toys. This confirms her believe that Nicholas North is Santa Claus.


Nicholas North tells a fun adventure story clearly aimed at kids. While it’s impressive that the script tells a decent story without pandering to its youthful audience, the darker elements and intense violence in the third act may frighten younger audience members. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act does a nice job of establishing an unfamiliar mythology and throwing teenage Nicholas into the adventure. The second act is a little shakier. Although the writers flesh out this odd, mythical world by introducing elves, giants, and other assorted creatures, almost none of them have any real significance to the story. For instance, Bestla, the giant, forces a sword-handling test on Nicholas and then carries the group to the Wastelands. However, the Shaman could have just as easily tested Nicholas, and they could have continued on in Kriil’s sleigh. Despite their frequent uselessness, the creatures are cute and fairly unique takes on familiar mythical creatures.

The third act focuses on the traditional final showdown with the villain. The writers do a nice job of keeping the stakes high, and the death of Hellion is satisfactory if a bit predictable. However, the battle with the Screager and the violent fight with Hellion might disturb kids more than it makes them cheer. The story ends on the obligatory positive note, but Nicholas’s realization that he’s finally part of a family is rather poignant.

The framing story in the orphanage is passable, but making Nicholas into Santa Claus adds nothing to the narrative. Aside from containing toy-making elves and a precursor to the traditional reindeer-powered sleigh, this story does nothing to create a new Santa Claus lore. It’s merely a fun adventure set in a winter wonderland. Tying it to Santa Claus actually weakens the story a bit.

As for the characters, Nicholas remains compelling throughout. The writers give him an interesting, somewhat depressing backstory and a preoccupation with thievery that becomes an amusing running gag. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of his character is the subtle drive to find his real family. They never overplay this aspect of it, but it seems to motivate him whenever stealing doesn’t. His love story with Sarah is a bit underwritten, but probably intentionally so.

Of the supporting characters, the Shaman is by far the most intriguing, probably because he’s given a similar tragic backstory that drives his actions throughout the story. Heshy is a little irritating as comic relief, and Sarah rarely has anything to do besides look pretty and get kidnapped. As mentioned previously, the various other characters who appear in this story are cute but generally serve no purpose. While mostly effective as the villain, Hellion’s obsession with immortality isn’t explored to its full potential. The script rarely focuses on her, and while it’s easy to jump to conclusions about why a ruthless witch would want to live forever, the writers make no effort to give any explanation, much less one that’s unique or empathetic.

Nicholas North is flawed but fun, and it’s a kids’ movie that has enough entertainment values to keep adults from getting bored. Much of its success will depend on whether or not the dark, violent sequences are appropriate for kids.

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The Cold

Author: Russell Friedenberg

Genre: Thriller/Horror

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




A veteran returns from Afghanistan and finds that he and his friends are hunted by the same supernatural creature he faced overseas.


In the cold, harsh mountains of Afghanistan, soldier KOTZ (30s) leads his men (which includes childhood friend MATTY BOYLE, also 30s) through unforgiven territory. All the soldiers are panic-stricken about something unseen, hidden by the night. They hear something rustling in the bushes, followed by an agonizing scream. A year later, Kotz is released from the VA Hospital after a psych screening. The doctor explains to Kotz that he’s suffering from symptoms of dementia and disorientation, which will not go away unless properly treated. He schedules Kotz for regular therapy and writes him a prescription for anti-psychotics. Kotz looks at a GI (20s) whose tongue is somehow missing. It unsettles him.

Kotz walks through the small mountain town of Mountain Home, Idaho. Despite the freezing conditions, he wears a short-sleeve shirt. A beautiful Native American girl, ALEXIE (30s), pulls up beside him in a pickup and offers Kotz a ride. Kotz hops in the truck, Alexie welcomes him home, and they immediately have sex, but Kotz remains distant throughout. Afterward, Alexie hands Kotz a box containing Matty’s personal effects. Kotz goes to a Thanksgiving party at the Buster Back Ranch, where he meets up with brothers KIM (20s) and KELLY (30s), who try to settle their drunk, belligerent mother. DR. DAVID SANDMAN (40s) asks SONNY CHILDE (30s), formerly Kotz’s sergeant, about Kotz’s mental state. Sonny tries to explain the difficulty of the stress involved in war and how that can affect the psyche. Kotz greets Sonny awkwardly. Kotz runs into NEELIS (60s), Matty’s father and a Vietnam veteran. After comparing the differences between their wartime experiences, Neelis leads Kotz to Matty’s room, observing that nobody’s been in there since Matty “didn’t come home.” Kotz steps inside, finding a number of military medals but also a plethora of disturbing drawings.

During the Thanksgiving dinner, Neelis announces that Congress has posthumously award Matty a Medal of Honor. Everyone’s humbled and depressed. Later, Kotz gathers around a campfire with Kim, Kelly, Sonny, Sandman, Neelis, and JAKE BLACKFOX. They notice strong winds and a winter storm approaching and consider canceling their annual Thanksgiving hunting trip. Jake asks what happened to Matty. Neelis isn’t sure he wants to say in front of Kotz, but he finally does: Matty came back a year ago, depressed and a little crazy. Unable to find a job, he started drinking a lot. He became convinced that something was following him, the “Demon Wind.” Kotz tenses noticeably. Not long after that, Matty’s hair began turning white, and then he simply disappeared one day. The next morning, Kotz thinks he sees the “Demon Wind” moving through the trees. It’s a beast with red teeth and claws and snow-white hair. The group packs for their trip and heads out into the mountains.

At a convenience store in the mountains, Jake sees a novelty “windigo” that looks very similar to the “Demon Wind” creature. Jake asks Neelis about it. Neelis explains that back when whites were kidnapping Indians to convert them to Christianity, a legend was born that a creature would come in on the wind and take the white man. The group unloads their cargo onto rented snowmobiles and takes them deeper into the mountains, to a rickety cabin. After male-bonding talk around a campfire, the group goes to bed. At night, Kotz is unsettled by the sounds of screeching wind he hears outside. The next morning, they go out hunting. Kotz, using a crossbow, spots an elk. He fires, but Kelly shoots his rifle and scares the elk off, preventing a clean kill. The injured elk runs away, then seems to fly in the air, floating away quickly. When they find it, it’s somehow suspended in the trees. They hand Jake—who’s on his first hunt—a pistol to finish it off, so he can officially get his first kill. Jake starts trembling, so Kotz slashes the elk’s throat with his knife. Kotz gripes that whoever hung it made sure the meat would be tainted. They leave the carcass.

They return to the cabin and find windows shattered and the place trashed. Neelis and Kelly blame it on bears, but Kotz isn’t so sure. They find the gutted remains of the elk in a pool of blood in the bathtub, which unsettles all of them. That night, they huddle around a wood-burning stove for warmth amid stormy conditions. Kim shows everyone his satellite phone, which he feels will help them if they get in any real trouble. Suddenly, a harsh wind blows open the patched-over windows, blowing snow into the cabin. The wind screeches. Meanwhile, Alexie drives through town in the storm to retrieve Matty’s box of personal effects. The contents make her weep. Then, she finds a cell phone, which has a video on it. She’s disturbed by what she sees, but we don’t see it—we just hear a series of blood-curdling screams coming from Kotz, Matty, and his men. Horrified, Alexie immediately jumps in her truck and heads into the mountains.

The next morning, Kotz hears the wind and spots a wolf outside. He begins to yell at it, gathering the attention of the others. Jake is pulled away by the “Demon Wind.” They run in the direction he was pulled, finding enormous footprints making a trail of hops and leaps that no known animal could possibly make. Neelis finds one of Jake’s boots in the middle of a field. They walk around all day but find no sign of Jake. Back at the cabin, Sandman finds Kotz’s prescription. He tells Sonny it’s an extremely powerful anti-psychotic, suggesting Kotz has severe mental problems. Sandman tries to hint that perhaps Kotz is behind Jake’s disappearance. Sonny refuses to believe it, but they both decide to be vigilant about Kotz taking his meds. Kim’s satellite phone stops working, the result of a “magnetic anomaly” caused by the storm.

The next morning, they find Neelis is gone, with a straightforward trail of human footprints leading into the woods. They find huge claw marks on the side of the cabin. Kotz observes that they’re out of rations and have no communication. The best way to help them is to get back to their snowmobiles and get help. The others agree. As they trudge through waist-high snow, Kotz notices that, no matter which direction they move, the wind is always blowing in their faces. Suddenly, is snared by a trap involving huge spikes that shoot up from the ground. It doesn’t impale him, but it does raise him into the sky. They find a dead hunter, frozen and apparently eaten by something that looks human. They pull down Sandman and continue walking. Sandman asks about the windigo. Kim says it supposedly takes people and feeds on them. Kotz tells them that the Afghans have a similar legend. They call it “pazuzu,” or “Demon Wind.” They try to chalk it up to mythology, but everyone’s a little disturbed. A huge, deep shadow forms ahead. They hear a menacing growl, but as they move closer, it turns out they’re at the edge of the canyon, at the top of which they left their snowmobiles. They climb up it and discover the snowmobiles have been destroyed. They also find Alexie’s truck, which has crashed into a tree. The group is horrified.

Inside Alexie’s truck, they find the cell phone with the video. Kotz shuts it off quickly, before the others can see. Now that Alexie’s in the mix, Kotz changes the plan: half of them will try to walk to town, while the other half will go into the woods and find their missing friends. Kim and Sandman head for town; Kotz, Sonny, and Kelly go back to the cabin. As they approach it, Jake appears. He opens his mouth to speak, but his tongue is gone. He collapses. They see Neelis behind him, hauling Jake back to his feet. Neelis saw what took Jake. He knows it’s the windigo, and that it knows where they are. Meanwhile, Sandman and Kim hear a loud screech that seems to be circling them and getting closer. Kim’s startled by his phone suddenly ringing. It’s his mother, whom he begs to call the satellite company so they can track the phone’s GPS. Suddenly, he’s taken by the Demon Wind. His phone flops to the ground. Sandman chases him into the woods, where he finds a path of blood in the snow. He sees a creature approaching—but it’s Alexie, wounded and shaking uncontrollably. She passes out, and the real creature descends, taking Sandman.

In the cabin, Sonny demands to know what happened to Kotz and Matty in Afghanistan. Kotz explains they encountered a similar evil, unkillable force, and he thinks it followed them back to Idaho. Kelly speculates that Matty built the huge trap, not the creature. Something suddenly beats on the roof. They run outside and find Kim, suspended in the air. He’s traumatized. He tries to warn them, but the creature pulls him back, and all they hear are screams. Kelly is horrified. By the next morning, the group has turned the cabin into a fortress. Inside the cabin, they find that Neelis has allowed Jake to feed on his body, which has in turn infected Neelis. His hair begins to turn white. The others are disgusted. Neelis steals Kotz’s pistol and drags Jake outside, where he puts him out of his misery, then kills himself.

The group spends the day attempting to lay out traps for the creature. While outside alone, Kotz sees “the creature”—it appears to be Matty, huge, hair white, eyes yellow like a wolf, with a belt made of bloody, dismembered human tongues. He digs his bloody fingernails into Kotz’s arm. Kotz returns to the cabin, where Sonny has found an elaborate Special Forces pulley system Matty attempted to use to hunt the Demon Wind. Kotz realizes Matty failed. Sandman struggles back to the cabin, where he tells them he saw the creature and put a bullet in it. They realize Kelly has been infected, so Sandman shoots him with a flare gun. Suspicious of him, Kotz and Sonny tie up Sandman. Sandman tries to convince them he’s fine.

Sonny and Kotz use their military training to prepare more traps. Matty returns. Sonny tries to shoot him, but he’s too quick. Matty pulls Sonny away. Kotz retreats to the cabin. Something slams against the door, so Kotz fires wildly. Although not severe, Kotz notices that Sandman really is infected. He leaves him tied up. Kotz moves into the cabin’s crawl space, where he finds the injuried Alexie, moaning in agony. Alexie warns him about Matty, that she saw him and he tried to force her to eat flesh. Kotz pulls himself back up and is about to grab Alexie when Sandman’s infection worsens. He becomes threatening, so Kotz strangles him. He hoists up Alexie and tries to get out when Kelly suddenly reappears, grabbing Kotz’s legs and pulling him away. Kotz shoots Kelly in the head with a flare gun. Kotz and Alexie retreat outside.

They set the cabin on fire to lure the creature. Then, they hop on a makeshift sled and force the creature to chase them down through the mountains. Eventually, they come upon Matty’s dead body, used up and discarded by the creature, which still pursues them. They manage to get back to Alexie’s truck. They try to start it, but it won’t turn over. As the creature gets closer, the truck’s windows smash. They finally get it started, and Alexie rockets the truck down the highway. She pulls a fast 180, throwing the creature off the car. They turn back, and Alexie speeds toward the creature, plowing into it. She stops the truck and finds they’ve hit nothing. Kotz looks under the truck and just sees the snowy road. Alexie pulls up Kotz, and he realizes she’s infected. Her eyes have turned yellow like a wolf.


The Cold makes a valiant attempt at using an unstoppable supernatural force as a metaphor for the post-traumatic psychoses suffered by military veterans. However, reliance on stale clichés and thin characters prevent the script from reaching its potential. As written, it merits a pass.

The story follows a straightforward horror path, opening with a horrific moment that foreshadows what’s to come before cutting to a more subdued introduction to the ensemble of hunters who carry most of the story. The first act takes its time getting to the action, allowing the characters to trade insults and salty dialogue while attempting to make them each seem like individuals.

Once Jake disappears, the genre clichés start to surface: mystical explanations of old Indian legends, sudden moments of shock, and the pursuit of an unseen enemy. The writer initially attempts to play with these conventions, first by using the “windigo” as a symbol for Kotz and Matty’s post-war mental problems, then by suggesting perhaps the windigo doesn’t exist at all—perhaps it’s all just Kotz’s dementia. Unfortunately, the writer never makes enough of the dementia element. It’s always clear that Kotz is really seeing what he sees, and the others see supernatural happenings before their eyes too quickly to maintain the sense of paranoia that there may be a killer among them.

In the third act, the writer first makes the symbolic purpose of the windigo so overwrought that it becomes eye-rolling instead of subtle. Then, he abandons the metaphor completely, turning the script into a gorefest followed by a ridiculous sled chase. The frustrating, deeply unsatisfying resolution kills off all the characters without allowing them to come close to stopping the windigo. It certainly defies expectations, but that doesn’t make the ending enjoyable in any way.

Kotz is a difficult character to carry this story because, as somebody who’s haunted by what he saw in Afghanistan and who may be insane, he’s closed off from the other characters and, as a result, closed off to the audience. After introducing him as a man suffering from dementia so severe that he requires powerful anti-psychotics that may not control it, the writer doesn’t do much with this trait. Only Sandman suspects Kotz may be the culprit early on, but nobody else questions him, and Kotz never even questions himself. He simply stares mournfully at the pills he’s shackled to. In terms of the metaphor, it would have been much more interesting if the windigo were tied more directly to his mental state, making Kotz and his friends start questioning the truth of what’s happening around them.

Early on, the writer does a passable job of distinguishing these characters’ personalities through their macho banter. However, they don’t rise above stock characters: Kotz the haunted bad-boy, Jake the young guy, Neelis the wise elder, Sandman the doctor, etc. After the early scenes, they lose all sense of individuality, with each character relegated to delivering plot information or screaming as they’re killed. Furthermore, with the exception of Neelis after Jake disappears, none of them seem all that interested in the loss of their friends. They seem to search more out of obligation than any real desire to find them.

The Cold delivers mild scares and some reasonably entertaining action sequences, but overall, it’s a missed opportunity. The lack of strong characters and a story that falls apart in the third act are problems it can’t overcome without a significant rewrite.

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Author: James Hibberd and Rupert Wainwright

Genre: Docudrama

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 6

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 5

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During the infamous 51-day standoff at David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound, an FBI negotiator attempts to reason with Koresh’s right-hand man.


As the FBI prepares to storm David Koresh’s compound, known locally as “Mt. Carmel,” lead negotiator BYRON SAGE (40s, idealistic) makes an urgent call to STEVE SCHNEIDER (35, generally meek), Koresh’s right-hand man. Byron warns Steve that they’re out of time. He needs to see Koresh’s manuscript. Steve gripes that he’s the editor of it and hasn’t even seen a page. He demands to know what the FBI has planned. The story cuts back in time to President Clinton’s inauguration. A month after the inauguration, ATF agents have set up on Mt. Carmel, surveilling. In front of the 130 Branch Davidians who live on the compound, KORESH gives a calm, conversational speech about the coming Apocalypse. The group is very enthusiastic. Later, ROBERT GONZALEZ (20s) watches Steve lead several others to unload huge crates filled with AK-47s, pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Having enough for a warrant, the ATF plans their raid. In the office of WAYNE MARTIN, a Harvard Law graduate with a framed parchment copy of the U.S. Constitution, Steve frets about an article in the Waco paper describing some of the more unseemly aspects of the church, but Koresh doesn’t seem worried. Steve’s wife, JUDY, gets in bed with Koresh.

As the ATF prepares for the raid on the morning of February 28, 1993, they bring in members of the local press and ensure three ATF cameras will videotape everything that occurs. Steve, Koresh, and several others sit down with Robert Gonzalez. They tell him they know he’s an informant. Koresh tells Robert to go back to his people and tell them they’re only there to follow God. Terrified, Robert rushes to the raid staging area to warn his superiors. They debate whether or not to proceed now that Koresh has been tipped off. Ultimately, they decide to go ahead with it. Koresh knows something’s in the air. His men arm with AK-47s and body armor. ATF agents burst in, guns raised. They’re greeted by a group of malamutes, who rush the agents. The agents shoot the dogs, which prompts the Davidians to start shooting. Steve is terrified as people start dying around him. Women and children cower. The lead agent, CHOJNACKI, has no idea what’s going on inside. He orders them to fall back. ATF agents are killed. Judy is shot in the hand. The Branch Davidians manage to down a Black Hawk helicopter. Byron Sage is quickly called in to help.

Steve gets on the phone with the county sheriff, desperate to know what’s happening. Koresh grabs the phone and gets belligerent, noting that people are dead on both sides because the ATF unlawfully raided the compound. Steve finally gets back on the phone. The sheriff patches Steve through to an agent, who says they’ll cease fire as soon as the Davidians cease. Steve shouts a cease fire, which moves up and down the house until everyone stops. One injured, dying Davidian decides he can no longer take the pain and shoots himself in the head, ending the cease fire for a few more minutes. Koresh is shot in the gut. The Davidians’ sniper takes out another agent. All told, four ATF agents are dead. Byron arrives on the scene and gets on the P.A., asking if anyone in the compound needs medical attention. Somebody shouts back that they don’t need help from “his” government. In Washington, the FBI makes motions to take over at Mt. Carmel, now that dead government agents are involved. White House counsel VINCE FOSTER tells them to end it quickly, with no further loss of life. The FBI sends their Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), led by DICK ROGERS (the man responsible for botching Ruby Ridge the previous year), under the authority of JEFF JAMAR.

Jamar orders that they get a phone line into the compound, so they can find out Koresh’s demands. Byron meets with PETE SMERICK (50s), a psychologist in charge of profiling Koresh. While Pete listens in, Byron talks to a pained Koresh, who’s sarcastic and paranoid about the government’s intentions. Byron asks what Koresh wants; he says, “To be left alone.” Byron presents a case history of Koresh: born Vernon Wayne Howell to a 14-year-old girl and a father who quickly abandoned him, sexually abused by his stepfather, started memorizing the bible as a kid, had an affair with the elderly Davidian leader, assumed leadership when she died, declared compound women can only have sex with him while all the men remain celibate, has 13 children, believes that God speaks to him and has told him that Judgment Day is coming. On Day 2 of the standoff, Rogers calls in tanks. Byron begins talks with Steve, who immediately wants to know the purpose for the tanks. He says they’re scaring the children, so Byron tells Steve to let the children out. Steve asks Koresh, who says he can let out six, as long as they aren’t his. Byron asks to talk to Koresh, but Steve says he can’t come to the phone. Internally, the agents speculate he’s been shot. Byron tells Steve to relay to Koresh that they’ll give him a national broadcast in exchange for him leading his people out safely. This excites Koresh, so he gets on the phone. He agrees to the deal.

Day 3. While the Christian Broadcasting Network plays Koresh’s recording, Steve and Judy tune in to CNN, where they discover one of the released children was killed trying to sneak back into the compound, and that two members who surrendered to authorities were charged for the murders of the ATF agents. Livid, Steve talks to Byron. Byron still wants them to come out, but Steve tells him the rules have changed. Frustrated with the way the negotiations are going, Rogers tries to push Jamar into going in there. Jamar acts like he’d like to go in there, but his hands are tied—it all goes back to Washington. The deputy director in Washington, FLOYD CLARKE, is distracted with the World Trade Center bombing and the fact that they have no attorney general and a brand new President. Meanwhile, Koresh—recuperating nicely from his wound—rallies his group by telling him he heard the Lord’s voice, and it’s given him the strength to resist the authorities. God has a plan for him. Steve looks on, clearly troubled.

Day 12. Steve tries to work out arrangements to get the remaining kids to relatives. With Byron unable to make guarantees, the negotiations are about to fall apart when Byron starts undermining Steve’s implicit trust in Koresh. Suddenly, Jamar and Rogers cut the power to the compound. The Branch Davidians are all terrified about what might happen next. Day 13. The FBI drops a cooler of milk cartons off at Mt. Carmel. The group speculates that it’s drugged, but Steve insists they aren’t all bad—Byron wants to help them. It turns out the milk cartons are bugged. Rogers and Jamar are thrilled with the conversations they’re able to record. Janet Reno is sworn in as the Attorney General. She’s brought up to speed and asks why they’ve violated the “10-day rule.” Clarke explains that Waco is unique because it lacks hostages and demands. Reno insists the children are hostages and tells them to figure out something they’d be willing to trade for the children. If they can’t, the FBI will be forced to wait them out.

Day 19. Byron meets Steve personally, outside the compound, under the strict supervision of armed agents. Byron tries to convince Steve to give up the children, pointing out that the adults may have made a choice to stay here, but the kids haven’t. Steve tries to explain to them that these are families that will be broken up. Byron tells him to consider it, and they’ll meet the following day. Byron’s confident that he’s breaking through to Steve. That night, Rogers sends tanks and bulldozers to smash Koresh’s cars and go-karts. He’s shocked and angry and insults Steve for continuing to talk to them. Later, hidden in a storage room, Steve grabs Judy. She’s uneasy about being alone with him. Judy begs her to take the kids and leave with him. She isn’t sure, but before he can convince her, the FBI aims floodlights into the compound and blasts the noises of animals being tortured. In response, Koresh and a couple of his friends—former wannabe rock stars—pick up instruments and amplifiers and drown them out with classic rock. The next day, a fellow negotiator stands up to Jamar about the practice of punishing the Davidians for doing exactly what they’ve been asked. He’s dismissed.

Day 27. Protestors begin gathering around the media. Among them, TIMOTHY McVEIGH. Rogers tries to convince Byron ramming the building with tanks is the best option, because it’ll create escape routes. Byron tells him that they don’t want to escape. Jamar says they will, once they start piping in CS nerve gas. Byron says that’s pointless because they have gas masks. Jamar callously notes that the masks only fit adults. Byron is horrified that they’d gas children in order to get the adults out. That night, Byron vents to Pete Smerick. Pete tells Byron that Koresh is a classic psychopath, and that Rogers’ strategy plays right into his hands. He manipulates his followers by promising the end is nigh. What more proof than surrounding them with tanks and armed agents?

Day 40. Pete discovers that memos he’s been sending to D.C. regarding Rogers and Jamar have been returned—and they’re completely different from what he really wrote. Clarke is intentionally changing the memos to control the narrative. The FBI finally finds something the Davidians may want: DICK DEGUERIN a defense attorney who’s been begging to take a crack at their impending case. The Davidians are actually impressed by DeGuerin—he convinces them that the ATF committed a crime against them, and they responded in a way that’s legal according to Texas Penal Code. Koresh isn’t entirely sure, but DeGuerin hints that he’s their last shot at getting out of this peacefully. Meanwhile, Jamar announces that Rogers has drafted a plan of action. Byron says they went leave, so Jamar points to a portion of the plan—a reprint of Pete’s doctored memo. Byron’s shocked by this, and even more shocked when he learns Pete requested a transfer. Byron refuses to sign the plan of action, because they negotiated a complete evacuation plan with DeGuerin. Rogers convinces Byron that he’s in denial; DeGuerin’s plan is worthless.

Steve goes outside and is shocked that the FBI bombards him with flashbang grenades. He complains to Byron, who tells Steve his bosses’ patience is wearing thin. DeGuerin explains the details of the evacuation plan to Koresh, who says it’s fine—except God has spoken to him and told him he can’t leave until he writes a book, sharing God’s wisdom with regards to the Seven Seals. Steve tries to convince Judy to help Koresh speed up his plan. At this point, Steve just wants out—he wants to return to Wisconsin with her and the kids. In secret, they make love for the first time in years.

Day 46. Rogers tries to convince Vince Foster and Janet Reno that their assault plan, Operation Jericho, is the best method. They bring in a doctor to testify to the safety of CS gas in moderation. Reno asks about children, which takes the doctor by surprise. The doctor tells him it’s flammable, and when inflamed, it turns to cyanide. Foster and Reno are turned off. They order Rogers to wait. Clarke realizes he needs to motivate Reno to end this, once and for all. Day 50. Clarke boldly lies to her face, saying that they have word the Davidians are beating babies, and he refuses to allow the FBI to be held responsible for the safety of the children. Reno orders Operation Jericho.

A replay of the conversation that opened the script leads to Day 51: Operation Jericho. Tanks modified to inject CS gas into the walls of the compound rumble forward. Byron calls Steve to assure him this is not an assault, that they’re releasing a low level of gas over the next 48 hours to slowly subdue and arrest the Davidians. The Davidians immediately start shooting. Discouraged by the shooting, Rogers orders that they escalate the amount of CS gas. Those not wearing gas masks are immediately overwhelmed, but the ones in gas masks continue shooting. The women and children move to a concrete bunker. The FBI nearly uses up their entire 48-hour supply of CS in two hours. Rogers orders Jamar that it’s time for an assault. The Davidians try to fight back. An HRT agent asks Rogers if it’s acceptable to use pyrotechnic rounds. Despite his awareness of the gas’s flammability, Rogers okays it. Koresh and Steve are spotted in the bunker, so the tanks target it. Watching on a monitor in his office, Vince Foster is shocked by the escalation of violence.

The tank continues to bash the concrete room, terrifying the women and children. The tank driver is confused as to why nobody’s come out. Steve finds Judy and his children dead, among other corpses. The combination of pyrotechnic rounds and the Davidians’ attempting to make molotov cocktails with kerosene. Dazed, Steve goes up to Koresh’s bedroom. Koresh quotes from Revelation, pointing out how wrong Steve was to doubt him. Steve tells him his problem was not doubting him. As the fire spreads crazily from the gas, Byron gets on the P.A. and tells survivors to follow the sound of his voice if they can’t see through the smoke. While Koresh continues to quote from Revelation, Steve shoots him in the head. Stunned by his own action, he bursts into tears and shoots himself. This creates a huge explosion.

Over the P.A., Byron pleads for David or Steve to lead the survivors out. Jamar, now sympathetic to Byron, quietly tells him to shut off the P.A. “Negotiations are over.” Byron is disgusted when he learns only a few of the Davidians survived. Jamar holds a press conference explaining that the FBI did everything possible to save the Davidians. Amid the rubble and charred bodies, Byron notices a piece of parchment—a burned fragment of Wayne Martin’s framed copy of the Constitution.


Waco attempts to document the true story of the infamous FBI standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas. Despite the level of detail in the storytelling and some compelling individual scenes, the script’s thin characters and extreme emphasis on the lurid details of the two raids undermine the importance of the events surrounding this story. As written, it merits a pass.

After a quick opening sequence introduces the two main characters just before Operation Jericho, the entire first act is devoted to the ATF raid leading to the Branch Davidians’ 51-day standoff. The writers lay some of the political groundwork surrounding the raid, but mostly, it’s an extended gun battle that leads to the FBI takeover, in which negotiator Byron and Koresh lieutenant Steve start to take a more prominent role in the story.

The second act makes an attempt to focus on Byron and Steve’s bonding over the course of the negotiations, juxtaposing Byron’s effort to win Steve over with Byron’s FBI superiors constantly counteracting his negotiations with actions that are more likely to erupt in violence. The dialogue between Byron and Steve rarely feels like a true bond is forming between them. The writers attempt to draw some parallels between the two—notably in their attempts to be reasonable in the face of unreasonable superiors—but their many conversations come across like two men talking in circles.

Like the first act, the third act is a lengthy, leering account of “Operation Jericho,” the FBI’s botched attempt to “peacefully” resolve the standoff. As a consequence of focusing more on the mayhem than the characters, Byron gets lost in the shuffle, and Steve’s final moments with Koresh aren’t nearly as compelling as they should be. During these fact-focused scenes, the script feels less like a fully developed dramatic story than as a series of events that happen with little rhyme or reason, other than the practical fact that they’re true.

The problem is a direct result of characters who are never really as developed as they need to be to make this story feel like something more than a group of robots acting out scripted events. Byron and Steve are the main characters by virtue of the fact that the script focuses on them more than the others, but the writer doesn’t dig deep into who they are. Is Byron really as emotionally invested in this as he lets on, or is he just a great negotiator? What compelled Steve and his wife to follow Koresh in the first place? Answers to simple questions like these would have greatly enhanced the details of these stories.

The thin characters also creates an oddly skewed look at the story. Aside from Byron and Pete, everyone in the FBI is portrayed as sinister and bloodthirsty, with no clear motivation for this behavior. At the same time, the Branch Davidians are shown as just regular people being oppressed by a vicious government. The writers consciously downplay facts vital in shaping the true lifestyle at Mt. Carmel: rampant sexual abuse of girls as young as 12, an Apocalypse-obsessed leader who sincerely believes he talks directly to God, a group of followers who sincerely believe their leader talks directly to God, a stockpile of gas masks, and enough assault rifles and ammunition for an army—all of these suggest something deeper and more disturbing that the writers simply ignore.

It’s clear that the ATF and FBI handled things as poorly as possible, but the rosy portrayal of the Branch Davidians doesn’t match reality any more than the notion that the FBI simply wanted these people dead. More depth and detail for characters on both sides would create a much more balanced story that might allow audiences to draw their own conclusions rather than skewing it one way or the other. Without a significant rewrite, this script will only succeed in generating controversy.

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The Round Up

Author: Roselyne Bosch

Genre: Drama/Historical

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 8

Writer’s Potential: 8

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In Nazi-occupied France, a 10-year-old Jewish boy struggles to survive with his family and friends as they’re interred in concentration camps.


In a 1992 interview, an elderly JO WEISMANN wonders if anybody could make a film that truly captured the disturbing experiences of his youth. In 1942, 10-year-old Jo Weismannand his friend, RAYMOND, both a little uneasy about the yellow Stars of David they’re now forced to wear. Their sympathetic TEACHER tells the other students to ignore the Jewish pupils’ stars. At nursing school, ANNETTE MONOD (25), is forced to watch grim footage of injured soldiers from World War I. She’s impressed when her school principal introduces Jewish students and shows them how to help them escape if the Germans show up. At home, the Weismann family gathers around the radio, where they make sarcastic comments about the blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric on the news. The family consists of parents SCHMUEL and SURA and sister RACHEL. The family’s best friends are the Zyglers—pregnant BELLA and her children LOUISE (18), SIMON (10) and NONO (6). Jo, Simon, and Nono find a new hobby, pilfering war propaganda from the Germans. Military men LAVAL and PETAIN count the total number of Jews living in France and send a report to HITLER stating that the country will only stand for them to deport “stateless” Jews. Hitler balks it this, saying there’s no such thing as a French Jew.

While French politicians and military officials negotiate the best way to organize the round-up of 20,000 “stateless” Jews, the Weismanns and Zyglers start to notice the oppression creeping into their daily lives. Friends and colleagues are fired, local shops refuse to serve them, police harass them for no clear reason, etc. They have to scramble to maintain their typical way of life. Ultimately, the negotiation results in a list of 24,000 Jews in the Paris region. The Germans want the children to go into France’s foster care system, but Laval refuses it, saying their social services are already overburdened. He insists it would be best for the children to accompany their parents. Jo’s introduced to new neighbors, the Traubes. He’s immediately smitten with RENEE (13). The new family is very enthusiastic until they realize how difficult life has become for Jews in Paris. Their oldest daughter, HANNAH (18), is forbidden from participating in athletics programs at her school. As the Germans and French complete plans for the round-up, rumors begin swirling through the Jewish neighborhoods. Rachel urges her parents to get out of France. Schmuel believes whatever’s coming will be another false alarm.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, French and German authorities start knocking on the doors of the Jewish families on their lists. Many resist and hide. The Weismanns, the Zyglers, and the Traubes aren’t so lucky. The Weismanns almost manage to hide Schmuel—Sura tells the authorities he recently died—but ignorant Jo opens his big mouth. Louise Zygler manages to escape with the help of a few prostitutes and a kind-hearted priest. After graduating from nursing school, Annette is order to go to the Velodrome D’Hiver stadium, the largest arena in France, where 8,000 Jews have been crammed together and are in urgent need of care. Annette is horrified by the wailing and groaning. She’s introduced to DR. DAVID SHEINBAUM (50s), the physician in charge of their medical care. He’s livid when she announces she’s the only one who’s been sent from her school. He only has six nurses to cover 8,000 people, many of whom have been injured during their arrests. Annette is shown around by another nurse. She runs into Nono, who tells them Simon is sick and they’re both looking for Bella. The nurse quietly tells Annette that Bella’s mother had a miscarriage and died at the hospital. Annette doesn’t have the heart to tell Nono. Annette’s alarmed that these two boys are alone, but Jo introduces her to his family, insisting they’ll all stay together.

While they work, Sheinbaum asks Annette about her religious background. She’s the Protestant daughter of a pastor; despite what she’s seen, she still has faith. Sheinbaum has no response. In the stands, Jo spots Hannah Traube. She’s wearing a sign announcing an illness that is not enough to get her sent to the hospital. Sheinbaum asks if she’s trying to escape. Hannah doesn’t respond. Sheinbaum sends her to the master plumber, who’s providing fake jobs to help people without families to escape. Hannah manages to get free. Annette asks why Sheinbaum doesn’t leave; he asks her who would replace him. After a few days, the nurses are so revolted by the conditions that they talk about resigning together. Annette says they need to stay to look after these people, especially the orphaned children. Against orders, a group of firemen begin spraying hoses into the stands so the Jews have something to drink.

A few more days pass, and the German SS arrives. Sheinbaum sees what an emotional and physical toll this is taking on her. The SS starts sending Jews to concentration camps. Annette asks Sheinbaum if she can go with them. He can’t do much more than support her request. The Weismanns and Zygler children are crammed onto the same train and taken to a concentration camp in Beaune. The conditions are filthy, but the Jews have no idea what’s in store, so they enter without fear. Jo points out how disgusting the barracks mattresses are. Schmuel assumes people slept in them before they did. Jo wonders what happened to them, which fills Schmuel with fear. Annette is introduced to the other nurses, including PAULE (19). Annette wonders why they lack so many provisions. Paule doesn’t know and tries not to think about it. When she visits the orphan barracks, Nono asks Annette about Bella. Annette tells him that giving birth tired her out.

Jo sees Renee, his dream girl, and realizes the Taubes are in Beaune, too. He greets her. While eating, Jo almost swallows a weevil crawling in his gruel and spits it out. One of the French soldiers misinterprets this as an insult. Jo insists he was merely spitting out the weevil, and Sheinbaum backs him up. Schmuel attacks the soldier, with Sheinbaum trying to separate them. The soldier announces they’ll be the first on the “next convoy.” Annette decides to eat the same rations that the Jews are stuck with to show that they can’t survive on it. Paule cynically assumes the higher ups already know this. Nevertheless, she attempts to write a letter to expose the conditions. Jo, Simon, and Nono can smell cookies at a nearby factory. They daydream about them. Hannah appears outside the camp with a care package for the Traubes, filled with candy. Meanwhile, Hitler and his friends have loads of fun with a marzipan likeness of the F√ºhrer.

After a couple of months in the camps, the gaunt, disease-ridden Jews are led to a train that will ultimately take them to the death camps. Realizing they’re being stripped of their last remaining possessions, Sura throws her jewelry into the feces-caked latrines. The other women follow suit. The SS runs out of room on the trains, so the SS decides to leave most of the children behind to wait for another train that will arrive in two weeks. Annette is forced to say a tearful goodbye to Sheinbaum, who, as a Jew, is sent with the adults to the death camps. A few days later, Jo decides to leave the camp. He tries to convince Simon to come with him, but Simon won’t leave without Nono, who’s too small to handle the trip. He introduces himself to another kid, Joseph KOGAN, who wants to escape. Jo prowls through the feces until he finds a wad of cash. They wrap themselves like mummies in old clothes to slip through the barbed wire fences and start running like maniacs.

Meanwhile, Laval discusses the concentration camp with two U.S. government officials. Together, it dawns on them that these Jews are being taken to Germany as part of a race purification. The other kids are loaded into cattle cars to go to the death camp. Annette meets the new doctor, JOUSSE, but she’s in a hurry to accompany the children. Jousse stops her, saying he’s with the French resistance, and he knows all the details of the death camps. Annette is horrified. Nono viciously resists being loaded into the train—he wants to wait for his mother. Eventually, Jo and Kogan come upon a farm, where they’re fed and cared for until gendarme soldiers arrive. Despite this bad luck, the soldiers are sympathetic to Jo and Kogan. They hide the boys in a train station until morning, where they’re able to get on a bus driven by one soldier’s brother-in-law. Jo watches the death camp train roll by.

May, 1945. Now 13, Jo waits in a hotel with a huge group of other Jews. They await the announcements of people who have survived the camps and people who haven’t. To Jo’s surprise, Annette is there, with hundreds of children she managed to rescue from the camps. He tells Annette he met good people who want to adopt him. Annette is pleased. She asks Jo to write to him. A farming couple drag Nono, now 8, into the hotel. He’s haunted and doesn’t speak. They say they found him on the railroad, and they think he fell of the train. Annette recognizes him instantly, but it’s unclear if he recognizes her—until he wraps his arms around her. Jo meets with his adoptive parents. They go to a park, where he’s able to laugh and have fun without a car in the world.


In focusing primarily on the struggle of a Jewish child, The Round Up offers an interesting take on the Holocaust. The writer does an extremely good job of both disseminating pertinent political information and evoking rich character and period detail, although the story does occasionally veer into melodrama. As written, it merits a consider.

The story handles topics many people know a great deal about in fairly unique ways. The writer focuses on less well-known aspects of World War II and the Holocaust—notably, the suffering children, the Jewish physicians, the young nurses, and the ignorance of many politicians and military officials—and does a pretty good job of constructing a story around these ideas.

The first act follows Jo (and his family and friends) from the moment he’s branded with yellow Stars of David. Although it’s clear where the story is headed, the writer manages to build some suspense as the treatment of the Weismanns by gentiles deteriorates, ultimately leading to the eponymous “round up.” The writer also does a fairly good job of efficiently explaining all the necessary political background; it only occasionally feels on-the-nose.

The second act introduces the script’s most harrowing and surprising sequence—shoving thousands of injured, ill, and/or orphaned Jews into a single, mammoth arena, left to the care of a beleaguered doctor, a few nurses and a small group of volunteers. It’s a very disturbing sequence that’s all too fleeting, as the huge group is quickly divided up and put on trains to concentration camps. Strangely, the concentration camp scenes do not have quite the same frightening effect as the round up in the arena. While upsetting, they have a peculiar by-the-numbers quality, and they tend to get melodramatic as the emotions get raw. Aside from the scenes with Annette and Sheinbaum, much of what occurs in the Beaune camp has been seen in other films.

The third act chronicles Jo’s escape from Beaune after his family is ushered off to the death camps. Unfortunately, the writer starts off the screenplay by inserting file footage of the real-life, elderly Jo trying to describe his experience. This eliminates any suspense regarding Jo’s survival, which makes the details of his escape a little less compelling than they could have been. On the other hand, the writer manages to make Annette’s shock upon discovering the death camps heart-rending.

The script has a massive ensemble, but it emphasizes Jo and Annette more than the others. The writer does a nice job of showing Jo’s youthful ingenuity and iron will to survive early in the script, since this spark fuels his eventual escape. She also manages to capture the slow crush of the concentration camp lifestyle. Despite his fear, Jo never seems to lose his spirit, but he does react quite powerfully to those close to him slowly losing the will to live. Annette has a similar arc, taking on the burden of the people she cares for without ever giving up the fight for the rights they should have.

As for the rest of the ensemble, the writer manages to give tiny shreds of depth and nuance to each of the supporting players, no matter how brief or thankless their role. From the military men coordinating the round up to the farm couple who turn in Jo and Kogan, everyone seems to have a small amount of individuality. This helps make the political intrigue more digestible, and the scope of characters will allow audiences to understand the wide variety of thoughts, attitudes, and emotions felt throughout France and Germany at the time.

The strong characters certainly make it easier to look past the story problems, but if the filmmakers don’t cast equally strong actors in the roles, the end result may fall flat.

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Author: Richard Stanley

Genre: Thriller/Drama/Action

Storyline: 3

Dialogue: 3

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




On an island off the coast of North Africa, two Americans struggle to survive in the wake of what might be Armageddon.


On the beach of a tiny North African island, gorgeous dancer CARLY dances while her hunky older husband, BRYCE, shoots her with his camcorder. Bryce notices a storm in the distance. The sky flashes an eerie white abruptly. He’s concerned, but Carly tells him to ignore it. Getting ready to leave, Carly turns on the radio, which broadcasts a report implying that some sort of natural phenomenon has disrupted all aerial navigation, electrical flow, and Internet communication. A jeep drives by that’s full of militia men from an oil consortium’s private security force. Carly notices the sun seems to be pulsating strangely, but Bryce doesn’t see what she sees. She tries to tell Bryce about what she’s heard on the radio, but the station fades into static. As they drop off their rental car—it’s their last night on the island—Carly is inundated with text messages from friends and family, wondering if they’re okay. Perplexed, they shrug off the messages. Bryce tries to pay for the rental car with a credit card, but the machines are down.

On the way into the hotel, they pass ESAU, the Arab gatekeeper who has an old Soviet gun slung over his shoulder. They meet SONJA and MITCH in the hotel’s restaurant, where an Arabian boy band croons. Bryce chats up KARIM (who also has an old Soviet gun) and his younger brother, DAWEB (both teens), who work in the hotel. Bryce and Carly barely know Mitch and Sonja; they merely bond over the fact that they’re the only Americans left at the hotel. In the midst of the conversation, Bryce’s vision goes funny—the walls and faces of his companions seem to be melting, and his body seems to absorb a weird, vibrating energy. Moments later, the electricity goes out all over the island for a few minutes. They speculate on what caused it. On the distant horizon, they see a faint red glow. They try to figure out the direction to assess what might have happened and where. Once again, Bryce tries to pay for dinner with a credit card, but YASMIN (Karim and Daweb’s sister) tells him the machine can’t process it. Bryce tells them to charge it to the room.

After dinner, Bryce and Carly get into an argument about his lack of initiative. He’s more interested in snorting cocaine and figuring out why the hotel’s satellite dish stopped working, but Carly wants him to take the initiative to actually find something that does work, now that all the phones and satellites seem dead. Carly tries to get Bryce to have sex, but he’s uninterested. Bryce goes downstairs and speaks with ARSHAD, the hotelier and father to Karim, Daweb, and Yasmin. He asks why the phones aren’t working, and Arshad explains apathetically that there’s a problem with the undersea communication cable. Arshad suggests Bryce go to the village to find a working phone. In the village, Bryce visits a 10-year-old BOY who deals him amphetamines and shows him to the only working phone. Although there’s a dialtone, Bryce can’t get a call out. The Boy ominously reports that no planes will come to the island, and that the West is in flames. Bryce notices that the entire village has gathered on the beach to gaze at the red horizon.

The next day, Daweb spies on bikini-clad Brit LORRAINE while she does yoga. Lorraine stops when she notices Carly in the hall, carrying a Blackberry. She demands to know if it works; Carly says no. Arshad comes by with English newspapers. Carly’s thrilled to know the outside world still exists. She takes one. High as a kite, Bryce stumbles into his room, where he spots Yasmin playing with Carly’s iPod. He starts yelling at her. Carly arrives in the room, amused by Yasmin’s behavior. They send her away, and Carly tells Bryce she has a newspaper, and everything’s fine. Still, there are no planes. Carly suggests Bryce cozy up to Mitch and Sonja so they can get a ride back to the U.S. on their luxury yacht. Bryce walks along the beach toward the marina when he spots a distant explosion. Meanwhile, Carly realizes her newspaper is more than two weeks old. Arshad explains that their newspapers are always out of date. Bryce runs to the marina, where he sees gas-masked militia men have cordon off the area. He demands to be let past, but the guards don’t speak English. Bryce finally pushes past the guards, causing them to open fire, shooting a kid. Now, both the villagers and the guards want Bryce dead. He runs.

Carly goes to the sauna, where she bumps into Lorraine and her boyfriend, IAN. Carly laments her acting career, which is now over because the inability to get a flight home has prevented her from making an audition. Lorraine and Ian are sympathetic. Later, they spot a dead American soldier who washes ashore on the nearby beach. Bryce tries to get away from the guards, but he’s captured rather quickly. Bryce trades the soldiers the gold chain he wears around his neck for his freedom. After forcing him to say, “There is no God but God” in Arabic, they return the Bryce to the hotel. Yasmin catches a clearly aroused Karim applying lotion to Carly’s exposed back and abdomen. Yasmin is disgusted. Karim scurries away. Having had enough fun for the day, Carly returns to the room. Bryce arrives quickly, and they compare notes about their awful days. Bryce insists they must leave the island immediately, but they have no way off. At dusk, Karim frantically prays while Arshad explains why the foreigners are awful, depraved people.

Bryce and Carly discuss the strangeness on the island over a dinner with Lorraine and Ian. Arshad hints to Bryce that he knows what happened outside the hotel and he will keep Bryce and Carly safe for the night, but he must leave in the morning. While Karim plays pool, Carly flirts with him relentlessly. Meanwhile, Bryce flirts with Lorraine, right in front of Ian. Karim offers to let Carly leave the island with his family on their fishing boat. She asks if there’s room for Bryce, but there isn’t. She declines, and Karim’s horrified to learn Carly’s married. She goes for a swim and bangs her head on the side of the pool. Bryce dives in and helps her. They hear what sound and initially look like fireworks. Lorraine is so thrilled, she doesn’t quite understand that these are nearby bombs exploding. Bryce and Carly excuse themselves to their room. They argue about Bryce’s dependence on Carly, but Carly silences them when she hears noise from downstairs. They hear Arshad barking in Arabic, gunshots, and a scream that sounds like Lorraine. They look, and find a gleeful Lorraine having sex with the local soldiers. A line has formed of patiently waiting men.

Arshad comes to Bryce and Carly’s room to offer them both jobs, which he assumes they’ll take since they’re stuck on the island. Bryce and Carly argue about whether or not to take the job. Bryce makes Carly see that they have no other choice. He immediately starts working as a bartender, impressing Karim with his skills. Bryce tells Karim he paid his way through law school tending bar. Carly comes downstairs and invites Karim to dance. The group of soldiers bound in. Some of them recognize Bryce from his earlier flight from the law.

The drug-dealing Boy arrives, too. He cuts Bryce a line, which Bryce snorts. As Carly’s dancing gets more erotic, Bryce gently takes Karim’s gun. He shoots Karim, then mows down all the soldiers in the restaurant. He runs out of rounds, so he takes one of the dead soldiers’ guns and kills Daweb and Yasmin. While Carly tries to comfort Karim, who’s dying, Bryce orders the Boy to give him more drugs. Bryce goes over to to Karim, then drags him to Arshad’s office, using the young man to convince Arshad to open the door. Carly protests, calling Bryce all sorts of vicious names. Arshad opens the door, and Bryce hears an American voice calling over the two-way radio. He takes it from Arshad, then ties Arshad to his shower with his own belt. Karim manages to tell Carly where their fishing boat is before he dies.

Bryce and Carly leave the hotel with the Boy, who gives them marijuana as they drive across the island to the boat. Bryce loses the radio transmission. They reach the boat, which is rickety and half-sunk in the water. Bryce is horrified. Carly gives his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, the first sign of affection she’s shown him in a long time. The two of them stand on the shore in each others’ arms, unsure of what to do next.


Vacation attempts to create an action-packed thriller about an island vacation gone horribly wrong. Although it starts well enough, the characters’ bizarre actions and apparent lack of motivation cause the story to derail quickly, leading to a laughable resolution. As written, it merits a pass.

The story opens with a fairly ingenious premise: what would happen if the end of the world happened while a couple is on a relaxing island vacation? The first act lays the groundwork for both the apparent off-screen catastrophe and Bryce and Carly’s fractured relationship. As electronics break down and the couple becomes more and more isolated, seemingly with no way off the increasingly hostile island, the writer does a good job of creating suspense.

It’s when the story hits the second act that things start to go awry. Bryce’s dealings with the island soldiers is reasonably engaging, but Carly’s apparent disinterest in anything but relaxing—as dead people wash ashore and bombs go off around them—is as confusing as it is off-putting. The writer never gives a clear reason for her to just hang around and let the strangeness roll off her back.

This strange behavior carries over to the third act, when the central characters lose all sense of motivation and the story takes a turn for the bizarre. It’s never clear why the couple simply gives up and accepts Arshad’s job offer, or why Bryce decides to shoot everyone (on some level, the fact that he’s rampantly abusing drugs does explain this behavior, but that seems like a cop-out more than a motivation), or why Bryce’s homicidal rage suddenly re-bonds the couple, ending the story on an eerie yet upbeat note.

The unclear motivations lie mainly in sloppy, inconsistent characterizations. Carly starts the story angry at Bryce for not taking an active interest in anything but drugs, despite the fact that she herself makes no effort to help them get off the island. They argue a lot about his drug abuse, yet his drug-induced killing spree somehow renews their love. The only thing that really makes sense is that Bryce’s repeated bad judgment—rushing armed guards, accepting Arshad’s job offer, shooting everyone—is a direct result of his steady drug use, but this feels more like a lazy excuse for illogical behavior than a fleshed-out, believable personality trait.

The supporting characters are less inconsistent by virtue of the fact that they aren’t well-developed. Bryce and Carly’s interactions with the Arab family running the hotel feel like something out of a bad PSA about tolerance. The characters never come across as anything more than stereotypical extremists. The other American tourists (Mitch and Sonja) exist only as a plot device (they have a boat!), while the British couple (Ian and Lorraine) don’t have any purpose at all.

This script is simply awful, wasting a great premise on a muddled, incoherent story. It’s unlikely that any amount of effort on the part of the filmmakers will make this script succeed as written.

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The Fallout (a.k.a., The Divide)

Author: Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean

Genre: Thriller

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 3

Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




After a nuclear attack, a disparate group fights for survival in a fallout shelter.


In the New York City apartment of SAM and EVA (both mid-20s and attractive), the couple watches in shock as an ominous orange cloud engulfs the city, causing glass to melt and buildings to shake. Sam and Eva collect a bunch of things and rush into the hall. As they run out of the building, they notice DELVIN (50s, African-American) trying to pull open the door to the basement. They follow him inside and find MICKEY (60s, angry and paranoid) shouting insults at them, unheard over the cacophony outside. Others soon join them: MARILYN (40s) and her daughter, WENDY (11); brothers JOSH and ADRIEN (both 30s); and their friend BOBBY (30s). In the huge basement, Mickey—their super—has established an elaborate bomb shelter for unknown reasons. He’s extremely unhappy that all these people have gathered here, because dividing the provisions limits their survival time. Everyone tries to figure out what happened. Mickey believes it was a nuclear attack by the North Koreans. They all wonder how long it’ll take for the fallout to clear. Wendy wants to peek outside, and Marilyn’s willing to allow it, but Mickey holds a rifle on them, refusing to compromise their safety.

Later, the group gathers in what becomes known as the “central chamber.” Mickey’s divided the basement up into a number of “rooms”—a bedroom for him, a storage room for their provisions, and a room known as the “mattress room,” where he has been storing old, soiled mattresses from ex-tenants until he can sell them on eBay. The group divides the mattresses for something to sleep on. They hear banging at the door, followed by the wails of a small, crying child. Most of the group wants Mickey to open the door and let the child in, but Mickey adamantly refuses, insisting whoever’s out there is already dead, and they’ll all be dead if they’re exposed. Later, the group gripes about surviving off pork and beans. The ceiling suddenly starts to shake, and they hear what sounds like a tank rumble overhead. Hoping it’s a rescue, they don’t mind when the tank’s occupants use an acetylene torch to carve out the door’s lock. Obscured in smoke, a group of M-16-toting men in HazMat suits burst into the basement. They grab Adrien and draw blood. When Josh resists, they hit him with the butt of their gun. Realizing this isn’t a rescue, Delvin starts fighting back. After a long struggle, they manage to kill one of the HazMat men, but the others make off with Wendy. Adrien catches a stray bullet to the cheek. As Mickey, Josh, and Delvin struggle to hold the lockless door closed, they see a line of corpses sealed in body bags in the hallway outside. Eventually, the HazMat men appear to give up and move on. Eva, Mickey, and Adrien examine the body of the man they killed. He is of Asian descent, and the HazMat suit is clearly a radiation suit, all of which confirms Mickey’s suspicions. The HazMat men return—and weld the door shut, sealing them inside.

A week later, everyone looks awful. Josh tries to hide his obvious radiation sickness. Marilyn’s lost her rocker thanks to the trauma of losing Wendy. She refuses to eat and has fashioned a ragdoll that she seems to really believe is Wendy. Mickey forces them to survive on “half rations.” Uneasy, Eva leads the others lock Marilyn in the mattress room until she settles down. Josh forces them to discuss what to do with their HazMat man’s body, which is starting to stink. Mickey makes it clear that, now that the door’s welded shut, the only way to get rid of him is through the elaborate septic system—somebody has to carve up his body and jam it down the toilet in Mickey’s room. Everyone’s disgusted by the task, but Bobby volunteers to do it. He takes Mickey’s dull axe and goes to town on the body. Some time later, Delvin enters Mickey’s room without knocking to use the bathroom. He’s surprised that Mickey’s not in there. While urinating, he hears another door open—not the one to Mickey’s room. When he turns around, Delvin sees Mickey waiting there. Mickey throws Delvin out. They let Marilyn out of the mattress room, and she makes a creepy nest under the stairs. At night, Sam sees Marilyn creep over to Eva’s purse and remove something.

Eva dreams about going up to the surface and seeing a beautiful Adonis-like statue with Josh’s face in the center of the ruins of New York. She approaches it and kisses the statue, which doesn’t move. The next morning, Sam lets Eva know about Marilyn sneaking into her purse. Delvin discovers the HazMat suit has gone missing. Wanting some entertainment, Adrien and Josh take over Mickey’s bedroom, which has a TV and VCR. They find nothing but old porno movies and a few survivalist training videos. They pop in some of the latter as the rest of the group gathers around and ridicule the survivalist’s deadly serious tone and casual racism. Mickey gets defensive, noting that videos like these are what helped him prepare his shelter. Josh creeps out Eva by offering her a cigarette in exchange for a kiss. However, Eva responds to the less-creepy flirtations of Adrien, but she’s caught by an increasingly jealous Sam. Eva decides to approach Marilyn in an effort to convince her that she’s there for her. Marilyn hurls insults at Eva, suggesting she leave Sam and start shacking up with Josh if she wants to survive. Eva’s confused, but Marilyn casually observes that this group is picking sides, and Eva should want to get on the winning team.

Later, Mickey rations out a tiny amount of beans. Mickey claims it’s their own fault for flushing perfectly good meat down the toilet when they got rid of the HazMat man. The others are disgusted. Delvin realizes they’ve all been losing weight, but Mickey’s stayed the same. They wonder why, but before they can really get into it, they hear a noise. HazMat men are cutting their way through the door. This time, the group is ready for them. The HazMat men head straight for Mickey’s ration supplies, trying to take as much beans and water as they can. Mickey kills one of them, insisting he’s Russian when he turns out to not be Asian, while Marilyn tussles with other one. She’s like a feral cat, so the other HazMat man gives up and flees. Despite the struggle, the HazMat men make off with virtually all their provisions. Bobby tries to run out through the hole in the door, but the HazMat men have covered it with something the weakened group can’t possibly move. Delvin takes a hidden gun from one of Mickey’s storage lockers and waits for him in his room. Rifle-toting Mickey comes through a door hidden behind a hanging American flag, carrying a few candy bars and some soda. Delvin forces Mickey to take him into his panic room, which is stocked with more food. They struggle, and Mickey accidentally kills Delvin. Nobody believes it’s an accident.

Josh and Bobby tie Mickey to a chair and try to force him to tell them the panic room’s lock combination. Mickey refuses, so Josh takes the axe and chops of Mickey’s index finger. Adrien and Sam try to stop him, arguing that Mickey doesn’t need to be tortured, but Josh can’t be convinced. Once they get into the panic room, Josh takes charge of the rationing. Eva has a similar dream, but this time, the statue is Sam, not Josh, and the statue comes to live, grabbing and trying to kill her. Eva wakes up and goes to the bathroom. She finds Adrien in Mickey’s room. After more flirting, Eva asks how Adrien can be so sweet and Josh can be so awful. Adrien doesn’t know. Later, Bobby forces Sam and Eva to watch over the still-tied-up Mickey. Adrien argues with Josh about the ration sizes, which he thinks are far too small. Josh hints that he’s intentionally starving them, because once they die, they won’t have to spread the supplies so thin.

Eva believes Mickey when he tells them he has a gun stashed in a can of baking powder hidden in the panic room. He offers to take out Josh and the others if they untie him. Sam thinks he’s a liar who will say anything to get out of his restraints. Marilyn’s mental state is getting worse, so Bobby takes advantage of it by sleeping with her as frequently as possible. Josh still has his eye on Eva. One night, Eva goes into Mickey’s room to find Josh, Bobby, and Sam getting drunk on Mickey’s liquor. They force Eva into a tense game of truth or dare, which ultimately results in Sam being dared to dismember Delvin and flush him down the toilet. Trying to prove his machismo, Sam does it. Eva is disgusted. She returns to Mickey, who gets close enough to grab her and tries to force her to untie him. Eva still refuses. Mickey tells her there’s a way out of here, through the septic system. Eva comes up with the plan. While Sam cuts the power and tries to get into the panic room, Eva seduces Josh to keep him distracted. Eva discovers Marilyn has died (but Bobby has continued to have sex with her) and is disgusted. Sam manages to get the gun. He kills Adrien first. Josh and Bobby try to beat up Sam, while Adrien tries to stop them. Eva runs and cuts Mickey free. Josh kills Adrien and is so horrified by what he’s become, he torches himself with a kerosene lantern.

Eva puts on the HazMat suit and uses a magnesium torch to burrow into the septic tank. This produces acrid smoke that, in the confined space, will cause Sam and Mickey to choke to death. Mickey hands Sam the gun, allowing him to kill himself first, but Sam turns the gun on Mickey. Meanwhile, Eva crawls through the sewage into an old pumping station, which is guarded by some gun-toting, radiation-afflicted survivors. They’re threatened by her HazMat suit an M-16, so they allow her to pass. She gets to the streets, which are exactly as she imagined them in her dreams. A truck rumbles toward her, filled with HazMat men. They stop when they see her, but they don’t aim their weapons. They bring her onto the truck. As she rides away, she surveys the devastation of the city.


The Fallout attempts to tell a Twilight Zone-esque morality tale about the lengths humans will go to in order to survive. Unfortunately, the script combines preachy dialogue with one-dimensional stereotypes, which weakens the overall story significantly. As written, it merits a pass.

The script starts by locking a disparate group of people into a room and leering as they do horrible things to each other in the name of survival. Nothing is known of their pre-apocalypse lives, and the script offers very little in the way of character development. Each character has one or two generic traits—Eva the tough chick, Delvin the token black guy, Bobby the idiot, Mickey the half-crazed survivalist—but the writer(s) never dig deep into these characters, so they remain flat caricatures.

As a result, it’s hard to empathize with the characters’ struggles. Josh, the villain, has nothing at all to redeem him. He starts the script as a horndog sociopath and ends the script as a horndog sociopath with a glimmer of conscience. No effort is made to show a progression from a reasonable person driven to unconscionable behavior by the circumstances of their situation.

The writer(s) do attempt to give some development to Eva, who is revealed as the hero somewhere around the halfway mark, by allowing her to have a relationship with Sam. However, the relationship provides very little insight into Eva. They never take the time to describe anything about their lives before the bomb drops, so it’s hard to see how this has changed their relationship, or even if Eva evolves as a result of these events. Like Josh, she starts the screenplay as the warrior princess and ends it in the exact same way, with no effort to make her a little more complex than a generic two-word description.

The same can be said for all the other characters, from nutty Marilyn to ineffectual Sam. Without anything to make them rise above clichés, it’s difficult to accept them as real people and relate to their problems.

The story moves efficiently from one depressing plot point to the next without taking much time to dwell on anything other than Wendy’s kidnapping. Certain sequences are harrowingly effective—particularly the first attack by the HazMat men—but overall, the script gets too preachy as it delves into hot-button topics like torture, equality, gun control, and the human desire for power.

When it’s not being preachy, the second act introduces some interesting ideas by suggesting that a group like this would not work together to fight the HazMat men, instead turning on each other. Like the rest of the ideas in the script, though, the writer(s) don’t dwell on this, instead chugging along to a third act that descends into a cliché-ridden gunfight.

This script might work with the right ensemble playing these characters, but the script itself is nothing but clichés and caricatures.

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Liberace: Behind the Candelabra

Author: Richard LaGravenese

Genre: Biography/Drama

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 6

Characterization: 7

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




In the later years of his life, Liberace enters into a tumultuous long-term affair with a younger man.


In February 1987, SCOTT THORSON (late 20s) attempts to get into Liberace’s media-circus funeral. A security guard refuses, stating that Liberace’s not on his list. Scott decides to tell his story to a GHOST WRITER for two reasons: he’s tired of people not knowing the truth about who Liberace was, and because he needs the money. Heavily addicted to cocaine, Scott lives in a dumpy Los Angeles apartment, making ends meet as a courier. Scott’s story begins in 1977, when a more youthful and energetic Scott met Liberace, known to his friends as LEE, (late 50s) backstage at his Las Vegas lounge show. Scott and mutual friend BOB are enthralled by Lee’s performance, and they’re shocked and amused that the mostly-female audience doesn’t realize Lee is gay. Backstage, Bob introduces Scott to Lee. Scott’s initially shocked first by Lee’s heavy makeup and then by the presence of Lee’s surly boyfriend, JERRY. Talkative and self-obsessed, Lee chats with Bob about himself, never taking his eyes off Scott. This makes Scott uncomfortable, but Bob convinces him to meet Lee the following day at one of his mansions.

Scott, who works for a veterinarian, immediately identifies an illness in Lee’s dog and offers to bring him some medicine. Lee is thrilled. He gives Scott his personal number. Lee gives Scott a tour of the mansion, which he finds very impressive. After awhile, Lee finally asks Scott about himself. Scott tells Lee he has little family, as he and his siblings were split up and put into the foster-care system as children. Lee is sympathetic. Scott doesn’t like Lee, so he returns to L.A. and doesn’t bother calling him. After a few weeks, Scott gets frustrated with how little he has, so he reluctantly decides to call Lee, who’s ecstastic and immediately invites Scott to visit him in Las Vegas, at Lee’s expense. Scott awkwardly accompanies Lee into his Jacuzzi, where Lee complains about Jerry, saying he’s “created a monster” and that Jerry has started drinking and threatening to expose Lee’s lifestyle if Lee doesn’t give him “a piece of the action.” Lee decides Scott is a compassionate listener and decides he needs a “companion.” He hires Scott on the spot and agrees to pay his expenses. In voiceover, Scott explains to the Ghost Writer that Lee never turned him on, and they only connected through mutual loneliness, but Scott was willing to put up with Lee because of the pay and because he assumed Lee lacked a sex drive.

Scott quickly finds out he assumed incorrectly. Lee had an impotency problem that he fixed with a silicone implant that leaves him semi-erect all the time. Lee is insatiable, but Scott—despite being an admitted bisexual—finds him disgusting. He initially refuses sex with Lee but quickly feels compelled to give in. Before long, Liberace invites him to live in one of his Las Vegas mansions. He sets Scott up with all the same clothes and jewelry that made Lee famous, and even incorporates Scott into his live act—having him drive a real Rolls Royce onto the stage and open the door for Lee. In 1987, the Ghost Writer stops Scott to ask what happened to Jerry. Scott brings up Lee’s longtime manager/agent, SEYMOUR (mid-50s), who forced Jerry out of the house when Lee wasn’t around and gave him a mansion to keep him quiet about Lee’s lifestyle. Still in 1987, Scott receives a phone call that seems to agitate him for unknown reasons.

Scott explains that Lee was a firm believer in the value of real estate, and he forced Scott to buy a house with his initial earnings. Scott describes the many investments Lee made: his Las Vegas mansion, his Hollywood Hills mansion, his Lake Tahoe home, a 32-room hotel in Palm Springs, and a five-story building in Beverly Hills (in which Lee built a penthouse for himself and rented the other four floors as office space). Scott and Lee spend most of their time in Lee’s Las Vegas mansion. Before long, Scott finds he can no longer tolerate the poor treatment from Lee’s staff, who see him as a fling. Even after Lee browbeats his staff into cutting him some slack, Lee’s embittered houseboy, CARLUCCI, explains to Scott that their relationship won’t end well: eventually, Lee will tire of Scott and have Seymour send him away, just as he has with all his other boyfriends. Because the staff refuses to adjust, Scott and Lee adjust: they move into Scott’s modest home, so they can be alone. Lee enjoys that the smaller house allows him to do domestic duties he usually missed out on. Scott asks Lee if they should get a piano for the house. Lee gets upset, telling Scott the story of his mother forcing him to practice endlessly as a child, convinced that he— more than any of his other siblings—would be a concert pianist. Trying to make his mother happy, he gave it ago, and although the critics responded favorably, they weren’t blown away, so he returned to saloons, which made him happy. But Lee has had enough practicing for a lifetime. The talk of Lee’s mother turns to his father, for whom Lee has no respect because he abandoned the family at a young age. Lee turned to religion, and to this day he’s a devout Catholic. Scott’s surprised, because of the Catholic attitude about homosexuality. Lee explains that, during a hospital stay in which he almost died, he had a vision of a nun watching over him, and then he started to get better. It convinced him that God is protecting him and that the Church’s stance on homosexuality is flawed.

While having sex, Lee attempts to force Scott to take some poppers. Scott resists; he doesn’t like drugs. In 1987, Scott receives a phone call from the same person. This time, he allows his answering machine to pick it up. It’s a hostile person who may or may not be a cop. Scott unplugs the phone and continues the story. He talks about two of Lee’s friends, FRED and FREDDY, a gay couple who had been together for 25 years. After meeting them, Scott decides he wants their relationship to emulate theirs. By 1979, Scott and Lee are fat and happy together—until Lee sees his appearance on The Tonight Show and sees how old and fat he looks. Aghast, he immediately calls a plastic surgeon, DR. JACK STARTZ, to make Lee look younger and to get Scott on a diet. Startz describes an elaborate series of silicone injections to help mold and shape Lee’s face into something much younger. Lee laments not knowing Startz sooner, because he always wanted to be a movie star, but he didn’t have the face for it, so his movie career dwindled after only a few flops. Lee surprises Scott by telling Startz he wants Scott—only 19 at this point—to have a facelift to make him look younger. When Startz asks what he has in mind, Lee brings Startz a portrait of himself.

In 1987, the Ghost Writer asks Scott why he would go through with something like that. Scott says he has always been self-conscious about his looks, and he was sort of flattered that Lee wanted Scott to look like him. Scott also confesses that he’d become extremely dependent on Lee’s wealth and the lifestyle to which he’d grown accustomed. Back in 1979, Startz puts Lee under the knife and starts Scott on “the California Diet,” which consists of pharmaceutical cocaine and amphetamines to suppress his appetite. He does lose weight, so he decides to stay on the “diet” and lose more. Before Scott goes under the knife, Startz gives him a number of prescriptions for his surgical recovery, in addition to continuing his “diet” prescriptions. Scott asks Startz to give him a chin dimple. Fifty pounds lighter and looking eerily like a blond Liberace, Scott is happy with the new look. He’s also happy with the cocaine, to which he’s become addicted.

Scott grows annoyed with Lee’s hermit-like existence and starts to relish his brief times alone from him— during Lee’s performances and his between-show nap. Wandering around a casino alone, Scott’s shocked when an autograph-seeker thinks he’s Liberace’s son. Some time later, Lee and Scott get into a vicious argument about Lee’s lifestyle versus what Scott wants. Scott wants a break, which horribly offends Lee. Lee thinks Scott’s head is all turned around because of the drugs. He demands that Scott stop using. He also wants to live his own life, return to veterinary school, and carve out his own career. He angrily mentions the woman who believed Scott was Lee’s son. Lee instantly transforms, proud and joyful. Some time later, they consult a lawyer about Lee adopting Scott. Craving more drugs but lacking money and support from Lee, Scott begins trading jewelry to Startz for more cocaine. Startz is more than willing, insisting to Scott that cocaine is not addictive. In voiceover, Scott mentions he heard Startz committed suicide, which makes him glad. Scott accompanies Lee on a tour of Europe, and in voiceover he confesses that this was the happiest time in their relationship. They tour castles, visit sex clubs, etc. Scott mentions Lee’s sex fixation. He seemed fascinated by kinks and became obsessed with gay porn, which disgusted Scott. Once, while watching porn, Lee proposes a threesome to Scott, who’s disgusted. This turns into another argument.

Lee’s mother, FRANCES, becomes disillusioned with her Palm Springs rest home. She wants to be closer to Lee. He restores an old mansion for her to use. In 1987, Scott asks the Ghost Writer when the book will come out and how much money he’ll see from it. He’s desperate to finish it. In 1980, Frances dies. Scott’s amazed by Lee’s ability to deal with it. Lee admits that he feels free. Some time later, Lee drags Scott into a porn shop, against Scott’s will. Lee goes into a booth in the back that has a glory hole. A combination of horror and drug-related illness sweeps over Scott, and he vomits. Angry, Lee drags him out of the store. The next morning, Scott finds himself on the couch. He confronts Lee about the stupidity of such a huge, recognizable star doing what he did, but Lee’s angry because of Scott’s drug abuse. Cut off from Startz, Scott ingratiates himself on a club owner and drug dealer known only as MR. Y, an old friend of Lee’s who provides Scott with as much cocaine as he needs. As he did with Startz, Scott trades jewels for drugs. Scott has decided to become a songwriter, but he’s too embarrassed about his music to let Lee hear any of it. Lee drops a bombshell: he wants them to have an open relationship. Immediately thereafter, Lee is livid to hear Scott messed around with a record prodcuer in L.A. Lee cancels the “open relationship.”

While working in Lee’s show, Scott realizes Lee has hired a group of young singers. Among them is CARY JAMES (18 and blond). Scott watches Lee watching Cary, captivated. Scott knows he’s being replaced. He and Lee argue about it. Lee initially tries to deny it, but Scott catches him in a lie, which confirms his suspicions. Soon after, Lee is thrilled that one of his childhood dreams is coming true: he will get to perform a medley of Oscar-nominated scores and present the award. Scott’s supportive but flighty. He takes a gold chain to L.A. and goes to Mr. Y’s house. Mr. Y’s sympathetic about Scott’s relationship problems. Scott is both terrified and angry about losing Lee—terrified because he needs the financial support, angry because he gave up his own face for this man. Mr. Y convinces Scott that, legally, Lee must take care of him. Scott returns to Lee and seethes at the sight of him flirting with Cary backstage. Scott learns his foster mother died and returns to L.A. for the funeral. Meanwhile, Lee has sex with Cary. When Scott returns to Vegas, the spotless room clues him in to what happened. He trashes Lee’s bedroom, then leaves. He goes back to L.A. and moves into Lee’s Beverly Hills penthouse.

Scott goes on a long bender with Mr. Y, vowing not to call Lee. Scott finds out through third parties that Lee wants the penthouse to stay in for the Oscars. Scott’s enraged, wondering why Lee doesn’t just stay in a hotel. Seymour charges into the building, announcing to Lee’s staff that Scott has been dropped from Lee’s payroll and has been doing drugs in the penthouse for hours. He brings security guards in to drag Scott out of the penthouse and take him to a hospital. Scott demands to talk to Lee, but Seymour refuses. Scott gets belligerent, refusing to let the security guards take him. Soon enough, Scott calls Mr. Y, who brings his own security force. After a standoff, Mr. Y and his team get Scott out of there. Seymour warns Scott not to return to Nevada. In voiceover, Scott explains that the same night Seymour returned to Lee in Las Vegas, Lee brought home two young French boys to have his threesome, and he didn’t ask about Scott.

Mr. Y takes Scott to a lawyer, who suggests that Lee keeping Scott from his property is illegal. They quickly work out a deal for some money, some of his cars, some of his dogs, and all of his other personal belongings. Scott must also sell his house and his remaining cars to Lee. He also must not file any other suits against Lee in the future. Scott thinks it’s a bum deal, but he has nothing else. He has to sign. When Scott returns Las Vegas to collect his things, Lee refuses to see him. Scott notices some of his belongings are missing; Seymour refuses to admit this. Enraged that Lee has broken their agreement, Scott decides to break it, too: he files a $113 million lawsuit against Lee. Ultimately, Scott settles for a small amount out of court and Lee can continue to deny his homosexuality, painting Scott as a villain in the press. Scott gets his courier job and his ratty apartment and doesn’t hear from Lee for four years.

Out of the blue, Lee calls Scott one night in 1986, apologizing for everything that happened, wanting to make sure everything’s okay. Lee’s in ill health. He invites Scott to his Palm Springs hotel, where Scott finds Lee gaunt and bed-ridden, clearly dying of AIDS. He wants to see Scott to make sure, with his own eyes, that he’s okay. Lee also wants to know if he made Scott happy. Scott says yes. In February of 1987, Lee’s doctor announces that he died of cardiac arrest. In a surprising move, the Riverside County coroner disputes the death certificate, insisting on an autopsy. The coroner announces that Lee did, indeed, die from complications arising from AIDS. Scott returns from Lee’s memorial service complaining to the Ghost Writer about what a poor job they did—a bunch of people who barely knew the man celebrating a life they knew nothing about. At some point later, the Ghost Writer arrives at Scott’s apartment for a further interview, but Scott doesn’t answer. He pushes open the unlocked door and finds the apartment devoid of Scott’s belongings, but the disarray suggests he left in a hurry.

Titles explain that Scott became a key witness in the Wonderland murders and was placed into the Witness Protection Program, and that Scott never read the Ghost Writer’s completed book. The script ends with the decadent memorial service, as mourners listening to Liberace sing. Suddenly, out of a jewel-encrusted coffin, Lee appears, singing. Scott is there, and he can’t help but admire the showmanship. After the song, Lee takes his final bow.


Rather than painting the broad strokes of Liberace’s entire life, Behind the Candelabra attempts to give an understanding of the man by showing only the last 10 years of his life. The story and the characters are fairly interesting, but it begins to suffer when too many redundant arguments between Liberace and his lover, Scott, clash with too much on-the-nose dialogue. As written, it merits a consider.

The story focuses more on Scott than it does on Liberace. The first act concentrates on their first meeting and whirlwind courtship, painting an unvarnished portrait of Scott as a deeply depressed loner who has long craved the attention Liberace finally provides. In the second act, Scott allows himself to settle into a relationship with a man he doesn’t seem to like much on a personal level—he simply likes the attention and the financial freedom. This makes their early dynamic very offbeat and strangely compelling. However, once Scott gets addicted to cocaine and spins out, far too much time is spent on their arguments about sex. Despite Liberace’s outlandish behavior, the redundant scenes grow tiresome.

The third act has some effective individual scenes—particularly Scott’s pathetic ejection from Liberace’s Beverly Hills penthouse—but overall, it loses focus on the story of Scott and Liberace, instead emphasizing the offscreen death and the political ordeal surrounding his autopsy. The final scene of Liberace’s pseudo-ghost performance bringing him back to Scott is somewhat poignant, although it does not qualify as a satisfying resolution to the messy third act.

Although this is allegedly a biopic of Liberace, the man himself remains somewhat of an enigma. It’s strange that a character who talks about himself constantly—primarily in on-the-nose soliloquies that stop the narrative in its tracks—remains at arm’s length throughout the script. Part of this might stem from telling the story from Scott’s point of view, but it seems more the result of trying too hard to show the events in Liberace’s life rather than what truly makes him tick. The script focuses on lurid details of his life, including plastic surgery and odd sexual peccadilloes, but the writer portrays these events without indicating why Liberace behaves this way or how these particular events shape him as a person.

Thanks to extensive voiceover narration, what makes Scott tick is much clearer: depression and cocaine. He’s not portrayed with a huge amount of sympathy, but Scott is an extremely complex, well-drawn character, bordering on tragic. Ultimately, the choices he makes throughout the script ruin his life. However, his role in the Wonderland murder trial seems like a significant moment of his life that’s only hinted at until an onscreen title at the end explains his mysterious disappearance into the Witness Protection Program. Haphazardly tossing out this new information in the last couple of pages almost redefines the character, and it feels like a cheat that the writer only alludes to Scott’s involvement in passing.

Although the script is flawed, the roles of Scott and Liberace are meaty. Exceptional actors under skilled direction should bring something to the on-the-nose dialogue and redundant scenes that makes the finished film electrifying instead of tedious.

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Untitled Lucas & Moore Comedy (a.k.a., Flypaper)

Author: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore

Genre: Thriller/Comedy

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




While two rival teams of bank robbers pull simultaneous heists on a Manhattan bank, the hostages try to figure out why one of the customer’s was murdered.


Shortly before a midtown Manhattan bank closes, two teams of thieves descend on it: one very professional (comprised of DARRIEN, 40s, black, pragmatic; WEINSTEIN, 50s, white, nerdy; and GATES, 20s, safecracker extraordinaire, mildly psychotic), the other incredibly amateurish (hayseed pals known only as PEANUT BUTTER—hereafter P.B.—and JELLY). Shaking a bit, TRIPP (30s, charming) flirts with the teller, KAITLIN (30s, pretty), while she cashes his check. He asks for the location of the nearest pharmacy. The professional crew comes in through the roof of the bank, while the amateurs burst through the front doors. There’s a standoff, followed by an argument among the two teams. Hidden somewhere, a sniper shoots a customer in a Jets jacket, causing each team to open fire on the other. The customers dive behind the counter; everyone flattens to avoid getting injured. Fascinated by the killed customer, Tripp asks Kaitlin to let him use the intercom. She allows it. He makes a general announcement that he’ll be stepping into the fray to check on the shot customer. The robbers are all so flummoxed by this that they stop shooting. Darrien threatens to shoot Tripp, who announces that not only does Darrien not need to kill another hostage, the two groups can go ahead with their plans without killing each other. Using keen powers of observation brought about by a mental disorder, Tripp knows that P.B. and Jelly want to rob the ATMs, while Darrien and his crew want the vault. They can do their business and go their separate ways.

With that in mind, the two groups band together to lock the hostages in the kitchen area, where we meet the rest of our hostages: MADGE (60s and salty); REX (30s, a loan officer who gleefully announces he’s trained in handling robbery situations); MITCHELL (40s, the computer guy); GORDON (50s, the kind, diabetic manager); SWISS MISS (30s, an icy Nordic beauty who never speaks); and MR. CLEAN (40s, an ex-con security guard). Darrien’s crew has a very elaborate plan—they disable the motion-sensor alarms, unfurl a tarp in front of the windows with a tapestry of a totally empty lobby, and spraypaint the kitchen windows black. As Rex tries to keep everyone calm, Tripp constantly undermines Rex’s points and theories about handling themselves in a crisis. Tripp runs out of his medication, which worries him. He’s never run out of it before. Weinstein and P.B. supervise the hostages during their phone calls to loved ones. They find Tripp so annoying, they want to kill him. Meanwhile, Darrien works on getting through the extremely complicated vault. He and Jelly trade notes; Jelly leaves humiliated by his own incompetence.

P.B. and Jelly strap some C-4 to the ATMs. When they detonate, it activates an extra layer of security on the vault. Also, the force of the C-4 causes the ATM door to fuse to the unit instead of blowing apart. In the kitchen, Tripp leads the hostages in speculating as to why Jets Jacket was killed while they’re all alive. He notes standard bank-robber procedure of killing all hostages in the event one of them is killed. The others consider the possibility that each team thinks the other killed Jets Jacket, so none of them are willing to kill the hostages. Using his photographic memory, Tripp realizes Jets Jacket wasn’t killed in the crossfire—he was intentionally murdered for some reason, which means one of the teams has a double agent who’s more interested in his own agenda than the team. Fortunately, Tripp stole Jets Jacket’s wallet when he examined the body. He finds a clue: Jets Jacket (now known as Hayes) has a debit card for a different bank. Mitchell is annoyed that nobody on the street heard the gunfire and called the police. Gordon sheepishly admits that he had increased soundproofing installed to create a better atmosphere for customers. Tripp talks to Kaitlin about what he’s observed about her engagement. Based solely on the size of her ring and the photos she has in her teller booth, he decides she and her fiancé are not a good pair, and she’s only marrying him for money. Kaitlin’s insulted and defensive. Later, Tripp figures out a way to wriggle through the vents out of the kitchen. Everyone’s afraid he’ll get them all killed, but Tripp assures them he’ll be quiet.

In the lobby, P.B. and Jelly’s stupidity gets in the way of the other team—a powerful explosion breaks the fiber-optic camera they’re using to watch the kitchen, as well as Weinstein’s laptop and one of the windows in the kitchen, exposing their true identities to every hostage. Weinstein and Gates are ready to shoot P.B. and Jelly until Tripp drops out of a vent. Angry that he can’t kill anyone, Gates shoots Jelly’s ear off. P.B.’s angry, leaving Weinstein to break up the scuffle. With them distracted, Tripp wanders around, trying to dig up information on who would have murdered Hayes. All the hostages, including Tripp, are shoved into Rex’s windowless office, where Tripp starts interrogating other hostages as possible accomplices, starting with Mitchell, who would be performing a security upgrade on the computers as soon as they closed, leaving them vulnerable. Mitchell admits that he is working with the robbers. Weinstein takes the hostages on a bathroom break. They snoop around but find no clues. Kaitlin remembers that Mr. Clean wasn’t scheduled to work today and never, ever works Tuesdays. In the bathroom, they find a suspicious bag containing night vision goggles. Meanwhile, Jelly and Gates contentiously compare their rankings on the FBI’s online bank robber database. Not surprisingly, P.B. and Jelly are ranked rather low in comparison to the more professional team, but neither can touch master bank robber Vicellous Drum—not even Darrien and Weinstein, who once worked with Drum.

On their way back from the bathroom, P.B. and Jelly demand a volunteer to detonate their next ATM bomb. They’re both a little skittish about getting killed. Tripp volunteers. He sets up the ignitor and dives intentionally close to Hayes’s body. He searches Hayes and finds a shoulder-holstered gun. When the explosion doesn’t detonate, P.B. and Jelly are confused and Tripp is suspicious. Then they see Tripp holding the gun and panic. Tripp kicks the gun over to Darrien’s team, insulting P.B. and Jelly. Darrien recognizes it as an FBI-issued gun. Suddenly, the ATM explodes, surprising everyone. Shortly thereafter, they hear gunshots in the bathroom. When they go to investigate, they find Weinstein and Mitchell have shot and killed each other. Tripp makes Darrien and Gates suspicious about why Weinstein waited so long to go after Mitchell and why Weinstein didn’t bring anyone else for backup. Darrien refuses to believe Weinstein would double-cross him. Later, Kaitlin watches as Tripp pulls open Weinstein’s open mouth and retrieves a remote control clicker—the key to getting Darrien’s crew out of the bank. She’s suspicious.

Although close to breaking through the vault, Darrien and Gates can’t quite make it. Darrien decides the job is over, and they should just pack up and leave. Gates convinces him to stick it out, then calls all the hostages into the lobby to announce that he’s now in charge, and he won’t let them run rampant. Darrien turns on his plasma cutter, which explodes, killing him. Gates forces all the hostages back into Rex’s office. Tripp sneaks out almost immediately. Gates decides to team up with P.B. and Jelly, using their explosives to blow the vault now that the torch is gone. Gordon tries to make small talk with Kaitlin. They start talking quietly about Rex and quickly grow suspicious—he’s having dire financial problems, and he’s an expert on robbery procedure. Jelly catches Tripp following him. He’s getting shakier by the moment. Tripp shows Jelly that the C-4 ignitors have been tampered with so they don’t detonate, which proves a conspiracy. Jelly tells him it could be their point man, whom they haven’t met. The point man merely faxed them the location and plan, because faxing is safer than e-mail. Jelly hands Tripp a copy of the fax.

Gordon has a sudden diabetic attack. The other hostages try to help him. Rushing back to the office, Tripp manages to get Gordon’s glucose shot and inject him just in the nick of time. Tripp’s surprised by how quickly it takes effect. Gates comes to threaten them, when Tripp pulls Jelly’s gun. He reveals the remote key and tells Gates he’ll trade it for a conversation. Tripp asks Gates about their point man; Gates said their robbery was also arranged by fax. Tripp trades the gun for the fax. Back in the office, Tripp has a hard time focusing because of his lack of medication. He knows the faxes, the goggles, and the clicker in Weinstein’s mouth are all connected, but he can’t figure out how. In an attempt to get him focused, Kaitlin kisses him. While Tripp tries to work things out, Kaitlin realizes Swiss Miss has disappeared. They soon fine that she’s been killed and shoved above the office’s ceiling. Hearing the commotion, Jelly enters the office. Studying the fax, Tripp realizes something. Just as P.B. and Gates are about to blow the same, Tripp and the hostages storm toward them. Tripp announces that this isn’t a robbery.

Tripp lays it all out: based on blemishes on the paper, the faxes were all sent from the same machine, meaning they were invited there by the same person, and Tripp concludes that it’s master thief Vicellous Drum. Tripp explains: Hayes was the FBI agent on Drum’s tail, P.B. and Jelly ratted on Drum in order to reduce their own recent prison sentence, Weinstein and Darrien were tempted to flip on him, Mitchell has helped Drum break down bank security all over the world, Gates talks shit about Drum on the Internet, and Swiss Miss was helping him move stolen money through Swiss accounts. All of them were invited here to kill each other so Drum wouldn’t have to, and he intentionally set it up so it wouldn’t look like he’s involved. But it’s more than just a setup—Drum actually is among them, making sure the right people get killed. He killed Weinstein and Mitchell and staged it to look like they killed each other, he rigged Darrien’s torch to explode, he tampered with P.B. and Jelly’s ignitors—but who is he? Tripp and Kaitlin figure out how the night-vision goggles fit in: the easiest way to take out a bunch of armed criminals is by cutting power and killing them in the dark. They reason that whoever takes the goggles is Vicellous Drum.

They go back to the lobby, where they find Gates in a standoff with P.B. and Jelly. They’ve managed to get into the vault and stuff two duffelbags—one for each “team”—full of money, but now each thinks the other is Vicellous Drum. He presses the remote key—and nothing happens. He quickly discovers the battery is gone. Kaitlin grabs a gun and announces Vicellous Drum has it. All eyes turn to Tripp, as does Kaitlin’s gun. She reasons that Tripp is the only one who makes sense as Drum. He immediately runs away. She shoots at him, hitting him in the arm. Tripp hides. Suddenly, he’s not the shaky, semi-insane person we’ve come to know—he’s in survival mode, expertly making a tourniquet using duct tape. He cuts the power. Everyone panics, including the robbers. Jelly announces he’ll give up the money in exchange for his life.

Suddenly, gunshots ring out. Mr. Clean is killed. Gates is shot in the face. Everyone dives to the floor as a shadowy figure moves through the dark bank, trying to kill people. He rushes toward the bathroom for the night vision goggles. It turns out, Vicellous Drum is actually Gordon. Tripp holds a gun on him, explaining how brilliant yet simple the plan was. Work as a harried yet level-headed bank manager until he can set exactly the right trap, lure in all the people who could tie him to crimes, and wait for them to kill each other. Gordon confirms Tripp’s suspicions, but he points out that everyone already believes Tripp is Drum, so he can either shot sickly old Gordon and confirm their suspicions, or Gordon can kill Tripp and be hailed as a hero. The lights suddenly turn back on, distracting Gordon long enough for Tripp to flee. Gordon continues trying to convince them all that Tripp is drum, but the others are one step ahead of him: Tripp and Kaitlin faked the suspicion of Tripp in order to get the real Drum to reveal himself. Gordon refuses to surrender, so everyone with a gun—of which there are many, at this point—empties their clips on Gordon. Tripp lets P.B. and Jelly leave with the money.

Hours later, an EMT gives Tripp a temporary refill on his prescription. The police talk with Tripp and Kaitlin about what happen. Kaitlin reveals that she switched the money bags, so P.B. and Jelly made off with about $60 worth of deposit slips. The police are shocked that anyone would give the money back. Speaking pointedly at Tripp, Kaitlin announces she doesn’t need the money. Tripp’s impressed. Although he’s fallen for her, Tripp is willing to wish her well and leave her to her fiancé, but Kaitlin has fallen in love with Tripp, too. They kiss.


Despite its non-title, Untitled Lucas and Moore Comedy is less a comedy than a heist thriller with occasional humorous one-liners. Its story may not hold up under close scrutiny, but it’s entertaining and fast-paced enough to remain compelling throughout. The characters, however, are a bit less impressive. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act sets up an amusing yet surprising scenario, as two independent groups of bank robbers attempt to make a score at the same bank, at the same time. The writers keep the heist plotting unpredictable and intriguing, but they really hit their masterstroke with the idea that one obsessively attentive hostage will realize a murder mystery’s afoot and spend the rest of the script trying to solve it.

The second act is devoted primarily to deepening the mystery, allowing each character to develop as they become suspects in Hayes’s death. Having two sets of thieves mingling with hostages allows for more variety and conflict as the thieves turn against each other, band together against the hostages, and then stop trusting anyone as the story coasts into the third act. Once all is finally revealed, the writers go overboard on explaining the plot. Although the ultimate mystery—that a master criminal has pitted them all against each other to tie up his own loose ends—is reasonably clever, it’s not clever enough to warrant the reams of dialogue devoted to unspooling every intricate detail.

Although the heist storyline is pretty good, the romantic subplot between Tripp and Kaitlin falls flat. Part of this is a result of Tripp not being the most compelling lead. His mental disorder seems less a character attribute than a conduit to deliver information about the plot whenever the writers move on to the next point, and aside from it making him tremble once in awhile, he never seems to struggle with it. Aside from the disorder, he doesn’t really have any other dimension. Similarly, Kaitlin is given a single bland character trait—she’s only interested in her fiancé for money—but doesn’t do much more than act as a springboard for Tripp’s crazy theories. The fact that Tripp and Kaitlin can have a conversation with each other doesn’t mean they’ve fallen in love.

Although the writers tell us a great deal about the supporting characters (because they all become suspects in Hayes’s murder), they’re never allowed to develop naturally, and few of them have the opportunity to show much personality. The hostages have a few nice character moments apiece but are mostly relegated to the background. Gates’s megalomania comes the closest to distinguishing him from the other robbers, but P.B. and Jelly are pretty much interchangeable, as are Darrien and Weinstein (aside from their physical descriptions).

The script has some fun moments, and the main storyline is very engaging. It’s possible that a capable enough cast can make some of the weaker elements—like the love story—work, but it seems more likely that this script needs a rewrite or two to work out its kinks.

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Author: James Gunn

Genre: Dark Comedy/Action

Storyline: 8

Dialogue: 10

Characterization: 9

Writer’s Potential: 9

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]




When his wife leaves him for a drug dealer, a mildly psychotic loser decides to become a costumed vigilante.


FRANK D’ARBO narrates the two perfect moments in his life: first, his inexpensive wedding to SARAH, the love of his life; second, telling the police the direction a mugger ran. In Frank’s mind, these two small moments make up for many, many moments of misery, including his religious father beating him for hiding photos of Heather Locklear, a group of classmates urinating on him, and his homely prom date ditching him to have sex with the scuzzy photographer. Frank draws pictures depicting his two perfect moments and places them beside his bed, so he’ll see them every moment. Sarah ridicules the quality of the drawing; Frank uses Wite-Out to fix it. Soon enough, Frank realizes he’s losing Sarah. She loses interest in sex with him but gleefully talks about male clients at the strip club where she dances. One morning, Frank’s making breakfast when hip, handsome JACQUES shows up, looking for Sarah. When Frank explains Sarah isn’t there, Jacques sits down and eats Frank’s eggs. Jacques then asks Frank to tell Sarah he stopped by.

Five days later, Sarah disappears. Frank looks for her at the strip club, but her coworkers say she quit the job. Frank doesn’t believe them, but he’s distracted by the sight of Jacques and his cronies, ABE, MIKE, and QUILL. Frank asks Jacques if he’s seen Sarah. Feigning sympathy, Jacques explains Sarah is shacking up with him. Later, Frank waits for Jacques and his cronies to emerge from the strip club. He follows them to Jacque’s sprawling ranch. Jacques watches Frank open the door, enter the house, and kiss a gleeful Sarah. He’s crushed. Frank works as a short-order cook at a diner. His coworker, HAMILTON, is sympathetic, but he warns Frank to stay away from Jacques—rumor has it that he’s bad news. Frank tries to file a report with a police detective, FELKNER, stating that Jacques kidnapped Sarah. Felkner is also sympathetic, but Frank lacks any real proof. Depressed and lonely, Frank watches a kids’ superhero show, The Holy Avenger. The HOLY AVENGER is a Christian superhero whose nemesis, DEMONSWILL, is constantly trying to tempt school children with sinful behavior. In this episode, the Holy Avenger foils Demonswill’s plot to make children lazy by beaming sloth rays into their cafeteria food. Frank is inspired by this superhero, doing positive work for God. He confronts Jacques, who’s surprisingly polite despite Frank pounding his fists on Jacque’s car. Frank knows Sarah’s using again and demands that she come home. She doesn’t want to, and Jacques doesn’t want her to, so he has Abe, Mike, and Quill beat Frank up.

Frank arrives at work, battered and bloodied. Hamilton freaks out about Frank bleeding on people’s food. He sends Frank home. Frank prays to God to guide him to do the right thing so that Sarah can come back to him. That night, tossing and turning in bed, Frank hears something outside his bedroom window. He looks and sees the Holy Avenger outside, staring at him. The ceiling cracks open, letting in the light of God. Frank explains in voiceover that he’s been seeing Godly visions since the age of eight, including seeing a tiny Jesus climbing on his trophy case, seeing a childhood friend’s face morph into a grinning devil, and hearing the voice of God tell Frank to marry Sarah the moment he first saw her. Back in the scene, Frank witnesses the “Finger of God” touching his brain. The Holy Avenger explains that God has a plan for him that will reveal itself. On the bedroom wall, Frank sees a drawing of a crimson hooded-mask surrounded by a yellow bomb blast. The next morning, Frank frantically draws the image from the vision, but he doesn’t understand its meaning. Frank visits a comic-book store and asks the clerk, LIBBY (20s and a little odd), if they have back issues of The Holy Avenger. She shows them to him, mocking the ridiculous religious overtones. She laughs at one line where the Avenger says it takes nothing more than the choice to fight evil to be a superhero. Then, she realizes that that’s pretty much true. Her words reverberate in Frank’s mind.

Frank rushes home and Scotch-tapes the drawing of the mask to a picture of himself. It all makes sense. He teaches himself how to sew, then makes himself a shabby costume. He becomes the Crimson Bolt, the world’s first crimefighter. His catchphrase: “Shut up, crime!” Frank lurks in the shadows, waiting for crime to happen so he can stop it. When no crime happens, he puts on a fake beard disguise and goes to the public library to research high-crime areas. Frank drives to a Detroit ghetto, where he watches drug dealer NATHANIEL sell Thai stick to teenagers. Frank leaps out of the shadows and tries to beat up Nathaniel. He does a pretty good job until Nathaniel starts pounding him with a trashcan lid. Eventually, some of Nathaniels gangbanger friends show up to help. Frank returns to the comic-book store and asks Libby about superheroes who don’t have powers—the ones who only have human cunning and various weapons to help them fight crime. Libby rattles off a number of them, then asks why Frank needs to know. Frank says he’s making up his own superhero and needs to do research. At home, Frank decides a lead pipe will be his weapon of choice. He paints it red to go with the costume, then goes after Nathaniel, beating him savagely.

A montage follows, showing Frank running around the city, fighting crime by bashing perpetrators’ faces with his lead pipe. As he foils drug dealers, purse-snatchers, child molestors, Frank starts working out intensively. It soon reaches a point where he’s legitimately feared. After the montage, Frank shows up at Jacques’s ranch in costume. He looks inside and sees Sarah, drugged-out. Frank soberly remembers his relationship with Sarah: their awkward first date (an AA meeting), their first kiss (a result of Sarah feeling sorry for Frank because, all his life, he’s been known as a weirdo), watching Sarah fight with her sister because she thinks Frank is a loser, Sarah taking the job at the strip club, Sarah relapsing. Depressed, he decides not to confront them and goes home. At the diner, Frank and Hamilton watch a TV news report in which both the newscaster and the police spokesperson consider the Crimson Bolt a dangerous menace to society. Trying to maintain his secret identity, Frank does a poor job of pretending he’s never heard of the Crimson Bolt. Hamilton invites Frank to the movies later that day. Frank shows up early and is incensed when a man and his girlfriend cut in front of everyone in line. He goes to his car, changes into the Crimson Bolt, and bashes the man’s face with the lead pipe. When the girlfriend tries to fight back, he hits her, too. He runs away as police sirens swell.

Libby shows up at the diner with a newspaper article about the Crimson Bolt, shocked and thrilled that the idea they discussed—a regular guy becoming a superhero—really happened. She wants to know if Frank’s the Crimson Bolt. Frank denies it. Despite that, Libby is extremely excited about the superhero’s existence. She invites Frank to a party at her apartment. Later, at home, Frank’s getting a little edgy and paranoid about his secret identity. He hides his costume in a closet. The doorbell rings—it’s Detective Felkner, coming by to have Frank sign some paperwork. Frank has a paranoid fantasy about Felkner finding the costume, arresting Frank, and throwing him in jail. Frank opens the door for Felkner, suspiciously eyeballing the closet. When Felkner asks what’s in the closet, Frank tells him it’s a vicious dog. Frank notices that his motivational photo—a picture of himself with the Crimson Bolt mask taped over it—is taped to the wall, in plain sight. He makes intense, creepy eye contact with Felkner so the detective won’t look around. Felkner’s amused by his intensity. He has Frank sign the form and leaves. The instant he does, Frank throws away all the evidence of his existence as the Crimson Bolt. He then prays to God to give him a sign about whether or not he’s doing the right thing.

Frank watches another episode of The Holy Avenger. In this one, Demonswill tries to get kids to give in to teenage lust. The Holy Avenger defeats him and gives a big speech about kids not “throwing away” what Jesus’ precious gift. Taking this as a sign, Frank digs his costume out of the trash, puts it on, and drives to Jacques’s ranch. He tries to scale the gate with a homemade grappling hook, but it breaks, so he just climbs it the old-fashioned way. Frank witnesses and overhears Jacques and his cronies preparing to receive a massive heroin shipment. Sarah’s nodding out, barely conscious. Frank dives through the window. The guys immediately recognize him, and they’re angrier about him knowing the details of their drug deal than his attempts at vigilante justice. Frank tries to go after them with the lead pipe, but they start shooting at him, so he runs away. He narrowly escapes, and they actually clip his leg.

Frantic, Frank drives to Libby’s apartment, where the party is in full swing. He covers himself up with items in his car—mostly garbage bags—to protect his identity. Libby leads him past her confused party guests into her room. Frank reveals his costume—and his wound. Libby breaks the party up, sending everyone home, including her jealous and confused boyfriend. She cleans and bandages the wound. Frank admits that Jacques and his pals know about Frank’s secret identity, and where he lives. Libby allows him to spend the night. Meanwhile, Felkner notices a sketch of the Crimson Bolt and realizes it looks familiar. Without giving details, he tells his captain he’s going to check something out. Felkner goes to Frank’s house, where Abe, Mike, and Quill are waiting for Frank. They shoot him, then turn on the lights and realize not only is it the wrong guy—it’s a cop. They decide to hide the body.

The next day, Libby drops the bombshell that she wants to be his “kid sidekick.” She’s 22, but relative to Frank she’s still a kid. Frank isn’t so sure it’s a good idea, but Libby’s both excited and insistent. She makes her own costume out of spandex and names herself “Boltie.” Together, they go back into the ghetto and wait for crime to happen. Libby thinks Frank’s plan is boring and stupid. She decides they should find somebody they know is a criminal and “teach him a lesson,” starting with a guy who keyed her friend’s new car. They go to his house, and Libby wails on him, getting really into it. She almost kills him, but Frank pulls her away. Later, Frank’s pissed. He “fires” Libby from the sidekick job. They stop at a gas station, where Frank pumps gas while Libby changes out of her costume. Quill and another crony, TOBY, happen to be at the same gas station. They notice Frank, who immediately runs. Quill chases him on foot while Toby gets into the car. Libby follows in Frank’s car.

Hobbled by his injured leg, Frank can’t outrun them. He gets into an alley, where Quill and Toby surround him on opposite ends. They start beating him up as Libby heads for the alley. Frank whacks Toby in the head with the pipe. Moments later, Libby plows into Toby’s legs, crushing them against the brick wall. This distracts Quill long enough for Frank to get his gun and shoot him in the head. Frank is still in his costume, and Libby’s half in hers, so they’re reasonably pleased to see that they’ve gathered an audience of pleased citizens. Afterward, Libby’s thrilled by the excitement. She wants to make out with Frank to celebrate, but he refuses—he’s married. He’s decided to “rehire” her, though, so they can go after Jacques once and for all, but he feels they need more weapons. They go to a Gun & Knife show, collecting a huge arsenal, plus a collection of books on how to manufacture weapons like pipe bombs. Back at Libby’s apartment, they play with the new weapons. Libby notices a newscast, which describes how public favor has swayed toward the Crimson Bolt and Boltie, now that it’s revealed that most of the “victims” had long rap sheets.

That night, Frank sleeps in Libby’s living room. She gets up, in costume, and tries to convince him to fight crime. He refuses. She tries to convince him to have sex with her. Frank refuses this, too, but she manages to convince him by explaining that they’re not Frank and Libby—they’re the Crimson Bolt and Boltie, and the Crimson Bolt isn’t married to Sarah. Afterward, Frank rushes to the bathroom and vomits. The vomit forms the shape of Sarah’s face, increasing his guilt and strengthening his resolve. He prepares to go after Sarah immediately. Libby goes with. At the ranch, Frank and Libby watch from outside as Jacques and his cronies bring in MR. RANGE, who has huge bundles of heroin and a massive security force surrounding him. Mr. Range takes a high-as-a-kite Sarah into the bedroom for some fun. She resists, so Mr. Range forces himself on her.

A massive action sequence follows, in which the Frank and Libby first take out the security patrols outside the house, then bust into the house and kill everyone in sight. Jacques runs upstairs to warn Mr. Range and get him out of the house. One of the men shoots Frank in the chest. He’s wearing a kevlar vest, so he falls, but he’s all right. However, this distracts concerned Libby, who is shot in the head. Mr. Range has heard about the Crimson Bolt, and he’s terrified. He runs away. Pissed, Jacques shoots Range and takes his money, then pragmatically attempts to flee. Frank blows up Mr. Range’s SUVs as his remaining men attempt to leave. Finally, it comes down to Frank versus Abe and Mike. They fight hand-to-hand, with Frank viciously killing each of them in a fury. He runs upstairs after Sarah and encounters Jacques. Instantly ready to be Frank’s buddy, Jacques returns to his earlier faux-politeness, more than willing to turn over Sarah. She’s bruised and swollen thanks to Mr. Range’s violence, which Jacques immediately apologizes for. With Frank distracted by Sarah, Jacques shoots Frank several times in the chest. He’s about to shoot Frank in the head when Frank fires a projectile knife from his wrist at point-blank range. It pins Jacque’s legs. He topples over. Frank stabs Jacques repeatedly while a terrified Sarah cowers in the corner.

In voiceover, Frank admits that maybe the audience will think he’s insane and deranged, but he knows in his heart he did the right thing, and he saved Sarah. She leaves after two months, and only stays that long out of obligation. When she leaves, Frank realizes he was not chosen by God—she was, which is why he needed to save her. She needed to see the carnage at Jacques’s to keep her up at night, get her to sober up and return to recovery. She cleans up, finds a new husband, and has four wonderful children. As for Frank—well, instead of two, he has an entire wall full of “perfect moments”: saving Sarah, laughing with Libby at the Gun & Knife show, buying a bunny, watching a movie with Hamilton. Frank stares at the wall, smiling, eyes filling with tears.


Super does a marvelous job of deconstructing the superhero genre. Building a story around a lunatic who may or may not be on a mission from God, the writer satirizes the dark reality lurking behind many vigilante superheroes’ self-righteous façades while creating a superhero story more entertaining and exciting than most. As written, the script merits a recommend.

Overall, the story is strong. The first act does an excellent job of setting up the main characters, particularly Frank, and explaining the bizarre, extremely funny circumstances that lead to Frank becoming a superhero. The second act begins to both embrace and satirize the usual superhero “origin story” tropes with crimefighting and training montages, then defies expectations by having Frank pursued as an insane outlaw rather than a hero.

Partnering Frank and Libby leads to the script’s only real narrative hiccups. The writer has already set up the notion that Frank’s being pursued by both the police and Jacques’s henchmen, so it seems oddly out of place that Frank and Libby simply go back to fighting in the ghetto, almost completely forgetting about their pursuers. While amusing, these scenes between Frank and Libby don’t really fit well into the storyline.

However, once the script gets back to the meat of the story, the Frank-Libby dynamic works fantastically well, building to a third act dominated by the ultraviolent climactic sequence at Jacques’s ranch. However, the writer defies expectations once again by refusing to settle for mindless violence, followed by a happy ending of Frank heroically rescuing Sarah. The resolution is still upbeat, but it’s a bit more intelligent about the nature of violence and its effects on the human psyche, allowing Frank to “rescue” Sarah more meaningfully than simply busting down doors and stabbing villains.

Throughout, the script satirizes the ridiculousness of superhero characters by portraying Frank somewhat realistically. He’s a damaged, depressed man prone to violence, twisted by a religious upbringing into believing in the righteousness of his actions. The writer uses Frank to dig deep into the “reality” of superhero psychology and the type of “real” person who would hide behind in a costume while achieving vigilante justice, better than most superhero comedies. Libby is similarly damaged—a bit worse off than Frank, actually—and while the writer’s clearly aware of this, he always maintains a sense of empathy. They’re both a little nuts, but at their cores, they aren’t bad people, and they’re not made the source of ridicule or belittlement.

The supporting characters are more of a mixed bag. Sarah gets an impressive, heartbreaking level of depth as the writer delves into her struggles with addiction, again without belittling the gravity of her problems. Aside from Jacques, none of the cops or criminals have much personality. Jacques, himself, is relegated to a sort of “hipster sociopath” characterization that’s funny but a bit shallow.

The comedy is a bit dark, but this script is laugh-out-loud funny. The current popularity of comic-book adaptations can only help with the movie’s success. It’s a genre that’s rife with satirical possibilities, and this script mines them all exceptionally well.

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