October 2009 Archives
October 22, 2009
Author: Chuck Russell & Barry P. Ambrose
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:When a ruthless general stages a bloody coup on the ancient kingdom of Sumer, a kind-hearted soldier must join forces with a pirate and a thief to restore order.
Synopsis:SHAHERAZAD, a beautiful Sumerian princess, narrates the adventure of heroic CAPTAIN SINBAD rescuing his crew from a deadly cyclops. The enthralled children listening to the story want to know what happens next, but they’re ushered away by nurses and parents for an evening festival. Left alone, Shaherazad hears strange noises and goes to investigate. A mysterious intruder grabs her from behind and threatens her. Unafraid, Shaherazad threatens right back. Eventually, it’s revealed that this intruder is KAMAR, a soldier whom Shaherazad intends to marry. He comes with a gift: a peacock quill for Shaherazad to write down her imaginative tales. That night, KING SULUMON stages an elaborate festival at his palace, for two reasons: Kamar will be sent with a peace treaty for a Tanzanian maharaja, and when he returns, he will marry Shaherazad.
Everyone in the kingdom is in the mood to celebrate — except for sneering, sinister GENERAL SABUR and his toady, CAPTAIN HAMID. They scheme about how to get Kamar and Shaherazad out of the way so Sabur can marry Shaherazad’s passive younger sister, AZURA, and rule Sumer. As a priest begins a blessing, a strong wind blows out all the torches and candles, plunging the festivities into darkness. A mysterious stranger arrives at the palace gates. Fearing the storm will kill him, Sulumon allows the stranger inside the palace. It’s quickly revealed that he’s a strange half-man, half-goat creature. He bleats a warning that the alchemist PHAROTU has returned, then dies. Everyone ignores the warning, because allegedly Pharotu was burned at the stake years ago. Kamar insists on investigating the stranger’s claim, but Sabur steps in, insisting that Kamar’s duty to deliver the treaty is much more important. Sabur tells Sulumon that he will seek the truth while Kamar goes on his mission.
Shaherazad tells the children a story about Sinbad killing Pharotu. Kamar fears this will give them nightmares, but Shaherazad thinks that knowing the alchemist is dead will make them feel better. At dawn, Kamar leads a squadron of men into the desert. He takes his trusty falcon, HORUS, with him. Watching from a distant hill, Sabur asks Hamid if he arranged an ambush with the maharaja. Hamid agrees. Sabur, Hamid, and a small group of men move through the kingdom toward the last known whereabouts of Pharotu. As they get closer, storm clouds build, and eventually lightning begins to target Sabur’s men. Everyone but Sabur and Hamid is killed. A cliff wall cracks hopen, revealing a castle built into it. Sabur and Hamid enter to find Pharotu sitting on a floating magic carpet. Pharotu’s pet, a huge spider with a human face, terrifies Hamid. In an effort to impress Sabur, Pharotu demonstrates a number of tricks — the ability to harness storms, to bring Sabur’s dead soldiers back to life, even to create hybrids of men and animals. He transforms Sabur’s soldiers into flying condor men.
At a desert oasis, Kamar and his men are ambushed by the MAHARAJA and his soldiers. Kamar is a smart and ruthless fighter, however, so he’s able to survive long enough for the Maharaja to arrive. Kamar hands over the treaty, and the dubious Maharaja calls off the attack temporarily, so he can review it and decide what to do. He gives them a reprieve until dawn. Shaherazad receives a letter from Kamar (via Horus the falcon). She begins writing back when the condor men attack the castle. She watches Sabur decapitate Sulumon. Terrified, she scrawls a quick note and sends it with Horus. Sabur finds Shaherazad and her two sisters and announces his plans to marry Azura. She immediately attempts suicide by jumping off the balcony, but Sabur’s condor men prevent her from succeeding. Fearing for her sister, Shaherazad reluctantly agrees to marry Sabur. Kamar gets Shaherazad’s note and immediately prepares his men to return to the kingdom. They ride into the day, and when they come upon a village that’s been attacked by seafaring pirates, Kamar wants to continue without helping. He soon realizes that using their ship would be a quicker way to get back to Shaherazad. Intercut with Shaherazad’s marriage preparations, Kamar rides his horse to the harbor and leaps onto the leaving ship. He’s attacked by the pirates immediately, but Kamar fights through them until he reaches the captain — Sinbad, a filthy, washed-up version of the legendary hero glimpsed earlier. Sinbad tells his men to kill the intruder.
Before the ceremony, Shaherazad contemplates suicide. She can’t go through with it. Pharotu appears, offering her something mysterious inside a silver box that will allow her to participate in this sham of a marriage. Back on the ship, Kamar fights with Sinbad and his men. Sinbad is still a wild, fearless fighter, but so is Kamar. Kamar tries to convince Sinbad not to harm him, that he’s an emissary of the king. Sinbad doesn’t believe it until a CABIN BOY opens Kamar’s saddlebag and finds a gold, jewel-encrusted scroll case holding the signed treaty. Kamar begs for Sinbad’s help, offering a full pardon and a lot of gold. Sinbad reluctantly agrees. Shaherazad receives a new update from Kamar, which she reads to Sabur as if it were one of her stories. Sabur is more interested in sex, but Shaherazad has drugged him, so he falls asleep before anything can happen. With Sabur asleep, Shaherazad writes a letter back to Kamar, explaining what has happened. Pharotu’s spider pet witnesses all of this, including Kamar’s map showing exactly where Sinbad’s ship is. Back on the ship, the cabin boy reveals he’s actually a cabin girl — and she goes by the name ALI BABA, the thief subject of many of Shaherazad’s stories. Kamar is shocked, but he reluctantly agrees to keep his secret when she intimates that she knows more about the black magic than she should, and that she knows of a magic object that can fight Pharotu’s evil. Pharotu creates a huge storm to toss Sinbad’s ship about. The ship ends up sinking, and Kamar nearly drowns, but Sinbad, a few of his men, and Ali Baba manage to get to land. The following day, Pharotu shocks Sabur by removing his beating heart — so Sabur cannot be killed. He also reveals Shaherazad’s betrayal and that the Maharaja signed the peace treaty. He urgers Sabur to have his men attack and kill the Maharaja while they’re not expecting it.
Sinbad’s angry at Kamar for withholding that they’re up against an evil wizard. He gets angrier when Kamar announces it’s Pharotu. Sinbad claims to have killed Pharotu years ago, as revenge for the alchemist killing the only woman he’s ever loved — a mermaid. He wishes Kamar luck but refuses to fight an unbeatable foe. Ali Baba announces that they can win. She leads them into the Forgotten Desert, in search of the lost treasure of the 40 thieves. This blends with Shaherazad telling Sabur (who’s bored and irritated) the story of Ali Baba learning the location of the treasure from her pick-pocket mentor, just before he was executed. Meanwhile, Kamar and the others cross the vast, seemingly endless Forgotten Desert. Eventually, they come upon a huge, beautiful castle. They come upon faceless golem guards protecting the castle. These golem allow Kamar’s group to pass unharmed. Inside the castle, golem servants provide them with all the food and drink they desire. In the Sumerian palace, Sabur presents Shaherazad with a feast of his own — roasted falcon, with Kamar’s note protruding from its beak. Soldiers surround her, ready to imprison her for treason. Shaherazad immediately stabs Sabur in the heart — but it has no effect.
After feasting, Sinbad hears yelling. They investigate the source and stumble on ALADIN, who yells at a blue cloud of light. When they arrive, the blue cloud sucks itself into a brass lamp. Aladin explains that inside the lamp is a GENIE who can grant any wish its user desires. Kamar explains his situation and asks Aladin for the Genie’s help. Aladin gives him the lamp. Kamar offers the Genie freedom from the lamp in exchange for help in defeating Pharotu. The Genie explains that Pharotu was the one who imprisoned him in the lamp, so he’d be happy to help, but Pharotu can’t be killed because he keeps his heart hidden. Kamar is in a hurry to rescue Shaherazad, so he wishes to be returned to the palace. The Genie grants the wish.
Imprisoned, Shaherazad waits for execution. Kamar, Sinbad, DOMINGO (Sinbad’s Spanish comrade), Aladin, and Ali Baba arrive. Kamar wishes for each of them to have magic carpets. They fly around, attacking Sabur’s condor men and generally wreaking havoc on the kingdom. Pharotu, now living in the palace, has created an enormous “changeling” wheel. When he sees the attack, he begins summoning lightning to this wheel, which is spun quickly by a team of six horses. Just before she’s beheaded, Kamar saves Shaherazad. Shaherazad confesses that she can no longer love — Pharotu took her heart so she could bear to live with Sabur. Kamar and Shaherazad head for Pharotu’s tower. The magic carpet is shot down by Pharotu’s lightning. Kamar, Sinbad, and Domingo are forced to fight Sabur and his men. Meanwhile, Aladin, Ali Baba, and Shaherazad rush back to Pharotu’s tower. They find a secret room where Pharotu stores three hearts in identical silver cases. They don’t have any idea which heart is Pharotu’s — until his spider pet arrives to protect the heart, giving away which of the three it is. Pharotu throws himself onto the changeling wheel and becomes a huge chimera (an elephantine combination of a lion, bat, and cobra). Just as Sinbad chops its head off, Shaherazad plunges a dagger through Pharotu’s heart. He is defeated, and Sabur and Shaherazad’s hearts are returned, just in time for Kamar to kill Sabur. Kamar and Shaherazad are married and preside over a happy, peaceful kingdom. Sinbad and the others return to sea.
Comments:Arabian Nights strives to be a fun, exciting action-adventure movie. While it does succeed in providing imaginative visuals and complex action sequences, its silly storyline and one-dimensional characters prevent the script from becoming truly engaging. As written, it merits a pass.
The writers simply have no desire to make these characters interesting. Each has one stock character trait (Kamar the generic hero, Sabur the mustache-twirling villain, Shaherazad the tough gal, Sinbad the tortured warrior-poet), but they never rise above the clichés or do anything unexpected or even interesting. With no investment in the characters, it’s hard to care about who’s fighting whom, which makes the action set-pieces a tedious and repetitive instead of thrilling entertainment.
The first act does a solid job of introducing a huge ensemble of characters and conflicts. The ancient-kingdom political machinations aren’t anything new and aren’t particularly interesting, but the script does become intriguing when the supernatural elements are introduced. Unfortunately, the rules governing these magical forces are never clearly established, another problem detracting from the action sequences. For instance, it’s never made clear why Pharotu the all-powerful alchmeist requires Sabur to do his dirty work, or why he has any investment in the kingdom whatsoever (aside from wanting to maintain control over Sabur, he’s never shown as having any interest in the power of a king).
The second and third acts forsake story and character development for almost nonstop action set-pieces. It’s a novel idea to have Shaherazad’s fictional stories turn out to be true, but it’s ultimately disappointing. The introduction of the characters and story elements serve no purpose other than adding more bodies to the fights and more magical elements to the supernatural fireworks. The introduction of the Genie muddles the rules of this universe even more, because it’s another all-powerful creature whose powers are limited to teleportation and creating magic carpets. The practical reason for these limitations is to add some difficulty to the heroes’ struggle against evil, but why not come up with an explanation rather than insisting Pharotu and the Genie can do anything they want at any time, when they don’t?
Arabian Nights has an excellent concept for fantasy/action fare, but the writers squander the potential by not allowing audiences to get invested in the characters or their problems. They put too much weight on the action sequences. If the action and special effects don’t impress, there won’t be anything left for an audience to latch onto.
Author: Mark Heyman and John McLaughlin and Andres Heinz
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:An insecure dancer struggles with the duality of her new role as the central character in Swan Lake.
Synopsis:NINA (20s) has a strange dream of dancing in a black void. A sinister man appears and pursues her. She tries to escape but can’t. Ultimately, she is transformed into the White Swan from Swan Lake. Nina awakens and immediately begins warm-ups. She describes the dream to her mother, ERICA (50s, herself a former dancer), who responds with surprising indifference. Nina rides the subway to work. Along the way, she spots a ballerina in the next train car who could be her identical twin. Nina is so distracted, she almost misses her stop. When she gets off the train, Nina looks back, but the train moves away too quickly for her to see the girl. Nina passes BETH, the star of the ballet company, on her way into Lincoln Center. Beth signs autographs while the fans ignore Nina. In a group dressing room, Nina’s colleagues VERONICA and GALINA gripe about the failing company. Veronica believes they need fresh blood to bring popularity back to the company. A new girl (eventually introduced as LILY) arrives to the consternation of the other girls. The company does basic steps in a rehearsal space. Nina is chastised for her formal, emotionless performance. MICHAEL BRENNAN, the company’s intense director, arrives. He melodramatically explains the story of Swan Lake: a virginal young woman is trapped in the body of a swan, and only love can free her. She meets a prince, but the Black Swan — the White Swan’s “dark twin” — seduces the prince, leaving the White Swan to commit suicide, the only place where she can find freedom.
As he explains the story, Brennan wanders around the rehearsal space touching various women in the company. At the end, he tells them that the girls he didn’t touch are contenders for the dual lead in Swan Lake. Nina is one of these girls. She’s gleeful, but Beth doesn’t take the news so well — Nina catches her thrashing around in her dressing room. Later, Brennan auditions Nina. She’s excellent as the White Swan; her natural vulnerability and insecurity are suited to the role. He’s less impressed with her stiff, frigid interpretation of the Black Swan. He begs for seduction, but she can’t deliver. Adding insult to injury, Lily interrupts the audition, distracting Nina and causing her to make mistakes. It doesn’t matter much, though, because Brennan has already lost interest in Nina for the role. Depressed, Nina heads home. On the subway platform, a creepy overweight woman terrifies Nina, so she opts to walk home. On the way, Nina sees her double again. She’s distracted when her cell phone rings; when Nina looks back, the double is gone.
Nina arrives home and cries. Erica tries to comfort her daughter. Later, Nina practices the Black Swan dance. She works so hard, she splits a toenail. Nina works through the pain until she’s accomplished it. As Erica helps clean and dress Nina’s toenail, Nina contemplates asking Brennan for another shot. Erica discourages it. The next day, Nina dolls herself up before leaving. Erica knows what she’s up to and scolds Nina; angry, Nina allows her mother to wipe off her lipstick. Nina meets Brennan, who comes on to Nina as he explains what she needs for the role — genuine sexiness, a risk-taking personality. Brennan kisses Nina, who bites his lip. Brennan is shocked but amused. Later, Brennan posts a cast list, and Nina’s shocked to find her name as the lead. She rushes home to celebrate with Erica. When she doesn’t find Erica at home, Nina showers. In the mirror, she finds a rash on her shoulder. Nina looks at her actual shoulder but finds no rash — just a lot of scar tissue. Back in the mirror image, one of the rash bumps begins bleeding. Nina’s momentarily confused, but she’s distracted when she hears Erica arrive.
Nina meets DAVID, the male lead, and Brennan has them rehearse. As expected, Nina is great as the White Swan but terrible as the Black Swan. Brennan and Nina spot Lily rehearsing, and Brennan suggests Lily has the qualities he’s looking for in a Black Swan. That evening, Brennan drags Nina to a fundraiser, where he trumpets her as the new face of the company. Beth is there, but she sulks, gets drunk, and verbally abuses both Nina and Brennan. Lily’s also at the party, and when Nina’s in the bathroom, Lily bursts in with an anonymous stock broker, ready to snort cocaine and have unabashed sex. Nina excuses herself. Afterward, Brennan takes Nina back to his apartment to discuss the role. He immediately begins talking about sex, and when Nina demures, Brennan gives her a homework assignment: go home and masturbate.
At home, Erica tries to help Nina out of her dress. She notices scratch marks on Nina’s shoulder. Erica gets angry at Nina — excessive scratching is not a new problem, but it’s one Erica thought Nina outgrew. Erica forcefully cuts off Nina’s fingernails. The next morning, Nina hasn’t slept. She attempts to masturbate, but she can’t because Erica has slept in a chair in the room, watching Nina. At rehearsal, Brennan announces that Beth jumped off her balcony, nearly killing herself. Without her final performance generating revenue, the fate of the company rests on Nina’s shoulders. Nina visits Beth at the hospital. She’s in a coma. Nina rehearses a Black Swan solo, but she simply can’t do it. Fearing she’s self-conscious, Brennan sends everyone home and forces her to dance alone. She still can’t do it. Brennan begins to seduce her, then stops in the middle and explains that she needs to do what he just di, in her performance. Later, Nina’s left alone to weep. Lily arrives, formally introducing herself and consoling her colleague. Lily makes a joke about Nina having a crush on Brennan, but it hits too close to home — Nina gets angry and storms out.
That night, Nina showers. She momentarily sees her double in the shower, which causes her to panic. Nina looks at herself in the mirror and sees deep, bloody scratches in her shoulder. She tries to cut her fingernails, but she cuts too deep and snips the tips of her fingers. She rushes to bandage them before Erica gets home. The next day, Nina spots Brennan and Lily talking very seriously. During rehearsal, Brennan sarcastically remarks that he’s going to take it easy on Nina, which Lily told him Nina said. Nina gets angry, but Brennan is angrier that Nina can’t handle this role. Nina chews out Lily, who acts surprised. That night, Erica asks Nina if Brennan has tried anything with her. Nina doesn’t like the direction of the conversation and starts snapping at Erica. Lily arrives at the apartment, apologizes sincerely, and invites Nina out. Nina’s initially angered by Lily arriving unannounced, but she’s tired of her mother, so she goes with Lily. Lily takes her to a diner, giving Nina an eyeful of her typical night: hamburgers, beer, ecstasy, and any available man. All of this makes Nina uncomfortable, but she loosens up when Lily slips ecstasy into her drink. The rest of the night is a blur of clubbing and lascivious behavior. Nina brings Lily home. Erica is horrified to find her daughter under the influence, but Nina’s finally able to stand up to her. Before the fight gets truly ugly, Nina locks herself and Lily in the bedroom. Nina and Lily have aggressive sex.
Nina oversleeps and wakes to find Lily gone. Nina arrives at rehearsal, only to find Lily rehearsing her part. Nina snipes at Lily about engineering the previous evening for her own gain, but Lily acts confused, accusing Nina of having “lezzy wet dream,” because she went home with a guy, having parted ways from Nina much earlier. Nina calls her a liar and storms off. During rehearsal, Nina does a much better job as the Black Swan. Nina gets fitted for her costume and is enraged when Lily arrives, saying she’s now the alternate. Nina tries to confront Brennan, but he ignores her and hops in a cab with Lily. The next night, Nina tries to seduce Brennan and fails. Later, she catches Lily and Brennan having sex in the costume shop. Nina visits Beth in the hospital again. She’s out of her coma and lucid enough to hurl more insults at Nina. Nina begins to see Beth as a bruised, disfigured version of her double. Terrified, Nina runs away. She returns home, desperate to see her mother, but all the photos of Nina in the apartment begin whispering, scaring the hell out of Nina. She locks herself in her bedroom again, but she’s freaked Erica out enough that Erica tries beating the door down. Meanwhile, Nina digs into her shoulders and pulls a small black feather out of it. She looks into the mirror and sees black-red pupils in her own eyes. Erica finally beats the door down and sees her disturbed, bleeding daughter. Nina gets physical with Erica, resulting in Nina slamming her own head against the radiator and knocking herself out.
She wakes to find Erica caring for her, but it’s opening night. Erica says she called in sick for her. Nina is horrified. She rushes to the theatre, surprising everyone (and angering Lily). Nina’s costume hides the scratches and scabs. As she dances, Nina sees every female dancer transform into her double. Terrified, she collapses during a jump. Brennan is enraged. Nina recovers and blames David. In her dressing room, Nina sees her double again, but she transforms into Lily. Lily ridicules Nina’s flawed opening and keeps shifting between Lily and Nina’s double. Nina gets angry enough that they fight, shattering her wall mirror. Nina stabs Lily with a hunk of mirror, then goes out and dances as the Black Swan. Everyone’s astounded by her phenomenal dancing. Nina goes back to her dressing room, trying to hide the bleeding corpse of Lily. Suddenly, Lily knocks on the door. She apologizes for her behavior. When she’s gone, Nina looks down at the floor — no corpse. She looks at her own abdomen and sees a small red stain spreading under her costume. Nevertheless, she goes out and continues to dance. Everyone marvels at her greatness. Amid thunderous applause, Lily notices Nina acting strangely, then spots the bloodstain under the costume. Nina dies in Brennan’s arms, smiling.
Comments:Black Swan isn’t quite sure if it wants to be a grim character study of an insecure ballerina or a psychological thriller about a damaged woman. Whatever its goal, the thriller elements come across as goofy instead of creepy, and the central character gets lost in a sea of ambiguities. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act does a capable enough job of establishing Nina and her desires: she lives in the shadow of an overbearing mother from whom she longs to escape, and she desperately wants to succeed as a ballerina. The story is less capable when establishing Nina’s apparent hallucinations; from the moment Swan Lake’s plot is explained (shortly after seeing Nina’s “double” for the first time), the narrative path is inevitable.
The writers head steadily down a predictable course throughout the second and third acts. It does contain a few moments of surprise as Nina’s mental illness becomes more apparent, but once photographs start jeering at her and she begins seeing her double in the faces of every female in the company, the symbolism becomes so overwrought and ridiculous, it’s very difficult to take the story seriously. This is especially problematic in light of its tragic ending; audiences will have a hard time feeling the right amount of sympathy and sadness after laughing at the unintentionally silly hallucination sequences in the third act.
Worse than that, as increasing importance is placed on Nina’s mental and emotional fragility, the writers suddenly avoid the central question: other than terror, what is Nina really thinking and feeling? Does she have any awareness that she’s slowly crumbling, and if so, why does she make no effort to nip it in the bud? Aside from establishing her desire to dance the lead in Swan Lake, the writers don’t take time answering or even raising these questions. As a result, the “character study” portion of the script falls flat.
Nina’s relationships with Lily and Brennan echo the plot of Swan Lake, also to the screenplay’s detriment. Both Lily and Brennan feel like artificial constructs whose only purpose is to usher Nina through a story paralleling the ballet. Nina’s alleged love for Brennan never feels believable, so her anxiety about Lily’s increasing importance to Brennan always comes across as career-related, not romance-related. This triangle simply doesn’t work.
Similarly, while Nina’s strained relationship with her domineering mother starts off with a promising amount of believability, Erica descends into such an off-putting, over-the-top caricature in the second and third acts that it’s hard to believe Nina didn’t have a psychotic break earlier in life. Perhaps the idea was to reflect Nina’s emotional state by portraying Erica as Nina sees her, not as she actually is, but the writers make no attempt to show that as the case.
Author: Gren Wells
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:A struggling business school student makes ends meet by working as a professional “beard” for in-the-closet gay men.
Synopsis:Iowa native LILY (20s) says her goodbyes to coworkers at a bank and her waitress mother before moving to England to attend Cambridge University’s business school. Awed by her new surroundings, she stumbles into CHRISTIAN (late 20s), a dashing new teacher. The chancellor, HORWELL (50s), welcomes the new MBA candidates to the school. Unkempt slacker DREW (20s) arrives late. Horwell forces Drew to dance in front of everyone. Humiliated, Drew dances. Horwell welcomes Christian to the fold. Christian asks the new students what the most important part of business is. Only Lily answers correctly: integrity. Christian is suitably impressed. Lily receives a note from the bursar’s office. She learns that her tuition money, held by the bank where she worked in Iowa, has been stolen by her boss. Lily strikes a compromise with the bursar: she’ll find a job and pay in installments.
After failing to get a bank loan, Lily struggles to sell her possessions. She ends up ¬£50 short for the weekly payment, so she takes her clothes to a “quirky” thrift store, Threads — which happens to be owned by Drew. His gay employees, ZITTO and CHICK, are unimpressed with Lily’s clothing. Drew gets a call saying his date canceled. Zitto and Chick start sizing Lily up for the job. She’s confused, until Drew tells her his parents think he has a girlfriend, but he’s single. His date is a beard — his spikey-haired lesbian pal, MEL — but if Lily’s willing, he’d much rather have a bona fide straight woman as his companion. Lily agrees to do it, for ¬£50. Zitto and Chick give Lily a makeover and dress her in a chic outfit. Drew’s parents, BYRON and ELIZABETH, are nouveau riche (Byron worked his way up from a hotel bellhop to the owner of an entire chain), so they spend most of their time and fortune trying (and failing) to impress those born into the upper class. To everyone’s surprise, Lily makes a wonderful impression. During the course of the evening, Lily realizes Drew is also gay, and he’s hiding it from his parents. Lily also runs into Christian at the party. Although he’s with his girlfriend, SARAH, Lily and Christian flirt. It gets more intense as they drink, and they come close to kissing. Drew rushes Lily to a gay club, where she meets more of his friends (including Mel and ALLEN). When they explain the evening’s scheme, Allen announces a similar predicament: his bosses only promote people with families. Realizing this is a business opportunity, Lily offers herself up, at ¬£50 per hour. Allen agrees without argument.
The next morning, Lily assesses the approximate number of single, gay, in-the-closet men between the ages of 20 and 35. She thinks she’s struck a goldmine, and she asks Drew for help. He agrees, as long as she continues to be his beard, pro bono. After class, she apologizes to Christian for her drunken behavior the night before. Later, Lily is at Threads, trying to get ready for her date with Allen. Drew is unimpressed with her fashion sense, so he, Zitto, and Chick try to educate her on not only looking her best, but acting her best, teaching her to speak with a proper English accent, cramming about Allen’s colleagues and superiors, and most importantly, how to behave properly at a soccer match. By the time she goes on the date, Lily’s actually more well-versed in soccer than Allen, so she whispers things for him to say. The date is a smashing success. Later that night, Lily goes to a pub by herself to study. She runs into Christian, who laments that his father is retiring early, so Christian will need to stop teaching at the end of the term in order to run the family business. They get drunk again, and they end up kissing. Christian tells her he’d like to take her on a date once their class ends. Lily agrees.
On the way to another fake date at his parents’ house, Lily and Drew brainstorm ways to market her business. They settle on a viral word-of-mouth approach, since the idea is to keep clients confidential. This date is a private family dinner, so Lily is shocked to find Christian introduced as Drew’s brother; Christian is equally shocked to hear Lily is Drew’s girlfriend. The dinner is awkward and excruciating. Afterward, Lily asks why she never had a clue they were related from class; Drew explains that they don’t get along at all, so Christian merely ignores him rather than embracing him as a brother. Lily changes the subject back to her business, which she needs to get on the ground so she can afford rent. Drew invites her to move into his flat. Lily agrees, and in no time at all, her business is booming. A musical montage shows its growth: she dates a wide variety of gay clients, tailoring her look and attitude to what they think would look best, and she’s able to easily pay her tuition. She’s a hit no matter what the environment, and despite the odd nature of it, Lily’s proud of the business and works hard to increase profitability. It reaches a point where she’s so successful, she loses track of which date occurs on which night, despite having a Blackberry to keep it all organized.
After the montage, Allen “proposes” to Lily, giving her a beautiful ring in order to show his boss he’s really committed. Lily reluctantly agrees to it, but she continues wearing the ring after the date and ends up wearing it the following morning, when she and Drew meet Byron, Elizabeth, Christian, Sarah, and the Horwells at a country club. They’re all shocked and thrilled by the news. Drew rolls with it. Sarah browbeats Christian over not proposing to her first. She invites Lily to go clothes shopping. That night, at Threads, Drew, Allen, and the others get drunk together. Lily tries to convince them that maybe outsiders don’t care as much about their sexual orientation than they believe. The others disagree. Christian hands back one of Lily’s papers — it’s marked “SEE ME” in red ink. Christian notices her work has grown sloppy and fears she’s spending too much time partying. That night, Drew is surprised when Christian shows up at his flat, for the first time ever. Christian warns Drew not to drag Lily down with his carelessness.
Lily goes clothes shopping with Sarah. Under the guise of “girl talk,” Sarah tries to get Lily to admit she’s marrying Drew for his money. After repeatedly denying it, Sarah surreptitiously steals Lily’s Blackberry. She browses through it and announces to Christian that Lily’s a hooker. Christian refuses to believe it. Sarah tells her to meet him at the Ivy, a posh restaurant, at 8 so she can prove it. Meanwhile, as Lily prepares for a date, she tries to coach Drew through various methods of coming out. Drew won’t hear of it. Christian arrives at the Ivy and is seated by a flamboyantly gay ma√Ætre d’, just as Sarah calls to announce she won’t be able to make it. A few minutes later, Lily is seated at the same table. Both are shocked, for different reasons: Lily thinks this means Christian is gay, while Christian thinks this is proof that she’s a call girl. Things get even more awkward when PETER and PAMELA (Allen’s boss and his wife) arrive at the restaurant and notice Lily, whom they know as “Fiona,” sitting with another man. Lily introduces Christian and tries to smooth things over to convince them she’s not having an affair, but her protesting just makes them even more convinced. NICK, the agent of Lily’s actor client (SEAN), is also at the restaurant, trying in vain to woo macho director COLIN so he’ll cast Sean as the tough-guy lead in his next action movie. He drags Nick to sit with them, charm Colin, and convince him Sean’s straight. Lily leaves Christian to convince Peter and Pamela that they’re having an innocent dinner. Sparked by the ma√Ætre d’, Christian blurts out that he’s gay; this does the trick. Lily spots Byron and Elizabeth arriving and dives down, out of sight, unintentionally appearing to fellate Colin. Admiring her moxie, Colin agrees to hire Sean. Lily sneaks back into the restaurant for Christian, and they high-tail it out of there.
Able to find some privacy at a pub, Lily and Christian debate the ethics and morals of Lily’s chosen business. Christian still thinks she’s a call girl, but Lily still thinks Christian is gay and knows exactly the sort of non-sexual service she provides. At no time are they talking about the same thing, so Christian responds with shock and dismay at Lily’s frankness. They walk around Cambridge, and Lily admires its beauty and tells Christianthis is why she’s willing to do anything to stay here. Eventually, she makes a gay joke that Christian doesn’t understand, and they both finally figure out what the other has been thinking the whole time. Christian tells her he’s not gay but realizes, if she only “services” gay clientele, then Drew is. Humiliated, Lily runs away and immediately confesses what happened to Drew, who’s livid. At the university, Sarah has told Horwell that Lily is a call girl; she vehemently denies it but refuses to divulge what she’s actually doing. Horwell tells her they’re having a hearing in the evening, so she can defend herself by bringing proof. Lily immediately makes plans to return to Iowa. Christian drops by Drew’s flat to talk it out with him. When he finds out Lily’s left, Christian is shocked; Drew is shocked when he finds out about the hearing. They all band together to find her at the airport, with Mel’s help (she’s a flight attendant). They find her and return to Cambridge, but they’re caught in a traffic jam and have to run the last mile. Zitto, Chick, Allen, Sean, and a bunch of Lily’s other clients show up at the hearing, admit they’re gay and that Lily has done nothing wrong. Horwell allows Lily to stay.
Lily graduates from business school. She’s now dating Christian, now a full professor; Drew is dating Sean, which Byron and Elizabeth accept with surprising ease. Lily’s many clients turn up for the graduation, as does Lily’s mother. It’s a cheerful affair.
Comments:Cover Girl is an amiable romantic comedy with a few novel twists (primarily Lily’s “beard girlfriend” business). Although many of the ideas are a lot of fun conceptually, the execution falters, resulting in a predictable story that isn’t quite as funny as it should be. As written, it merits a reluctant pass.
The first act breezes through the setup — Lily leaving the U.S. for business school, having her tuition money stolen, and starting the beard business — with such rapidity that it’s almost a blur. The quickness is in stark contrast to the more leisurely pace of the second and third acts, as if the writer overstuffed the first act with the setup in order to take time paying off every little detail in the opening pages. It’s a little bit jarring, especially since much of the setup is extraneous and could stand a bit of trimming.
Once the major beats of the story have been established, the second act attempts to raise the stakes with nearly every cliché in the romantic-comedy playbook. Aside from the fairly ingenious idea of Lily working as a beard for gay men, everything from the “two male leads turn out to be brothers” conceit to the farcical “every single character shows up at the same restaurant at the same time” scene to the “Three’s Company-esque misunderstanding” between Lily and Christian — it’s all been done before, and usually better. The third act is more of the same, to the point that the writer has some of the characters comment that they’ve ripped off the airport bit from Love, Actually. The self-awareness is admirable, but that doesn’t make it any better.
Although the characters, like the story, come from familiar stock, they’re all refreshingly engaging. Lily is a well-written bundle of intellectual anxiety, and Christian manages to come across quite charming despite his fairly generic role as the roguishly handsome, sensitive romantic lead. The subtle shades to characters like Drew and Allen make up for the tendency to turn the minor gay characters into swishy stereotypes. The only real character problem is Sarah, an evil caricature who only exists in the story because genre conventions say there needs to be a villain. She serves only to cause trouble, and the writer never gives a clear reason why Christian would give her the time of day.
The dialogue is extremely well-written in the sense that each character has a particular voice. In terms of crafting jokes and one-liners, it misses more often than it hits. Despite flaws like these, Cover Girl is extremely likable. It’s entirely possible that a funny cast skilled in improvisation could mine some of the comic ideas for gold. Without extremely good casting, it’s more likely to end up as a bland, forgettable romantic comedy.
October 24, 2009
Author: Julien Magnat
Writer’s Potential: 4
Logline:After a woman narrowly escapes a serial killer, she’s afflicted with a brain disorder that prevents her from seeing faces.
Synopsis:ANNA (30s) wakes in the arms of her loving boyfriend, BRYCE. As they both get ready for work, a TV news report in the background announces that serial killer “Tearjerk Jack” has killed his fifth victim. Anna teaches kindergarten. She makes a good impression on the parents. After work, Anna meets her best friends FRANCINE (perpetually single and bitter about it) and NINA (a Chilean femme fatale) at a nightclub, where they check out guys and joke around. Afterward, Francine and Nina take a cab to another club, leaving Anna to walk home. She takes a pedestrian bridge over a river, not noticing that it’s partially under construction. Hidden in the repair site is Tearjerk Jack and his latest victim. Anna watches him kill the woman, then begin crying over it (hence the name). Tearjerk Jack doesn’t notice Anna — until her cell phone blares. He chases Anna, and she falls over the side of the bridge into the river, losing her distinctive handbag and her cell phone.
Anna wakes in a hospital, but she initially can’t see any faces at all. When the faces do finally take shape, they’re not the same as the ones she remembered. Anna’s terrified to hear different voices coming out of Bryce, Francine, and Nina. She flees the hospital room and locks herself in the bathroom. While doctors try to track down their key, Anna looks in the mirror — and sees someone else. She screams. Some time later, a neurologist diagnoses Anna with “prosopagnosia,” or “face blindness,” caused by the head injury she suffered falling into the river. As a result, every time she looks at a person — even someone very familiar to her — she’ll see an unfamiliar face, even though their voices and mannerisms are familiar. The neurologist optimistically suggests that she might be suffering some kind of mental shock and gives her the card of a neuropsychiatrist. Bryce brings Anna home and gets a phone call. He leaves the room, and when he comes back — he has yet another new face. Anna’s horrified. Bryce announces that a police detective called. He wants to take her statement.
Anna and Bryce meet DETECTIVE KERREST (30s, goatee) at the police station. Kerrest tells her that they didn’t find much of her personal effects at the crime scene. He asks Anna not to cancel her cell phone contract on the off-chance that the killer uses it for some reason. Anna gives her statement. Kerrest asks Anna to look at a facebook of possible suspects. Anna tries, but she wouldn’t even know the right face if she saw it. Desperate to find the killer, Kerrest grows hostile. Anna blows up, announcing that she simply can’t recognize faces. In the station cafeteria, Kerrest has lunch with police psychologist LANYON. They discuss the “face blindness,” which surprises and fascinates Lanyon. Other than Anna, they have no leads.
After a nightmare, Anna wakes to find yet another new Bryce ready to comfort her. She’s uneasy. Later, she calls her FATHER — who’s on vacation in Argentina — who announces he’ll be in town soon and invites Anna to dinner. Anna tells him to meet her after school. Temporarily using Bryce’s old cell phone, Anna can’t resist the temptation to dial her old cell phone number. As the phone rings, the doorbell rings, making Anna jump. It turns out to be new versions of Francine and Nina. They’ve recorded a backlog of Anna’s favorite soap opera and want to watch it together. The experience is frustrating, because the faces of actors change for Anna every time they’re off-camera. Anna decides to visit the neuropsychiatrist, DR. LANGENKAMP, but she thinks Langenkamp’s advice is New Age crap and leaves in a huff. The next morning, Anna prepares for her first day back at school. She’s horrified to learn the faces of her entire class appear blank to her. She has them make nametags and humiliates herself in front of unrecognizable parents when she can find their children. Outside, an unfamiliar man in a bright orange shirt leans against a tree, staring at her. When Anna looks back, he’s gone. Anna has a panic attack and explodes on her students. Anna’s boss puts her on extended leave, reluctantly allowing her to return in the fall if she improves. Anna rides the subway home. She’s horrified when her missing handbag appears on the seat across from her. Panicked, she calls Kerrest (who’s just learned of a seventh victim), who sends police to intercept the train. The connection cuts off, right around the time Anna sees the man in the orange shirt again, riding in the next car. He knocks on the window, trying to get her attention. Anna flees, hopping on another train. The man in the orange shirt follows, menacingly. Anna moves through the cars on the train, trying in vain to get away from him. He catches up with her just as the police get on the train and shout for him to freeze — but the man in the orange shirt is Anna’s Father, unrecognizable to her. Anna’s humiliated and upset.
At home, Anna flips out, shattering every mirror in the house, then growing increasingly agitated as the tiny mirror fragments reflect more and more unfamiliar faces. A new Bryce comes home, confused and irritated. Tail between her legs, Anna returns to Dr. Langenkamp, willing to take the process seriously now. Langenkamp offers various tips and tricks on how to recognize people without their faces. Anna quickly grows more confident as she learns to use hairstyle, clothing, jewelry, gait, etc., to identify people. With Bryce, Anna begins using a journal to identify him by the tie. As Anna starts to recognize him more easily, Bryce believes she’s getting better and really sees his face. Anna lets him believe this. After awhile, Anna is called in to see Kerrest yet again, and she’s shocked to learn that Kerrest has the same face he had when she saw him originally. She doesn’t know what makes him special, but she’s thrilled about it. Kerrest introduces Anna to Lanyon, who explains his theory about Tearjerk Jack: that he’s ashamed and disturbed by his crimes, which is what causes him to cry over the victims. Anna tells Kerrest she thinks she can identify the killer by watching him walk. They stage a line-up, but she fails to identify a killer.
Anna has a birthday party at the nightclub. They see an extremely good-looking guy dancing, and Francine is shocked to see him checking her out. She goes to dance with him, but something about him makes Anna think he’s the killer. She rushes to find Bryce — who’s at the bar — for help, but it’s actually a completely different guy. Now aware of her dishonesty, Bryce dumps Anna on the spot. Shortly after he leaves, Anna receives a call — from her own phone! It’s the killer, who ridicules her and makes it abundantly clear that he’s watching her and knows she can’t spot faces. He’s angry and oddly flippant, claiming her inability to identify him is the only thing that keeps him from stopping, but he wants to stop. He hangs up, and Anna realizes Francine has disappeared. Eventually they find her — dead, on the dance floor. Later, Kerrest and Lanyon arrive with the police. Kerrest takes Anna’s statement. When Kerrest finds out the killer called just after Bryce left, he grows suspicious, especially when they can’t get ahold of Bryce. Anna takes Kerrest back to her apartment, where he steps on Bryce’s coat on the floor. Anna picks it up, and her old cell phone tumbles out. Kerrest decides to take Anna to a coastal island village, to keep her safe while the police look for Bryce and wait for DNA results. Anna enjoys the quiet and simplicity. She and Kerrest make love.
Anna wakes to find Kerrest has shaved his goatee — and now he looks like a completely different person to Anna. Thinking his unchanging face somehow meant something special, Anna is now crushed and depressed by the unintentional betrayal. Kerrest is confused. He takes her back to the city once Bryce has been cleared through DNA. Anna realizes she’s had nightmares in which she saw people’s real faces — she thinks she can identify the killer through hypnosis. Langenkamp warns against it, but Anna and Kerrest are willing to risk it. Through the hypnosis, the best they can find is that Anna did see the real killer during the line-up. Kerrest puts out an APB on the line-up suspects. Lanyon warns Kerrest against this recklessness, noting that eight of the 10 already had negative DNA tests. Anna receives a text from Bryce, asking her to meet him at a fancy restaurant. Unable to find Kerrest, Anna leaves him a VoiceMail and meets Bryce. Bryce apologizes and makes a kind declaration of love. Anna crushes him by saying she’s come to realize she doesn’t truly love him. Bryce storms off to the restroom, telling her he didn’t expect this after her text message. Once the remark registers, Anna checks his text history and learns someone sent him an identical message to the one she received. Lanyon, the killer, waits for Bryce. He murders him and steals his clothes.
Unaware he’s not Bryce, Anna grabs Lanyon so they can get out of the restaurant before the killer finds them. Kerrest gets Anna’s VoiceMail and comes after her, somehow coming to the conclusion that Lanyon is the killer. Anna and Lanyon run outside, just as Kerrest and backup arrive. Anna doesn’t recognize him, but she realizes Lanyon isn’t Bryce. She grabs a policeman’s gun and runs, back to the pedestrian bridge where she originally saw the killer. Lanyon chases her, and Kerrest chases him. Anna recognizes neither of them. Eventually, Kerrest dabs oil on his face to simulate the goatee. Kerrest and Lanyon fight, and Lanyon pulls his gun. Lanyon manages to bury Kerrest in a tarp, freeing him to return to Anna. Anna throws him over the bridge, killing him. She runs back to find Kerrest, but Lanyon has shot him. He dies.
Anna narrates an epilogue describing her new life. She moved to the island village, where it’s easy to recognize people because there aren’t many of them. She teaches a small group in a one-room schoolhouse and lives alone, still loving Kerrest.
Comments:Faces in the Crowd attempts to craft a Memento-like thriller about a brain-damaged person attempting to catch a criminal. Despite its nifty premise, the script tells a leaden, predictable story that gets downright silly in its third act. As written, it merits a pass.
The script’s most significant problem is its characters and how they relate to one another. The writer gives a lot of surface information about Anna — she’s a teacher in a happy relationship with some good friends — but he never digs past the surface. Since the story is more preoccupied with how she deals with her “face blindness” than with the murder plot, the fact that we learn so little about the character is frustrating and makes her struggles far less compelling than they should be.
The supporting characters get a similar superficial treatment. Anna’s friends add nothing to the story except more people for her to not recognize. Bryce is so bland and generically supportive that his sudden 180 when he discovers Anna has lied about recognizing his face seems far-fetched, as does the notion that he’d ever be a suspected serial killer. Worst of all, Anna’s romance with Kerrest comes completely out of left field. The writer gives no inkling that these people are even attracted to each other until they’ve already made love, after which he hastily adds a line suggesting that Anna thought he was special because she could recognize him when everyone else was unfamiliar.
The setup for this story is fantastic — a woman witnesses a serial killer in action, they struggle, she survives but receives a brain injury that prevents her from recognizing his or anyone else’s face. After the briskly paced first act, however, the writer sticks the serial killer story into the background and concentrates more on Anna’s symptoms and her struggle to deal with the disorder. As previously stated, this would be fine if she were a more interesting, well-rounded character. Because she’s not, the second act is a bit plodding. The writer tries to keep the suspense up by choosing random characters to make suspicious — first Kerrest, then Bryce — but it’s never convincing. Keeping Lanyon in the background and consciously keeping him free of suspicion, ironically, makes it more obvious that he’ll be the killer.
The aimless, random plotting leads to a baffling third act, in which Anna’s longtime boyfriend is murdered but Anna doesn’t care much, Lanyon turns into a sneering caricature of a serial killer, and Kerrest inexplicably concludes Lanyon was the killer all along. None of this makes much sense, and it all goes back to poorly written characters: Lanyon never gets enough face time for audiences to understand why he’s so angry and disgusted by his crimes but can’t just confess or commit suicide; Kerrest draws his conclusions out of thin air, sloppily putting together pieces that don’t fit; and, since the writer never sells the love story between Anna and Kerrest, it’s inconceivable that his murder would have a more profound impact on her than the death of Bryce, a man she’s dated and lived with for an unspecified number of years.
Adding insult to injury, the dialogue is astonishingly bad. When characters aren’t making on-the-nose statements, they’re either talking in riddles or eye-rolling one-liners. This is a bad script that cannot be saved by any measure.
October 23, 2009
Author: Emma Thompson
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:In Victorian England, a woman struggles to endure a loveless marriage.
Synopsis:In 1840, JOHN RUSKIN (early 30s) asks 11-year-old EFFIE GRAY what she thinks of a painting. The painting confuses her, because the woman portrayed in it is turning into a tree. John explains that she’s a nymph who turns herself into a tree to avoid the untoward advances of a god. A montage shows John and Effie exchange letters for eight years. Effie, now 19, marries John and reluctantly leaves her family behind to move into wealthy John’s large house. She’s introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin (60s), both of whom are unpleasant and treat Effie poorly. So does ANNA (60s), the maid who will now split her duties between Effie and Mrs. Ruskin. Despite the shabby treatment, Anna is thrilled to live in such a beautiful house, full of lively servants, with a man she truly loves. Mr. Ruskin hangs a new painting of the Grand Canal in Venice, which he bought in celebration of Effie and John’s marriage. That night, John admires Effie in her nightgown, claiming she is perfect. The next morning, Effie wakes up later than the rest of the household, annoying Anna and Mrs. Ruskin. Effie wanders the house, unsure of what she’s supposed to do as a wife. She attempts to help John, who finds her presence annoying and sends her to help Mrs. Ruskin tend her garden. Mrs. Ruskin makes no effort to mask her contempt and sends Effie back into the house. After a few days of feeling useless and receiving hostile treatment, Effie intentionally tears one of John’s shirts so she’ll have reason to sew it back up. Anna insists on taking it herself, but Effie fights and wins. She’s overruled by Mrs. Ruskin, who announces that she did not raise a child to wear darned clothing. Anna takes Effie clothes shopping, willfully allowing Effie to humiliate herself by buying a garish bright-pink dress in contrast to the family’s drab Victorian fashions.
After forcing her to change, John takes Effie to an art exhibition by a painter he’s sponsored, JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS. John acts like the evening is more about his benevolent sponsorship than about Millais’s skills. Effie charms a middle-aged woman, LADY EASTLAKE, to the consternation of the elder Ruskins, who want to make a good impression on the Lady but wish Effie would remain shunned. They’re pleased, though, when Eastlake invites herself over to the Ruskins’ home for dinner. The mistreatment by John and his family causes Effie to lapse into a deep depression. Its peak coincides with the Eastlake dinner, and since the Lady has come specifically to see Effie, Mrs. Ruskin flies into a rage when Effie refuses to leave her room. She forces Anna to dress Effie, and they drag her downstairs. Eastlake immediately recognizes Effie’s illness and tends to her with the sensitivity and compassion of a mother. She takes Effie upstairs, makes her some tea, and sits with her. Upon leaving, Eastlake apologizes to her husband for forcing him to endure an evening with such an unbearable family.
John flies into a rage over Effie’s humiliation of the Ruskin family, which sends Effie into a further spiral. She finds herself barely able to do more than coo that she wants her mother. John sends for Effie’s parents, who arrive with Effie’s younger sisters, SOPHIE (teens), and newborn HORTENSIA. Effie is fascinated by the baby, but John finds them disgusting. Mrs. Ruskin and Mrs. Gray engage in a passive-aggressive battle of wits, culminating in Mrs. Gray finally saying what Effie’s been thinking: that the newlywed couple needs to move out. John, who intended a trip to Venice to research a book anyway, agrees to rent a flat in the Italian city. It does well for Effie’s mood but not the relationship. As John explains it, Effie’s free to pursue her interests, which means she’s not around to distract John from his work. Left to her own devices, Effie is chaperoned by an Italian VISCOUNTESS (50s) and her good-looking son, RAFAEL (30s). Effie enjoys their company, quickly learning Italian and taking in all the local sights and customs. Before long, Rafael is smitten. A few days after an exhilirating night of dancing, Rafael makes a rather improper pass, placing Effie’s hand on his bulging crotch. Effie’s shocked and terrified; she runs away. Rafael pursues, but Effie makes it home. John is distracted and apathetic. Effie makes no mention of the encounter with Rafael. She goes into the bedroom and discovers that tree bark is growing from her hand.
An unspecified time later, Effie and John are back in England. Effie tries to engage John in sexual activity, but John has no interest. Citing her depression and apparent madness, Anna and Mrs. Ruskin attempt to force Effie to take pills. Effie fights them, further enraging Mrs. Ruskin, who begins to insist that Effie wants to kill her. The stress and depression causes Effie’s hair to begin falling out in patches. She learns to style her hair to conceal it. John brings in a doctor to sedate Effie. John gripes about Effie’s “neverending succession of minor ailments” and noting her hysterical nymph hallucination. The doctor suggests fresh air, exercise, and an environment Effie finds more suitable. He suggests Scotland, Effie’s homeland. John has no interest in doing this, but the doctor is very insistent. Mrs. Ruskin attempts to talk John out of it, noting that he should not have to uproot his life for her. Mr. Ruskin counters that John will not be able to get any work done until Effie’s in a less distracting mental state. John and Effie go off to rural Scotland. John invites Millais along, because he’s commissioned a portrait and feels they can use this time to work on it.
Shortly after arriving, Effie receives word that her mother lost another child. Millais finds her weeping and consoles her. Later, he’s shocked to find John neither knows nor cares about Mrs. Gray’s miscarriage. John’s hostile attitude regarding Mrs. Gray’s breeding habits shocks Millais. Another day, John and Millais play a friendly indoor badminton game while Effie watches. It grows steadily more competitive, until John (seemingly intentionally) shoves Effie to the floor in order to make a difficult volley. Millais is shocked that John doesn’t check to see if he’s hurt Effie. Millais checks on her himself, but Effie apologizes, saying she got in the way. This disturbs Millais. On a rainy day, Millais’s arthritis causes him to stop. John, who’s sitting for the portrait outside, carefully wraps the canvas and takes it back to the house, leaving Millais to deal with the rest of the supplies and the makeshift tent he’s arranged for the sitting. Because of the excess baggage, Millais ends up slipping and banging his nose. John’s apathetic, but Effie rushes to help Millais.
John leaves for a lecture in Edinburgh, disregarding propriety and allowing Millais and Effie to stay together. With John out of the way, Millais and Effie are able to get closer. He’s a sweet, attentive man, but he makes a minor faux pas when he mentions John told him Effie didn’t want children. This is news to Effie, and it shocks and chills her. Effie begins to lapse into depression again, and Millais is so kind and attentive that she doesn’t know how to deal with his behavior. They hold hands, a bold move in Victorian society. When John returns, Millais chastises John’s indifference toward his wife. John shrugs it off, noting that he’s been married to Effie long enough to know she’s a damaged soul. Millais, in John’s opinion, just doesn’t know her well enough. Millais bristles, barely able to control his anger.
During dinner, more of John’s condescending remarks finally causes Millais to leave in a huff. Later that night, Effie gets up when she hears Millais return. Millais is still angry about the way John treats Effie, but Millais begs him to keep quiet, to avoid waking John. John is secretly awake and overhears the entire conversation. A short time later, John announces they’ll return to London. His lecture in Edinburgh was so successful, they want him to give it at home. Effie refuses to go back, but John is not interested in her opinion. Millais’s anger boils over. Privately, to Effie, he decides he can’t continue the portrait. Effie begs him to continue, because John will make Effie suffer over it. Millais reluctantly agrees. Effie tries to convince Millais to ask John to stay at the house, but Millais fears John suspects something’s going on between him and Effie. Instead, Millais suggests Effie bring Sophie, to give her an outlet for her frustration.
In London, Sophie arrives, and Mr. Ruskin takes a particular interest in her. John announces the family is going on a Grand Tour of Germany, so John can research yet another book. Effie tries to refuse, but again, John won’t hear of it — and now he has the family’s support to back him up. Effie begs John to tell her what he wants from a wife, but John bitterly calls their marriage a crime, accusing Effie of wickedness and impudence. Sophie, who has worked her way into the good graces of the Ruskins, absorbs all the gossip from the family and relays it to Effie. The family’s hostility takes a toll on Sophie, too, but their ability to talk to each other helps with the burden. Effie pays a surprise visit to Lady Eastlake. They have a polite conversation about sex, in which Effie reveals that John has not actually consummated the marriage. On their wedding night, he found her body disgusting and rejected her. Effie explains she would have put up with a sexless marriage, if only he were kind. Now, she wants to know if there’s a legal way to get out of the marriage. Eastlake consults a lawyer, TWISS, who explains that divorce is impossible for a woman to initiate, but because the marriage was never consummated, it can still legally be annulled. Once Twiss files his petition, Effie packs her clothes along with Sophie under the guise of sending Sophie home. They go to the train station with John, but Effie sends him away because they’ve arrived so early. At the Ruskin home, Twiss arrives to serve John with the formal notice of annulment, which shocks the entire family. Millais arrives and asks a servant what happened to Effie. He rushes to the train station. For the sake of propriety, Effie and Millais force Sophie to relay their messages of love. Effie tells Millais that she loves him, but they must wait an appropriate period of time before marrying. Millais agrees.
Comments:In focusing on one of the most notorious scandals of the Victorian era (a woman initiating an annulment after six years of marriage!), Effie seeks to put a feminist spin on the outdated notions of propriety while telling a story of doomed romance. It has a few delightful moments, but an overall lack of character development makes it difficult to empathize with the characters and fully buy into the love story. As written, it merits a pass.
While the script does an exceptional job of illustrating the hostile environment Effie is forced to endure in the Ruskin household, the Ruskins themselves are not terribly well-developed. Some early scenes suggest Mrs. Ruskin is jealous of Effie, but this grows less believable as a catalyst for her bad behavior once John starts openly disdaining Effie, too. Ultimately, the Ruskins (including John) come across as stereotypical upper-crust snobs, and they lack any dimension to make them rise above the clichés.
Effie, herself, is an annoyingly passive protagonist, allowing the other characters to push her around like a pawn on a chess board. Even when she finally stands up for herself by seeking an annulment, she does it in the most passive way possible: she asks her influential friend for help, then sneaks out of the Ruskin home in secret and lets her lawyer do all the dirty work. Adding insult to injury, it’s never made entirely clear why Effie fell so hard for John in the first place. A montage of love-letter-exchanging serves as the full development of their romantic relationship. Granted, it’d be a bit disturbing watching a romance between a tween and a full-grown adult, but the writer never truly sells the love (which is the only reason given for them to marry), which in turn makes the marriage difficult to accept.
As for the story, the first act does a reasonably good job of establishing the characters and tone. Despite the ever-changing locales, the scenes of passive verbal abuse toward Effie grow a bit redundant in the second act. As a result, Millais’s importance to the story is undermined for far too long, making his romance with Effie feel a bit rushed, almost to the point that it feels tacked-on. The third act contains some well-crafted surprises — notably the bombshell that John found Effie disgusting and refused to consummate the marriage — but everything speeds by in a blur. Trimming those early scenes of Ruskin abuse in order to let the Millais romance and Effie’s annulment breathe would benefit this script immensely.
Despite the character problems, Effie is a meaty role that, in the hands of an exceptional actress, could impress despite the script’s problems. The movie is likely to fail without a performance of the highest caliber.
October 25, 2009
Author: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writer’s Potential: 4
Logline:After his wife dies of cancer, an Australian chef struggles to grieve and take care of his son.
Synopsis:One hand wrapped in bandages, TOM attempts to have sex with LESLEY, a prostitute, but he’s unable to climax. A montage of scenes, seemingly shown backwards, show Tom first rushed into the hospital, then getting into a car accident. Then, Tom’s in his bedroom with MIRIAM, an attractive therapist, who’s in the midst of arguing with him. Then, he’s working in a restaurant, a harried chef. A woman, KAREN, barges into the kitchen, declares Tom a selfish asshole, and then it cuts back to the car accident, showing that he’s surrounded by a bunch of meat cuts that make the scene look much more disturbing and graphic than it actually is. After the opening titles, Tom is back in Lesley’s bed. She wakes him and asks him about his hand. She doesn’t allow Tom to pay him. Tom runs around to commercial butchers, fish markets, and produce stands searching for food for the evening menu. He’s harangued by Karen, who’s angry about Tom ditching his son, and SALLY, who manages Tom’s restaurant. At the restaurant, Tom is angered when a patron sends back his duck, calling it undercooked. In Tom’s opinion, it’s perfectly cooked, so he has the waiter explain this to the patron. When the patron sends the duck back again, Tom kicks it around the kitchen, rubs it in the garbage, tosses it in the toilet, and then sticks it in the deep frier until it’s crispy.
At his home, Tom has sex with Miriam, but it’s interrupted by the appearance of OSCAR, Tom’s eight-year-old son, who wakes screaming from a nightmare. Miriam’s horrified and disturbed — she doesn’t know Tom has a son — so she flees while Tom ignores her to comfort Oscar, who wonders why Tom’s sleeping on the wrong side of the bed. Another day, a distant Tom introduces himself to two real estate agents, PETER and CAROL, who are thrilled to be selling his home. Tom is less thrilled, letting them poke around the house while he waits outside. At the restaurant, Tom snorts cocaine while baking a cake. Tom speeds through the city streets, driving like a maniac, when a red light stops him. He watches intently as a BLIND MAN crosses the street. Tom and Oscar check into a fleabag motel. Tom tries to figure out what to make Oscar for dinner, but Oscar nixes everything. Eventually, Tom lashes out at Oscar, then apologizes.
The next morning, Karen arrives at the motel, demanding to know why Tom hasn’t taken Oscar to school. She browbeats him until he drives Oscar to school. When he arrives, many of the mothers — particularly LISA — give Tom dirty looks. Tom flashes back to Oscar’s birthday party, in which Tom flips out in front of a large group of children and parents, tearing apart the decorations and smashing the cake he was baking in the earlier restaurant scene. Tom is arrested. Karen comes to bail him out and take Oscar away with him. She yells at Tom for acting like a hooligan. At night, Tom shows up at Lisa’s home unannounced. Her husband calls her for dinner, so Lisa excuses herself, mouthing for Tom to call her. Tom gets hammered at a bar with Miriam and another couple. Miriam argues with him, so Tom goes out to his car and has sex with the woman from the other couple. Karen drives Oscar up to Tom’s house and sees the “for sale” sign. She’s shocked and goes to Tom’s restaurant to confront him. Tom goes to Karen’s house to apologize. Karen’s husband, GRAHAM, tries to relate to Tom’s struggles. Tom verbally abuses Graham and leaves.
At the fish market, Tom runs into an old friend, BRIAN, who hasn’t seen him in awhile. Then, we’re back in the police station, as Oscar explains to the police constable that Tom is very sad. The constable asks for Oscar’s mother’s number, but Oscar explains that she can’t be reached. Then, we’re back in Tom’s house, where we finally meet SARAH, Tom’s lovely, curly-haired wife. She’s crying and apologizing for unknown reasons. Back in the fish market, Tom has just explained something unknown about Sarah. Brian is so stunned, he doesn’t believe Tom. Tom flashes back to arriving in a hospital, where a nurse leads him to Sarah’s dead body. In the police station, Oscar tells the constable to call his aunt, Karen. In the fish market, Brian invites Tom for dinner with his wife. Tom gracelessly declines. From the motel, Tom calls his house and listens to the answering machine, which has Sarah’s voice. He flashes back to happier times, when they recorded the greeting. In the motel, he receives a message from a DR. DENT, who has an urgent matter to discuss with Tom. Tom goes to the hospital, where Dent explains that Sarah signed an organ donor card, and while most of her organs were compromised from the cancer that ravaged her body, a diabetic patient needs a retina transplant, and Sarah’s are acceptable. Tom asks to think about it; Dent allows it, but warns him there’s a small window before the tissue starts deteriorating.
Tom flashes on taking Sarah to the oncologist for her first round of chemotherapy. She’s funny, optimistic, and sunny. Back at the intersection with the Blind Man, Tom notices he has bandages covering his eyes. Tom leaps out of the car, stunned, and stares at him. Sensing him, the Blind Man begs him to leave him alone. Tom flashes on coming home and overhearing Sarah telling Oscar a story about them going to the beach, then flashes on the story itself, as he and Sarah camp on the beach and gather seafood and Tom prepares an expert meal despite the lack of provisions. In the motel, Tom gives Oscar a dinner of junk food, then brings in a former one-night-stand to babysit while he goes to a brothel and meets Lesley. Tom gives Lesley a curly-haired wig that looks similar to Sarah’s. Tom flashes on intercut memories: Sarah, ravaged by chemotherapy, weak and bald and cranky; Tom barging in on their oncologist, demanding to know why her prognosis was sunny six months ago but now she’s been handed a death sentence (the doctor explains the cancer has spread and she hasn’t responded well to the chemo); and Tom and Sarah having passionate sex, ending with Tom fondling her breasts and discovering the lump. Back in the brothel, Lesley and Tom discuss the relative merit of their “service”-oriented jobs. Tom thinks his is more difficult. Tom goes to the hospital, shouting for Dr. Dent, because he’s discovered the patient who received Sarah’s retinas has died. Dent tries to calm him down while nurses call security.
Tom calls Lisa to meet for a cup of coffee. They have sex in her kitchen. Tom flashes on meeting Miriam for the first time; Lisa introduced them shortly after Sarah died, suggesting he might want to see a therapist. He flashes on an argument with Sarah about his emotional distance; then, Sarah gets morbid and starts talking about death. Tom flashes on waiting to receive her ashes at a crematorium. Tom flashes on meeting Sarah for the first time, at a pub just after he and Sally learn they got the restaurant. He flashes on being in the restaurant kitchen, accidentally burning his hand, then intentionally putting it into the flames. Sally witnesses this and is horrified. Tom goes to the hospital to have the burned looked at. He sneaks into the surgery recovery room and learns the blind diabetic died on the operating table. Tom storms away. Tom flashes on Sarah giving birth while he tries to put in an order for his restaurant, to Sarah’s great annoyance. Tom flashes on meeting Lesley for the first time, at a strip club. His bandaged burn turns her on.
In the motel, Oscar asks Tom if Sarah knew she was going to die. Tom placates him. He remembers their camping trip on the beach. Tom finds a huge, old lobster, which he intends to cook. Sarah refuses to allow it. Tom remembers waiting for Miriam at her office, then going out a pub, where Miriam announces he’s not ready to confront his grief and is more interested in sleeping with her. She declares she’s not that easy and leaves. Tom accidentally-on-purpose runs into Carol, his real estate agent, and brings her back to the motel to have sex. She’s wild in bed, which sort of creeps Tom out. Back on the beach, Sarah marvels at his food. At some point after her chemo, Sarah decides she wants to stop treatment and concentrate on meditation. Oscar tries to say goodnight to her while she meditates, and Sarah yells at him. Tom and Sarah fight about her mistreatment. Tom tries to open up to Miriam, who refuses to allow it; now that they’ve slept together, it ruins any possibility of them having a therapist-patient relationship. Tom brings Oscar to a school music recital (Oscar plays the trumpet, poorly), where Lisa confronts him about their one-night-stand. Tom devastates her by letting her know their encounter meant nothing. After the recital, Lisa spots Tom getting high in his car. She throws a garbage can at his car.
Back on the beach, Sarah admires the lobster. Tom admires the meal he intends to prepare. The next morning, Tom discovers the lobster is gone. Sarah dumped it back into the ocean. He’s more amused than angry. In the motel, Tom has finished telling Oscar the story of “Louie the lobster.” Oscar loves hearing it. At the restaurant, Sally confronts Tom about his irresponsibility. When he responds with apathy, she gets angry and quits, leaving a stack of customers waiting to be seated. Tom follows Sally outside, where he apologizes. She apologizes, too. After confronting Dr. Dent, Tom is dragged out of the hospital by security guards. He’s surprised when Tom’s oncologist stops them. Tom wants to know why the oncologist agreed to let Sarah stop treatment. The doctor says it was Sarah’s decision, and he respected it. Tom flashes on helping a very weak Sarah to the car. Then he flashes on the awkward conversation with Oscar about Sarah’s inevitable death. Oscar first refuses to accept it, then starts crying. By that night, he’s bounced back to normal. Tom is stunned. At the fish market, Tom buys two huge, old lobsters, takes them to the beach, and throws them back into the water. He frantically drives around, picking up food for the evening, and this is when he has his car accident.
While unconscious, Tom remembers watching Sarah die. He’s revived in the hospital. The accident looks much worse than it is, because his meats fell all over him. It turns out, he hardly has a scratch on him. Tom realizes he needs to make it to Oscar’s recital. He rushes out of the hospital, where he sees the same blind man finally taking the gauze bandages off his eyes and looking at the world, laughing like a maniac. Tom is pleased. He leaps into a cab, which speeds to Oscar’s school. Tom arrives late for the recital, which is truly awful. Oscar gives up his performance halfway through and starts reciting ridiculous jokes he learned from Tom. The confused audience of students and parents laugh at his audacity. Tom beams with pride, then starts weeping. He excuses himself.
Afterward, Oscar asks Karen what happened to Tom. Karen explains that Tom had to go back to work, but Tom surprises them all in the parking lot. He asks Karen for a ride — back to their house. Tom and Oscar pull down the “For Sale” sign and go inside.
Comments:Burning Man has a jumbled structure in a calculated effort to make audiences think the trite story is much more complex than it actually is. The nonlinearity adds nothing but intentional confusion to the story, but once Sarah’s introduced, Tom’s journey through grief is as obvious as it is tedious. As written, the script merits a pass.
As a consequence of its disordered scenes, it’s hard to identify a clear three-act structure. Jumping around in time never serves a dramatic purpose, and, in fact, it actually undermines what little drama exists in the story. It’s very difficult to build any sort of narrative momentum when scenes shift backward and forward in time with no warning, and the writer here is not up to the task.
In the “first act,” a series of disconnected scenes introduce the people in Tom’s life at various points in time, culminating in the first appearance of Sarah — dead, in a hospital bed. From this point to the end, the writer struggles to make Tom’s grief into compelling drama. It works in a select few scenes, but as an overall story, it fails.
The lack of a coherent narrative direction, added to the fact that the writer’s mistake of laying all the cards out early and then backtracking to fill in the details, makes this story duller than it ought to be. After the shocking introduction of Tom’s dead wife, the nonlinear structure doesn’t make the story any more surprising or intriguing — it just serves as a distraction from the script’s flaws, ironically becoming a flaw itself. In the last few pages, the writer inexplicably attempts to turn this into a father-son bonding story, but how or why it wraps up this way remains the script’s biggest mystery.
Part of this has to do with the character of Tom, who’s shown doing a lot of unpleasant things and remembering a lot of slightly-more-pleasant things, but he remains an enigma throughout. While it’s clear that much of his self-destructive behavior — random one-night-stands, cocaine abuse, neglecting his son, random angry outbursts — stems directly from the loss of Sarah, the writer makes no effort to show that Tom wants to work through his grief and become a better father. It comes across as an unbelievable 180 in his personality, as he simply decides one day to cut out all his shenanigans and cheer for Oscar.
Although the supporting characters have a fair bit of depth and nuance, they fail to serve as catalysts for Tom’s eventual transformation, which contributes to the unearned, “random” feel of the resolution. While it’s true that many of these characters — particularly his sexual partners — eventually get fed up with him, Tom’s change seems to come more from exhaustion or loss of interest than a real desire to learn from his mistakes, get some help, and move on with his life so he can take care of his son.
A good story could come from this script, but it’s at least a half-dozen drafts away from anything that qualifies as watchable. Burning Man will likely leave audiences more frustrated and disappointed than anything else.
October 24, 2009
Author: Eli Craig & Morgan Jurgenson
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:After a convoluted misunderstanding, a pair of hillbillies believe a group of college students want them dead, and vice-versa.
Synopsis:In 1988, a group of college kids go camping at an Appalachian lake on Memorial Day weekend. They’re all slaughtered by a pair of bloodthirsty hillbillies. In the present, yokels TUCKER and DALE drive through the mountains, discussing Dale’s low confidence with women. They’re pulled over by the SHERIFF with a broken tail light. When they explain they bought a vacation home on Morris Lake, the Sheriff warns them that it’s a bad place. Tucker assumes the Sheriff is jealous. As they pull back onto the road, they’re nearly sideswiped by an SUV full of college students: CHAD, an obnoxious frat boy; CHUCK, a chunky nerd; CHLOE, blonde and fearful; JASON, a jock; NAOMI, a gorgeous smart-ass; and ALLISON, a good-looking tomboy (there’s also MITCH, MIKE, and TODD, who appear later but are never introduced). They, too, are heading for Morris Lake to celebrate their Memorial Day weekend. The group runs out of beer, so they stop at the last store before deep country to stock up. Tucker and Dale are there, too, buying supplies to fix up their vacation home. Dale spots Allison and is instantly smitten. Tucker encourages Dale to talk to her, but his awkwardness combined with the huge scythe he holds only serves to terrify Allison and her friends.
Tucker and Dale arrive at their cabin, a stereotypical horror-movie nightmare: abandoned, worn-out, with a lot of creepy bones and a human-sized oven Dale assumes is for pizza. Meanwhile, the college kids have set up camp along the lake. They drink and smoke weed while Mitch tries to terrify them with lame stories. Chad decides to tell them a really scary story — the true story of the Memorial Day Massacre, which occurred at Morris Lake exactly 20 years ago. Only one of the college students lived to tell the tale. Everyone’s terrified by the story, so they decide to cheer themselves up by going skinny-dipping. Meanwhile, Tucker and Dale are night-fishing. They hear some commotion. Dale thinks he sees Allison get dragged underwater by a monster, but it’s just Chad. He acts like a jerk, so Allison ditches him. She spots Tucker and Dale staring at her and panics, screaming before hitting her head on a rock. They pull her into the boat. Dale gives her CPR while Tucker tries to call for her friends. They see Dale leaning into her, assume he’s trying to eat her face, and run away. Tucker and Dale drag her back to the cabin, bandage her head, and put her in dry clothes.
The next morning, Allison wakes up in fear. However, Dale’s nature is so sweet that he quickly wins her over. Meanwhile, Chad and the others search the woods for Allison. Chuck decides to go back to town and get the Sheriff, but hatchet-swinging Chad is more interested in vigilante justice. He leads the group to the cabin, where Tucker works outside, annoyed that Dale’s inside playing board games with Allison. Chad dares Mitch to talk to Tucker. Mitch goes, just as Tucker fires up a chainsaw and starts inadvertently sawing through a beehive. The bees attack him, causing Tucker to flail about with the chainsaw, which in turn terrifies Mitch, who starts running — right into a pointed branch, which kills him instantly. Inside the house, Dale asks Allison what she’s studying. Allison says psychology, with the hope of becoming a therapist to help people communicate properly with one another. Tucker comes to the cabin, face swollen from bee stings. Tucker and Dale go to find Allison’s friends, leaving her to rest.
Chad and the others find Mitch’s body and assume Tucker murdered him. They hide when they hear Tucker and Dale moving through the forest. Dale talks about “beating the crap out of Allison” (at Trivial Pursuit), which they misinterpret as pride in literally beating her. Tucker and Dale find Chad’s hatchet sticking out of a tree and decide to carve a note for them: “We got ur friend try and git er.” The college kids eye the note with fear. Tucker and Dale return to the cabin and tell Allison they left a message for the friends. They get to work restoring the cabin. Allison decides to help. Using pick axes, they dig a trench for the outhouse, while Tucker uses a wood chipper to get rid of the trees surrounding the cabin. The college kids prowl through the bushes surrounding the cabin, concocting a plan to attack Tucker and Dale and get Allison. The plan goes awry, resulting in Todd impaling himself on the pick axe while Mike leaps face-first into the wood chipper. In the mayhem, Allison hits her head and falls unconscious. Dale drags Allison back into the cabin and is horrified when she won’t wake up. He and Tucker conclude that the college kids want her dead for some reason. Dale considers calling the police, but Tucker thinks the Sheriff will assume they murdered the kids. Meanwhile, the college kids hear the Sheriff’s truck approaching.
Despite Chad’s protestations, the college kids lead the Sheriff to the cabin. He’s horrified by what he finds: Dale and Tucker attempting to hide the corpses and clean up the crime scene. Tucker politely explains the truth of the situation, but the Sheriff doesn’t believe him. Dale mentions Allison could corroborate the story, if she were conscious. The Sheriff is alarmed to hear they’re holding a girl hostage. They lead the Sheriff into the cabin. While inside, the Sheriff accidentally leans against a faulty support beam, which causes a rafter to crush his skull. Surprisingly, he remains alive long enough to stagger back to his truck and yank the microphone off his CB radio, breaking it. The college kids, who have all piled into the truck, are disturbed and disgusted. At Chad’s urging, Chuck grabs the Sheriff’s pistol and goes after Tucker and Dale. He tries shooting, but the safety’s on. Dale shows Chuck how to click the safety off, and Chuck accidentally shoots himself in the face. Chad grabs the gun as Tucker and Dale rush back into the cabin. Chad shoots wildly at the cabin, then stops abruptly. Dale quickly realizes Chad has stolen their dog, JANGERS, and are holding her hostage.
Dale rigs a nail gun into a deadly weapon. While Dale sloppily distracts the college kids with the nail gun, Tucker sneaks through and grabs Jangers. He yells for Jangers to go home; she runs into the woods instead, and the college kids hear Tucker. They chase him, and when they catch up to him, Chad knocks Tucker out. He awakens strung up in the air between two trees. Chad and the others have set a trap for Dale. Back in the cabin, Dale weeps for Tucker as Allison wakes up. He asks about his friends and why they’re doing such insane things. She assumes it’s a misunderstanding, until she steps outside and sees the carnage of Todd, Mike, Chuck, and the Sheriff. She finds a bloody cloth bundle containing Tucker’s bowling fingers. Both Dale and Allison are disgusted. Despite Allison’s warning not to escalate things further, Dale feels the need to go after Tucker. Dale finds Tucker, falling right into the trap: a pit filled with spears. Dale is lucky enough to avoid any real damage. He pulls himself out of the pit, then cuts Tuker down.
The college kids descend on the cabin to get Allison. Allison tries to reason with them, but they assume she’s suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Tucker and Dale, looking worse for wear, return to the cabin. Allison forces Dale, Tucker, and Chad to sit down and talk it out while the others wait outside. She brews some tea. Chad panics, thinking it might be chamomile (which he’s allergic to), but it’s not. Chad has a deep-seated hatred of hillbillies — because his mother was the lone survivor of the attack 20 years ago. Just as they’re about to make progress, Jason leads the college kids into the cabin, armed with a weed whacker. Instead of his intended target, Jason ends up killing Naomi. Chad immediately throws a kerosene lantern at Dale, who ducks. It hits Jason, who’s immediately engulfed in flames. Chloe tosses liquid to put it out, but it’s paint thinner, so the fire gets worse. Everything Jason stumbles into catches fire, until he finally collapses on some fuel tanks, causing the cabin to explode. Tucker, Dale, and Allison narrowly escape. Chad is stuck under Naomi’s barely-alive body. Moments later, a partially burned demon version of Chad rises from the flames and chases them. They hop into Tucker’s truck, Dale at the wheel, and speed away.
The truck doesn’t have brakes, though, so after gaining a bit of distance, Dale crashes into a tree. Allison is knocked unconscious again, leaving Tucker and Dale to fight the demon Chad. Chad stabs Tucker with the scythe and kidnaps Allison. Dale reluctantly leaves Tucker behind and chases Dale to an abandoned lumber mill. He uses a bunch of supplies to rig makeshift body armor. Allison regains consciousness. She begs Chad to let him go. He straps her to a conveyor belt leading to a spinning saw blade. Dale rescues her, while an unseen Chad menaces them before diving down on a pulley. Dale’s body armor actually protects him from the scythe, and he and Allison are able to flee. They end up stuck in the foreman’s office, where Allison finds a photo of a hillbilly who looks very similar to Chad. She tries to make Chad realize the hillbilly must have impregnated his mother, but Chad doesn’t want to believe it. Still, it distracts him enough for Dale to blow some looseleaf chamomile tea in Chad’s face. He goes into anaphylactic shock and tumbles over the railing to his death.
Dale visits Tucker in the hospital, where he’s recovering from finger transplants and surgery on his gut. Dale takes Allison on a bowling date. An intrepid NEWSWOMAN and her cameraman sneak into the lumber mill, trying to find the missing body of Chad. He’s still alive, and he kills them, vowing revenge.
Comments:Tucker and Dale vs. Evil attempts to subvert slasher-movie clichés by building its plot around elaborate, comical misunderstandings. Although it has some good early laughs, it’s not much more than a one-joke idea, so stretching it out to feature length results in diminishing returns. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act does an excellent job of establishing its premise: a couple of goofball hillbillies are misinterpreted as psychotic killers by judgmental college kids, who fight back. They establish the comedic tone and the central misunderstandings quickly, but the story gets repetitive in the second act. Most of the jokes revolve around the gleefully over-the-top violence contained in the unintentional deaths, which starts off as shockingly amusing but wears thin pretty quickly.
Other than the comedic angle, the writers don’t do anything in the second or third acts to distinguish this script from the slasher movies they’re allegedly satirizing. In fact, the third act drops the satirical angle altogether, fully embracing the clichés it should have skewered. Ridiculous moments like Chad rising from the dead as a vengeful demon or Allison coincidentally stumbling on a photo proving Chad is the spawn of one of the psychotic hillbillies should have been played for laughs, but by this point in the script, audiences are expected to take these moments seriously.
The characters are established as economically as in a straightforward slasher movie. The main characters (Tucker, Dale, Allison, and to a much lesser extent, Chad) are given one note. The remaining characters are cannon fodder who are lucky if they have a one-line description to distinguish them from each other. The characters’ one-note personalities do lead to some amusing moments — notably, Allison’s attempts to get sociopathic Chad and the taciturn hillbillies to express their most intimate feelings — but ultimately, they don’t have enough personality to overshadow the flaws in the story.
The dialogue is consistently well-written throughout. The writers let the jokes come naturally, rather than deluging us with jokes that may miss more than they hit. Despite the main characters’ lack of depth, the dialogue has an impressive verisimilitude that allows them each to sound like individuals.
The best hope for this script is a director who can give the “serious” third act a tongue-in-cheek feel without undermining the writers’ attempts at suspenseful moments. It seems like a tall order, so this movie will probably end up disappointing both horror fans and comedy fans.
October 25, 2009
Author: Matthew F. Jones
Writer’s Potential: 9
Logline:When a poacher accidentally kills a teenage girl, he’s inadvertently drawn into the lives of bloodthirsty criminals.
Synopsis:JOHN MOON (30s) lives in a trailer outside a small town nestled in the Catskills. He goes deep into the woods, hunting deer in a forbidden area. He shoots a buck, but it’s not a clean kill, so he tracks it through the woods into the private property of Ira Hollenbach. He hears a noise and shoots before looking. The buck leaps on him. John wrestles it to the ground, then puts him out of his misery with a shot to the head. After examining the area, John realizes the second shot actually hit and killed a teenage girl hiding in the woods. She was in the middle of writing a letter, which John takes and reads. It identifies her as Ingrid, and she writes to unknown people at her foster home, saying she’s running away with her boyfriend Waylon to get married in Mexico. John drags the body to an isolated cave and searches her possession. Inside a pillowcase, she has a metal box, which is overstuffed with cash. John considers whether or not to take the money. He leaves it for the moment, then chops up the deer carcass, drags the useful parts back to his trailer, carves up some deer steaks, showers, and sits in silent contemplation.
John’s phone rings. It’s his best friend, SIMON, who tells John to call a lawyer to help John deal with his wife, who has filed for divorce. Simon recommends his own attorney. John asks Simon if he knew Ira Hollenbach, and whether or not Simon thinks it’s true that Ira had a big stash of money that was stolen before Ira and his wife were murdered six years ago. Simon tells him to forget about it. The next morning, John helps lay a driveway for COLE HOWARD. Halfway through the day, Howard lays John off in order to make room for his son. John leaves, understanding. He goes to see the lawyer, DAGGARD PITT, a creepy man with a bum leg and claw-like hands. John tells Pitt he doesn’t want a divorce. He wants to work things out with his wife, for the benefit of their infant son. Pitt explains that their son is the reason she wants the divorce, and that John’s had too many jobs to seem like a reliable, responsible father. John explains that he was raised a farmer, but when the bank foreclosed on his family’s farm, he didn’t have many options, and he’s not made for doing much else. John’s a little uneasy about how much Pitt seems to know about John — he represented John’s father during the foreclosure proceedings, and he knows all about John’s history of poaching arrests. John tells Pitt to delay the divorce until he can talk to his wife. While talking to Pitt, John sees two men outside. One’s a creepy guy he doesn’t recognize — but the other is WAYLON, whom John recognizes from a photo among Ingrid’s belongings. He gets nervous.
John goes to a diner in town, where his wife, MOIRA, works as a waitress. John announces he’s ready for marriage counseling, an idea she brought up years ago. Moira refuses. John tells her he has some things to drop off for her and the baby — food and money. He tells her he’ll come by after her classes in the evening. She tells him not to, and it turns into an argument, so John gets angry and leaves. John goes to a phone booth and anonymously asks the police if any teenage girls have been reported missing. John goes to his woodshed and gets the deer stakes, and the case full of money, showing he went back for it. He pulls out two stacks of bills and drops them in a bag with the steaks. He goes to Moira’s apartment. She doesn’t answer, so he breaks in. He finds a couple having sex in the tiny living room, with porn on the TV, all right in front of the sleeping baby, NOLAN. The man, OBADIAH, pulls a gun on John. John realizes he’s the man who was with Waylon earlier. The woman is CARLA, a coworker of Moira. She’s supposed to be babysitting. Nolan wakes up and starts screaming. John explains who he is and why he’s here, and Obadiah puts the gun away. John tries to demand that they leave, then tries to quiet the baby. He fails, so Carla takes him back. Dejected, he leaves. On the street, he bumps into Waylon. John’s expression betrays recognition, which makes Waylon suspicious. John leaves the deer steaks and money in Moira’s car, then leaves.
The next morning, John gets a call from CECIL, the farmer who ultimately bought John’s family’s farm. John helps Cecil get a cow out of the mud. Because he’s getting on in years and his son’s not cut out for farming, Cecil offers John a job. John agrees to consider it. Returning to the trailer, John sees a suspicious SUV drive past. Inside, he gets a call from Moira, who thinks John leaving “rotting meat” in her car was a practical joke. She asks about the money, genuinely concerned, but John tells her not to worry about it. They agree Carla will not babysit for Nolan again. While he’s on the phone with Moira, John watches his dog get shot. John rushes outside but sees no sign of the SUV. John cradles the dead dog. That night, John sits with his loaded gun. He gets another phone call. A mystery man tells him if he doesn’t return the money from where he found it by tomorrow morning, the next death won’t be a dog. The phone goes dead. John hears a car approaching,. He panics and hides with his gun, but it turns out to be Simon and two women, COLETTE and MINCY. They go to a nearby pond. Colette wanders off into the wander with Simon. Mincy sidles up to John. He initially rebuffs her sexual advances, but eventually he gives in.
The next morning, John says his goodbyes, then treks out to the cave with the money. He discovers Ingrid’s body is gone. Alarmed, he leaves without dropping the money. That afternoon, wandering through heavy fog, John thinks he sees Ingrid’s ghost riding on a horse. It turns out to be ABBIE, Cecil’s teen daughter. She talks to him about the offer, and makes a suggestion from her economics class: profit-sharing. If Cecil gives John some cows and maybe a patch of his own land, eventually John could start his own small farm. John returns to his trailer and discovers it’s been completely trashed, and whoever did it left Ingrid’s corpse, wrapped in plastic with a note reading “John Moon murdered me!” Before he can do anything, Moira shows up to pick up some clothes. Confused and terrified, John refuses to allow her in the house. Moira’s suspicious, but she allows John to get the clothes and bring them out to her.
That night, John wakes to the sound of breaking glass. He grabs his .45 and goes out into the living room, where he sees tail lights receding through a smashed window. Amid the debris, John finds a rock with a note wrapped around it. The note threatens Moira and Nolan and sarcastically suggests John call the cops. Almost immediately thereafter, Pitt calls. John is instantly distrustful, and with good reason: Pitt makes veiled threats and suggests John pay him a visit about legal matters unrelated to the divorce. John drives out to Moira’s apartment and finds it empty. He talks to Carla at the diner, but she says she hasn’t seen them. John demands to know where Obadiah is. The restaurant manager, PUFFY, butts in, observing that she’s been spending a lot of time at “The Oaks” lately. John drives to “The Oaks,” a rotting fleabag motel. He hides his truck, finds the right room, and listens to make sure it’s empty. John sneaks inside. It’s empty aside from a bathtub filled with trout and the names and numbers of Simon, Pitt, Moira, and John scratched into the margins of a Chinese takeout menu. John hears footsteps and voices and hides in the closet. Waylon and Obadiah enter, arguing about the money. Waylon demands to know who has it and why it’s taking Obadiah so long to get it back. Obadiah says John has it; Waylon doesn’t believe it. He chops chunks of Obadiah’s face off, but the story doesn’t change. Now believing him, Waylon kills Obadiah and leaves the motel. John comes out of the closet, surveying the carnage.
The phone rings. John answers; it’s Pitt, who’s clearly in on the scheme. John brings the money to Pitt, instructing him to deliver it to Waylon. Pitt’s cool, denying everything. John threatens Pitt with his gun until Pitt tells him where Moira and Nolan are. Pitt shows him a postcard with some quaint lake cottages, with “Cottage #8” written on the back. John takes the money and goes to the rental cottages. He bursts into Cottage #8 and finds Moira in bed with Cole Howard. Pissed, John drives to Simon’s isolated cabin. He finds it filled with barnyard animals and riddled with shotgun blasts, but inside, Simon’s okay. John demands an explanation. Simon says he and Obadiah killed Ira Hollenbach and his wife. Obadiah buried the cash but was arrested before he and Simon could go back for it. Obadiah recently got out of prison and came back. John asks about Waylon and Ingrid; Simon’s never heard of them.
John falls asleep at the wheel, and his truck ends up at a ditch. He walks back to the trailer, hides the money in a hollow log, straps Ingrid’s body to a sled, and drags her back to an oak glade near the truck. After digging a hole and tossing Ingrid in the hole, Abbie arrives on horseback. From her angle, she can see John but not what he’s doing. She drags him back to the trailer to make him lunch before he can fill the hole. Waylon arrives at the trailer, putting Abbie in a choke hold and threatening her life if John doesn’t get the money in ten minutes. Waylon notices John going for his gun and cuts off his right index finger. Then he sends John to find the money. John goes to the log, but the money’s gone! John spots his hunting rifle nearby. He quietly sets up a sniper perch and trains it on Waylon, who has Abbie in a position that makes his shot very difficult. John prays for success and fires. After hearing silence for a safe period, John returns to the trailer. Abbie’s slightly traumatized but otherwise unharmed, and Waylon’s — not quite dead. With his last gasp of life, he stabs John. Abbie in turns stabs Waylon in the throat, killing him. It starts to rain. Woozy and disoriented, John staggers through the woods until he reaches Ingrid’s gravesite. He can’t fill the hole, so he dives in to pull the body out of the brown muck. He loses consciousness.
John wakes in the hospital, with Moira by his side. She explains that Abbie found John, called an ambulance, and waited with him until it arrived. Moira senses some hero worship or, perhaps, love coming from Abbie. She also explains that the police want to give John a commendation for killing the psycho who came into their town and sliced up Obadiah. John’s a little confused as to why nobody’s mentioning Ingrid. Once he’s feeling better, John returns to the oak glade. It’s as if he and Ingrid were never there. John goes back to the log and finds the sack of money, along with a note from Simon. Simon explains that, once he knew John had the money, he went to find it, but he felt so guilty, he came back to return it and saw the open gravesite, so he buried Ingrid properly because John didn’t deserve to go to jail on account of Simon, Waylon, or Obadiah. As for Simon, he’s decided to go to Mexico until the heat dies down. Relieved, John takes the job with Cecil.
Comments:A Single Shot is a quiet, meditative but extremely well-executed thriller that has some echoes of No Country for Old Men, about a plain-spoken loser who finds himself in over his head when he steals money from the wrong people. It starts a little slow, and the ending is somewhat disappointing and unclear, but the majority of the script is very good. As written, it merits a strong consider.
The first act plunges right into the story, with John accidentally killing Ingrid and finding her box full of money. It slows down almost immediately as the writer takes his time establishing John, his lifestyle, the town, and all the other characters before he dives back into the plot. The first act does move a little slow, but once the writer puts the pieces into place, everything he’s painstakingly set up pays off in extremely satisfying ways.
As the second act follows John on his quest to understand where the money came from and who’s threatening him and his family, the writer ratchets up the suspense in almost every scene. It’s clear fairly early on who wants the money, but the duplicitous natures of Simon and Pitt are surprising, and certain sequences — notably John hiding in the closet while Waylon slices up Obadiah’s face — are startlingly effective.
This all builds to a third act standoff that’s a bit disappointing. Although the writer makes a good decision by putting Abbie in jeopardy instead of falling on the cliché of making Moira and/or Nolan into Waylon’s hostage, the writer ends up with too many loose ends: the money’s mysteriously disappeared, characters who have become integral to the plot (like Pitt, for instance) disappear, it’s unclear where Moira goes or what she does after John catches her in the arms of another man, it’s also unclear where Nolan is during all this, and most importantly, John is seen collapsing over the body of the teenage girl he killed. Backed into a corner, the writer relies on a confusing variation on the “It’s all a dream” ending — it seems that everything except John running out to try to bury Ingrid really happened, and Simon’s letter ties up all the loose ends in an out-of-place, on-the-nose voiceover montage. Considering how good the rest of the script is, this ending comes as both a surprise and a major letdown.
The characters, on the other hand, are uniformly excellent. The writer imbues even the most minor roles with rich detail and nuance, making this small town a believable, vividly rendered place. In particular, he does a great job at showing John’s mixture of confusion, guilt, and exhaustion as he tries to handle the mess he’s made quietly. There’s just one minor flaw in his character — the writer never makes us understand why John doesn’t just give the money back after that initial phone call. He sells the idea that John needs the money, but not that he needs it so badly he’d keep it despite serious threats on the lives of himself and his family. It’s a weakness in the writing that may come through in the acting.
All in all, A Single Shot is a really good script with a few issues — both major and minor — that keep it from being fully recommendable. Maybe these problems will work themselves out in the acting or the editing of the final film. Otherwise, this will remain a 7/8ths of a great story with an extremely unsatisfying ending.
Author: Daniel Taplitz
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:In the 1970s, an independent dog touches the lives of a disparate group of Australian miners.
Synopsis:In late 1980, THOMAS rolls a truck through the red Australian desert, carrying an iron statue of explorer William Dampier to the Australian mining town named for him. When Thomas finally arrives in Dampier, he stops at the town’s only motel. He finds nobody at the desk, so he goes into the adjoining pub, where he also finds nobody. Thomas moves into the pub’s back room, where he finds a small, strange group of men surrounding someone, holding him down and preparing to shoot him. Thomas yells, trying to stop them. The men back up, revealing the someone is a dog — Red Dog, who’s ill. JACK, the bartender, gets Thomas a beer and explained Red Dog somehow ingested strychnine, possibly laid out for kangaroos or dingos, or possibly by someone who doesn’t like dogs. Thomas asks if Jack’s Red Dog’s master; Jack says Red Dog doesn’t have a master, but he doesn’t need one because he’s famous. Thomas doesn’t recognize the name. Jack’s wife, MAUREEN, announces the vet’s on his way. Jack explains the origin of Red Dog in Dampier.
As Jack explains, the story flashes back to Jack and Maureen’s arrival in Dampier. Maureen’s not entirely on board to the move to a mining town where she’ll be the only woman, but Jack points out that they only need to work there a few years before they’ll save enough cash to buy a bar in Perth outright. On the side of the road, Red Dog appears to come from nowhere, out of the desert. Jack and Maureen feed him and bring them along for the ride. After awhile, they’re disgusted when Red Dog’s noxious farts overwhelm the car. They have to stop and wait for the car to air out. They continue driving, keeping Red Dog in an open-air trailer with their furniture. When they arrive in Dampier, the couple is amused to find Red Dog covered head-to-toe in red dust. In the present, the VET arrives to examine Red Dog. While they wait, Jack introduces Thomas to VANNO, a flamboyant Italian immigrant who explains he and Red Dog were inseparable after they both first arrived in Dampier, but Vanno eventually had to give up the idea that he could be Red Dog’s master. Red Dog became a community dog among the truckers and miners, to the point that Vanno successfully lobbied to bring Red Dog into the union.
Soon enough, Red Dog meets his only master — JOHN, a trucker who can’t commit to a single job or a single city because he just has to keep moving. He gets a job as the company bus driver in Dampier. When Red Dog waits at the bus stop, John continuously refuses to let him get on the bus, until he sees Red Dog “hitchhiking.” John asks some of the miners about it, and they explain Red Dog is known for hitchhiking all over the region. John still refuses to allow Red Dog on the bus, until one night, he witnesses Vanno and the other pub patrons taking bets on how quickly Red Dog can eat certain foodstuffs. When it escalates to a live chicken, John grabs Red Dog and announces that if anyone ever mistreats the dog again, they’ll have to answer to John. From that moment on, John allows Red Dog to ride the bus, and Red Dog takes to John like nobody else. In the present, the Vet announces that he should put Red Dog down, but he’s too tough. The Vet gives him some medication and hopes he’ll live through the night.
A woman, NANCY GREY (30s), enters the pub. She’s preemptively grief-stricken seeing Red Dog in his ill state. The others explain to Thomas that there’s a long history between Red Dog, John, and Nancy. The story flashes back to Nancy’s first day of work. She climbs on the bus and, with no other available seating, she tries to sit next to Red Dog, who is stretched across two seats. Red Dog stubbornly refuses to move, so she pushes him aside and sits down. Red Dog attempts to lift her up with his muzzle. When she won’t budge, he has no choice: he unleashes gas, sending everyone off the bus. While they wait for it to air out, John cautiously flirts with Nancy, eventually asking her out. Red Dog does not look happy about it. Neither does Vanno or the other miners, who take a liking to the second woman in Dampier.
John leaves Red Dog with Vanno, PEETO, and JOCKO (also miners) to go on his date. He picks up Nancy, who lives in a trailer park on the edge of town. The park is guarded by creepy caretakers, the CRIBBAGES, and their sinister, giant RED CAT. Red Cat nearly attacks John, who tries to defend himself with a stick. Mr. Cribbage accuses John of trying to kill his cat as Nancy emerges from her trailer. John takes Nancy to see Jaws at a drive-in. Everyone’s annoyed when Red Dog shows up and starts blocking the projector. Red Dog tries to scare Nancy, Jaws-style, but she and John just laugh. They drop him back with Vanno and the others, then John and Nancy go on a ride on John’s motorcycle. John takes her to Hansen’s Cove, home a “real-life Jaws.” It’s empty, because after a shark attack a few years ago, everyone’s afraid to swim there. John takes Nancy back to his place. The next morning, he excitedly sings to himself as he makes breakfast for Nancy. Red Dog comes home and is distressed by this sudden change. He soon warms up to Nancy, though, and before long, he lets her sit with him on the bus.
In the present, Jack and the miners reflect on Red Dog’s matchmaking skills. Vanno recalls Red Dog introducing him to his wife, after he got shot. Thomas is surprised to hear Red Dog was shot. Vanno tells the story: Red Dog enters the trailer park in search of Nancy, and Red Cat attacks him. The two fight until Mrs. Cribbage breaks them up, threatening Red Dog with a pair of hedge clippers. He gives up, limping into the desert, where he’s shot by persons unknown. John, Vanno, and Peeto drive to the nearest vet — four hours away — and discuss whether or not Mr. Cribbage shot Red Dog. At the Vet’s office, Vanno lays eyes on ROSE, the Vet’s gorgeous assistant. She smiles at him, but he’s tongue-tied. Two weeks later, Vanno offers to drive Red Dog back to have his stitches removed. Over the next few weeks, he comes up with all sorts of crazy excuses to bring Red Dog back to the Vet. Red Dog’s patience wears thin, so Vanno — after imagining his future with Rose — finally asks her out. She says, “Yes,” and the couple are soon married and have a child.
In the present, Jocko mentions to Thomas that Red Dog once saved his life. Fifteen years ago, his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident in which Jocko was driving. Jocko sank into a guilty depression, until he eventually decided to commit suicide. Wanting to go out in a memorable way, Jocko went to Hansen’s Cove to get eaten by the shark. John is there, playing with Red Dog. Red Dog sees Jocko, grabs one of John’s raw steaks, dives into the water, and throws it in the air just as the shark approaches. The meat distracts the shark, who leaps for it and completely ignores Jocko, whom Red Dog attempts to pull out of the water. Jack and the few others at the cover dive in after them, saving both of them from drowning. Jocko happily rubs Red Dog’s head.
In the present, Thomas goes to relieve himself. Finding the men’s room out of order, he slips into the ladies’ room. When he exits, he runs into Nancy. Thomas goes back to the bar and asks the others what happened to John and Nancy. The story flashes back to a wild party John throws in honor of him staying in Dampier longer than he’s ever stayed anywhere — all thanks to Nancy. The next morning, John kickstarts his motorcycle and goes for a drive, telling Red Dog he’ll be back by morning. He stops by Nancy’s trailer to let her know he’s going, then hits the road. Jocko calls Nancy, because John never showed up to work and nobody’s heard from him. Unable to find him at home, Jocko and the other miners form a search party. Eventually, they find his crashed motorcycle and dead body in a gully. Weeks pass, but Red Dog refuses to leave John’s porch. The other miners take turns trying to care for him, but Red Dog is inconsolable. After awhile, Red Dog hits the road in search of John. Unable to find him anywhere, Red Dog returns to his rambling ways, periodically returning to Dampier to visit the miners and Nancy, until one fateful night when the Cribbages accost Nancy for keeping a dog in violation of their rules. Nancy explains that nobody owns Red Dog, so they decide he’s a stray and consider calling animal control. Nancy tries to tell them he’s a community dog, but the Cribbages refuse to admit Dampier is a community. A few days later, the entire town turns up to show them what sort of community they are. They have tags printed up for Red Dog identifying him as Dampier’s community dog. The Cribbages decide to leave town, but Red Cat remains.
Red Dog arrives in the trailer park to settle their unfinished business. They fight wildly and viciously. Vanno rushes to the mine to tell everyone, who start placing bets and rush out to see the action. After a long, insane fight, Red Dog and Red Cat disappear into the desert. Red Cat is never seen again. In the present, Jocko announces that, although Thomas came bearing the statue of William Dampier, a statue of Red Dog is much better suited for the community’s spirit. Over a montage of the pub patrons singing Men at Work’s “Down Under,” Red Dog stirs and begins to wake up. He’s shaky and ill, but eventually he gets up and looks out into the pub. In no mood to party, Red Dog wanders out the back entrance and hops on an empty train car at the depot. Once the Vet realizes Red Dog is gone, everyone searches for him, but he’s never seen again. As he rolls off on the train, Red Dog starts to feel better and stronger.
One year later, a Red Dog statue is erected with the inscription “I’ve Been Everywhere Mate.”
Comments:Red Dog tells a likable story about a dog who made a big impact on a small community. Despite a few fun moments, the script lacks a strong narrative and well-developed characters, and its dark subject matter (including alcoholism, suicide, death, and loss) doesn’t exactly fit its cheerful tone or penchant for flatulence jokes. As written, it merits a pass.
The framing device of each character telling Red Dog stories to neophyte Thomas succeeds in making this vignette-driven story seem a little more solid in its construction. Ultimately, it’s less a dramatic story than a series of loosely connected tales told in a mostly linear fashion. The first act starts with Thomas’s arrival in the bar and the story of Red Dog’s arrival in Dampier, but the story doesn’t really get going until the second act, when the writer introduces the strongest vignette: the story of John and Nancy’s awkward romance, which parallels the growing bond between John and Red Dog. This script could have been much more effective had the writer expanded on this sequence and used it as its full story.
Not surprisingly, the third act’s most effective vignette is the story of John’s untimely death and Red Dog’s upsetting reaction to it. None of the sequences following John’s death have the same impact, making the resolution of Red Dog sneaking away from these boisterous drunkards to be alone less dramatic than it could have been. It’s a shame, because there’s enough material here to make an excellent script. It’s just not there yet, and diversions like the battle between Red Dog and Red Cat only undermine the good material, rather than enhancing the overall screenplay.
Most of the problem rests with the supporting characters. While spirited and amusing, they lack the development to become truly interesting. A few of them — particularly Vanno and Jocko — have moments to shine, but the sequences are quick and far less compelling than John’s story. Stronger characters would have made these moments more effective.
Similarly, the character of Red Dog remains a bit of an enigma. The entire script revolves around how much the people of Dampier love this dog, but nobody seems to really understand him, which makes it difficult for the script to communicate the feelings of a central character whose modes of expression are limited, at best. John comes closest to understanding him, and the writer does a good job of illustrating the parallels between the two. However, once the story gets sidetracked with the romance with Nancy, it moves further and further away to truly understanding what makes this dog tick.
The script’s cutesy, upbeat tone also clashes with its subject matter. The story ends on a happy note, but most of it is fairly grim and, in some cases, a bit too adult for kids. It makes it hard to identify who the potential audience is for this movie — it’s too grown-up for kids, yet too kid-friendly for adults. It doesn’t work as a family movie, though. The grimmer moments won’t sail over the younger audience’s heads; they’re likely to traumatize them.
October 26, 2009
Author: James Gunn
Genre: Dark Comedy/Action
Writer’s Potential: 9
Logline:When his wife leaves him for a drug dealer, a mildly psychotic loser decides to become a costumed vigilante.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
October 27, 2009
Author: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline: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.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
October 26, 2009
Author: Dito Montiel
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:A New York City cop is forced to confront his past when an anonymous letter writer threatens to expose the murders he committed as a child.
Synopsis:Queensbridge Projects, New York City, 1986. HANKY, a crackhead, wanders through one of the project towers, terrorizing the people living there. He breaks into the apartment shared by 13-year-old MILK and his elderly grandmother. Milk is hanging out with his buddies, CHINESE JAMES, FAT VINNY, YOUNG VICKY, and Milk’s faithful dog, Charlie. They smoke pot and chow down on junk food when Hanky bursts in, demanding money. Fed up, Milk shoots Hanky with a handgun. A montage of 9/11 footage, combined with a news report about Deputy Commissioner CHARLES STANFORD (60s) stepping down and anointing Sergeant MATHERS as his successor, takes us into 2002. Rookie Office JONATHAN WHITE (30) has recently started in Queens’ 114 precinct, partnered with gregarious Officer PRUDENTI. At the precinct house, Mathers angrily shows them a copy of the Queens Gazette in which intrepid reporter “Roger Daltry” threatens to expose unsolved 1986 murders by reprinting incoherent handwritten letters signed “MDC.” MDC has been writing letters to Daltry for three months, ever since the precinct started cracking down on the projects to make the streets safe for some new, high-end waterfront property. Mathers tasks Jonathan and Prudenti with finding out the identity of MDC.
In 1986, Milk has just shot Hanky. His friends panic, blaming the pot, but Milk announces he was just fed up with Hanky constantly stealing money from Milk’s grandmother. They drag him into the bathtub as another junkie, GERONIMO (20s), bangs on the apartment door, begging to use the bathroom. He’s too pushy for the kids to deal with, so Milk closes the shower curtain and turns the shower on. Geronimo does his business and leaves. Milk confesses his guilt and confusion to Fat Vinny, Chinese James, and Young Vicky. They all try to convince him that he did the right thing, and they just need to relax. They try to figure out what to do with the body, ultimately deciding to dump it in the park, because nobody will care about a drug addict. In 2002, Jonathan arrives in his Staten Island home to the excitement of daughter CHAROLETTE (5). Wife KERRY is less excited, because he keeps coming home late without calling.
After putting Charolette to bed, Jonathan does some research on the Internet. He plugs in the words from MDC’s crazy letters and finds a website devoted to the hardcore punk band Millions of Dead Cops: MDC. The letters are comprised of lyrics from the band’s songs. Jonathan realizes Vinny must be the author of the letters. Later, Jonathan lies in bed, thinking. Remembering 1986, being interrogated by much younger Stanford, then a detective, asking Milk questions about Hanky’s murder. Milk denies knowing anything, and Stanford kindly tells Milk to see him if he hears anything. In 2002, Jonathan is driving with Kerry and Charolette. He stops at the precinct house to get his cell phone. Feeling unsafe outside, they come in to the precinct with him. It’s almost more dangerous inside, with thugs and criminals being led to and fro. Jonathan introduces them to Prudenti, whose obnoxiousness rubs Kerry the wrong way. Jonathan realizes that his locker is hanging open. He wonders why.
The next day, Mathers takes Jonathan and Prudenti for a walk to discuss Daltry’s latest article. He tells them to go down to the Gazette office to tell him to put a cork in it. The latest article reprints a letter implying police corruption in covering up the 1986 projects murders. They talk to ROGER DALTRY, who says there’s good evidence to suggest police corruption and he will not stop printing the letters. He’s pleased that the stories make Stanford, the former detective at the projects, look bad. In 1986, Milk sees Vinny with his mom’s boyfriend, being forced to perform oral sex on him. Vinny sees Milk, who runs away. Later, Geronimo finds Milk. He’s got the gun Milk used to kill Hanky, and he wants a payoff in order to keep it quiet. Terrified, Milk calls Vinny. Vinny says he’s going to steal $1000 from his mom’s boyfriend, which they can use to get out of the projects. He instructs Milk to meet him on the roof in an hour.
In 2002, Kerry demands to know why Jonathan takes the newspaper articles so seriously. She knows he’s hiding something, but he denies it. Mathers tells Jonathan he wants Daltry silenced. Jonathan and Prudenti go to Daltry’s office, which has been trashed. They deny having anything to do with it, but Daltry’s pissed. He throws them out. The Gazette reports about the office trashing, noting Jonathan and Prudenti as Mathers’ “henchmen.” On the police computer, Jonathan types Vinny’s name into the record search. He finds that Prudenti arrested both Vinny and Young Vicky on drug-related charges on Christmas 2001. Defensively, Prudenti says they were asshole low-lives. Jonathan writes down the address of Vinny’s current employee in Manhattan. He goes to the building and spots Vinny, who recognizes him as a cop and runs into the subway. Jonathan gives chase, trying to explain himself, but Vinny doesn’t hear it. He hops on a train and disappears.
In 1986, Milk brings Charlie to meet Vinny on the roof. They tie him up and climb down the fire escape in order to steal the $1000. Charlie comes untied and starts barking. From the fire escape, Milk yells for Charlie to get away from the edge of the building. Geronimo looks over the side of the building. Milk runs back up to the roof. Geronimo kicks Charlie into a wall, killing him, and grabs Milk. Enraged, Milk shoves Geronimo off the roof. Vinny sees it all. In 2002, Kerry gets a phone call from a sinister anonymous man, telling her to ask Jonathan about unsolved murders in 1986. Freaked out, Kerry calls Jonathan, who’s on duty. Prudenti beats up a perp in front of security cameras. The perp grabs a gun, and Jonathan has to defuse the situation. Mathers gets angry more because he has to intentionally break the cameras to keep Prudenti clean than anything else. Jonathan drives to Vinny’s place of employment and learns he’s been fired. The only address they have for him is in the projects.
In 1986, Stanford stands over Geronimo’s dead body. He sees Milk and Vinny drift by with a shopping cart, in which they have Charlie stuffed in a bag. Vinny feels overwhelmed by guilt. He decides he needs to get out of the projects ASAP. In 2002, Jonathan drops by Vinny’s mom’s apartment. After jogging her memory, she realizes she knows Jonathan. She says she doesn’t know where Vinny is. Jonathan tries the roof. At first, Vinny only recognizes him as a cop. Jonathan says he’s Milk. Vinny tells Jonathan what a good friend he once was. Jonathan asks if Vinny has been calling his house or sending the letters, but Vinny’s a little nuts. He doesn’t answer directly. Jonathan warns him not to continue writing the letters, but Vinny walks back into the building. Later, Jonathan’s driving home when a car rams him off the road. When Jonathan regains consciousness, he finds a new copy of the Gazette in his lap. The latest letter says MDC will give the names of the cops who covered up Hanky and Geronimo’s murders.
At home, Kerry demands to know what happens in 1986. Jonathan reluctantly admits he was involved in the murders. In 1986, Milk visits Vinny in an asylum. He’s drugged and incoherent. Later, Stanford visits Milk. He has the gun that killed Hanky, and he knows Milk killed both Hanky and Geronimo. He explains that real men learn to live with their crimes. He strongly hints that he and his partner will cover up the murders, leaving Milk free to live with the guilt. In 2002, Mathers puts the screws to Jonathan, calling him “Milk” and demanding he do something to stop the next letter, which will cost Mathers his promotion. Jonathan begs Daltry to postpone the next article for a week. Daltry refuses, so Jonathan follows him into an alley and shoots him. He finds Vinny back on the roof. Vinny remembers his promise not to talk, and although he was tempted, he says he always kept quiet. Jonathan doesn’t believe him and threatens to shoot him — but he can’t. Jonathan gets a call threatening his family. He rushes home, where Kerry and Charolette are safe.
Prudenti picks up Jonathan and drives him under a bridge to meet with Mathers and the much-older Stanford. They explain that they’re all part of a family, and families protect one another, to the bitter end. Stanford brought Jonathan to this precinct to make sure he wasn’t the one writing the letters. They now know it’s Vinny, and they unravel a plan to kill Vinny and warn Jonathan not to stop them. If he does as they say, they’ll transfer him back to the much-safer Staten Island precinct and let him live in peace. Jonathan starts out driving him, but he can’t let them kill Vinny. He drives to the projects to warn him, but he’s too late. Mathers shoots Jonathan in the gut, and he’s forced to watch while Mathers slides the gun over to Vinny, who takes it, giving Prudenti license to open fire on Vinny, who pulls Mathers down as he falls off the building. Jonathan staggers into the building and manages to make it to the ground floor, where Vinny’s bullet-ridden body has fallen. Vinny dies in Jonathan’s arms.
Some time later, a recuperating Jonathan reads in the newspaper about Stanford miraculously solving a cold case from 1986. Meanwhile, in the projects, a drugged-out Young Vicky writes a letter, signing it MDC.
Comments:Son of No One attempts to tell a Sleepers-like story of decent kids who make some bad mistakes and are forced to carry violent secrets into their adulthood. It contains elements of a good story, but it is marred by crime-movie clichés and a muddled police-corruption conspiracy. As written, it merits a pass.
The harrowing opening sequence — portraying angry, pot-smoking, punk-loving “tweens” driven to murder as a result of their dismal upbringing and living conditions — creates expectations the writer doesn’t make much effort to live up to. The first act brings Jonathan into a been-there, done-that story of police corruption. The writer adds nothing new to the table except those harrowing flashbacks to 1986.
By the start of the second act, the narrative path is obvious, and the writer never makes any effort to veer off the beaten path. As a result, the script lacks suspense. Instead of wondering who’s sending the letters to the newspaper and how Jonathan will manage to get out of this, audiences will be left wondering when the predictable conspiracy will unravel so they can go home.
In the third act, Jonathan’s confrontations with his wife, his police colleagues, and Vinny reach over-the-top heights of melodrama that are more eye-rolling than they are tear-jerking. The strength of this story is in its nuanced portrayal of angry young thugs at a crossroads in their lives. It’s a major disappointment that the writer chooses to put more effort into a hackneyed tale of corrupt police officers trying to protect each other.
The writer does a much better job at portraying the characters in the 1986 ghetto than he does in the 2002 police story. The characters populating the projects, from Milk and his friends to the cavalcade of drug addicts and criminals, each have offbeat, individualized personalities that give them a unique spark that’s lacking among the 2002 police force.
Jonathan, at least, remains a fairly interesting character as he attempts to keep his guilty conscience at bay while he tries to stop his past from coming back to haunt him. Although his wife and daughter exist solely to be threatened, Kerry’s “tough broad” attitude and Charolette’s seizure disorder at least give them some interesting dimension. Jonathan’s colleagues on the police force, on the other hand, are little more than obnoxious clichés, as is the simpering, pompous reporter Roger Daltry.
Unfortunately, nothing short of completely eliminating the 2002 police storyline can redeem this script. Audiences may respond to the scenes set in 1986, but the goofy conspiracy in 2002 overpowers those flashbacks and ultimately ruins what could have been an interesting examination of what motivates youthful criminals.
October 28, 2009
Author: Richard LaGravenese
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:In the later years of his life, Liberace enters into a tumultuous long-term affair with a younger man.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
October 31, 2009
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline: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.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
October 24, 2009
Author: Erik Jendresen
Writer’s Potential: 9
Logline:A private investigator’s search for a missing stripper leads him on a strange quest to locate missing diamonds and a billionaire’s underground large hadron collider.
Synopsis:Private investigator NED CRUZ (40s), head bandaged and temporarily blind, is asked a series of questions by detectives FRIZER (30s, chiseled alpha male), SKERES (50s, skittish family man), and POLEY (40s, deranged sociopath). Cruz is fearless, hurling insults and refusing to answer their questions. Eventually, they wear him down until he starts his story at the beginning. It starts in the Los Angeles home of JOHNNY NOVA (30S), one of the world’s biggest movie stars. Cruz is there to deliver some dirt he picked up on a tabloid that has dirt on Johnny. He’s led to Johnny by RUSSELL, Cruz’s depraved albino “little person” pal. Cruz gives Johnny the photos he’s uncovered and heads back out, stopping along the way to release a beautiful woman bound and gagged in Johnny’s S&M dungeon. Cruz overhears an intense argument between Johnny and Russell. Gunshots ring out, followed by Russell’s flaming corpse getting tossed out a third-floor window. The beautiful girl runs away while Cruz tries to beat out the fire.
Later, the three detectives are on the scene, and Johnny tries to explain what happened. They wonder why corpses turn up wherever Cruz goes. Cruz leaves them to go back to his office. ANTON “THE PRO” PROTOPOV, a 7-foot, 330-pound ex-boxer, arrives at Cruz’s office to hire him. He hands Cruz a photo of the most beautiful woman Cruz has ever seen, signed “Lexie Persimmon.” Anton tells Cruz he’s been recently released from prison, a fact Cruz already knows. Anton is the notorious boxer who was paid $30 million in diamonds to take a dive on behalf of a Russian mobster, which he did — after killing his opponent in the ring. The opponent happened to be the mobster’s son, and when the mobster himself turned up dead soon after, Anton was sent up for the murder (of note: Frizer, Skeres, and Poley were the arresting officers). While in prison, Anton started a pen-pal relationship with Lexie Persimmon. He gives Cruz a wad of $100s and a duffel bag containing 260 letters from Lexie. His task: find her and bring her back to Anton.
Anton accompanies Cruz to Minkowski’s, a strip club where Lexie worked. Cruz asks around, but nobody knows her. Anton climbs up on stage and gets rough with one of the strippers, causing security to attempt to taser him. Anton can’t be brought down so easily. After dispatching the bouncers, Anton drags Cruz to the back entrance to avoid the police. Cruz convinces Anton it’s best for him to work alone, to avoid incidents like that. He digs up information on the owner of Minkowski’s, PUSS, who also runs a porn studio in the Valley. Cruz pays Puss a visit there. Puss doesn’t know Lexie, but he only purchased the club a few years ago. He directs Cruz to Minkowski’s widow, JENNY WIGNER, who ran the club for a year after Minkowski’s death. It’s around this time that Cruz notices a black Town Car tailing him. In the present-day interrogation, the detectives inform Cruz that Puss was found dead the day after Cruz visited him. Cruz is surprised. Meth-addicted Jenny works as an “actress” pretending to have disease symptoms for the benefit of medical students. Jenny remembers the face in the photo but not the name. He remembers her as a Jewel or Julie. Cruz checks out the return address where Anton had sent all of his letters. He finds it abandoned. While surveilling, Cruz notices the mailman skips the address out of hand. He bribes the mailman for information; the mailman explains that the address forwards to general delivery in a backwater town called San Celeritas, New Mexico. Cruz returns to his office and finds it’s been trashed. He initially suspected Anton of tailing him, but Anton would have no reason to trash the office. Cruz assumes they’re after the love letters, but he has no idea why. The only way to find out: drive to San Celeritas.
San Celeritas is a tiny town with a railroad but no station — it’s been converted into a café where blue-collar truckers eat and socialize in harmony with nerdy scientists and turban-wearing Sikhs in security uniforms. Cruz flirts with FAY NEMAN (20s), the attractive space-cadet waitress. She explains that this town, and all the land around and under it, was purchased by genius billionaire SIMON KESTREL, who built a large hadron collider under the town that’s off-limits to everyone. Cruz shows Fay the photo of Lexie; she doesn’t know her. Cruz realizes this café is also a post office and FedEx station. Cruz takes Fay to the motel room where she leaves. As they have sex, she explains various physics-related tattoos covering her body. Afterward, Fay explains to Cruz the purpose of the collider: Kestrel’s going to recreate the Big Bang in an effort to find “the God particle,” the kernel of life from which the universe was born. Cruz asks Fay about how the postal service works. Fay says it doesn’t; everyone sends mail with FedEx, and so few people get mail, it all goes to general delivery, and people simply take theirs when it comes. Cruz’s gut tells him to trust her, so Cruz shows Fay all 260 love letters and tells her everything he’s learned so far. In the interrogation, Frizer announces that he doesn’t believe a word of this. Cruz tries to argue with him, but Frizer notes that they don’t have time — the sooner dawn comes, the sooner Cruz is out of their hands and stuck explaining himself to the local authorities.
Cruz asks Fay to get him access to the ATM firm that manufactured the ATM in the café, because the security cameras would have picked up the person sending Anton the love letters. At this point, Cruz starts doubting her existence altogether. That night, Cruz spots the Lincoln Town Car in the parking lot of the motel. He tries to open the door, but it’s locked. He can see nothing through the tinted windows. Cruz returns to his room, and a punch to the face knocks him out. Cruz wakes inside the particle collider. Simon Kestrel (50s, sunburned stoner) apologizes for his Sikh security team roughing him up. Kestrel explains exactly what his goal is — to find the ultimate answers — and warns Cruz that asking personal questions is a waste of time that could get him hurt. Cruz manages to charm Kestrel into inviting him to dinner the following evening. He’s returned to the motel, where he finds the Town Car gone. Instead of sleeping, Cruz continues to examine the letters for some other clue. He discovers one that suggests Anton told Lexie where to find the diamonds and asked her to take them and bury them in the desert, because money no longer means anything to either of them. Shortly thereafter, he discovers Anton hiding in the bathroom, demanding to know where Lexie is and why Anton never called him. Cruz demands to know who’s following him in the Town Car. Anton doesn’t know; he’s simply followed Cruz in order to protect Lexie. Cruz points out that they still need to find her.
Fay gets Cruz the username and password for the ATM company’s security server. Cruz scrolls through the footage and discovers the identity of the person sending the letters. Kestrel’s security team picks Cruz up and takes him to Kestrel’s mansion. Cruz is introduced to Kestrel’s wife — JULIE, the woman in the photo signed “Lexie Persimmon.” Cruz is stunned. Kestrel casually insults Cruz, offending Julie in the process, but it rolls right off Cruz’s back. Kestrel introduces his right-hand man, DR. NIELS GECK (30s), the prodigy physicist who built Kestrel’s collider. Cruz asks Geck about the God particle, which Geck compares it to love: it’s something that must exist, because it can be felt, but it’s never been seen. Based on the conversation, Cruz gets the impression Julie doesn’t like her husband’s fractured sense of morality, in which the many engineers who have died creating his collider are each responsible for their own deaths because of human error, which only they can control. Geck explains the possibility of the collider swallowing the Earth but says it’s unlikely. Geck then excuses himself to go to his nearby home. Kestrel goes to the collider, leaving Cruz alone with Julie. She’s surprised to learn he came to New Mexico for her.
Julie tells Cruz that Kestrel will start the collider tomorrow. Cruz observes that they have bigger problems: Anton has arrived at the mansion, and he’s not happy. Cruz mentions his name casually, but Julie doesn’t know the name. Cruz thinks she’s faking it. He shows her the headshot signed “Lexie Persimmon,” which horrifies Julie. She says she buried everything from her “old life” in the desert. Cruz quickly realizes she sincerely doesn’t know Anton. They run out into the desert as a lightning storm begins. Krestel’s security force tries to stop Anton, but they can’t. Cruz and Julie run into a small home isolated in the middle of the desert. It’s Geck’s house. Anton tries to beat down the door. Cruz reveals that Geck was the man he saw mailing the last letter to Anton. Julie realizes Geck would know all the true information he inserted into Lexie’s fake life, including her time stripping at Minkowski’s (Geck was a customer, and he introduced her to Kestrel). They burst into Geck’s bedroom and find him dressed in a wig and women’s clothing.
Anton finally breaks into the house. Cruz tells Geck to tell Anton where the diamonds are. Anton doesn’t care about the diamonds — he only cares about Lexie. Cruz tries to make Anton understand that Geck is Lexie, but this confuses and infuriates him. Anton tosses Cruz aside like a ragdoll, causing him to hit his head. Just before Anton loses consciousness, the room erupts in gunfire. Cruz tells the detectives this brings them up to speed: when he woke, he couldn’t see, and the three of them were interrogating him. He also drops the bombshell that he finally realized who had been tailing him: the three of them. He speculates that they knew about the diamonds all along and were following Cruz in the hope that, eventually, he’d lead them to the loot. The cops are agitated that he figured it out. Poley beats Cruz, pounding his head again, hard enough that Cruz’s sight starts to come back.
Cruz sees Julie tied to a chair. He continues to fake blindness for the cops’ benefit. They drag him through what is revealed to be Geck’s house, past the bullet-ridden bodies of Anton and Geck, and they’re ready to kill both him and Julie when Cruz sees the diamonds glinting insides Geck’s gecko terrarium. He announces he knows where the diamonds are, but he can’t see. He says Julie also knows, but she doesn’t know she knows, so with the help of the two of them, they can lead the detectives to the diamonds. If they kill either of them, they’ll never find the diamonds.
The detectives handcuff Cruz and Julie together in the backseat of the Town Car. Julie leads them to the spot in the desert where she buried the remnants of her old life, which happens to be right on top of the collider. Kestrel has his men warm up the collider as he sparks up a joint. Frizer and Skeres dig for the “diamonds” while Poley keeps his eye on Cruz and Julie. Poley realizes Cruz can see, but it’s too late: Cruz and Julie strangle him with their handcuffs. He struggles, hitting the gas. Thinking he’s fleeing, Frizer and Skeres start shooting at the Town Car. Poley crashes into a telephone pole, throwing Cruz into the front seat. Cruz shoves Poley aside, trying to push him out of the car, but Poley hangs on for dear life — until his face gets caught on a cactus. Cruz manages to grab Poley’s gun and empties it into Frizer and Skeres.
Without Geck in the control room, everything goes wrong with the collider. The control room is obliterated, and the “big bang” starts to expand. Cruz and Julie attempt to outrun it in the Town Car. In the end, it creates an eight-mile crater in the desert, which Cruz and Julie barely manage to escape. They pick up the diamonds and Fay and hit the road back to L.A.
Comments:The Big Bang manages to balance a terrific homage to classic film noir with a quirky storyline that borders on loony science-fiction. Aside from a couple of clunky scenes in the third act, this script is complex, fast-paced, and darkly funny. As written, it merits a recommend.
Ned Cruz is a classic film noir antihero: a tough-as-nails wise-ass with a personal code of ethics that trumps the law. It’s a pitch-perfect portrayal that uses a well-worn archetype without resorting to cheesy clichés. The writer also creates a disturbing menagerie of despicable characters to fill out the seamy underbelly of Los Angeles. Every single character — including relatively minor roles like the three detectives and Johnny Nova, the movie star who appears in just one early scene — is imbued with remarkable depth and individuality.
The story mimics the classic structure of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, starting with a relatively innocuous assignment — Cruz searching for an ex-boxer’s stripper girlfriend — and using that to both unravel an elaborate conspiracy and glimpse the desperate lives of criminals both big (Simon Krestel, the billionaire megalomaniac running a private army to protect his bizarre science experiments) and small (Puss, the porn director).
After establishing a framing device that pays homage to Murder, My Sweet (a bandaged, blinded detective explaining his story to three corrupt detectives), the bizarre opening sequence does a terrific job of establishing Cruz’s tough-yet-ethical personality using only his reactions to Johnny Nova’s violent temper (setting his agent on fire and tossing him out a window) and depraved lifestyle (keeping a woman chained in a dungeon). Once the real story begins with Anton hiring Cruz, the rest of the first act starts peeling back the layers of this mystery.
The second act introduces the offbeat town of San Celeritas, New Mexico, which is when the story really comes into its own. Combining a seemingly anachronistic genre with hard science is a gamble that pays off, surprisingly. It allows the writer to explore more eccentric characters with dark secrets and criminal leanings. The only real narrative flaws crop up in the third act, when the writer occasionally overexplains loose ends that aren’t loose enough to necessitate long explanations (such as the pointless story behind the name “Lexie Persimmon,” a pun on a Latin phrase). Otherwise, the third act leads to a satisfying resolution that ties all the narrative elements together exceedingly well. Plus, it gives audiences a well-earned happy ending that doesn’t undermine the grim setting and characters.
This is a really outstanding script that manages to remain fast-paced and crowd-pleasing despite the preoccupation with astrophysics. Even a sloppy, poorly executed production may not hurt it.
October 30, 2009
Author: Matthew Wilder, Antti J., Eric Rochford
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:Teen thief Nicholas North, the future Santa Claus, travels to strange lands to save a village from an evil witch.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
October 29, 2009
Author: Richard Stanley
Writer’s Potential: 3
Logline:On an island off the coast of North Africa, two Americans struggle to survive in the wake of what might be Armageddon.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
October 30, 2009
Author: Russell Friedenberg
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:A veteran returns from Afghanistan and finds that he and his friends are hunted by the same supernatural creature he faced overseas.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
Author: James Hibberd and Rupert Wainwright
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline: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.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
October 29, 2009
Author: Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean
Writer’s Potential: 3
Logline:After a nuclear attack, a disparate group fights for survival in a fallout shelter.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
Author: Roselyne Bosch
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline: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.
Synopsis: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.
Comments: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.
October 26, 2009
[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]
I guess Jared and Jerusha Hess don’t really need to learn anything. After all, their modestly budgeted debut, Napoleon Dynamite, made assloads of money and developed a small army of devoted, quote-happy friends. Their formula (combine hateful characters with zero empathy and self-consciously arty, Wes Anderson-lite mise-en-scène) obviously succeeded, so why deviate from it? Here’s why: it sucks. Compare Napoleon Dynamite to Rushmore, the film it so desperately wishes it could be. Rushmore’s Max Fischer has a very well-defined arc, starting as a self-absorbed prick with little regard for friends and family. By the end of the film, he’s realized the importance of others and has become relatively selfless. Even though he’s not entirely likable, Anderson gives us more than enough information about Max for us to understand why he’s so awful. On the other hand, Napoleon Dynamite starts the movie a self-absorbed prick, things happen to him, then the movie ends with him still self-absorbed and still a prick. He doesn’t do anything, and he doesn’t change. Totally inert. But, hey, who cares? It’s funny, right? …right.
October 5, 2009
[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]
It might confuse and irritate some of you to know that I don’t revel in my disdain for things. I have a lot of negativity in my heart, but it always comes from a place of steadfast disappointment. I don’t want movies/books/TV shows/music/people to suck; when they do, my reaction ranges from feeling mild sadness that it couldn’t be better to unrepentant rage (usually that’s reserved for cases where a flaming turd of entertainment is inexplicably beloved by many).
I’m not going to merely like something because I want to like it, nor am I going to water down my opinion out of respect for prior work of the people involved. At least, I won’t water it down on this blog, where I remain semi-anonymous. In real life, other than a 90-minute argument with my sister on my fucking birthday about Juno, I usually don’t waste my breath. I either feign ignorance or pretend I like it, depending on the circumstances. There’s nothing worse than saying, “No, I haven’t [seen Juno/heard The Decemberists/read Motherless Brooklyn],” and having whoever you’re talking to immediately spring into action, thrusting it down your throat. Actually, there is: the upset/baffled expression on the face of someone who has exposed you to something “new” when your stony face and lack of enthusiasm betrays your dislike. It depends on the person, but around 60% of the time it’s easier just to say, “Yeah, man, I love it,” and the conversation can usually move on. Once in awhile, you run into an obsessive fan who wants to discuss the minutiae of something pop-culture-related. (I’ll never forget the time a girl asked me Xander Harris’s middle name; I’m a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and after this incident the name (Lavelle) has been seared into my brain, but I think you can enjoy something without memorizing all the tedious details. Maybe I’m just an inferior fan.) Most of the time, however, you just agree and move on. The end.*
October 12, 2009
[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]
When I first started Law-Abiding Citizen, I quickly concluded the writers had decided to make a Death Wish for the new millennium. When I finished it, I decided I’d much rather have a shitty Death Wish knockoff than Law-Abiding Citizen. The screenplay suffers from a common problem with many of the scripts hitting the market over the past year or so: genre confusion. It thinks it’s a talky psychological thriller; in reality, it’s a schlocky action movie. Had the writers embraced the proper genre, maybe some good could have come from Law-Abiding Citizen. Instead, they tried to get a little haughty and pretentious, with half-assed chess metaphors and quarter-assed stabs at ethical complexities occasionally interrupted by explosions.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the writers paint themselves into a corner by page four, shackling the story with Nick Price, a protagonist whose opening moment involves explaining that he intends to grant one murderer immunity in exchange for ratting out another. His palpable apathy toward Benson Clyde, the grieving husband and father, is honestly a little unsettling, and the writers work overtime in the first act to undo that douchebag opening gambit. They work even harder to paint eventual antagonist Clyde — the aforementioned grieving husband and father — as so cartoonishly evil, he lacks only a mustache to twirl.
October 19, 2009
script_reviews/[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]
Awhile back, The Manager presented me with a treatment he had co-written with a writer I once ranted far too long and hard about. Somehow, he had gotten the ear of Warner Bros. president Alan Horn, and he used the opportunity to pitch one of the worst ideas in recent memory: a live-action trilogy based on a mid-’80s Saturday-morning cartoon. Actually, in this era of remakes and comic-book franchises, trying to revive this series isn’t a horrible idea commercially. It just doesn’t quite lend itself to live action. I don’t really want to give away the name of the property, but it’s the sort of thing that would just look silly if presented in a non-animated form, like Fat Albert or Vincent Gallo’s upcoming Fritz the Cat*.
At any rate, The Manager sent me the treatment for part one of a proposed trilogy, looking for feedback. I had could distinctly recall two things about the original cartoon: the name of the main character, and the name of the planet on which the action took place. Reading the treatment, the lack of these names took me aback. I wondered if I had misremembered the show, until I got to the last page of the treatment. At the end of the story, the main character is born, and refugees flee to the planet I remembered. He had sent me a treatment for a movie that was 100% backstory.
Adding insult to injury, the story concentrates on political machinations that have no bearing on anything except why the refugees left their home planet (something that plays a small, inessential role in what happens in the cartoon — certainly nothing worth devoting an entire feature film to explaining). It also has a Romeo & Juliet-esque subplot focusing on two characters who will die at the very beginning of the second film. When I sent him the feedback, I compared this to the first 20 minutes of Superman, except for the part where they clear up Superman’s backstory in 20 minutes, then get on to two hours of throwing buses into buildings and shit. Could you imagine having a comic-book movie where the entire thing isn’t even the origin story of the hero — it’s the story of the parents? I argued that audiences will have zero interest in a movie portraying the origin of two characters they won’t remember from the cartoon and feel betrayed by an ending where the hero they do remember is merely born. I also argued that one of the (many) flaws of the Star Wars prequels was Lucas’s insistence on concentrating on the made-up political minutiae that led to the rise of the Empire and the formation of the Rebel Alliance — without actually showing any of that cool shit. You have endless Galactic Senate meetings instead of spending two hours in the fray of an orgy of destruction called the Clone Wars. Audiences were unhappy but put up with it, because it’s Star Wars, a franchise ever-so-slightly different than a long-forgotten cartoon.
The Manager sent me a curt reply telling me all the things that stuck in my craw “could not be addressed.” I didn’t ask why, because I didn’t really care. But I held on to my belief that, while a franchise starter that contains little more than backstory can succeed financially, it’ll never succeed creatively. Why do you think so many franchise sequels surpass their originals these days? They skimp on the story and characters in favor of reams of tedious exposition introducing things that will only pay off in future films. To me, that’s a rip-off.
October 1, 2009
I’ll bet you’re wondering why I veered off the beaten path of reviewing a script on Monday for a movie that’ll be released later in the week. When compiling notes on which movies are released when, I somehow got the impression that Whip It! doesn’t hit theatres until October 9th. Turns out it comes out tomorrow, and since this is a rare positive review, I figured I should get it out sooner rather than later. I apologize for not realizing this until the day before the movie comes out.
The alternate downside: I don’t have any reviews prepared for next week. So I guess I’ll toss out a surprise script review I’ve kept in my back pocket for awhile. By which I mean a review for a movie that already came out (and flopped) that I started reviewing, then got distracted and never finished. Now, on to the review…
This script surprised the shit out of me. I have to admit, I prejudged it based on the fact that I am a misogynist bastard trying my damndest to keep women down by spraying them with a heady coat of sticky testosterone-like fluid, preventing them from making it in a man’s world. But, seriously, folks, here’s how it went down: a few years ago, IFC produced a fantastic series called The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, starring Laura Kightlinger (who created the show and wrote many of the episodes) and Nicholle Tom as bottom-feeding wannabe screenwriters trying to make it in Hollywood. One running gag was Jackie’s pet project, a story about a Depression-era roller derby queen (modeled after her aunt) that Jackie frequently hyped but never actually wrote. (It reached a point where the idea was actually stolen because of this combination of hype and laziness.) IFC unceremoniously canceled the show during the writers’ strike, when they opted instead to produce improv-heavy shows that didn’t have WGA affiliation. Fucking dicks.